Monday, August 13, 2018

Love Notes: for My Mother's 70th Birthday

There are so many lovely parts of Mom’s  character I could mention in honor of her birthday: her service, her generosity, her cooking, and plenty more. Instead of saying a little bit about a lot of different qualities, I’d like to focus on one action she has repeated over and over again throughout my life: her love notes.

The first time I was ever away from home for longer than just a sleepover at a friend’s house was for Camp Goddard in 5th grade. I was nervous about it and not at all sure I wanted to go, but fear of missing out won the day and I signed up to go. Mom wrote a little note for every day I was gone (maybe one for morning and one for evening) and sent me with a big Tupperware container of chocolate chip cookies for my cabin. I was so surprised when I opened my duffel bag and saw those notes, and they really did help me get through the week with less homesickness.

This continued through all my school years. Even when I wasn’t going out of town, there were a lot of days I would open my lunch sack and find a sticky note on my sandwich wrapper reminding me God loves me or telling me she was praying for my book report or choir audition or test… whatever she thought I might be anxious about that day. Sometimes she would add a little Pass It On encouragement card from the Christian bookstore down the block from our house, and I would carry it around in my pencil case for… probably the rest of the year.

When we moved last year and I went through some memory boxes, I found more of her notes, including the ones she wrote for a mission trip to Tennessee that I chaperoned during a college summer. Part of my responsibilities included driving  a small group of teenagers in the 15-passenger church van through winding 2-lane mountain roads to pick up the children we were serving in day camp. We were all nervous about that! Not only did Mom write me a note for each day, she looked at the calendar, thought through what was supposed to be happening on each one, and wrote the notes as though on the given day and not a week or two in advance. She told me things such as my sister’s medical test having gone well, her and Dad arriving safely at their vacation destination, and my sisters having a good time with the woman staying with them in our absence.

The last time I remember Mom writing me special notes for a trip was when Amore and I moved to Bangkok, Thailand, halfway around the world. Even though I believed it was what God was calling me to do, I missed the family so much that I think I started crying before our flight even left the runway. I definitely remember crying in the international security screening line at LAX. Once again, Mom came through for me with a couple of weeks worth of daily or twice daily notes to help family not feel so far away.

Now she sends me encouraging words by email or text or a phone call, and I’m the one writing notes. Amore got at least a couple of dozen in his bags last year when he needed to travel so much to help his family.

Mom, you are a treasure. Thank you for loving us so well when we’re with you and making sure we don’t forget your love when we’re apart. Happy 70th birthday! May the Lord richly bless your 71st year with joy and strength. We love you! In honor of your Irish heritage, “May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live. Sláinte!”

a few sunrise photos from our old backyard... God's love note reminders to me

Monday, June 18, 2018

I Wait for You {From the Archives: Ebony's Greatest Hits}

originally shared June 2014

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
Isaiah 30:18, ESV

Ebony and I are creatures of habit. We like the routines and rhythms of a day at home without appointments. (Amore craves more variety, except first thing in the morning.) The first expectation of every day--well, after Amore hits snooze on the alarm clock at least once--is that he opens the door of Ebony's crate. Ebony shoots off like a rocket down the hall, Kong in his mouth, because the Kong usually still contains the bedtime cookie from the night before. By the time we slow and decrepit humans get to the coffee pot, Ebony is sitting on the love seat drooling, tail thumping like the drum in a military band. When we sandwich him there, hot beverages in our hands, he either drops the Kong in our laps or throws it at us, (depending on the value he has assigned to the kind of cookie inside). This is his way of asking us for help in extracting said cookie, which sometimes is easier said than done, especially before our first cup of coffee.

Some days since my shoulder surgery have been different. While the bones heal on the right side, I must sleep on my left side. Many nights my body protests this at some point and I move to the reclining love seat in the living room, currently my only alternative for pain-free sleep. On those mornings, Allen hits snooze back in the bedroom. When his feet hit the floor, he opens Ebony's crate. Ebony flies down the hall, with or without the Kong, and takes a flying leap from halfway across the living room into my lap. On these days I awake to a jolt followed by a flurry of kisses, tail wags, and possibly a Kong thrown at my face.

