SITTING VIGIL

It has been eight days since our 100-year old Mimi was rushed to the hospital with seizures.  The ER doctor told us she expected that Mimi would go sometime over the weekend, yet here we are, eight days later, still sitting by her bed and waiting.  The hospice nurse says that death is now imminent, but we thought that before.  This dying process is taking a long time and I am learning quite a bit in the process.  It is a lot like giving birth.  

Her type of death usually takes about four weeks, and looking back, I know when it began.  She began to withdraw from people and activities, and was eating less than her normal bird-sized meals.  Things were beginning to shut down.  There was a scary ambulance ride to the ER.  Then a CT scan revealed a large brain tumor.  We thought we would lose her within hours but she “rallied,” a word I have never associated with dying.

It was during this rally that God drew back the curtain of Heaven and gave her a sneak preview of her eternal home.  And she told us all about it.  Oh the sights she saw!  Even the hospital staff was in awe.  I will be forever grateful for that time with her.  Since then she has been mostly sleeping. 

She has been at Clarehouse since Monday, and what a blessing it is that they had a bed available.  She has a beautiful suite, but the smell of death hangs heavy.  It clings to my hair and my skin, and I wonder how long it will last.  So I moved to the deck outside her room that overlooks a creek and a copse of trees.  Occasionally a butterfly from the butterfly garden flutters by.  An owl sits in a hollow tree behind me, his nocturnal eyes closed to the bright daylight.  A light breeze blows.  In the distance I can here the sounds of cars; life goes on around us, oblivious to the eight or so people here who are transitioning from this world to the next.

I have been praying for months that God would take her peacefully in her sleep.  I guess I should have been more specific.  My idea was that she would go about her day, go to bed, fall asleep, and wake up in Heaven.  I wasn’t planning on eight days and nights of sleep!  But God is in charge and I am not.  Scripture tells us that all our days were ordained by God before we were ever conceived. He knew the day we would come into the world and He knows the day we will leave.  

People tell me that they understand that sitting vigil is hard.  Well yes and no.  There have been some hard moments, some sad moments and some long moments.  We leave for bits of time, but feel like we should come back. And when we are here we feel useless. it’s a good deal of waiting. But mostly, it is my honor to sit here with her.  She has lived a good long life.  Everyone has said their goodbyes and said what they needed to say. I am so grateful I get to spend these last hours with her. 

THE MESSY MIDDLE

It has been awhile since I have written anything.  It’s not that I haven’t had ideas that have come to me.  It is because my writing time has been absorbed by a hobby.  It all started a few years ago when I was introduced to Bible Quilt Journaling, created by my friend Dianna.  Briefly, this is a method of journaling and meditating on scripture in an “artistic’ manner.  I put quotes around artistic because believe me, I am no artist.  In the beginning my pages could have been done better by a first grader.  But over time I got better at it.  

Bible Quilting has nothing to do with sewing for those of you who may be allergic to sewing machines, but it does require some supplies.  Since I have never been a crafter, I didn’t even have a decent set of colored pencils, so I started acquiring a few things.  Those who know me well are laughing at “few things”, because this pursuit has taken on a life of its own, and I have acquired a lot of things I never knew I needed.  Along the way I discovered beautiful papers and fell down a rabbit hole!  I wanted to learn different ways to journal and find ways to use up all this paper I was ordering.  

Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I started making all different kinds of journals…jot journals, gratitude journals, pretty daily journals for every season…and then, I discovered junk journals.  That was when the little space I was using in a spare bedroom became too small.  I got rid of all the bedroom pieces and created a craft room.  All that paper and those supplies take up a LOT of space!  

When people ask me to describe junk journaling I usually direct them to a video on YouTube, but junk journalers are all over social media platforms.  It is hard to describe, but basically it involves using bits of this and that, things you would normally discard, and using them to create journals.  I started to think twice before throwing things away.  Suddenly the most exciting thing about an Amazon delivery was the packing paper. (Unless the box contained craft paper or washi tape).  I found a group of talented junk journalers that I follow regularly.  They are mostly in the UK and I love listening to them talk as I work on my journals.  Several of the artists have formed a consortium and they create challenges for their followers.   Currently I am about to complete Junk Journal July, and my journal is getting nice and chunky.  There is a journaling prompt for every day of July, and I am almost at the end.

