"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Fit of Love


Who knew a 6th grader could still throw fits the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina? Just because I told her it was time for bed? I sat in amazement, dumbfounded, as my daughter contorted her body like a pretzel and screamed like a wild Banshee. What does one do in moments like this? I began meting out consequences with every refusal.

“Ok, you’ve just lost dessert until Friday,” I stated. A blood-curdling scream ensued accompanied by more writhing.”  

“Nooooo!” she shrieked uncontrollably.

“You’ve just lost play time with Hailey on Tuesday,” I calmly stated. Maddie threw her body off the couch as if I’d hit her with a ton of bricks, continuing to cry and holler.

“Are you sure you want to keep doing this? Why don’t you just head to bed, so you don’t face anymore consequences?”

Completely unreasonable and uncooperative, Maddie incurred two more nights of “early to bed” before daddy stepped in, picked up the wild child, carried her to bed and slammed the door. Now we had to endure agonizing cries from behind the bedroom door.

Hubby and I sat in stunned silence in the living room wondering ‘what just happened?’ Who pulled the pin on the grenade that just blew up on us? Maddie’s explosive reaction created a domino effect that infused us all with anger.

We calmly discussed what advice Kevin Leman might give us and whether anyone might be in the market to buy a child who sometimes acts like a wild animal. We then debated how quickly we could get plane tickets to Timbuktu. In the end, we walked with some authority and sternness into the girl’s room and ordered her to get to bed now.

Bedtime cuddles were short and definitely not sweet. With a brief prayer and a matter-of-fact ‘I love you,’ I prepared to escape as quickly as possible. Maddie clung to me and whined, “Howwwww?”

“I love you,” I stated.

“Howwww?” she cried again.

“How, what?”

“How can you love me?” she pleaded.

Ahhhh, this is what it boils down to, isn’t it? How can someone love us when we’ve disappointed and disobeyed so horribly? When we’ve thrown ourselves on the floor, kicking and screaming like a two year old, OR a 6th grader? Compassion and love poured out to my sweet girl who wonders if she is still loved after all these despicable acts.

“Do you know how God still loves us even when we make mistakes and fail?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it’s the same with mommy and daddy. We love you even when you disobey and don’t do the right thing. Tomorrow, we get to start over. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“I love you, Maddie.”

“I love you, too, mommy.”

And so, God reminds me of His incredible, abounding, unconditional love through this fit-throwing girl who stomps her feet and wants her way like I do so many times. And, I wonder too. HOW? How can God possibly love me when I demand my way, disobey His word, and disappoint Him so frequently? And, yet, He does! For that, I’m eternally grateful.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A Dangerous Little Pest

Envy lurks at my door.  Just when I think I’ve moved past its grip, I visit a friend’s palatial home, admire shoes beyond my budget or gaze longingly at a piece of jewelry completely out of my price range. Young and old experience the reach of jealousy’s jaws even though the price and type of toys we long for changes. Why can’t we be satisfied with God’s gifts? What causes us to want increasingly more including those things others’ own? 


This problem with envy is as old as time itself.  Characters in Scripture, Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and David and Saul struggled with envy. King Solomon accurately stated there is nothing new under the sun.  Cain’s envy caused him to kill his brother because of a sacrifice; Esau’s jealousy over Jacob stealing his birthright caused him to also consider murder.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because of a colorful coat and his father’s favoritism.  Saul sought to kill David after hearing the people shout, “Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands.”  He eyed him with envy from that day forward. 


While I haven’t descended so far as to attempt murder, I have regarded others’ luxuries with eyes of jealousy. My focus isn’t always material possessions either.  While not immune to envying items such as homes, boats, cars and clothes, I more frequently wistfully regard spiritual things like other women’s giftedness, areas of service or places of ministry.  Gee Lord, I wish I could sing like her.  Why didn’t I get asked to teach?  Why can’t I lead that group?  This truth hits so many of us who serve in the church.  We desire other’s gifts and areas of ministry in which God has blessed them. 


As I confess my envy of other’s accomplishments, I take the sting out of its affect on my life.  If Saul would’ve repented of his envy over David’s prowess in battle, think of what accomplishments Saul and David could’ve achieved together.   How much greater could the Kingdom of Israel have been if Saul had focused on making God’s name more famous than his own? If Saul had encouraged and promoted David in his battles on behalf of Israel, might he have benefited as well? The fear that plagued Saul pesters me as well. God, will there be fewer gifts for me since you dumped all these blessings on them?  Why do we think God’s resources have limits?  Scripture says our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. (Psalm 50:10)   


Satan uses my envy to distract me from the life God has called me to live.  If I’m consumed with comparing my gifts with others, wondering why they seem more blessed than me, complaining to my Creator about the unfairness of his gift-giving, I am opting out of the place where God desires me to minister.  No one else can fulfill the calling on my life but me.  If I want to be someone else, who will be me?  I must quit comparing my life and my gifts with my friends’ lives and gifts and live for One who made me and gave me a specific purpose to carry out.  I should encourage others in their gifts so they can also fulfill God’s purpose in their lives.


Perhaps as I am faithful to exercise the gifts with which God has blessed me, working diligently in the place God has called me, He can entrust me with more. When I am careless and bury my talent like the man in Matthew 25, even what I have been given will be removed.


