Monday, August 30, 2010

Glimpses of Gratitude 2

Enter His gates with thanksgiving
         And His courts with praise
         Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
    For the LORD is good;
         His lovingkindness is everlasting
         And His faithfulness to all generations (Psalm 100:4-5, NASB).

The world around us (and too often we ourselves) greets the work week with "a case of the Mondays."  God is no less good, no less loving, no less faithful on Mondays than on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  May His joy shine forth from His people as we lean into His transforming grace to renew our minds through His Word.  May we enter the gates of this week with thanksgiving and praise to His holy name.

Gleanings from my gratitude list, #512-639:
-Stronger asthma medicine which is improving breathing comfort
-E-mails from two good friends
-Phone conversations with my grandmother, a distant friend, and my sisters
-Employment for a friend after long waiting and prayers
-10-degree drop in temperature for half the week
-Nearly an inch of needed rain
-Slow but steady strength gains
-Brenda, the woman who cleans for me every other week
-Half a top-secret knitting project completed
-Eating the frog first 
-Beauty Will Rise
-Disappointed desires offered to God in worship
-Even the most profound griefs are momentary, light afflictions from the perspective of eternity.
-Sandy grains of stinging troubles are producing weighty pearls of glory far beyond all comparison
-Open communication, even when it's uncomfortable
-Husband's wise counsel for needs around us
-Answered prayers
-Able to attend worship at neighborhood church with less pain than last time
-Monarch butterfly's aerial show in backyard

holy experience

Friday, August 27, 2010

Blessing the Boundaries, Part 4

"So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me,  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV).

None of us likes pain.  Pain captures our attention so we will attend to something wrong.  These words from the apostle Paul, however, offer a supernatural perspective on the fences of pain, weakness, and limitations that either confine us or set us free.

Last week on a day of aches and anxiety, this familiar passage came up in my usual read-through-the-Bible schedule.  Sometimes, in spite of myself, words so familiar may flow past my eyes without really penetrating my soul.  In the context of the day's fears, though, the word that pierced through was "given."  The thorn (more like a stake than a splinter) was given to him, a gift.  Twice he repeats the purpose, "to keep me from becoming conceited."

His thorn was a gift to puncture his pride, the pride which blocks the flow of grace and draws God's opposition (James 4:6). Many writers have told me that pride, the desire to be my own god, is the root of all other sins.  It is the enemy of my deepest desire to know Christ.  Consequently, anything which deals a blow to pride is truly a gift.  Yes, Paul also attributes causation and ill intent to Satan, but the context indicates that God allows that harassment for a greater good.

Still, three times Paul prayed for the thorn's removal.  (Here is no fatalism or refusal of the means available for healing.)  Three times his prayer was refused.  With the final "no," he received some explanation.  God's grace is enough, enough for him.  God's power is most fully displayed in human weakness.  Sufficient grace for me, God's power in me--aren't those the things Christians long for?  Aren't they what I long for?

The explanation that accompanied refusal seems to have transformed Paul's outlook on the limitations imposed by his thorn.  No longer pleading with the Lord for its removal, now he boasts gladly of his weaknesses and rests content in them because he recognizes they are the means of experiencing and displaying the strength and power of Christ.

I have not arrived yet at such glad boasting, but it is my destination.  May we learn not only to accept God's "no," but to delight in it.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Blessing the Boundaries, Part 3


Teach me to remember, Lord,
When Thou dost answer, “No,”
Thou also sayest, soft and tender,
“Child, I love thee so,
And though this way to thee seems hard,
Desire withheld so sweet;
For thee I’ve something better still,
So trust, and wait on Me.”

A poem from 1997

You may also like Gitzen Girl's post today: God is God.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Glimpses of Gratitude

For more than a decade, my journaling practice has included writing down specific thanks to God for His goodness in my days.  Like daily spiritual medicine, this has proven one of the most transforming habits of faith for me, since gratitude is diametrically opposed to anxiety and discontent.  The written aspect slows me down long enough to reflect and recognize graces I might otherwise rush right past.

Ann at A Holy Experience added the new idea of numbering the list.  Recently I started over at 1 with the new chapter of this lupus flare.  Here are a few glimpses from my list the last two weeks:

377. Positive progress report from my rheumatologist (with some activity restrictions relaxed)
408. Neighbor available, skilled, and willing to help at the very moment a family member's car battery died in my driveway!
416. Left the house for non-medical reasons for the first time in six weeks
432. Time with my mom and both sisters
438. My husband's help with blog set-up and tech support
451. Loose leaf tea
466. Positive report from cardiology workup
467. Above-and-beyond kindness of lab tech who performed stress echo
489. Watching our wedding video on our anniversary
491. Strength to dress up and go out to an actual restaurant for our anniversary supper
505. Nearly pain-free yesterday

If this strikes a chord with you, dear Crumble, won't you consider beginning your own list and joining the Gratitude Community?  You will be thankful you did.

holy experience

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Today at Wits' End we are reflecting on and celebrating God's faithfulness through 11 years of marriage.  Some couples may set five- and 10-year goals in premarital counseling and systematically check them off, one by one.  We are not one of those couples.