I could go on and on about journaling, but that is not the purpose of this post.  This morning I was working on the prompt, “stencils.”  The medium you see in the picture is a yummy concoction called stencil butter.  I had to pause to let it dry and I was thinking about what else I want to add to the page.  Right now I am in the messy middle.  I really don’t know what the finished page will look like.  My pages seem to gradually come to be on their own.  I have learned to trust the process.

It hit me that most of us live in the messy middle.  We move from one situation to another, and on a larger scale, one season of life to another.  We may have entered adulthood with a plan for our lives, firm thoughts about how things should go.  And God laughed.  Things rarely go the way we think they should.  In fact, I spend a good deal of time with my therapy clients helping them to let go of the “shoulds.”  It’s not that our plans and ideas are wrong.  It is just that life has a way of moving us from one messy middle to another.  It is sometimes hard to see how things will turn out.  And it is in the messy middle that we develop our trust muscles.  We may not know how our current page is going to turn out, but God does.  We just trust Him and trust the process.  

It is fine to make a life plan, to have goals and dreams.  But God has dreams for us too.  We become much less frustrated when we discover God’s plans for us and get on board with them.  We find true fulfillment when God’s desires become our desires.  It is then that we are in sync with our Creator, the Artist of our lives.

You know what I really love about junk journaling?  It is the taking of something of no value, something discardable, and turning it into something lovely.  That is exactly what God does.  He takes the mess of our lives and repurposes it into something beautiful.  

 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. Prov. 19:21

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Jer. 29:11

PLAYING FROM VICTORY

In my previous blog I wrote about Cooper Kupp, the LA Rams wider receiver who went from being a zero-star college recruit to Super Bowl 56 MVP.   But there is more to the story of this remarkable man.  In 2019 the Rams lost Super Bowl 53 to the New England Patriots.  The score was an embarrassing 13-3.  Kupp had to watch helplessly from the sidelines due to a torn ACL, but he was just as devastated as his teammates as they walked off the field in defeat.  But then something happened 

Kupp says as he was walking off the field toward the tunnel something caused him to turn around.  In that moment God gave him a vision: the Rams would come back somehow and win a Super Bowl, and Kupp would walk off the field as the MVP.  He kept this vision mostly to himself, revealing it only with his wife, because obviously this was not the type of thing you could go around sharing.  People would think you were nuts!  Or a braggart.  But when he talks about it today he gets choked up, giving all the glory to God.  He says he saw it as clear as day.  And when this postseason began, Kupp says he began to play differently.  He believed.  “It was written already and I just got to play free, knowing that I got to play from victory, not for victory.”  

 I got to play from victory.  I have been thinking about that statement for days.  What would it be like if we lived our lives from victory and why don’t we?  Because if we are Christians, if we really believe what God has revealed to us in His word, then we know that Jesus has already won, and we get to share in His victory.  What if we didn’t worry about all the millions of things we humans worry about, and just did our best, knowing that we are assured of victory?    

Now just because God gave Kupp a vision of winning didn’t mean it was going to be a piece of cake. There would be setbacks, busted plays, tackles, sacks, and plays that didn’t work.  The opponents would score some points.  And there would be some hard hits with bruised and sore bodies the next day.  And that is just like life.  Even if you are a Christian, even if you believe and trust God and His word, you are going to take some hits.  You may lose ground, get bad calls, and have to endure trash talk.  We are not immune to the sufferings of this life, and we will all experience difficulties and loss.  But playing from victory means we are able to live with the end in view no matter what hardships life gives us.  

It may look hopeless sometimes; the Rams were behind with only six minutes left to play.  I recently had a birthday, and all my birthdays are now big ones now.  My friend Kay likes to remind me that we are in our fourth quarter.  But if there is anything this football season has taught me, it is how much can be accomplished with only a few seconds left on the clock.  Heck, I might even go into overtime.  As Believers we do not have to be anxious or depressed about our current circumstances because we can see that scoreboard and know that ultimately we will win.  And Cooper Kupp would be the first to acknowledge who the real MVP is.  Jesus Christ left it all on the field for us.

