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Archive for July, 2009

Enough

It’s one of those just-enough-to-pay-the-bills kind of months. You know, the kind where you hold your breath, close your eyes and pray that when you’re done subtracting, there will be something, anything, left in the checking account, even if it’s single digits. Tell me I’m not alone here. Tell me you’ve been there.

God has been speaking to me through songs recently. Maybe that’s because I’ve neglected reading the Bible and praying lately. Instead of meditating on His Word, my mind has been filled with the how-to’s of paying bills and making ends meet.
Today, I remembered the Caedmon’s Call song “This World.” The chorus says: “This world has nothing for me, and this world has everything. All that I could want and nothing that I need.” Sometimes I’m down when there’s only enough money to pay the bills. And I’m jealous of people who get to take vacations or make new purchases or even save a little for a rainy day. But as this song runs through my head, I remember what’s important. That all the stuff this world has to offer, even the good, fun stuff, is nothing compared with what God has to offer.
I’ve been adding to my guitar-playing repertoire, and one of the recent additions is the Chris Tomlin song “Enough.” It was a favorite during my college days, and I’m still encouraged by its chorus: “All of you is more than enough for all of me, for every thirst and every need, you satisfy me with your love, and all I have in you is more than enough.” Even with single-digits in the checking account, I have more than enough to get through this life. That sometimes sounds naive when I think it or voice it, but I can’t think of anything I would miss more in my life if it wasn’t there than Jesus.
Yesterday, as I was making French toast for breakfast, I started singing “Seek Ye First,” especially the verse that says “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, Allelu, alleluia.” That’s almost a direct quote from Matthew 4:4, when the devil is tempting Jesus to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread. This convicts me. Even Jesus wouldn’t use his own means to meet a basic need in his life. He trusted his Father, even with his hunger.
This is so contrary to our culture. We applaud people who “make something of themselves.” We’re expected to solve our own problems. We value people based on their net worth. We’re impressed by the number of things we amass.
And yet the Bible’s message is consistent with the song lyrics … the world has nothing of real value to offer, God is more than enough of what we need, we’re not to live only on bread.
Oh, Jesus, help me embrace that counter-cultural attitude and trust that You are truly all I need. Amen.

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Better together

We had a rough weekend. As Phil put it this morning, I haven’t felt this tired since Isabelle was a baby. Isabelle battled a fever all weekend, thus her usual sleep patterns were disrupted. She didn’t nap well during the day, and at night she would sleep for 3-4 hours at a time, then wake up hungry and have trouble going back to sleep. Fortunately, when the doctor checked her out this morning, she couldn’t find any sign of ear infection or throat abnormality, so she left us in wait-and-see mode. We didn’t have to wait long. She was fever-free all day.

It’s a relief, in a way, to know that nothing’s wrong, but the emotional toll of the weekend almost makes me wish there was some explanation for the suffering … both hers and ours. Phil started a new night job this weekend, on top of his regular job which is Saturday early evenings and Sunday afternoons, so much of the burden for caring for Isabelle fell to me, day and night. I don’t deal well with anyone in our family being even a little bit sick, so I found myself crying every time he left the house. I was emotionally empty, physically drained and spiritually dry. I haven’t cried that hard in a while.
Sunday night was by far the roughest of the weekend, but that afternoon, I was more hopeful than I had been all weekend because I knew at least that Phil would be there for a day/night block of time without interruption. Even when Isabelle’s crying for “Mommy, mommy, mommy,” I’m encouraged when he’s just in the house because there’s another option for her care.
The whole situation made me think of the verse in Ecclesiastes that is sometimes used in weddings.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV)
I take this to mean that God does not intend for us to go through life alone. Married or not, we need other people to help us along in our life’s journey, especially when the tough times come. Otherwise, we end up burnt out — spiritually, physically, and emotionally. We don’t always need someone who can fix our problems or pull us out of the tough times. Sometimes all we need is a shoulder to cry on, a warm embrace, a kind word, or a listening ear.
And while we’re strong together, we’re strongest when God is in the relationship, be it a marriage, a friendship or a family.
It’s not always easy to admit we need other people, but it’s clear from God’s Word that Christians, especially, are meant to function as one unit, a body. Toes wouldn’t last very long by themselves, nor would ears or noses. The parts of our bodies are designed to work together for the good of the body; so, too, should we, the body of Christ work together for the good of the whole.
We don’t have to go through life, the good or the bad, alone. We’re not meant to. Who do you need in your life today?

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More like Jesus

Do you ever feel like a mule? Man, was I dragging my heels, and kicking and screaming on the inside today when my husband and I got into a discussion about a phone call that needed to be made. The conversation went something like this.

