How Haiti Has Changed Me

    A missionary once told me, “You aren’t going to change Haiti, in fact; Haiti will change you.”  He was so right because Haiti has changed me.  Each day of our stay in Haiti, I’ve changed in some way.     Once I get back to the states and process all that I’ve seen, I plan to write a longer post about our stay in Haiti.  Right now, I am witnessing hunger, poverty, homelessness, godlessness, which leaves me paralyzed for words.  At best, I can look over the last few days and chronicle how Haiti has changed me.

Haiti needs the Rescuer not to be rescued.

I will always distinguish between a want and a need.  I’ve seen the real need here, and I am aware of my over abundance.

I will suggest that more friends plan their next family vacation to a third world country, just once, rather than to Disney. 

Visit a Third World orphanage.  I can barely find the words to convey the helplessness I feel after spending a week at an orphanage.  The girls will steal your heart without trying…and you won’t want to take your heart back because you know how desperately they need it.  So,  I am thinking about leaving a piece of it here.

orphanage

After several sessions of crying for them back at my hotel room, I realized the need to equip them with the important aspects for survival: the Gospel and basic life skills.  Those are two life altering things I can actually offer them. 

I promise not to get back home to the states and get too comfortable in my American lifestyle that I forget those beautiful ebony eyes and charcoal hands.

It was good to be the minority.

Electricity, running water, drinking water, employment, indoor plumbing, and food are gifts, trust me. 

Missionaries deserve every one of those boxes of goodies sent to them from the states. 

I’ve learned that my children are color blind; they see skin as the color of water — clear.

sohpie and friends

In Haiti, never eat in front of someone, unless you are willing to share your food.

Saying goodbye to fifty five orphan girls (one little girl in particular who began to call me “mama”) is heart wrenching because every little girl wants and needs a mama.

Tainia

After visiting a second, very rural orphanage, and observing the living conditions of these children and then learning that the orphanage is a step up from their original plight makes me determined to return to these children. If I can’t do anything else, the children and I can hold hands and for those brief moments of hand holding the world might seem a little better for them.

holding hands

I’ve watched children retrieve out of the garbage what I’ve thrown away….and they think they’ve found a treasure.

Thank you Haiti, for changing me.

Grace For the Prodigal, Hope For The Parent(s) Who Await Her Return

A spiritually wayward child, it’s become the cancer of the Christian community.  To determine the cause of this spiritual disease we leave to the experts, but my words are to offer hope to the parent who waits night and day for her child to reconcile with God.  The treatment for the disease (restoration with God) is the easy part; it’s the waiting part that’s difficult—waiting for the wayward to swallow the pill of repentance.

The stark realization of this spiritual malignancy came not long ago during a small prayer gathering.  As we prayed; one parent after another unveiled the hidden heartache of a child who went spiritual MIA.  Here of late, a quick scan in most North American sanctuaries reveals the absence of young adults who once occupied a pew.  Those young adults disappeared into spiritual oblivion.  The scary news for parents is this spiritual epidemic knows no boundaries; it strikes its blow on kids raised in the church, kids of church leaders, kids of all denominations, kids raised in youth group, not raised in youth group, kids who attended Christian school, kids who were homeschooled, and on and on.  Every parent silently prays that when the spiritual apron strings are cut, their young adult will choose the path of righteousness and not ruin.

bible

The good news is that the prodigal is all part of the love story between us and Jesus. There is glory in the seeming ruin.  Parents of prodigals need to be reminded that there is hope.  Prodigals are his sheep who strayed from the fold and he is their shepherd.

Remember This: God is Still Wrapping Your Gift

Your prodigal is still that same gift to you from God; she’s still the very one that took your breath the moment she entered this world and within a nanosecond you thought your heart would burst open because of the fullness of love you had for this new bundle in your arms.  She’s no longer the wide-eyed girl in pigtails who squealed with delight when you came home from work.  But she’s still a gift, a sovereign work in progress. God is still assembling the gift. We tend to forget that gifts don’t always come wrapped in neat packages.  Take the gift of Christ, for example, the King of kings arrived swaddled in rags and placed in a manure-stained livestock trough.  Oftentimes, the best gifts arrive in the messiest, unassuming wrapping.  Often, especially in our consumptive culture, the value of a true gift isn’t appreciated right away. The wayward child, your gift form God, doesn’t see the necessity in her gift of the Rescuer —yet.  Help her see the value of the Gift through the simple ways you value her.

