Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: A Retrospective

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Although I did not participate in the "One Word" blogger challenge to name 2012 at the year's beginning, if I were to name it now, I would choose "Change," or perhaps "Endurance." A year ago, it seemed I had turned a corner toward health. Stamina was growing, and portions of many days were pain-free for the first time in 18 months. On December 31, 2011, we toasted our coffee with the words, "So long, 2011. Don't let the door hit you on the way out." I really believed that 2012 meant recovery and renewed strength.

I was wrong.

Health concerns multiplied this year, and issues we thought were resolved flared up again and again. Every member of my immediate family has experienced at least one crisis. Most of the men in the family have changed jobs, some voluntarily and some not. Change and upheaval have marked every passing month.

And yet, "In every change, He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul." However hard things became, however unsettled, however fraught with anxiety, God remained faithful and will for 2013 as well. He was no less loving, no less near, no less kind in the trials than in the joys (and there were joys, too, especially new and deepened friendships).

What theme lies in store for 2013? I have no idea. "Whatever," maybe? I still want healing, recovery, rest, strength, more happy than sad, but 2013 is in God's hands and utterly veiled to me. I do pray that the afflictions of 2012 (and before) begin to look "less like scars, and more like character."

This year began with an excellent study of James, so perhaps it is fitting to conclude it with his words:
Consider it a great joy, my brothers [and sisters], whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4, HCSB).
Let us give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever (Ps. 136:1)!

I thank Him for His goodness in this past week:

one last batch of toffee made for family
strength to enjoy a long, full day with my immediate family and energetic youngest nephews
Christmas gifts given and received
2 desserts at our Christmas Eve celebration, thanks to parents and Mezzo
surprise packages in the mail from blogging friends
Christmas day at home in new pajamas and slippers
wet, white, winged Christmas watching the rain and snow fall and birds out in the midst of it all

new glasses on order
visit with my Nonni
...and an unexpected bonus visit from my uncle and his family, who live near her
tea every morning in Amore's gift of new tea maker
more light rain today, much needed in our area

Also, I thank Him by faith for His faithful goodness and provision in the past year:
42 medical appointments (just mine, not counting Amore's and Ebony's)
5 new doctors (ditto)
multiple biopsies
1 procedure requiring general anesthetic
1 surgery
in which I fainted
1 round of physical therapy appointments
2 rounds of a walking cast, one on each foot
a year without a sinus infection
new rheumatologist with fresh ideas

one reading of the Old Testament
2 readings of the New Testament and Psalms (yes, I realize Psalms are in the Old Testament)
82 verses of Scripture hidden in my heart
4 ladies' Bible studies
2 virtual (online) retreats

8 or more trips to Fort Worth for family
friends, near and far
Amore's new job
my dad's retirement
my mom's 5 falls in 2 months did no lasting harm
Mezzo's recovery from car accident

an abundance of butterflies
and bluebonnets
and birds

one new scar
other people telling me how strong I am, when all I see in the mirror is weakness
Christ's power residing in me (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
the testing of my faith producing endurance
6,032 gifts counted

(Joy Dare #8547-8586)

sharing with Laura at The Wellspring and Ann at A Holy Experience

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

O Come, Let Us Adore Him

Behold, the Lamb of God:
illustrated by Abraham,
foretold by prophets,
born in a stable,
attended by shepherds.
examined and found faultless,
slain at Passover,
Sin-bearer for whomsoever will come and believe it,
risen from the dead,
Great Shepherd of His Sheep.

Let us worship Him this Christmas
as we shall someday before His throne in Heaven.

Blessed Christmas to you all!
Allen, christina, and Ebony Dawg

(John 1:29; Genesis 22; Isaiah 53; Luke 2; Matthew 27:24; Matthew 26:2; 1 Peter 2:24-25; John 20; Hebrews 13:20; Revelation 21:22-22:5)

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Promise of Christmas

My eyes long for your salvation
and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. 
Psalm 119:123, ESV
On this side of eternity, Christmas is still a promise. Yes, the Savior has come, and with him peace on earth, but the story is not finished. Yes, there is peace in our hearts, but we long for peace in our world. 
Every Christmas is still a "turning of the page" until Jesus returns. Every December 25 marks another year that draws us closer to the fulfillment of the ages, that draws us closer to . . . home. 
When we realize that Jesus is the answer to our deepest longing, even Christmas longings, each Advent brings us closer to his glorious return to earth. When we see him as he is, King of kings and Lord of lords, that will be "Christmas" indeed! (Joni Eareckson Tada, "A Christmas Longing," in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus)
 Reading through the Old Testament prophets, it has struck me how many of the prophecies of Christ's first coming rub punctuation with prophecies of His second coming. More than occasionally a comma or semicolon bears the weight of millennia of wars and rumors of wars, revivals and apostasies, megachurches and martyrs.

