Monday, November 29, 2010

Glimpses of Gratitude 15: Family Grace

Thanksgiving came and went quietly in our home this year, but quiet is good right now.  We were grateful to spend time with both sets of parents and two of our sisters.  We have not always enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with family for this holiday and were not certain my stamina would allow it this year, so we by no means took that joy for granted.

Both families kindly, cheerfully, and generously bore the cost of my limitations in order to include me.  My husband and I spent the morning listening to a favorite choral Christmas CD and building the border of a puzzle.  My mother carried my usual share of the cooking as well as her own, and my dad and sister helped with the dishes.  The bulk of the day found us on the sofas at their home, resting and watching a Christmas movie and the requisite Cowboys game.

On Saturday, a sister-in-law drove across Dallas-Fort Worth with my second parents to eat barbecue and drink hot tea.  This time was a special gift, and we thoroughly enjoyed their afternoon at Wits' End with us.  All of them live too far away for me to go to them this year, and we truly appreciate their sacrifice to come to us so that we could both visit with them without strain.

Not every family could or would arrange their holiday plans around the weakest member, but mine did this year, and I am truly grateful.

Furthermore, I thank my God and Father
2036. That both our families are kin not just by blood or by marriage but also in Christ
2037. Roast turkey and all the fixings
2038. Leftovers
2039. Cranberry sauce and toasted walnuts in my oatmeal
2040. Frosty mornings
2041. Quilts to cuddle beneath
2042. Having my husband just a hug away for a whole extra day last week
2043. Laughter with family
2044. Christmas carols
2045. Frosty mornings
2046. Attending church together as a couple
2047. Partaking of the Lord's Supper
2048. Praise music
2049. Breath to sing it
2050. Leaves on the Bradford pear trees finally turning
2051. Seeing "A Gift from Nonni" on a magazine label
2052. Shelter of a warm house
2053. Food in refrigerator and pantry
2054. Adequate employment
2055. God's extravagant generosity toward us
2056. Happy memories

holy experience

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gratitude 14: A Visit from Grace

Grace visited our home, Wits' End, Friday night.

My husband answered the knock at the door, and a women's prayer group swept into the foyer.  For the next hour, they filled our living room with joy, love, and praise and our table with food they had thoughtfully prepared and presented.  These lovely ladies shared songs of praise in Chinese and English.  Their gentle, multilingual prayers enfolded and rested upon us like the wings of the Almighty.  We are still eating and drinking the nourishment they provided.

The most remarkable aspect of the whole evening is that I had never met any of these women before.  One of their number works alongside my husband during the week.  Through him, she came to this blog; through her, the other women came to know of us and the challenging stretch of terrain we've been walking with my chronic illness flare.  Simply because we are part of the same body of Christ and they believe that when one part suffers, the whole body suffers, they brought their prayers to us and poured the love of God into our lives and home for an evening.  They asked for nothing in return except a song at the piano, which I happily was able to provide.

That evening gave me the most profound experience of grace--unmerited, abundant favor--I've had in a long time.  Never have I felt so accepted and loved by a group of new acquaintances.  They may have arrived as strangers, but they left as friends, as sisters.

Yes, grace visited our home Friday night, and the fragrance lingers still.

From my list of God's endless gifts (#1938-1950):
~the ladies of the Friday night prayer group
~the beautiful meals they left us
~returning appetite to enjoy them
~the body of Christ in action
~antibiotics combating another sinus infection
~sleeping through the night
~a gray, blustery fall day
~husband using days off for home repair and medical appointments
~Ebony thumping his tail in his sleep, dreaming happy dreams of squirrel chasing and bacon?
~watching the  caterpillar (monarch? swallowtail?) chewing on parsley leaves
~fragrant blush-pink rose from the garden
~turning the heat on for the first time this season
~opportunity for Americans to give thanks collectively this week for God's boundless gifts, the sacrifices of this country's first English settlers, and the freedom to worship openly

This may be my only post this week, due to the holiday.  May God bless you with a heart overflowing with gratitude, wherever you may be.

Give thanks in all circumstances; 
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thess. 5:18, NIV)

holy experience

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Gentleness of the Risen Christ

In John's account of the Resurrection, Jesus rises by stealth, under cover of darkness, in the interstitial silence between sentences.

This risen Christ appears not in majestic, light-enrobed, angelic-chorused splendor to taunt and terrify His enemies, but in homely humility to meet tender, personal needs among His friends.

