The Poet, the Giant, and My Kid

Petite in size and missing front teeth, maybe seven years old when the slave traders captured the young, dark girl from her home in Gambia (modern day Senegal) and brought her to the ship, the Phillis, that would carry her transatlantic to Boston to a life of enslavement and hopelessness.
David a strong, red-haired, Israelite boy, a talented writer and musician who toiled as an obscure shepherd defending his father’s flocks from wild animals, the youngest of eight sons of Jesse, of Bethlehem.
“I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil.”
The young slave girl Phillis, named after the ship that transported her to America, a Boston merchant and his family educated and owned her when she became the first published, African American poet Phillis Wheatley. Phillis wrote the esteemed poem, Goliath of Gath.  At only seventeen, she wrote the elegy about the Protestant pastor George Whitefield.  Complete Providence.
David leaves his pastoral life to fulfill his anointed calling as a warrior and a king.  As warrior, he defeats the mighty Goliath without physical armor but with one smooth stone, just a kid, with war-like courage beyond his years.
An enslaved black female poet understood the sovereignty with which David relied on as he entered the battlefield.  Slavery was her giant.  Literary brilliance in bondage. Then there’s the shepherd boy turned warrior, David’s accurate marksmanship, skills practiced and honed as a shepherd, penetrated the skull of the giant. Obstacles crushed.
Phillis and David conquered their giants with the grace of God on their side. Phillis used a pen to overcome her obstacles and David, the providence- directed smooth stone.
“and we through him are more than conquerors,” Col 2:15.
Droplets of sweat soak your collar as you try today to read the words.  Through your eyes the words play tricks on the page.  Those words don’t sit still for you like they do for other kids.  Days follow weeks, weeks run into months, months transcend years until words on a page become your enemy.
“But I’m ten and can’t read like the others,” was your mantra
Frustration ensues; arguments erupt as you try with all your might to finish the page of words.  Your face reddens with embarrassment and then the tear drips from your eye as you hastily wipe it away into oblivion.  The battle rages inside your head and heart.
“Will this get better?” you ask. 
I can’t make empty promises to you, never have— never will.
So we decide to make the words a Goliath moment.  You will not be enslaved by words but be empowered by the Word.
You choose not to suffer in silence but to whisper audible prayers to the One who knitted you in my womb.
Just like Phillis, just like David, just like you, just kids fighting a giant.
You are not alone in this battle, “I will never leave never will I forsake you,” echoes Hebrews. 
Even today, after pages and pages of inescapable words, I remind you to buckle on your armor, the Truth, secure your breastplate of righteousness, ready your shoes with the gospel of Peace, holding the shield of Faith, the protector of the heart, and secure the helmet of salvation.
Goliath, the giant fool, entered battle with helmet askew, or forehead exposed, either way, the giant lost his head. 
David hurled the stone to conquer the enemy.
An angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone that brought Everlasting life. 
Be humble I remind you, be patient, remember, look back at the patchwork of the Lord’s master craftsmanship intricately woven into the lives of the unlikely, the unexpected, to affirm his sovereignty. Choose your weapons prudently; granted to you for a price, a Supreme cost.

Meet My Friend Parker

I saw Parker* today walking; his only means of getting from one place to another in our rural Mid-Atlantic town.  I’ve know him for nearly twenty years now.  When I first met him, he owned his own home, drove one of those over-the-top, shiny revved pick-up trucks, and had a steady job—a good job with benefits, paid vacation.  I got to know Parker through community activities, passing in the aisles of our local grocery, bumping into one another at the library.  Parker and I developed one of those small town friendships.  Exchanging niceties; I would ask about his elderly mother and how she was getting along because I knew that Parker was her sole caregiver.  He always smiled and called me mam.

Then stuff happened to Parker.  I rarely saw him at the grocery store.  And curiously when I did see him at the library, he wasn’t checking out books, but sitting alone in a far corner reading the local paper.  Then, I began to notice his tattered, perspiration laden, soiled clothes. He visited the library often…in winter to stay warm and in summer to stay cool.

I no longer saw him driving his truck, but he took to walking, everywhere, in sorts of weather.  On occasion my kids would see Parker walking this particularly long stretch of road into town.

On one of those days, my very observant son Luke yelled from the back of the mini-van, “Hey mom, there’s your friend Mr. Parker, ask him if he needs a ride.” 

