Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Battle Prayers

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:23-26, ESV).

It doesn't matter how long intercessory prayer takes its place in my morning routine. Spiritual disciplines are never really mastered but always either growing or decaying. Sometimes joy and the lightness of knowing I'm cooperating with God fills my prayers for others; at other times, it's all battle, and I don't always fight the good fight.

I expect this struggle is not exceptional but common, perhaps even normative, in the Christian life. David McIntyre in The Hidden Life of Prayer describes "the arduousness of prayer" better than I can:
the prince of the power of the air seems to bend all the force of his attack against the spirit of prayer. If he should prove victorious there, he has won the day. Sometimes we are conscious of a satanic impulse directed immediately against the life of prayer in our souls; sometimes we are led into "dry" and wilderness-experiences, and the face of God grows dark above us; sometimes, when we strive most earnestly to bring every thought and imagination under obedience to Christ, we seem to be given over to disorder and unrest; sometimes the inbred slothfulness of our nature lends itself to the evil one as an instrument by which he may turn our minds back from the exercise of prayer. Because of all these things, therefore, we must be diligent and resolved, watching as a sentry who remembers that the lives of men are lying at the hazard of his wakefulness, resourcefulness, and courage (Kindle location 56).

Do you know that feeling, when "all you can do is pray," and prayer is the hardest thing to do? And then when you finally slash your way through the obstacles, wielding "the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God" (Eph. 6:17), it seems the harder you pray, the worse a situation becomes?

At such times I must remember that help for my loved ones lies not in my prayers but in the One to whom I pray. I must gratefully remember the Spirit who interprets my feeble groanings in accordance with the Father's will. I must remember that the opposition is real and intentional, and that the battle intensifies in proportion to the importance of the purpose.  I must remember to pray even about my prayers and to lean into the Spirit of prayer to lead and strengthen.

Lord, teach us to pray. Grant us courage to put on Your whole armor to stand firm against the devil's schemes. Strengthen us with Your might to keep wrestling "against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." In Your great mercy, grant that we would "be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm" (Eph. 6:10-20). We lift these heart-groanings to You in the name of Jesus, our Master and Savior. Amen.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Best-Laid Plans: Part Three

On previous episodes of Best-Laid Plans...
Part One
Part Two

Day 3

Once again, we began with yogurt for me and the full breakfast buffet for Allen. (I might be just a tiny bit obsessed with food right now. Can you tell?) Swallowing had definitely improved with the new and increased medications, but I didn't want to push things. After a brief quiet time, Allen suggested we explore a park Google Maps had found nearby.

The skies had cleared, the air remained cool, and it was a beautiful day to walk in a park that felt far removed from suburban Fort Worth. Ordinarily, we never plan outdoor activities for our anniversary, since it's predictably 100F in the shade in late August. Change in plans #5 was such a pleasant one!

When I was walked out, we returned to the hotel to pack, clean ourselves up, and check out. By this time, I had reached my limit on sweet, soft foods. This does not often happen. Happily, we found some cheddar broccoli soup for me and a hearty salad for Allen for lunch. The thick, salty soup tasted as good as Thanksgiving dinner to me, and the broccoli was in such tiny, tender pieces that I could swallow it easily. Thank You, Lord, for the idea and the provision.

Day 3 of our trip was my grandmother's 90th birthday. She wanted family to come by only a few at a time so we could actually converse, and she allowed Allen and me to share her birthday afternoon with cupcakes and coffee.

I had prayed about this time, since Nonni didn't know about our week's adventures and my swallowing issues. It felt like my swallowing had improved enough with the dietary and medication changes that I could manage a moist cupcake if I took things slowly and stopped at the first sign of trouble. Allen agreed, so we returned to the mall, where a cupcake bakery offered at least a dozen flavors each day. After much discussion, we made our selections, bought coffees, and drove to my grandmother's house.

Happily, this part of the day went just as planned and hoped. All three of us enjoyed the visit, and the cupcakes went down smoothly.

