Monday, December 31, 2007

Come-mu-nee-kay-shun is Kee

I awoke this morning at 5:30 AM to the realization that before I went to bed last night, an envelope I'd left on the kitchen counter on Saturday wasn't there any longer. Normally, that would be no big deal, except this time it had a check in it made out to me. And, even in my dreary state, I remembered that Darin had gathered the trash to be put out today. Yep, you guessed it.

Now, I take full blame and responsibility for what happened. I left the check in the torn open envelope, relatively near the garbage can, causing it to look like trash. (Although I'd like to think I'm a better housekeeper than that since the garbage can was less than 4 feet away, but that's another issue entirely.) Nevertheless, I should have communicated to Darin that something valuable was in that envelope. He was simply trying to help keep our house a home.

Everyone knows how important, even vital, communication is, but so often we assume others, especially our loved ones, can (or should) read our minds and even our actions and interpret them accurately. Why are we so unfair? Consider how indignant we are when they expect that of us! Even more so, why do we try to and even believe we can "figure out" God and his workings?
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Romans 11:33-34
I don't know what 2008 will hold, but I plan to keep communication lines open with God and my husband (!), because what they have to share with me from their hearts is infinitely more valuable than what was in that envelope. To do that, I must keep confessed and humble before God, and authentic and considerate with Darin. Challenging? Yes. Worth it? Undoubtedly.

I am happy to announce, thankfully, that I just pulled the check out of the trash. And I only stuck my fingers in one can of refried beans in the process. The teller at the bank will be wondering why she's craving Mexican food for lunch.

Little Red Toboggan--Part 3

And for the conclusion...
Nearby, Santa and his elves were roaming through the woods looking for one of the reindeer who had wandered away from the barn (Dasher was always getting out), and heard Little Red's call.

Hurrying as fast as his jolly legs would let him, and calling to the elves, they all ran toward the igloo. Santa tripped the bear as he ran by and when he fell, the elves piled on top of him, holding down his paws and face into the snow. (And you'd be surprised how heavy that many elves can be!)

Santa grabbed the bear's head by his ears, and lifting his face, told him to spit out Grandma, who, though she was frazzled, was still in one piece.

"Oh, Grandma, I was so scared!" sobbed Little Red. "I didn't know what had happened to you, and I don't know what would have happened to me if Santa hadn't appeared with the elves!"

"There, there, my darling," said her Grandmother. "It's all worked out just fine. Let's just be grateful they were nearby and you shouted loud enough to get their attention!"

Santa, in his kind, gentle way, came over to comfort Little Red, then took the polar bear by the paw and sent him back into the woods, warning him that this year he would not be on the "good" list. Then, he, the elves, Little Red and her Grandmother walked into the igloo and shared happy stories and Christmas carols while munching on sugar cookies, candy canes and hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Little Red Toboggan--Part 2

When we last saw Little Red, she was headed to her grandmother's igloo, but had wandered off the path, distracted. She has just encountered a polar bear:
"What are you doing out here, little girl?" the bear asked in a voice as friendly as he muster.

"I'm on my way to see my Grandma who lives in an igloo on the other side of the woods," she cautiously replied. "But I'm afraid I didn't realize how late it has become. Please excuse, me, Mr. Bear. I must hurry to her house now." And immediately, Little Red began walking on the path through the woods toward her Grandmother's igloo.

As Little Red made her way closer to her Grandmother's house, the polar bear did, too. Except he ran and took a short cut to get there. Arriving at Grandma's house long before Little Red, he knocked lightly on the door.

"Come in!" called the kind voice, hoping Little Red was at the door.

The bear burst into the house and in one quick motion, before she could even shout, gobbled up Little Red's grandma in one swallow!

The bear, knowing that Little Red would be there any minute, poked through Grandma's closet to find a nightgown he liked. He added a frilly sleeping cap, dabbed some of her perfume behind his little round ears, and jumped into the bed, pulling the covers up past his nose.

Moments later, Little Red knocked on the door. The bear called out, "Who is it?" in a cackly voice.

"It's me, Grandma, Little Red," the girl called out.

"Oh, how lovely! Do come in, my dear," croaked the bear.

"Grandma, your voice sounds so odd. Is something the matter?" she asked as she entered the igloo.

"Oh, I just have a slight cold," squeaked the bear, adding a very fake cough at the end.

Now when Little Red got a look at the bed, she could scarcely recognize her Grandmother. Sure, whatever it was lying there had white hair like her grandmother, and had dark eyes like her grandmother, and even had clothes like her grandmother. But, it wasn't her grandmother.

So, placing her basket inside the door, she decided to test the impostor, saying, "Wow, Grandma, what a big nose you have," and edged closer to the bed.

"The better to smell you with, my dear," said the bear.

"But Grandma, what big hands you have," said Little Red.

"The better to hold you with, my dear," said the bear.

"But Grandma, what big teeth you have," said Little Red inching still nearer.

"The better to eat you with, my dear!" roared the bear and leaped from the bed, chasing Little Red.

Because she'd been suspicious, Little Red was ready to run the moment the bear came after her, so she took off across the room and out the door shouting, "Help! I'm being chased by a bear!" as loudly as she could.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Little Red Toboggan--Part 1

I thought I'd share a story I "re-wrote" for my niece as a Christmas present. Although Laura's only one year old, I'm hoping to have many years of reading the story to her each Christmas. I put it together in a scrapbook with pictures, so you're not getting the full effect, I'm afraid, but I hope you'll enjoy this brief serial retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a Christmas setting!

Once upon a time very near the North Pole, there lived a little girl who always wore a bright red toboggan. She lived in the snowy woods with her family, and her grandmother lived not too far away in an igloo on the other side of the woods. In the whiteness of the snowy landscape, the little girl's red toboggan became a welcome sight to all those in the land, because she never failed to share a smile with friends or strangers. Because of her welcoming, friendly nature, people from all around knew to look for Laura, or Little Red, as they called her sometimes.

It had been about a month since Little Red had seen her grandmother, so one day she asked her mother's permission to go visit. Together, they packed into a basket a wonderful snack of sugar cookies, candy canes and hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course) for Little Red to take with her.

When the basket was ready and Laura had put on her red toboggan, she kissed her mother goodbye and began the walk toward her grandmother's home.

"Remember to go straight to Grandma's house," her mother called out as she left. "Don't dawdle along the way and be careful. The woods can be very dangerous."

"Don't worry, Mom," Little Red replied. "I'll be careful."

But when Little Red noticed some lovely icicles hanging from the low tree limbs in the woods, she forgot her promise to her mother. She broke off a few to suck on and shook some others to watch the snow fall off the limbs to the ground all around her. She made snowballs and tossed them at knotholes in the trees
, chased reindeer, made snow angels in the ground, and slid across a frozen stream. She was enjoying her fun so much that she didn't notice a dark shadow approaching out of the forest behind her.

It was a polar bear.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Message For the Year

You may remember an earlier mention that for a number of years I've heard the Lord speak to me in the Christmas Season about one thing or another. Whether through a song, a character from the story of Christ's birth, art or scripture, I've always looked forward to hearing God impress upon my heart a lesson or concept that needed teaching or reinforcement.

Through several personal devotions, sermons and our Advent celebrations at home, I've been deeply struck by two things this year: 1) the prophesied, foretold coming of the Messiah and 2) the incarnation of that same One.

The prophecies of Jesus' coming point so distinctly and accurately to the baby born and laid in a manger. He was to be born in lowly circumstances, in Bethlehem Ephrathah (there were two Bethlehems at that time--he came to the right one), of a virgin, from the lineages of Judah and David. (And these are just a few of the prophecies.) A Messianic Rabbi I once met gave a listing of the significant prophecies he found fulfilled in Christ which ultimately led to his own salvation. He was a Jew in heritage, faith and birth, yet eventually recognized Yeshua (Jesus) as the fulfilled Promise of God. Expectations so often prevent us from seeing the signs that point to truth. It's been that way for centuries.

Secondly, Jesus was God, come to earth. He lived this human life thing. As Hebrews 4:15 says (paraphrased), we don't serve a God who doesn't know what it's like to be us. He has known our griefs and carried sorrows, too (Isaiah 53:4). He wept and laughed and hugged and bled. He was flesh and bone and heart and soul. He was God, with us.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Pleasure Almost Completed

Just over a year ago, I was challenged and felt impressed by the Lord in a Beth Moore study to pray the Psalms. Meaning that over the course of about 6 months, I would take a Psalm a day (or less, if it was really long), and say or write the words of the Psalm as though from my heart to God, not just reading them as someone else had written them. For example, Psalm 4:1-3 became:
Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long will I and others turn your glory into shame? How long will we love delusions and seek false gods? I know that you have set apart the godly for yourself; you will hear when I call to you.
Well, I finished that right around June 30, and began asking the Lord what I should do next. His answer pleased and surprised me. Since I fully believe all scripture is inspired by God (God-breathed), and it is certainly reasonable to say God's words back to him in prayer, why not let God speak through those same Psalms to me from his point of view? So, Psalm 4:1-3 became:
I, your righteous God, will answer when you call to Me, Julie. I will give you relief from your distress; I will be merciful to you and hear your prayer. How long will you and others turn My glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Know that I have set apart the godly for Myself; I will hear when you call to Me.
Doing this has enlightened and opened my heart and mind to aspects of his character that I'd never before thought about so deeply, and most importantly, has made my conversations with God through Scripture so personal. His promises actually have my name on them.