Father, 

May I be grateful for the gifts with which you have blessed me. Help me to keep from the sin of either spurning or burying what you have so graciously given. May I realize that if I do not use my gifts, the work to which you have called me will not be done. Keep me from looking to my left or right, the sin of comparison. I desire to focus my eyes on You, the abundant Giver of all good and perfect gifts.








Monday, July 16, 2012

Ready for Something New!

There’s something exciting about the word “new”, don’t you think? We love to shop for a new outfit, get a fresh pedicure, sit for a makeover, and purchase new pillows or pictures for our homes. After a sleepless night, who doesn’t want to begin anew? What drought affected and deer decimated garden doesn’t crave replanting? Who knew those beautiful creatures could destroy a zucchini plant in one night of feasting? From the latest vacation to the purchase of school supplies, we love new things.

If we aren’t careful, however, we can get caught up in obtaining the latest new-fangled contraption. Some of us find ourselves in debt because of our impulsive need for the new. This dangerous trap is the primary reason I avoid the mall. If I don’t go, I don’t see the latest Vera bag, iPod or Target tee. Who hasn’t visited Target for a handful of items and exited with a cartful?  

Perhaps it’s healthy for us to cling to the word “renew”—to make new again. Some have perfected the art of creating new from old in the physical realm. They transform worn-out furniture into beautiful pieces, or repair and repaint a car from the 50’s, or remodel a dingy home into something amazing. Our fascination with this type of creativity is evident in the plethora of shows broadcast into our living rooms each day. Something deep within us resonates with the old being transformed into something not only usable but also beautiful.  

The Master Creator planted this desire for newness inside of us. Our hearts and minds are corrupted without God renewing them. Too often we rely on our own willpower and strength to invoke virtuous thoughts and upright behavior. Yet, all our human effort can’t accomplish this task. Isaiah 64:6 states that all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Thus, I can stake no hope in my own dogged determination to do or be good. And, even if I can outwardly appear charming, kind and benevolent, my heart may be loaded with bitterness, anger and envy. Scripture points me to Jesus as my only hope for renewal. He who spoke the world into existence from chaos is the only one who can restore and refresh my infected heart and mind.

So I pray, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) Then I reflect on His word.

            “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

            “who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:5)

            “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Later this week, when my family departs for vacation, I will recall this to mind. While I rest, relax and renew physically, I remember that true heart and mind renewal comes via my God. He makes my spirit new every single day as I tap into His never-ending supply.

            “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca (tears or weeping), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” (Psalm 84:4-7)


Friday, June 22, 2012

A Grateful Heart

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances or this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Over a year ago, I began a gift list sparked by reading Ann Voscamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. Cataloging God’s blessings in my life commenced a journey of awareness. It was easy to fill up a page or two…hubby, children, friends, home—you know what I mean. Eventually, I ran out of ideas and that’s when I had to dig deeper. I opened my eyes a bit wider to everything around me—scanning the horizon for evidences of God working. Looking below the surface meant delving into areas in which finding anything good is a challenge. What good is there in pain and suffering or divorce and disease? Yet, God does ask me to give thanks “in” all circumstances.

My journey thus far has taken me to number 908 gifts:

881.     Alix graduating from high school with honors.

882.    Enjoying time with my parents.

883.    Savoring yummy Amish cooking.

884.    Car trips playing “Categories” naming every candy bar in the world.

885.    Preparing a graduation party with mom and my future daughter-in-law.

886.    Leisurely mornings and great conversations with mom.

887.    Lots of coffee and chocolate.

888.    Playing dozens of games of cards with the family.

889.    Strolling through shops in Nashville, Indiana.

890.    God’s grace in giving me amazing parents.

891.     Tough conversations that end in prayer.

892.    Barn swallows protecting their babies until they fly.

893.    Mommies and daddies protecting their babies until they leave the home nest.

894.    Bowing the knee desperate for God’s guidance and discernment.

895.    Husband who loves his wife well.

896.    A godly, gentle father who loves me unconditionally.

897.    Chatting with the best brother ever on Father’s Day.

898.    An amazing father and stepfather.

899.    Internship opportunity for Nick with his stepdad.

900.    Kids in VBX reminded that heaven is their true home.

901.     Soaking in sun and precious friends at the pool.

902.    Reading with Maddie.

903.    Spontaneous discussions with Alix.

904.    A son who works hard and expends every last ounce of energy.

905.    A focused hubby studying diligently for his upcoming test.

906.    A growing garden

907.    Praying through a horrific headache.

908.    God’s mercies, new every single day! 

Gratitude brings joy as I focus my thoughts on all the ways God has blessed me, even in the painful parts of my journey. For when I ask the question, “What is the good in this tough situation I am facing?” The answer is clear—God’s abiding presence is always the blessing. Even when I can’t find one other gift about the difficult, the pain, the hard, I know He is with me!