To Mary Magdalene, paralyzed with lonely grief, He shows Himself alive and speaks her name.

To the Jew-fearing disciples behind locked doors, He breathes out peace and the Holy Spirit.

To Thomas in stubborn unbelief, He offers wounds in hands and side, reason to trust again.

To night-wearied fishermen, He gives a haul and a hot meal.

To sheepish, ashamed Peter, He extends another chance, a call, a commission.

Whatever your need, your wound, your grief, your failure today, the still-living Christ is able to meet you there.  May He show Himself to you and give you fresh hope.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 
In his great mercy 
he has given us new birth 
into a living hope 
 through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3, NIV

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reflections on Love

by a disciple Jesus loves

Love brings a cross.
Falling into the ground to die,
Washing the feet of one who will deny Him,
Embracing one who will betray Him with a kiss,
Laying down His life,
Leaving the beloved to suffer for a time.
Love brings a cross.

Love brings resurrection.
Bringing forth much fruit,
Cleansing and holiness,
Abiding in the Father’s love,
Entrusting the beloved to the better Comforter,
Returning again to receive us to Himself.
Love brings resurrection.

Love calls the beloved to follow:
The shadow of the cross,
The glory of the resurrection.
“Love one another as I have loved you.
Abide in My love.”

Monday, November 15, 2010

Gratitude 13: Hope

Hope is a gift:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

Hope is a choice:
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming (1 Peter 1:13).

Hope does not depend on the seen:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (Romans 8:22-25). 

Hope depends on God's Word:
I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits,
   and in his word I put my hope (Psalm 130:5). 

Hope depends on God's character:
Israel, put your hope in the LORD,
   for with the LORD is unfailing love
   and with him is full redemption (Psalm 130:7).

Today I thank You, Lord. . .
~that You are good and Your steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:1)
~for Your presence in a difficult, uncomfortable week
~for my husband's support and willingness to adjust his plans to care for me
~for my mom's availability and willingness to give a day to me when I needed help and her company
~for my dad's voice on the phone
~for fancy tea from my sister
~two sets of family who love me and haven't yet voted me off the island
~for my husband's family's generations of Christian heritage
~for good days and bad days
~for Christmas presents on the porch
~for Ebony's faithful "fuzz therapy," health, and good cheer
~for caterpillars (swallowtail? though we only saw adult monarchs) left behind in the parsley as the monarch migration fades
~this stunning post reminding me "we are morning people"
(Gratitude list # 1841-1853)

holy experience

Friday, November 12, 2010

No Wine

    On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there,  and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
    "Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
   Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
   Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
   Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
   They did so,  and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside  and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
  What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him (John 2:1-11).

Communion elements from a family wedding

We have no wine today.
Our resources, our plans, our provisions are inadequate
For the thirsty throngs about us.

Here we are,
Empty, stony jars of want.
Fill us;
Change us;
Pour in, pour out Your joy through us
As a testimony of Your glory.

Creator of the fruit of the vine,
We have no wine;
We wait for Yours.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Love Never Lets Go

“Thank GOD!  He deserves your thanks.  His love never quits” 

 (Ps 136:1, The Message).


            His love never quits.  It never lets go, never lets down, never lets up.
            His love never lets go of His children.  We are sustained by His everlasting arms.  The most furious weapons in the Destroyer’s arsenal are powerless to penetrate the grip of our Shepherd, the grasp of the Father.  Nothing can come between us and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  No one can run so far that she is beyond the reach of His grace.
            His love never lets us down.  The most faithful friend, the dearest lover, all fall short of the love we need.  Even righteous men stumble and fall.  The frailty of the flesh binds the arms of all who love us in the end.  Even father and mother may abandon us when the world turns hostile, but there’s always a light on in the window of the Father’s house to welcome us Home.
            His love never lets up.  He is not a tame lion, but relentlessly propels us along the path He prepares for us.  Knowing we would easily content ourselves with playing in the foothills of holiness, He works all things together to disenchant the status quo and impel us on our pilgrimage to the heights.  He will not rest until His inexhaustible love has exhausted itself, has made us like Jesus and given us the blessings of Him who overcame.
            His love never lets go, never lets down, never lets up.
            “Thank GOD!  He deserves your thanks.  His love never quits.”