We stopped at our local pharmacy on the way home, only to find that the prescription I needed in preparation for Friday's scopes had not been filled. Calling the doctor, I discovered it had not been called in. That would be change in plans #6. Allen agreed to drive to the medical office at lunch the next day and bring the medicine home to me so I'd have it in time. (See? I told you he was a blessing.)

We returned to Wits' End late in the afternoon, weary and glad to be under our own roof again. The road trip was not what we'd planned, but it actually went better than the previous two I'd been involved with.

With much gratitude, we ended the day with burgers from our favorite local place. Taking things slow, with tiny bites and long chewing, I was able to finish a child's burger. This was to be my last solid food until after the procedures Friday, so it seemed worth attempting a real meal.

Day 5

The procedures went smoothly and revealed a few minor issues. The doctor stood by his original statement that nothing about my story sounds like esophageal disease to him. His visual inspection showed no esophageal reason for swallowing difficulty or chest pain.

The specific possibility raised by my lupus doctor would not have been apparent on this test in any case. It is our option whether to request another test for that condition, but the issue is not treatable, so the GI doctor advised that we weigh the cost and discomfort of the test against the psychological benefit of knowing whether or not the possible diagnosis is an actuality. We have not decided yet and will wait at least until the biopsy results return in the next week or so.

Day 6

Remember that pesky car key? Yes, it was still firmly lodged in the ignition.

My appetite still had not returned to normal by Saturday night, but we planned a second attempt at an anniversary date anyhow. While I gussied up, Allen went to the next town north of ours for an appointment.

Around the time I was expecting a text from him that he was on the way home, my phone rang from a number unknown to me. It was Allen. He had locked that key in the car with his phone. The set of keys in his pocket was the set without the spare car key. He had called roadside assistance for a locksmith, but it would be 45 minutes before his arrival. (We are a one-car household, so for me to drive the extra key to him was not an option.)

An hour passed. An hour and a half. I was on the phone with my parents trying to figure out what to do next when the garage door opened and the Ebony alarm went off. It was Allen, brought home by a friend to get the spare key so he could return, unlock the car, and drive home. By this time it was 7:45.

Later, he related to me that he had called roadside assistance back on his friend's phone, only to be reassured that the locksmith was at the car right then. "Um, no. No locksmith here." As it happened, the locksmith had arrived in the area early but been unable to find the exact location. He called Allen's phone for additional details 4 times, but he had received the number for Allen's own cell phone, which was locked in the car, instead of for the borrowed phone, which was in his hand.

Change of plans #7 meant my salmon and his steak were carried out to our own table at home and a streaming video on the television.

Tomorrow the car goes to the dealership for key extraction and ignition repair.

That is, unless there's a change of plans.

P.S. Today

When Allen took the car in, the mechanic "pulled a Fonzie," in Allen's words, by pounding the steering column with his fist three times and pulling the key out. That key had stuck because the grooves were worn down. Eventually, the whole cylinder will need replacement because the shavings worn off the old key remain inside, but for today a new key proved adequate. In another unexpected grace, the mechanic only billed us for the key.

Much of my public gratitude for the week appeared in Friday's "letter to God" post, but there's always more reason to give thanks, isn't there?

Thank You, Lord,
that Your grace, mercy, and love never change with our changing circumstances;
that You gave us senses of humor to cope with unpleasant changes;
that we spent our anniversary together;
that You gave me a husband who values that more than his own agenda;

for that beautiful park, so unlike our own, and strength to walk together;
for Nonni's birthday and sharing it with her;
for cupcakes, kids' meals, and carry-out;
for the joy of coming home to one's own bed;
for initially positive news from Friday's tests;
for getting it done and over with;
for Your presence with me;
for a nurse able to start the IV smoothly;
for better swallowing yesterday and today;

for plans made,
for plans changed,
for a new week and fresh start.

For all this and more, I thank You, Lord (#7134-7149).

I Live in An Antbed

Best-Laid Plans: Part Two

~Part One of our anniversary road trip week~

Day 2

Happy anniversary to us! After 13 years, even our cards have begun to look alike, at least in the butterfly motif. Allen's choice was by far the fancier.

