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Thursday, January 28, 2010

First Monday Trade Days

As my week in Texas is drawing to a close, my friend Kim and I are heading just up the road to First Monday Trade Days in Canton. I realize it's not Monday and it's not the first of anything, but the Trade Days are held the weekend before the first Monday of every month and next Monday is February 1st, thus today begins First Monday. Actually tomorrow is the official beginning of First Monday, but locals know you can go on Thursday too.

Enough jibber jabber!

What in the world is First Monday Trade Days? It's a smorgasborg of useful stuff such as antique milk bottles, sequined headbands, bejeweled planters, weight loss formulas, miniature fountains suitable for your living room, dolcimer recordings, handpainted wooden doll furniture, stained glass windows, frou frou hair bows, bulletin boards for your college sorority girl, bird feeders, and tutus. Everyone needs a tutu, after all.

While at First Monday (as we frequent shoppers call it) you can meander through hundreds of vendors' make-shift shops, covering over 100 acres. While you carefully examine each antique plate and vintage tablecloth you'll want to sip on some steaming gourmet coffee or guzzle down a bottle of Dublin Dr. Pepper made with pure cane sugar. Then for lunch you can have just about anything you want on a stick or stuffed with bacon.

People pull or push little carts made just for this sort of rough terrain shopping as they travel from one vendor awning to another, sticking to the pavillions in inclement weather (as we're supposed to have today) or venturing into the wooded areas when you just need a break from the crowded buildings. Women talk to their shopping buds on walkie talkies, spying out great deals for each other and keeping an eye out for that perfect centerpiece for their pal's dining room table. Husbands either defect to the antique tool vendors, the collection of Buddy Holly memorabilia, or the turkey leg stand. Then, after they've met up with their wives again, they tag along looking at all the things the wife now needs to make up her mind about and wants her husband's "opinion" on.

And so, Kim and I will join the masses of mostly women, dressed in their cute denim jackets, their most stylish but still practical walking shoes, and their fanny packs, to look for more stuff that we just gotta have. Actually Kim and I will spend very little as we have a very little budget, but still we'll oogle and oggle over the latest creations made with buttons, sequins, vintage green paint, feathers, and broken glass.

Are you waiting for the spiritual content of this post? Sorry, nothing here. Except to say you might want to pray for me to stay within my ridiculously small budget. Hard thing to do with all those blue medicine bottles, fancy oil and vinegar sets, and patchworked t-shirts around!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Moving Forward

Why is it that just moving forward is sometimes the most difficult thing we do? Our feet feel like lead and our eyes look everywhere but ahead. Distractions beckon us from every direction and we quickly lose the enthusiasm we once felt for the goal that lies just steps beyond. Days ago, maybe weeks or months ago, we were zealous to reach the pinnacle, but now we are willing to settle for where our feet have landed and even ready to turn around and head back to the place from whence we have come.

Something deep within us stirred a dormant flame and ignited a sleeping passion - a desire to accomplish something new for the Lord, a longing to develop a forgotten gift or talent, a compulsion to reach out to someone who is hurting or lost, a refreshed resolve to do better at a particular spiritual discipline, or a vision to build something new and meaningful into the fabric of our lives. There is a goal. There is a dream. And there is the momentum to move us forward.

But the trail that leads toward success, toward the very goal that we feel strongly was given to us through a divine call, has been much more difficult than we bargained for. Not only has the hike been mostly up hill, but it has included rocky patches, trail sections overgrown with bothersome weeds, and places where the trail was almost not discernable due to the fact that few had gone that way before.

In fact, the path has also been lonely. At one time there were friends or interested persons cheering us on. They seemed equally enthusiastic about our mission. But looking around us now, we don't see them. Where did they go? They haven't necessarily abandoned us out of disdain for what we are doing. More likely, they have simply become more engrossed in their own journeys and we are now far from their cheering voices. We are on our own. Or so it feels.

Of course, there are also the dangerous situations we've encountered on the trail. The times when we could almost swear that someone was out to get us, out to keep us from reaching the top. An enemy? Hmmm. Whether we came face to face with true danger or simply felt that daunting inner warning telling us something like "you're not equipped for this" or "you're not really cut out for this" or "who do you think you are," an enemy has certainly sought to destroy our resolve.

That's where I've found myself recently. Perched on a crevice of decision - a place where I must choose to either turn back to a place of greater comfort, stay right where I am in a sort of halfway place, or move on with determination toward my goal. Quite truthfully, turning back to the place from which I've come holds no allure for me at all. I'm not usually one to go backward. But setting up camp at this in between place holds some appeal. It's pleasant enough here. I've accomplished some degree of my original pursuit. I'm further along than I was just months ago. What's wrong with just enjoying the view from midway up the mountain?

What's wrong with it is that this is not what God has called me to. This was not the goal, the destination. To settle here would be disobedience. And while it might feel comfortable for a while, it would surely grow old and unsatisfying before long.

So I will move on with this, my newest memory verse, pressed close for encouragement and stamina:

And let us not lose heart in doing good,
for in due time
we shall reap if we do not grow weary.
Galatians 6:9 (NASB)

I'm planning to continue memorizing scripture from here on out. As I mentioned yesterday, I've got the bug! So I've written my chosen scripture on an index card, tucked it into my 4x6 photo album and begun putting it to memory. I hope you'll join me in pressing God's Word close in to your heart. You're welcome to share my scripture, especially if you are midway on a trail of your own. Or you can choose a scripture that speaks more directly to your current needs.

One friend shared hers yesterday. I hope you'll share one with me today too.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No More Chips and Salsa Please!

Surprisingly we don't get a lot of great Mexican food in Arizona. It's just different and certainly not Tex-Mex like I'm used to because, after all, I did live in Texas for over 12 years. So when I came to Texas this past weekend, good Mexican food was on the agenda.

In the last 5 days, which is how long I've been in Texas, I've eaten Mexican food or at least chips and salsa a total of 5 times. One day we didn't have any, so you do the math. I've had a lot of chips and salsa. I'm kind of on a chips and salsa run, now that I think about it.

But that has to come to an end. My doctor would have a fit. He would remind me that I'm not on high blood pressure meds just so I pump up my bp with more and more salt. And I'm sure this little indulgence isn't benefitting my waistline either.

So no more chips and salsa, even though I have developed quite a taste and affinity for them. You would think that eating so much chips and salsa would satisfy my desire for them, but instead it has actually increased my insatiable craving. I guess that's the salt doing a number on me. But still, no excuses, I will simply not have any more chips and salsa.

The good news is that I've realized just this weekend as I've culminated my scripture memory challenge with a celebration to end all celebrations that I've also developed quite a taste for scripture as well. I've had a taste of eating God's Word and digesting it fully and I can say with all sincerity that it has satisfied like nothing else.

One of my scriptures from the memory challenge was Jeremiah 15:16 that says,

Your words were found and I ate them;
Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart,
for I am called by Your name,
Lord, God of hosts!

Some days during the memory challenge I just ate it somewhat like the Israelites must have eaten their manna in the wilderness. "Oh, more manna. Blah, blah, blah. Well, it's what there is to eat, so I'll eat it." Other days I gobbled it down like a biscuit oozing with honey! (My granddaddy taught me to eat biscuits by piercing them from the side with your pinky finger and filling the little well you'd created with honey or syrup or molasses!) Good stuff.

But over the course of a year, I've worked up such a steady appetite for God's Word that I can't stop eating the stuff! I guess the psalmist who penned Psalm 119 had a similar dilemma. In verse 103 he writes, "How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" He was liking him some Word of God! (Can you tell I've been spending some time in East Texas?)

