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.

You are Loved: History’s Greatest Hero

 

 Our world has a deficit of real heroes.  Every now and then one pops up in the news.  Often, we create our own versions of a hero or allow Hollywood to do it for us.    We wait for cinema or fiction to show us how the hero rescues someone in peril.   Often the hero in the movie or the story performs his act of valiance out of obligation.  We grip our theater seat allowing Tinseltown to depict our hero.  Or, we nose dive into a novel that defines our hero-love story.  All along, the greatest epic hero-love story in history was written and recorded for us long ago.

There is no need to pay anyone else to write the story for us.  We just need to read the true hero-love story and believe everything it has to say about us.

On the days we believe we aren’t loveable, turn then to the page of the story where the Hero vows his unconditional, never-ending, unwavering, love for us.

For those hard to look in the mirror days, the really bad hair days, the I am not pretty days, the Hero’s words of love cause us to take a second glance in the mirror and see beauty spilling from the inside, out.

The hero in this epic love story heals festering wounds of the heart.  No matter how the wounds got there, the hero’s love breathes life back into a tattered and torn heart making it whole again.

No other hero can do that.

He does it because we are really loved, and we literally can’t live without this Hero.

click here

You are Loved: History’s Greatest Hero

 

 Our world has a deficit of real heroes.  Every now and then one pops up in the news.  Often, we create our own versions of a hero or allow Hollywood to do it for us.    We wait for cinema or fiction to show us how the hero rescues someone in peril.   Often the hero in the movie or the story performs his act of valiance out of obligation.  We grip our theater seat allowing Tinseltown to depict our hero.  Or, we nose dive into a novel that defines our hero-love story.  All along, the greatest epic hero-love story in history was written and recorded for us long ago.

There is no need to pay anyone else to write the story for us.  We just need to read the true hero-love story and believe everything it has to say about us.

On the days we believe we aren’t loveable, turn then to the page of the story where the Hero vows his unconditional, never-ending, unwavering, love for us.

For those hard to look in the mirror days, the really bad hair days, the I am not pretty days, the Hero’s words of love cause us to take a second glance in the mirror and see beauty spilling from the inside, out.

The hero in this epic love story heals festering wounds of the heart.  No matter how the wounds got there, the hero’s love breathes life back into a tattered and torn heart making it whole again.

No other hero can do that.

He does it because we are really loved, and we literally can’t live without this Hero.

click here

On Sons and Monarchs

 I knew it would happen, but not this fast, not this abruptly.  The metamorphosis from boy to man rocks a mother’s world.  I no longer find childhood remnants of our walks to the pond and back in the pockets of his jeans.  These days all I find are tattered gas receipts and scribbled notes for side jobs—swatches of manhood.

I remember years ago when my son’s feet dangled from the, too, tall kitchen chair, his untied shoe laces drooped to the floor— this image of boyhood was fleeting.  Knowing even back then, seventeen short years ago, as a young, inexperienced mom that I needed to sear that image into my memory bank of his boyhood because one day he would be taller than me and our talk of fish and frogs would change to jobs, colleges, and cars. I carefully captured every fragment of childhood I could knowing that I would need those recollections of his boyhood to cling to when the pulling away began.

 A son’s gradual, yet, inevitable pulling away from boyhood to embrace the calling of manhood leaves a bittersweet singe on a mother’s heart. 

Often the pulling away doesn’t happen neatly; it can get ugly and messy.  Words can sting a mother’s  heart like torrents of icy rain on exposed cheeks.  Those harsh moments, I’ve learned, are opportunities for grace.

I, reluctantly, release the boy to become the man he was created to be.  Picture mom not digging but heals entrenched in the soil clinging to his shirt-tail kind of reluctance.
 
It’s monarch season in our part of the world. We visited a friend yesterday who maintains an exquisite, lush habitat for Monarchs.  After romping through Tithonia and Tropical milkweed, we gently captured a trio of caterpillars to hatch. We toted them home in the cage bought for Hermit crabs that didn’t quite, well, how shall I say this delicately, adapt to their new environment.  We watch these relentless feast-ers bulge themselves with milkweed.  No matter how many books we read about the habits of these soon to be winged creatures, to observe the process validates the theory that we are created for a specific, Higher purpose.

Before migrating into the world, a son, like a Monarch, must undergo a metamorphosis from boy to man so that he can fulfill God’s intended purpose for his life. When the time comes for that son of yours to morph from boy to man, mothers remember that we are participating in a glorious,  partnership with God. I am being painfully honest, loving sons only to let them go— hurts.  A glimpse of this raising up and releasing is quietly tucked between the pages of I Samuel, and I pray that I am at least half as gallant and obedient as Hannah when she presents Eli to serve the Lord.