Now, it is true that not all scripture can be read this way. For example, when God told Moses to take off his shoes, because he was standing on holy ground, it doesn't mean that the spot in front of our fireplace is sacred. And when the angel told Mary that she would bear a son and he would save his people from their sins, it wasn't so I could assume that one day I'll give birth to a Messiah! Thus, in using this method of Scripture-reading, you have to be careful in applying things to yourself that were intended for that person alone. But overall, I've found it to be a delightful, pleasurable exercise in devotion, because I've been able to hear God speak to me, personally, through words he ordained thousands of years ago. I'll actually finish tomorrow with Psalm 150, but I thought I'd share some of God's words from Psalm 145 (from his perspective) with you:
I am gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. I am good to all; I have compassion on all I have made. All I have made will praise Me; My saints will extol Me. They will tell of the glory of My kingdom and speak of My might, so that all men may know of My mighty acts and the glorious splendor of My kingdom. My kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and My dominion endures through all generations. I am faithful to all My promises and loving toward all I have made. I uphold all those who fall and lift up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to Me, and I give them their food at the proper time. I open My hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. I am righteous in all My ways and loving toward all I have made. I am near to all who call on Me, to all who call on Me in truth.
Can you hear his heart? :-)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Edith's Story

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:13-14)

Peace on earth, the angels said. At the time Jesus was born, the known world was experiencing the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) marked by thriving commerce and relatively little military conflict. Opposition to Roman rule was quickly put down, and since most of the desired territories had been conquered, history has recorded this period between Augustus Caesar (sound familiar? see Luke 2:1) from AD 27 through the next 150 years or so as the most peaceful time of the Roman Empire.

So why then did the angels offer this blessing of peace?

The peace they hoped for humanity was not limited to military or even personal conflict. They proclaimed a "deeper, more lasting peace than that--a peace of mind and soul made possible by the Savior."1

This kind of peace is not only available in relationship with God (in fact it must begin there), but also in daily life, in ways that I think we fail to tap into. Let me explain:

My friend Edith is a prayer warrior. For a period of about a year, this precious retiree and I would pray together on a weekly basis. At one time, Edith felt as though her life and even her home were lacking in peace. So, to her morning ritual of getting a cup of coffee and spending time with the Lord in personal devotion, she added a new element. Walking through the house, she would pray over each room and the people that slept or activities that occurred there. For example, walking through her own bedroom, she would pray that she and her husband Wayne would experience restful sleep that night. In the kitchen, she would pray for creativity in meal planning that would result in meals to delight them both. In the dining room, she would pray for joyful and peaceful conversation to surround the table. In the study, she would pray for the Holy Spirit to guide their bill paying and money-handling, so that she and Wayne would be in peaceful agreement about each thing. In the living room, she would pray for a spirit of peace to welcome her guests as they conversed or even watched TV.

One afternoon, I came to the house to pray with Edith and she met me at the door with a glow in her eyes. "It's working!" she said as I stepped inside. My first thought was, "I didn't know the doorbell was broken," but thankfully, she continued before I blurted that out!

That morning, she went on to explain, a TV repairman had come to the house to look at the set in the living room. When she'd let him in the door, she'd noticed a funny expression on his face, but he quickly dismissed it and got to work. After he'd finished and was preparing to leave, he turned back to Edith and said, "I'm in and out of a lot of houses, but your house is the most peaceful I've ever been in." Edith jumped on the opportunity to explain why, telling the man about Christ's saving work, too.

Jesus was called the "Prince of Peace" (Isa 9:6), and promised peace to his disciples (Jn 14:27). I think we forget that aspect of his character and assurance. I hope you and I, like Edith, will tap in to what he's already offered, especially at a time of year when life often becomes more hectic and crazy than ever.

NIV Study Bible notes (Luke 2:13-14)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A + B = ?

Last night was surreal in a way. For several years during my college and grad school days, and even a little past that, I had numerous opportunities to speak to groups, sharing from my heart and opening up the word of God with them. When I began teaching school, those opportunities diminished, simply due to time constraints, not lack of interest. Teaching a ladies Bible study at our former church resurrected that passion for a while, and last Spring, a friend invited me to lead a small group session at her church's ladies conference which scratched right where I was itching.

But, after a hiatus of more than seven months from teaching or speaking publicly, I felt a little "off my game" last night when I spoke at our Ladies Tea at church. I caught myself talking really fast a couple of times, due to the adrenaline rush of excitement and joy in sharing from my heart with people I'm growing to love more and more. Although I knew I was well-prepared, a couple of times I wasn't sure I was even making sense, but those were honestly moments when I felt the flesh emerging with self-conscious uncertainties. For the majority of the time, however, I truly felt used by the Lord, as he suppressed those anxieties with his calming peace and assurance. A couple of times (and this is the surreal part), I felt as though I was watching myself, because I knew it wasn't I who was speaking, but rather the Holy Spirit communicating through me. I was merely the enunciator of his heart and word.

I'm not saying I'm looking for a career doing this kind of thing, but I guess in some ways it is the culmination of what I trained for - a Bachelor's degree in Communication and a Master's in Religious Education logically work out toward teaching people from the most important Book ever written. What's funny about that is while I was taking those steps, I wouldn't have guessed what the Lord would add that up to. The only reason I chose a major in Communication was because my speech class was the one I most enjoyed in the first two years of college. (And if I didn't choose a major before the summer was over, they weren't going to let me come back!) And when I was pursuing my Master's degree, I had in mind to be a Children's Minister. While I still enjoy interacting with children, I learned that my giftings didn't match that role because it is so heavy in administration, not personal interaction with kids. (And I got sick of begging people to serve Jesus by serving kids.)

I am a firm believer that "God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose." While I may have plans about where God is going with his ministry in and through me, he adds up my training, skills and experience to fit the time and place he needs me most. It's the same for you, too. What is he adding up for you? It's an ever-expanding, never-ending summation of who you are - to equal who he wants you to be.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Relationship Priority

Yesterday was bittersweet. Of the 13 kids I've been tutoring since September, eight of them did well enough on their benchmark reading tests to be removed from my tutelage. I was so pleased to know that more than half have displayed improvement, but man, I'm gonna miss those kids! I've been blessed with the replacement of eight others, plus one more, and I'm sure I'll develop an attachment to these kids, too, but for now, my heart is torn between losing my previous students and the joy of seeing their success.

It reminds me once again of the priority Jesus placed on relationships with his disciples. I can only imagine what he felt as he sent them out (Mark 6:6-13 and Luke 10:1-17), after teaching and training them, and having had them watch and live out with him his life and ministry. Those missions were the culmination of his investment in them. And notice, he didn't send them out alone. They went in groups (pairs, specifically). Now, I know there are those who are "people persons" and those who tend to be "loners."And I truly believe God created the difference on purpose. But, at the core of our beings, don't we want to live life with the support of those who matter most to us?

In their book, Captivating, the Eldridge's point out that we are wired to want meaningful, sustainable relationships. "Our lives were meant to be lived with others. As echoes of the Trinity, we remember something. Made in the image of a perfect relationship, we are relationship to the core of our beings and filled with a desire for transcendent purpose."

In other words, we don't want to be alone in life's adventures, because our holy, amazing, incomprehensible three-in-one God placed relationship at the very core of our existence, as it is for him.

Am I saying that every person needs a committed marital relationship in order to live life and be all they can be? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Never-married Lottie Moon affected China for more than 40 years, but she didn't do it alone. Few people know she actually went with her sister for the first few years, and then, when Edmonia (what a name!) returned home due to health, Lottie depended upon the encouragement of others through correspondence and visits in order to fulfill her calling.

What I am saying is that we all need someone else. Whomever that may be. It takes a painful kind of humility to admit that we are not an all-inclusive entity unto ourselves, but Satan uses that very line of thinking to hold back the Kingdom of God. Notice carefully that the only relationships he has are with demons. Aside from that, he is the antagonist, accuser, enemy and foe.