Me: Well, if that’s what needs to happen, you’re going to have to do it.
Him: Oh. But it was your idea.
Me: But you’re related to her.
Him: But you’re a woman.
Me: So?
Him, a few minutes later: I’d really like to know ahead of time if you’re going to not follow through on something so I don’t sit around and wait for it to happen.
Me: (hurt, speechless and pouting on the couch)
I stewed about it some more and decided he was right. It was only a phone call, after all. And it was painless. But it was another reminder of what’s expected of me as a wife. Actually, as a Christian in general but the husband-wife relationship seems to be the hardest place to accomplish it.
Earlier this week I was reading the account of Jesus washing his disciples feet found in John 13, and I was reminded of the importance He placed on servanthood.
“‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.'” (vv. 12-15)
Christ, the Messiah, the King, took on the role of a servant and performed the lowliest task around. (Any RRBC’ers out there remember what it was like the year we washed each other’s feet during chapel service?) It’s humbling to kneel before someone, take their foot in your hand and gently wash it as an act of service.
We lose some pride and some of our rights when we choose to serve someone, even if there’s no chance of being served in return. But that’s not the way we want it, right? We’d rather the deal be, “I’ll serve you, if you serve me.” The way Jesus wants it is to serve even when we aren’t being served.
I’m reading Nancy Leigh DeMoss‘ book “Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets them Free” and one of this week’s truths was “We’re never more like Jesus than when we’re serving others.” That hit home hard with me. I’ve gone through weeks recently where I’ve kept score in my head of the number of times I’ve done this or that for my husband, waiting for him to return the favor, then growing resentful when it doesn’t happen. After I read that statement, I quit keeping score, or at least tried to. Human nature says I’ll fail time and again at it. And I found that when I served and then served some more and then served some more, I wasn’t angry, or resentful, or tired. I was … joyful?
I didn’t expect that. I hoped I’d be content, but full of joy to change the umpteenth poopy diaper, to wake up early with the toddler again, or to prepare his snack for his night class?
Really. It’s true. If you don’t believe me, give it a try. And don’t expect your husband necessarily to notice or say anything. Just do it, and know that Jesus is pleased that you’re following His example and becoming more like Him.

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Worth the wait

On a recent repeat episode of “Antiques Roadshow,” I caught a segment featuring a man with two 19th century paintings by J.F. Kensett that he’d purchased at a yard sale. He told the AR appraiser that he once had them appraised for $800-$900 by a woman who also offered a buyer for the paintings. The AR appraiser, after examining the paintings and consulting with colleagues, told the man a conservative auction estimate for the paintings was $30,000-$60,000 each. Understandably, the man was speechless. (A transcript of this exchange can be found at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/roadshow/archive/200605A41.html) His is not the first story of this kind I’ve heard on the show. I always wonder how close these people came to accepting a first, and lesser, offer for their valuables and what must be going through their minds when they find out they were almost robbed of the true value.

We can be just as easily duped about life. How often do we settle for what is good, or something we think is good, when if we wait we will have something with a value beyond compare?
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)
Life is a treasure with which we are entrusted for a time, but we so easily sell it for less than what it’s worth. We sell ourselves to our jobs, success, retirement accounts, houses, entertainment, “stuff” and even our families. And we miss the point if that’s all we make life about. Jesus is telling his disciples in this passage that there’s something far greater to invest our lives in than anything we can own or see. He’s calling people to salvation, the promise and assurance of life forever.
Only when we look to Jesus can we discover what life is truly worth. The apostle Paul twice in his letters tells us we were bought at a price. John 3:16 tells us the price — Jesus’ death on the cross for sins he never committed. But because of that price, we’re promised an inheritance in heaven if we accept that we need Jesus and what he did because of our sins.
And God, because He’s a generous God, doesn’t only leave us with a promise of good things to come. He promises that with Him, life here, in the meantime, can be as good as it gets, His way, not the world’s way.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NASB)
It’s easier to value what’s right in front of us, to treasure what we can see and believe what the world tells us is valuable, but like the man on “Antiques Roadshow,” if we wait for the Expert’s assessment, we’ll find a value far greater than we could have dreamed.

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Dis-clothes-sure

I’ve come to enjoy hanging clothes out on the line. Some weeks, I wait for a sunny day to do laundry just so I can take the wash outside to let it line dry. When we first moved here, clothesline drying was a necessity. Our rental house came with a washer, but we didn’t own a dryer, so we had to make do with the natural drying abilities of the sun. In time for winter, we bought a used dryer, so our laundry schedule became a little more flexible. Still, if given the choice, I’ll walk the clothes outside to hang up rather than haul them downstairs to the dryer. (Our washer is on the main floor in the kitchen; our dryer’s in the basement.)