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.  He never sinned, but died for sinners to bring you safely home to God.  1 Peter 3:18 NLT

THE BABY SHOWER

Last weekend we had a baby shower for my granddaughter who is expecting her first baby.  This little girl who is on the way is a much longed for and planned for baby.  We are all excited and looking forward to welcoming her into the world.  And when she gets here she is going to be well equipped!  It takes a lot of gear for a tiny baby!  And it’s all so big and takes up so much space!  I told my granddaughter she and her husband might need a bigger house.  

It was so much fun watching her unwrap all the cute baby girl things, and to see all the interesting and useful gadgets new parents want today.  I think most of us do the best we can as parents based on what we know.  But the “best” I did fifty years ago would probably get me reported to child protective services today.  My seat belt was an arm thrown across a child riding in the front seat.  And my car seat was a flimsy metal and plastic thing with a toy steering wheel on the front that would impale a baby in a wreck.  But that was the best at that time.  We didn’t know.  As parents we all have hopes and dreams for our children, and we want the very best for them.

Did you know that God planned for you and had hopes and dreams for you?  Before God ever created the universe, before He ever said, “Let there be light,” He was thinking of you.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 139 that God has a book for each of us, and in those books He recorded every moment of our lives before time even began.  I think of it as my big planner in heaven. God was thinking about and making plans for us, and writing them down in our planners. The same Psalm says His thoughts about us cannot even be counted; they outnumber the grains of sand.  He has been thinking about us since before time began.

God knew the day we would be conceived, the day we would be born, the day we will die, and every day in between.  And all those thoughts He was thinking?  Those are His plans for us, our purpose for being alive on earth.  And He showered us with gifts, especially the gift of salvation, again, before the beginning of time.  Just as my granddaughter is gathering everything she needs for her yet-to-be-born baby, God had everything we would ever need to carry out our purpose in place long before we were born.  

Have you ever thought about why you are living at this particular time in history?  God has the answer recorded in your book.  That answer is your purpose for being here.  And He even promises to come along side us to help us carry out those plans.  However, we have a choice.  We can live our lives our own way, go about our business, and never even consult Him about His plan for us.  God won’t force us to carry out His plan.  But what if we miss out on the best life we could ever experience?  

You might be thinking that you don’t have time to carry out some grand plan because you have a job to get to, laundry to fold, children to care for, and groceries to buy.  Well those things could very well be God’s plan for you today.  Not all of us are called to be a Billy Graham or a Mother Teresa.  And not every day is going to be a grand mountaintop day.  But if you ask Him, He might just help you carry out a special assignment in the midst of your daily routine.  Or He might help you do the mundane with grace and love.   

Revelation 21:4 tells us that when we get to heaven, God will wipe away all our tears.  I have a friend who believes that some of those tears will fall when we see our books opened up, when we see what God had planned for us that we missed.  Even after all these years I have to remind myself every morning to consult God about my day.  I certainly don’t get it right all the time, but I want to.  I don’t want to miss out on my purpose.                  

THE SILENT YEARS

It had been four hundred years, four hundred silent years.  Four hundred years with no word from God.  We think of it as the intertestamentary period, that time between the Old and New Testaments.  In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, we leave the remnant of Israel trying to restore Jerusalem, still under Persian domination and in a fallen spiritual condition.  For all practical purposes, Israel remained in exile.  The book of Malachi is an exhortation to return to the Covenant, with severe warnings for failure to do so.  And then, God quit speaking until the events surrounding the birth of Christ.  

Those were years with no fresh word from God.  It is hard for us to even imagine how that would be, with our access to so many different translations of the Bible and the presence of the Holy Spirit to breathe them alive to us.  But as we enter this season of Advent, let us try to put ourselves in the place of the ordinary Jew at this time in history.  In fact, my Advent challenge is to put myself in the place of all the characters in the Christmas story.  