So, I'll be a little sad for today, but when I'm back in the classroom tomorrow, I'll look forward to seeing what's going to happen with this new conglomeration of kids. Because I have no doubt that God wants to see me invest myself in relationship with them as he has with me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Be Our Guest

One of my favorite scenes in Beauty and the Beast occurs when the dishes and furniture are preparing the house for the dinner Belle and the Beast are going to share. I love the song, "Be Our Guest," and I've been singing it all week as I've been decorating the house for our Christmas Open House (come and go, Dec 7, 10 am-noon and 6 pm to 8 pm, by-the-way - please come!) and working on the Advent Guide we'll distribute at church.

Preparing for the arrival of Christmas is one of best things in life, to me. Not only because of the fun decorations, although that's definitely a part of it, but I also love preparing for giving the gifts, imagining the reaction that will occur on the faces of those I love as they open their presents. (Plus, I don't seem to mind getting the stuff I've been hoping for!) More than that, however, as I've been working on the Advent Guide, the time I've spent mulling over scripture to be included in it has further heightened my awareness of preparing my own heart for the season.

Since at least Junior High, I can remember significant ways the Lord has spoken to me in the Christmas Season. Sometimes it's been through a song I've sung or heard. Sometimes through a role I've played in a musical or play. Sometimes through a piece of art depicting the story of Christ's birth. Sometimes it's been a passage of Scripture that communicates a truth to me that I'd never seen before. So, for me, I anxiously await Christmas each year, because I expect to hear from God. And isn't that what Advent is all about?

Luke 2 talks about Simeon and Anna, two people who finally saw what they'd been waiting for all their lives. I think one reason the story of these two was included, was because the Lord wanted to show us that they were not only waiting idly by, thinking something might happen, but they were waiting actively, serving God and acting daily according to the Holy Spirit's instruction, expecting God to show them what they'd longed to see. I can't wait to hear what God has on his heart for me this year. I hope you feel the same way.

Well, I'd better get back to decorating. Unlike Belle, I actually have to do the work, my dishes don't dance their way into place.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Alumni Association

As the wife of a man who bleeds burnt orange (for the University of Texas), I don't often watch the Aggies play, but Darin and I had the opportunity to see them and the Longhorns on Friday with our friends the Beans. Unfortunately for Darin, the result of the game wasn't what he'd hoped, but we still had a great time. I've been to Division 1 games before, so the experience wasn't completely unfamiliar to me, but what always catches my attention is the spirit of unity that pervades those events. Wearing the same colors, shouting and singing the same words in unison, the simultaneous cheers of 80,000 people can be deafening, and often proves overpowering and intimidating to the visiting players.

As we walk through this holiday season, many of you, like me, will be lonesome for loved ones that have gone on to be with the Lord. For some of you, the grief is still so fresh, you pick up the phone to call them only to realize they won't answer. For others, the Thanksgiving meal was only a little less lonely this year, and for some, Christmas will be a chance to remember all the goofy presents they gave you and laugh at the reminiscence.

Those that are in Christ can cling to the assurance of knowing that not only will our Savior never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5), but also that we are surrounded by the believers who have gone on before us (Heb 12:1). And I personally believe that they are cheering us on, even when the result of every "game" isn't what we'd hoped. Whether here or in eternity, in the body of Christ, there is a spirit of unity (the Holy Spirit) who never changes. We wear the same colors (the blood of Christ) and shout and sing the same words (Scripture). And what's even more exciting to me is that their cheers (prayers), combined with ours for one another, are often overpowering and intimidating to our opponent, Satan. He hates to be in the presence of unified worship of Holy God. Our loved ones in Christ have seen the victory. So, let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful, and let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Heb 10:23-24), and smile with me, remembering the joy set before us one day, when we get to be a part of the Alumni Association.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Worth More Than $8.00

Over the last couple of months Walmart inadvertently stole $8.00 from us: once due to my own foolishness and another time due to an error on the part of a cashier. The first incident involved my purchase of 2 gallons of apple juice (@ $2.00 ea) which I promptly left on the counter at the store. The second incident, however, occurred as we were trying to buy a bag of green apples for $3.99, but we were charged at the "per apple" price bringing the cost to nearly $8.00. (I'm noticing a trend with the apple thing, aren't you?)

These events were honestly what made today's decision a little difficult and provided an easy temptation to ignore the Holy Spirit within me. You see, we purchased a Christmas present for my sister that another family member had already bought for her. (I can't tell you what it was; she may be reading this!) So, this afternoon, I took back the item to receive my $24.00 refund. The cashier graciously took care of my need, handed over the cash to me, and as I turned to walk away from the desk, was greeted by Danica Chalk and her sons (hey, guys!). I put the money in my purse to hug her and introduce them all to my mom.

After a brief visit, Momma and I went to get a couple of items, and when we went to check out, I pulled out the money the cashier had given to me. Much to my surprise, I found not one $20 bill, but two. She'd given me $44.00, not $24.00.

Now, at first, I began to ask myself how this had happened; if I'd paid more for the item initially than I'd realized. But, after double checking the receipt, I knew what the error was. Immediately, the apple incidents jumped to my mind, and Satan began helping me "justify" keeping this money because of the money I'd lost recently. Before I could do the math to see if it would balance out, the Holy Spirit began pressing my heart as though he had laid a hand across my chest: "That money isn't yours. Let me even the score with Walmart; don't you do it." So, I went back to the customer service desk, found the cashier who'd handled my return, and interrupted a transaction to let her know what happened. Although she seemed sincerely grateful, the reaction of the customer she was helping was the most noticeable thing of all. Her jaw dropped to the floor. If I'd had half a brain I would have said something like, my faith in Christ wouldn't allow me to keep it, just to offer a positive testimony, but I wasn't that smart.
Nevertheless, I hope the Lord will use my behavior to have an effect on both the cashier and that customer in a way that can only be explained by his power and presence.

But most important for me tonight is knowing my integrity is worth more than $8.00.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Christmas Preparations

We started our Christmas shopping in earnest yesterday. Now don't think that I'm one of those that is so excited about Christmas that she ignores Thanksgiving. I love all that Thanksgiving represents and believe whole-heartedly in the holiday. It's just that growing up, all our eggs were in the Christmas basket, so to speak. You see, when you're in vocational ministry, you have to pick and choose what holidays you'll take off relative to where they fall in relation to Sundays and Wednesdays. And, my parents chose to put our travel time and vacation days where we could use them in bulk, at Christmas and New Year's. So, though we certainly always acknowledged and celebrated Thanksgiving, my fondest holiday memories are from the Christmas season with trips to Grandparents and seeing cousins, etc.

Now, as an adult who's still in vocational ministry, Darin and I typically find ourselves following suit. This year is no exception. In fact, we'll even be joining several others working on Thanksgiving Day to offer a friendly piece of pumpkin pie to folks in our community who may be down on their luck or who simply want to give thanks with others, and not be alone to do it. I'm excited about the opportunity we'll have that day to let people know that we believe church is more than a building or a group of elitists, it's about being a family. And my prayer is that on that day we will demonstrate exactly what Jesus meant when he said, "They will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jn 13:35)

And isn't that what preparing for Christmas should be about, anyway? More than buying gifts, shouldn't our hearts be preparing to celebrate the Greatest Gift we ever received? I'm glad Abe Lincoln stuck Thanksgiving so close to Christmas. What better way to prepare for worship of the Infant King than entering his gates (or at least the month of December) with Thanksgiving (see Ps 100:4)!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Multiplication Magic

I've never been much of a math guru. Oh, I made it just fine (all As, in fact) through each of my required math courses in high school, but chose not to take any additional ones, knowing the misery I'd be inflicting upon myself. And, the day I made a C in College Algebra, I did the happy dance, knowing I'd never have another math class as long as I lived.

In spite of all that, I tutored a couple of Jensy's third grade boys in math this morning, and we had a great time! They've been working on the multiplication tables and much to their surprise, 6 x 10 equals 60. They were just as amazed to learn that 8 x 10 equals 80, 2 x 10 equals 20, and 10 x 10 equals 100. Lance quickly recognized that all you had to do was add a zero at the end to get the correct answer. The next thing we new, we were multiplying 23 x 10 and 61 x 10, just to add the zero (*see answers below, if needed). The excitement in their faces revealed the joy of knowing they'd "got it." Simply adding the zero at the end was like magic, they knew with certainty they'd gotten the answer correct as long as they didn't change the number and added only one zero.