Here are just a few to illustrate:

  • Christ has come. "For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;/And the government will rest on His shoulders;/And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).
  • Christ is coming. "There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,/On the throne of David and over His kingdom,/To establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness/From then on and forevermore./The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this" (Isaiah 9:7).
  • Christ has come. "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,/Too little to be amont the clans of Judah,/From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel./His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity" (Micah 5:2).
  • Christ is with us. "And He will arise and shepherd His flock/In the strength of the LORD,/In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God" (Micah 5:4a).
  • Christ is coming. " that time He will be great to the ends of the earth./And this One will be our peace" (Micah 5:4b).
  • Christ has come. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, you king is coming to you;/He is just and endowed with salvation,/Humble, and mounted on a donkey,/Even on a cold, the foal of a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).
  • Christ is coming. "And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim,/And the horse from Jerusalem;/And the bow of war will be cut off./And He will speak peace to the nations./And His dominion will be from sea to sea,/And from the River to the ends of the earth" (Zechariah 9:10).
The global longing for peace, for cessation of strife in the Middle East, for a safe place to nurture our children in the admonition of the Lord, for freedom to go take part in recreation or go to the market without fear for one's life... these are not new, twenty-first century concerns. They are as old as sin.

Because Christ has come, we can taste now a great degree of personal peace: peace with God, peace with self, and peace with neighbor. That desire for universal global peace is a good, God-given desire, and it's satisfaction also ultimately will come as a gift from God. Christ is coming, and He will be and bring the peace we seek so fervently. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

Joining the chorus of gratitude to the Father simply, today, thanking Him that
~Christ has come,
~Emmanuel, "God with us," is here,
~and Christ will come again.
Thanks be to God!
(from the gratitude journal, in the #8400s)

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Wiper of Our Tears

Christmas has a way of quickening any preexistent grief, and there certainly seems to be more than the usual amount of that (grief, that is) in our nation this year. If the holidays find you feeling sad, whether from one of the headline-news tragedies or some private sorrow known only to God and to yourself or even some short-lived disappointment, perhaps it will encourage you a mite to know that feeling sad when the rest of the world demands celebration makes you no less acceptable to God.

He does not add guilt to your burden, nor does He stand at a distance with His arms crossed and foot tapping in impatience, waiting for you to get over it and move on.

At ladies' Bible study this fall, I was the de facto keeper of the tissues. The curriculum touched a fair amount of tender spots among the group, and since I almost always have tissue with me, I would take out my travel pack and pass it down the table. When Allen catches me crying, he usually brings the tissue to me with a hug or hands on my shoulders.

One time, though, he cupped my face in one hand and wiped the tear trail away gently, so gently, with the side of his thumb. I have forgotten what made the tears well up that night, but I have not forgotten how that tender touch healed something more than just a tear on my cheek.

That's the kind of tenderness I think of when I read these Scripture passages:

And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
~Isaiah 25:7-9, ESV

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
~Revelation 7:17, ESV

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
~Revelation 21:4, ESV

That God puts my tears in His bottle is a lovely, caring image, but it's so much more personal to me that He will wipe away our tears someday. Every tear, from all faces. If I were with you, crumble, I would certainly pass you a tissue; God is with you now, however, and He will do much better. May you be especially conscious of His nearness, whether you have a broken heart or not, heart today.

What else I'm holding in heart, hands, and home today:
~longing for the one we await, for that day when we say, "Behold, this is our God."
~reading that points toward that day, as I press on with the year's Bible schedule of readings with the last books of Old and New Testaments
~changing plans for Christmas Eve with family
~some new loose teas
~a new NSAID medication from my doctor, to test whether my blood pressure changes reflect a new sensitivity to the previous one
~lovely surprises for body, soul, and spirit in a Christmas package from a friend
~a glass cabinet door full of friends' faces and Christmas greetings
~a new fudge recipe that worked better than I imagined
~empty medicine bottles for a bit of tummy trouble Ebony had (inevitable when one persists in eating that which is not food)
~warm new socks in a sudden reversal of our unseasonably warm weather
~waiting with a friend for her post-cancer test results
~encouragement in my heart from my doctor
~appreciation for our faithful UPS delivery man
~an eyeglass prescription yet to be filled by December 31
~prayers for safe travel for all in the air and on the roads this weekend and next week
~and prayers for comfort for the lonely, sorrowful, and weary to know Emmanuel's love as they observe His nativity

linking today with Amy's "What I'm Holding" series

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Courage of Joseph

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
Matt. 1:24-25, ESV

Joseph, husband of Mary, receives little ink in the Gospels compared to his bride, adopted Son, or even Elizabeth and Zechariah. The understated narrative provides just enough detail for us to meet a man of courageous faith and obedience.