Advent is a word I don’t hear very much in my Baptist church, but it is something I try to observe personally.  Oh I don’t do the wreath and the candles, but I do Advent readings in my quiet time.  For me, Advent is a time of preparing the manger of my heart for the coming of the Messiah.  Advent covers the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and this year, in 2020, Advent begins today, November 29.  We think 2020 has been a long and difficult year, and it has.  But try 400 long and difficult years!  And we have had the blessing of the Holy Spirit with us to help us navigate this year, to comfort us in our grief and to encourage us when we are afraid.  As we close this weekend of Thanksgiving, I am thanking God for access to His word and for the presence of the Holy Spirit, for the privilege of knowing Him.

Like many believers around the world, I have spent more time in prayer this year than ever before. And like many, I have clung to the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14:  

“if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We tend to hold on to the promise while glossing over the condition: if my people, who are called by my name.  We want God to heal our land, but surely it is those other people who need to repent.  This year I have repeatedly asked God to show me my wicked ways.  Don’t ask unless you are serious.  He has pulled off layer after layer of wicked ways.  It is a part of making room for Christ.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Christmas sermons tells us that Advent “is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”   I know I am poor and imperfect! 

So I put myself in the place of those post-exilic Jews who were waiting, because this has been a year of waiting.  Waiting for the virus to go away, waiting for a vaccine or a cure, waiting for schools to open, for jobs to return, for things to go back to normal.  But more than these things, like Bonhoeffer I am waiting for something greater to come.  I am waiting for a time when there will be no more death, nor more wars, no more hatred in our streets, no more broken families, no more children going hungry.  Though we strive to make these things happen (and we should), I don’t think we will see the complete realization until the Messiah returns.  While Israel waited for His first coming, we wait for Him to return in glory to establish His eternal kingdom.  Advent looks both back in time and forward.  We remember His first coming to earth as we celebrate Christmas.  But oh how we look forward to His second coming as we sing these familiar words:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel, 

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

WE HAVE BUTTERFLIES!

 

Do you feel like 2020 has been a season of waiting?  Waiting for this pandemic to be over.  Waiting for a vaccine.  Waiting to go back to work or school.  Waiting to take a trip.  And waiting for this contentious election to be over.  Waiting.  I don’t like it.  I don’t like waiting in line, waiting in traffic, or even waiting for the clothes dryer to buzz. And I sure don’t want to wait for a Covid test or election results.  I know I can’t be alone in this.  We live in such an instant, fast-paced, everything-at-our-fingertips world that we have become conditioned to expect things to happen on demand.  So even waiting for the microwave to ding sometimes seems interminable.   We multi-task, we check off our to-do lists, and we become human doings instead of human beings. 

This year God has decided to teach me about waiting, about being still and quiet, and how to wait well.  Every year right around the beginning of the New Year I ask God to give me a Bible verse, a scripture that I can hang my hat on.  It is usually something that He wants to work into me, and it usually takes a year to do it.  But this year I got a word: “Wait.  On.  God.”  Emphatic, like three distinct sentences.  Wait on God.  And when God gave it to me, I knew it was from Him.  No, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but I heard it deep in my spirit.  When you have walked with God for a while things like that happen.  

But what did those words mean, wait on God?  I had no idea in January.  But as we all know, 2020 has been a year of waiting.  There have been many lessons for me about waiting.  The first one being it is okay to be still.  When you are a Type A, “Git-R-Done” girl, being still doesn’t come naturally.  But I learned the value in it.  And while the rest of you were cleaning out closets and baking banana bread (and those are good things) I was being still with God.  I spent time in the Bible, time reading, and learned a new way to journal His word.  And I have prayed.  A lot!  I learned that some of the things I thought were important really don’t matter very much.  I think I have grown stronger in my walk with Jesus.  Maybe He is preparing me for a new assignment, or maybe He is getting me ready to meet Him face to face.  He will reveal it in His own time.  The quarantine has taught me that we can spend a good deal of time waiting for the next big thing and miss the precious things that are right in front of us.

So what does any of this have to do with butterflies?  I was on my patio earlier today on a Zoom call (and haven’t we had a lot of those?)  It was a national prayer call, and the devotional theme today was about waiting.  Seriously?  It’s October and we are still working on waiting?  When God wants to teach me something He comes at me from all angles.  While I was on this call I happened to look around and see that we had butterflies.  Lots of them, fluttering around.  You might not think that having butterflies in your yard is very remarkable, but I was excited!  We have worked for those butterflies.  