The last 11 years have not resembled our expectations at all.  We went to Thailand, not India.  We stayed less than a year, not the rest of our lives.  The months have filled with much less international travel and much more time at computers and in medical offices than we ever dreamed.  We own a mortgage in my hometown, and our third dog keeps us laughing and chaperones us on movie nights.

Although the path has continually surprised us, our faithful Lord has never let us down.  Through it all, He and my beloved husband have proven themselves always much better than I deserve or could ask.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Blessing the Boundaries, Part 2

Once upon a time, a beautiful, golden-haired princess of a girl lived in a snug stone house with her parents and baby brother.  Most of the time, she conducted herself like a little lady and charmed all who knew her; occasionally, however, she forgot she was a princess and behaved rather badly, as we all are prone to do.

On one such day, her baby brother lay on a pallet of quilts on the floor.  Colorful toys swung from a plastic rod arching over his chest.  He was too little yet to aim very well, but occasionally in waving his arms around he would make contact with a toy and grin happily as it swung and clicked, rattled, or squeaked.

Taking advantage of a momentary lapse in the grown-ups' attention, Princess pulled back one of the toys as far as it would go.  When she released it, it swung too far and smacked her brother in the face.  He cried.  The grown-ups frowned and told her to stop. Now things were getting interesting.

When they looked away, again she swung a toy and struck her brother.  He cried, the grown-ups looked even more stern, and her mama told her to stop.  Now.

Once more, she cranked back the toy and let it fly.  Everyone was paying attention now.  Mama got down on her level, looked her in the eye, unfurled her name to its full length, and said, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?"

Without missing a beat, Princess pointed at the still-swinging toy bar and said, "That part."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blessing the Boundaries, Part 1

  The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
         You support my lot.
  The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
         Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

We all face boundaries in our lives that define our sphere of activity and limit our freedom of action.  King David here calls them "lines" defining our "lot," like the geographic boundaries of the portions of land allotted to the different tribes of Israel after the exodus.  Through the various seasons of my adult life, these verses from Psalm 16 have encouraged me with reassurance of God's sovereignty and challenged me to respond as the singer here does.

When this psalm first called my name, the fences most prominent in my mind were my unmarried status and the educational deficiencies to be overcome to meet my goal of theological seminary.  After I married A. in 1999, it felt like an open-range season of life as our missionary vocation suddenly expanded my boundaries to southeast and central Asia and perhaps even beyond.  When chronic illness entered our experience, the fences closed in again, and my world retracted significantly as we moved back to my hometown and even changed our place of worship because our previous, beloved church family was too far away for me to travel every week.  Through this most recent abrupt and severe change in circumstances, the psalmist's song again became my own.

It has encouraged me through all these seasons to remember what these verses teach about my boundaries and limitations.  Ultimately, my lot in life is not defined by my health.  The fences around my portion are not my neighborhood or the four walls of my house.  The LORD Himself, my Shepherd, is my hereditary portion  and my cup.  He is the one who assigns my lot and has every right to do so.

Because God and not my situation in life defines my limitations and freedoms, I can respond with David that it is pleasant and beautiful.  Even when I don't feel that way, by grace through faith I can choose to regard this unsought narrowing as green pasture and still water.  Much of daily worship is offering my body as a living sacrifice by discerning God's will to be good, acceptable, and perfect and accepting the pleasant and the difficult with joy.

This does not come naturally or easily.  Without God's transforming grace, my old self would lean over the boundary, staring at the other side, push against the gate to see if the latch gave, or see how far I could slide my leg underneath.  I might even try to tunnel through to the other side.  The current lupus flare has tested me afresh as opportunities with loved ones have been on the other side of the fence several times in the last month.  In a new way, the boundaries threatened relationships dear to me, and I needed to seek the same strength that prayed in the garden, "Not my will, but Yours be done."  Surrender is impossible apart from the Spirit of Christ in the believer, but it is also among the "all things" I can do through Christ in me (Phil. 4:13). 