When Mary's pregnancy becomes known, he resolves to break the betrothal quietly, balancing the right action with the kind one. When God gives him different orders in a dream, he obeys and shares Mary's shame. At best, his marriage acknowledges his haste and passion; at worst, he accepts the reputation of cuckold. Even so, he lays down his right to a righteous reputation in order to do righteousness.

He lays down also his right to name his firstborn after himself, instead naming Him according to God's command in his dream. When he receives another divine dream, he packs the family up and leaves his homeland to preserve the Child's life.

What impresses me most about this unassuming man, however, is that he continues to say yes to obedience every day as he raises Jesus as his Son, even though he knows He isn't. Mary says one amazing yes, and the Holy Spirit overshadows her. So far as we know, her pregnancy from there is a normal pregnancy with normal hormones preparing her to love the Child of her womb. Joseph has no such biological support to his "long obedience in the same direction", to borrow Eugene Peterson's phrase.

He is, in other words, a good role model for most of the obedience required of us, as we seek to obey God in the humble duties of life.

We at Wits' End do truly grieve with those in Connecticut in the aftermath of the unfathomable evil done to children and their teachers last week. Even so, God remains worthy of our thanks and praise for His good gifts:

Beautiful examples of faith and courage like Jehoshaphat and Joseph
All the children who were kept safe in their schools and homes last week
Normal b.p. almost every day   
Sister's car quest successful and worth the wait
Pleasant conversation with couple across from us at office Christmas party
All Christmas gifts purchased
UPS bringing them to our door
Pescado a la parilla at neighborhood Mexican place
Taking the Lord's supper
Seeing The Hobbit: an unexpected journey (2 thumbs up)
Last currently scheduled medical appointment of year Monday for me
Ebony back to 100% after GI infection
Good test results for friend
Surviving without caffeine
The light of Christ bright enough for grave darkness like that in Newtown Friday
Grace big enough to redeem that terrible grief
A weeping Savior
(Gratitude journal, #8376-8392)

Sharing with MondayMultitudes and Playdates with God

Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent Longing {What I'm Holding}

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons,the redemption of our body (Romans 8:18-23, NASB).

On a friend's blog this week, I commented that  in Advent the yearning for happy endings comes so strong that it feels like grief. Perhaps my ongoing infirmities are affecting my emotions, but I feel that especially this year, and it's leaving me a tough melancholy, wistful. Is anyone else sensing that in their Christmas preparations?

Charles Wesley captures this in his Advent hymn, "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus":

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King.
Born to reign in us for ever,
Now Thy gracious Kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

This Friday has me holding longings, both sublime and ridiculous:
longing for freedom;
longing for release from fears and sins;
longing for rest, Strength, Consolation,
longing for Hope;
longing for the Desire of every nation, the Prince of Peace;
longing for Joy;
longing for His Kingdom;

but also longing for a decent hair day (thicker hair period, while we're on the subject);
longing to look nice for my husband's work Christmas party tonight;
longing for time and a comfortable position to read the books sitting neglected;
longing for sweet coffee with cream and something chocolate on the saucer;
longing for brilliant ideas for the 3 gifts left to procure;
longing for my ankle to heal;
longing for the ache in my ribs to let up;
longing for subtraction rather than addition of medical concerns;

longing to see and hug my Nonni, sister, and little nephews;
longing for shalom, peace, wholeness, in body, soul, spirit, and relationships;
and through it all, longing for Jesus, the answer to all our longings.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Be Born in Me

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You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle, make my heart your Bethlehem
Be born in me


I am not brave
I'll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I'm just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours

When the singer reached the refrain, "Be born in me," in church Sunday, memory's portal carried me back nearly two and a half years. On July 14, 2010, my doctor diagnosed my chest pain, extreme fatigue, and weakness as a lupus flare with possible inflammation of the membrane around the heart. He treated me with a steroid adjustment and bed rest for at least a month. My youngest nephew's first birthday was days away on the other side of the Metroplex, when we asked him about an exception so I could attend, he said, "Decisions have consequences."

The next day, I began my gratitude list over again at one and wrote this in my journal:
My best point of reference for this enforced inactivity is my friends' pregnancy bed rest, but even that is "rest so..." [as opposed to rest, period]. I don't have another life depending on my obedience or to look forward to as fruit. Perhaps You, Lord Christ, will be born in me more fully through this?
That became my prayer over the ensuing weeks. Over and over I asked, pleaded with God that Christ would be born in me more fully through this affliction.

To clarify my intent in those words, His actual historical, literal, human birth happened only once, to a real maiden who had never been intimate with a man but conceived Him by the Holy Spirit so that He was in truth "the only begotten God" (John 1:18) and also in truth Son of Man. Mary was a unique woman in the ancient Near East, and she came of age when Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire.  My journaled notes and prayer did not mean to minimize or supplant in any way that historical reality.