The good news is that even though the LPM scripture memory challenge is over and they're not sponsoring it again this year, no one has told me I have to stop eating God's Word. And they won't. Unlike the chips and salsa I've been eating day after day, It's totally good for me with no harmful side-effects. Won't clog my arteries and won't raise my blood pressure. In fact God's Word memorized and meditated upon has been known to improve one's health and lower one's blood pressure. Psalm 119 assures me that meditating on God's Word, seriously pressing it into the deepest recesses of my soul, restrains my feet from evil, enlarges my heart (in a good way, of course), revives me, and provides a light for my path so I don't trip and get hurt. In fact, the psalmist, who also enjoyed a steady diet of God's Word, even says in verse 70, "Their heart is covered with fat, but I delight in Thy law." In other words, those who don't eat from God's Word have the health issues while he is robust with increased health from an ample diet of scripture.

So, I'm putting aside the chips and salsa, but I'm selecting a new scripture to begin meditating on and memorizing. And my bet is that the sweet taste of God's Word will be more satisfying than the salty and hot flavors of those chips any how.

Would you like to pick a scripture that really speaks to a need in your life and put it to memory too? I'd so love it if you would. Tomorrow I'll tell you what scripture I've settled on and you can tell me today or tomorrow if you'll be memorizing one too. It's always more fun to share your chips and salsa with a friend and it's just as fun to eat a little of God's Word with others too.  Bon appetit!

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Said My Verses

Ahh...good things definitely came to those who memorized. The Living Proof Ministries Siesta Scripture Memory Challenge Celebration (now that's a mouth full!) was certainly everything I hoped it would be and more. And though the greatest returns on memorizing my 24 scripture passages over 2009 were definitely intrinsic and spiritual as I wrote last Thursday, the weekend with Beth Moore, her lovely daughters, Travis Cotrell, and over 500 of my fellow Siestas, was sweet dessert.

There's no way I can do the weekend justice in a quick blog (I'm still on a little vacation, you see, and when I'm in vacation mode, it's hard to think clearly enough to write much!) (Hey! Did I just hear someone breath a sigh of relief?). But I can supply some pictures, and I bet that's what you'd rather see anyhow. However, my pics are taking forever to download, so there will just be a few of the many I took.

This was the scene Friday evening as we all poured into a large room at First Baptist Houston for the first session. We didn't meet in the auditorium, but in this room where Beth had taught Sunday School for 23 years. You'll notice a number of the ladies are wearing pink boas. That was to help the women identify one another in the airport and hotels and such. I never got around to getting one but enjoyed the "pink" of it all nonetheless!

All of my pictures of Beth and Travis are blurry. They just move around too much. Here's Travis leading us in a rousing worship service. Absolutely marvelous! We sang with gusto and enthusiasm. (Are those the same thing? Well, we sang with so much enthusiasm that one word doesn't describe it sufficiently!)

Here are our hostesses for the weekend - Beth and her lovely daughters Amanda (on the left) and Melissa. They were sweet, warm, and welcoming (sounds like I just described a honey bun! oh well...). Beth taught us two wonderful sessions from the 119th Psalm. I learned so much and I am blessed with fresh, new spiritual insight. I am so thankful!

In this pic they're giving out door prizes, but I didn't get one :(
No biggy! The whole weekend was one big door prize anyhoo!

Over 500 women attended the conference free, but we have another 1,500 Siestas who successfully completed the memory challenge and didn't get to make it to Houston. Their absence was definitely felt. Women came from 42 states and Canada for the event, and we had over 24 denominations represented at least. There was one little 8-year-old girl there with her mom and she had learned all 24 of her scriptures as well.

About half of the women had come to the event with someone they knew - a mother, sister, daughter, or friend. But clearly half of us knew absolutely no one when we got there. That changed immediately as we hooked up with names and pics that were familiar from the comment section of the LPM blog and from following one another's blogs.

Here are two of my new friends whose blogs I was already reading and commenting on. They are Spicy Magnolia on the left and Marla Taviano on the right.

Sorry for the red-eye girls! I didn't have a chance to edit yet!

On Saturday morning all of the women paired up with their new friends to say their scriptures to each other from memory. A mere technicality really at this point, but oh what a blessing - to look all around the grounds of the church and see grown women (as opposed to AWANA children) reciting their beloved scriptures to each other! The Word of God was truly swimming in that place!

This is a pic of me and my new friend Jan from Colorado. We had just finished sharing our scriptures with one another. We hadn't chosen a single one alike, so it was a blessing to hear hers.

LPM is not doing this same scripture memory challenge this year. I know I need a break from memorizing one scripture every 15 days. But I will continue to add to my notebook and memorize as I can. And so the reward goes on....


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Got My Verses in My Carry-on and My Heart

I’m leaving on a jet plane; don’t know when I’ll be back again. No, not really. I do know when I’ll be back again. But the thing you need to know now is that I’m leaving…right now…today…to go to Houston, Texas, for the LPM Siesta Scripture Memory Challenge Celebration with Beth Moore and the gang.

Back in January ’09 she issued a challenge on her blog for women to memorize two scripture passages a month for one year. We were supposed to post our chosen scriptures passages on the LPM blog on the 1st and 15th of each month, write our scriptures on index cards and keep them in a booklet, meditate on them and memorize them. It really was just a personal challenge at that point, no reward in sight other than the amazing personal rewards of having God’s breathing, powerful Word in your heart doing its thing.

But then, around June I think, Beth was so pleased with the number of women who were hanging in there with the challenge, that she offered a free Living Proof Live Conference to those who completed the year. So at that point you pretty much had to already be on board to complete enough scriptures to qualify.

And I did it!!!! I memorized and nailed down 24 scriptures passages, some of them including 2-4 verses.

I sometimes need someone to give me the first word of the passage to get me started and I inevitably struggle with the address, but these mighty words are planted deep in my heart and in the thick of my brain. I’m thrilled to be going to this Living Proof Live event with about 500 other women from all over the country (with a nice room at the Omni Hotel thrown in for good measure), but I’m ecstatic about having these verses under my belt.

These scriptures have literally changed my thinking.
  • Each day I use Psalm 90:17 to ask God to give significance to my work and give me His favor.
  • I remind myself of the sweetness of God’s Word to my taste when I say Jeremiah 15:16.
  • I use 2 Corinthians 7:1 to remind me to quit critiquing other people’s lives and mistakes and instead to concentrate on perfecting holiness in my own life.
  • Jeremiah 6:16, my theme verse for this blog, reminds me that I have a choice as to which path I’ll take each day. One will give rest to my soul; the other will lead to no where good.
  • I’ve memorized all of Psalm 121 so I can remember that my Protector is ever mindful of me and will not let me fall into harms way.
  • First Timothy 6:6 is the verse that helps me practice contentment each day.
  • Jonah 2:8 reminds me that if I want a full dose of God’s grace I better let go of the worthless idols I’ve clung to in the past.
  • Proverbs 14:26 reminds me that my personal relationship with God can serve as a refuge for my children when they hit rough spots in their paths.
  • When I remember John 6:27 I’m reminded to choose the eternal food that satisfies my soul rather than the cotton candy the world offers me.
  • Likewise, John 4:14 directs me to drink from the Living Water rather than running to one broken cistern after another in an attempt to quench my soul thirsts.
  • When I watch the news at night and become disheartened by the world around me, Nehemiah 4:14b encourages me not to be afraid, but to fight for my family and my home.
  • And Isaiah 58:10-11 assures me that if I give generously to my family and others who need what I have, then God will replenish my supply and keep me flourishing.
  • And that’s not even all of them.

Two things:

Please consider storing up God’s Word in your heart too. Start small. One verse here, one there. Choose scriptures that minister to your current needs. Meditate on them, digest them, and lock them in so they will continue to produce fruit in your life for years to come. At least I hope mine will stay in there for years!

Second, please pray for me and the other 500 Siestas who will be journeying to Houston this weekend. Pray for traveling safety and wellness, but most importantly pray for a mighty outpouring of God’s presence and direction for us as we hear a word from our hostess, Beth Moore.