Throw off Condemnation

Don’t let the fact that you have a wayward child be the pink elephant in the room.  Sanctuaries are filled with people in your same circumstance who could use some support.  During the small prayer gathering, the wife of the leader of an international Christian organization boldly asked for prayer for her prodigal.  Then suddenly another mother openly shared of her sad journey in dealing with the lifestyle of her wayward.

So shake off the guilt and dump it at the cross.  There is a good chance that your parenting didn’t cause your child’s waywardness.  If it did, then own up to it, leave it at the cross, and share that parental wisdom with another heartsick parent of a wayward.  That prayer gathering was a holy time because we embraced the sadness knowing that help is on the way; the great Rescuer is doing his work in the wayward, just not on our timeline.

Show them Grace

As hard as it may be, show her grace when it seems she deserves reproach− yes, show grace to a daughter who runs from the Rescuer so that she can fill her life with momentary pleasures of this world and when she shows up on your steps greet her with an embrace rather than a scowl.  Why? simple, at some point, you lived the life of a spiritual runaway(didn’t we all?) and God pursued us with a passion, until we fell into his arms.

Destitution Leads to Restoration, so Wait and Watch the Love Story Unfold

A person can run from God, pushing Him out of sight (or so she thinks) for so long until God puts up a roadblock, an intervention.  At that point, she can’t outrun God.  Pastor, author, and prodigal, Tullian Tchividjian points out, “it’s futile to try. It’s impossible to outpace his pursuing affection…He’s always in the position of authority and control, whether we realize it or not.”  If you forgot just how relentlessly God pursues his loved ones reread the book of Jonah.

Grab onto Gospel Fellowship (and Don’t Let Go)

The natural inclinations of parent(s) of a prodigal are to first worry, then withdraw and eventually drift into isolation.  Elyse M. Fitzpatrick asserts, “We’re called to be people in relationship because our God is a God in relationship. He is three persons in one…  Jesus had twelve disciples, but he also had three close friends and one best friend.”

Ask two or three of your friends to gather once a week or every other week for accountability, confession of sin, and prayer. Fitzpatrick calls it “gospelized fellowship.”  Christ-centered fellowship arms us with biblical truths.  It’s the biblical truths we rely on when the struggles in life leave us wanting to lock the door, draw the shades, and stay in bed.  Gospelized friendships point us back to the hope we have in Christ.  I intend to practice more of this.

 Gulp Down the Gospel (in Heaping Spoonfuls)

If you’ve lived the life of a Christian for any length of time, knowing that we ought to cling to God’s word is, well, so basic that it sounds trite.  As years pass, we, unfortunately, forget that we owe our life to the messy, shameful, scandalous crucifixion.  Every day I must remind myself “only a supremely powerful deity could turn the world upside down through a bleeding Messiah,” Fitzpatrick.  Tchividjian notes the “one expression of God’s amazing grace is that he pursues our rescue even though we cannot do one thing for him.”  Not only does he pursue our rescue but rest in the assurance that he also pursues your wayward.

Read and Delight in the Testimonies of Other Prodigals Who Have Returned to the Fold

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/12-ways-to-love-your-wayward-child

http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/september-2007/let-them-come-home/

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2013/10/14/earrings-and-one-way-love/

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2013/09/24/failure-and-one-way-love/

Grace For the Prodigal, Hope For The Parent(s) Who Await Her Return

A spiritually wayward child, it’s become the cancer of the Christian community.  To determine the cause of this spiritual disease we leave to the experts, but my words are to offer hope to the parent who waits night and day for her child to reconcile with God.  The treatment for the disease (restoration with God) is the easy part; it’s the waiting part that’s difficult—waiting for the wayward to swallow the pill of repentance.

The stark realization of this spiritual malignancy came not long ago during a small prayer gathering.  As we prayed; one parent after another unveiled the hidden heartache of a child who went spiritual MIA.  Here of late, a quick scan in most North American sanctuaries reveals the absence of young adults who once occupied a pew.  Those young adults disappeared into spiritual oblivion.  The scary news for parents is this spiritual epidemic knows no boundaries; it strikes its blow on kids raised in the church, kids of church leaders, kids of all denominations, kids raised in youth group, not raised in youth group, kids who attended Christian school, kids who were homeschooled, and on and on.  Every parent silently prays that when the spiritual apron strings are cut, their young adult will choose the path of righteousness and not ruin.

bible

The good news is that the prodigal is all part of the love story between us and Jesus. There is glory in the seeming ruin.  Parents of prodigals need to be reminded that there is hope.  Prodigals are his sheep who strayed from the fold and he is their shepherd.

