Thursday, May 29, 2014

Memory: "Bondslave of Despondency" or "Angel of Comfort"?

Spurgeon's "Evening" devotional for May 28, commenting on Lamentations 3:21, "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope," strengthened my heart and reminded me that, while I can't choose my feelings, I can by God's grace choose my focus, which feelings often follow. I pray it encourages you, too.
Memory is frequently the bond slave of despondency. Dispairing minds call to remembrance every dark foreboding in the past, and dilate upon every gloomy feature in the present; thus memory, clothed in sackcloth, presents to the mind a cup of mingled gall and wormwood. There is, however, no necessity for this. Wisdom can readily transform memory into an angel of comfort. That same recollection which in its left hand brings so many gloomy omens, may be trained to bear in its right a wealth of hopeful signs. . . .
As a general principle, if we would exercise our memories more wisely, we might, in our very darkest distress, strike a match which would instantaneously kindle the lamp of comfort. There is no need for God to create a new thing upon the earth in order to restore believers to joy; if they would prayerfully rake the ashes of the past, they would find light for the present; and if they would turn to the book of truth and the throne of grace, their candle would soon shine as aforetime. Be it ours to remember the lovingkindness of the Lord, and to rehearse his deeds of grace. Let us open the volume of recollection which is so richly illuminated with memorials of mercy, and we shall soon be happy. Thus memory may be, as Coleridge calls it, “the bosom-spring of joy,” and when the Divine Comforter bends it to his service, it may be chief among earthly comforters.
Spurgeon himself was no stranger to discouragement and deep depression, in a time before pharmaceutical help or the kind of trained professional counselors available now. He does not write from the mountain peak of natural happiness lecturing down at those in the Slough of Despond, but as a fellow sufferer sharing what helps him in such despairing seasons.

If you are enduring such affliction today, dear Crumble, may the Lord enlist your memory to His service in shining light into your darkness. May He open your eyes to the blessings He longs to give you in your current hardships and the ones He has given through past ones. All this and more, because of Jesus only. Amen.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

For the Birds

Male house finch

This here feeder ain't big enough for the both of us, padnah.

Wait. What just happened? I was there first.

Mwahahaha! It's mine now, all mine! (Red-bellied woodpecker)

Male American goldfinch

Female American goldfinch

Taking "spiritual white space" to stalk our birds with my camera reminds me daily of Elizabeth Cheney's poem "The Robin and the Sparrow" (neither depicted above, but go with me on this):
Said the robin to the sparrow,
“I should really like to know,
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so.”

Said the sparrow to the robin,
“Friend I think that it must be,
That they have no Heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me.”
Elizabeth Cheney, from Streams in the Desert, October 10
Ms. Cheney, of course, alludes to the Lord Jesus' exhortations in the Sermon on the Mount to trust our heavenly Father, who feeds even the wild birds and clothes wildflowers in glory:
“This is why I tell y’all: Don’t worry about y’all’s life, what y’all will eat or what y’all will drink; or about y’all’s body, what y’all will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet y’all’s heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t y’all worth more than they? Can any of y’all add a single cubit to his height by worrying? And why do y’all worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell y’all that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for y’all—y’all of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and y’all’s heavenly Father knows that y’all need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for y’all. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt. 6:25-34, HCSB with "Texan version" edits).

Whatever worries press in on you today, dear Crumble, may you see our Father's care for the birds and blooms and find grace to trust His care for you as well. We do have a Heavenly Father who cares so much that He gave His only Son for our forgiveness, reconciliation, and adoption as His children. How would He refuse such blood-bought children daily bread? May His promises speak peace to your heart today.

With love in the Lamb,

I thank my heavenly Father today for so much. . .
reminders of His goodness and power everywhere
the butterfly we released last week surviving at least through Sunday
two more delicious meals graciously provided to us
Amore's grace about a change of Memorial Day plans
all his extra work to compensate for my limitations and help me with recovery tasks
the brave men and women who have given their lives in the service of my homeland
my dad's provision of lunches, ice, chore help, and transportation
Mom's company, conversation, and cooking
helpful and not too painful first PT session Friday
a bit of progress in recovering strength
incremental increase in ability to use my right arm again
a trace of needed rain
worshiping with my church family Sunday, my only non-medical outing since surgery
praying friends
(2014 gift list #1403-1416)


Faith Barista

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Before and After did awesome things that we did not expect...
Isaiah 64:3, NIV

Before we turned out the lights in the living room last night, the monarch butterfly my parents brought me from a local festival looked like this:

After coffee and devotions this morning, she looked like this:

 After a morning's tasks, she looked like this:

and her chrysalis hung as empty as the shroud on Easter morning:

This beautiful, wondrous transformation reminded me of a few more surprising befores and afters in the last week.