  “If we hold tightly to anything given to us, unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used we stunt the growth of the soul. What God gives us is not necessarily “ours” but only ours to offer back to him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of, if we want to be our true selves.

 “If God gave it to me,” we say, “its mine. I can do what I want with it.” No. The truth is that it is ours to thank Him for and ours to offer back to Him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of – if we want to find our true selves, if we want real life, if our hearts are set on glory.”  Elisabeth Elliot

As I watch these Monarchs in captivity change, my anticipation heightens with every new phase, same goes for the changes I see in my son.  When the Monarch chrysalis thins enough to reveal the caterpillar to butterfly, a level of relief sets in, I know that the transformation is just about complete.

My son’s transformation from boy to man isn’t complete yet, but not too far away.

We have time to finish our assignment: to raise a Godly protector (physical and spiritual) and provider (physical and spiritual). 

Soon enough, our Monarchs will hatch and there will be a waiting phase as the wings harden and strengthen for the inevitable take off…the migration.  Like Monarchs, sending my son into the world too soon, expecting him to fly before he is equipped to do so, makes him vulnerable and prone to sinking rather than soaring.

I know my son would much rather be compared to a fierce Bengal tiger rather than a delicate Monarch, but that’s the tricky part of raising sons, helping them balance tenacity and toughness while preserving and maintaining a tenderness that wraps like tendrils around his heart.  It’s the lionhearted and lamb-like combination that makes a Godly man.

It’s been almost a week since our Monarch caterpillars transformed into a jade green chrysalis.   Inside the casing dramatic changes occur.  Within a few days, there will be visible signs of the new creature as the outline of the ebony and orange wings press against the transparent protective shell.  Home has changed.

Mothers of daughters, as you pray for the future mate of your girl, pray that she desires a man with a Godly vision; a man who not only knows his purpose in this world but pursues it.

During the boy to man metamorphosis remember:

  • Maturity (spiritual, emotional) dictates readiness not a specific age. It is the wise hunter-warrior who reaches into his quiver and pulls out an arrow with perfect fletchings and a razor sharp tip. He releases that arrow confident that it will strike the target.  If the arrow is not battle ready, the arrow remains in the quiver.  The same goes for sons, begin the tender-warrior training as a shoe lace dangling toddler so that when the pulling away begins, you are confident he will become the lionhearted, lamb-like man you prayed for. 
  • Letting Go Does NOT Mean Giving Up.   When times get tough and the angst of becoming a man erupts and causes conflict, find a quiet corner to cry and when the last tear falls, brush yourself off, and get back to being mom. He needs you.
  • Prayer is Your Most Valuable Tool.   You talk to your son but the pulling away has created a crevice between mother and son.  Don’t press the panic button.  “Mature Christians are keenly aware that they can’t raise their kids. It’s a no-brainer. Even if they are perfect parents, they still can’t get inside their kid’s hearts. THAT’S WHY STRONG CHRISTIANS PRAY MORE.” Paul Miller.  Once he finds his footing, the crevice closes to a sliver.


    If Miley Cyrus Were My Daughter

    We are a TV-less household, so I learned about Miley’s vulgar antics (warning: photos of event are graphic) while at the pediatrician’s office waiting for my son.  Thank goodness he wasn’t present to hear the details of the shocking event most tweeted about since the Superbowl.   My feelings regarding her performance vacillated between outrage and sadness.  This morning the pendulum of emotions rests on just sadness for her.

    I have four daughters of my own, so I know a little bit about raising daughters.  I also have two sons who will some day marry some one’s daughter, so there is much discussion in our household about being the prince who provides and protects girls.  If Miley Cyrus were my daughter or my future daughter-in-law, I would offer her a cup of tea (like I do with my daughters prior to a serious conversation) and suggest we talk on the porch.  The conversation might go something like this:

    You are loved by a heavenly Father far more than you are loved by the fickle fans that wave their hands to you in shallow, fly-by-night admiration.  Reach your hands up to Him and not out to them.  He will never leave you, but one lousy performance and fame will send you on your way with heckles and jeers.  Fame is fleeting. Salvation is eternal.

    There is no need to sacrifice your dignity and innocence on stage.  Jesus already made the most scandalous sacrifice in one night.  You will NEVER out do Him.

    Girls around the world fight for their dignity as they are sold into slavery, bartered into child marriages, and forced into prostitution; yet, you exploit the freedom in which those girls are literally dying for.  Every time you shed your clothing for an applaud, a tweet, a photograph, you are really condoning the human peril of those girls who think the only way out of their circumstance is to set fire to their body as a means of escape.  You, on the other hand, have choices; you’re just making the wrong ones. You have freedom; you just forgot the sacrifice that it took to get that freedom.