Remember This: God is Still Wrapping Your Gift

Your prodigal is still that same gift to you from God; she’s still the very one that took your breath the moment she entered this world and within a nanosecond you thought your heart would burst open because of the fullness of love you had for this new bundle in your arms.  She’s no longer the wide-eyed girl in pigtails who squealed with delight when you came home from work.  But she’s still a gift, a sovereign work in progress. God is still assembling the gift. We tend to forget that gifts don’t always come wrapped in neat packages.  Take the gift of Christ, for example, the King of kings arrived swaddled in rags and placed in a manure-stained livestock trough.  Oftentimes, the best gifts arrive in the messiest, unassuming wrapping.  Often, especially in our consumptive culture, the value of a true gift isn’t appreciated right away. The wayward child, your gift form God, doesn’t see the necessity in her gift of the Rescuer —yet.  Help her see the value of the Gift through the simple ways you value her.

Throw off Condemnation

Don’t let the fact that you have a wayward child be the pink elephant in the room.  Sanctuaries are filled with people in your same circumstance who could use some support.  During the small prayer gathering, the wife of the leader of an international Christian organization boldly asked for prayer for her prodigal.  Then suddenly another mother openly shared of her sad journey in dealing with the lifestyle of her wayward.

So shake off the guilt and dump it at the cross.  There is a good chance that your parenting didn’t cause your child’s waywardness.  If it did, then own up to it, leave it at the cross, and share that parental wisdom with another heartsick parent of a wayward.  That prayer gathering was a holy time because we embraced the sadness knowing that help is on the way; the great Rescuer is doing his work in the wayward, just not on our timeline.

Show them Grace

As hard as it may be, show her grace when it seems she deserves reproach− yes, show grace to a daughter who runs from the Rescuer so that she can fill her life with momentary pleasures of this world and when she shows up on your steps greet her with an embrace rather than a scowl.  Why? simple, at some point, you lived the life of a spiritual runaway(didn’t we all?) and God pursued us with a passion, until we fell into his arms.

Destitution Leads to Restoration, so Wait and Watch the Love Story Unfold

A person can run from God, pushing Him out of sight (or so she thinks) for so long until God puts up a roadblock, an intervention.  At that point, she can’t outrun God.  Pastor, author, and prodigal, Tullian Tchividjian points out, “it’s futile to try. It’s impossible to outpace his pursuing affection…He’s always in the position of authority and control, whether we realize it or not.”  If you forgot just how relentlessly God pursues his loved ones reread the book of Jonah.

Grab onto Gospel Fellowship (and Don’t Let Go)

The natural inclinations of parent(s) of a prodigal are to first worry, then withdraw and eventually drift into isolation.  Elyse M. Fitzpatrick asserts, “We’re called to be people in relationship because our God is a God in relationship. He is three persons in one…  Jesus had twelve disciples, but he also had three close friends and one best friend.”

Ask two or three of your friends to gather once a week or every other week for accountability, confession of sin, and prayer. Fitzpatrick calls it “gospelized fellowship.”  Christ-centered fellowship arms us with biblical truths.  It’s the biblical truths we rely on when the struggles in life leave us wanting to lock the door, draw the shades, and stay in bed.  Gospelized friendships point us back to the hope we have in Christ.  I intend to practice more of this.

 Gulp Down the Gospel (in Heaping Spoonfuls)

If you’ve lived the life of a Christian for any length of time, knowing that we ought to cling to God’s word is, well, so basic that it sounds trite.  As years pass, we, unfortunately, forget that we owe our life to the messy, shameful, scandalous crucifixion.  Every day I must remind myself “only a supremely powerful deity could turn the world upside down through a bleeding Messiah,” Fitzpatrick.  Tchividjian notes the “one expression of God’s amazing grace is that he pursues our rescue even though we cannot do one thing for him.”  Not only does he pursue our rescue but rest in the assurance that he also pursues your wayward.