Before dawn as we drove to the hospital last Thursday, I was preparing my heart to lose the use of my right arm for a month while repaired cartilage healed.

After that surgery, while I still lay unconscious in the recovery room, the doctor told my waiting family that the MRI was wrong and the cartilage tear incomplete. This changed the extent of surgery so much that I would only need the sling a week instead of four.

Before my post-operative appointment this week, I expected several more days in the sling.

After the appointment, the physician's assistant had released me from it after 4 days and told me to start physical therapy as soon as possible.

Before my therapy appointment Tuesday morning, I expected to be very sore and work hard at the prescribed exercises the rest of the week, when all I wanted to do was rest until the pain subsided and my legs felt sturdier beneath me.

After my therapy appointment, Dad took me home to rest until Friday. A mix-up in scheduling meant the therapy center didn't have me scheduled until then in the first place. (In other circumstances this might have been very inconvenient, but I was actually relieved.)

Thank you for your prayers, my Crumble friends. The Lord has been answering in such surprising ways that I feel a bit like the prayer meeting at Mary's house in Acts 12. Jerusalem Christians had gathered in earnest prayer for Peter, whom Herod had imprisoned under the guard of 4 squads of soldiers. The execution was planned for that very night, and James the son of Zebedee had already been martyred, so everyone knew how likely Peter's imminent demise. After a miraculous angelic deliverance, Peter knocks for entrance to the prayer meeting, the servant Rhoda answers and shares the joyful news, and no one believes her. Not a single pray-er. The answer to their earnest pleas stands outside in the dark, knocking and knocking until they let him in.

Similarly, I told several people before the surgery that my dominant arm would be in a sling for 4 weeks unless the Lord just decided to heal my shoulder faster. But did I believe He might? Did I even believe I might be in the 5% or so whose MRI looked worse than the reality? Not really. In fact, when Amore told me the good news in the recovery room, he had to repeat himself several times because I was sure the pain meds had addled my brain and I was imagining things.

There have been so many hard surprises these last 4 years that it's often difficult now to believe that the happy ones can still happen to me, that the Lord would use joyous turns of events for my sanctification and not just painful (but no less good) ones. In His grace, however, He surprised me with what I didn't dare to imagine. He overcame my unbelief with His mercy. (Won't you celebrate with me?)

This recovery journey has only just begun and is expected to last the rest of the summer. It remains to be seen whether the left shoulder will respond adequately to therapy, but we're making the attempt and trusting God to work out His will in the matter. Thank you for your continued prayers as the Lord leads.

Oh, and our butterfly? We will release her into the garden tonight or tomorrow, but only after her wings have hardened enough to fly.

Crumbles, our God really is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us" (Eph 3:20). To Him be the glory in your impossible situations as well as mine!

Thanking the Lord, for He is good and gives good gifts to His little-faith children:
for surprising answers to prayer
for Amore's diligent service to me
for time with family
for meals from friends
for a clean house today
for good surprises
for the delight of watching this monarch's life cycle
for pain decreasing and strength returning a tiny bit each day
for the fun distraction and communication outlet of a new Twitter account (@Ebony_Dog)
for a week to rest and practice receiving help instead of giving it (again)
for several "refuge" sightings in the last 2 days
for the Lord's mercy and grace, always, all the days
for praying friends
(2014 gifts journal, #1341-1353)

Faith Barista

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Framing the Shot

{The photos are essential to this post. If you can't see them in your RSS feed or e-mail, please view the post on the blog.

As regular readers know, I find great pleasure in stalking birds, flowers, and butterflies with my camera. Oh, and Ebony Dog. (The flowers are the most cooperative subjects.) I know I'm a novice, but it makes me happy to look for beauty around me and save it to share with someone else or review when I need a pick-me-up.

The one photography tip which has most increased my satisfaction with the results is this: "Fill the frame." The idea is to fill the camera viewfinder with your subject and to exclude most everything else.

Filling the frame makes the difference between this:

and these.

Which do you like better, image 1:

or image 2?

Don't you prefer the second? It guides my eye to what I wanted to see in the first place. In both sets of photos, my position remained constant. Only the zoom lens moved. Our pond is pretty ugly right now, because the city is deepening it and installing stone retaining walls, but I can still enjoy the ducks and the turtles if I move closer, zoom in, and fill the frame of my vision with the good things to the exclusion of the rest.

As I move toward another surgery this Thursday on my shoulder, I am realizing I have the same choice to make in my attitude as I do in taking pictures. I can dwell on the "can't"s or the "can"s.