Ebony has a very keen nose and ears and typically is so attuned to my whereabouts that we could accurately have named him Shadow. If he weren't crated, he would probably follow me into the living room on my uncomfortable nights, just as his predecessor Steinway did. (Steinway was not crate-trained. We tried once, and he growled something about did we feel lucky and to make his day.)

This Monday morning I had relocated to the recliner at 2:30 am and settled back into a sound sleep. I didn't hear the coffee or tea maker through my ear plugs but awakened to a sense of movement and the light coming on in the adjacent kitchen. Amore trudged past the table and made his way to the coffee.

What? No flying Labradoxie tackle? No Kong in my lap? I asked Amore where Ebony was. Had he forgotten to open his crate?

No, it was open. Ebony, he said, thought I was still asleep in the bedroom and had settled in there to wait for me.

Didn't he tell him I wasn't there?

Yes, but he didn't believe him. I'd have to go show him myself.

Drawing on the ninja skills apparently acquired during the night, I tiptoed walked as quietly as I could down the hall and peered into the room. Ebony had stretched out in the prettiest "down" you could want to see, his face towards my side of the bed with his Labrador ears aimed like satellite dishes at the pile of pillows he thought was me. His Kong lay on the floor beside him, cast aside in his preoccupation with the bed. Clearly, he was not going anywhere without his mama, and he'd wait as long as it took.

"Ebony," I said, "I'm back here, sweetie."

He bounced up and pivoted to face me, all in one springloaded motion. His tail started wagging and he bounded toward me, stopped, turned back for his Kong, and raced past me down the hall to resume our usual routine.

In the moment, I laughed at his misunderstanding and smiled broadly at how loved and cherished it made me feel. Where "Special Agent Hoover" is concerned, there will be no man left behind, especially not me. As I've pondered the memory in my heart for a day or two, though, I've asked the Lord if He had something more He wanted me to learn from this.

If Ebony in this experience were analogous to me, and I were analogous to my heavenly Master (which, granted, demands tremendous suspension of disbelief), similar to the sheep-shepherd metaphor of the Scriptures, what might this teach me?

First, Ebony's dedicated expectation challenges me to keep hoping, keep waiting on God when I'm growing faint in my prayers and answers seem long in coming. In that morning, his routine didn't matter; his Kong didn't matter; a cozy nest on the love seat didn't matter. All that mattered was waiting on his master. Do I do that, or am I quick to give up and look for solutions and satisfaction elsewhere? Too often, the latter.

Second, Ebony's immediate specific hope (that I would get out of bed) was disappointed. He was waiting for the wrong thing, or for the right thing in the wrong place. In my case, what am I waiting and hoping for? Ultimately, the only hope certain not to disappoint is hope in God and in the Word and promises of God. Paul described this to Titus this way:
waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
The "what," then, is the glorious appearing of our God and Savior Jesus Christ, the consummation of all the promises of God. We are waiting for God Himself.

Where or how should I wait? The context of the above verse offers one answer to that question:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).
When I yield to the grace of God's training, I learn "to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions." Grace teaches me, us, "to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age." The comely, appropriate, obedient way to wait for our Blessed Hope is to live increasingly in accordance with Christ's self-giving "to redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works." The grace that meets us as we are does not leave us as we are. Insofar as my life doesn't look like that, I am waiting for Christ's return in the wrong place, in the wrong way.