Well, I’d write more, but I gotta get on that jet plane! I’d love for you to tell me a special verse that has ministered to you recently. You never know, maybe I’ll try to memorize it too!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Little Victories

Yesterday my friend Kim and I were talking about her newest goal to participate in a triathlon. It's not just a goal; she's actually training quite diligently for it. Each day, she either runs, bikes, or swims a certain distance and some days she does two of those things. She tells me that is called bricking and eventually she has to do a lot of it to prepare for this race where she will do all three (hopefully) within a certain time span (again hopefully). I, by the way, am not doing a triathlon, nor am I training for one. You go girl.

We were talking about how hard her bike ride had been yesterday because the wind was blowing so ferociously. It was a breeze going out three miles, but it was like pedaling into a brick wall on the way back.

Kim told me that to push herself forward she gives herself little incentives along the way. For instance, she told herself "If you just make it to that telephone pole up there, there is a double scoop icecream cone waiting for you!" Mind you, there really is no icecream cone at the telephone pole. Normally she says this little mind game works for her, but yesterday she had about decided that she could care less about the stupid ice cream cone.

Thing is, this method would never work for me because I know there is no ice cream cone at the telephone pole to begin with and, besides that, I don't even like ice cream that much. But hey, if it works for Kim, more power to her. She's the one doing the triathlon. I'm the one sitting on my seat.

It occurred to me after our conversation that Kim was simply setting up some little victories for herself, albeit in her mind, so that she could have victory in her ultimate goal. Little victories, indeed, lead to bigger ones.

Sometimes we need to set up some little victories along the way to keep us going toward the larger goal. I know I do. So rarely do we accomplish the big things, it certainly helps to string together some smaller accomplishments to push us toward that bigger victory.

For instance, I'm a pretty big list maker. I'm not obsessive compulsive about it or anything, but I do make them, especially when I have a lot to accomplish or, in keeping with my topic here, a bigger goal. Accomplishing little objectives on my list makes me feel like I'm moving steadily toward the big goal. In fact, I so crave those little victories, that I often start off my list with simple, no-brainer things that I've actually already done just so I can immediately cross things off. For instance, I might be making a list of all I have to do before going on a big family trip. The list will include doing all the laundry, packing, taking the dogs to the sitter, clean out the refrigerator etc. All big, bad, yucky stuff that has to be done, but doesn't appeal to me in the least. So I start my list with stuff like eat breakfast, brush teeth, make bed, call parents, watch Good Morning America. That way I can immediately check off a good portion of my list and feel really good about myself.

Is this not the saddest thing you've ever read? I'm making Kim and her imaginary ice cream cone sound awfully smart.

My daughter Abby was telling me about a mind game she played yesterday as well. She got in the car when I picked her up from school and she informed me that she had a wonderful day. When I asked her what was so wonderful about it, she said this:

When I woke up this morning (she wakes up at 4:30 mind you) I really didn't feel like going to school (she'd had a bad headache the night before). But then I told myself all the reasons I needed to go to school. So after I got through that long list I said, "Ok, good Abby, you win. We'll go to school." And so I went to school and did all those things and now I'm glad I did.

Other than the fact that I'm a little concerned that good Abby and evil Abby are having conversations in my house at 4:30 in the morning, I'm thrilled with my daughter for being so thrilled with accomplishing so little.

Little accomplishments actually do add up. If good Abby manages to win the argument every morning and get to school each day then she will also reach her goal of being a good student. If I can manage to get up and moving in order to brush my teeth and make my bed I stand a good chance of also getting the laundry and the packing done. And if Kim can make it to the next telephone pole for the imaginary ice cream cone, she's a lot more likely to also finish her triathlon - I guess. I'm still not sure about that one.

At any rate, little victories are a good thing.

At the end of the book of 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes the people a lot of little goals. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks for everything. Don't quench the Holy Spirit. Don't despise the truth. Examine everything carefully. Abstain from evil.

Kind of like my to-do list, this list of little things may not seem like much on their own. But you string all these together and you've got a mighty tall order. On the other hand, you accomplish one of these, and you're propelled toward the goal of accomplishing the next and the next and the next. God doesn't expect us to get our act together over night. But He does, I believe, expect growing Christians to be moving forward a little bit every day, obeying the instruction of His Word a little more closely each day, and becoming more and more like Christ. And I like to think He celebrates those little victories with us each day.

So do you have any little goals that help you reach the bigger ones? What little victories have you had lately? Lost 2 pounds? Exercised 3 days in a row? Stayed with your daily Bible reading so far? Went to bed on time for one whole week? Made it to the next telephone pole?

I'd love to hear all about it! And hey, thanks Kim and Abby for being such good sports. I love you both. And, like I always say, you can always start your own blog and write all my junk in it!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Going Rogue or Just Off the Beaten Path?

For a 40-something year old journalism major I seem to have to look up an awful lot of words in the dictionary these days. Add one more to the ever-growing list.

Rogue: resembling or suggesting a rogue elephant especially in being isolated, aberrant, dangerous or uncontrollable.

I'm not sure this is the definition Sarah Palin or her editors had in mind when they chose this title for her autobiographical book, nor am I sure it is the one her handlers were referring to when she continued to push their buttons and frustrate their micromanaging plans. But it does seem to fit. In a good way that is.

I don't want to turn this blog into a political format, so I will try to steer clear of polarizing ideology in this post, but I do want to give my take of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue, which I just finished reading a couple of nights ago. If you suspect my take, reflected in the title of this post, might offend you, I urge you to click away for today and come back tomorrow.

After reading Palin's book I am simply more convinced than ever of a few things and wide-eyed with amazement about a few other things:

  • Palin got jerked around a lot by both the liberal media and her own handlers and still came out with her integrity in place, her marriage strong, and her ideals high. Hats off to Palin for that. I'm not sure a lesser woman could have managed the intense scrutiny, the biased reporting, or the duct-tape-on-the-mouth approach that her handlers insisted on. I say that not because she presented herself in her book as being in the right at all times. Quite the contrary, I say it because she comes across as self-effacing, humble, and genuine in her book. She is definitely a woman with a great deal of confidence tucked into her back pocket, but she writes as one speaking from a good, good heart, not with the typical political speak that sounds more like a whine than an answer.
  • Palin is a godly and God-fearing woman. I'm not sure she and I have all the same theological positions on things, but I also didn't see any ideology or beliefs in her book that sent up glaring red flags for me either. She speaks throughout the book of a personal relationship with God, of a time when she asked Him to take control of her life, of tithing and being a good steward of all God has given to her, and of a personal accountability to Him. Right now, to be honest, I cannot remember if she mentioned Jesus specifically or if she kept her references to the Lord a little more veiled, but I don't remember ever wondering if she was a Jesus-follower as I read the book. That came across loud and clear. And that in itself is quite a brave move on her part, as one who undoubtedly still has some political aspirations.
  •  Politics in this country is a mess. Not only are most politicians giving us double talk, but they are handled by political experts who have convinced them that only they can get them elected through careful and yet convoluted maneuvering. Though I voted for John McCain in the final election, I am disappointed to learn that even he seems to have fallen into step with such shot-callers with way too much ease. Not that Palin had anything negative to say about her presidential candidate; she didn't say or imply a single unflattering thing about McCain. In fact, she spoke of him to the end (and even now) with great respect and love. But it is obvious that even this very honorable and good man allowed others to run his and Sarah's campaign into the ground. I'm not sure they would have won had they kicked all the handlers off the campaign buses either, but I sure would have preferred to see that campaign over the one we witnessed.
  •  Palin is someone I could call friend. I'm not sure we would ever get to be friends. She is extremely smart, confident, and sharp. If her busyness and political savvy didn't keep us from walking in the same circles, then my feelings of inferiority in her presence probably would. I like her. She seems fun, genuine, likable, and all woman. She knows her strengths and weaknesses and I get the feeling that she very willingly allows others to help fill in the gaps left by those weaknesses. She is very much a team player and team leader. She knows exactly where Russia is and the extent to which Alaska is associated with it, by the way. She's no fool, so if the media left you with that impression, think again. 
  • I like her as a mother and wife. This woman knows what she's doing, not only in the political arena, but also in her home. She defers to her man, honors her marriage, blesses her parents and siblings, cherishes her children, and prays for each of them constantly. She is, in fact, a woman of prayer. Once again, I'm not pushing my political views here, but wouldn't it be nice to have a praying woman in Washington? I know there are a few already, but we could certainly use a few more government leaders who do more than attend a National Day of Prayer breakfast, for pete's sake!
  • She's going to be ok. In case you're wondering why she resigned as governor of Alaska and what she plans to do next, I can't answer that. I'm not sure she can either. But I do know we haven't seen the last of Palin. She's ok. I leave you with her take on all that has happened to her since that fateful August day when her position on the Republican ticket was announced:
"I had to stop walking for a second. I rarely stop. I sat down on the grass and prayed, 'God, thank You. Thank You for Your faithfulness...always seeing us through...I don't know if this chapter is ending or just beginning, but You do, so I hand it all over to You again. Thanks for letting me do that.' Then I thanked our Lord for every single thing we'd been through that year. I believed there was a purpose in it all."