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gratitude 12: Transforming Grace

Scene 1, ca. 1976 - Mother brings Girl to Mother's Day Out.  Girl sees unfamiliar grown-up in classroom.  Grown-up wears white coat and stethoscope and carries sphygmomanometer.  Convinced something painful is about to happen, Girl panics, cries, digs in her heels, and refuses to walk through the door.

Scene 2, ca. 1977 - Overworked pediatric nurse chases overwrought Girl through the office.  Girl needs a blood test but must be caught and restrained first.

Scene 3, 2001 - Girl has learned that running away from medical staff generates more embarrassment than success.  Girl endures multiple lab technicians' painful attempts to convince Girl's veins of the same thing.  Girl and Patient Husband nearly faint in the process.

Scene 4, 2003 - Girl learns successfully to administer self-injected lupus medication every week.

Scene 5, 2007 - Girl smiles at lab techs, greets them by name, and inquires about their families while studiously looking out window at sky during medical tests every 8 to 12 weeks.

Scene 6, 2010 - Girl leaves family support behind in waiting room, walks willingly toward waiting IV and CT scanner, and actually seeks and finds grace to relax as instructed during test.  Girl squirms and fidgets but does not faint during the subsequent half hour of sitting in waiting room with port in arm.

Lupus has changed my family's life in many ways, some good and some bad.  One surprising, practical, helpful area of growth has been in my attitude towards needles and being stuck with them.  I never thought to ask God to heal my phobia of needles and certainly never expected it or perhaps even wanted it, but God knew I needed it and gave it anyway.

We all have areas, visible or invisible, where we feel stuck in old patterns and despair of seeing real change.  In recent months I have felt discouraged in the amount of ground apparently lost in my battle for trust and against anxiety.

This medical example may seem a minor issue and not very spiritually significant, but the transformation is real, substantial, and only attributable to God's grace.  He is just as willing and able to change me in the "big" ways, too, but sometimes I need to take the long view to recognize that the desires of my heart are coming to pass.  Even then, some growth may be too slow for anyone but my Father to perceive yet.

If any of you, kind readers, is in that frustrated, discouraged, Romans 7 place today, please know I am praying for you.  I pray that the Lord will enlarge your perspective and encourage you with a glimpse of the slow but real work He is doing in your life.  If He is yours and you are His, He will not leave you as you are; He will not rest until you look like Jesus.  May you find grace to trust Him, His processes, and His timing, and to obey today in the next thing before you.

Today, I return thanks to God for His many and varied gifts:
~His transforming work in my life in so many ways
~hope for the rest
~"I AM the LORD who sanctifies"
~His patience with me and wisdom in how to accomplish His ends
~the Lord's ability to use my mistakes and weaknesses for good
~gentle, friendly nurses and lab technicians
~test results ruling out all lung issues except the already known asthma
~"feet for the path I'm on"
~the strongest, most comfortable days this week since June
~two young friends bringing us supper and sharing their time and laughter
~autumn rain
~autumn sunshine
~a view of scarlet leaves through my window
~getting out the winter clothes
~steaming Italian food on a chilly night
~good bread
~breakfast for supper
~pumpkin scone on a Saturday morning
~quiet Sabbath rest
(Gratitude list #1721-1739)

holy experience

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Not So Happy Campers (Part 2)

Allen reluctantly pulled out of the park and turned the car toward Georgetown, where we planned to break the drive at his uncle and aunt’s house.  We knew they would have supper for us, but all that walking and shivering had worked up an appetite, so we stopped earlier at a small-town pizza place to refuel.  It wasn’t quite 5 pm, so the buffet was empty and the staff light, but we were too tired to care.  After all, Sunday evenings during football season in rural Texas are probably not prime hours for dining out.

We hit the road again after a welcome hot meal and arrived at Uncle Alvin’s before dark.  No one was home, but we knew where to find the key and let ourselves in.  A note lay on the kitchen table saying he and Aunt Joanna had gone to a program at church and would see us before eight o’clock.  That freed us to attend to the next order of business, hot showers.

Clean and pajama-clad, we fixed hot tea and settled in to watch television and try to stay awake until they returned.  We waited, channel-surfed, checked the time, and waited some more.  When they still weren’t home at 8:30, we composed our own apologetic note for the table and went to bed.

The next morning we arose at oh-dark a.m. to pack the car and complete the remaining 200 miles of our journey in time to get Allen to work by 9 a.m.. Yet another gracious note on the kitchen table said our hosts were so sorry they missed us the night before but understood how tired we must have been.  They would make coffee for us and see us off.