Our butterfly journey began this spring when I was visiting my friend Sally.  She lives in a rural area, across the road from The Euchee Butterfly Farm and a garden area known as The Tribal Alliance for Pollinators.  Their mission is to restore plants native to the Oklahoma prairie and to establish habitats for Monarch butterflies.  We had already planted one little anemic milkweed plant (which is now flourishing), but after visiting with Sally we planted some Black-eyed Susans and Coneflowers that just happened to be on sale at Lowe’s.  

As I was praying and looking at those butterflies (yes, my eyes were open while I prayed), it occurred to me how much of a butterfly’s life is spent waiting before it finally gets to soar.  It starts out as an egg that eventually hatches into a caterpillar.  The caterpillar eats and eats until it finally quits growing and then forms itself into a pupa or chrysalis.  And there it waits, but not passively.  God is at work transforming it in a process called metamorphosis.  Lots of growing and changing is taking place until finally, the butterfly breaks free and soon flies.  Then the whole process starts all over again when the butterfly lays eggs.  By the way, if you are ever tempted to help a butterfly out of its chrysalis, don’t do it.  The butterfly needs the struggle to develop wings strong enough to fly.  

Sometimes all we can do is wait.  Earlier this year when we were on full lockdown, I certainly felt cocooned.  But if we make good use of that waiting time, God will transform and develop us into the person we need to become for the next chapter of our lives.  Maybe He is developing our trust muscles.  It hit me today, that the God who planned so intricately for something as small and insignificant as a butterfly, has a plan for me.  He has a purpose in this waiting season.  The same God who cares about a butterfly cares for me.  And it is more than okay to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).  In fact, sometimes being still might be the most important thing we can do.           

Sit, Stay, and Leave It!

 

Some of my friends have asked how obedience training is going for Max and Ruby.  I have to tell you, it has exceeded all our expectations.  We went in with a pretty low bar; Jerry thought it was going to be a complete waste of money and I just hoped we could curtail barking and jumping.  We are still working on jumping.  They get so excited to see us!  We could be gone for fifteen minutes and they act like we have been deployed to Afghanistan!  And company??  Forget it.  But barking is getting much better.

 

So currently we are continuing to perfect the “sit” command, and learning “stay” and “leave it.”  Ruby learned “sit” right off the bat, but Max has stubbornly refused to sit on command.  For several weeks I have had to gently press on his hindquarter to get him to sit, but finally he has learned it.  What was so hard about that Max?  And when they sit, they are to look at our eyes before they get a treat.

 

As I write these words I am remembering how long the Lord had to work with me to get me to sit in His presence.  I was far too busy, I had an important to-do list, or I was too tired.  But God wanted me to be still and spend some quiet time with Him.  Even when I learned to physically sit still, my mind would still race.  It took a good deal of discipline, but finally I got it.  Sitting first thing in the morning is probably the most important thing I do all day.  It is when I turn my eyes on Jesus.  No one in the history of the world had a bigger agenda than Jesus, but He still found it necessary to get alone with God early in the morning (Mk. 1:35).  How much more important it is for me.

 

We haven’t practiced “stay” nearly enough, and it is something I want them to learn.  The event that prompted obedience training in the first place happened a few weeks ago when they suddenly darted out of the front yard and across a neighborhood through street.  I was so afraid a car would hit them.  I want them to learn “stay” for their own safety.

 

You can probably see where I am going with this.  God wants me to stay in communion with Him and WAIT for direction.  Oh how often I jump ahead of God with my own plans and ideas.  Waiting is so hard!  And again, it involves not just physically waiting but mentally waiting as well.  In fact, training my mind to wait is probably the most important part.  When we feel as if we must be taking some action, and that waiting is a waste of time, Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that in waiting we actually renew our strength:

 

but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

 

There are many other verses that instruct us to wait:

 

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  Is. 26:3

 

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; Ps. 37:7a 

 

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. Ps. 33:20

 

“Leave it!” is the most recent command we have worked on.  Our trainer, Merit, dumped a pile of objects onto the floor…items that would be novel to a dog and therefore interesting.  She had items from her purse, small household items, thinks that jangled such as keys, and things that slid across the floor.  We were to keep walking Max and Ruby with the clear command, “Leave it!”  She told us to use a sharp tone with a sense of urgency.  After just a couple of trips around the floor, the dogs got it.  I have to say they caught on much quicker than I have.  God is still commanding me to “leave it!”