So that's my take on Palin. Bottom line, I like her. Comments are open, but keep it sweet. Like I said, I'm not trying to be political, but I did want to share with you my take on one godly woman who may or may not have gone rogue, but she definitely went off the beaten path. Good for her.


Monday, January 18, 2010

What's In a Name?

This morning one of my blogger friends threw out a question something like this: If you have a blog, what is the name of your blog and why did you give it that name? In other words, what's behind the name of your blog?

Of course, being the interactive, friendly blogger that I am I answered the question. My blog's name is Off the Beaten Path because we believers are all off the beaten path tread by most people in this world and we could all use a little encouragement along the way. Just yesterday in James' sermon he reminded us that the Bible says, not him but the Bible says, that really in comparison to the huge numbers of souls who walk on this earth few are on the path to heaven. I don't like the odds there, but that's simply the truth. If you're on the path to heaven via Jesus, the only way to get there, then you're on a narrow trail that is indeed "off the beaten path."

But this little dialogue got me to thinking about something else. So if you'll follow me this way on yet another little rabbit trail, I'll tell you the true purpose of today's ramblings.

Names. That's what I'm thinking about. Not just names of blogs, but our names. Before you start thinking that I'm referring to the name your parents gave you when you were born, whoa, hold on. I'm referring to the name of your character. Who you really are.

This morning in my Bible reading I read about Jacob, that conniving, wrestling, sneaky-snake guy who later was renamed Israel by God Himself. You see Jacob's name meant "supplanter" or one who grabs what is not his. And he was rightly named. First he supplanted his brother Esau's birthright then his blessing. Later he would take a dose or two of his own medicine when his father-in-law Laban would supplant him of the bride he had worked so hard for, substituting homely Leah for ravishing Rachel at the last drunken minute. He would have to work an additional 7 years for the bride he had worked so hard for to begin with. Then Jacob would use some masterful animal husbandry techniques to slowly accumulate Laban's livestock for himself. Jacob's whole life, up to this point, had been one of supplanting and being supplanted, trickery upon trickery.

But when God finally got a hold of this man and wrestled this trait out of him, He renamed him Israel which means "he who strives with God" because he had wrestled with God and with men and had prevailed. I don't think that assessment means Jacob beat God. I think it means he hung in there with Him, begging for a blessing from the One whom he was wrestling before he would throw in the towel. Perhaps Jacob found out there were some things you couldn't get through trickery and conniving; some things only come from humble submission. At the top of that list would be God's favor.

And so as we take one final turn on this rambling rabbit's trail, we come to the point of the matter. What exactly is your name today? When God asked Jacob his name toward the end of their wrestling match, Jacob had to admit, yes admit, that his name was supplanter, conniver, trickster. He wasn't just stating his name as we do when we give the restaurant hostess our party number and name; he was admitting who he was, his character. And there was no running from the truth because even in that moment of wrestling with God he was trying to get something the underhanded way, by fighting it out instead of simply asking for it. I can just see him, turning beet red and breathing a sigh of concession as he admitted, "I'm Jacob. I'm a conniver."

That made me think. What character trait is indicative of my life right now? If I were in a wrestling match with God Almighty and He, the all-knowing God, were to ask me, "What is your name," what would I have to answer? Would it be Bitter? Would it be Lazy? Would it be Discontented? How about Aimless or Worldly or Selfish or Envious or Sad?

Regardless of what name I would have to give, it can be changed. That's what God does. He changes names. He changes character. Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul, Envious to Content, Aimless to Purposeful, Worldly to Godly, Lazy to Industrious, Selfish to Giving.

You can name your blog whatever you want to. I like that because I got to choose a catchy name that gave me an identity that I wanted. But you can't name your character. It names you. If you'd like to change it, you'll need to put in a name change request. Best way to do that? Wrestle it out with God.

Friday, January 15, 2010

So They Say

Yesterday 16-year-old Abby received some clippings in the mail from my mom, her MeMa. That’s what my mom does. She sends clippings from magazines, Internet articles and newspapers, mostly newspapers.  And that’s good because we don’t get a newspaper and would otherwise never read all these things that “they” say.

You see all my life my mom has told me “they” say this and “they” say that. A voracious reader, my mom daily finds out something new and important that “they” say. Sometimes she remembers who “they” is and sometimes she doesn’t, but we’re supposed to assume that “they” know what “they” are talking about and in fact are the experts on the subject.

Over the years we have learned what “they” say about all manner of topics ranging from why you should read to your children to how you should train your dog to how you should build your wardrobe based on one color to how you should discipline your children to when you should let your child get his driver’s license to how you should manage your finances to why you should pay off your debt to how you can shop for groceries for a family of four and only pay $29.32. I honestly don’t know what we all (my family and my brother’s family) would have done had we not known what “they” say about all these things and more.

I know my mom is reading this, so let me pause at this juncture and say that I truly, no sarcasm involved, love my mom for caring enough to pass on all that she reads to us. Truly. This wonderful little habit of hers simply tells me that she has us—her kids, in-laws, and grandkids—on her mind at all times, even when she’s sitting in her sunroom and reading her newspaper.

I haven’t read the clippings Abby got yesterday because she wouldn’t let me. That, of course, will not matter in about an hour when she goes off to school and I am here alone with said clippings. Still, I did get a glimpse at the titles of the articles and I know one is about good manners and the other seems to be about teenage drivers. I must agree with my mom that these are certainly things about which Abby needs to know what “they” say. I’m guessing, bottom line, “they” say use good manners at all times and you will go far in life and don’t use your cell phone when driving and you will also go far in life. Good advice.

This brings me to the point of my post today. (And you thought we’d already gotten there, didn’t you?) My mom has given me some great advice over the years. I remember when I was younger I didn’t call it great advice; I probably called it nagging. My mom loves to pass on advice, as apparently so do I. But hey, who can fault her? She has great advice to give. After all she knows what “they” say about most everything.

But I’d like to share with you the greatest advice she ever gave me. It’s not about marriage or raising kids or managing your finances, nothing that weighty. And yet this little bit of advice that she droned into my head over and over and over as a child has served me better than anything else she passed on to me. That’s not to say my mom hasn’t taught me a bookoodle of other profitable and important things. It’s just that this little tidbit has been the most practical, the most serviceable advice of all and I use it daily, that’s right daily.