This is impossible in and of myself. Thanks be to God that I don't have to live in and of myself. Rather,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).
He will enable even my waiting as I turn my face toward Him. He waits to be gracious to us. He exalts Himself to show mercy to us. Blessed are all who wait for Him.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

12 Things You May Not Know About the Ebony Dog

Last week rather pulled the rug out from under us, dear Crumbles. Tuesday morning Ebony experienced a sudden, traumatic health crisis. While he was at the veterinarian for observation and additional testing, I laid my dog, my only dog, whom I loved, on the altar and yielded him to the Father's plan. Wednesday afternoon we learned he had cancer of the spleen with cardiac complications. The heart arrhythmia ruled out surgery, but the prognosis was very poor even if it had not. Although it was one of the hardest things I've ever done, we followed the doctor's advice and said good-bye to him Friday after a couple of days to cherish him and let the other nearby family members see him one more time. He was around 12 years old and had seemed in good health, other than occasional bouts of back pain. Next month would have marked a decade in our family for him.

Even as I grieve the loss of my shadow, I thank God for gracing us with Ebony's life. Ten years feels too short, but I know it's better than I or anyone deserves. That pup loved us with every fiber of his being and brought sunshine everywhere he went.

If you have read here long, you know a good deal about the Ebony Dog already, but here are some tidbits you may not.

12. His experience in our family wasn't always lollipops and roses. He came to us very shy (and that's coming from a shy person), anxious, and afraid of men, Amore included. (This did not become apparent until we got him home.) We undertook a crash course in dealing with anxious dogs, enrolled in obedience school, and worked with him over the course of years to help him be the best and bravest dog he could be.

Also, Steinway, our geriatric alpha dog, was pretty chagrined that he didn't have any say in the matter of another dog joining the household.

11. Most of the "tricks" (in nephew-speak) he learned were part of the obedience training recommended to help his anxiety. Spin around and roll over were my additions for fun. We all developed a gesture over time for "Where is_______ (your ball, Squirrel Dude, the Kong, etc.)?" "Clean up!" became his cue that we'd dropped a food item on the floor which he was allowed to eat. "Uh-oh!" accidentally became another version of that command, because he wasn't stupid. The final command he had mostly mastered was "Bring it." The last Today puppy gave me that idea as a way to prevent me from having to reach into the far corners of his crate or under furniture to get a lost Kong out. We will definitely keep that on the list for our next dog.

10. He slept in a toddler's t-shirt or sweatshirt every night. Originally that was part of our calming strategy for him, like a Thundershirt, but we continued because he loved his "pajamas" and looked so adorable in them. Sometimes he turned on his Super Gravity Dog powers if he didn't want us to take them off in the morning.

9. He had an enormous bark, which he almost exclusively used when I was with him. His mild-mannered persona usually seen here was his Clark Kent cover identity. In reality he appointed himself my protective detail and gallantly protected me from every slam of a car door and every leaf skittering across the porch. This was most pronounced if it were dark and Amore were absent. The barking stopped once the real man of the house came home and took over protecting me. Amore says our shy Ebony Dog would have taken on a lion if he believed I were in trouble.

8. There's no sense preserving his cover now, so I may as well tell you that he was a secret agent with the Canine Investigative Alliance (CIA), trying to take down the nefarious Dr. Miao (cue evil laugh) and her henchcats. He said the squirrels were her confidential informants, and apparently the bunnies in our new neighborhood were double agents working for her.

Sweeping the perimeter for bogeys

7. His code name was Special Agent Hoover. Like the vacuum. His motto? "No noms left behind."

6. Because he would inhale his food without chewing it if we let him, we used food-dispensing toys to slow him down (and entertain us). (See number 7.)

5. His favorite game was hide-the-bone (and more recently, hide-the-Mommy). We would put him in a "stay" in one room and then hide his favorite rawhide bone somewhere else in the house. Then we would go back to him and tell him to "take it." He would take a flying leap across the room and gallop down the hall until he picked up a trail. He got so good at this that we had to leave false scent trails and not go straight to the hiding place.

4. When he slept, his paws smelled like Fritos.

3. He loved pillows and blankets, the more, the better. The exception was if the blankets were protecting a piece of furniture or the pillows were blocking his access to the chair he wanted for his nap.