 

Scripture is full of the things we are to leave behind after we receive Christ as Lord.  We are to leave behind the things in the past; those past sins that would cause us to be covered in shame, a past lifestyle, and sometimes even good things as we move forward with the Lord.  Jesus told His disciples to leave behind everything and follow Him.

 

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9: 62

 

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Cor. 5:17

 

I actually found a list of 78 things we are to leave.  78!  (You can find the list here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/misc/putoffon.cfm)  We are to leave things such as bitterness, pride, jealousy, impatience, gossip, and the list goes on.  But good news!  The Bible tells us what we are to pick up instead: forgiveness, humility, patience, and edifying speech.  When I tell Max and Ruby to leave it, I am looking out for their own good.  They don’t always recognize the danger.  Sometimes things look intriguing, but they are to walk straight ahead.  These things that God tells me to leave are things that ultimately hurt me, and I can imagine He is speaking to me with an urgent tone.  “Don’t even stop and look, Fran!  This is not good for you!”  He is not a punitive God; He wants what is best for us.  The problem is, we don’t often discern harmful from good.

 

So as our dogs continue with obedience training, so do I.  As I said before, for me, obedience is a lifetime pursuit.  I press on.

BEING A WATCHMAN

One of the things I am enjoying in retirement is the time to really dig into my Bible study lessons at Community Bible Study.  This year we are doing a study called The Road to Jerusalem, the story of the Jewish exile and the restoration of Israel.  Yesterday’s lesson highlighted the life of Ezekiel who was appointed by God to be a prophet and watchman to the people.  His main job was to warn the people to turn from their idols.  That term, “watchman” reached out and grabbed me. What was the job of a watchman?  

My thoughts turned to the medieval towns in Tuscany and Provence that we have visited over the years.  They were all built on a hilltop and they all had walls surrounding them.  These walls provided fortification and defense against attackers and intruders.  Along the walls watchtowers were erected a place for a watchman or sentry to stand guard.  Strategically, the towers were erected at points where entry were more likely, and where the watchman could have a 360 degree view of the landscape, where they could spot enemies before they got too close.  If an enemy approached, the watchman’s job was to alert the town of impending danger.  I’m thinking sentry duty then and now is a lonely job.

So what does Ezekiel’s call to be a watchman have to do with me today?  I guess I think of watchmen as those people who will be on the lookout for the things that will threaten to destroy us.  Those who will sound the alarm.  Modern day Paul Reveres.  From a Christian perspective, watchmen are protecting our faith and defending our society from our modern day idols.  In my opinion, our biggest danger comes from our secular culture.  Watchmen have to be able to stand against the tsunami of a godless society.  As we were discussing these ideas, I was having my own private conversation with God.  “Please don’t call me to be a watchman.”  I thought of some of my friends who can stand boldly in the face of criticism.  I confess that is a lonely and scary place for me.  I don’t like it.

I remember a day during a sociology course when the subject of abortion was discussed.  I was the only person in my class of about thirty who expressed opposition to it.  And the backlash against me was fierce!  I looked around the room and though to myself that surely I can’t be the only one in this class who thinks abortion is wrong.  Here in Tulsa, Oklahoma?  The buckle of the Bible belt?   After class, several people came up to me and told me they were proud of me for standing up.  “Where was YOUR voice,” I thought.  

I don’t want to be a watchman.  I don’t like opposition.  I often feel that I can’t muster a cogent defense quickly enough.  I remember that day when I felt like I couldn’t get my words together.  I think of my friends who speak out on different issues and I find myself like those classmates.  I admire the watchmen, but I don’t want to be them.  However, in these times when religious persecution is on the rise (Christians being the most targeted group), perhaps God is calling all of us to be watchmen.  Because if we don’t watch, who will? 

