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I Can’t Say Amen

Goodness!!  It seems now that with growing frequency, whenever I bow my head (when I’m alone) or sometimes with a close friend sharing a meal, that I bow my head to say our thanks for the food in front of us…and I just can’t do it.

I begin thanking God, remembering Who He is.  Remembering how He even managed to fashion the miracle of a human being is astounding, much less develop the capillaries and the tongue, teeth, and meat of the animal that’s been placed before me for a hearty meal.  How do I even begin to wrap my senses around how much effort, how much unfathomable intelligence thath it took, to even comprehend what it would take to create out of simple matter a living, breathing–your see?   My food’s grown cold, my friend is looking at me with a “what’s with you?” expression…  And I realize I’ve done it again.  I whisper a quiet, “forgive us our sins, Lord, we love you, in Jesus’ name” and end my prayer. But it isn’t finished.  It just isn’t.

Give Us This Day…

Remember the story of the widow with the oil and flour in I Kings 17 who was preparing to die when her food ran out, and it managed (the Lord provided) to keep lasting on and on and on?  She just baked enough for each day and the next day there was still enough to bake bread for one more day.  Trusting God.  One day at a time.

Well, it seems that way with my Bible.  I mean, to clarify, I’m not planning to starve or die right away as the widow feared; I’m just fascinated how the same container with the same contents–the Scriptures–just keeps renewing itself and  providing me with different insights on a daily basis.  What a bargain!  Buy one book and keep reading new insights for years.  He just keeps on feeding me constantly. (Could this be my “daily bread” that I pray for?)

The very same 66 books, the very same words arranged in precisely the same way they were when I was 2 or 3 and first heard the stories at my mother’s knee…or to expand on that idea, the same words for the last 2,000 years or so, never mind when I first heard them.

As to the nature  of the Word, the apostle John shares that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God…and that tells me the Word is Jesus.  The same yesterday, today and forever.  And Hebrews 4 reminds us that “the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart,” so that addresses the literal power in the Scriptures.

Yet somehow I’m newly aware that these 807,361 words (in the King James version, at least, according to http://www.neverthirsty.org/pp/corner/read2/r00722.html), are the same words I’ve been reading for close to 60 years–and that their message is constantly changing and meeting my needs, whatever they are at any given moment.  Wow.  Mind boggling.

Thank you, Lord.

Come Before Winter

This morning I’m stuck at home enduring an infected tooth extraction that wants to complicate things.  Before the painkiller kicks in again, I wanted to share what I’ve read this beautiful, mild autumn morning. It seems such a paradox, such an embarrassing contrast of comfort and misery.  The silkiness of Sugar Bear’s coat, (my Chihuahua) a warm glowing honey-colored fur,  snug at my side, coat shining in the early morning sunshine.  Outside the window, the hummingbirds battle for the next sip of nectar, blossoms nearby sharing their perfume wafting on the soft breeze.

While I nestle under a crimson fleece blanket in my little corner, mug of hot tea beside my chair, I can picture the dreadful, drafty cold stone of the prisons under the streets of Rome.

Stones that never warm, never soften.  The human misery that emanates from below the streets, calls from the abyss that is all but forgotten in this teeming city.  The unbelievable stench of human waste and sweat to which the nose does not acclimate.  The guards, the dregs of the Roman forces, alleviating their boredom and disgust with their duties by pestering and humiliating the prisoners.  Runaway slaves, forced into housekeeping duties, trying to haul away the buckets that were used to relieve the prisoners following a meal of wormy gruel.  And as always, the voice of a rich baritone growing slightly feeble, singing praises to God.  The prisoners used to stop him from singing, taking turns ridiculing him, but after months and months they’ve taken pity on him and some encourage him.  A few even join in his singing, as they’ve grown used to his music, as well as his God.