Parker joined me in the front seat and that particular time we dropped him off at a local motel where he now rented a room by the day because he lost his house and truck when he got “laid off” from his job.

For months, as we ran errands about town, the kids kept their eyes peeled for Parker walking the sidewalks season to season.  During one of our rides together, we did learn that he no longer lived at the motel but a local man offered him residence in a heated storeroom for free. Whenever I dropped him off at the appointed destination, he still smiled and he still called me mam.

And then life got busy.  I was always in a hurry, too busy to stop. The seasons of motherhood, homeschooling, church life, blurred my vision, so much so that I couldn’t see what was really in front of me.  Not that any of those endeavors aren’t kingdom building, but did I really need to volunteer for VBS, attend prayer meeting, assist with Christian soccer camp,  teach three classes at homeschool co-op, facilitate women’s Bible study, help with Sunday school, offer to provide snack for children’s church for the next quarter, co-produce the Christmas Pageant….on and on.

All the while, Parker walked and smiled and waved.  I was too busy to stop.

Until one weekend I attended a homeschool conference and heard the late Sono Harris speak on “Slowing Down the Speed of Life.”  Sono had us remove our watches (we actually wore watches back then) to illustrate our dependence on time and addiction to a fast pace of life.  I exhibited the Christian “Vault” wife/mother syndrome pumping as much out of my day that pieces of my heart calloused to the exhortations of Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.”  The energy riddled phase numbed my ability to sense the distresses of others.

I’m not that woman anymore.  The reality of Sono’s talk coupled with becoming a better student of the Word—a learner not just a doer. 

Parker now works two jobs. Still no truck.  Still alone.  Often, Luke runs into Parker at the local gas station.   Luke will have his driver’s license soon and I believe Parker will receive rides from both of us.  But who do you think Parker would rather ride with, the mom in the mini-van or the kid with the pick-up truck?

Warning: Out on a Limb

Warning: Today I go out on a limb. Before my good reader continues, promise NOT to click or touch until you’ve finished this narrative in its entirety.  Then feel free to hurl me into cyber trash.
While visiting relatives in a nearby city, my family and I ventured off to a nearby neighborhood where we stumbled upon a quaint, enthusiastic well-attended fundraising event for a local dog and cat shelter. 
Balloons and ice-cream lured my children into further investigation of the happy occasion.
Hot dogs, door prizes, silent auction tickets, and loads of volunteers— what orchestration of time, effort, and energy gallantly devoted to the cause.
I walked into the business that hosted the affair and noticed off to the side on a shelf, a plastic, dusty container with a few one dollar bills and some change and a photograph of a sad, young girl from a part of the world where food and shelter are a privilege.  Where clean water isn’t something she can count on.  The young girl represents an actual place on this huge planet where mothers are giving birth in ditches.  And the container seemed like an after thought in comparison to the puppy and kitten gala.
I wholeheartedly commend the organizers and supporters of the canine and feline fundraiser.  I am an animal lover; I really am.  I own six different species of animals. On occasion I forget to put sunscreen on my kids but I remember to douse my dogs with flea and tick spray. During harsh winter weather, I’ve been known to bring my goats into the basement to wait out a snowstorm.  I name my sheep after the characters in novels written by one of my favorite writers.  But at the end of the day, I still prefer the companionship of humans.  I unapologetically appreciate that God in his sovereign hierarchy placed humans above animals. 
What saddens me is my complacency with the condition in which the empty-eyed young girl lives her life.  My animals live a far more comfortable life than most of the population of the country she represents.  I am guilty for not dropping loose change into the container.  I could exchange my lattes fixes and fast food stops for a bit of hope for this girl and thousands more like her.
I realize that humans are far more complicated than animals. Trust me I know. I have six kids of my own.  In comparison to humans, animals love   unconditionally, don’t talk back, rarely give attitude (although my sheep are spoiled and snobby), usually aren’t as expensive, appreciate efforts bestowed by their owners, devoted creatures, and so on.
I understand the need to nurture something, to love and be loved back, but couldn’t I somehow fit the hopeless girl into that scheme?  For thirty five dollars a month, cheaper than most Americans spend on a pair of shoes, reputable humanitarian organizations do the work for me.  I just electronically set it up, effortless. 
Heifer International helps impoverished families to build an income “as people share their animals’ offspring with others so that “children who once headed out to the fields to do back breaking work will head into the classroom to learn to read.  Recipients of the program agree to share the offspring of gift animals with others in need, perhaps right in the same village or community.”
 Heifer International
 