All these thoughts were going through my mind when I finally allowed God to speak to me.  I realized He isn’t necessarily calling me to be a watchman to the world as much as He is to myself.  “You need to be a watchman over your own heart!”  Wow!  As always, God is right.  I have a full time job guarding against idols of my own.  An idol is anything that takes my time, energy, and devotion away from God.  My potential idols are more subtle than golden statues.  Self-indulgence, screen time, acquisition of things, even (Gasp!) Sooner football.  I could create quite a list.  I guess even my family could become an idol.  

So my first calling to be a watchman is a call to guard my heart from the benign or even “good” things that could take first place in my life.  I think of the words from the old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, 

Prone to leave the God I love.”  

So today I lay open my heart before the Lord, and I ask Him to remove anything that has become an idol to me, and to keep me alert to the things that could sidetrack me in the future.  As I said, it’s a full time job.  But I also ask God to burden my heart for the things that burden His.  I want to “watch” for God, to see where He is moving and what He is doing.  Being a watchman is more that keeping an eye out for evil, more than warning about the dangers of sin.  A watchman also has the privilege of proclaiming the good news of the gospel.  As Believers, we get to announce to the world that God has provided a remedy for sin.  And we are all commanded to be on the alert, to watch for Christ’s return.  The more I think about it, I don’t get to opt out of being a watchman.  Nor should I want to.  It is an honor.

Easter…So What?

It is the Monday morning after Easter.  I hope you all had a glorious Easter Sunday celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. I hope you had the opportunity to attend a church service.  Our church was overflowing at each service, and I suppose your church was full also. Maybe the music was glorious, and moved you as you thought about the amazing sacrifice our Lord made for our sins. Maybe you got together with family and friends, everyone decked out in Easter finery.  I imagine there was good food, flowers, and children with Easter baskets, looking for eggs.

But today is Monday. Most of us had to get up and go back to our normal routines.  Maybe it’s another Monday of fighting traffic and getting into the Monday morning work grind. If you are a student, it is probably back to school, with finals looming around the corner.  Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom with a busy day ahead. The dishwasher and the washing machine are running, you are picking up Easter grass and candy wrappers, and mentally making a grocery list.  Easter is in the books for another year.  What does it have to do with my Monday?

I was eighteen when I received Christ as my Savior.  I knew I was a sinner, and I was grateful, so grateful, that through His death I could be forgiven.  I believed that I would go to Heaven when I died.  And that was it.  I compartmentalized that event and got on with my life.  It was about five years later when Jesus began to woo me into a Bible-teaching church.  It was there that I began to realize the claim that Jesus had on my life…my entire life, not just my Easter Sunday life.  And I also learned the rest of the story.  Christ didn’t just save me and leave me to navigate this life on my own. There are so many benefits to Easter in addition to salvation that I’m sure I will only scratch the surface naming them.  But even if salvation was the only gift, that would be amazing, incredible, and so much more than I deserve!  

  1. The first benefit that comes to mind is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  When we receive Christ, His Spirit comes to dwell in us.  Think of it…the third person of the Trinity living in me!  I talk to Him all day long.  And He talks to me though I don’t always listen, and sadly, do not always obey.  He guides my steps, He comforts me, and He interprets God’s word to me.  He leads me in my daily decisions.  If I need to buy a new air conditioner, He has ideas about that. If I am worried about my children, He reminds me that there is One who cares about them even more than I do.  When I am concerned about the future, He assures me that He is in control. 
  2. Access to the throne of God.  He hears my prayers.  Because of Christ’s death I have been reconciled to God.  We are no loner enemies.  And because that temple veil was torn from top to bottom, I can go straight to Him in prayer.  At any time, on any day.  I do not need a human mediator because I have a High Priest who sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for me.  I have the amazing privilege of prayer, and I confess that I am not very diligent about it. It is very hard for me to sit for an hour (or even a half hour) and pray. But I am really good at carrying on a continual conversation with the Lord.  We talk all day long.
  3. Death is not final.  I have the peace of knowing that when my appointment with death comes, I will slip from this life into the next.  And I will be reunited with family and friends who have passed before. How I look forward to that! Sometimes I ask God to deliver a message from me to them.  I’m not sure that is scriptural, but I do it anyway.  
  4. The church.  I have fellowship with other believers.  There is nothing like the body of Christ!  Not only can you share spiritual things, what God is doing in your life, and prayer concerns, but also your church family cares about your practical needs and will rally around you in days of trouble, sorrow, or joy. Church ladies excel at casseroles and pies!
  5. There are many more benefits, but I just want to name one more big one: The Bible.  What would I do without the Word?  It is full of God’s promises, it comforts me, and it is “a lamp unto my feet.” The Bible is the main way God speaks to me.  It is the story of redemption, for Genesis to Revelation.  And even though I’ve read it many times, it is always new!  I will never completely plumb the depths of God’s Word.

