It’s Not Just Another Storm


The sea has earned my respect.  I hold a great reverence for deep bodies of water.  I grew up in a town that depended upon the sea for its livelihood.  Over the years, I’ve watched watermen try to defy the strength of the sea only to return home with their vessel and their pride battered and broken.  Occasionally, the dreaded news would arrive that a boat went missing.  That a storm just suddenly swept in, and the waterman waited too long before turning home.  Days later, the locals would find the empty boat and bring it back to the boat slip, the final resting place. More than likely, the boat slip had been in the family for generations.  Within a few days, a fellow waterman would tie a black ribbon on the helm of the boat, in memoriam.

Click for larger image
Photo of Crisfield, Maryland by Aubrey Bodine
 
 
 
Click for larger image
Photo of Crisfield, Maryland by Aubrey Bodine



Due to my reverence for the sea, the story of the sinking of the famous HMS Bounty intrigues me.  Trying to outrun a hurricane just to test or prove worthy seamanship perplexes me. As a young girl, from time to time, I would hear adults talking in that hushed conversational tone about a local waterman who met his demise by trying to complete a day’s work and beat the storm.  Storms aren’t meant to be conquered alone.

Those who abide in God aren’t supposed to tackle the storms of life alone. The storms of life (distresses, troubles, painful experiences) hit when least expected and their powerful blow strikes us in the epicenter, where it hurts most:  These tempests in life attempt to beat us faithless. The waves ram against our hull trying to throw us off course using force in devastating circumstances.  In other ways, the storm rages inside us (depression, addiction, wayward child).

Jesus knows about storms.  His band of 12 fishermen boarded the vessel on the Sea of Galilee at night.  Serving the multitudes brought much needed respite and as any fishermen will tell you, nothing refreshes the mind and body of weariness like time on a calm sea.

“Dead calm,” a familiar saying among people who make their living on the water, I heard it mentioned all the time as a kid. Then just over the horizon when least expecting it, a storm rolls in with violence ready to destroy everything in its path.  Suddenly fear sets in.

Storms Draw Us Closer To the One Who Controls the Storms

We feel that we are alone, in complete isolation during the storm, but not really, no never.  Christ the constant beacon of hope remains on the ship waiting for us to “cast our cares upon Him” (Psalm 55:22). No need to go at it alone.  Some of the disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John were career fishermen. Like the watermen I knew from my hometown, these fishermen labored on the sea their entire lives; they knew what to do during a storm. Yet, the gale force winds and the sea drenched boat rattled the confidence and the faith of the 12 disciple-fishermen, while Jesus slept in the stern undisturbed by the fury raging outside.  The panic-stricken fishermen called for help, “Lord we need you.”  Jesus woke, with absolute sovereignty, and with few spoken words, Jesus calmed the storm.  The storm circumstance was an opportunity to strengthen their faith in the One they would spend the rest of their lives telling others about (John 17:20).

Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee
 
The turbulent journey demonstrated to the disciples that no matter how rough seas attempted to
thrust them overboard into the churning sea only faith in Jesus would bring them safely to port. Jesus knew all too well the rough waters that the disciples would face (John 17:15).

Storms Control Our Tendency Toward Self-Reliance

On the sea in Mark 4, when “the furious squall” arose on the lake in Mark 6, “Jesus saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them,” the disciples panicked.  The disciples forgot who commanded them to the water both times: Jesus.  All along, Jesus controlled the wind with words.  We don’t become sanctified saints in one turbulent boat ride; for some, it takes a Jonah-like storm.  For others, just the rowing against the winds rids of self-reliance.


Following God Guarantees Storms

J.I Packer exhorts “that following God’s guidance regularly leads to upsets and distresses which one would otherwise have escaped.”  The two incidences in scripture when Jesus’ disciples were caught in storms prepared them for the tempest of persecution.  Packer reminds us, “sooner or later, God’s guidance which brings us out of darkness into light will also bring us out of light into darkness. It is part of the way of the cross.” He calls us to do hard work for the higher good (for encouragement through song).