Start counting your gifts…


Monday, June 18, 2012

Barn Swallows and Babies

The barn swallow headed straight for me, like a war plane honing in on its target. It zoomed in close, veering off at the last second. All I wanted to do was turn the sprinkler on the bone dry garden. Instead, I held the sprinkler up in the air fighting off a half-crazed bird intent on pecking me to death. I don’t know if the neighbors could see the spectacle—the bizarre wet-headed blonde waving a sprinkler yelling, “Get away from me. I’m not going to hurt your babies! Get away!” At least no one from the mental hospital drove up to take me away. What I do know is that I dropped the sprinkler and darted into the house without turning on the water.  Thirsty vegetables weren’t worth risking my life. I sure didn’t want to be the next day’s news, “Loony lady pecked to death by savage swallows.”


Mama or papa bird surmised I was a tad too close to their precious nesting babies. Every year, barn swallows build a mud nest right below our deck. Every year, we wait for the eggs to hatch, peering frequently through the slats to view the progress. As they grow, nearing the time when they will leave their protected life, the parentals make frequent flybys, swooping in close to ward off any potential danger. I know I won’t hurt their little cargo—and frequently vocalize that to them—but they definitely don’t understand my message. Their instinct screams, “Danger alert!” Locking on their target, they whoosh down towards the victim, who scrambles to safety.


As parents we act the same way with our babies. Our protective nature heightens when we sense threats to our own children. When our children are toddlers, we keep a close rein on them in malls, grocery stores and when crossing streets. Before play dates we perform thorough background checks and submit fingerprints of those living in the home. We carefully cross examine our teens with who, what, when, where and why before they are allowed to leave our presence. Our suspicious antenna is constantly raised at outside forces seeking harm to our children, no matter their age.

Let’s face it, whether our children are two months old or 18 years old, we keep our eyes peeled for predators. When my 11 year old was a toddler, she meandered through stores without a care in the world.  She had no concept of danger. She talked to strangers like they were her best friends and placed trust in anyone.  Thus, when we traveled to Disney World we purchased a harness for her to wear. She called it her “doggie.” I’ll never forget as we entered the gate to Animal Kingdom a woman commenting with disgust to her daughter when she saw our little munchkin attached to this leash.

“I would never have put you in something like that!”

I, overhearing her words, responded, “That’s my daughter, and she wears that for her own protection. Otherwise, she would wander away without once looking back to see if her parents were following her.”

That sufficiently shut up the sassy simpleton.

Parents, like mama birds, protect their young as long as they remain in their care. Before I became a parent with the responsibility of protecting and caring for children, I was a fairly passive person. Not a lot ruffled me. However, I quickly became like the bird diving to ward off enemies once little babies were my concern. I wouldn’t always fight or stand up for myself, but I would go to bat for my children! Until my kids are grown and gone, I will continue to watch for and ward off adversaries.

And the baby birds? A week later, and all is quiet underneath my deck. The babies spread their wings and flew away, the barn swallow parents accomplishing their mission. For a week, I refused to risk my life and stayed away from the fledglings learning to fly. Now I venture to the backyard, gaze at the empty nest and pray for a successful flight for my little ones as well!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Endings and Beginnings


 Just yesterday my daughter began her freshman year of high school, ditching middle school as easily as parental advice. Navigating three floors of classrooms with 1600 students jamming hallways seemed intimidating yet exciting. It was definitely bigger stuff than the comparatively small middle school comprised of only two grades.

Today she nears the end of her high school days, ready to escape the immaturity of the lowly underclassmen, annoying teachers and stupid rules. Her incarceration ends this week when she’ll be released on good behavior, receiving her slip of paper announcing she’s completed her four year sentence—with honors!

Endings and beginnings—isn’t life full of those? The baby stage ends when walking begins. When children attend school, we say goodbye to toddlerhood. And before we can blink, high school graduation is staring us in the face. Bittersweet emotions fill us, tears of joy and sadness mixing like oil and vinegar. We teach, train and discipline our children as they move from toddler to tween, tween to teen, for the moment they will stroll across a platform wearing cap and gown. Still, that day occurs more suddenly than a lightning bolt flashes across the sky. And, we are caught by surprise. We didn’t know the day would arrive so quickly—and have we done enough? Have we prepared, encouraged and coached enough? Is it ever enough?

Frankly, I just don’t know. How many times have I beaten myself up for not being a better example, a more perfect role model? I’ve committed a multitude of mistakes—nagging and needling my daughter like a whiny toddler.  Like a witness on the stand, I’ve badgered her with questions. I’ve said things I shouldn’t have and wished for more do-over moments than the number of shoes in Imelda Marcos’ closet.

Yet, I’ve also cheered, listened, supported and prayed for that lovely young lady. I’ve worked on expressing love without condition, even when her room looks like a tornado touched down leaving debris everywhere. Above all else, I hope I loved well and forgave often.

Have I done enough? Certainly, I’ve equipped her well in the tangibles. If desperate, Alix can whip up a mean macaroni and cheese or top ramen soup. She can operate a washing machine and most likely holds the record for the number of clothes she’s folded.  Cleaning bathrooms, a breeze. Getting along with people? Easy!