The hotel breakfast surprised us with the abundant variety, which Allen enjoyed while I stuck with yogurt and oatmeal, praying neither would stick. After breakfast, we returned to the room, hot beverages in hand, for our Bible reading. The dam broke for me while I journaled. This was not how I'd hoped to spend our anniversary, one of the two days a year we actually dress up for dinner out. Disappointment plus fear that the GI doc's initial impression was wrong and something had gone seriously awry in my esophagus made my eyes overflow.

Allen said it didn't matter as long as we spent the day together. Isn't he a blessing? He hadn't really wanted to dress up anyway. :)

I dried my eyes and we did our physical therapy exercises. It was raining, praise the Lord, so we couldn't walk outside as is our custom. Instead we went to the shopping mall for lunch and a stroll. It was unseasonably, wonderfully cool outside and in for Texas in August.

Wikipedia said these dots on the window were raindrops. It was on the Internet, so it must be true, right? :)

Her lunch, his lunch
After lunch, Allen suggested that we visit the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit (on display in Fort Worth for the rest of the year). I was wanting to see it; he could take it or leave it. His anniversary gift to me was this lovely afternoon of distraction, in the company of documents and artifacts dating to the apostolic era and before.

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls are the oldest known manuscripts of Bible texts. Buried in caves in Qumran for nearly 2,000 years, they were discovered accidentally by a Bedouin shepherd in the mid-20th century. He didn't know their importance, but they soon reached the hands of those who did. The scrolls bear tremendous importance for Old Testament textual studies. Every book of the Hebrew Bible except Esther is represented among them, and the text proves consistent with the medieval manuscripts which had previously been the oldest known. That the words of Scripture were copied reliably during that thousand-year gap in our manuscript evidence only increases our trust that the textual basis of our present Bible is accurate. The passage of time does not always necessitate corruption of content.

By the end of the exhibit, our feet and backs were sore and our brains full, but it was an afternoon well-spent. No photos were allowed in the exhibit hall, but Allen managed this phone camera self-portrait at the exit:
Did you know the Wailing Wall was in Fort Worth?

We stopped at Smoothie King afterward, because I was actually hungry for the first time in 4 days. Note to self: the Peanut Butter Power smoothie in the chocolate base is like drinking a Reese's peanut butter cup. It was as perfectly satisfying as non-solid food could be. Back at the hotel, we rested and enjoyed more cerebral, highbrow cable television programming (Yukon Gold Rush). Can you guess who had control of the remote? I'm not sure if it was meant to be funny, but we laughed a lot.

Our 13th anniversary supper consisted of Chick-Fil-A for Allen and frozen yogurt for both of us. My black dress and pearls are back in the closet until my next birthday. (Change in plans #4)

Best-Laid Plans: Part One

The mind of man plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps.
Proverbs 16:9, NASB

Short version:

Last week we took a brief anniversary road trip. For most of the trip, I couldn't swallow solid food comfortably. For all of the trip, our car key remained stuck in the ignition. The week concluded with upper and lower GI scopes for me and generally bore very little resemblance to the vacation in our imaginations. That said, God cared for us well, and we spent our anniversary together. We are grateful.

The End.


Just so we're clear, today I'm writing this down for myself as much as anyone. It was a roller coaster of a week, and writing will help me come to terms with it. It won't hurt my feelings if you stop reading now. :)

Last week Allen spent the three personal days accrued so far at his new job. His idea was that we take a mini-vacation for our anniversary. Even though we were only headed an hour and a half away to the other side of the Metroplex, I had some anxiety about my first overnight trip in almost 2 years.

Nonetheless, we made the plans and arranged a visit to my grandmother's house on the third afternoon, which happened to be her 90th birthday. By God's grace, I got the packing done without a spike in pain levels. We made Ebony's kennel reservations and took him for a day of daycare the previous week to ease him into the new environment. He hadn't had an overnight trip in 2 years, either.