For the next 4 weeks with my right arm in a sling, I can't:
write by hand (a biggie for me),
manage my study tools and maybe not even a large ink-and-paper book,
knit or crochet,
wash or arrange my own hair,
do many chores,
do most of my back exercises,
play a piece on the piano,
sleep on my usual side,
and on and on.

When I start to think that way, my thoughts spiral into negativity, so I am seeking to "reframe the shot" by focusing on the "can"s. For the next 4 weeks of sling time, I can:
finish that Scripture memory project of the last 21 months,
walk a little,
sit outside and listen to the birds,
cuddle with Ebony, when he's willing,
work on left-hand agility at the piano,
watch all the Bible teaching on my YouTube "watch later" list,
allow others to care for me,
spend extra time with my parents,
read anything on my Kindle,
listen to audiobooks,
catch up on my sister-in-law's and niece's blog posts,
embrace the opportunity to grow my brain by doing things differently and using my left hand more,
ride in the car to visit my sister or grandmother,
watch the "chick flicks" duties normally prohibit,
and finally finish viewing the most recent season of Downton Abbey.

Filling my mind with the possibilities of this coming recovery time puts my heart more at ease. This recovery will be challenging. I'm not denying that but trying to help myself cope with the challenges and honor my good God in the challenges. It's a battle, some days more than others, but I believe it's one worth fighting. And not just for my sake but for the benefit of my husband, family, friends, and medical providers as they interact with me.

Contentment is contagious; so is discontent. If you are inclined to pray for the surgery, please also pray that God would be glorified in this patient and that He would bless others through me during this time. Please pray for grace not to catastrophize, but instead to "frame the shot" with the kinds of things Paul commands in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Sharing with Bonnie's and Laura's link-ups this week

Saturday, May 10, 2014

When Your Friend Is Ill. . .

As someone who has needed and received much gracious, generous help over the last four years, and also as someone who has loved and longed to help friends in need who lived far away, may I suggest some ways to help when your friend is ill, recovering from surgery, or experiencing some other long-term family crisis which is too much for a household to bear on its own?
  • Pray, pray, pray. When someone tells me, "I just wish I could help," the biggest request I have is prayer. I can't fix my body; you can't fix my body; the best doctors can't fix my body, although they may be God's instruments. Only God heals. Only God restores. Believers have the awesome and precious privilege of storming the gates of heaven on behalf of our loved ones (and even strangers) in need. A prayer written in an e-mail or card can be read by the sufferer when (s)he needs an extra boost of hope. Praying with the sick person is an extra-special gift. Your prayers are a blessing, and they really are "doing something to help," even if it doesn't feel like it. Any suggestion to the contrary is not from God.
  • Encourage. Send a note, a card, a text, or an e-mail. Share a Bible verse or song that helps you through hard times. If your note doesn't expect a response from the suffering person, so much the better. People confined to home or hospital by illness often feel forgotten. Sometimes out of sight is out of mind too. Your words say you remember me. Your voice-mail tells me I am not alone. God has given me a few cheerleaders who speak His truth and encouragement into my life on a regular basis, and I can't express how much they help me carry on.
  • Hug, if you're within arm's reach and it won't cause pain. Be present. Medical treatment involves a lot of uncomfortable, impersonal touch. A hand held or arms around shoulders are medicine for soul and body alike. If you do visit, and if visitors are even allowed or recommended in your friend's case, it's often best to limit the time and avoid overtaxing the patient. Presence is often more important than knowing the right thing to say.

    Caveat: if you think you might be ill, or if you have a sick family member, please stay home until you're well. Immune systems are often fragile after surgery and in prolonged illnesses. The patient will understand if you have to cancel a planned visit or gift of a meal in order to keep germs away.
  • Laugh. More and more research shows that laughter helps the body heal and reduces the stress response. Call your friend with a funny story about the kids or grandkids or pet. E-mail links to funny blog posts or video clips. Send clean, funny videos like Tim Hawkins, Chonda Pierce, or Jeff Allen; discs of old sitcoms like Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke; or more recent series like The Cosby Show or Home Improvement, if your friend likes that kind of thing. We laugh a lot at Mythbusters, too. Comic strip anthologies like Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, Peanuts, or Get Fuzzy might also bring a grin. You likely already know what puts a smile on your friend's face better than I can tell you.
  • Feed.  If you are nearby and enjoy cooking (or picking up take-out), bringing a meal is often welcome. In my particular case, if you ask us if we need meal help, we'll probably say no, we're doing okay. And we probably are. With just the two of us and a good microwave, we can work out simple meals even when I'm out of commission. But if you say, "I'd like to help with a meal. Is that okay? What night works for you? Is there anything you don't like or can't eat?" we are so grateful. Pizza or Chinese are just fine, as is a rotisserie chicken with a bag of salad and rolls. It doesn't have to be fancy or even homemade to be a blessing.