I don’t stew about these issues. For a girl who’s flown more than halfway across the United States by herself every summer navigating an array of different airports, figuring out the layout of campus or traversing a new town are simple problems to solve. No, I fret over the very things I should be offering in prayer to the Creator. Will she make good friends? Will she make good decisions? If she gets in a pickle, will she look up instead of to her friends? Have I shown her how to do that? Have I equipped her enough for the issues she will face all by herself—without mom and dad to freely offer sage advice! Does she know that no matter what, we love her—no matter what?!

Time is slipping by, and there’s so much I want to say in these last couple of months before her new beginning…her new adventure. Over her 18 years, I’ve taught, advised and preached in various venues, at different times, yet it feels like there’s still more to convey and not enough time! I desire her to be fully prepared for every situation. Still, I know that’s not possible. She’s ready to fly, and those wings are flapping so loudly, she can’t hear much of the words flowing from my lips. To her, they must sound an awful lot like the teacher in Charlie Brown—“Wah, wah, wah, wah!”

While I want to slow these summer days down; she desires the clock to tick a little faster. Until that instance when I kiss her goodbye at the dorm room door—if she’ll let me kiss her—I am challenged to make each moment matter. I’m determined to preach a little less, love a little more. Keep the nagging down, the encouragement up. Loosen the reins, tighten the affection.  

If I spend my days loving her and laughing with her, won’t this girl carry positive memories of her last season living at home full time? During the hard days of homework and homesickness, lectures and late nights, classes and cafeteria food, what do I want her to remember? A magnificent ending, of course! Just like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, I desire this finale to be noteworthy and striking.  

Won’t such a grand ending spark her to a remarkable beginning?




Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mommy Lingo


Lingo—mommies everywhere use it. We repeat particular words and phrases to our children like a Gregorian chant. The sayings my mother chanted incessantly are ingrained in my memory, and unwittingly, I’ve reiterated a few of them to my own children. Perhaps these will sound familiar to you as well.

Tee-ee-eemwork—This sing-songy expression Mom gushed during any type of chore to make it seem more fun because we were working together. She coined this original “clean up” tune before Barney created the official “Clean Up” song.  You know the one I’m referring to: “Clean up, clean up; everybody, everywhere. Clean up, clean up: everybody do your share.” Unfortunately, we didn’t buy into her effort to make weeding the flower beds, dusting the bookshelves or raking the shag carpet a joyful event.

We’re making a memory—The first occasion I recall mom using this phrase, we were traveling by train through the desert of California when the air conditioning quit working. Mom hadn’t anticipated entertaining three young, cranky children in a sweltering train car for hundreds of miles.  However, she turned a sizzling situation into an optimistic opportunity. We never forgot the trip and have uttered these words many times when plans go awry.

Go ahead and do what you want; you will anyway (said with a sigh)—Mom voiced this expression specifically during our teen years when one of us wanted to participate in some activity of which she didn’t wholeheartedly approve, but couldn’t think of a good enough reason to tell us no.  Activities such as attending a dance after a football game or driving to the big city with friends weren’t scandalous, but simply made her feel a little uncomfortable. Most of the time, the sigh at the end, designed to invoke guilt, didn’t achieve its desired results. And, even when we felt a slight twinge of guilt, we took part in the endeavor anyway! 



If ________ jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge?—Mom spurted this when we tried to persuade her to allow us to partake in an activity our friends were allowed to do. Spouting “Linda’s mom lets her _________” didn’t fly in our house. I take this a step further with my own kids by asking, “Do I look like __________’s mom? Guess you were just born in the wrong house.” At first glance, this phrase appears similar to the one above; however, the major difference is that this saying was used to clearly define actions that mom felt crossed the line, such as watching questionable movies.

We’ll see—Basically, these two powerful words mean “no” but are said not only to stall the inevitable but also to give moms a reprieve from the whining and pleading that ensues when the word “no” is used. This short expression may be a mom’s most frequent utterance, discharged subconsciously a hundred times a day to a badgering toddler, tween or teen.

Go Ask Your Dad—Most of the time, we asked our dad first anyway! Dad, a big mush, would consent to our desires more often than mom, who vetoed more than President Roosevelt (FDR). However, when the two finally deciphered our game, they plotted together foiling our attempts to get away with any shenanigans. Before long, “go ask your dad” resulted in “what did your mom say?” Ah, shucks—we knew the answer to that! I’ve used these words plenty of times as a stall tactic and to pass the buck.

Mommy mantras abound, don’t they? We’ve heard and verbalized multitudes of phrases. I’ve declared, “Do your best”, “be polite”, “don’t touch”, “brush your teeth”, “and remember to say thank you”, “drive carefully”. The list is endless and is no respecter of age. For some reason, we continue to reiterate long after our children are grown, married and parenting our grandchildren. It’s a habit from years in the trenches of motherhood when we are training and teaching our children to become responsible young men and women.

I know this to be true because of the words my 92 year old grandma said to my age 70-ish aunt who lives with her. Rain pelted the ground in the San Luis Obispo area where they resided. As my aunt was preparing to leave the house to pick up my mother at the airport, my grandma said, “Be careful driving in the rain!”
As sure as the sun rises and sets, moms around the world will drive their children crazy imparting short nuggets whether their children are age 5 or 50—or even older than that!       

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Drink Up!