Day 1

We woke early on day 1. At breakfast, it concerned me that my tiny prednisone pills weren't going down smoothly. In late spring, I'd begun having trouble with the biggest pills in my case, but I attributed that to the dry mouth another medication has caused. Two days prior to our departure, one of my calcium pills lodged uncomfortably in my esophagus for the course of an evening. Never had I had a hint of difficulty swallowing these smallest pills until today.

Only 6 days previously I had met with a gastroenterologist for the consultation recommended by my new lupus doctor. At that time Dr. T, the GI specialist, said (and I quote), "Nothing about your story says esophageal pain to me. Everything about what you're telling me points to musculoskeletal pain or maybe nerve ending pain." Despite that conviction, he recommended an upper and lower scope of the digestive tract because of medication side effect risks and family history. It didn't seem urgent, so Allen and I consulted and chose the next available date when he had no medical or work conflicts: September 7.

Now suddenly that seemed a long way off. While Allen packed the car, I called the doctor to change the appointment to the next available, which was this past Friday. A message was also taken down for the nurse about my symptoms, to see what could be done in the mean time. If you're counting, that would be change in plans #1.

Swallowing lots of water in an attempt to wash down the medication, I finalized preparations to leave the house. We double-checked locks and lights and headed on our way. Ebony was not happy about being delivered to the kennel, but he handled himself better than he had in the past. Deep breath. We're really doing this!

A dramatic increase in the number of trees marked our drive west. This part of Dallas-Fort Worth had had a much wetter summer than our town. So much green for August!

We first stopped at Allen's sister's house to see her family, including her Army son on leave from Afghanistan, and their parents, who were visiting. When we pulled into her driveway and parked, we discovered change in plans #2: a key that refused to budge from the ignition.

Lunch was not yet ready, so Allen and his dad worked on the key to no avail while I brought his mom and sister up to speed on my latest medical adventures. After lunch, which was delicious even though I was not able to eat very much, Allen left to pursue some leads on mechanics while I fielded phone calls from the doctor and listened to our nephew's tales of dropping body bags full of water bottles from a helicopter to resupply troops in remote locations.

Good news: one of the mechanics knew exactly what the problem was and had just fixed the same issue on another car. Bad news: the only employee with the certification to handle the electrical part of the repair was not in that day.

Good news: the doctor quadrupled my reflux medication, which to this point had only been to prevent side effects from another medication, and called in a prescription for "grasshopper slurry" to the pharmacy adjacent to our hotel. This liquid would cool and numb my esophagus so I'd at least be more comfortable. Bad news: that super-convenient pharmacy lacked one ingredient in the prescription and could order it for preparation the next afternoon. Good news: the excellent pharmacy assistant offered to call other local pharmacies until she found one with all the ingredients on hand. (Change in plans #3)

When our family visit concluded, we drove a while longer to our destination hotel to check in, unpack, and wait for the pharmacy to notify us that the prescription was ready. [Cue Final Jeopardy music.] They actually completed the order ahead of schedule, and not a moment too soon by my reckoning. This turned out to be a family-owned pharmacy more than 50 years old. I liked the vintage signs, but perhaps that was just my relief to have help at hand.

The "magic mouthwash" really did help, but swallowing solid food was still problematic enough that I stuck to mashed potatoes and the softest vegetables at supper and still couldn't clean my plate.

One of the GI problems my rheumatologist is considering as a possible new explanation for my chest pain involves changes to the muscles of the lower esophagus. Often this particular ailment goes undiagnosed until a patient appears at the emergency room with food lodged in the esophagus. I did not want this to happen and decided to stick with smoothies, yogurt, and only the absolutely essential medications until we returned home.

We spent the evening relaxing in front of horizon-expanding television like Call of the Wildman, which at any rate got us laughing after a day full of the unexpected.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Papa God...

Papa God, Abba Father,

How I praise You that You are the "blessed controller of all circumstances." I praise You for the wonderful work You have done in designing and making our bodies. I praise You for Your presence, peace, and promises to Your children. I praise You for the awaiting incomparable glory and our new ageless, deathless bodies yet to come, perhaps even soon. Come, Lord Jesus!