2. Even though he was shy, he loved the people he accepted into his pack devotedly and without reservation. He surprised everyone by adding the three youngest nephews to that number in the last couple of years. He consented to obey their commands as long as they paid him in treats. He never growled or snapped at them, even when they held onto his tail and put their faces close to his, nose to nose (which is generally not advisable with dogs). He knew the words "Grandma and Grandpa," and his favorite place to go in the car was to their house.

He could not settle down to rest in the evenings or go to bed at night until he'd had his special fuzz therapy time with Amore, and they were daily walking buddies for most of Ebony's life with us. Ebony loved and respected Amore as the alpha dog in our little pack.

with the nephews

1. I was his favorite of all. We both spent more of our waking ours with each other than with any other living thing. He helped me through a long season of being completely or mostly homebound and through several surgeries and many other procedures. He was such a Velcro dog that he didn't even like having a closed door between us, and his tail was a consistently reliable "Mommy Proximity Alert" system. We were both braver together than apart, and it turns out that separation anxiety works both ways. For the last week I've felt like Linus without his blanket.

Photo taken May 19
I don't know whether I will ever see him again in the new heavens and earth. The Scriptures neither promise nor exclude that possibility. C. S. Lewis and John Wesley thought it possible that animals, or at least the companion animals of believers, will be restored in the Resurrection along with the rest of this groaning Creation. I'm grateful to have had him as long as I did, and, really, no amount of time would have been long enough. The letting go would always have required a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

The Lord gives;
the Lord takes away;
blessed be the name of the Lord.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

In His Image, by Jen Wilkin {Book Review}

In His Image

Jen Wilkin's newest book, In His Image, continues the consideration of God's attributes which she began in her book None Like Him:10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That's a Good Thing). The earlier book focused on characteristics of God which are unique to Him and not transferred ("communicated") to believers in Christ; attributes like omniscience, omnipresence, and self-existence fall in that category. In His Image, on the other hand, examines God's communicable attributes, characteristics like kindness and holiness which God does work into Christians through the sanctification process as we are conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

Many books already exist on the attributes of God. A. W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy and Arthur Pink's Attributes of God are notable among them, and Wilkin acknowledges her debt to previous writers. What sets Wilkin's book apart? First, her engaging, clear, contemporary writing style and knack for apt illustrations mean that here the cookies are most definitely on the bottom shelf. She communicates rich, challenging content without lofty, hard-to-understand style. Second, her decision to place the incommunicable and communicable attributes of God in separate volumes adds clarity and, I suspect, has a teaching benefit in keeping the categories clearer for readers. Third, each chapter closes with Scripture references and reflection questions. This book and its companion volume are excellently suited for use as small-group or one-on-one discipleship materials, or in a book club focused on Christian books. The general index, Scripture index, and blank pages for notes and reflection also suit such a purpose.

Perhaps most distinctive, however, is Wilkin's thesis.The first chapter explains in her own words:
My explicitly stated intention for this book is that we learn to identify God’s will for our lives. Our inclination is to discern God’s will by asking, “What should I do?” But God’s will concerns itself primarily with who we are, and only secondarily with what we do. By changing the question and asking, “Who should I be?” we see that God’s will is not concealed from us in his Word, but is plainly revealed.
The Bible plainly answers the question “Who should I be?” with “Be like Jesus Christ, who perfectly images God in human form.” God’s will for our lives is that we conform to the image of Christ, whose incarnation shows us humanity perfectly conformed to the image of God. In this book, we will consider how we can demonstrate a resemblance to our Maker. But since the Bible’s answer to “Who should I be?” is “Be like the very image of God,” we must ask, “Who is God?” (pp. 21-22).

If I have ever encountered God's attributes or the question of finding God's will expressed and organized in quite this way before, I don't recall it. The way Wilkin lays it out here, however, is so clear and consistent with Scripture that I wonder why I didn't see it before. Christians are called and enabled to be holy, loving, good, just, merciful, faithful, gracious, faithful, patient, truthful, and wise because the triune God is, and the Spirit of God dwells in us.