“Mom?” Alix muttered over the phone. “I don’t think I can drive home. Can you come get me?”
“What’s going on?”
“I’m really shaky and having trouble breathing. My hands and legs are numb.”
“I’ll be there in a minute. Hang tight.” Tony and I rushed out the door leaving the rest of the family with more questions than answers. As we sped toward the Subway where Alix worked, I dialed 911 just.in.case. The ambulance arrived as we were pulling into the parking lot. I scrambled out of the car to the open van door, Alix sprawled in the back seat, perspiring profusely.
The paramedics asked questions, trying to assess her condition. What were her symptoms? When did they begin? They took her blood pressure. More questions. More assessments. Alix, disoriented and dazed, stammered through queries from all of us. She started cramping and feeling dizzy at work.  No, she hadn’t eaten anything today. No, she hadn’t drank anything today. Her tongue felt thick, and she couldn’t enunciate. Her limbs felt numb. She was hot.
The paramedics suggested we transport her to the hospital for evaluation. They were definitely amenable to ferrying her there with all the bells and whistles for a fair amount of dollars, but given the tests didn’t appear to show anything life threatening, these sympathetic professionals gave us the ultimate decision. Minutes later, Tony zipped towards the hospital with Alix stretched across the seat, slurring and sweating.
I reminisce about events that occurred a year before when we received another phone call informing us that Alix had fainted at the pool. Sweltering heat. High humidity. No drink. No food. Yep, her hands and feet were numb then as well. A few years before that, she felt dizzy and disoriented by another poolside. The boiling temperature of summer, again. A pattern emerges. And before that? During a gymnastics choreography session, Alix, shaky, light-headed and sensing numbness in her limbs, was forced to stop.  How many times had we told her? Stay hydrated. Even if you aren’t thirsty, drink!
And, this particular day? She hadn’t eaten a morsel all day. She scared us half to death, and now we careened around corners like Nascar drivers. Once in the emergency room, nurses plied her with questions and poked her arm for blood. The doctor tested her for this, that and the other, ruling out all types of diseases and conditions except for the one sitting in the back of my mind all along—dehydration. Yep, she inherited the propensity for this nagging condition honestly. With six dehydration fainting episodes in my lifetime, Alix threatens to pass me by like Secretariat blowing past Sham in the Kentucky Derby.  And, it’s all due to the dilemma of not consuming enough liquid.
Like Alix, I rarely feel thirsty. Hours pass before I sense the urge to sip anything; even morning coffee is more of a ritual than a need for liquid. Occasionally, I wonder if I’m an anomaly, for a friend can hammer down three ice teas to my one in the course of a 2 hour lunch. And, of all known drinks, water never sounds appealing. When exercising, I force myself to gulp water by filling up two large jugs to be emptied by the end of the day. Since I don’t desire to add a seventh fainting episode to my existing achievements, I carry my tervis tumbler in the car for easy access. I’m nurturing my desire for water by removing other drink temptations and keeping the true thirst quencher at hand.
Much like my physical thirst, I must cultivate spiritual thirst. So often, I’m not thirsty for God. I want to drink at other wells: social media, shopping, television, friends, books or ministry. I expect these items to fill me up, but they, like drinks substituted for water, only temporarily satiate.  While coffee, tea and soft drinks are certainly tastier than water, if I drink them excessively and exclusively, they can cause dehydration. Lack of adequate fluids can cause serious repercussions and just might land a person in the hospital emergency room.  However, if I replenish with the real deal, I quench my thirst and don’t require the poor replacements. Similarly, when I seek fulfillment through other avenues instead of filling up with Him, my energy wanes, and I face spiritual dehydration. I need refreshment from the Life-giver.
How do I change my taste buds and develop a thirst for that which is refreshing and reviving? How do I exchange my desire to quench myself by stalking friends on Facebook, consuming a thrilling page-turner or serving in a motivating ministry? Even ministry can deplete our reserves when we seek fulfillment there rather than relationship with our Creator. Sooner or later, we will crash and burn. Many recognize this yet continue to drink from draining sources. In light of this, what are ways we can build our thirst for Him?
Drink Deliberately. Just like pushing myself to down water, I purposefully study God’s word. The more I do this, the more it becomes a habit, like brushing my teeth or fastening my seat belt. When I miss my minutes with God, I wonder what He had planned to reveal to me that day. Depleted of my reviving resources, I fail and fizzle out in managing my time wisely, treasuring relationships and handling household responsibilities. My water intake affects my energy output in the same manner my deliberate devotion does.
Refresh Repeatedly. I drag a bottle of water with me wherever I travel. A number of times, I’ve rushed back into the house in a panic for the water overlooked. Like the blanket my son lugged everywhere we trekked, I keep that tumbler of water nearby. It’s handy for a sip whenever I need the cool liquid. In the same way, I remain aware of God’s presence throughout the day. I swallow frequently, breathing prayers while washing clothes or dishes. I read an email and pray for a friend. Watching a bird at the feeder, I thank God for His beautiful creation and how He even takes care of the birds. Making lunches for the girls causes me to be grateful for the food we have to eat. I drink deeply when taking care of ministry matters, giving God glory for what He is doing in other women’s lives. God is my spring of living water from which I drink deeply throughout my day.
"...Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14)
I wish I could say I’ve conquered my thirst problem. I fully intend to order water at restaurants, but when faced with the temptation of a big glass of iced tea, I cave. So many times, I succumb to my craving instead of what will truly invigorate. Still, I am working on it. Being aware of my tendency to become easily dehydrated propels me to choose healthy habits more often. In the same way, I gravitate towards the God who can refill and refresh me to overflowing so that I have unlimited supply to spill out in my home, ministry and community.
Drink deeply; He is the spring that will never run dry!    