Lord, to You all hearts are open, all desires known, and from You no secrets are hidden. It's no use trying to pull the wool over Your eyes. You see my perplexity and anxiety about the GI diagnostics this afternoon (and the IV preceding them). You made Your will clear that this is the next step and that it needs to happen sooner rather than later, but the suddenness of the new symptoms and the gamut of possible explanations bowled me over. But You know that already. You saw the tears on my Bible Tuesday morning.

Thank You for making a level path for us to change these tests from next month to today. Thank You for the medication help over the last week and the kind professionals who helped provide it. Thank You for nourishing foods that tasted good and went down well. And the chocolate cupcake with my Nonni for her birthday, too.

Thank You for the abundant ways You've ministered mercy to me this week:
for the unseasonable, astonishingly mild weather,
for the gorgeous sunrise we shared yesterday morning,
for the hummingbird which flew right up to the glass last evening, 6 inches away from me and nose to beak with only the glass between,
for hugs from family,
for my patient husband, so willing to be inconvenienced to take care of me,
for sleeping through the night, only waking once,
for hands held,
for a call from my Nonni this morning to scold us from the brownies we had delivered,
for a call from my youngest nephews to say their Bible memory verses to me,
for that last sweet cup of tea before the cut-off time for liquids today,
for my parents and Allen driving me and keeping me company,
for perfectly timed encouragement from my reading yesterday.
For all these and more, I thank You.

Here I present this body, Your body, one more time. It's Yours to do with as You please. You tell us to ask, though, so I'm asking: if You would, let these procedures go well and smoothly. Show the doctor the reason for the trouble, and please let it be one of the treatable options. Yet not my will, but Yours be done. (Oh, and would You mind letting the IV go smoothly this time?)

More importantly, though, make me brave to trust You with the courage of Christ Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Grant Your peace and a strong assurance of Your presence with my family and me. Prepare us for whatever You have prepared for us this day. Be glorified in us, no matter what, and use this to further Your work in Dr. T's life, whatever that entails.

Thank You, Lord. Thank You for the prayers of Your people on this little tinuviel bird's behalf. Thank You most of all for my High Priest and the Spirit interceding according to Your will. It's because of that Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus, that I can make bold to present these requests to You, trusting that You will cleanse and hear and answer in the best possible way what is asked in His name.


Update: The tests went well. We have a wait for results, but the initial news is good. Thank you for all your prayers. linking up with my friends Bonnie and Anne:
I Live in An Antbed

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

13 Years of His Faithfulness

The hymn which recurred throughout our nascent friendship, courtship, and engagement was Thomas Chisholm's "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." We sang much in our wedding and made the guests sing for their supper cake, so of course we included what felt like "our" hymn. {If you're reading by email, you may wish to click over to the blog to view the video.}

In our Indian dress for a bridal shower (On a good day, I could wrap my sari in 15 minutes; if I really hurried, 45.)

Happy anniversary, my love!
Thanking God today for my prince of a husband (#7140)
Anniversary blessings also to dear friend Kate, with whom I am delighted to share the celebration. 
Perhaps we could join together in prayers for marriages today?
The books which have helped me grow the most as a wife (in addition to the Bible) are these:
  • The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason: This poetic meditation on the essence of marriage moved me to worship. I know of no other similar book. It is not, however, a book of practical advice.
  • What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, by Paul David Tripp: This book pulls no punches in calling the reader to confess and repent for his or her own contribution to marital difficulties. Tripp emphasizes the purpose of marriage as sanctification rather than self-gratification and makes much our sin and more of God's grace.
  • Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs, by Emerson Eggerichs: This book opened my eyes to key communication differences between men and women (e.g., that I was treating Allen disrespectfully without even knowing it and misinterpreting his words and actions to his detriment).
What about you? Do you have a favorite marriage resource or tip? If you are not married, I would appreciate any insights you've gained from observing married couples.
I Live in An Antbed

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Surprised by Fellowship

gratuitous sunrise photo :)

My follow-up appointment with my new rheumatologist yielded plenty of new action items to keep me out of trouble, or at least busy, until I see her again next month. Some were simple, immediate medication changes. One more I completed a week later. The next was an extra dental cleaning required because of medication side effects. Long-time crumbles know my feelings about dental appointments. Sigh.