At the same time, every Christian who has been born of God by faith in His Son is a son of God, the Scriptures teach (e.g., John 1:12-13; Romans 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; 4:6; 1 John 3:1), and at the same time, in a poetic sense, every Christian bears the Son of God afresh in his or her flesh as the likeness of Christ in character and deed is borne out in her or him. Paul told the Romans in Romans 8:28-29 that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, and that the good to which all things work is conformity to the image of Christ. This conformity to Christ is what I meant, in plain terms, but sometimes I understand metaphor better than plain terms.

The Spirit of Christ indwells the believer, so Christ is in us already, but His likeness may and ought also to be borne out in us as we become transformed into that likeness, from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18).

"Be born in me," I prayed again Sunday with the singer portraying Mary. Be born in me, Lord Jesus.

The song also carried me back to January of 2012, when the verse impressed on my heart was Psalm 81:10, "I am Yahweh your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it." All the year long, I have been ruminating on what it means to open to God and what it takes to make room for His filling, so that more and more and more I might "be being filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18).

The one thing I have learned this year is that suffering, that "having what you don't want or wanting what you don't have," in Elisabeth Elliot's words, is one of God's most-used instruments in opening me up and emptying me. Suffering cleans out my old self, that "flesh" which can do very well on its own without God's help, thank you very much; evicts the idols I've built and the lies I've believed; and carves out more room for the grace and power of His Spirit to be realized in my daily experience.

The song prays,
I am not brave
I'll never be
The only thing my heart can offer is a vacancy
I'm just a girl
Nothing more
But I am willing, I am Yours.
A vacancy and willingness. That really is the only thing I can offer, and even that is a gift of grace.

Jesus was born from Mary out of suffering, too: not just the physical suffering of pregnancy  labor, and delivery in a time before epidurals and sophisticated modern obstetrics but also the emotional and social suffering of the shame and ostracism of pregnancy before marriage. Why should I expect the bearing of His likeness to be comfortable or pain-free? I shouldn't, of course, but sometimes I do.

Even so, God did not leave her in isolation. He included Elizabeth in the secret and spoke to Mary's betrothed under cover of darkness, in the hidden place of his dreams. At least those two friends supported her in the bearing of the Christ Child.

Nor does He leave me alone. Less than a month after that journal entry, He led me to start this blog and used it to give me also a support community larger than my immediate family. If Christ is being "born" and borne in me more fully through this, that reflects in no small measure His help through you kind souls.

Someday, dear crumbles, when we "know fully as we are fully known," we will see clearly what our trials have wrought and, I hope, give thanks together to the glory of God.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).

Until that "day when our faith shall be sight," I continue to practice gratitude to our God now for His many gifts:
the faith example of His earthly mother and father::untarnished hope::the gift of thorns::grace for an unproductive, unwell week last week::increased blood pressure medicine bringing readings back to normal after several days::two more weeks in the walking boot::with breaks in a transition brace and athletic shoe::three bits of very good news from Mezzo::incipient plans for Christmas Eve with youngest sister and her family::all the candy made but two batches::my excellent toffee apprentice (You learn well, grasshopper.)::seeing friends at church Sunday::an amazingly perfect surprise gift from Amore::unexpected encouragement::waking Monday to a dusting of snow on lawn and grill cover::cold nights and better sleep::lovely visit from some of my in-laws::good Mexican food on a cool day with good company::bright red of a cardinal in bare tree branches::note from a friend::the Best Gift, not under a tree, but risen, ascended, and returning in glory. Come soon, Lord Jesus!
(still counting gifts, #8329-8349; why stop at one thousand?)

linking, very late, to Monday Multitudes and Playdates with God

Friday, December 7, 2012

On This Day in December

FOR December 7, 2012

Outside my window... the live oak stands tall and green above brown grass and the street sits unusually quiet for a Friday afternoon after school has closed.

I am thinking... about my Nonni's story of December 7, 1941, and how the news of Pearl Harbor interrupted my grandparents' planning of a honeymoon at the Rose Bowl and "changed everything."

I am thankful... for newly cleaned teeth and support from husband and parents in a trying week.

In the kitchen... oops! my Candy Cane Lane decaf green tea is beyond steeped in my peppermint Christmas mug. Just a moment, and I'll take care of that. 

Otherwise, the kitchen is quiet because we have leftover black beans and quinoa for supper tonight.

I am wearing... jeans, a blue-green t-shirt, and a long navy cardigan. If I were standing, I'd also still be wearing my walking boot.