    You are fighting for your famous life and you haven’t figured out, yet, that you can’t save yourself.  In effort to retain your fame, you do the outrageous, forgetting that there is nothing new under the sun.  Put your clothes back on, stop sticking your tongue out like a rebellious toddler, and use your talent to benefit womanhood instead of demeaning it.  Madonna, the singer, songwriter, performer, pulled the same antics twenty five years ago and she’s still wandering around in the fog of fame trying to define the meaning of life.  The meaning of life is defined by a crudely made wooden cross and some shoddy nails.  Kant, Kierkegaard , and a host of others tried to strip that definition from history; but their efforts were in vain.  He still reigns as King.

    Forgive your parents for forging your path to destruction.  Forgiveness is cleansing; it cleans the heart and the mind from the monsters of your past.  Once you experience the fresh water of forgiveness, trust me, you’ll want to tell all your friends in LA.  Call it the well-ness experience I encourage you to read the rest of the story in the Great Book.

    Clean out your closet of those skeletons that trick you into thinking that exploiting yourself brings happiness.  While you are cleaning out your closet, use some of your wealth to purchase a new wardrobe.  Modesty is empowering.  If you want to be a radical role model then try modesty.

    You’ve got beauty and brains, so please start using them to improve the world rather than contributing to the moral, faithless decay of it.  Go down in history as being the beauty and brains that contributed greatly to a world in deep need of compassion.

    My daughters and I will not hurl criticism your way.  Rather, we will pray that your emptiness is filled with a desire for righteousness, and that one day soon you will wake up and embrace the authentic, freedom found in a humble obedience to God— that is the truly liberated woman.

    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

    Being Content is Hitting It Big

    We almost hit it big. But God had bigger and better plans for us and a few life lessons along the way.  Interestingly, what started out as God teaching us a lesson in one area spilled into teachable moments in several aspects of our life.  My husband applied for a position with a large, national company that took him a bit out of his familiar Mr. Agronomist persona and would challenge him with a bit more corporate, Mr. Fancy Farmer persona.  The job description glowed with benefits and the salary soared to financial heights so foreign to us we almost needed an interpreter.  Everyone just knew he was the perfect man for the job, except God.

    We tried to remain humble, but the dollar signs dangled their potential promises before our eyes.  Before we knew it, my kids and I found ourselves dreaming in the bike aisle at the Super Walmart, uttering phrases like, “when Dad gets that new job we can all get new bikes.”  I, of course, chimed in with incantations like, “naturally bikes, we deserve to retire the ancient, dilapidated rust on two wheels for shiny new bikes,”(all in the name of quality family time, of course).

    In our new income bracket, we wouldn’t forget our heart for benevolence like missions.  We could double, no triple, our giving to missions and even afford one short-term family missions trip a year without the burden of raising funds.  I kicked my heels in delight with the possibility of  possessing extra cash should I spot that certain gift for a special friend and buy it right then and there.

    My husband and I even prayed that if  he gets the job that our new found financial ecstasy would not change us. The only thing that would change is our income bracket.  It’s possible right?  Maybe for some, but God didn’t think so for us.

    By now, dear reader, you probably surmised that my husband did not get the job.

    After receiving the disappointing news, we pathetically kicked the stones around for a few days and now we are ready to move boulders—on our Father’s terms.  The disappointment strengthened us once we got out of our fantasy world of buying bikes, replacing a faithful yet weary mini van, updating tattered carpet, and the list goes on.

    We viewed the ordeal as a disappointment with smoldered dreams, but God threw us a blanket of protection from what we might have become.

    There really aren’t many rich and famous stories in scripture where the wealthy come out unscathed by the influence of money.  In fact, scripture shows quite the opposite.  I am not bashing the wealthy; its just that money can wreak havoc on one’s spiritual and personal life.  Money is a tricky tool. Getting rich isn’t a high priority in the Bible.

    Life for us returns to budgets and frugal living.  Am I throwing a party about that?  Most days, no.  Who doesn’t want a few extra bucks in the bag?  However, decades of having just enough, rarely ever any extra, brings with it complete dependence on God and a host of other beautiful lessons that my heavenly Father boxed and wrapped specifically for me.