A cancellation opened last Tuesday. I may have worked myself into a tizzy before grabbing my calm-myself-down worship music CD and driving across town. After the requisite wait in the quiet, tapestried lobby silently reviewing my memory verses, an unfamiliar woman called me back. My normal hygienist had taken time off, and Lena would be scraping and scouring my teeth this time.

Women's Olympic water polo teams splashed, threw, and paddled on the screen above me. Lena took my blood pressure and asked the usual preliminary questions, and I handed her my updated medication list for the file. As she picked away at the inside of my mouth like a miner, she surprised me with a question in response to the list: "So--how long have you had lupus? I mean, if you don't mind talking about it. If you do, that's okay. We don't have to discuss it."

I didn't mind and told her the significant problems began 12 years ago, with the actual diagnosis a decade back.

One of her loved ones has lupus and has recently had a stroke. Trouble upon trouble. Lena was worried about her relative. Physically, visibly, she had recovered very well, but her personality was "just gone" and she wouldn't leave the house.

Such a hard thing, I commiserated. Life changes forever for the whole family when one member has a stroke. To my limited understanding, radical personality changes from the neurological damage seem entirely feasible, and depression is a common part of the grief response to both acute health trauma and chronic illness.

She pressed on, articulating her concerns. She felt her loved one had given up the emotional fight to press on in recovery.

"What is her belief system?" I asked, asking God silently for wisdom at the same time. "Is she a person of faith?"

Lena replied she was a Christian; they both were. I told her about this blog and how it came to be and offered to give her the link if she thought it might be of any help. That opened the way for discussion of coping mechanisms and specifically how we "we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

She shared how she turns her back on "useless and negative thoughts" when her mind defaults to those. I shared an idea first learned (I think) from Elisabeth Elliot, to the effect that we can't control our emotions, but we can to an extent control our thoughts, which in turn alter our emotions. Keeping a gratitude journal, a list of God's blessings, greatly helps me with this, I told her. It doesn't fix the circumstances, but it helps me in them.

She loved that thought, so I went on to tell her about a woman who wrote a book about how gratitude--no, how the specifically Christian practice of gratitude to God--changed her life. This woman, Ann Voskamp, experienced some terribly traumatic events in her childhood that shaped her life from that point on, so that she eventually became an agoraphobic. One day, a friend dared her to count gifts, and she started counting the ways God loves her. That one discipline, a Christian's choice to thank God intentionally and daily for His good gifts, became the means God used to set her free and transform her life.

My new friend loved that idea, so I wrote the title, One Thousand Gifts, on a card for her. She continued her scraping and polishing, checking often to see if she was hurting my sensitive places. After the dentist signed off on the appointment, Lena walked me out and hugged me, saying how excited she was to read Ann's story.

When I left, all I could do was sit in the car with head bowed and hands upheld, my heart singing glory to God. I had so dreaded this unplanned extra dental appointment, to the point I considered temporarily disregarding the doctor's advice and waiting until my November cleaning to change things to every three months.

Once again, God was faithful in my faithlessness and rebellion. Whether my teeth needed the attention or not, He had arranged this appointment between two sisters in Christ who didn't know each other yet. Allen and I talk about medical appointments as my assignment from God right now and medical staff as my mission field, but sometimes I forget or don't really believe it's true. Days like that one remind me that such time is not wasted but can indeed be part of the answer to "Thy kingdom come."

Of course, that exhilaration did not last. At least one day since then has been passed with my thoughts taking me captive, rather than the other way around. As is so often the case, the very area of my confession on Tuesday came under fire on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. We can be most vulnerable on the heels of a victory, when we think we stand and forget to take heed lest we fall.