When I was a child my mom was an elementary school teacher. I remember many an afternoon or morning when I would be walking through the halls of Compton Elementary School with my teacher mom and we would pass one of her teacher friends in the hall. Being the shy little girl that I was, I would look the other way and pretend that I didn’t see the teacher friend. I certainly didn’t want to have to speak to her!

My mom would say hello to the other teacher and then after we had passed by she would look me square in the eyes and say, “Kay, you should always speak to people you know. You should always look them in the eyes, say hello to them, and call them by their name. They say people love to hear their name.”

I would murmur something about why I just couldn’t do that, but my mom was persistent. Even at other times, when I was getting ready to go somewhere that I would probably run into people I knew, she would remind me to look people in the eyes, speak to them, and call them by name.

Today, as a pastor’s wife, I am so glad my mom taught me this simple, but often ignored, social grace. I’m sure I don’t bat a thousand on putting it into practice, but I certainly try. I’ve gotten over my shyness completely and practiced my mom’s advice with diligence, because indeed, people do like to hear their names.

So if you’d like to print this out and send it to a friend or a child or whoever, feel free. Clippings in the mail are a good thing. But if you’d rather just tell someone about my mom’s wise advice, you don’t have to reference her by name (Louise). You can just say that “they” say you should always look people in the eyes, speak to them and call them by name. Believe me, “they” know what “they” are talking about.

What about you? Did your mom or dad give you any great advice that still rings in your ears today? Let us all know what "they" said.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

He Turned Out to be a King

In my women's Bible study we are doing a wonderful study on David written by Priscilla Shirer, Beth Moore and Kay Arthur. Yesterday Priscilla kicked off the study with an insightful message about David's anointing. She reminded us that not everyone thought he was the likely choice for the next king. After all, people have a certain image in mind when they think of a king.

I've always been intrigued with the contrasts between Saul, Israel's first king, and David, the king God appointed because he was a man after God's own heart.

Remember why Israel got a king to begin with? They just had to be like everyone else. God was supposed to be their king and He had appointed judges and priests to guide them. These were spiritual leaders, but the people wanted political leaders like everyone else. They wanted royalty. And so, royalty is what they got.

Saul was appointed king by God because he was exactly what the people expected, what they wanted. First Samuel 9:2 says Saul was "a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people." He looked the part and God knew that was what was most important to the Israelites. I'm kind of thinking that is still true today.

But when God had about had it with Saul's shenanigans He sent His servant Samuel to anoint a new king, one who would tell the truth when approached about his sin, one who would value God's presence more than God's physical blessings, one who would ask God for instructions and follow them instead of doing his own thing, and one who would seek out the Lord rather than running from Him. He sent Samuel to anoint David, a man after God's own heart.

David didn't necessarily look the part of a king evidently. I think Hollywood made a movie about David a number of years ago and if I'm not mistaken Richard Gere played the role of David. I think Gere is pretty handsome and I have a feeling he looks more like Saul than David. We like to think of David as extremely good-looking, but all the Bible really says about his appearance is that he was ruddy in complexion, probably from spending so much time outdoors with the sheep. He obviously didn't look like a king to his brothers or his father. They were all amazed when Samuel anointed him. And he didn't look like much of a threat to Goliath the Philistine. He mocked him when David approached him in battle. But of course he may have grown into a fine specimen of a man. Still the point is, he did not look like king material when Samuel anointed him for the job at the age of 15.

I met a king of sorts who didn't look the part either. In fact this man looked plain out scary the first time I saw him.

My friend Kim, my Aunt Ida and I were on our first day of our Appalachian Trail adventure a few years ago. As our luck would have it, rain began to fall on us just as we hit the trail. We didn't get to go as far as planned that first day because of the heavy downpour and were forced to stop at the first shelter we came to even though it was only about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. When we stopped at the shelter there were already five men lying on the rustic floor of this three-sided room. They didn't seem thrilled that three women would now expect them to "move over a bit" and we weren't thrilled to be spending the night with the five unshaven, smelly guys who had obviously been on the trail a while.

This picture was taken the next morning when the guys had all left.

But we settled in for a long evening while the rain came down in buckets just feet from us, glad to have shelter of some kind. As I laid on the very edge of the floor (like where you see my aunt sitting in the picture above except on the other side of the shelter) I whispered to Kim, "Are you alright with this?" meaning the situation of having to spend the night with these five strange men on our first night out. Kim thought about it a few seconds and then replied, "I'm fine with everything except that ax murderer over there" and nodded toward a small, scraggly man who had been sitting in one position and staring into space for the past three hours, maybe longer.

This man looked ancient. He was thin with a white scruffy beard. And the creepiest thing about him was that he literally had not moved since we got there hours earlier. He did indeed look dangerous.

We didn't sleep much that night, being our first night on the trail and all, plus the uncomfortableness of sleeping with five strange men. But I must have dozed off at some point because I remember waking up and realizing that the men were all packing up and leaving. It was early yet, so we decided to stay in our sleeping bags until most of them had left. By the time we got up, the ax murderer was gone.

Two nights later we ran into the ax murderer again at another shelter. But this time, in the pink light of a beautiful sunset and with a the new perspective of "seasoned hikers" he didn't look quite so dangerous. In fact, he looked friendly enough that Kim, who had labeled him an ax murder just two nights earlier, ventured out and spoke to him.

Turns out this gentlemen was in his 80s and doing the whole AT (2,175 miles) for his second or third time. He was a retired professor of engineering and a recent widower. He was doing the trail by himself and making decent time. He spoke with a British accent and a soft voice. He was a kind and gentle man. His trail name was Green King.

This is Kim with Green King. He wasn't at all what we thought that first night!

And thus the lesson, things (or people) aren't always what they seem to be. What is on the inside doesn't always match up with what appears to be on the outside. And obviously God values the inside more.

"Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature,
because...God sees not as man sees,
for man looks at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

Final thought: if God values what is on the inside more and I probably should too, shouldn't I be spending more time developing what is on the inside than what is on the outside? How much time do I spend on developing my heart, my character? How much time am I guilty of spending on my skin, my nails, my hair, my face, my clothing? Not that the outside shouldn't matter at all. I don't think that is the message here. But certainly I should be devoting myself to inner development if that's where God's gaze is set.

Do you have some great ideas for how to develop the inner man or woman? I'd love to hear them.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Top 10 Reasons to Join a Bible Study

Today is Bible Study day! Hip, hip, hooray! My two ladies' Bible study groups start back today with new studies. We'll be doing Annointed, Transformed, Redeemed, a Study of David by Priscilla Shirer, Beth Moore, and Kay Arthur, an awesome threesome if there ever was one!

I love studying the Bible with other women. As I was lathering up in the shower this morning I was thinking about why some people never take a group Bible study. I know some neat, growing Christians (and maybe you're one of the) who have never, as far as I know, taken a Bible study with a group of people. And that's ok. It's not like it's a prerequisite for going to heaven or anything. Still, I just wonder if they have the wrong idea about what it's all about or if they just don't really know what goes on there or what.

So I decided to supply you with my Top 10 Reasons for Joining a Bible Study (and sticking with it, by the way) so you could at least know why I enjoy Bible study. Believe me, there is no condemnation here, and I'm not trying to twist your arm, just letting you know....that's all. So here goes...