I wish everything in life was that clear and assured. Multiplying by 10 is easy; but what about 13 or 16? Those more challenging and difficult problems are where error can easily slip in. And if the kids get in a hurry, they'll likely make a mistake. Just as those kids worried about whether or not they had the correct answer on their math problems, I find myself concerned about things that are difficult or challenging and make hurried decisions to provide answers, often making big mistakes in the process. I wish I liked math more, because maybe I'd learn better from Jesus. Apparently, he had an affinity for math. Consider the following:

"After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, 'Take this and divide it among you.'" (Lk 22:17 )
"So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away [subtract] your joy." (Jn 16:22)
"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Mt 6:27)

So, maybe you, along with me, will ask Jesus along with the disciples: “Multiply our faith!” (Lk 17:5), and find that the problems we face are like the 10s tables to him. He simply takes what's there and adds what's needed to get the correct answers for our lives.

Ro 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

*230 and 610 for those like me who would much rather read than multiply anything!

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Follower of Jesus

One of the things I appreciate about our friend James Lankford, who spoke this weekend at Come Thirsty, is his careful use of the expression, "Follower of Jesus" as opposed to the description, "Christian." Certainly I'm not implying that the word "Christian" is bad or negative in any way, and James doesn't avoid using it altogether, but he also understands that different people have different perceptions about the meaning or definition of the word. Some people actually believe that by being born in the U.S. they are automatically Christians (no, that makes you a citizen). Others believe that having been baptized made them one (no, that makes you wet). Still numerous other fallacies abound.

Most significant for me is the reminder that just being a Christian doesn't give me license to act however I want, but that being a follower of Jesus means I act in accordance with his response to things. Immediately, that places into most minds the idea of a namby-pamby, yielding pacifist, but please remember John 2:12-17. Jesus cleared the temple grounds of profit-seeking marketeers. And I love how he didn't just do this on an impulse or whim. Verse 15 says he made a whip out of cords. He had time to think about what he was doing as he braided those cords together. Yet, this same Jesus knew when to act with vigilance and when to wait in silence. John 8:2-11 records a time when the Pharisees were demanding an answer from him, but he knew that he would merely be embroiling himself in a fray that would accomplish nothing but disharmony and bitterness and deepen prideful arrogance. As James reminded me this weekend, when Jesus calls people to himself, he doesn't say, "Be a Christian and do the following things...." He says, "Follow Me." So, when I woke up this morning, I asked him where we were going today. I hope you did, too.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Eyes I Saw

The old proverb that the eyes are the window to the soul is indeed true, but have you ever noticed how hazy that window can be? Recently, in the eyes of the friend, I saw something that haunts me and I still can't describe. Perhaps it was weariness, perhaps loneliness, perhaps fear or uncertainty. But that look remains with me. Each image I conjure up honestly saddens me and prompts me to pray for my friend. The truth is, I've never been much of an "eyes" person. The smile (or frown) of a person's mouth has always been the first thing I notice, and we all know how deceiving that can be. But every now and then, I see eyes that catch my attention for one reason another. I can probably count on one hand the number of people whose eyes I've noticed without someone pointing them out to me. Darin's eyes were some of the first that I ever remember really seeing. Their dazzling blue color intrigued, yet soothed me, simultaneously. A couple of weekends ago, I met a young man whose brown eyes were almost black. I couldn't even distinguish his pupils, but his eyes spoke comfort and confidence, even peace. I hope my eyes say half as much to others, though I fear that's not the case. Through my communication studies, I learned the importance of eye contact in relationships and conversation, so you'd think I'd be more alert. Jesus certainly was. The New Testament deals with eyes (in the literal and figurative sense) about 70 times. More than anything, he wanted to bring healing and hope to those eyes that couldn't see or viewed things dimly. I pray that I will have the wisdom Christ did to see past the haze to the truth that lies within each person, and to do whatever is in my power to bring hope and healing to them.

2Co 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (i.e. the souls of humanity).

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Taste of Humble Pie

On the return trip from Amarillo last Tuesday, Darin and I had a conversation about the inconvenient necessity of airport security checkpoints. I, weird as I may be, find them to be a fascinating study in sociology. He's not so impressed; he thinks it's a big hassle. True, it is bothersome to have to remove shoes, belts and all other "extraneous" accessories, but there's something remarkably humbling about the whole event. It's funny to me to see pilots and congressmen, executives and children all wandering around in their sock feet. It's a defenseless and mean position (not mean as in unkind, but as in lacking in dignity or honor), and it's amazing how quickly the adults want to get their shoes back on their feet and rush away from that spot in the airport. It's as though they are afraid that some of that humility will rub off on them, and they'll carry it throughout life if they're not careful.

Why are we so afraid of humbling ourselves? This phenomena even occurs among believers. People I knew with certainty to be ministers, pastors and church members still sought to rush through, and I couldn't help giggling to myself as Darin and another pastor friend tromped through the scanner. These same two ministers boldly shared the Gospel of Christ on Sunday, but for the moment they couldn't walk without slipping! Scripture mentions humility over 50 times; I don't think that's accidental. Paul tells us specifically to have the same attitude as Christ who humbled himself (Phil 2:5,8). Perhaps if we had to walk around in our socks more often, tasting that humble pie, we'd each be more compassionate and gentle.

Phil 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Too Cute to Keep to Myself

I know everybody thinks they've got the cutest nephew in the world, but I've got proof. Meet (nearly 3 year old) Russell ...

The Power of Silence

When I was in college, I had a wonderful roommate in the dorm who had the ability to study with the TV on. I tried numerous times, but I'm so visual, it was a constant distraction. Next, I tried with the radio, but it also was disturbing, because I wanted to sing along with every song instead of focusing on sine and cosine (which I still don't get, by the way). So, I tramped off to the library, thinking the quiet there was the best option for me. That lasted all of three hours, during which time I visited with David, Beth, Sharon, Matthew, Mike, Ginger, Steven, Bryan, Christi ... The only solutions left were to use either instrumental classical music or complete silence. Heading back to the dorm, I tried both approaches, and with success, I might add (although my algebra grade might prove otherwise). I was at least able to focus and think deeply about my topic for study.

I guess that's kinda what I've been doing the last week. Seeking opportunities for silence and fewer distractions in order to focus and think deeply on what the Lord is trying to say to and do in me. I know I haven't gotten things down 100%, as my attitude and actions will prove from time to time, but I think I'm hearing and seeing a couple of things a little more clearly. The power of silence is that I can recognize his voice and know his promptings more distinctly than my own preferences or influences.

La 3:22-28 Because of the LORD'S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Let him sit alone in silence.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Challenge of Listening

The following is from the Michael Card radio show called, "Devotions From the Studio." I regularly need this reminder to really listen, and not just to speak. Maybe it will be a blessing to you, too.

17For everything that is hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light and made plain to all. 18So be sure to pay attention to what you hear. To those who are open to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But to those who are not listening, even what they think they have will be taken away from them. Luke 8:17-18

If Jesus could be said to have had a motto it was, "Let him who has the ears to hear, listen!" His parables are an invitation to really listen, not simply with our ears, or even our minds, but with a fully engaged imagination. His life demands that we listen without our theological or denominational presuppositions, but with all our heart. The men and women He places in our path to love, each and every one of them, are an occasion to open the door of our lives to and listen with all the care we can muster.

"The best way to show someone you love them is to listen to them."

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Perfectly Divine Evening

I know that different people would define and describe my title for today in different ways. But for me, last night was wonderful, so here's a glimpse of what perfectly divine looks like to me: We began the evening with dinner at Pappadeaux's (gumbo for an appetizer; then jumbo shrimp drowned in cheeses and peppers, wrapped in bacon on a bed of dirty rice; completed with a 7 layer banana pudding - now you're hungry aren't you?). Then it was off to the Meyerson for the glorious music of Beethoven. The DSO did a masterful job playing Symphonies 3 and 4, with incredible dynamic changes and amazing accuracy on some very difficult sections. Additionally, the two symphonies contain highlights for the oboes and French horns, my two favorite instruments. The acoustic in the hall was so full, too. When I closed my eyes, it was as though I was enveloped by the pure and powerful sound. Plus, I even learned a little, Symphony #3 was written with Napoleon in mind, a contemporary of Beethoven. Finally, to end the evening, we enjoyed stimulating and sincere conversation on the way home. So, there you go, my perfectly divine evening. Maybe not yours, but hey, it wasn't your birthday celebration! :-) Best of all, I've got shrimp leftovers to make the evening last a little longer!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Have you ever been told you can't get information or make changes to an account because you're not the authorized user? Very little steams me like hearing those words, and, unfortunately, I heard them this afternoon dealing with one of our creditors. I think God himself would be denied access to Jesus' cell phone or credit card account. And, like they and the Holy Spirit are one, Darin and I, according to Genesis 2:24 and Mark 10:8 are no longer two, but one. So, since we are, can I please be recognized as an authorized user??? I know in this day and age they are merely looking out for the safety of our virtual identities, but gee whiz!! Thank heavens I don't need a PIN to talk to God. Although, now that I think about it, those faiths that don't accept the priesthood of the believer, kinda are treated as unauthorized users. As though God can't talk to them, but needs the password of the intermediary. How distant God must seem to them. I'm thankful that my understanding of scripture means I have the great mediator of Christ alone. It's nice to know there's One who accepts me as fully authorized!