His friends have stopped coming by to bring him food and bits of comfort, a fresh pair of sandals, a parchment to read, or a clean tunic with a word or two of encouragement. For the most part, the poor old guy has been left utterly alone.  His cough is getting a bit more forceful, the sound of it ominous.  Yet on he sings.  Singing and writing, that’s all he does now.  He was trying to help out the slaves, to share their burden of carrying the slop buckets, but he’s grown too weak for much of that now.  Though he still encourages the other prisoners around him, urging them to have hope and to look forward to their reward.  I guess he’s convinced all of them to believe as he does.

As the prison is below the streets of the marketplace, the sun never seems to reach all the way to the cells.  The way these walls are constructed, the winds tend to howl down through the opening in the roof, a hole hardly larger than a manhole cover that lowers by ropes whatever supplies, new prisoners, or guards enter the enclosure.  And then receiving in return dead bodies, waste, and the occasional guard relieved of duty that cannot wait to leave, drawing their woolen cloaks closer in the  growing chill of late autumn.

Paul tried to stand and stretch, his arthritic joints and bones growing stiffer with age, poor nutrition, and exposure.  He finished his latest letter to Timothy, encouraging him still, in the face of all that Paul has endured.

“For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that Day.”  He continued to stress to Timothy to keep it simple:  “I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder.  Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the  Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit.  Just keep it simple.  You’re going to find that there will be times when people have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food–catchy opinions that tickle their fancy.  They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages.  But YOU–keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive, do a thorough job as God’s servant.”

“You take over, Timothy.  I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar.  This is the only race worth running.  I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way.  All that’s left now is the shouting–God’s applause!”

“Get here as fast as you can.  Everyone else deserted me.  Bring Mark with you: he’ll be my right-hand man.  Bring the winter coat I left in Troas and also the books and parchment notebooks.  …Try hard to get here before winter.”…The message goes on, ever encouraging Timothy and his followers, regardless of how Paul was suffering.  And I know that he counted his imprisonment and even his death a victory for Christ; so many came to believe as a result of his testimony.

Yet this morning, cozy and growing sleepy in my little nest, my heart breaks for this man of God, enduring more than anyone should have to, all in the name of His Savior and his purpose.  “Come before winter.”  Those words say so much, don’t they?

I intend to look around.  To seek out those who serve quietly, enduring much for the cause of Christ.  I’m going to find some way to alleviate some small portion of what they endure for Him.  To do what I can to ‘bring a coat before winter.’  And more than anything, I want to follow Paul’s example:  “Read these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of laying out the truth plain and simple.”  I can do that.

(Quotations from II Timothy, [The Message])

WHO DO YOU WANT TO BE?

No, I mean, really.  Every stop and think about it?  The person you would like, in your head, to plan and design and hopefully execute.  An exciting, in-demand go-getter?  A quiet, studious introvert, dedicated to plants and animals but not to people?  A famous ballplayer or scientist, or even a poet?

It came up as a movie line this afternoon.  And I jumped on it.  Thinking only of possibilities without restrictions, I started writing: 

Who do I want to be?  I want to be the gal who isn’t uptight. Who’s so relaxed about things that she draws others to her. Who thinks before she speaks……but one who can pop out in spontaneous, clever things too, who makes others laugh.

I want to sculpt. To shape clay into beautiful shapes and figures that just speak to the soul.

And I want to sculpt words so that they melt the heart and shape it into an eternally new shape with new insights into how to love other people.  And with all of that, I want to share it–to pass my words on as a gift.

I want to give gifts that stun. That make your heart catch in your throat, and tears come to your eyes. That sting, that salty taste you get because you’re choking on them? That’s the impact that I’m looking for when I try to show you how deeply I care for you, about you and where you spend eternity.

 That’s  not such a bad thing, is it?  Then why do we let the daily time-wasting routine moments get in the way and steal most of our time?  I want to skip most of that stuff, and concentrate on what is essentially the real me.  To concentrate the time I have left in accomplishing the most important things.  Now the only challenge is to just figure out how.