God-sent Storms are For Our Good

Perhaps, the storm in your life is a God-sent rescue plan.  A rescue plan sent from a Father whose love is never ending, never giving up, unwavering, unconditional.  “Until we see God-sent storms as interventions and not punishment, we’ll never get better; we’ll only get bitter.  Some difficult circumstances you’re facing right now may well be a God-sent storm of mercy intended to be his intervention in your life.”  The storm may serve as the means to get you to grab on to the life line thrown to you in the middle of this gale.  Because at the end of the rope is the only life saving device you will ever need.

Know the One who calms the storms and call upon Him before, during, and after the storm.

Real Life, Real Ministry

Its that time of year when the glossy homeschool curriculum catalogs pile up on my desk.  Until I get this school year behind me, I can’t crack open one of those catalogs and peer into the faces of those pseudo-perfect homeschool families where all identically dressed ten or plus children sit attentively at the kitchen table absorbing every cheerful word the smiling mom imparts.

Can I just say that some mornings my kids are lucky to find a clean towel, so forget the prospect of finding matching clothes for everyone. That’s not going to happen at my house; unless, I can find them between the dairy aisle and the produce aisle at the local grocery store. Why not depict a real family on those catalogs: a motley crew eating breakfast with dishes in the sink where mom wears a harried expression on her face and it’s just 9 in the morning.  (and, yes, I did do my devotions and I did take my St. John’s Wort but that harried expression remains).

The catalogs often offer testimonies from homeschool parents who have successfully implemented the curriculum and they gush about how wonderful every science experiment turned out.  And the experiment actually worked….EVERY TIME.  Flip a page or two and read the testimonial of a family raving about the 101 easy to do crafts (photos of the crafts included).  Funny, my crafts NEVER resemble the ones in the catalog.  We are lucky to keep the craft together long enough to show dad when he gets home.

For me, a special folder keeps the catalogs safe until a sunnier day; otherwise, the temptation to recycle them might overcome my normal, rational self…a sort of out of body experience brought on by weariness and selfishness.  Burn-out has set in.  I know it’s a temporary feeling; nonetheless, it’s presence remains.  Isn’t it that way with any calling or ministry?

What refrains a follower of Christ from just throwing in the towel and chalking the frustration and the discouragement up to a wrong choice in ministry or mumbling, “this just isn’t my calling.”

Just about the time I become heavily laden with my calling to homeschool or my ministry of motherhood, I look in the Hall of Fame of scriptural narratives that testify and illustrate God’s wisdom.   That keeps me going.

I recall the comfort brought from the words of J.I Packer regarding trials and tough times,

          These things are written for our learning, for the same wisdom that ordered 
          the paths which God’s saints trod in Bible times orders the Christian’s life today.
          We should not, therefore, be too taken aback when unexpected and upsetting and
          discouraging things happen to us now.  What do they mean?  Simply that God
          in his wisdom means to make something of us which we have not attained yet,
          and he is dealing with us accordingly.”

          Perhaps he means to strengthen us in patience, good humor, compassion,
          humility or meekness, by giving us some extra practice in exercising these
          graces under especially difficult conditions.  Perhaps he has new lessons in 
          self-denial and self-distrust to teach us.  Perhaps he wishes to break us of 
         complacency, or unreality, or undetected forms of pride and conceit.  Perhaps
         his purpose is simply to draw us closer to himself in conscious communion with
         him; for it is often the case, as all the saints know, that fellowship with the Father
         and the Son is most vivid and sweet, and Christian joy is greatest, when the cross
         is heaviest.

As I scan the life of Joseph, Abraham, David, Ruth, and Paul, I begin to unravel God’s purpose in the storms.  Then, my calling or ministry takes on a new hue, not so dark and bleak.  A glimmer of eternal purpose sheds light on my path because I know that God determines my steps.

The sound of well meaning friends resonates on those tough, pull out my hair days, “just do something else with your life.”

No thanks, that’s too easy.  I like hanging out with Paul who saw that trials enable him to glorify Christ.

In a few more weeks I will pack up the books from this school year, I will sit on my back porch with a cup of tea and read those glossy homeschool catalogs and be happy right where I am.

The Gift of Motherhood

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Don’t forget your free gift at the bottom of this post!

This morning, the kids asked what I wanted for Mother’s Day this year? I rattled off a few suggestions like, another perennial for my garden or maybe an attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer might be nice?