    Life Lesson #1: The Cross, my salvation is my treasure.  The most important lesson and the hardest to learn.  Living in America among affluence makes the lesson more painful. Throughout most of America money seems plentiful just judging by the amount of acquired stuff on display in homes, stuffed in backyards, and parked in driveways. American entitlement, right?  So I end up setting my eyes on acquiring and keeping up until the cross becomes a distant symbol on a hill. Suddenly, one day my weariness of trying to acquire and keep up causes me to look up and realize the miles between my heart and the cross.  The cross remains where it always was, I need to walk closer to see the details of the gift the suffering brought me.  Then, everything else pales in comparison to that gift. 

    Life Lesson #2:  Judas, the Treasurer.  I often wondered why Jesus not only chose Judas to be in his intimate circle of friends-workers but then to assign him the job of CFO.  I mean, really, to place a money hungry, dishonest guy in charge of the accounts seems a bit irresponsible.  But scripture unfolds the story and profile of Judas as though it were written specifically for me.  Money brings out one’s true character every time.  Judas’ obsession with money slithered out in the scene with Mary and her offering of ointment to Jesus.  But in that scene was Judas that different from any of us?  Have we ever questioned a spouse, child, or friend for being too generous when there was not much in the pot to spare? The bottom line: Judas wanted more for his bank account, for his pocket, for himself.  Judas shows us the heart-hardening, heart-blinding, heartbreaking end of treasuring the wrong thing.  Jon Bloom, President and writer for Desiring God, pens, “With Judas and the moneybag, Jesus was modeling for us where not to put our trust: money.” 
    Simply stated, Judas served the wrong master (Matt. 6:24)

    Life Lesson #3: Exercise Contentment.  The profound words of Matthew Henry ring true for me so much so that I need to apply this concept as often as I do my lipstick (lipstick is my one vain weakness; never leave home without a driver’s license or a tube of lipstick), “To be contentedly poor, willing to be emptied of worldly wealth, if God orders that to be our lot; to bring our mind to our condition, when it is a low condition. Many are poor in the world, but high in spirit, poor and proud, murmuring and complaining, and blaming their lot, but we must accommodate ourselves to our poverty, must know how to be abased [humbled].” A state of contentment means being happy in the financial place where God has put me, to find joy in the financial condition and bear the inconveniences that often accompany it, making the best of what I have, and not set my heart upon the day of a possible financial windfall; I have already found the hidden treasure, no need to search for quick, newfangled methods of financial prosperity.

    My husband and I adopted Proverbs 30:8-9 as the verse that defines our financial goals:
     

    Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
        give me neither poverty nor riches;
        feed me with the food that is needful for me,
     lest I be full and deny you
        and say, “Who is the Lord?”
    or lest I be poor and steal
        and profane the name of my God.
    For Christmas one year, I had the verses embroidered and framed (yes, I paid someone to do the task of embroidering since I am still learning to manage a straight stitch) as a reminder to exercise contentment in any circumstance.

    There are days when I falter and begin to covet the prosperity of some.  I am still a weak vessel in much need of patching and maintenance.  The apostle Paul mastered the art of contentment “in any and every situation.”  He knew what it was to be in need and how it felt to have plenty.  No matter how far the pendulum of provision swung for Paul, his greatest source of contentment was Christ.  That should be my goal. 

    Life lesson #4: Construct a Plan: Everyone needs a plan, a life road map that offers directions. Take a look at Israel in Exodus 14, they had the first GPS, of the divine sort.  God directed them by day and by night.  They followed a road map (with a few twists and turns no doubt).  Our road map, much like the Israelites, needs to co-exist with God’s plan for our life.  Seems like simple theology but putting it into daily practice proves difficult.  We, like our desert dwelling ancestors, prefer painless, instant results in whatever endeavor we attempt.  Remember the cross on the hill, it didn’t come without pain.  That, too, was all a part of a plan.  Consult the Plan-maker and the Plan Book when devising a potential road map, it works best that way. Finally, be content with the road map God provides.