Thanks for the vent; I feel better now. :-)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's Nice to Know

From time to time, it's nice to know you're accomplishing the purpose for which you set out. I felt that way today as some of the reading groups I tutor took a test on the book we recently completed. Of the ten students represented, we had one 80, three 90s and six 100s! Clear evidence that they were really comprehending, not just scanning the pages. Although the book we read is technically below grade level for these kids, this small step of accomplishment will make it easier for them to tackle the next challenge, I believe. Several of the kids have already selected the next book they want to read on their own and are asking me what we will be reading together next. The fact that they are finding joy, laughter and emotion in reading is a huge stride for some of them, and that a few are taking proactive steps to read on their own is exciting beyond description. But, it's a reminder to me, too. I want so much for them to learn and grow in knowledge and understanding through reading. Yet, my greatest Teacher, Jesus, desires the same for me. He knows how much richer my life will be when I'm reading his words, not just scanning them, and he will know the evidence of my comprehension by my response and actions (especially in those times of testing). He wants me to hunger for more of what he has to offer, because he knows how fully it will satiate the needs that exist within the depths of my being. When I consider the lengths and depths he's gone through to preserve it throughout history, I can't help but be awed. It's nice to know he wants to speak to me through his own writing, personally and individually.

Ro 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wtih Sincere Congratulations (and Awe)

Darin and I had the wonderful privilege and honor of attending a 50th wedding anniversary celebration today. Una Mae and Raymond have been married 50 years ... 50 years, wow. No doubt they, like every couple, have had moments when murder seemed like a feasible and reasonable option, but, by God' s grace, today, they were surrounded by family and friends to commemorate a fantastic milestone and accomplishment. It's awe-inspiring to see people who find commitment so sincere, friendship so deep, and love so faithful to make it so long together. I still believe with all my heart that the best marriages are made by best friends. My senior year of college brought home that lesson to me. I was dating, well, a ding-dong, but didn't realize it at the time. Following graduation, I learned that he had been anything but faithful and trustworthy in our relationship. It was at that point I asked God to allow me to marry my best friend, whomever that might be and whenever that might occur. I realized I needed someone whose character and personality I knew well and trusted without question or suspicion. It took longer than I would have liked, but when he placed Darin in my life, I found the answer to that prayer. So far, we've only made it 7 and a half years, but they have been the most amazingly fulfilling days of companionship and love. We still have 42 and a half years to go to catch up with Una Mae and Raymond, but I look forward to making the most of each of them. My heartfelt thanks and awe goes to them and so many others who set the example for us to follow. Congrats!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

At the ATM

Visiting the bank recently, I noticed someone pull up to the ATM. I honestly can’t remember the last time I visited an ATM – don’t even think about asking me what my PIN is. The only place I tend to spend money is Walmart, and since they take debit cards, I don't often need to have cash on hand.

Thankfully, we’re fairly good about not forgetting to mark down those purchases, and with Darin's penchant for online banking, we usually keep the books balanced pretty well.

It’s funny how cash has become almost obsolete for many people. With the advent of direct deposits and EFTs, I suspect there are some who haven’t handled or touched coins or dollar bills in several years except perhaps to tip the bellboy, and they probably have "people" to do that. I’ve actually even heard some say that they don’t like handling the noisy, potentially dirty or germ-ridden stuff, and that it’s obtrusive in bulging pockets or billfolds. However, I imagine that if any of us found a $100 bill lying at our front door, we wouldn’t ignore it or throw it aside. It still holds value in our society, even if it is not excessively utilized.

I think many of us treat our faith in Christ like money, always a valuable commodity, but if someone leaves a crisis on our doorstep, it suddenly becomes more indispensable. We think of church or Bible study attendance as weekly “deposits” made into our faith “account,” expecting to withdraw anytime we want to “pay for” our sin with a debit card of sorts, as though God is the heavenly banker who levels out our accounts and notifies us with guilt-trips when we’ve overdrafted. And some haven’t handled their own faith in years. They’ve lived off the books, articles, songs and poetry of others – adopting those journeys of trust as their own. Perhaps in our consumer-driven society, we’ve decided that real, nitty-gritty faith is too dirty, too noisy, too obtrusive to deal with.

The truth is, faith in Christ won’t always be pretty and God is not a heavenly accountant tabulating your credit and debit columns, because, quite frankly, the debit columns will never be out of the red. We’ll always be overdrawn if the basis of our faith is our actions and thoughts. No amount of “goodness” or “credits” can balance out the death of his perfect, sinless Son on our behalf. Furthermore, a faith without feet to it is dead, James says. In other words, unless your faith is active in the lives of people, it’s still sitting in the bank of your heart – a non-interest bearing account.

I want my faith to be on a cash-basis, spending it like the wise servants of the rich man, only to bring back more in the end.

Maybe I should go by the ATM more often, too, as a reminder. Now, how can I get that PIN... ?

Monday, October 15, 2007

A Perfect Storm

The phrase a perfect storm usually refers to some cataclysmic moment when multiple events simultaneously occur that reshape and change things completely. Don't worry, I'm not using the phrase nearly so dramatically. I simply mean that for most of today, life has been perfect, all because of a storm. It's certainly been a perfectly ordinary and perfectly normal day (laundry, cooking, errands, etc.), but it's also been perfectly homey. You know how there are some sounds that speak of home? To me, the sound of rain (yes, even thunder and lightning!) is one of the most soothing, comforting sounds in creation. Mix that with the gentle tones of my favorite praise songs and the whirring of the washer and tumble of the dryer, and you've just defined home. I'm curious, for those who'd like to comment, what sounds mean home to you? Crickets chirping, kids laughing...

The Ten Commandments

It's funny how the repetition of something you're so familiar with, like the Ten Commandments, can strike a new chord in your heart of hearts. As Darin has reviewed them for us over the last several weeks, I've once again been awed by their simplicity and intent for our ultimate good and well-being. When you look at the destruction that can be wrought by disobedience of them, it's easy to see why God thought they were a good idea!

Yesterday, in particular, moved me to tears as I considered the truths of the consequences of marital infidelity, pornography, and premarital sex. From sitcoms to soap operas, characters are engaged in dangerous relationships with no apparent effects. But the truth is, those tales are merely snippets of the whole story. In reality, there are emotions that become scarred, trust that is destroyed, health that is put in jeopardy, and visual images that can never be erased. When Darin mentioned that the average age for a person to view pornographic material was 11, I wasn't shocked. Because, unfortunately, that's how old I was, too. I was innocently riding the bus home from school one afternoon and some kids had a magazine. They were throwing it to one another, and at one point it landed, open, beside me on the seat. I didn't want to see it, had not requested it, and truly freaked out when I realized what it was. One of the kids grabbed it up immediately (and of course threatened me to keep my mouth shut). But, just as I said, that image is still ingrained in my mind, no matter how much I'd like to remove it. At that young age, it had such a profound impact on my psyche, that I even remember exactly where we were on the bus route - that's been 22 years ago.

As a result of that experience, and its scarring effect on me, I've made it a habit that every time I see an "adult" bookstore, I pray a simple prayer: "Lord, please bring your complete destruction upon that place and its contents, and draw the people to yourself." By this, I mean that God alone can obliterate the building and materials inside. He can even work out technicalities with insurance companies so the place can never be rebuilt. And, I'm asking for all the people involved (employees, writers, actors, producers, owners, customers, etc.) to find hope, healing, and the affection and love they crave in the presence of God. Please feel free to join me in this prayer. Maybe together, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can abolish these garrisons of Satan one by one.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Square Fair has Gone

Wow! What a blast! Not only was Square Fair fun and well-organized, but our booth went so well! We took over three hundred photos throughout the day and gave away about 100 mouse pads and who knows how many pens. I don't know how God will use the events of yesterday, but I hope and pray that we touched lives for his good and glory. So many people were shocked to know that we were taking their photos for free.
Still others were delighted to be able to tell family members to be looking for a recent snapshot of themselves, family and friends on the web. But what made the whole thing worth it all was that three of the first four people to have their photo made also registered with us and indicated that they would be interested in knowing more about a relationship with God. They're teenagers, so we've let Chris know and he's assured us he'll make contact with them!