 

 

You Make My Heart Smile

Brittanys-Eyes_edited-1I’m learning things from an intelligent and candid young woman.  She is amazingly beautiful to look at, untarnished, unconscious of how truly stunning she is.  Yet what I continue to observe is how radiant she is—how exquisite she is on the inside.  And she’s so young!!  Not yet battered by what the world will send her way, she is already so wise and so caring.

What I have learned from her most recently is the vision she has.  The discernment.  She looks at a large, lumbering, sometimes silly young man and sees so much promise, so much capability—and truly her knight in shining armor.  He is a brilliantly independent thinker, ready with his opinions, outspoken, yet wise beyond his years—so she’s not mistaken.  Just very young to have spotted this ambitious young soul and know without a shadow of a doubt that he’s the man for her.   I’ve loved seeing how her growing love for him has completely grounded him.  What an impact—and I don’t believe she knows that her love for him is the catalyst.

Let me share with you a few comments she has made about him:

They met a couple of years ago, during high school.  And only a few months into their relationship, she listed this poem beside his photo:  “Say farewell to the dark night, I see the coming of the sun. I feel like a little child whose life has just begun, you came and breathed new life into this lonely heart of mine” (Back at One, by Brian McKnight)

Then a few months later: “When a girl is in love you can see it in her smile.  When a guy is in love you can see it in his eyes.”  If you could see the photo she posted with this comment, you would totally understand.

She has been through all sorts of escapades with him, some adventurous, some calamitous and yet she comes up with this statement that’s way beyond her years:  “Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Her continual gratitude for him and what he means to her is a gift in itself:  “You make my heart smile.”

What a sweet, sweet spirit to see him as a gift for her:  “I must have done something right, to have you in my life.”

Beside a photo of the two of them relaxed, laid back and laughing themselves silly is the wise-beyond-her-years admission:  “Thank God I’ve finally found someone I can be my completely stupid self with and we still enjoy every second of it.”

And when he was trying to help her in an awkward private moment:  “Every girl deserves a guy who looks at her everyday like it’s the first time he saw her.”

This young woman will never have to fear her man being miles away and tempted by anyone:  “It’s not every day that you find someone who can put up with your bullshit. Hold on to them with all you have.”

And ultimately a worldly wise woman who knows how to tempt, how to entice, how to endear and “keep” (for lack of a better word) a man’s interest:  “A legal kiss is never as good as a stolen one.”

I wanted to share this portrait of a shrewd and truly perceptive woman’s approach to her relationship and her future in hopes that it will inspire you to do the same.  This world has sometimes fostered a lack of integrity; it encourages lassitude and an almost anarchist attitude toward life.  Yet I’ve learned that she is living proof that somewhere out there is another person who is meant to complete you; who will improve you just by being aware that you exist.

When You Can’t Sleep

INdian poster awake in someone elses dream

Legend says, when you can’t sleep, it’s because you’re awake in someone else’s dream.

I love this idea.  I spend lots of late evening and early morning “waking” hours wondering why I’m just not sleepy.  I may be truly wide awake; or sleep deprived, or even just bone-tired.  I gave up soft drinks, so rarely do I have caffeine.  But still sleep evades me.  I repeat the Scriptures to myself, especially “thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.”  And yes, I feel I’m IN perfect peace.  Just not perfect sleep.  I’ve become an old hand (especially this year) at mentally making a little list of my worries and handing them up to Him—and letting them go.  I know He’s in charge of me and mine anyway.

So, in the end, if it’s that someone else is sleeping a peaceful sleep full of dreams where I’m being silly, or loving, or somehow memorable, then that’s okay with me.  My time on this earth is limited; I can use all the exposure I can get, to get my message out there.  If I’m doing it in others’ sub consciousness’, then that’s cool.

Think about it next time you can’t sleep.  It makes the loneliness of the wee small hours just that much easier to bear.

Till next time….always remember Whose you are.

Is It Christmas Yet?

It’s barely daylight and so quiet in the house, you can hear the snow blowing around outside.  The scent of spruce boughs lingers in the air as you tiptoe through the living room, bent on checking out those gift-wrapped presents under the tree.  Quiet, don’t wake up the snoring parents in the process.