The house was still dark and quiet, so we found the coffee and made it ourselves.  Then we loaded the car.  Then we drank the coffee.  Still there were no signs that Uncle Alvin and Aunt Joanna were awake.

We were quickly losing whatever margin we had on the travel timetable.  Allen decided we really, really needed to leave.  I scrawled another guilty note and we departed.

At least we would have the consolation of McDonald’s breakfast on the way out of town, or so we thought.  The signs weren’t lit yet, but the interior was.  If memory serves, we approached the drive-through anyway and called out, “Hello! Are you there?” until it became clear that no one was.  Or perhaps they were laughing at us too hard to reply.

That’s odd.  Even the fast-food employees were running late today?  You know it’s Monday when. . .  At least there was a 24-hour Whataburger nearby.  We obtained breakfast and more coffee there and transitioned to the highway.

I don’t remember whether we listened to music or talked or just silently processed the weekend, but somewhere around Waco my lights finally came on.  When I smacked my palm, hard, against my forehead, Allen said, “What? Did you forget something? It’s ok; they’ll mail it to us later.”

“Um, yes, honey, we forgot something.”

“This must have been the weekend to change the clocks back.”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Not So Happy Campers (Part 1)

For the first year and a half of our marriage, we lived at a frantic pace.  In part, the demands of building a mission support team and preparing to move halfway around the world dictated the rush and busyness.  The rest of it we brought on ourselves with our lists of Things We Must Do Before We Leave America Forever.  (If you know our story, you can hear God laughing about that plan.)

Camping at Lost Maples State Park in the hill country of central Texas found a place on Allen’s list.  “The fall color is amazing,” he said.  “It’s so quiet and peaceful there,” he said.  “This will be a beautiful, romantic vacation weekend together,” I heard.  Accordingly, we booked our campsite for the end of October and begged or borrowed the most basic camping equipment for the trip.

Well, the trees did put on a prettier show than what we had back in Denton.

As to the rest, this trip proved one of those newlywed educational experiences.  The Thais call this “learning by doing,” their classic example being touching a pan on the stove to see if it’s hot.

By way of public service announcement, let’s review some of the lessons of the weekend.

1.   Traveling as a married couple works better if her pink hearing aids are tuned to the same frequency as his blue megaphone.  Case in point:  It never, ever occurred to A. to inform me that “primitive camping” means, “there is absolutely no way for you to brush your teeth or wash your face this weekend.  Even though we packed water, toothbrush, and toothpaste, there’s no environmentally appropriate way to dispose of the rinse water.”  Unless one swallows the toothpaste.  Which I might have done.

Meanwhile, it never, ever, ever entered my mind that otherwise sane adults would not only voluntarily undertake such horrific living conditions but actually pay for the privilege to ask him if there would be some sort of community bathhouse within an hour’s hike. 

2.       From approximately September to May, the wise person prepares for the unexpected when planning outdoor activities in Texas.  There is no excuse for our failure in this department.  We both have lived here long enough to know that camping in autumn means planning for a 50F temperature span on any given day, not to mention rain, hail, and possible tornadoes.

People like us, on the other hand, plan optimistically for a low temperature around 60F.  Instead, the overnight lows were near 40F.

3.       Contrary to popular belief, the wilderness is noisy at night.  Granted, the noises are not man-made, but this city girl finds the grumble of cars in the apartment parking lot and the hum of central heat much more soothing than the sounds coyotes, wildcats, insects the size of helicopters, and possibly wild boar and dragons.

4.       Country dark is darker than city dark.  The Mini Maglite from my purse is not adequate for this.

5.       Country dark + city eyes + mediocre sense of direction + multiple trips to the outhouse for every 12 hours of darkness = remarkably intensified prayer life

When Sunday (and the moderate weather we had expected) finally arrived, we took one more hike through the beautiful trees, ate the last peanut butter sandwiches, baby carrots, and protein bars, packed up the gear and empty water jugs, and trudged wearily out of the park to our car.

Allen may have been disappointed it was over; I was relieved to cross it off the list and wondering if Marks-A-Lot would be too subtle.

To be continued in tomorrow’s post… Oh, yes, there’s more!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Little Nonsense


Lofty humbled,
Humble rich,
Off your pedestal,
Time to switch!

Mourners dancing,
Dancers sad;
Mountains flattened,
Deserts glad.

First to last
And last to first;
Hungry filled,
About to burst!

Princes serving,
Beggars sup;
Top to bottom,
Bottoms up!