 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Joke and a Smile

He burst onto the planet with a smile tattooed on his baby face like those who sport tattooed eyeliner. Frankly, that happy face was simply his permanent face status.  And today that beaming boy celebrates his 21st year of life. The doctors gave me an April 1st due date, but true to his nature, Nick fooled me and came ten days later, a cruel joke to play on a mom still waddling around like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
If there were an award for babies, Nick would have received “Most Cuddly.” He loved being rocked to sleep rather than fall asleep on his own. And, when he moved to a big bed, he would slip out of it sometime during the evening and sleep right by the inside of the door so that I couldn’t open it in the morning. He hated being by himself; he always wanted to be in the middle of the action. And, Nick could eavesdrop on an exchange from two miles away! Seemingly engrossed in homework or a book, he would pipe up from the other room asking for clarification on a conversation that didn’t involve him. That’s my Nosy Nick. Wonder where he inherited that trait?
Not content to play alone, Nick looked forward to little sister, Alix’s arrival, anticipating that immediately upon her return from the hospital, she would somehow mobilize herself into playmate action. Much to his dismay, she lay around, cooing and googling for weeks and months before his dream came true. Even then, as Alix grew older, she would refuse to play with him, and Nick would get angry. Most big brothers can’t ditch their younger siblings quickly enough. Not Nick!
Nick’s love for games and jokes began early, beginning with his surprise late arrival. We’ve endured homemade “knock knock jokes”, library joke books as well as the book presently gracing the bathroom shelf. It never fails that even now, when that young man comes home from college, he comes out of the lavatory with a joke on his lips. Groans and moans ensuing from those dumb jokes don’t stop that kid. As a young teen, Nick antagonized his baby sister Maddie incessantly while proclaiming that he “didn’t do anything.” He’d continue to provoke her by silently invading her space knowing she’d scream and we’d chastise her unaware of his sneakiness.
Nick struggled with being a good sport when playing games. After losing, he would throw board pieces and pout, but he caught on quickly that no one would play with him if he didn’t grasp that universal concept that everyone wins and loses sometimes. That doesn’t mean he isn’t competitive; he just doesn’t stomp his feet and pound his fist anymore! He thrives on activity whether cajoling Maddie to play basketball with him or begging the family to play Electronic Banking Monopoly. One summer, Nick organized a hiking expedition in the woods behind some property we own. We traipsed along trails brushing past tree branches overhanging the path and climbed huge limestone rocks, scraping our knees and arms as we navigated to the top. Hours later, we dragged ourselves home, wounded and tick infested, swearing we’d never listen to Nick’s bright ideas again!
For years, prior to April Fool’s Day, Nick would search for practical jokes to play on us. One year, Nick wrapped saran wrap over the opening of my shampoo and conditioner. Another time, Nick offering to prepare Alix’ breakfast should’ve clued her in that something was amiss; however, with her blond roots, she remained oblivious. When she tasted her cereal, discovering it was mixed with a blend of flour and water, she scrunched her face at Nick, “What is this?!” Yep, it’s best to be on your guard on the 1st of April when Nick is present.
Nick is all about details. It’s wise not to ask him how he enjoyed a particular movie because he will then describe it play-by-play. Asking him a simple question will lead to recounting additional information and stories he feels are necessary to convey a complete answer. If Alix is “just the facts, ma’am” and Maddie is “embellish and dramatize all the events,” Nick is “clarify and spell out every detail.” Extremely conscientious as a teen, Nick checked in frequently, cataloging specifics, carefully relaying material he felt we should be aware of. As a case in point, one evening after Tony and I had gone to bed, Nick felt it important upon his return from work to knock on our bedroom door to inform us that he had brought home Chick-Fil-A sandwich leftovers. Tony responded, “Gee, thanks Nick for letting us know!” While Nick’s major in the minutiae gives us a good laugh occasionally, I certainly can’t chortle too loudly. For, Nick and I are two peas in a pod in pontificating the particulars as well as prying information. We both desire to be in the know as well as setting the stage for the story that follows. Everyone else is screaming, “Get to the point!”
Responsible firstborn, Nick has always protected and kept an eye on his two sisters. He was the voice for Alix for many years, because she was too shy to speak up. And, with 10 years between he and Maddie, he took care of her like a parent, making sure she didn’t run into the middle of a street and keeping track of her when we were occupied. He assumed the task as naturally as a bee gravitates to honey. And, while he loves to joke and pester, Nick doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. Easy going, kind, gentle, dependable…all describe this 6’2” young man. In keeping with what mom says of my younger brother, “He’s such a nice boy!”
And yet, for all these positive traits, Nick definitely knows how to argue a point to the death. Determined to have the last word in a conversation even if it’s muttering something under his breath as he stomps out of the room, Nick loves to be right. Learning that some topics and discussions don’t have to be a hill to die on is an ongoing process for Nick. Still, this stand firm mentality carried him through tough teen years and gave him the ability to make wise choices.
This resolve also caused him to make these declarations, “I will not have a girlfriend until college” and “I will not go to prom in high school.” Wrong on both counts! Nick became friends with a girl who liked hanging out with him. Everyone knew she liked him, but naïve Nick! Part way into their junior year, Nick told me he was going to ask her to be his girlfriend. When he asked her to the prom, Nick had to recant his previous pronouncements. Fast forward four and a half years and Nick is engaged to this same girl, the only woman he’s ever dated. Next year, that joke-telling, jovial, gentle son of mine will join his life to a lovely lady who has made him a better Nick.
He’s a prankster with a huge heart, and at twenty one, still sports a smile as big as the sea!
 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Storage Secrets