By the way, I would list these in reverse order like what's his face, David Letterman, does, but my numbering tab feature doesn't work that way, I don't think, and I'm in a hurry so, here it is 1 - 10:
  1. It gives you another great place to wear your cutest new outfit.
  2. There's usually something great to eat and at least a good pot of coffee (in the morning anyhow).
  3. You get to meet new people you would otherwise maybe never meet and enjoy them for an hour or two. If you like them a lot you can invite them to lunch, if not you can get in your car and drive away and make a note to yourself to sit by someone else next week.
  4. You get to check your kiddos into a well-supervised nursery for a couple of hours and pretend like you're a real adult having real adult conversation for a little while. Then when you pick your kiddos up you get to hear the nursery ladies tell you how wonderful your children are. If that doesn't happen, don't fret. At least you got the adult time in.
  5. You get to see what other cute things other women are wearing in the middle of the week. Otherwise you just see their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. 
  6. If you're doing an inductive Bible study like a Precept study or something, you get to use colored pencils. You probably haven't done that since middle school when you used them to mark maps.
  7. You have some other imperfect, growing people holding you accountable to your commitment to Bible study. You get to meet with them each week and bounce ideas off each other, learning from one another. And if you're not there, they notice. And hopefully they help you get back on track.
  8. You get to pray with other women (or men if you're a man) and you can even ask them to pray for special things going on in your life.
  9. You get to spend some one-on-one time with God each day as you do your "homework." What a treat!
  10. And really this is, of course, the number 1 reason for joining a Bible study - You get to learn vital and practical truths from God's Word that really do help you live every day with a little more victory, a lot more joy, and the assurance that you are growing up in Christ! And as you grow in His Word, you also grow more and more in love with the God of the Word.
Well, I have to run off to Bible study now. Are you in a Bible study group? Why or why not? Let me know. I'd love to hear from you.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Someone Else's Stuff

Abby is taking care of the Austin's dogs these days. The Austins live down the road from us and have been out of town for a few days, so they asked Abby to take care of their three Yorkies and one black lab. I guess she did a good job caring for them while they were gone during Christmas and so they asked her to do the job again. That's what happens when we take care of someone else's stuff well.

I've been amazed at how diligent Abby has been about caring for these pets that are not hers. During Christmas she got up on her own every morning at 6:45 to walk down the street in the cold and give one of the dogs a pill that he needed at seven in the morning and night. She would then spend an hour or so there, letting the dogs run around and cleaning up after any messes they had made. Several times she came home to report that one dog in particular kept intentionally falling into the ornamental pond in the backyard. I don't know how she knew it was intentionally falling in, but somehow she did. At any rate, she would then feel the need to bathe the dog so it wouldn't smell like pond water. I thought that was quite noble of her. I'm not sure I would have been that responsible myself.

This time around one of the dogs has had some issues, if you catch my drift. Like it's issuing something in between Abby's care-taking visits. Thus Abby has to clean up the issue every time she goes to the house. Last night she even brought the dogs' towels home to wash, at which I told her she was on her own. I wasn't washing those towels. No problem, she said. And she washed them. Miracle.

We have pets of our own. They drive me crazy. They are actually mine and Abby's dogs and we both argue over who is going to let them out each time they start pawing at the door or whining. Our dogs love to go out. Not because they want to stay outside, but because they think they deserve a treat every time they come in and they love treats. They don't get a treat every time they come in, but I suppose they figure the odds are good and so they beg to go out constantly. I often have to pray about taking care of my dogs during my quiet time. I did that just this morning in fact. That's how badly I don't like taking care of them sometimes.

I'm not sure Abby enjoys taking care of someone else's dogs any better than she does our own, but she sure has cared for them well. She goes to their house on time every day, several times a day, and does the job thoroughly.

I don't normally have to take Abby down the road to the Austin's, but in the cold of the last two mornings I have driven her there before school and waited in the warm car while she goes in to care for the pets. This morning when I saw her come out the door momentarily to put a trash bag in the garbage can I knew she must have had a big mess to clean up again. But as I looked out the frosty car window I could tell she was doing the job with a pep in her step, very matter-of-factly, without a grudge. Several minutes later when she got in the car, she didn't complain. The job was done.

Abby is being a good steward. She has been entrusted with someone's dogs and she has taken care of them well. Like the good and faithful steward in Matthew 24:45-47, Abby has proven herself to be trustworthy with even more responsibilities. She's taken good care of those dogs and their owners will be pleased.

Those dogs don't belong to Abby, but she has cared for them almost more diligently than she cares for her own. I'm not sure they've been any easier to care for or any more of a joy to be around, but she knew they belonged to someone else and she wanted to please the Austins.

When we know the things we care for belong to someone else we're actually more diligent to care for them well than if they belong to us. Go figure. But the principle should cause us to reflect on how we treat all that has been entrusted to us.

The problem is, we don't see our things as belonging to someone else. We see them as ours. My body...mine. My home....mine. My children....mine. My money.....mine all mine.


All that we have in our possession has actually been entrusted to us temporarily by Someone Else. And we've been given responsibilities along with those trusts.

My body? First Corinthians 6:19-20 tells me my body does not belong to me at all, but is the home of the Holy Spirit. I've been bought with a price and I'm to honor God, the rightful owner, with my body.

My children? Psalm 127 tells me they are a gift from the Lord. But Proverbs tells me over and over that I am responsible for teaching them well and raising them according to the Owner's directions.

My home? Psalm 127 also tells me that my home must be built according to the Lord's instructions or else it will crumble. It's His after all.

My money? His. My ministry? definitely His. All that I "own" is actually His.

This morning as I watched Abby care for someone else's animals from the comfort of my warm car, I wondered, "If I were to do a better job of remembering Who my stuff really belongs to, would I also do a better job of caring for it?"

If I remember that the world belongs to God, perhaps I'll do a better job of conserving water, leaving less of a carbon footprint on the earth, and keeping my little corner of the world clean and undisturbed.

If I remember that my kids belong to God, perhaps I'll be more committed to praying for them, teaching them His Word, and raising them to obey His ways.

If I remember that my marriage in fact belongs to God, perhaps I'll tend to it more carefully and value it more highly.

If I remember that my resources belong to God, perhaps I'll use them more wisely, think before I buy, and care for the things I have in my possession.

If I remember that my body belongs to God, perhaps I'll eat a little better, be more diligent about exercising, and dress in a way that draws more attention to God than to me.

And so today, I'm going to try to remember that while it's easy to abuse those things we take for granted, we're much more diligent with other people's things. And I have nothing free and clear. I'm responsible for Someone Else's stuff. And I want that Someone to say to me, sort of like the Austins have said to Abby, "Well done. You're a good and faithful steward."


Monday, January 11, 2010

And the Losers Shall Be Winners

My guys are really into games these days. In fact, the other day a huge box arrived via Fed Ex and I assumed it must be a forgotten Christmas gift that James had ordered for me. But no, it was a box full of about 4 or 5 board games. They've gone board game crazy.

The latest one that I've been privy to play is Agricola. It's a German game in which you build a farm over the course of about an hour. The difference in these European games my guys are buying up like crazy and the typical American game is that these are "cooperative" games rather than "competitive." I found a quote on the Internet about the difference.

Cooperative games emphasize participation, challenge, and fun rather than defeating someone. Cooperative games emphasize play rather than competition.

Right. I personally have not experienced a lot of cooperation from the guys I've been playing with. And James and Daniel seem awfully set on winning and awfully thrilled when they do.Still, they are fun games and I, ever the one to love a good board game, have enjoyed these new "challenges."

But here's the thing about Agricola (which means farmer in German, evidently). You get a certain number of turns to do things like purchase wood, purchase food, plow a field, sow a field, buy clay (so you can upgrade your house), etc. And with every turn, only one person gets to do most of those things. So if one of your opponents buys the three pieces of wood that are available on that turn, you don't get to. And you need that wood. You need the wood to build fences, you need fences to build pastures, you need pastures before you can buy sheep, cattle or wild boar, and you need each of those animals by the time the game is over.

You need all these things because at the end of the game you get points for having them and you lose points for not having them. You need an upgraded house with multiple rooms; more people than you began with; fields that are plowed, sown and now producing vegetables and grain; pastures with cattle, sheep, and wild boar; and ovens and fireplaces. You need to have a lot of stuff.