Read and Delight in the Testimonies of Other Prodigals Who Have Returned to the Fold

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/12-ways-to-love-your-wayward-child

http://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/september-2007/let-them-come-home/

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2013/10/14/earrings-and-one-way-love/

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tullian/2013/09/24/failure-and-one-way-love/

Letter to a Church Friend

Dear Church Friend,

     I’ve noticed for the past several weeks that your seat in church remains empty.  You don’t really know my family and I well; we sit across the sanctuary from you. A few months ago you shared with the congregation about your struggles with addiction and how God, through a series of tragedies, brought you to church. What you said took guts. We know your parents and loved ones helped you through those dark moments of your recovery, but God must have tethered you to his wrist and pulled you along much like the gentle shepherd halters his sheep through the pasture out of the blinding, blazing sun, and guides them to the water-filled trough where all they need to do is drink.

Your seat is empty because you are back in rehab.  So this letter, church friend, reaches across the miles to extend a handful of encouragement and to let you know that God loves messy people.  It’s His expertise. I am a bit of a mess myself, honestly, aren’t we all?  It’s through our messiness that we soon realize how much we need and depend upon Him.  Until we are knee deep in trouble, we won’t succumb to the free grace waiting for us.  Not much in this world is free, so taking something without feeling the need to repay something back seems like stealing.  Grace, though, is different.  Our debt for messiness was pre-paid for us on that scandalous night when the earth shook and the rocks split.

I bet you didn’t know that the lady who sits a few rows in front of you, the mother of three, poured out her untidiness a year or so ago.  She filled the  caverns of her heart with booze.  She shared with us, how for years, she smuggled scotch to her kids’ soccer games by pouring it into her three year old’s juice cup. No one noticed that she got stoned on the sideline sipping scotch and not apple juice—not until she drove home after a game one evening and slammed her SUV into a guard rail. She was a thirsty woman but chose the wrong drink to satiate her emptiness. She traded her alcoholism for Truth.

Three years ago, the young girl to the left of the pulpit, the one that sits attentively three rows from the front, found out she was pregnant by her abusive boyfriend. At first she thought he would come around knowing that she was expecting.  Evil doesn’t work that way, she soon learned.  She went into a clinic for a late term abortion but came out still pregnant and clutching a pamphlet about Jesus. She made the right choice. You’ve probably passed her three year old in the hallway; she’s the cute, curly haired blonde with freckles. Two lives were saved through that messiness.

The simply dressed man that greets you every week at the church door was a former millionaire.  He lost everything in the recession.  I often passed his estate on the way to church.  He and his wife gallivanted to exotic places that I only read about in National Geographic.  After every tropical jaunt, he and his family would return to church tan, well rested, and full of thrilling adventure stories. The recession hit and their business bottomed out. When he and his family showed up at church nearly destitute, fellow believers stuffed his pockets with rent money and shared the gospel until his heart brimmed to overflowing. Now they rent a modest rancher and do stay-cations. He has time to attend Bible study and conduct family devotions.  He got bit by the greed-serpent and the venom ran through his whole family. Jesus always kicks the serpent’s butt. 

The Assistant Pastor’s wife sends her best.  I mentioned to her that I planned to scratch out a letter to you.  Her cancer remains.  I watched her during worship  this week.  She tilts her scarf covered head and then stretches her hands  heavenward; her face beams with joy.  Their six children, all lined up in a row, exude happiness in the face of this trial. This chemo-filled, yet still radiant woman finds hope in her messiness, and she refuses to litter her hope with regret or anger.  Her tattered Bible tells me where she finds her hope. I know what you’re thinking church friend, that this mother of six did not cause her messiness.  You are so right.  She told me once that she uses her cancer as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.  She emphatically claims that she must show her kids and others that her cancer is a golden opportunity to show that Christ is worth more than life. 

When Jesus journeyed this earth, he chose to encounter people with scrambled, messed up lives.  He didn’t just meet up with them, do his miracle, and scurry away.  He often waited with them by a well or listened to their story in the middle of a busy town.  To put a modern spin on Jesus: He would meet you at Starbucks for coffee or stand at the corner of Broadway and 34th and listen to your story while a myriad of humanity passes by and the only person in the world who matters is you.