I was so pleased and proud of our volunteers, too. From Billy and Flo's tent to Debbie, Katrina, and Gem's talented artwork and decorating, we saw so many people using their skills, materials, and personalities to reach out. Damon hauled hay and took pictures. Valerie, Debbie, Tracci and Franchot snapped photos. Eddie provided a tablecloth. Julie, Judy, Ruth, Jerry, Chuck and Irene greeted folks and distributed the giveaways. Gem, Flo, Billy, Rochelle, Brittany, Chelsea, Andy and Darin encouraged people to come to the booth. Chris helped close down and load up at the end. Ryan even loaned his dog, Tipp for a couple of photos! Even though they couldn't be there on Saturday, Roy provided drinks for all the workers, Ann helped us with tent decisions, and Joey, Ann, Jennifer and Charlie provided ice for them. So many did additional things or multiple tasks that I don't have space to mention.

But the coolest thing was that in spite of some technical difficulties with the printer, everything went so smoothly. And, no one was locked down to one thing. When someone needed to take a break, someone else jumped in where they'd left off. There was no sense of "territorialism," but rather a sense of cooperative pride and ownership in the purpose behind what we doing: making a positive impression about the love of Christ through his church!

We didn't get pictures of everybody, so please forgive me if you were left out! And, by the way, that's Billy, Jennifer and myself in the 2nd photo from the top. That was early in the morning and we were still adjusting to our lighting issues!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Square Fair is Coming

For those who are new to Frankston, TX (like myself), Darin and I will soon be immersing ourselves in a local tradition that occurs each year simultaneous with the high school homecoming. Square Fair is the annual town festival in which vendors and organizations display and sell their wares, promote their activities, and make money for projects. For the first time since the early 90s, FBC will be hosting a booth, headed by yours truly.

I'm terribly excited about the opportunity we will have this Saturday for promoting the life and ministries of the church as well as hopefully exposing members of our community to the love and gospel of Christ. To do this, we'll be managing a photo booth. Digital pictures will be taken of families and friends in front of backdrops painted by some very talented church volunteers, and subjects will be invited to download the pictures for free from our church website or pay $5 to have them printed on site. As a bonus, we'll be distributing ink pens and mouse pads with the church logo and web address.

We don't have any idea what kind of response to expect, but at least we're just about ready for whomever should happen to appear. We've got a great group of volunteers to help with the day, doing everything from greeting and arranging people for the pictures, to photographing and distributing the freebies. I guess the thing that's got me so excited is seeing how many people are using their various talents and abilities to serve God and further his kingdom. I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote about the many gifts used by believers, but all by the same Spirit!

God, please use us this Saturday to be authentic rays of hope and love to everyone we encounter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Taking Matters Into His Own Hands

The following will probably sound like something I dreamed after a bad hamburger, but it's true!

Yesterday, in Broomfield, CO, a 6-year-old boy was hungry and decided he'd go to Applebees. So he grabbed the car keys, took his booster seat from his grandmother's car, placed it in the driver's seat, then made a go of driving himself to the restaurant.

He made it about 75 feet. Unable to take the car out of reverse, he backed across the street and into a transformer and communication box, knocking out electricity and phone service to dozens of townhomes.

No one was injured, and the boy got out of the car and told his grandmother what happened. But investigators still haven't solved one mystery... How did the kid reach the accelerator?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Don't Wannas

Darin and I have a saying around our house that we use to describe ourselves when we don't truly feel ill, but don't feel like we can take on the world, either. We call it the "I Don't Wannas." I've got a case of them today. They don't last forever, usually just a few hours. I guess it's what other people call the "Blahs." In this state, you don't really want to do anything terribly productive, but you feel lazy or guilty if you lie around on the couch. Furthermore, while your world certainly isn't crashing in on itself, perky people would do best to veer the other direction, lest their giddiness annoy you.

Don't worry, I got up and went to school this morning to tutor, and there was nothing at all to complain about there. The kids were as great as ever. But, after I came home and had some lunch, I still didn't wanna do much of anything. Especially iron, which is what I need to do. I didn't even wanna go out to the mailbox to get the 4 credit card applications that were there. (If I'd known that was all that was in there, I might have stayed inside anyway!) I summoned up the energy to shred them (whew), and now I'm ignoring the ironing board standing in the corner calling my name. Ju...lie... (Pardon me while I put it in the closet.)

I'd probably write more today, but you guessed it...I Don't Wanna.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Once Upon A Time . . .

In conclusion of my thoughts about Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, I am reminded that in every fairy tale, there is a Hero who must save the Beauty from the Villain. The Eldridges say that each woman's life is "the story of the long and sustained assault on [her] heart by the [Villain] who knows who [she] could be" and seeks to destroy the possibility that exists within her. Ladies, you and I are the Beauty to be rescued.

But our fairy tale isn't brought to fruition until we have been rescued by our Hero, the one who passionately pursues our hearts, and ransoms and restores us to our rightful role as heir to the kingdom.

Here's something to consider: Adam was made in the image of God, right? The Eldridges suggest that just as women have three desires (believe they're beautiful; play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure; and be swept up in romance), men have three desires too: (1) have adventure, (2) have a battle to fight, and (3) have a Beauty to rescue. (If you consider these in connection with the men and boys you know well, I'll bet you'll totally agree.) Anyway, since men are also made in the image of God, isn't it possible that God desires these things, too? Think about it. Every day is an adventure for God (he just has the bummer of knowing exactly how it's going to turn out, good or bad, but still creates and acts anyway), he daily fights the spiritual forces of evil, and he has and continues to rescue his creation to salvation and relationship with himself and away from the destruction of sin. See, you have a Hero who has and will continue to rescue you, the Beauty, from the Villain (Satan).

And why does the Hero always rescue the Beauty? Because she is the one thing he cannot live without. He desires a relationship with her, not because of what she can do for him, but because of who she is. He is captivated by her.

In the same way, God desires a deep, intimate and personal relationship with you. He's not looking for what you can offer him or who you think you should be. "He wants your deep heart, that center place within that is the truest you. He is not interested in intimacy with the woman you think you are supposed to be. He wants intimacy with the real you."1

Whichever of your three needs is/are going unmet, look to him for the answer(s). Let him be your Hero. Allow him to tell you you're beautiful; take a risk and follow his calling toward your irreplaceable role in a great adventure; and be swept up in his romance of you.

The Villain seeks to steal, kill and destroy, but our Hero has come to bring you abundant life. Your fairy tale begins again today. Once upon a time . . .

Thanks, God, for being my Hero today and for eternity. The escape from sin and fears can seem so risky, but the freedom in a love relationship with you is so worth the unknown. Help me to trust your faithful character, and offer you all I am.

Captivating:Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, p. 121.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Premise #3 - An Affair to Remember

The final premise of Captivating:Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul is that all women long to be swept up in romance. Now let me begin by saying that this doesn't mean that every female needs a male significant-other in her life. In other words, a teenage girl doesn't need a boyfriend, nor does a woman need to be married. What this means is that every woman longs to be seen and desired, sought after and fought for. Wanted.

The first men to fill that role in our lives, should, ideally, be our daddies. I am so grateful to the Lord that he blessed me with a father who, because of a committed relationship with God and my mom, showered his love upon me. I never had to question whether or not my dad wanted me around. Sure, I got in the way sometimes (a six-year-old can be a pain when you're trying to build a house), and there were many times I disappointed him (oh, I'm not supposed to punch my sister?), but I never doubted that he was glad I existed in his life. Unfortunately, too many women grow up without that assurance and as a result, they live with a quiet fear that they are undesirable. This ends up manifesting itself in many ways. Some women become reclusive and fearful, others reach out for anyone who will give them a sense of value. Still others overcompensate for the emptiness by being "strong," even masculine (I don't need anyone to need me.)

In a perfect world, for those who are married, a husband should assume this role in a woman's life. But, let's be honest, it doesn't always turn out that way. I have a friend who believed her husband would be that kind of man, but instead he became more interested in nurturing their pocketbook and less interested in nurturing her soul. Married less than7 years, they filed for divorce a few months ago. It took longer than I would have preferred to find Darin, who offers that sense of belonging to me, but it was certainly worth the wait.

But what about those women who have never married, or are not yet married? Are they destined to live neglected in this area of romance? Absolutely not. Single women have a unique place in the heart of God, I believe. Consider for a moment the ministry of Jesus as related to Mary and Martha. Whom did Jesus allow to anoint his feet with tears and dry with her hair? Who's meals did he apparently enjoy eating from time to time?! Who's brother did he raise from the dead so that in a culture dependent upon male relationship, they would be safely provided for? A single woman has the opportunity for a unique relationship with God that has no parallels for a married woman.