Here's one interesting addendum. You can buy one animal before you have a pasture and put it in your house. Daniel ended the game the other day with a wild boar in his house and he beat me. Personally, I don't think you should be able to win if you have a wild boar in your house. A wild boar in a house does not a winner make!


 This is James' winning board.

This is Daniel's Second Place board.

And this is my losing board. So much for "cooperation."

Daniel and I agree that the frustrating thing about Agricola is that you always feel like you're behind. You're watching the number of turns you have left diminish before your eyes and your property is not growing nearly fast enough. Time is ticking away and you know you'll never acquire all you need to in the allotted time. (James, who tends to win this game most of the time, doesn't seem to have this problem.)

While I like the game and will play again, it resembles real life just a little too closely for my tastes. In life James and I have often felt like we were a day late and a dollar short. We're the couple who build a house just as building supplies are going up in cost. We're the couple who takes out a loan for a house right before mortgage rates begin to plummet. We're the couple who gets ready to pay off our debt completely and then has to pay for an expensive surgery instead. And we're the couple who has to pay for a car repair (or two) and a new household appliance right before Christmas every year. We just can't ever seem to get ahead.

Life is supposed to be cooperative instead of competitive too. Remember how in the book of Acts the believers in the first church were taking care of  each other's needs and looking out for one another. They were doing life together, in cooperation.

But too often we turn life into a competition. You can label it cooperative all you want, but in the end, as in Agricola, we tend to add up our points and compare them to the others around us. Do we have an upgraded house or are we still in our starter home? Do we have new cars, one per family member, or do we share a car we paid for several years ago? Have we made investments that are yielding great gain or are we still trying to pay the debt we owe for the "wood" we bought a while back?

The good news is, life is not really a competition. You can engage in one if you want to, but there's really no need. In fact, Jesus made His opinion of such games very clear when He told His 12 disciples in Matthew 19:28-30:

Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, ....
will sit upon twelve thrones, ....
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or
sisters or father or mother or children or farms 
for My name's sake, shall receive many times as much,
and shall inherit eternal life.
But many who are first will be last; and the last, first.

Jesus and his 12 friends must have played a Agricola too. Sounds like they were familiar with the concept anyhow.

I slip into the game playing mode in life every now and then. But, since I don't seem to be destined to accumulate much on this earth, the temptation isn't quite as high for me as it could be. You lose a board game a few times, and it no longer holds much fascination for you. The same with life's little games. Still, I do grow impatient with our inability to even keep pace sometimes. I'd love to really get on top of things, you know?

What about you? Are you busy trying to accumulate and never seeming to get ahead? Let's take heart with Jesus' words today. The first shall be last. I kind of think that means the losers will be winners too. And I'm holding onto that....in Agricola as well as life!


Friday, January 8, 2010


You never know what you're going to get here. Yesterday we talked about yelling in the mall food court, today we're on to Abraham of the book of Genesis. Either way, we are definitely off the beaten path. So it works.

I read about Abraham in my quiet time with God this morning. In fact, today's reading (I'm reading the Bible through this year) was the passage where God actually changes his name from Abram to Abraham.

Yesterday's reading ended with Abram deep in the middle of an intimate and powerful conversation with God. The God of the universe had just taken Abram out to see the stars of the heavens. Can you imagine how many stars you could see on a clear night back then? At any rate, God had told him, in Genesis 15:5, "count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be." Wow.

And Abram believed God. Simple enough. You said it, God, I believe it. Never mind that I don't even have a single child yet and my wife and I are getting on up in age. I'll take your word for it. Abram was obviously feeling very secure in his God at that time. I've had those moments and you have too. Those are good moments.

But the very next moment, as is often the case, Abram wavered a little on something not even as unbelievable. In Genesis 15:7 God simply reminded Abram that He was the God who had brought him out of his homeland to possess the land he now stood on. Granted, Abram didn't possess all of it yet, but he'd made a dent in acquiring it. He already lived in a portion of it and had given a few kings what for when they'd tried to bully him around in that land. I think I could have believed the whole promise of land a lot more easily than the gazillion billion trillion descendants thing.

But Abram kind of liked the star illustration God had given earlier I guess (I would have too) and so he asked, "How may I know that I shall possess it?" In other words, "You got another fantastic illustration of how much land I'm going to own or something?"

So God told Abram to bring Him (get this) a 3-year-old heifer, a 3-year-old female goat, a 3-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. O kaaaay.....

Personally, I would have said, "Oh never mind, I believe you," and left it at that. I'm not much for wrangling up livestock and wild birds. But Abram, desperate for some affirmation, brought God everything He'd requested. He then somehow knew to cut them in two and laid each half opposite the other before God. I think he assumed he was entering into some sort of covenant with God and this is what you did when you cut a covenant or contract back then.

But here's where it gets interesting to me and why we've gone down this long winding path today.

After God had requested these animals from Abram He obviously leaves him alone for a while with them because birds of prey (I'm thinking huge vultures) started trying to mess with Abram's sacrifices. But Abram shooed them away. Then, as it got even later in the evening, Abram fell into a really deep sleep. I don't know if this was a God-induced sleep or if Abram had just grown weary waiting for God to do something while shooing away the vultures.

Finally God spoke.

And when He did, what He said must have just left Abram speechless and thinking something like, "Note to self: Don't ask for more explanation than God offers next time."

God seemingly did everything but answer Abram's question. Remember Abram's question? How can I know I'll possess this land?
  • God told Abram that his descendants would go live in a strange land that wasn't theirs. (hmmm.)
  • He told him that they would be enslaved and treated badly there for 400 years.(groan)
  • But, he told him, they'd eventually leave there with a lot of loot that wasn't their own.(Yea)
  • He told Abram that he would be buried at a good old age in peace. (Did I ask this?)
  • He then started talking about the iniquity of the Amorite. (The what of the who?)
  • He told Abram He'd already (in His economy) given the land to Abram's descendants.(Oh, really?)
  • He told him the parameters of the land He was giving them. (Ok, now we're talking.)
  • And finally He named all these other people who lived there now, but didn't really give any explanation about what's going to happen to them. (But what about.....? Oh well...)
That's what I call classic TMI - Too Much Information.

And that, dear friends, is what sometimes happens when we go and start asking questions about things that God has already been as clear about as He intends to be.

"Lord, who will my child marry?"
"Lord, how can I know that you'll take care of my family financially?"
"Lord, where are we going to live when we retire?"
"God, how will my children turn out?
"Lord, where will this career lead me in the future?"
"Lord, will I ever be able to retire?"
"Lord, where is this health care reform leading us?"
"Lord, what's ever going to happen in the middle east?"

God gives us a promise, a huge and wonderful promise like He gave Abram, and we think we need more information. The truth is, we don't.

And while we're at it, let's learn a few things from God's response to Abram. When I read between the lines, here's what I hear:
  • This is not just about you.
  • There's a bigger picture here and you can't possibly understand it all.
  • I've got it all taken care of from now until your death, but you don't really need to know all the in between stuff. You eventually die and the world will keep spinning.
  • I'm doing some really big things here and you are just privileged to be a very small part of those big things.
  • There will be some good, some bad, and some ugly. Do you really want to know the details right now?
  • I love you.
I think it's interesting that the Bible does not record a response from Abram after this event. Genesis 15 just ends with God's final revelation about the land, the one where He names all the other nations living there. I don't normally like to create scenarios in the Bible that aren't written, but as I was reading this passage this morning in my quiet time, I could see the whole story playing out in my head like a Charlton Heston movie (I realize he played Moses, not Abram, but still). And when I got to the end of the chapter I couldn't just leave Abram lying on the ground in his deep sleep and fade out to a commercial. In my mind, he got up slowly, very slowly, looked at the consumed animal offering he had left for God,dusted his clothes off, gulped, and walked down the mountain (I'm assuming he was on a mountain for some reason) very, very, very humbly.