I am creating... easy Christmas candy but sadly not "real" blog posts or the rest of the second sock on my knitting needles. As aforementioned, it's been a trying week. Some piano playtime Sunday afternoon did yield a few measures of progress putting accompaniment to a tune composed 6 or 7 years ago and set aside.

I am going... nowhere but church this weekend, as far as I know, but possibly to my sister-in-law's on Tuesday to visit with Amore's sisters and parents.

I am wondering... what to get my youngest nephew for Christmas. (He's 3 going on 6 and very active.)

I am reading... Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (Advent devotional edited by Nancy Guthrie), A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz, and the special-issue magazine Jane Austen Knits...2011 (might be just a tad behind in my crafting magazines)

I am hoping... my blood pressure comes down after an unexpected spike all this week and subsequent increase in medication.

I am looking forward to... a healthy ankle so I can walk to the park again.

I am learning... that I am in control of even less of life than I thought and that it's very hard to relax when one tries very hard to relax.

Around the house... Ebony is making tunnels for himself in the blankets on the couch, the first batch of candy is bagged and ready to give, and toffee supplies are waiting until help is at hand for the long stirring process.

I am pondering... the gentle grace of God, how desperately I need it, and how utterly "gift" and His initiative it is.

A favorite quote for today...
"There is nothing in your life, Christian, that God cannot redeem for some purpose that will make you joyful, if you trust Him with it" (Andrée Seu Peterson, "Setback becomes shortcut").
One Three of my favorite things... sweater weather and Pandora's Sara Groves channel. Ooh, and leftovers. 

A few plans for the rest of the week: rest, wrap presents, spend time with my Amore, and hopefully make toffee if he has time to help. (But really, this has been the "Plans? What plans?" kind of week in which nothing has turned out as expected.)

A peek into my day...

Sharing with Peggy Hostetler's The Simple Woman's Daybook today, and counting this as a What I'm Holding post as well

Monday, December 3, 2012

From Creche to Cross

The whole of Christ's life was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha, where he was crucified, even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for to his tenderness then the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last. His birth and His death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day. From the creche to the cross is an inseparable line. Christmas only points forward to Good Friday and Easter. It can have no meaning apart from that, where the Son of God displayed his glory by his death (John Donne, quoted in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, ed. Nancy Guthrie).

Thanks be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for all His good gifts:
songs of worship :: opportunity to attend a marvelous church Christmas concert :: Mezzo singing in the choir :: time with Mom and Dad for brief errands :: Dad bringing stopgap groceries :: weather that can't make its mind up :: 81 degrees on December 1? :: bit of definite improvement in ankle :: library book to read with a friend :: new book of Advent devotions :: sick day today :: lots of fuzz therapy :: Amore coming home for lunch :: autumn roses :: the gold of our poplar (we think) tree before the winds came :: discovering this lovely Nativity poem :: this week's memory verses :: He Himself is our peace, making unity of estrangement
(Joy Dare #8223-8240)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Just Sing

Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our King, sing praise!
Sing a song of wisdom,
for God is King of all the earth.
Psalm 47:6-7

My mother tells me I sang the ABC's before I could speak. My earliest memories include song and books; I cannot recall a time when I did not know how to read or play the piano. My sisters and I frequently sang and danced about the living room to my parents' records, starting with children's albums and progressing to show tunes.

Church and school choir participation was a given, no matter how challenging school became or how time-consuming other activities might be. In fact, my most positive adolescent social experiences, beyond a shadow of doubt, involved Revelation!, our church youth choir. Choir at school, the last bastion of Christian proclamation in the public schools here, was an oasis amid the desert of cutthroat academic competition in other classes.

Church music became such a home to me that I entered university as a sacred music major. Even after that dream shattered, I led music for AWANA worship and a girls' Bible study and continued to sing habitually at home.

Why the resume?

That history provides a context for my recent realization that the singing has mostly stopped in my life.

How did this happen?

First, I stopped singing unless I was alone. Add marriage, frequent travel, and apartment living, and soon I only sang when I was alone in the car. That gradually constricted to the point that now I seldom sing outside of church. If I can hear the opening and closing of our mailbox from inside, passersby outside can hear me. If they can hear me, they might mock or throw rotten tomatoes at the house or hide their children from the crazy dog lady who sings for no reason.

In short, I have listened to my inner Simon Cowell instead of the plethora of commands in Scripture to sing God's praises. (And nowhere have I found a loophole such as "if you have a good voice.") If I sing out loud instead of just in my head, I might get voted out of polite society. People might think I'm odd, or even worse--joyful.

On the other hand, if I rebuild a singing habit, particularly a habit of singing praise and thanksgiving to God, my blood pressure and breathing might improve.  I might "feel comforted, strengthened, uplifted, able to endure and able to find peace" amidst life's relentless stressors. The Lord might set ambushes against my enemies (2 Chron. 20). His glorious presence might settle upon me (2 Chron. 5:13-14). The body of Christ might be edified (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Prisoners might be set free; hearts might open to the love of Christ (Acts 16:25-40). I might be set free. I might receive the blessing of those who hear the word of God and do it (Luke 11:28). Then where would we be?