The town in which I was raised our family relocated like nomadic gypsies. While we lived in the same small berg for 14 years, we moved five times, an average of 2.8 years in each abode. We didn’t allow much time to let the grass grow before we set our sights on new digs. I’m not certain the reasons behind all these moves from one end of town to the other. I don’t think we were run out of neighborhoods for too many dandelions or breaking a noise ordinance. We displayed our washing machine in the house, not the front porch, like a redneck might. It’s not like my parents had 17 annoying children harassing the neighbors, either. Three is a pretty normal number, and we definitely were quite angelic. So, why we moved from house to house, I don’t really know unless my dad has gypsy roots. This hopping around like rabbits resulted in purging possessions frequently, although I prefer the term “simplify” much better since the former sounds too much like something we do in a toilet.
In any case, I’ve learned to simplify along the way since for many years, I too carried this gypsy gene in my veins. Until this last house in which I’ve resided for the last 11 years, I had relocated 15 times in 15 years, a measly year in each place. Goodness, a year is only enough time to move in, unpack and begin looking for a new dwelling! I felt like a squirrel scrambling up one tree, unloading a few acorns, only to set his sights on the next tree, looking for that place to call home. I didn’t have time to become a packrat or a collector of Precious Moments or Lladro. An itinerant lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to piling up possessions like Adele collecting awards at the Grammy’s.  
So, now that I’ve managed to settle down in one domicile for almost an eternity, I’ve stockpiled, stuffed and stored belongings that otherwise would have been eliminated in one of my 40,000 moves. Four overflowing bookshelves, an army of toys and ancient relics from the past threatened a coup. Thus, I embarked on a journey to eradicate unnecessary items seeking to bully us from our dwelling. My first stop, the basement storage, which hosted not only Christmas décor, but also those important artifacts from yesteryear that neither hubby nor I could bear to part with. It goes without saying that I keep a few sentimental items from the kids’ baby years, not to mention those valuable high school year books with such meaningful comments as “stay sweet” and “wish’d I could’ve spent more time with you” from friends that I haven’t talked to in 30 years.
I’m not quite sure why the man of the house complains about my growing mountain of books while he clings to Accounting and Calculus textbooks from ancient times. Surely, combs with teeth missing don’t pack sentimental value. And, why does he continue to save ski maps of Aspen and Vale from 1982? What causes us to cling to these articles that sit uselessly in the dark?  It’s like those clothes I simply can’t discard because I might wear them—someday.  Lest I place all the blame on my poor partner, why on earth do I keep research papers from college or high school unless I need to spark a bonfire? Do I really want to show my daughter my piano evaluation that displays my hapless grade on practicing and dynamics (the very things she struggles with)?  I might not be a packrat in the truest sense of the word, but what objects do I keep hidden away…just.in.case—like the two indoor water fountains that we might display someday, or the million tote bags tucked away, or the tent we’ve never used (nor will we, if I have any say). The list is endless…
And so, I simplified the storage. I emptied boxes like my 20-year-old son eats cereal. Forty-old-combs and thirty-year-old maps disappeared, and the “we might use them someday” fountains recycled. The tent was miraculously saved for “one of those years”. The storage closet, now condensed and compact like a smart car, whereas before, navigating that room was like a soldier tiptoeing across a mine field. Boxes precariously positioned and items haphazardly strewn about endangered anyone entering the room.
Cleaning out unnecessary items is cathartic. Especially for the soul. What menacing matters jeopardize my heart? What clutters my conscience? Am I hiding, harboring or hanging onto something like a child refusing to unclench her favorite blanket or stuffed animal to be washed? Do I really think I can keep anything secret from the One who sees all?