Single or married, we as women must begin to recognize that "the truest thing about [God's] heart toward [ours] is not disappointment or disapproval but deep, fiery, passionate love. Faithful obedience to God is vital, but it is not all God draws us to. It is not sufficient for our healing, no more than doing the laundry is sufficient for a marriage."1 If we'll open our hearts to the possibility, we'll find that God has been wooing us ever since we were little girls. "The story of your life is the story of the long and passionate pursuit of your heart by the One who knows you best and loves you most."2

Consider every song, memory, and moment that moves you to holy tears as having been given from the One who has been pursuing you from your first breath. "God's version of flowers and chocolates and candlelight dinners comes in the form of sunsets and falling stars, moonlight on lakes and cricket symphonies; swaying trees, lush gardens and fierce devotion. He knows what takes your breath away and makes your heart beat faster."3

Let the Great Romeo romance your heart, Juliet. It will be an affair to remember for eternity.

1. Captivating:Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, p. 113.
2. ibid., p. 115
3. ibid., p. 116

Friday, October 5, 2007

Goofy Word Game

For those who like puzzles and/or word games, check out this stupid, yet challenging one:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Premise #2 - Quest for Adventure

Today I'm revisiting the second premise of John and Stasi Eldredge's Captivating:Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul: all women desire to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure. Now again, I'll agree that it sounds rather like a fairy-tale, but upon examining my life and the stories I love, I again find evidence of this desire in day-to-day living.

Confession: I am a huge fan of "chick-flicks." But not just the mushy ones. I want the stories where the heroine plays a vital role in the plot that no one else could have played. I'll even pick on a couple of my favorites. When Lucy rescues Peter from the tracks of the on-coming train in While You Were Sleeping, she was the only person available to save him (if you don't count the guys who mugged and shoved him onto the tracks in the first place). Her life was never the same again as a result of that moment. Not only did she find love and companionship in Jack, but she had opportunity to see a dream fulfilled by visiting Florence, Italy. And in Beauty and the Beast, lonely Belle, in spite of her initial fears, defends and fights for the beast against the angry mob. Because she found companionship, trustworthiness, and love, she also became the only one who could precipitate his change from beast to man.

Both heroines were (1) needed; (2) willing to take risks; (3) bold in the face of danger, though vulnerable to attack; (4) conscientious of the relationships involved; and (5) desirous of a new hope and fulfillment. Every woman wants these things for her life. We want to be needed by others; we are willing to take risks and be bold, knowing all the while how vulnerable our hearts really are; we are acutely aware of the health of the relationships around us; and we all have hopes and dreams we desire to see fulfilled.

Women need the reminder from those we love that we are indeed irreplaceable, that no one else can be to the people in our lives what we can be to them. That what we have to offer is of value. But every woman also wants to know that the hum-drum of life doesn't have to be "enough." Why else would we want to start businesses, swim the English Channel, go to school, travel to other parts of the world, or, yes, take tap dance lessons? Those are our "adventures," great or small.

So what adventure is God calling me to today? What role does he need for me to play that no one else can do just like I can? Will I say with Mary, "I am [your] servant, and I am willing to accept whatever [you] want. May everything you have said come true." (Luke 1:38)?

God, help me to believe with assurance that I am uniquely designed by you to touch lives and accomplish your purposes, and that to fulfill these roles will be the adventure of a lifetime.

Premise #1 - Beauty Is More Than Skin Deep

Last Spring, I participated in a ladies' discipleship study by John and Stasi Eldredge called Captivating:Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul. The premises of the book, using scriptural bases, are that all women (1) want to believe they are beautiful; (2) desire to play an irreplaceable role in a great adventure; and (3) long to be swept up in romance.

While that may sound rather fairy-tale-like at first, when I examine my life more closely, I find evidences of those desires in day-to-day living. Over the next few days, I'm going to explore again what that means in my life. I'll start with the first one: (1) wanting to believe I'm beautiful.

When I got up this morning, I showered, dressed, fixed my hair and put on make-up. Three days a week, I spend time exercising. Most days, I don't indulge in 10,000 M&Ms. (Most days!) Do I do all this because it's fun? Not really. Do I neglect any of these from time to time? Sure! There are a million reasons why I do or don't do these things, but the bottom-line truth is that I want to do what I can to feel and believe I am as beautiful as I can be. Nobody dreams of being the haggard witch in Snow White; even her alter-ego was fair to behold.

But just being beautiful externally isn't enough for any woman. I've met women who could model in Paris, but their personalities or general aura were so uninviting that their beauty was diminished. Yet I also know a simply dressed, unadorned, wrinkled elderly woman whose beauty absolutely overwhelms me, for in her presence I am welcomed and accepted, just as I am in the presence of God Himself.

What makes a woman beautiful, then, is confidence in who God has made and is shaping her to be, coupled with the humility that honestly recognizes she hasn't achieved that completeness yet. It's a careful balance - this confidence and humility. If I'm overly confident (arrogant), I accept myself only as I am (with no vision or hope for my own future) and I believe that my opinions are always right, so I never accept change about anything (e.g. I wore leg-warmers and big hair in the 80s so it's right for me now, too). However, if I'm diffident, I may never take risks that challenge me to become more than I knew I could be (e.g. I wouldn't have signed up for tap-dancing lessons or even begun this blog at the risk of others' disapproval).

The ultimate question, therefore, is "Does God find me beautiful, today?" The Sunday School answer is, "Of course, he made and formed me to be like I am." But the honest answer must be reached deep in the soul: Is my heart cleansed of unconfessed sin? Have I been disciplined with the body and mind he's entrusted to me? If I can answer in the affirmative to these questions, then I can claim Psalm 45:11 as God's words to me, "[I, the king, am] enthralled by your beauty." Sometimes, that's all the encouragement I need to know I'm beautiful. Other times, he says it through Darin or through someone else who simply says, "You look nice today," or "Your smile touched my heart."

God, help me to humbly rest in confidence in who you have made me to be and be your tool to let other women know how beautiful they are to you, too.

Monday, October 1, 2007

It Only Takes a Moment

Near the end of the musical Hello Dolly, two of the main characters, Barnaby and the hat shop owner (whose name has escaped me for the moment), come to the recognition that they have fallen in love. And, as characters in musicals are prone to do, they burst into song realizing that in spite of the full day they have spent together with its adventures and escapades, it only took a moment for their love to be ignited.

Some moments are deeply meaningful, aren't they?

This week, I've corresponded with my friend Lupe, whose daughter, in only a few weeks, will be marrying and moving more than six hours away. As Lupe's emotions run the gamut between joyful excitement and maternal longing, I was blessed to learn that when she met the man's family, she found an immediate spiritual connection with some of the women. Lupe knew that the Holy Spirit was present in them, and that gave her a peace that surpasses all her understanding.

Lupe will be the first to tell you that change is not something she runs to embrace. But that encounter gave her an assurance for her daughter's sake that she didn't have before. And it only took a moment.

I hope and pray that the next days will be filled with joyful memories and intimate moments of conversation and laughter as her family (as its defined now) interacts together. After the wedding, things will never be the same again, so I hope that they will live and drink in every moment of now, to bring those memories with them into the new and thrilling future.

God, help me recognize those meaningful moments, and make them count for now and for eternity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Am Blessed

I just spent a wonderful time of laughter with two really great ladies, respectively. First, I had lunch with a woman in my church whom I've wanted to get to know better, but until today, hadn't really had the opportunity. We drove to Tyler and visited over a great Mexican dinner, sharing a little of our pasts, our present circumstances, and even some of our future hopes. I don't think she'll understand how much her outreach of friendship meant to me, especially after this week of difficulty and disappointment, and I look forward to more visits like this one!

The second lady was my sister, Jennifer. We've not been able to be as close as I'd like, due to geography, but today brought her in close to my soul, and I'm so glad. We shared joyfully about about life, the people we love, and even the people that make life, well, interesting. Mostly, though, we celebrated the good things, like my niece, Laura's first birthday, which is today! In fact, Jennifer was at the store this morning, and happened to notice a blouse that she liked for Laura. When she arrived home, the mail came, and upon opening the gift box we'd sent, she found that exact same shirt! I picked a winner! Best of all, she said Laura held onto it like she really liked it. Apparently, we have a shopper on our hands, though. Laura, Jennifer said, squeals when she senses the possibility of new clothes! That'll be fine as long as she doesn't have champagne tastes on a beer budget! That remains to be seen, I guess, she's only allowed juice and milk for now! Ha!

I also got to speak with my nephew Russell, when he awoke from his nap. He'll be three in December, and had a lot to tell me about his trucks and wagon and playing. Most importantly, he said, "I love you." See, I told you I was blessed!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm a Huge Fan

OK, I confess. I'm a huge fan. There aren't many people that I would make a fool of myself to get to meet, but Lucille Ball and Jim Brickman are two of them. And seeing as how Lucy is no longer available for interviews (unless you do the whole seance thing, and that's just creepy weird, and well, wrong), then I'll be happy to settle for Jim Brickman. I ordered his new Christmas CD and it arrived yesterday. Autographed, I might add! Needless to say, I plugged it in immediately, so I've been swinging to the tunes of Silent Night and numerous other Christmas favorites. Yes, I know it's September. But it's Jim Brickman, and it's autographed!