After weighing this tough decision, I aim to spend the rest of 2012 opening my heart to God's filling by opening my mouth in His praises. Since my ankle injury has me grounded from morning walks for at least 2 more weeks, I have the perfect opportunity to start with baby steps. The neighborhood is quiet at 6 a.m., and with even Amore and Ebony gone, it truly feels like no one will hear me but God.

Perhaps someday I'll be as brave as my friend Kate and let you all listen in, but for right now I need to start small and sing loudly enough to drown out my inner critic. This morning I opened a hymnal to the first song and started through a journey to get reacquainted with old friends and discover some new ones along the way. From there, we'll see what God does.

In the comments, perhaps you'd like to share: do you sing? If so, how has that blessed you? Do you have a beloved praise song you sing most often? If not, why not?

Learning to sing again does not, however, preclude counting my blessings in print:
~ Jesus, the heart of every melody and the melody in my heart
~ the quiet anonymity of the city before dawn
~ God and my mom like my voice
~ so many good choir memories
~ hymnals
~ devotions by the light of the Christmas tree
~ handknit wool socks on my feet
~ and an ice pack on one
~ courage to disappoint someone by declining a nonessential but stressful event
~ quiet Thanksgiving with Mezzo and my parents
~ coming home with leftovers
~ pecan pie
~ the smell of freshly ground coffee
~ an arsenal of physical therapy exercises to combat the weight of the boot and the lack of walking
~ the amazing job the surgeon did to minimize scarring
~ the admirable success of Dawn's grease-cutting power to remove antibacterial ointment from my hair (yes, really)
~ good reminders in Sunday's sermon that the way we view our giants determines how we deal with them and that the faithfulness of God is greater than the features of my giants
(#8147-8163, aiming towards 10,000)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holding My Inheritance

Last Thursday morning after Allen and Ebony left to walk in the park, I sat by the sliding glass door and watched the sun rise "a ribbon at at time." As I drank in God's beautiful sky painting, a song arose in my heart:
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
Than all the angels heav'n can boast.

Then it occurred to me that no one was around to be bothered by my singing, so why not shift the song from heart to mouth?

Three verses of "Fairest Lord Jesus" followed, but what was the fourth? My mind wasn't returning the search result quickly for my digitally trained impatience, so I pulled the nearest hymnal off the nearest bookcase, scanned the index of first lines, and turned to number 211. As it happens, that hymnal only includes three verses for that hymn.

What next? Another brief search brought me to "In the Garden," a favorite introduced to me by my maternal grandmother, whose hymnal this was. The hymnal opened easily to that page; this was one of her favorites, too, for the binding to be so creased in that spot.

After that discovery, I flipped through the pages from one natural opening to another: "Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus," "At the Cross," "I Would Be True," and more. As the pages turned, I could hear my grandmother's voice in my mind's ear, just as though she were singing with me. Most of my memories of music at her house involve one of us granddaughters at her piano, although we all knew she had played. Apparently, far back in the treasuries of memory, she sang hymns with me too, unless the brain's mysterious alchemy created false memories out of scraps of true ones pieced together.

I had certainly known she sang and played hymns, whether with me or alone, some of them often. Discovering her well-creased favorites was like a glimpse into the journal of this beloved woman who passed away 21 years ago. As I perused and sang some more, a realization dawned on me: I was holding my inheritance in my hands.

My mother's parents were not wealthy people, as the world measures wealth. Their homes in all my memories comprised rented apartments, and for the last decade or so of her life, my grandmother--whom her eldest granddaughter allegedly named Giggy--didn't even own a car. What she had, however, she gave: time and love in abundance, basic sewing and crochet skills, an affection for hymns, and an example of sacrificial love in marriage.

My grandfather was her second husband. She had been widowed as a young mother during the Depresison and did not remarry until her son was nearly grown. My grandfather was a decade younger than Giggy, so she always expected he would survive her and care for her in her dotage. When I was still in primary school, he developed dementia diagnosed as Alzheimer's. Most of my memories of him were situated in nursing homes, after it had become unsafe for him to remain at home with her.

My mother drove her to visit him at least three times a week, and in school holidays we would accompany them. Every time we went, my grandmother would bring him his favorite dessert, Millionaire Pie, which she made without crust to protect him from choking. Repetition carved enduring memories of that yellow and white frozen dessert beginning to melt in its faded, recycled Cool Whip container wrapped first in cellophane then in foil. When he had forgotten how to feed himself, she would pull her chair close and spoon the creamy sweetness into his mouth like a mother feeding a very young child. In my recollection, she never made that pie for any of us but him.