Here are a few more quotes to whet your appetite and nourish your soul:
  • "God’s discipline is his justice without wrath, for the purpose of training us in godliness" (64).
  • "Abundance. Initially, grace is unasked for and undesired. God in his sovereignty extends grace to us before we can even contemplate its possibility or its worth. Eternally, grace is unearned and undeserved. We grow to recognize it for what it is, and we even become increasingly bold to ask for it in greater measure. But the moment we begin to ask out of a sense of entitlement, we contaminate grace. To demand it is to defile it." (87).
  • "The Bible is our great Ebenezer, a memorial stone to the faithfulness of God, carefully recorded and preserved for his children. When we grow forgetful of God, or when we question whether God has forgotten us, we can turn there to gaze on his steadfast love to all generations" (100).
  • "Every entertainment of temptation questions the goodness of God" (103).
  • "Becoming better people is the process of reflecting with increasing clarity and fidelity the very face of God. God’s will for our lives is that we be restored to mint condition. God’s will for our lives is that we become living proof. Everything we say or do will either illuminate or obscure the character of God. Sanctification is the process of joyfully growing luminous. Through Christ and by the Spirit, we have regained access to God’s presence. And the result is the glorious reclamation of the image of God in man" (153).
To sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend In His Image to anyone wanting to know God more, searching for God's will for her life, or looking for a substantial but not overwhelming discipleship resource. The two-volume set of None Like Him and In His Image would make an excellent graduation gift with lasting impact. Readers already familiar with older classics on God's character will also benefit from Wilkin's clarity and emphasis on application, which is to say, the call to grow more like Christ.

Crossway provided me a complimentary PDF copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Maker God: A Poem {Dallas Arboretum, Spring 2018}

O God,
Maker of makers,
From dust, not word,
You formed Adam.
Your breath vivified him,
And you placed him in the garden
You made for him
Until he fell.

O God,
Maker of makers,
I also am clay;
You are the Potter.
You have made;
I have marred.
You remade
And remake.

O God,
Maker of makers,
I am the bronze;
You are the sculptor.
Heat me,
Hammer me,
Bend, stretch, twist me
Into Your design and desire.

O God,
Maker of makers,
I am the bronze;
You are the Sculptor.
Melt me,
Refine me,
Pour me into the mold You carved out
With nails,
With thorns,
With scourge.
Bring me out
On the other side of the furnace
Remade in the image of Christ.

Approach to Poetry Garden
Poetry Garden

Woman's Garden

O God,
Maker of makers,
I am Your workmanship,
Your poiema.
The heat, the change, the transformation
Evince Your hands upon me,
Art and Artist as close as fingerprints.

Leave me not unfinished;
Imprint me with Your maker's mark.

Photos were taken at the Dallas Arboretum during the special installation Kinetic Art of Lyman Whitaker. His bronze sculptures were not static. They whirled and spun in the breeze, changing with each millisecond. This is the last of the planned Arboretum posts. Thank you for reliving the journey with me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dallas Arboretum, Spring 2018 {Water, Water Everywhere}

North Texas is not currently in a season of drought, so Amore and I were able to enjoy the full delights of an arboretum full of water features and the joy they bring to the ears as well as the eyes. We gazed out over White Rock Lake to the skyline and a mansion that made me think of Tara. These photos won't do the beauty justice, I know, but I pray they refresh and encourage your soul today.

Most importantly, may they draw your heart towards Jesus, who alone gives us living water and satisfies our thirsty souls. Everything else is a leaky cistern compared with Him.  He can refresh our spirits even when our bodies are weary and hurting and our hearts are aching. He can revive our hearts to follow Him fully for one more day. Come to Him and drink freely of His grace and life, dear Crumbles.

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water" (John 4:9-25).

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).

As delightful as all these fountains and streams were, how much more blessed will the river of the water of life in the eternal kingdom of God be:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price (Revelation 22:1-3, 17).

May the Good Shepherd lead you beside waters of rest, beloved. May He restore your soul. May He lead you in paths of righteousness for His name's sake (Psalm 23:2-3). Amen.