But the more I thought about  the whole gift idea, the more I realized the gift of motherhood itself is gift enough.  I know it sounds trite and cliche but it’s true.  Somehow, the honor and nobility of motherhood has gotten lost in the jungle of self-seeking prerogatives and false entitlements.

Maybe we are so used to a life of instant living where desires are satisfied in a nano second or a drive thru, or a cyber shopping cart, and just maybe that thought pattern spills into the rest of our lives and stains the expectation that the miraculous and beauty of motherhood isn’t instantaneous.  It’s really, really, hard, grace-filled, beautiful work.

My gift to you for Mother’s Day, some thoughts to ponder regarding motherhood: 

1.  The gift arrives uniquely wrapped
 Motherhood doesn’t come just one way.  Women experience this gift through adoption, foster care, biological birth, step-parenting, mentoring, and friendship.  No matter the arrival, it’s still a gift.

2.  Find the gift in the, seemingly, mundane of daily life
The story goes like this: armed with the current issue of her favorite magazine, just about to immerse herself into the relaxing, hot bath filled with Italian bath potpourri (used sparingly for anticipated times like this) a delicate tap on the door snaps her out of this, well deserved, soon to be dream state. 

Detected missing in action by her six year old, instantly this mom’s dream state is delayed as her six year old peers into the, now tepid, bath water, and inquires,

     “Mom, why do you have rotten flowers floating in your bath water?”

The  dream state moment floated away with the “rotten flowers” as the mom chuckles about her attempt at a covert bath escape; instead, she explains why moms like to bathe (or at least dream about bathing) with rotten flowers.

3.  The gift of mothering causes metamorphosis of the heart

Each spring we anticipate the return flight of the Monarch to our little Mid-Atlantic hub and its migratory lay- over on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  The ebony-orange winged wonders vacation in my patch of garden for the summer.  And its those days of Monarch watching and weed pulling that I get most of my thinking done. One of those weed pulling days as the Monarchs fluttered about, I concluded that motherhood, yes, changed my heart, but biblical motherhood caused a complete metamorphosis of my heart.  In many ways, the metamorphosis brought about more pain than my actual labor. Until then, I mothered without a map, drifting here and there into uncharted territory, clueless about the next step.  I excelled in the basic needs of feeding and nurturing, but I knew deep down that a child needed to feast on something far more than what I could supply.  That’s how the metamorphosis began: with a radical diet of the Bread of Life.  A diet full of spiritual food that leaves my children hungry for more of the Truth.  Come back for second helpings!  I figured if my kids ingested nutrients of truth they could sniff out a counterfeit in no time.

4.  The gift of mothering is sacrificial

As a mother nearly knocking on the door to fifty, I sadly see a generation of young mother’s who sacrifice little and feel entitled to much. Sacrificial mothering gives and takes where it hurts most.  For some mothers, the hurt begins with bleeding of the bank account, or the clamping off of the social scene, “me” time, or perforating the ability and means to travel to fun and exotic places (not counting the places you read about in children stories during nap time), or splicing the trips to the gym and salon (yes, your new mantra, repeat after me, “hair color in a box”).

5.  The gift of motherhood gives you guts but no glory

Motherhood requires us to articulate the difficult stuff to our teenagers in a way that doesn’t compromise standards yet considers their feelings.  Grab your General and devise a battle plan for those years to come even as you rock your little one and those years seem so far off: they aren’t.  You will become a nocturnal creature, even if it defies your nature.  The late Sono Harris offered me some of the best advice:

“Your young adult will choose the time to talk when it is least convenient, like midnight, but pull yourself up out of bed and listen with every fiber of your being.”

And it’s true.  If you listen, really listen, they will talk.  It’s Deuteronomy 6 in action at midnight.

6.  The gift of motherhood makes us go low

There are some days I feel like I have vertigo from bending at the knee to see the world from the viewpoint of my six year old then swivel around and stretch north to peer into the eyes and heart of my taller than me 17 year old, then go south just a bit to banter about girl stuff with my 13 year old, twist to the right and look parallel to catch the plans of my 19 year old as she buzzes out the door, hang tight in that position to greet my 26 year old as she stops by after work to catch up on life, whooh, just in time to lean over to grab the phone call from my 28 year old who checks in before he leaves to do his night shift.