Almost a decade of that sort of marriage was not perhaps what she thought she'd signed up for, but when her generation said, "For better, for worse" and "till death us do part," they meant it. I never heard her complain and seldom saw tears, even though there must have been plenty shed in private, perhaps even spilling onto the piano keys while she played from this hymnal.

As I sang that morning, all these memories came flooding back, and I shed a few tears myself. As to what I'm holding today, when I'm holding a hymnal in my hand or those old hymns tunes in my heart;

when I pick up hook and yarn to make something warm or lovely;

when I sit at her sewing table, where she taught me to sew doll clothes and where now I write;

and when I hold her memory in my heart-- in all these things, I'm holding my inheritance.

What else I'm holding in head, heart, hands, and home:
:: so many memories. . . whether from something in the autumn air or ghosts of Thanksgivings past
:: more homemade cranberry sauce, Giggy's recipe plus my own spices and Splenda instead of sugar
:: leftovers from my mom's meal yesterday
:: a completed hat crocheted
:: no stitches in my scalp
:: husband home for Black Friday
:: gladness his new employer grants Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving
:: Christmas list taking shape

What are you holding today? Feel free to share in the comments here or at Amy's, or write your own post and tell her so.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rings on Her Fingers {A Guest Post}

 A dear friend has recently begun keeping a blog about her journey as the wife and caregiver of a stroke survivor. We have shared tea, laughter, and books together, and I have enjoyed her hospitality on numerous occasions. She has survived the perils of a blended family and homeschooled three of her five children with admirable success. My friend has graciously allowed me to reprint one of her posts here for your encouragement. To read more of her story, please get better acquainted with her at her own blog, Strokeman's Woman.

One day while exercising at the pool I saw something blue on the bottom that turned out to be a plastic ring. The first thought was, of course, how much my granddaughters were going to enjoy having another accessory to wear with the ballet costumes they love to play in when they are visiting my house. But then, for some reason I found myself remembering a ring of much more value and beauty – my daughter-in-law’s engagement ring. When my son had been dating her for a while, I began to realize how much I loved this young woman, and how sad I would be if it turned out that she would not become a part of my family. So it was with great joy that I agreed to my son’s request to go with him to help pick out her engagement ring.
My love for Jenny was not the only reason I was overjoyed by this invitation. My son and I have not always seen eye to eye. When I married his father, he was 10 and was not too keen on another woman coming into his life. During his high school years things didn’t improve all that much. (I can remember him telling me once that the same brand of orange juice tasted better at his friends house.) In all fairness, my mothering and housekeeping skills left much to be desired. At any rate, any time he and I have a chance to really enjoy being together I find it to be a great treasure. It was a lot of fun to go with him to the different stores, learn things about the different grades of diamonds, and give my opinion on which I thought were the most unique and beautiful. It is a wonderful memory for me.
Interestingly enough this experience spurred one of the most heated arguments Strokeman and I had in our later years of marriage. Strokeman is adamantly opposed to spending much money on a ring. My engagement ring is a very inexpensive piece of jewelry with a small emerald and tiny diamonds. I love it because it came to me from a man I love who wrote a poem about the green of my eyes that were symbolized by the green of the emerald. But it is not the kind of ring that brings envy to other wives.
When I came home from our shopping trip, Strokeman expressed to me again his disdain for expensive engagement rings. I tried to explain to him that an engagement ring is something that will be worn for the rest of a woman’s life. It needs to be quality enough to last, and something that is in the realm of what the young lady in question would be likely to choose for herself. He ended up saying something like, “I thought you liked the ring I picked out for you,” and I ended up crying and saying I guessed I would never get a diamond ring. What a mess.
A few months later Strokeman bought me a diamond ring that was on sale at JCPenney. It was beautiful, but after a year or two one of the diamonds fell out, and to fix it would cost more than we spent on the ring to begin with. There was a part of me that was relieved, because every time I looked at it on my finger I remembered how silly I had been about the whole thing. I am so content to stick to my emerald  engagement ring that I have spent more than it is worth to have fixed once. When it dies again, I guess I will be content to just wear my band.
It’s funny the things that seem so important when all else is going pretty well. Now, after having been  through the stuff we have been through, diamond rings seem to be so not important. How stupid to waste words over such trivial things. Rings don’t make a wedding into a marriage. Their price doesn’t make it easier to weather the ups and downs that come from being connected to another human being. That being said, it is nice to realize that there were times in our marriage when the biggest issue between us was the value of a piece of jewelry. We have these moments to remember.

Many thanks, Strokeman's Woman, for allowing me to share a piece of your story here. I'm thankful to know you and to continue to learn from you.