What’s this?  There’s a huge rectangular package tucked behind the tree with no tags, no names. A plain brown wrapping paper-wrapped shape, no ribbons or bows.  Where did this come from?  It has an air mail sticker in the corner that’s marked, “North Pole.”

Whenever I think of my childhood (50’s and 60’s) and all the little special things that warm my memory, this one rises to the surface most often.  The gift turned out to be simply a suitcase, meant for me.  It was a thoughtful present, as I loved going to church camp in the summer, spring and fall retreats, and to friends’ houses to spend the night.  That wasn’t the important thing.   It was the unexpectedness, the delight and surprise of it all.

There are other memories, the doll I received that was very nice—but not the one I wanted, not the one I asked for. The year I tried so hard as an 8 year old to provide and wrap gifts for my brothers and parents on my own, and in desperation ended up selecting the very best of the cloth handkerchiefs in my father’s drawer, wrapping them beautifully for my brother’s gift.  I remember how accomplished I felt, how impressed I was with myself and how beautifully I wrapped all the presents.  Juxtaposed over that image is the look of hurt and perplexity in my brother’s eyes when he opened my elegant box of used handkerchiefs.  The anger in my father’s voice as he yelled at me for hurting my brother’s feelings.  The lame attempt to pacify my brother with a model car purchased at the all night drug store.  What a memory.

I can remember the best part of our Kentucky Christmas dinner—the homemade candies my aunt Laura made, tons and tons of different chocolates, fruit-filled drops, fudge, and mints.  The warm and spicy aroma of my grandmother’s house with the meal all ready…the bubbling lights on her sad, pathetic little Christmas trees, that she festooned with paper ribbons, German paper stars, and mercury glass ornaments.

I can still feel the sharp bite of cold against my cheeks as we leave Granny’s house after dinner and gift-exchange, heading for home and the inevitable “unexpected” early arrival of Santa, who always seemed to hit our house on Christmas Eve so Mom and Dad could sleep late next morning.  The stale odor of old cigarettes lingered on the car’s plastic seat covers against my cheek and mixed with the scent of foil-covered leftover turkey and dressing that we carried home, pressed upon us by my dear Granny as always.

So many memories rise during this season…the year my brother came home on furlough from the Army, wrecked his brother’s car and went back to base early (understandably).  The funny little borrowed doll that came with a note, explaining that Miss Darlene the Ballerina was ill and in the doll hospital, and would make her arrival a week or so after Christmas when she had recovered.

Setting the table for Christmas dinner always held its special charm:  first I would raise the leaves of our cherry drop-leaf table until the two-seater would seat 10-12.  Then what I pictured as dressing the princess in her ball gown:  I covered the table with a padded protective cover, followed by either a solid green or solid red cloth covering.  Frosting the beautiful crimson or emerald cover would be a delicate crocheted tablecloth, brought back from Germany when my Dad was in the War.

Mama’s feather-pattern glasses with the gold rims came next, and all her good china, each plate turned to just the right angle, cloth napkins in place, and the knives with their blades facing the plate, each piece nestled in its appointed role.

Leaving room for the turkey platter in the center of the table, I placed candles here and there, with fancy dishes to hold the jewel-like cranberry sauce, the antique silver footed casserole holders with their Pyrex inserts, and the butter knife beside the butter dish just so.

The singular display in its place of honor in our living room, however, was the cloud of angel hair that served as a bed for the Manger Scene.  A die-cut cardboard set, it lasted us for years and years.  And it never lost its charm.   I always pictured the baby Jesus with his glowing halo, just as the one in the figures looked.  And that’s the last thing I always fought for, to keep Baby Jesus on display after the holidays were over, all the gifts opened, the tummies fattened, the naps taken.  When the tissue and discarded bows were cleared away I wanted him to remain, the last vestige of the holiday—the real meaning of the Christmases I remember so well.

Manger Scene Set Vintage