Today is another appointment-assignment with a new doctor and diagnostics sure to follow. The temptation to anxiety lurks once again, so returning thanks and praise to God must captivate my thoughts:

He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever!
celebrating my mother's birthday with her yesterday
providential, unexpected fellowship with the substitute dental hygienist
no cavities
good news from one lab test
lunch with a new friend from the first Bible study of this year
talk of surrender and weights lifted
photo posts and greetings from a crumble friend's travels
an unexpected postcard of an unexpected place from another crumble
listening again to an old favorite, Hinds' Feet on High Places
thoughts about books exchanged with a friend's daughter
joy of good news of provision from a dear friend's family needs
the way one answered prayer revives hope for all the rest of the long waiting
new sun- and mosquito-protective shirts for walking Eb in the early mornings
a new, healthy recipe Allen and I both liked
a few mornings which almost felt cool to us
a splendid sunrise
a little boy wearing a blankie superhero cape around his shoulders to help his mom walk their dog
first successful (i.e., no increased pain) movie date in months
many celebrations still ahead this month
waiting almost over for consult with new doctor this week for GI diagnostics
the Lord's mercies, new every morning
Great is Thy faithfulness!
this week's text to learn by heart:
"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves."
Eph. 1:4-6

(still counting God's gracious gifts, #7073-7096)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Five-Minute Friday: Connect

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community...


They call it the Web, a complex, invisible network of computers and databases. It's more than that, however. Complex and invisible it may be, but it connects people: real people with real prayer requests; flesh-and-blood people who send cards, text messages, and tokens of remembrance.

The greatest blessing of two years of blogging for me has been the people scattered around this World Wide Web, its threads connecting me to others in the sisterhood of chronic illness, another with a passion for prayer and the revival of God's church, another who is a delight and surprise in how alike we think and respond to life, another who is refreshingly different in her energy and boldness, others who share (and enable) my love of the written word. The threads of the Web have traversed  state boundaries and oceans and broadened my world in ways I never thought possible.

Some while back, Allen looked at the glass cabinet door where I post the Christmas card photos and leave them for an embarrassing amount of time beyond the holidays. He pursed his lips and silently shook his head. When I inquired, he replied, "I just can't get over the fact that we've never even met half of those people."

Thank you, crumbles, for connecting your stories to mine. You are a blessing, and I thank God for you daily.

~sharing with Lisa-Jo Baker's blogging community, where you can read many other offerings on the word of the week~

Monday, August 6, 2012

Simple Pleasures

a walk in the park while it's only 84F;

a flock of swallows tittering every morning like schoolgirls at their lockers,
one of them swooping down to carve her initials in the pond;

discovering a heart at the heart of a rose on my table;

dental cancellations for both of us at just the right time;

my Velcro buddy, almost always in whatever bed lies nearest;

watching Allen play wrestle with him;

finishing Kelly Minter's Nehemiah study;

cobbler made from Allen's own garden blackberries, frozen a handful at a time;

strength for a long outing by myself last week;

slowly starting to check off the tasks assigned by my new doctor;

the serendipity of a gift for a birthday later in the month;

my parents' 44th anniversary;

an excellent sermon on 2 John;

understanding friends;

songs known by heart;

if the Lord tarries, the blog's second birthday tomorrow (August 7)

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 150:6

(still taking the Joy Dare and counting gifts, these gathered from 6953-7016)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Slow Down and Chew {An Edited Repost}

My baby sister, who has babies superheroes-in-training of her own now, has invited me to join her in memorizing Ephesians. Yes, the whole book. She is an excellent memorizer, but I told her I would try to keep up, with God's help. (Today I even started praying for improved memory capacity for Scripture. Why had that not occurred to me before?) That interaction brought to mind this post from the early months of the blog concerning why I bother memorizing at all when I have access to a whole Bible practically everywhere I go.

Ebony and I have a bad habit.  We eat too fast.  He has a dubious excuse in the indeterminate amount of time he fended for himself between his previous home and rescue by animal control.  My mother blames my tendency to speed-eat on a decade of 20-minute school lunches.  (No, that's not hyperbole.) My sisters seem to eat like normal people, however, so I'm not sure that's it.  I can slow down if I try, but I don't always think to do so.