In a region full of Amish and Mennonite homes, clothes hanging on the line is a common sight, even in winter. What isn’t so common is openness, and I don’t mean that people here aren’t friendly. The opposite is true, in fact. We’ve made many wonderful friends here. But I’m told, and we’ve been able to observe it as well, that Pennsylvania Dutch culture is quite closed. People aren’t terribly willing to tell you their struggles, their secrets or even to share much about their relationship with God. Come to think of it, I can be that way, too, especially with people I don’t know well or haven’t known long.
What I find funny is that we can’t hide our laundry from the neighbors when we’re hanging it on the line. I try to surround our underwear with rows of T-shirts and pants, but really, it’s right there for everyone to see. I sometimes chuckle to myself when I see a clothesline that is highly visible to the street and has underwear hanging on it. It’s kind of silly, right? I mean, we all know that most people wear underwear, so therefore, at least one load of laundry each week will contain some “delicate” articles. I think it’s just slightly embarrassing to think about them being on display because for most people, underwear is not usually seen.
I think the same is true for our struggles, feelings and even, sometimes, our triumphs. We all know we have them, but because we don’t often see them, maybe we’re sometimes shocked when they’re suddenly disclosed or we come upon someone who isn’t afraid to share them with people. Maybe we’d be more comfortable with people’s personal lives if we saw them more often.
My husband and I aren’t terribly private people. I think he’s drawn me out of that a little bit, although as a writer, it sort of comes with the calling. We’re not afraid to tell you that we struggle or answer the “how are you?” question truthfully if we think you really want to know. In the last year I’ve taken some risks in letting people see some of our struggles and the emotions I wrestle with. It’s scary to be that vulnerable, but I’ve found in it a great reward, too: friendships — new and deepening. And some of the same struggles I’m going through.
While I don’t intend to blab my problems to every person I meet, I am hoping to be more honest and transparent with those in my circles of influence. I believe God puts us through situations and circumstances, difficult ones, especially, not just to strengthen our own faith but to help others with whom we’re in contact. The words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 come to mind: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (NASB version)
May you be encouraged to open up about your struggles with people, and may you never look at underwear hanging on a clothesline the same way again!

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I’m not sure how often you’re “supposed” to post to your blog, but I feel like I’m making up for lost time. So, if these posts are too frequent to begin with, I’ll pray that you don’t get sick of me, and maybe in a few weeks, they’ll be fewer and farther between.

Or maybe they won’t. My husband and I talked about blogs on the walk to seminary yesterday, and I thought about whether or not I should start one. I wondered, Do I have anything worthwhile or unique to say? And I questioned my motives. Did I want a blog just because “everyone else” had one?
But God’s been impressing on me the issue of calling lately. For me, writing is part of that calling, and I’ve been challenged to take that calling more seriously. A few weeks ago in Sunday School, we studied God’s call to Moses in Exodus 3 and 4, and I found myself identifying with Moses and the excuses he gave the Lord. “What if they won’t listen?” “I’m not eloquent.” And I add a few of my own: “I’m too busy raising a child, soon-to-be two.” “I’m at a different season of my life than the other writers I know.” “I don’t have enough experience.”
And God says to me what He said to Moses. “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to say.” (Exodus 4:11-12, NASB)

That promise isn’t enough for Moses, who then begs God to send the message through someone else. I don’t know that I’ve ever begged God to do that, but twice in recent memory, He’s shown me that if I won’t write for Him, He’ll find someone who will. In both instances, it’s been through people who would say of themselves that they aren’t writers but felt a burden from the Lord to communicate His message that way. Those were wake-up calls to me to embrace the calling and obey God’s leading to write.
When the prophet Isaiah was called, the Lord asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me!” Only after he responds does he find out what God’s plan is. Me, I always want to know the details first before I volunteer. Where are we going, Lord? How will we get there? What are we going to do, exactly? But if I knew all that ahead of time, I’d probably never sign up for anything!
It’s scary to say to God, “Here am I. Send me!” But if He chooses us for a task, we won’t regret saying “yes” whole-heartedly. And if we won’t do it, He will find someone else.

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I’m still new at this stay-at-home mom thing. It’s been almost a year since I quit my job and moved from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic to join my husband on the adventure we call seminary. Part of the adventure has been for me, the former “breadwinner” of our relationship, to stay home with our now toddler daughter. Financially, it looked like a suicide decision, but God has shown Himself faithful beyond our imaginations. Emotionally, it’s been a roller coaster. Spiritually, it’s been like appearing on “The Biggest Loser” — God is trimming the excess from my life to make me a lean, mean, spiritual machine. Or something like that.

One of my biggest struggles has been with mundaneness. I worked in journalism for 8 years — I’m used to deadline pressures, breaking news and the exhiliration of a story well-written or a page well-designed. Some days, it seems all I’ve done is cook, wash dishes and hang clothes out to dry. And I wonder: Am I wasting my college degree? Am I doing anything worthwhile with my life? What IS my purpose now?
I suspect I’m not alone. That there are other mothers asking the same questions in the midst of a day at home and other people, in general, who wonder if their work is all there is to life.
Recently I read in Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost For His Highest” this passage about the Christian life: “Jesus does not ask me to die for Him, but to lay down my life for Him … It is far easier to die than to lay down the life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling. We are not made for brilliant moments, but we have to walk in the light of them in ordinary ways.”
I long to do something great, something big in the “grand scheme,” but in reality, I may not ever make a huge impact, and what I consider “grand scheme” may be small potatoes to God. He has better vision than I do, and He can see what truly matters about my life and what I’m doing. So, I’m trying to see Jesus in the so-called mundane stuff of life. How can I serve Him in my ordinary life? What can I do each day that will last forever?
I’m learning that cooking, dishes and laundry may be all God wants me to accomplish in a day, but by serving my family, creating a loving and somewhat orderly home, and teaching and caring for my daughter, I’m also serving God.

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