On a more sensible note, I had a great time today tutoring. I worked with some fourth graders in Math (subtraction with borrowing, to be exact), and then helped my third grade friend with some reading issues. We looked at our mouths in mirrors to see the difference between "full, fall, fool" and discussed "want" vs. "won't" and read a book about a mom going on a diet who puts her whole family on the diet with her - kinda funny, actually. The coolest thing is the respectfulness that I saw in several of the kids. "Yes ma'am" and "No ma'am" were commonplace, and we laughed a little while we worked, too. So I guess the truth is, I'm a huge fan of those kids (in addition to Jim Brickman). A big shout-out to Justice Bean, Braden Womack and Chloe Carnes, whom I also happened to see in their classrooms today!

Monday, September 24, 2007

10 Days

10 days. Ten days have passed since I last shared my thoughts, and a lot has happened in those 10 days. I guess the most moving thing is that I have been reminded yet again that Satan sure knows how to "get at" me. We are definitely at war. I know as a believer in Christ that he can not possess what belongs to God, and, knowing that full well, he certainly takes every opportunity to oppress God's children. One of the best ways he can do that to me is by using the opinions of others. When those opinions are favorable, I easily catch myself in the trap of believing all is good and that I am where I am to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing. When those opinions are negative, I easily sway the other direction and ask questions that truly were already answered. Oddly enough, according to Scripture, the opinions of others are not my standard. My allegiance and obedience are to God, first and Darin, second. While others may earn a role from time to time, they never qualify for positions one or two.

I've also been reminded that I have no right to criticize someone else's servant, especially when I have no information about their walk with God in the past or present. And isn't it interesting how most people who criticize the way you serve God truly have no desire of understanding your point of view? Oh, they'll feign an intense listening pose or nod from time to time as though actively receiving your thoughts and words, but internally, they are plotting their next argument and wording their next reply. Most times, talking to these people is a waste of time, and truly not worth the emotion or energy put into any explanations. I know, because I used to be one of those people. To be in a conversation with me was a one-sided monologue. My heart never heard the opinions of others, because I was so sure I was right. And changing my mind was like re-routing the Rio Grande. Being a communication major (instead of music) in college was undoubtedly God-ordained because he used those classes to teach me what it really means to listen, not just hear. It also helped me become a more careful reader of printed word. I learned to be more cautious about reading my own assumptions or points of view into prose and even poetry. A writer has the blessed privilege of expressing his or her perspective, but a reader has the opportunity and even responsibility of meeting that content without presuppositions. The truth is, that's virtually impossible if you know the person, but I'd like to think that in that case, especially if it's someone you like, you'd come to the table assuming the best, not the worst. But, agenda get in the way, and that's where I believe Satan plays the game most effectively. (Especially since he knows how vulnerable to emotion I am as a woman.) Of course, I still fall back into my old habits from time to time, but God forgive me when I do, for it devalues the human being standing in front of me who is made in Your image.

Just as others should not criticize someone else's servant, neither can anyone define what obedience is for me, just as I can't label it for anyone else. The truth of the Gospel of Christ offends, and sometimes, the truths of my heart (when acting in obedience and writing from its depths of love for Christ, in purity and with all confessed sin) may offend, too. Never with malicious intent, though, because that in itself is sin. I am the world's worst when it comes to tact. I am more willing to not state the fullness of what I feel or believe for fear of offending. I all too carefully word my heart's thoughts. To the point, in fact, that I sometimes believe I've been disobedient by not speaking the truth in love more strongly. But it's because I'm so afraid of being the catalyst Satan uses to (1) bring disunity in the body of Christ or (2) drive someone away from the Gospel of Peace. Yet, when I think about the things that Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, Galatia and Colossae, I doubt every sentence was taken with gladness, grace and gratitude. (Imagine how embarrassed Euodia and Syntyche were in Phil 4!) God give me that kind of boldness in speaking truth in love.

If you haven't figured out by now, over the last 10 days there have been some things that have brought hurt to my heart - misunderstandings, etc. But, just as a giver of harsh words can stir up disunity, the recipient of those words can be equally as guilty of bringing disunity when bitterness takes seed. I don't want to be guilty of that, either. I've been so surprised that anyone would assume malicious intent on my part. To my knowledge, I've not given reason or cause for that to be assumed about my character, especially of people I thought liked or at least appreciated me to some degree. So, until this is all resolved, I'll take my grief to God, for I know with complete assurance the purity of my heart's intent, and that what I said and what I did were in direct obedience to him. So, it's his to deal with, as Master of my soul and Lord of my life, even through the last 10 days.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Still So Much to Learn

Just when I think I understand the methods by which God orders his actions, he amazes me yet again. Perhaps that's why even with all the laws and order he put into science and nature, there are still exceptions to be found to the "rules" from time to time. He doesn't need to be "figured out," nor does he want to be. If so, we might believe ourselves to be his equal (see Gen 3). The constant surprise of who he is and what he does keeps us humble before him. Not for his own ego's sake, but for the glory of his "otherness".

Over the last 10 years or so, I've believed with assuredness that God is somewhat democratic in his behavior. Not that he necessarily gives us a majority rule vote, but that he acts for the general good of more than the few. For example, Jesus' sacrifice (one person) offers the opportunity for atonement for the greater good (many). Wednesday night wiped out that theory. We were studying Gen. 21, and I saw for the first time, I guess, God's activity for the sake of the individual over and above the greater good of many--in fact, his own chosen people.

When Hagar and Ishmael were banished from Abraham's presence, God, knowing the enmity that was to exist for millennia between their descendants and Isaac's, might have easily allowed them to die of thirst, heat, starvation or exhaustion in the wilderness. But he didn't. With new eyes, I saw as God acted on behalf of the individual, in spite of the suffering, adversity and destruction that his own chosen people will experience as a result of the survival of Ishmael.

GE 21:15-19 When the water in the skin was used up, she [Hagar] left the boy [Ishmael] under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him ... for she said, “Do not let me see the boy die,” ... and lifted up her voice and wept. God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.

God provided for their very survival. Did it grieve him to do so? Did he do it with joy? I can't begin to understand his heart on the matter, but the fact is, he saved them. Never mind the human suffering of his own ordained children for generations to come. His created human beings in need and in grief at that moment captured his undivided and unbiased attention.

Here's what blows my mind: He loves me that much, too. Because I am his, when I cry out in need or sorrow, I have his undivided attention. So many times I haven't felt that way. I've thought he had more important matters to attend to first. Not that he didn't care or didn't want to act, just that I wasn't a priority at the moment. I don't think I usually expect him to act immediately when I cry out - as though he is at my beck and call. I think I've just believed that he'd eventually get around to me. Perhaps all this time, he's actually been acting in ways that I can't see, in people and in places that are right now foreign to me, but will one day converge to bring about the answers I'm seeking. Regardless, he's heard me. With an attentive and compassionate heart, he's heard. And whether it's best for everyone in the world or for me alone, he will act.

I've still got so much to learn.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sitting on a Snake

My parents called on Friday night and as we talked, they shared the good news that my grandfather, who has struggled with illness over the last couple of years, is doing much better lately. He was even able to travel over Labor Day weekend! That discussion about Grandpa has caused me to reminisce about he and Grandma over the last couple of days, and one remembrance in particular came to mind this morning. . .

One Sunday morning Grandma found reviewing her Sunday School lesson to be a more exciting experience that she'd ever known before. Getting up from the couch to grab a quick bite of breakfast, she returned to the living room to find a snake poking up its head from between the cushions she'd vacated only moments before! Screaming for Grandpa, together, they shoved the couch out the nearby front door, and watched and waited anxiously as the snake slowly crawled out of the sofa and into the motor of their pick-up truck. Grandpa jumped in the truck, searched out the bumpiest dirt road in the county, and proceeded to run roughshod in hopes the snake would fall out. Much to his delight, a few miles down the road, the snake fell out onto the ground instead of crawling into the cab with him!

I doubt any of us will ever forget that harrowing morning, and it got me to thinking: Am I sitting on any snakes? Do I have sin in my life that I've stuffed down under cushions, endangering myself and maybe others? Perhaps I've even allowed that sin to invade other areas of my life as it's slithered from one place to another. Am I willing to shake it free? It may mean riding some bumpy roads to get rid of it, a painful and risky process, but isn't it worth the freedom to be found - freedom from its threat, its hold and the danger of its surprise?

From that day forward, Grandma always checked those cushions before she sat down. I want to daily check to see if I need to do any cleaning out. Sitting on snakes sounds like no fun to me!