Dear Crumble, your fences may be health limitations like mine, or they could be entirely different.  Perhaps the globe is your portion and your fences are your job or lack of one; marital troubles or marital status; a difficult child or the longing for any child at all.  Affliction is as individual as a fingerprint, yet God's loving sovereignty and our call to respond in joyful trust remain the same.  The Spirit's enabling, too, is accessible to every child of God.  May you seek and find the grace to make the psalmist's song your own today.  Amen.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mother's Day

Mom and I at a women's conference, 2005

In honor of my mother's birthday, here are 13 of the many things I appreciate about her:
  1. Her smile that comes from inside and fills her whole face
  2. Her uninhibited laugh
  3. Her gift of making friends everywhere she goes
  4. Her generosity with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers in need
  5. The way she makes even small occasions a celebration
  6. Her excellent nursing skills and bedside manner
  7. Her commitment to put people ahead of her to-do list
  8. Our shared enjoyment of hot tea, old movies, books, piano, and retreats
  9. Love and advocacy for at-risk children and immigrants
  10. Open-door hospitality
  11. Devotion as wife, mother, grandmother, and daughter
  12. Taxi service with a smile
  13. Empathetic listening to hurting hearts
My mother and my friend, I love you!  Happy birthday!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When the Waves Run High

Today's entry in My Utmost for His Highest reminded me of this response to Mark 4:35-41.

Just like Your disciples,
We get scared sometimes—
Actually, more often than we’d like to admit.

We see the waves of our circumstances
Coming in over the sides of our boat,
And we start bailing with all our strength.

We panic,
Because we find our security

More in the peacefulness of the sea
Than in the presence of the Savior.
And yet, You are in the boat beside us.
If we go down, You’re going down right along with us.
Ridiculous thought!

You said we were going to the other side.
We have Your sure word

That You will never fail us
Nor forsake us.

Thank You, Lord.
Thank You for Your presence with us,
And for hearing and answering
The cries of Your children,
Your little-faiths.
We believe,
Help our unbelief.
In the Master’s name,

Originally distributed in Crumbs from His Table e-mail list,17 January 1999.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sermon on the Sofa

Consider the canine of the couch,
How he sleeps:
Stretched out under the wing of the girl he loves,
Head pillowed on her belly,
Does he fret or worry
Over his next meal,
Ebony giving fuzz therapy
Next walk,
Next vaccine?

Feel the rhythm of his sleeping breath
As he leans in.
For him there is no next,
Only now;
And now is good.

Consider him:
Lean into your Master,
Your Father,
Your rest.
He knows the now and the next.
Fret not.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Welcome to the Table

Once upon a time, a dozen or more years ago, I wrote an e-mail devotional for family, friends, and co-workers.  "Crumbs from His Table" was the name of that proto-blog.  The posts here will pick up where the previous effort left off, with a mixture of essays, poems and prayers, quotes, and perhaps some book reviews and introductions to friends around the globe.

The title refers to an old prayer and a Bible story.  The Biblical source is an incident in Jesus' ministry when a non-Jewish woman, outside the scope of the promises of Messiah, asked for a miracle.  Jesus initially responds negatively:  she is like a dog begging for the children's table scraps.  She persists.  "'Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table'" (Matt. 15:27, NET).  Jesus commends her faith and grants her request.  The liturgical source is one of the communion prayers I met in childhood:  "We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy."  The phrase resonates with me because, in both contexts, it captures at once my unworthiness and God's generous grace.

After a few years of e-mail distribution, I discontinued the original "Crumbs."  Marriage to a missionary and the corollary communication responsibilities demanded all my creative energies. Since chronic illness moved us back to Texas in December 2001, I have continued to write but without much of a communication outlet.  This year a conviction has grown that a blog was the right outlet, and that the time had arrived.

Procrastination is easier than change, however, especially in a year marked so far by ill health, when daily household tasks taxed the limits of my strength and left no margin for creativity.  When things began to look up in late spring, the summer filled rapidly with family and business writing plans, and the blog once again moved to the back burner.

In July, my script for the summer was shredded and replaced with one I had not imagined.  Months of pushing through fatigue and discomfort, capped off with an onslaught of potential triggers, landed me on my sofa with asthma and lupus flares.  Until the doctor says otherwise, I have been grounded from most of my normal tasks.

At first, the pain and weakness were too intense to do more than endure.  Even reading was too strenuous.  Now that symptoms have mostly stabilized, my thinking again turns blogward.  With more time than usual to think and read, an abundance of emotional and spiritual content to process, and little access to face-to-face fellowship or ministry, the excuses are gone.

I pray this would be a place of peace and comfort; a place of communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a place where this season of illness and whatever follows will be redeemed for my growth in Christlikeness, others' good, and God's glory.  Amen.