Mothers are never too noble to go low and humbly serve, especially those under our roof.  Jesus modeled servant-hood to his band of 12, even to the one who became his enemy.   Jesus paints a clear picture as to how we daily wash the feet of our beloved band of disciples, our children, every time they enter the threshold of our home as the mud of the world tries to cling to their shoes.

7.  The gift of motherhood brings laughter

I get so entangled in the quagmire of maternal duties that I forget the fun side of this divine calling.  For example, remember kids up to a certain age, possess a raw honesty.  So if you want a true gut wrenching honest opinion on how your outfit or new hair style looks before going public just consult a six year old.  They will tell you the truth.  If you don’t have a six year old, borrow one from a friend just long enough to solicit her opinion.  Reward them with a cookie and send them on their way.  You really do want to know if that new shade of lipstick hits the hideous level or not..or if your mascara clumped and you are getting ready to face the day looking like Ursula from the Little Mermaid.  Oh, the six year old will tell you without cracking a smile but you can crack one and belt out a laugh while you’re at it.

Embrace every part of the gift of motherhood.

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Preparing for Take Off, Part 1

She hated her curly hair.  Others admired, often coveted, the chestnut ringlets that spiraled well below her shoulder.  She journeyed through a hair phase where she constantly tucked her tresses into a tight bun, practicing out of sight out of mind, but inevitably at some point through the day, a coiled lock of hair fell from form as if to remind her “I am still here—tuck, tie, twist, but the mane is what it is.” 
Girlhood waxed and waned with hair angst.  All along, deep down, the words from Matthew echoed “even the hairs of your head are numbered; fear not…”
Girlhood melted into womanhood and the flame for the Gospel became heart-ignited.  The big question loomed, “What’s a girl to do?” heart making plans and allowing the Lord to establish her steps (Prov. 16:9) became her road map to the future.
Then one day she understood His perfect sovereignty.  The days of friendlessness, thwarted ministry opportunities, feeling ugly, unworthy or unappreciated, all those insecurities hidden in the abyss floated to the top as she “set her mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.”  
Her hair, she discovered, was perfectly designed.
Missionary Amy Carmichael was born in 1867 in a seacoast village of Northern Ireland. When she was only three she prayed that God would change the color of her eyes from brown to blue. The next morning she ran to the mirror but her eyes were still brown. She was very sad. Her mother said that God did answer her prayer. He answered “no.”
Many years later she was a missionary in India. Dressed in Indian clothing, her skin tanned brown, and with brown eyes she looked just like an Indian and she was very effective in her ministry. Many times she rescued some children from prostitution and from the dangers of the temples of India. If she would have had blue eyes she couldn’t have done this.
Amy reflected once that she now understood why she had brown eyes–a blue-eyed missionary would have been an oddity that never could have truly fit in with the people–and was thankful that God had persisted in God’s intricate and elegant design instead of catering to the wishes of a girl who had not yet met her calling. She even darkened her skin with coffee to further aid in her integration and assimilation into Indian culture. She did all of this, largely, for the children she ministered to in India. http://www.ttstm.com/2009/01/january-18-amy-carmichael
  
It was not uncommon in India at the time for young girls to be given to the local Hindu temple. The custom was thought to save the family of the girl money because they did not have to take care of the young one who was considered a drain on finances–unlike a son–and made money for the priests who often sold the young girls as prostituteswhich helped cover the expenses of the girl and the priest who controlled her.
So what is a young, single woman of faith to do?  Follow the same divine road map etched out for Mariam, Dorcas, Pheobe, and Lydia; the path of faith that gave Amy Carmichael contentment with brown eyes, and you my dear daughter contentment with those crazy curls.
Give daughters roots and wings.  Roots, dug down and firm that no matter where that divine road map takes them in this big world, the sinews of roots connect to their relationship with God that pumps and pulsates—alive.   
  

When she was young, one of her most cherished books, Stellaluna, tells the story of a sweet, young fruit bat that one day realizes that she is not a bird but a bat. Her moment of realization comes through a serious of events as she discovers that she flies at night not day, craves the taste of luscious mango not worms, and hangs upside down, outside of the nest, rather than tucked inside the nest like birds.  During her maiden flight, Stella learns that her wings are designed for a specific purpose, so from that moment on Stella unfolds her wings and soars to new heights.
Be it freckles, curls, or lanky legs, the design is a perfect fit, ready to wear. As parents, our job is to show them how the pieces fit together, how to follow the divine road map, dig deep spiritual roots, and then take flight.