“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” Psalm 90:8

So often I convince myself that if no one else knows about my anger simmering like soup, God is oblivious to it as well. Then, I read words about God creating me in the secret place, and I remember nothing is hidden from my Creator.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”  Psalm 139:15-16
He, who created me, is intimately familiar with everything that makes me tick. As I ponder this verse, I comprehend how strangely comforting this truth is. The God of the Universe knows me—the terrible thoughts, the shady secrets, the awful attitudes—and loves me in spite of what lurks in my heart. While others might recoil, Jesus embraces me. He exposes my sin in the light of His presence and invites me to experience His forgiveness, like the woman caught in the act of adultery. Her sin uncovered and accusers gone, Jesus forgives and summons her to live differently—to expunge damaging deeds done in the dark.
And so, He calls all of us to walk in the light, to eradicate concealed cargo that we grip tightly to. As we let go, our hearts can be filled with His goodness and grace. Just as our storage compartments are expunged of unnecessary clutter, so our hearts are freed from those secret sins which weigh us down.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”           Psalm 139:23-24


Friday, March 30, 2012

Feast on Friday

If there is such a thing, I would be labeled a bake-a-holic—especially at Christmas. Just after Thanksgiving each year, I revisit my previous year’s baking list and make adjustments. I begin with about 10-15 types of cookies or candy. My trusty tried and true favorites never leave the list, but cookies or candies that don’t measure up, get voted off and are replaced by recipes I’ve collected throughout the year. I bake and freeze during December and then parcel goodies out to friends and family, saving an assortment to take to holiday parties and our own festivities.
I have baking lists dating back to 2006, which may seem a little crazy except that it allows me to remember what I’ve made in the past and perhaps revive a recipe from the grave if I so desire. The following recipe is a fabulous one for homemade peanut butter cups. While I’m a firm opponent of peanut butter in general, when it’s paired with chocolate it becomes quite dreamy.

Peanut Butter Cups by Rachael Ray

8 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
4 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ c. natural peanut butter
½ c. honey
(Hint: Use baking liners to form a chocolate shell. Swirl or paint the liquefied chocolate up the walls. Once it sets, fill the shell, then top with more melted chocolate to seal the candy.)

1.      Place 12 – 2 ½ inch baking liners on a baking sheet. Melt the chocolate. Reserve a pot of hot water to keep the chocolate liquid, as necessary. (Since I don’t have a double boiler, I follow the directions on the package to microwave.)
2.      Place about 2 teaspoons of the melted chocolate in a baking cup, swirling to coat about halfway up the side of the cup. Repeat with the remaining cups. Refrigerate until set.
3.      Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the peanut butter and honey. Transfer the mixture to a resealable plastic bag and snip off one corner.
4.      Fill the chocolate cups about ¾ full with the peanut butter mixture, smoothing the surface. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
5.     Top each peanut butter cup with melted chocolate to enclose, smoothing the surface. Refrigerate until hardened. To serve, remove the candies from the baking liners. (Keep stored in refrigerator.)

While this is an easy recipe to follow, it is a tad time-consuming because of all the refrigeration in between steps. You won’t be sorry if you take the time!!

Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Longing for Spring

“Spring has sprung, the grass has riz’; see where all the pretty flowers iz”
I’m not quite sure where this quote originates, but my husband claims his father spouted this catchy phrase each year. And, though we barely had a winter in this place where snow days usually stack up like bills in the mailbox, I still look longingly for spring. In early March signs began blaring its return, daffodils waving in the early morning sun, trees bursting with blossoms, and the bluebird whacking its beak against my window pane attempting to destroy the bird in his reflection. Poor guy! He pings and pounds because he’s protecting the birdhouse for the female to lay her eggs. He must have a massive migraine.
Spring emerges with new life and brings hope to the world. Nature announces its arrival. Birds sing, dead-like weeping willow sticks flesh green, and evergreens spray fresh scent. My senses, dulled by the brown and gray of winter, awaken to bright splashes of yellow, green, purple and pink.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)
In a purely seasonal sense, I’ve been sick all winter, longing for the renewal of life that comes with spring. Each year, I watch what looks dead sprout green and bloom color. The tangible signs of spring spark a sensation in my soul that someday my eternal longings will be fulfilled. 

Though I enjoy the earthly blessings God has given me—marriage, children, friendships, ministry—desires deep down lay dormant, waiting for what only heaven can offer.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
(1 Corinthians 15:9)

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  As a child, I remember anticipating exciting events—vacations, play dates, grandma’s visits—and then it was over all too soon. The buildup to the event was often times more thrilling than the actual occasion. When the trip concluded, my friend returned home and grandma travelled back to California, I felt letdown. For all these experiences promised to be, my expectations weren’t met—my longings for more unquenched.  

Because “God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccl. 3:11), no earthly encounter will fulfill us. God designed it that way—that we long for Him, fill up with Him, hope in Him. Even chocolate, albeit extremely satisfying, is simply a substitute!  I love C.S. Lewis’ words regarding our longings realized.

“Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it {longings}, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

So, while I revel in earthly blessings, like the beauty of spring, lunch with precious friends, time with my family, I realize that God has created me for more. My mind can’t begin to grasp anything more beautiful than blooming tulips, cascading waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. What God has planned in the life beyond is just a shadow of all that I experience here. And frankly, some of these occurences, like sickness, pain and death, I can live without! Yet, even all the goodness here can’t trump what God has in store there.

Until that time when God meets all of our longings, we wait for spring. Life may look bleak, but as sure as the sun rises every day, just below the soil, new green is getting ready to push up out of the ground. It’s patiently waiting for the right time. We keep hoping as we scan for that first shoot of green forcing its way to the light. The flower gains strength under the sun’s warmth as do we. Let us bask in the light of the Son.

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)