Other similar national and international organizations assist in providing wells and sanitation for entire villages.  To sponsor a child or mother might cost a month’s worth of dog or cat food.
It’s that God-given need to extend love and nurture that drives us over the edge with doting on our animals, but it’s often displaced. Do a Google search on just one of the organizations available and scroll down the page to witness the despair in the eyes of these children.
Honestly, most of us can afford to continue our devotion to pets and contribute to the health, spiritual development, and economic well-being of a child.  I could save a month’s worth of change collected from the bottom of my purse or coins amassed from pockets while doing laundry.  I am disgustingly privileged in comparison to many others around the globe.  Actually, I don’t need to span the globe to find poverty, in fact, it lands right in my own speck of a community, where it was recently discovered that a local family lived in a car for an unspeakable amount of time.
I need to be the one to dust off the plastic container with the photo of the little girl on it and not just drop in disposable change but also my compassion for millions like her.
 

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Raw Edges

I am taking a sewing class with my daughters, for me, this is the third sewing class I’ve taken over the years and I still don’t get it.  So far not one sewing teacher has helped my sewing disability.  But there is just something inside me that continues to persevere, enduring the humiliation of bringing my unidentifiable, unfinished, sewing projects to class. 
Learning about raw edges in sewing class, I liken to those elements of my character that keep me kneeling again and again at the foot of the cross. No matter how I try to follow the pattern, I miss a step every time. 
Or those annoying raw edges that slip out unexpectedly—just when I thought I had them neatly tucked in, folded over, invisible, the slightest of raw thread reveals itself, unravels what I have accomplished. 
Raw edge revealed in the library as my son and I checked out books, movies, chatted with neighbors and town-folk.  And it happened before I could do anything about it, raw edge.  This  extraordinarily  attractive, long-legged, scantily clad tween daughter of an acquaintance exchanged polite nods with my son and I and all I could focus on were her abominably tight fitted short, shorts, her provocative demeanor.  When did this all happen, how did this happen? Wasn’t it just yesterday she was in Sunday school with my son, grinning toothless with be-ribboned ponytails?
Maternal heat fumed (radiated I am sure) as my raw edges began to unfurl into heaps of unspoken judgment; the rage battled within me as the mother of the young girl greeted us and then joined her daughter.  How could that mother allow her daughter to wear such…And my raw edges begin to further loosen from the folded edges.
I know that mother and all I could muster was an icy hello.  Now every raw edge exposed.  Hem out. Frayed.  Didn’t I just read about Jesus rebuking the scribes and Pharisees regarding their blindness to the condition of their hearts?  But how could I make this mistake again, I diligently took the lessons, I read the Book.
White-washed tomb. Spiritual pattern to follow, cut out perfectly.  All the tools are in my basket, the right notions.
My son observed, took it all in.  After friendly, obligatory exchanges made, we leave and I am left dragging my raw edges, trying to tuck them in. 
The car offers a quick reprieve to gather my thoughts—
I realize my raw edges are now gaping holes, rips.  Micah 6:8 resonates, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” 
I needed to invite that mother and daughter to “dine at my table”. My motive is to emulate Jesus whom among his diners were the immodest, the provocative, you know the rest of the Parables.  Jesus,the tailor of hearts- patching them, redesigning them to bear good fruit. 
Of course we want our daughters to adorn themselves with modest apparel, as mentioned in I Tim. 2:9 or keeping private what is private.  More importantly, my focus should be the heart, the main stitch to life; it’s what keeps us knitted together. 
The exposure of my raw edges was a Calvary moment, the pride- hem ripped out to a place where I humbly approach the Master Craftsman to weave a new piece of grace-fabric into my patchwork heart. 
I pray that God allows my path to cross again with this woman and her daughter, that my raw is selvedge because of the Weaver.

Fatherhood is For Sowing and Shepherding

My husband, the agronomist, spends his day working the soil.  He has an uncanny way of knowing  the condition of the soil.  When he drives the John Deere 7530, working ground, he will often  stop the tractor just to reach his weathered hands into the earth to feel it.  If the soil feels ready, “he sows seeds,” if the soil proves deficient for sowing, he amends the soil to get it ready for sowing.  Always laboring the soil.

Fatherhood is sowing heart seeds and shepherding hearts.