Balancing the Martha With the Mary

Every Wednesday afternoon, I meet with a band of women to study the gospel of John.  During our study a few weeks ago, we lingered over the dynamic between the two famous sisters, Mary and Martha.   That was a few weeks ago and I still can’t shake them from my thoughts.

I always thought Martha took a bad rap, maybe because I see so much of myself in her.  The catch phrase, “stop being a Martha,” echoes in Christian circles as well meaning friends offer an over zealous hostess a gentle rebuke. After all in the illustration in the gospel of Luke, Jesus, a crowd magnet at this point, is the guest of honor.  Martha deals, however frantically, with an over abundance of house guests (probably some party crashers too). Household conveniences in Bethany were not what they are today, so entertaining a crowd in ancient times was no small task.  In that light, there is something commendable about the industrious woman who represents the exemplary hostess, a highly valued and necessary character quality in the ancient Middle East.  Martha, looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.  She provides hospitality to her visitors even during her time of mourning the loss of her brother, Lazarus.  But all that serving and entertaining was at a cost.  The hostess with the most-ess syndrome caused her to miss the sermon of a life time.

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Martha uses her gift of hospitality but then whines and complains, again, ouch, I follow this woman’s pattern.  Perhaps Martha’s complete adoration for Jesus and unwavering faith in him motivated her to pull out the red carpet for him.  She works her fingers to the bone to perfect her house, and insure the comforts of her guests, then grumbles to Jesus about, of all people.  However, Jesus gently rebukes Martha not for her serving but for her over-the-top-serving.

Now, I can see how Mary frustrated the bejeebers out of Martha.  Mary knew when to sit and listen while Martha toiled.  Mary, the epitome of an intentionally relational woman, unabashedly sits at the feet of Jesus, soaking up his every word while her sister frenzies about the house. Upon Jesus’ return to Bethany, Mary remains seated in the house visiting with family and friends while Martha flew out the door and ran down the road to meet Jesus, yes, first to go to him in a time of need but the words that roll off of her tongue: a complaint about Jesus’ timing.

Mary, on the other hand, disregards all social boundaries, literally lets her hair down and pours not dribbles expensive oil upon the feet of Jesus then cleans them with her exposed hair: a true act of humility and worship.  Mary’s act of worship foreshadows the self-denying, servant-like moment when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.

What does scripture show me through the sisters? That I don’t have to be a total Martha or a total Mary, but to balance the knowing when to sit and the knowing when to work.  Scripture speaks clearly about the sin of idleness and Peter exhorts us to show hospitality, so yes, a bit of Martha is necessary, but Peter reminds us to do so without grumbling.

Being less of a Martha is the challenge for most women.  We are a gender who muli-tasks with panache.  That is why the idealized Proverbs 31 woman drives us so crazy because we think we must perfectly emulate every trait she encompasses.  We don’t have to be all Martha or all Mary.  We do need to know when to be more of one and less of the other.

The absolute beauty of this account in scripture is that Jesus shows us when to sit and when to work.

Lessons from Mary

  • Pour not dribble acts of worship, Jesus deserves it
  • Be genuine, intentional, uninhibited with worship
  • Listen with a sincere, contrite heart to the Teacher
  • Be self-denying, servant-like 
  • Listen intently, avoid distraction

Lessons from Martha:

  • Serve with a selfless, pure motive 
  •  Avoid the hostess with the most-ess syndrome, just be a humble hostess
  •  Offer hospitality with a joyful attitude
  • View hospitality as a ministry rather than an obligatory act
  •  Entertain but not to the point of distraction and stress/agitation
  • Control the tongue that tends to complain or whine

From now on, when I encounter Martha and Mary in scripture, I no longer feel compelled to relate completely to one or to the other.  It’s like we’re friends that have gotten to know one another better, just like my band of women at the Bible study. I, now, embrace Mary and Martha and welcome them into the sisterhood of confronting and balancing real life issues, which means real sanctification!