Perfection, my church friend, is unattainable. There aren’t perfect people. When you return, look around and realize that the sanctuary is filled with imperfect, messy people who exposed their deep, inner hurts to the One who heals, not condemns. This time sell yourself out completely to the one person who unseals darkness and pain— whose well never runs dry and whose grace never fails. Sanctuary seats are filled with people who exchanged adultery for faith, materialism for faith, atheism for faith, the list trickles on.  We bear consequences from our messy splattered lives, but the true beauty is that once we come to a heart-drenched saving faith in Christ we no longer clean up the mess alone. 

Keep these wise words, written by English writer and preacher John Bunyan, close at hand:

 “Conversion is not the smooth, easy-going process some men seem to think… It is wounding work, this breaking of the hearts, but without wounding there is no saving… Where there is grafting there will always be a cutting, the graft must be let in with a wound; to stick it onto the outside or to tie it on with a string would be of no use. Heart must be set to heart and back to back or there will be no sap from root to branch. And this, I say, must be done by a wound, by a cut.” 

Let God do his grafting on you.

Many who occupy a seat in our church experienced the wounding work of the heart, the breaking of the heart, and then the glorious grafting.  There are no Pharisees among us.  You will not be judged. When God forgives a messy sinner, the realization of such bountiful forgiveness means the potential for great love. Jesus pursues messy sinners and meets us at wells, at dinner parties, on bustling streets, and, yes, even in rehab.

He tethered you once to his wrist, now don’t let go this time.  Follow Him into the pasture where immeasurable forgiveness and fathomless love await.

My family continues to pray for you friend. I look forward to glancing across the sanctuary to see you back in your seat, grafted. 

Grace and Peace,
Your Church Friend

(Letter written to any broken, hurt church friend in America)
All stories are fiction

In Good Company

I keep a copy of Tony Reinke’s (formerly a journalist, but now a theological researcher, writer, and blogger) 15 Tips on Blogging from John Newton next to my computer as a reminder that my writing is a ministry NOT an industry.  When I stumble upon nuggets of gold like this one by Reinke, I pass them on to my budding writing students who one day may blossom into the next generation of bloggers, poets or novelists.  So for homework next week, my writing students will read the Reinke post and learn that writing is to edify one’s audience, but most importantly, writing is to glorify God. http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/15-tips-on-blogging-from-john-newton

(click link)

Writing takes muscle, my students have heard me say, it’s not for the faint of heart.  However, I remind them, if God stirs a desire to write, then, by all means write even if it begins in the quiet corner of your room at your desk where you scratch out thoughts in a journal.  That’s the beginning.

I remember the day I realized I needed to write.  The summer I was ten, maybe eleven, I woke up with the notion of hoisting myself on my way too big for a ten year old shiny red three speed and peddling non stop some three miles to the neighborhood grocery “Lucky’s Superette.” My goal on that journey was to purchase a pack of loose leaf paper or spiral notebook (not a hint of schoolsupplies around the house until September), whichever one fit my meager budget. Lacking height to peddle and operate breaks simultaneously, I spent most of my time in the bike-stand mode, which is what happens when a kid needs to grow into the bike.

The round trip produced droplets of sweat and fatigued thighs but they were no match to my eagerness to begin writing my first book. One might muse, write a book about what? What wealth of wisdom or experience would a ten year old impart to the world? That wasn’t the point. That summer ride served as a declaration of my life long love for words and my calling to write.  My windswept, crinkled brown paper bag contained, what I thought at the time, the only tool I needed to write—paper.

That summer I put pen to paper and embellished stories familiar to me. Stories of beach combing on blistering hot summer afternoons on a deserted local island where my father and I searched endlessly for beach washed relics from the people that once occupied this tiny speck of land sandwiched between the Chesapeake Bay and the Tangier Sound.  I scribbled narratives about standing on the edge of the town dock listening to the drone of the local lighthouse and hearing the early morning voices of local fishermen echo across the waterway as they readied their boats and their hopes for basket fulls of harvest from the bay.

As time passed, writing proved arduous. And one day, not quite a decade later, during English Literature class Professor Vargis scribbled a note along with the glaring “F” on my inaugural essay requesting that I meet with him after class.  The professor whom I revered sat across from me in  his hallowed office where the works of  Chaucer, Wordsworth, Elliot and others lined the walls like literary trophies listening to him shatter this girls world:

“Have you considered another major?” he gently suggested.

His words choked me, cut off my air for a few seconds until I reached back to that summer bike ride and pulled out a handful of ten year old tenacity and respectfully slapped it on the professor’s desk with an emphatic:

“No, never considered anything else.”