And so today, I'm going to think twice before I ask my God for too much information about the future. I think He has it covered. I trust Him. And that's enough for me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

No More Yelling in the Mall

A blog is a funny thing. It can build relationships and foster communication, or it can build egos and shut down friendships. My blogs have done a little of all of that, but I prefer the former.

I've heard it said (or maybe I said it, I really don't remember; if you said it, please let me know!) that writing a blog is a little like standing in the middle of the food court at the mall and beginning a conversation with no one. You're just standing there talking and kind of hoping that someone will stop and listen to you and then even talk back. You're surrounded by people you don't know, whom you don't know from where they've come, and you're trying to say something relevant and interesting to them, and yet stay true to yourself as well.

If someone stops to listen, smiles at you and makes a comment, you're so thrilled that you practically jump them! You tend to grab hold and beg them to be your friend.

When you finally gather a few friends (followers, as blogger calls them; trail buddies, as I call them) you're able to breathe a sigh of relief and actually feel like you know a few of the people you're talking to. You still don't know if anyone's listening to your rantings and ravings on any given day, so you still kind of tend to sound like you're yelling in the mall...but not as much as before,....hopefully.

I actually remember when I was a young mom and didn't have very many other young mom friends (long story, we lived in an older community and James pastored a church with hardly any young people) and I desperately longed for some young friends. I would take my kids to the mall for an outing, sit in the food court eating my Chik Fil A sandwich and look at the other young moms with kids. I'd spot a friendly looking mom who looked kind of like me and think to myself, "I bet we could be friends."

But not once did I initiate a conversation with any of these friendly looking folk. And I never just stood up and starting talking!

So what in the world am I doing that for now?!?!

Ok, time to wrap this up. Here's the point...you've been waiting for I'm sure.

Enough of me just standing in the mall food court and talking out loud. I don't just want a platform for my thoughts. They're not that special, for pete's sake!

I want dialogue, conversation, two-way banter. I want to hear from you too. But guess what? I found out just this morning that I didn't have my comment form set up for many of you to talk back to me. I know of at least one friend who's wanted to comment on previous posts and couldn't because she couldn't figure out how to "select a profile." Well, it wasn't that she couldn't figure it out; it was that I didn't have it set up so that non-registered guests could comment. My mistake.

I've taken care of that now. Anyone can comment without having to sign their life away. You can just select Anonymous under the "select profile" tab and comment away. I'd love it if you'd at least give me your first name or some identifying title at the end of the comment so I'd know who you are. Otherwise, you're just anonymous. And that's still kind of like having a conversation with strangers in the mall food court, if you know what I mean.

Proverbs 16:24 says "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones." This blogger would love to hear some of your words. I bet others would too.

Let's talk!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

They're Blooming!

When I returned home from my quick little anniversary trip with my husband yesterday, I was particularly glad to see two things. Both are growing. Both are blooming.

I have three African violet plants on my kitchen counter, each with a different colored bloom. At least I think they each produce different colors. One of them has never bloomed.

I've had two of the plants for a number of years now and they bloom off and on quite profusely. One is a true purple violet and the other is more of a deep burgandy-purple. They may have a dormant period here and there, but I can always count on them to bloom if I care for them properly. I love my violets. They really brighten my days.

The third plant actually replaced another violet that I'd had for several years, but it never bloomed. Never. I fertilized it and watered it and put it in the right light. I was careful not to move it. I think I even spoke to it a time or two, always encouragingly of course. Well, maybe that last month or two I barked out my disappointment once or twice.

But it never bloomed.

Finally, last May when my parents were here for my son's high school graduation and they were being very generous at Lowe's Home and Garden Center, I took advantage of my Daddy's good nature and asked if he'd buy me a new violet to replace the one that had never bloomed. Of course he did.

And so, since May 2009 I've been waiting for that violet to bloom again. Whenever you move and replant a violet it is normal for it to refuse to bloom for quite a while, but you do want it to eventually cooperate of course. Recently, I've been growing a little frustrated with my new violet, assuming maybe the pot was faulty or something (it was the same one the other non-bloomer had been in).

But lo and behold, it has little buds on it! I came home from my trip to find that it is growing and is about to bloom!

You probably can't even see the little buds in that picture, but believe me, this violet grower can. I've been checking for new growth for months, anticipating it, doing everything I could to cause it to happen. And when I saw those little buds I squealed with delight and brought them to the attention of the rest of my family. They were, of course, so enthusiastic....

And that brings me to the other thing that is blooming.

James and I have gone away for our anniversary for at least five years now. As a pastor of a church he just needs to get out of town occasionally and we've found a quick trip during our anniversary to be one way to accomplish that. And each of those years we've just left our children home alone since they've been, in our eyes, old enough to handle a few days by themselves.

But we've also come home to some doozies. Never any bad misbehavior, but just the normal "he said, she said" or "he did ...., she did...." There have been blazing accusations and flaring tempers, not to mention a very messy house.

But this time we came home to a relatively straight house and Abby was putting the dishes from the dishwasher away as I walked in. Daniel had picked his sister up from school and helped her with her geometry without any squabbles, as far as I could detect. Neither of them reported a single accusation against his or her sibling. In fact, Daniel topped off the evening by lending his sister $20 so she could go out to eat with friends. (He'll probably charge her interest, but at least he gave her the money without any gnashing of teeth or tearing of hair!)

My kids were blooming!

And I'm just as excited about these promising little buds of growth as I am my African violets, more so in fact. Like most parents, I watch persistently for signs of growth and I become discouraged when I don't see them. But one thing I have learned from parenting during these teen years - God is not through with my children. In fact He has barely begun. And He, the Master Gardener, is carefully tending to their growth. Much better than I, He knows when to prune, when to fertilize, when to water, and when to just sit and wait.

And so I've clung to Philippians 1:6 for my children and indeed for myself.

"For I am confident of this very thing,
that He who began a good work in you will perfect it
until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6 NASB)

And then I go on to pray the following verses as well:

"And this I pray, that your love may abound
still more and more in real knowledge
and all discernment, so that you may approve
the things that are excellent,
in order to be sincere and blameless
until the day of Christ; having been filled
with the fruit of righteousness
which comes through Jesus Christ,
to the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1:9-11 NASB)

I'm excited about the growth I've seen lately, both in my precious little violets and in my own children. Not only is that growth important and exciting on its own, but it reminds me that God is still at work. It's never too late for Him to move in and change a heart, a behavior, an attitude, or even a violet.

What growth have you seen lately that has inspired you? I'd love to hear about it. Maybe you've seen growth in a spouse, a child, a friend, a plant, or...yourself. Please do tell!

Blessings dear friend!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy Trails!

Happy Anniversary to my husband James, the guy I've been walking side by side with for 22 years. Our path has been difficult at times, but always joyful and very adventurous. There's not another man on God's green earth I'd rather go through life with (no offense to my male friends).

James has always provided well for his family, fulfilled his calling, and walked with God. He is a great father, a solid pastor, a loyal friend, and a very patient husband. He is good to me beyond anything I deserve and has shown me on a daily basis what it means to walk humbly with God. He is one of those rare individuals in whom you can literally see God working and moving in tangible ways. His favorite thing in all the world is not college football (though he spends hours and hours watching it), not preaching (though he definitely looks forward to Sunday mornings more than any other time of the week), not running or hiking (though he does both consistently and passionately), but simply telling someone face to face about his Jesus and praying with them as they accept Him as their Lord and Savior. James is wild about winning people to the Lord.

I'll be taking the next couple of days off from blogging as we go away for a quick trip to celebrate our anniversary. Take care and check back in with me in a few days, blogger friends. You mean so much to me and encourage me so.

I love you James!