Ebony's desperate love of food and anything resembling it causes him to eat so very quickly that last night he literally inhaled some of it and nearly choked himself.  Thankfully, we didn't have to use the doggy Heimlich, since he could still cough. Because this was not the first such incident, he eats most meals out of his treat ball or squirrel dude or in some other moderated fashion. Otherwise, he forgets to chew before he swallows.

If I'm not careful, I can do the same thing with Scripture, scanning the pages and chapters to get it done and cross it off my list.  Eating too fast is unattractive and not very healthy; taking the same attitude to the Bible is downright wrong.  And yet I may slip into it unless I actively choose not to.

That's one way memorizing portions of Scripture helps me: it slows me down to savor the nuances of the words.  This slow, focused immersion in a text brings to light patterns I had not noticed before.  In last week's verses, Lamentations 3:22-27, one session brought out attributes of God.  Another highlighted the word "good."  Another showed me the contrast between the book title and the ideas presented.  These precious, beautiful, empowering promises fall smack-dab in the middle of Lamentations!

The effort to learn Bible verses by memory, whether successful or not, also helps saturate my thoughts with God's truth.  So many false ideas accost me during a given day, whether from the media or my own background and sin patterns, that I need to invest time in replacing them with something better.

The memory method that seems to work best for me is one I've heard from multiple sources.  First the learner reads the verse aloud 10 times; then she says it (with peeks or prompts as needed) 10 times; then she continues to review until it sticks.  It's surprising how well this works, even when I think I'm too tired to learn a new verse.  For me personally, the extra step of copying the text out by hand helps, but that's part of my learning style.  Others can learn straight off the page of their Bibles.  An existing melody for two verses of last week's portion also helped tremendously; otherwise six verses would probably have required longer than a week.

Sometimes I truly am too tired or hurting to retain the verse, but while I am working on it I can't be thinking rubbish, and that in itself is a victory.  With or without long-term retention, the process is its own reward. My hope is that someday the practice of Scripture memory will reset my mind's idle state or screensaver to truth and away from falsehood.

Daily learning and review shapes my prayers, as well.  Slow meditation on a few verses shows me how to praise, what to confess, what obedience looks like, and how God's Word connects with my loved ones' needs so I can make truer requests for them.  Usually my own felt need drives my choice of verses to learn, but the review process often links them up to other peoples' concerns.  This is one way I learn to pray "according to God's will," by praying His breathed-out Word.

The Bible verses committed to memory are also my most portable ones, even when I still need the cards.  This is my Scripture for stoplights, grocery lines, and walking the dog; for waiting rooms, pre-op, and dentist's chairs; for tooth-brushing, dishwashing, and laundry folding; for the middle of the night and mealtimes.  There are so many moments and places I can turn my heart towards the Lord but might not recognize without a habit like Scripture memory.

While I am by no means a stellar or even consistent practitioner, when I work at learning Bible verses by heart it enriches me.  When I neglect it, I am impoverished.  Scripture memory slows me down to see better, saturates my thoughts with truth, shapes my prayers, and sets my thoughts towards the Lord when my hands and feet are busy.

Here ends the original post, plus or minus several words.

In retrospect, it humbles me to realize how many carrots of practical benefit this mulish heart needs when the central motivation should be that this is the very Word of God. People in other nations pray for their own copy of it. A pastor friend in a land hostile to the gospel had to memorize his sermon text every week because it was too risky to carry the Gospel of John, the only Scripture the house church owned, between his home and the meeting place. Men have died to give these words to us in our own language. Does a lover need any incentive to read, reread, and meditate on a letter from her beloved? Taking it into my heart is the good, meet, and right response to such a gift, whether I perceive any personal gain or not.

Blessed is the man 
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked 
or stand in the way of sinners 
or sit in the seat of mockers. 
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, 
and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psalm 1:1-2, NIV1984

Q: How about you?  Have you tried this discipline?  How has it transformed you?  Please feel free to share your own experience or current memory goals in the comments or by e-mail so we can learn from each other and I can learn from you. 

I Live in An Antbed