Crumbles, may the rest of your week be filled with laughter, love, and genuine gratitude, whether you will be celebrating Thanksgiving with us in the U.S.A. or not.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Still Soul

Time careers downhill;
Days blur like bicycle spokes.
Will I fear or fly?

The final line of this haiku-style poem only emerged this morning, months after the first two. Even as I recognize my tendency to white-knuckle my way through life instead of raising my hands and squealing with delight over the wind in my hair, my heart is singing a song which at first seems just the opposite to the poem.

"Be Still, My Soul" is the English translation of a German hymn by Katherina von Schlegel. Here is the text in full:
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end. 
Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below. 
Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last. 
Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, believing, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.
Those words hold so very much material for meditation, yet I'm not certain I've ever sung all the verses in a corporate worship context. Now that I look them up, I'm wondering if the key to embracing the wild ride of life is remembering that this is a tandem bicycle, and the One steering is the Lord who is indeed "on my side"; remembering that He "faithful will remain"; remembering that "thy best, thy heavenly Friend/Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end."

No matter how wild or fast this ride may race, the One in the front seat is taking us someplace wonderful, more wonderful than my best imaginings. In that hope, I will keep preaching the gospel to my soul until I learn to have a still soul in a whirling world, a soul at rest in the goodness and competency of my truest Companion on this journey.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last. 
Let me then continue "the song of praise/On earth, believing, to [my] Lord on high," thanking God for more of His gifts:

women banding together in seeking to grow towards God's standard of femininity :: post-election wisdom from an alumnus of the Tuesday Night Tangent Society Bible study :: God answering prayers for those young people's continuing growth in Christ without a smidgen of help from me :: parents' company on a night when A. had a work event :: easy, healthy meals in freezer, thanks to a Groupon :: the free gift of the first lesson from the soon-to-be-released One Thousand Gifts Group Bible Study [See embedded video below if you wish to view it, but have tissue handy.] :: the contagion of a transformed heart :: one hard thing unexpectedly lightened a little :: stitches coming out today :: visit and treats from Mezzo :: expert advice on gift selection :: a gospel trio singing "In the Garden" at church yesterday :: movie date with my Amore :: local Thanksgiving plans :: one week of walking boot behind me, one week closer to getting back to the park :: husband's doing extra chores when cleaning helper had to cancel :: clean puppy breathing deeply in his sleep next to me :: crocheted hat completed :: Christmas music around the corner
(gratitude journal #8057-8075)

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sharing today with Laura and Ann

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Farm in the Center of Town

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre!

He covers the heavens with clouds;

he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.

He gives to the beasts their food,

    and to the young ravens that cry.


His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,


but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who hope in his steadfast love. 
Psalm 147:7-11, ESV

At the heart of my town's suburban sprawl, a farm has endured. One of our city's earliest Caucasian families still owns it, although just this year a parcel of this land was sold and rezoned, more's the pity. Driving past the pastures and animals, watching the windmill spin by the barn, and enjoying this vision of peace provided by the labor of others improves a good day and ameliorates a bad one.

We drove past the farm this morning on the way home from another medical appointment. My surgery recovery has gone smoothly so far. Unhappily for me, however, my ankle's collision with the metal bed frame in the Saturday morning darkness has put me back in a walking boot until the bone bruise heals.

Support for the aching joint, ointments for my wounds, medication to help bear discomfort, hands to hold, and bodies to hug all help, but gratitude is good medicine too. Proclaiming truth about God and returning thanks for His gifts and work are trust shovels I can ply to dig channels for hope to flow.

And so I dig away, through rocky ground and soft, praising God from whom all blessings flow (and it's all blessing, all grace, even when it comes in a thorny package):
His creation, which ministers grace in so many ways
a surprise visit from a friend and her new puppy Audrey (as in Hepburn)
no new concerns at my annual skin cancer screening
a surprise visit from our little neighbor "Livvy"
laughing with/at her antics
husband able to resume two-wheeled commute
a surprise visit (can we see a pattern here?) from another neighbor, thanking me in person for a birthday gift
good sleep the night before surgery
successful procedure
good medical care providers
nothing unexpected to God, "no panic in heaven, only plans," as Corrie ten Boom said
husband taking good care of me without complaint
plentiful meal prepared by parents
surgical wound healing well
a scheduling clerk and doctor willing to work me in on a full day
ankle not broken
permission, nay, orders to rest
the subtle way God communicates, "You keep using that rest word. I do not think it means what you think it means." :)
quilt, pillows, and dog waiting for naptime
phones with cameras that capture images of favorite places
horses, moo-cows, and alpacas
green pastures
friends who grab their faith shovels to help me dig
(gratitude list, #7966-7991)

sharing in community with Laura and Ann today
(Really going to rest now. Blogging is good medicine too?)