Fatherhood is preparing the heart-soil of children.  William Shakespeare declared, “It is a wise father that knows his own child.”  Just like the farmer knows his soil, a father knows the condition of the heart of his children.  A farmer never abandons his field; he works with the soil until it’s ready for  sowing.  He fertilizes to improve the richness, so when the seeds fall into the earth; they explode with readiness.  Fathers, the sowers, toil with hearts, preparing “good soil to produce good grain.”

Fatherhood is for sowing heart- seeds.  Just as the farmer painstakingly prepares the soil for sowing, a father nurtures heart soil for kingdom work.  Heart-soil that is fertile for the gospel. Soil that will grow and be ready for harvest.

Farmers protect their crops from weeds that would suffocate life from the seedling. Likewise, heart-sowers empower their children with gospel instruction, teaching them life lessons of sowing and reaping.  Heart lessons that strengthen and fortify to fight the weeds of foolishness, pride, to recognize wickedness, to hear and understand the Word so that he will bear good fruit and produce a high yield.

Fatherhood is shepherding.  Also on our farm we have sheep and like most sheep they know the voice of the one who provides the food and the one who offers shelter and protection. Fathers who shepherd feed children gospel food.  Food that nourishes the heart.  Fathers who shepherd instruct the heart to submit to the Supreme Shepherd, the Divine Protector who offers heavenly protection.

The heart-sower and the shepherd father point children to the “centrality of the gospel”  (Dr. Tedd Tripp). The gospel that offers redemption for seeds that fall on rocky soil or for the lamb who strays from the herd.

As I ride down my rural road and view the acres of healthy crops which will soon be a bountiful harvest, I am reminded of how it all began with a seed carefully placed in healthy soil. 

Good Fruit

Today was an Ann of Green Gables day at the fruit and vegetable farm down the road.  A day in which I imagine in early June on Prince Edward island, where the fields cast that perfect hue of  green and the wind blows gently enough to bring about a kind breeze.  The branches of the cherry trees heavily laden with fruit, swayed back and forth with the wind. Good fruit. Fruit not harmed by the desolation and emptiness of winter.  A healthy tree.

Plentiful and pure, an abundant harvest of seasonally ripe, red fruit. So as I pluck the succulent crop from its boughs, I drift in thought about my fruit. Most days, at best, my fruit wouldn’t fill a basket. Not a barren tree, just one needing frequent seasons of pruning and purging in order to produce fruitfulness for the glory of the one, true, Sovereign Gardener.

My daughters and I continue to pull from the fruitful branches, echoes of nearby harvesters who also clamor for such impeccable fruit, bring to mind, “blossom and put forth shoots and fill the whole world with fruit” but without the constant, daily abiding in Him, I become diseased; weak, unable to do the job in which I was placed on this Earth to do—bear fruit for His glory.

“For apart from me you can do nothing,” just as the cherry trees rely on the keeper of the orchard to protect, to feed, to prune—I am strengthened by His care.

Grafted, propagated, connected, to Christ so that I may bear fruit for the harvest. Life truly begins in the garden as we amble to Genesis 2:8 and plow our way to John 19:41.  Remain in the care of the Gardener.

My Place in this World

Almost two decades ago, when my hair flamed its natural color without gray and there wasn’t such a thing as a varicose vein on my leg, I sat in church with my husband and children and listened intently to missionary after missionary share his or her testimony about how God ignited a gospel flame in far off places that stunted my knowledge of geography, causing me to run my fingers over the lands of our table-top globe, until I found the dwelling place of these God-touched patches of people groups on that spinning globe. Riveting missionary testimonies that brought glory to the Almighty and Everlasting God. 
But how could my husband and I transport our family to places such as this.  Places like Irian Jaya serving tribespeople like the Damals. We faithfully pledged to support the missionaries, but somehow that just wasn’t the same as actually serving in the field.
Then one day I realized my mission field. As I spun the globe and watched the patterns of green, and brown, and masses of blue twirl on my table top, as I watched the names of exotic, foreign places pass with each spin, a yearn to serve in such places still lingered, but my finger slowed the globe to a seemingly tiny spot on this intricately speckled sphere—home.  

And so my place in this hurting, hungry for love world is my town, my home, my kitchen table, where the tea pot rests full to brim, ready to serve those who tap on the screen door; those who drive down my lane with a heavy heart and need to dwell in His presence…