 My Burning Bush Moment: every word and phrase the professor spoke chiseled a crack of inadequacy and a crevice of doubt into my “red bike” calling to be a writer.  The professor tactfully delivered the message that he didn’t think I had what it took to be a writer.  My writing lacked style, a disciplined technique, and on and on.

Like Moses, I am not the likely candidate to get the job done.  I spent my childhood being just that a kid who collected experiences ignited by imagination, not some child prodigy plucked from academia, like the pre-med student that sat behind me in that English Literature class.  I was ordinary, unequipped, inadequate or so it seemed to the outside world. A good deal like Moses.

“I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12) whispered God.  My words scrawled to paper may never find themselves bound in leather resting on a bookshelf but my calling, and yours, is based on what God wants to do through us for his glory not ours.

For years, I stalled the calling through avoidance, surely God picked the wrong person, a similar response that Moses gave God in Exodus 4:13, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” 

The Aaron Period: over the years, God orchestrated circumstances that placed people in my life who mentored and assisted me so that I could get the job done, which echoes the scenario between Moses and God in Exodus 4:15-15, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well…I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.”

Reinke parallels the sense of inadequacy Christians experience as they face their calling with the glossophobic (fear of public speaking or of speaking in general) Moses who received the mammoth task of leading a society out of bondage http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/don-t-feel-qualified-for-your-calling. A great read.

Whether our calling is to mothering or writing or serving, kingdom work is joyfully grueling work, a paradox only understood with an eternal vision. Moses understood the gravity of what God called him to do and he also realized his dependency on God in order to get the job done.

Yes, some writers always get it right the first time: the right verb, the exact punctuation, the eloquent style.  As I study Moses, I see an unpolished, humble (Num. 12:3) man who made mistakes, just like me.  A man who spent his calling wanting to know God and His ways and to see God’s glory.

At my desk, a copy of Reinke’s blogging manifesto, my trusted thesaurus and faithful dictionary close at hand, a tattered copy of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (one of the best investments, thanks Professor Vargish), photos of my children, and my most important tool—my Bible. As I move forth in my calling, I am comforted to know that I am in good company with the likes of someone like Moses.

The Strong Side

The Strong Side

We live in Maryland and the state is over wrought with Ravens Fever.  But I only caught a few minutes of the actual game; however, I witnessed abundant evidence of the infectious fan fare as I traveled a few country roads and a highway during game time.  Down the stretch of my country road, farm house after farm house, I passed no cars.  The passage of highway brought the passing of maybe three cars.  As I entered a small, suspiciously quiet, rural town near my home, we passed occasional illuminated yard ornaments that glowed with the hue of Ravens purple assured me that I wasn’t caught in a scene from I am Legend ;rather, the Ravens were doing their thing.

Inside homes, fans studied tackles and punts, rated commercials, and reviewed the plays.  It was a night to remember.

Driving on the silent and still roads on my way to pick up my son allowed the quiet to churn thoughts about training kids for the glory of God.  Parenting is like playing the Super Bowl everyday.  Parents, we read all the right play books to help us along the way, study the opposition to determine its next slick move, morph into a nocturnal creature because that is the time the kids want to talk, invest in deeper dialogue to help them form their thoughts… and then one day they get it right. Suddenly, one of the kids  blind sides us with that unexpected, right choice.

My sixteen year old kid, the one that is still fighting Goliath, chose to meet the Conqueror of Giants at Bible Study instead of watching the Superbowl. He tackled Acts 8.  He witnessed victory, not the one on the field in New Orleans; but the one where the apostle Phillip evangelizes to the crowd in Samaria. My red headed warrior chose the strong side.  He may have fumbled through the passage in Acts a time or two, but he had those small, smooth stones, the same ones the warrior-boy David clasped on the field, to defeat his giant. His choice was the strong choice and the right choice.

Our kids don’t always get it right, neither do their parents, but when they do make choices that gain yards for the team leading to an eternal touchdown— that is a true victory. 

As his parents, my husband and I humbly cheered for the spiritual yards our son made that night while the rest of the state, did the well deserved Ray Lewis squirrel dance in living rooms, in amethyst illuminated front yards, and even in the sleepy little farm town I passed through. And I bet there was a fierce chest bump or two.

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.