So today, as you are putting away the things of Easter, the dinnerware, the clothes, the baskets and bunnies, I hope you will put on all that Christ offers you because of Easter. As you go about your workday, on your commute to work or school, as you face the trials of this world, I hope you realize there is One who wants to be a part of every facet of your life.  I hope you can celebrate Easter 365 days a year. He is risen.  Hallelujah.  

MEAN GIRLS

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to a radio conversation about cyber bullying and the effects it has on our children.  The speaker noted that the smart phones our kids are carrying act as real time barometers of their self esteem.  So I thought it might be time to resurrect a piece I published a while back.  By the way, I never did find Glee.  Glee, if you are out there, please reach out to me.  I want to ask your forgiveness.

 

Sugar and spice and everything nice.  Everyone knows that what little girls are made of, right?  But here’s a dirty little secret that every woman knows deep down in her heart.  Girls also have the capacity to be some of the meanest creatures on earth.  Having been a girl myself, being the mother of three girls and grandmother to seven, I have seen more than my share of mean girls. And I know what it means to be both the perpetrator and the recipient of this type of bullying behavior.

 

Usually this mean girl drama is over by the time we get to be adults.  Hopefully by then we have become secure and comfortable in our own skin.  We don’t have to jab or bully someone else in an attempt to make ourselves feel better about who we are.  We become less clique-ish and more open to accepting people who are different from us. And we no longer feel the need to get even for what we perceive as slights.  But occasionally, mean girls grow up to be mean women.  And sadly they produce mean daughters.

 

Let me tell you an unflattering personal story that has haunted me all my life.  When I was in Jr. High, I had a big slumber party one Friday night.  I invited every girl in our circle of friends…except one, a girl with the pretty name of Glee.  I didn’t think she liked me (She probably had a good reason!), so I was determined that she would be excluded.  It hurt her. I wonder now if I missed an opportunity to get to know her better.  I might have missed out on a real friendship.  I’m so ashamed of my behavior, but I have paid for it over the years.  Every time one of my daughters was slighted in some way, I thought of Glee.  And today, when my granddaughters are bullied or left out, I remember Glee.

 

When I was discussing this topic with my daughter, Amanda, she reminded me how far this mean girl business goes back in history.  All the way to Sarah and Hagar, her maid.  You can read the story in the 16thchapter of Genesis.  They are both guilty of dishing out the meanness, but it culminates with Hagar running away because Sarah mistreats her so badly.  However Hagar cannot run away from God.  While she is in the desert she has an encounter with El Roi, the God who sees. God saw her pain and assured her of His love and care for her.

 

What a comfort when our children or we are being bullied.  God sees.  If you daughter is being harassed or left out, God sees.  If there are mean girls in your office, your neighborhood, your social circle, or even your church, God sees.  Go to Him with your hurts.  But the God who sees is also an admonishment.  We can’t get away with mistreating others.  God sees.  When we are too exclusive, God sees.  By the way, we are still paying for the hostility between Sarah and Hagar today. This mean girl stuff leaves a lasting legacy!

 

Writing these words has made me realize that I have a long overdue apology to make. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have located a woman who might be the Glee from my school days.  I have reached out to her for confirmation.  If she indeed is Glee, I intend to tell her how very sorry I am and ask for her forgiveness.

 

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”  Genesis 16:13 (NIV).

 

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4: 31-32 (NIV).

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