    If you are not nearby, or your time or skill set prohibits cooking, or if your friend has lots of particular dietary needs which are difficult for an outsider to accommodate, restaurant gift cards really help, too. Search for restaurants around your friend's home to make sure a particular chain is easily accessible to him or her. If your friend has food allergies or gluten intolerance, ask your friend where (s)he likes to dine out, or go with a place you have eaten together. Again, fancy is not the point. Subway, Wendy's, Chick Fil-A, or Papa John's help out just as much as something fancier.
  • Assist. If your schedule allows you to offer help with rides to the doctor, grocery shopping, laundry or cleaning help, childcare, picking up library holds or prescriptions, and so on, prayerfully consider how you can help. Ask your friend if you may help with _____ and when he or she needs the kind of help you can give.

    That said, please don't get your feelings hurt if your friend declines. The family's needs may be quite particular or complex, for example regarding food choices, product fragrance, transportation needs (kind of seat, wheelchair ramp, etc.), or quiet and protection from noise and people interaction. Even if your friend must decline your offer of help, it will mean so much that you extended it.
  • Give. If you are so led and your means permit, gift cards to Amazon can help with everything from books, music, and movies to help the convalescence pass cheerfully to home delivery of household, nonperishable food, and over-the-counter health items. We use Amazon frequently to buy bulky, heavy things (like paper goods, dog food, and cleaning products) I physically couldn't transport from the store by myself and for some supplements and medications we take on a daily basis. also helps us out a lot and reduces my errand load. Some localities have grocery delivery services like which would allow your friend to do his or her own food shopping with minimal exertion at home. For diversion during a confinement, Redbox video rental gift certificates may also be welcome if a healthy person is available in the home to pick up and return the rental.

    If special assistance equipment is needed, for example a wheelchair or scooter, and you have that item available to lend, that may be a great help to the family, but again, please give the patient freedom to decline the offer without offense.

    Illness is expensive. Gift cards to your friend's pharmacy of choice may also be a great help. We primarily use Target, but in the United States Walgreen's, CVS, and Walmart are also popular pharmacy choices, as are the major grocery chains and big box stores. If your friend must travel frequently to receive care, a fuel gift card or airline miles might help. In the case of severe health crises on the scale of cancer or stroke, fundraisers (with your friend's permission, of course) or simple monetary gifts to help defray your friend's expenses are another possibility.
This is a tricky post to write. I know even as I contemplate it that it may seem like a plea for help, which it isn't. We're doing okay. The Lord has provided each need as it has arisen, and my parents and Bible study friends have already offered practical help for my upcoming surgery. More importantly, you probably know someone else in your immediate circle of friends who is facing chronic illness, surgery, or a family health crisis. They may not feel comfortable or have time to verbalize what kind of help they need, so I offer this post not so much for me as for them, to jump-start your thinking of how you might help them.

If you have received other kinds of great help in your family's time of need, or if you have additional thoughts on the ideas here, please say so in the comments so we can all benefit from your experience, and I may incorporate your thoughts into later editions of this post (with your permission and attribution).

Monday, May 5, 2014

Coming up Roses

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"There is not one blade of grass,
there is no color in this world
that is not intended to make us rejoice."
~John Calvin (emphasis mine)

Thanks be to God for His many gifts of joy this past week, including:
His Word,
an opportunity to give back in a small way to my women's Bible study last Wednesday,
an opportunity to bless with our roses a woman who, like my grandmother, lives in a retirement apartment and misses her rose garden,
kind comments and generous prayers from Crumbles and other friends,
a little longer walk Saturday,
crossing paths with my dad on his bike ride and pausing for a hug,
lots and lots of ducklings at the pond,
and turtles,
two visits from Mr. and Mrs. Goldfinch, whom we don't often see at our feeder,
a new little tufted titmouse who so far eludes my camera,
Ebony Dog's happy grin,
a little unexpected pain help from an essential oil my sister suggested,
two-thirds of my immediate family enjoying Walt Disney World this week,
plans with the sister who stayed behind to watch Frozen later this week,
kind listeners after church,
opportunity to give kind (I trust) listening to someone else,
celebrating Star Wars Day yesterday by watching The Empire Strikes Back with Amore,
the silly zoo sign he shared with me:
Safety First
Um, yeah. And that would just ruin my whole day.

and (seriously) especially God's promise of presence, possession, power, help, and upholding:
‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Isaiah 41:10, NASB
(2014 gratitude journal #1233-1251)

sharing gratitude, a playdate with God in my garden, and a place of spiritual whitespace with these friends:
  Faith Barista