    A New Kind of Summer


    I promised myself that this summer would be one of those lazy, hazy summers.  The kind of summer when afternoons are spent on the front porch swing shelling or peeling whatever is in season and watching the bluebirds and hummingbirds flit from pasture fence to feeder.  A summer, I told myself, that we would read at least one of the Little Housebooks under the canopy of the poplar tree in the backyard while sipping homemade lemonade or iced mint tea. 
    It’s mid- June and the closest we’ve come to shelling anything on the front porch is a handful of peanuts as we dart out the door.  I managed to brew the iced tea and toss in mint from my weed-herb garden (weeds or herbs, depends on the angle from which one views the garden), but the tea sat on the counter for days, a casualty, forgotten, eventually unsuitable for sipping.
    Obstacles continue to obstruct my plan to fulfill a dreamy, gentle Secret Garden-like summer full of adventure and excitement.  The phone call from my great aunt made me reckon with my misguided plans.
    My great aunt suffers from severe loneliness.  We moved her to a local assisted living facility some twenty minutes away so that including her in family activities would be possible.  If I were to document her turbulent, tortuous life, it would fill the pages of a novel as thick as War and Peace.  Abandoned, abused, emotionally broken, and left alone except for a handful of nieces and great nieces. 
    The other day, she figured out how to use her cell phone to call and ask if I would take her shopping. She was ready to use the humble gift card given to her for her birthday. She needed a pair of slippers.  A simple pair of slippers is all that she requested.  I could hear the loneliness in her voice.  How could I fit an evening outing in my day with my already packed schedule?  My day looked this: Camp Polliwog in the morning for the six year old, American Girl book club at 1pm for the thirteen year old (and we are hosting this month so that means thematically related crafts, snacks, games…look out Pintrest), and Bible study this evening, oh, dinner for the family.  Dinner needed to be somewhat of a decent culinary experience considering that we had an out of town guest visiting so forget the fallback position of “every man for himself with leftovers.” 
    My dear aunt, the same woman who barely had enough food to feed herself yet when I was a financially strapped college student, she would secretly, or so she thought, leave a box of food at the threshold of my apartment.  These covert drop-offs knitted us together because she knew about doing without.  
    This is the woman, who as I dropped her off at her job on my way to class, insisted on buying me a coffee as a humble token of thanks as she gratefully tolerated the winter morning ride in my unheated, radio-less, floorboard rusted, backfiring 1978 VW bug.
    To this day, some thirty years later, our outings always include a cup of coffee.

    How could I refuse her simple request? I hang up committed to a shopping excursion, which means that I ax Bible study. As I rearrange my schedule, I realize that taking my great aunt out is still like going to Bible study except that I won’t be studying God’s Word but applying it.  
    Shortly before leaving to pick up my aunt, I received a weather alert text for the area: FLASH FLOOD WARNING, all evening.  Maybe I can push this trip back? I called my aunt to suggest that maybe we could go another night. Before the words rolled from my tongue, she mentioned that she was sitting in the chair by the door, her purse packed, and waiting for me.
    I think about Jesus coming upon the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus, who at that point had little time left on earth and much to accomplish in what time was left, noticed the despair in this woman.  He set aside his need for food and drink and the woman became a priority.  For those few moments at the well, she was the only person that mattered. Throughout the book of John,  we see glimpses of numerous one-on-one encounters with Jesus: Nathanael, Nicodemus, Martha, the blind man, Peter, and the invalid man.  The King of the universe desires to spend one-on-one time with his children.

    That evening, my aunt needed to feel that she was the only person in the world that mattered; however, I can’t offer a constant measure of importance like her heavenly Father.  From a life of sadness and heart wrenching disappointment, she knows that all too well.  As we traversed the country roads passing miles of storm drenched cornfields, a rainbow stamped the summer sky with a promise of grace.  During our brief evening together, my aunt experienced a small dose of sacrificial love; the woman who has spent the majority of her life deprived of earthly love.
    My way too busy life, which tends to constrict and suffocate relationships, almost thwarted an opportunity to minister to my aunt and be ministered by her.  In reality, the storm made me work harder to serve my aunt through the giving of my time. It was exactly what I needed: to be under the Refiner’s fire, to be in the clutches of the Potter who mercifully kneads my defects into a shape suitable for his purposes.
     
    The summer is still young, so I vow to lessen my busyness in order to have that front porch swinging, tea sipping, afternoon reading, relationship building season.  The Secret Garden-like summer isn’t all together lost, just redirected.
     Click here to download free relationship card
    “At that moment a very good thing was happening to her.  Four good things had happened to her, in fact, since she came to Misselthwaite Manor.  She had felt as if she had understood a robin and that he had understood her; she had run in the wind until her blood had grown warm; she had been healthily hungry for the first time in her life; and she had found out what it was to be sorry for someone.”  
          Mary Lennox, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

    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.

    What’s A Girl to Do?

    What’s a Girl to Do?
    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.   www.amazon.com/Mothers-Heart-Character-Christian-Pilgrimag.
    Wings, “to reach up to God and allow Him to set them free from fear of others, free from self-imposed limitations, and free to become all God intended when He created them,” www.amazon.com/Mothers-Heart-Character-Christian-Pilgrimage Wings that soar above spiritual mediocrity to altitudes that challenge and set apart from the standard flock.
      

    When she was young, one of her most cherished books, Stellaluna, http://www.amazon.com/Stellaluna-Janell-Cannon  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.