Think I’m crazy?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


This morning I read Psalm 126 and wondered at the wild grace of God that restores His people's miserable captivity and sowing of seeds in tears, replacing them not with denial, not with mere healing, but with abundant harvest and shouts of joy.  I think of the friends sowing in tears today and the shouts of joy of the World Series champions on the screen last night, and I wonder.

Then I read in Ezekiel about God's coming judgment on Israel's neighbors.  These powerful countries on top of the world who abused God's people would surely be trodden underfoot.  The wealthy metropolis of Tyre would become a rock scraped bare by the sea.  I see the consequences of our actions and our pride, and I wonder.

My mind, sluggish and distracted today, loops round and round the phrases of Jeremiah 9:23-24, trying to learn them one word at a time:  no boasting in wisdom, nor in might, nor in riches, but only in knowing God and how He acts on earth.  The only ground of true boasting is not an acquisition or an accomplishment, but a gift?  I wonder.

Ann Voskamp writes about blogging in the Upside Down Kingdom, and I wonder if I am, or if I am just doing this for comments and page views, to convince myself of my own importance.

All these witnesses agree that God's kingdom and our earthly kingdom are oriented in different directions, and one of them is upside down.  I realize this, and I wonder: do I experience that culture shock when I open my Bible, or have I homogenized it with my daily life, though they ought to be as separate as milk and the cream floating on top?  When I close the Book and open the computer, do I even recognize the smell of mothballs and the feel of coats on my skin as I trade Narnia for the wardrobe in the spare room?

And if the radical upside-down nature of life doesn't shock me that way, why on earth not?  I wonder.

holy experience

Monday, November 1, 2010

Gratitude 11: Waiting

This month I realized I had been waiting a long while for delivery of a particular online order.  Checking the tracking information, I discovered the package had been marked "out for delivery" eight days prior.  Traffic here can be bad, but 20 miles in eight days?  That would be traffic congestion worthy of the evening news.

The to-do list suddenly expands:
Writing e-mail to customer service...
Waiting for their response... 
Responding to their response...
Waiting for receipt of the new and diminished reshipment of the order, because one item has become unavailable since the original shipment...

In the end, my hopes for this shopping experience were only partially satisfied and partially disappointed.

We have done a lot of waiting these last few months, waiting for medical appointments, lab results, medication results, feeling better, answers, guidance... The same pattern occurs consistently:  some desires are satisfied, and some are disappointed.  You have no doubt experienced the same in your waiting for job interviews, doctors' calls, a spouse, a baby, a home, and all the other things "out there" we need or want.

Today in my memory review and reading in Isaiah the recurring theme was to wait for LORD.  Not wait for LORD to _____ [do what I want, meet my needs, fix this problem], but simply for Him.  While I don't pretend to understand all that means, it seems to communicate in part that, no matter the outcome of my lesser hopes and desires, He will show Himself.  He will be "a God merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin," and all the other unchanging qualities He ascribes to Himself in the Bible (Exodus 34:6-7).

Waiting for Him will not disappoint me.  He will not disappoint me.  He may disappoint my immediate wishes, and His "good" may not probably won't look like my version of "good," but it will be all right.  Better, even, though that may be hard to accept in the short term.  The "I AM" will show Himself.

"I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him."
(Isaiah 8:17)

O LORD, be gracious to us; we wait for you.
   Be our arm every morning,
   our salvation in the time of trouble.
(Isaiah 33:2)

~hearing "Thy Word" on the radio and remembering in an instant the sign language we learned for church choir tour (more than 20 years ago) and the people who learned it with me
~Ebony getting jealous of my attention to the butterflies and charging across the yard to chase them off (with limited success)
~learning that a dozen butterflies taking flight at the same moment sound like dry leaves rustling
~beautiful morning skyscapes this last week

~"one of these things is not like the others" among the butterflies

~positive news from in-office tests Thursday
~no difficulties with IV or contrast dye for Friday's medical test
~opportunity for faith to grow in the waiting for the Lord in remaining results
~husband's grin, anticipating reactions at the office to his very scary "Tony Romo in a sling" costume
~access to good medical care and ability to pay for it
~a new Jan Karon book for delight and diversion
~the first fleece jacket and fuzzy socks weather of the season
~four generations of my family represented at my nephews' soccer game this weekend
~digital photography to see there when I can't be there
(Gratitude journal #1600-1613)

holy experience