Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Leave It. {Blessing the Boundaries, Part 7}

This post serves as an appendix of sorts to last summer's Blessing the Boundaries series:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself ["laid aside His privileges," mg.], taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5-7, NASB).

When we adopted Ebony, we discovered the very day we brought him home that he had significant fear issues. Our research efforts revealed that basic canine training classes help animal anxiety as much as they do other, more aggressive behaviors.

In the second or third week, we learned the "leave it" command. As we placed a yummy treat on the floor within Ebony's field of vision, we told him to "leave it." He was leashed for the training class, so the handler was easily able to check the inevitable lunges for the desired reward. Once Ebony had accepted that this particular food was off-limits, we could tell him to "take it." Needless to say, this was his favorite part of the exercise.

Over many weeks and repetitions, the duration of the hold increased and the proximity of the treat decreased. It's much harder for him to resist temptation when it's truly under his nose or he's waited so long he's drooling.

"Leave it."

"Okay. Take it!"
Why the fuss? How cruel and unusual a trick is this to play on our poor puppy?

As it happens, this exercise does not merely serve to establish who is the master and who the pet. We are training into him, in safe and controlled circumstances, the response we desire from the words, "Leave it." Once solidified, this command proves not only useful but essential when, for example, the coffee bag spills and beans skitter off the counter onto the floor and into his water bowl. "Leave it" then saves an emergency vet visit, at least, and the animal's life, at most. Again, when a glass jar shatters all over the kitchen linoleum and Ebony's instincts draw him toward the kerfuffle, "Leave it" keeps his tender paws at a safe distance.

What seems like an irresistible command to resist the allure of a tantalizing treat is actually the novitiate training for a harder, lifesaving obedience later on. The food incentive is not bad in itself but beneficial in appropriate measures. If it were a bad or unattractive thing we asked him to leave, it would be a poor training tool.

When I consider the Christian practice of fasting, as the Walk with Him Wednesday community has been encouraged to do, the "leave it" command comes to my mind. My practice of fasting has been sporadic and varied, and the last 20 months feel like a protracted fast from many things, but not from food. The off-limits "yummy treats" that call my name are not bad in themselves: visits with my grandmother, road trips with the global nomad who married me, studying cross-legged in my favorite chair, kneeling for prayer. For reasons of His own, however, God has told me to "leave it." I have heard "take it" more often in the last six months, but the boundaries still feel claustrophobic on a regular basis.

Trust calls me to offer those things back to God to keep or restore in His time. Gratitude calls me to look at all the good and perfect gifts He has given, the blessings of this present moment. Praise calls me to bless His name even if the boundaries narrow yet further and the stakes of obedience increase.

When the command chafes and I'm in the throes of tempted to throw a private temper tantrum, God sometimes reminds me of Ebony. Look at that first photo again:

Do you notice the direction of Ebony's gaze? He's looking at me, the one who issued the command and has the power to release him from it. All too often I stare at the bowl of food and drool, which only intensifies my frustration and does not hasten gratification.

For the most part, this blog has been a most blessed "take it!" Unhappily for me, for a little while I am sensing God asking me to leave it be and move a couple of non-blog matters to the fore. I think I can learn and do what is needful offline in the next two to three weeks, but the only way to accomplish that while still in physical therapy and completing the local Bible study commitment is to fast temporarily from posting.

My discomfiture about the prospect arises partly from past experience teaching me the difficulty of regaining momentum after a habit is broken for a time. I'm also realizing, however, that I'm reluctant to relinquish the sense of significance this community provides. That I am looking to your affirmation for approval and validation instead of writing from the overflow of a heart already secure and satisfied in Christ is a warning sign for me. My mental completions of the sentence, "I'd rather blog than _____," also show me this place may be an escape from unpleasant duties I'd just as soon push aside.

(Those of you who blog, have you experienced this? If so, where have you found help?)

Perhaps it is antithetical to blog about not blogging, but I know that you kind crumbles would worry if I suddenly went radio silent without explanation. This way you know how to keep me in your prayers as I keep you in mine and endeavor to keep my eyes on my Father-Master for His word.

Perhaps some of you are also sensing the Holy Spirit's nudge to lay something aside for a while. Perhaps your something is more serious and substantial than mine, or perhaps it's a blessing which has become unruly or doesn't fit within a new set of boundaries you face.

If so, we can watch our Father together and set the eyes of our hearts on Jesus, now exalted to His right hand after Himself pioneering the way for us by leaving the privileges of glory to be born into a poor carpenter's family so that He could lay down His life in love for us. Whether we know the reason for our "leave it" or not, we can lean into His intercession and trust that our Lord has a good purpose in this, that we might love Him and our neighbor better through what we lay aside.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26, ESV).
If I do not already know your prayer requests from correspondence or your own blog, please feel free to communicate in the comments or by email at crumbsfromhistable[at]gmail[dot]com. With gratitude, I lift your names to the Father in open hands most days, and a privilege that is. Alternately, I'd be delighted to learn from listening to your experience of fasting and any Lenten observance you may have planned.

If the Lord wills, we will regather here March 12 or 13.

Grace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ.
With love in the Lamb,

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jackpot of Blessings

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Psalm 103:1-5, ESV

May the merciful, gracious, gift-giving Lord fill your week with a jackpot of blessings and grant us eyes to recognize His goodness and hearts to give thanks.

Thanking God this week for more of His abundant blessings:
~robins all around the neighborhood
~more green grass and lawnmowers
~an excellent physical therapist and intern helping me strengthen and heal
~hope growing in the soil of endurance
Daffodils preparing for their spring show

~encouragement in ladies' small group
~right Bible readings at right time, God's breathed-out Word teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training me in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)
~time with family Saturday
~Thunder Twins growing and learning so much. . . 5 years old, really? Wasn't it just last week I stayed over to help my sister with their little newborn selves?
~hugs from my Nonni
~rain replenishing needy lakes
~endurance and perseverance for first week of physical therapy rigors
~another job transition for a loved one wanting stability after more than two years of moves and employment changes
~God's good plan for my loved ones as well as myself
~answered prayers for a friend's brother
~an administrative error opening the way to chat with a friend
~God giving wisdom when I ask Him (James 1:5)
~a holiday for Allen today
~pleasant weather for his time outdoors
(from the gratitude list, #4002-4019)

In the chorus of thanksgiving with the community below:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Gift of Thorns

 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. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But 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 thatthe power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For 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 Cor. 12:7-10, ESV).

            Twice here Paul states the purpose of his thorn: “to keep me from becoming conceited” (v.7, ESV). Granted, the affliction also came from Satan to harass and torment, but even that harassment proved a gift to pierce his pride.
            A decade of living with lupus has acquainted me with weakness and feeling harassed. Few days pass now without the slow hiss of punctured pride. I hear it every time it pains me to say, “I can’t do this. Will you please help me?” My private tantrums over unattainable desires, petty or substantial, reveal my addictions to control and comfort. My discombobulation at God’s refusals exposes the areas of life where I still want my kingdom, not His.
            Every life experiences thorns, none of which are easy or pleasant. Paul’s threefold prayer for the removal of Satan’s tormenting angel indicates his realistic assessment of the pain. This passage challenges our perspective on suffering because Paul does not stop at pleading for relief but opens himself to receive the blessings in the thorn:
·         Purging the pride that sets us in opposition to God (v.7; James 4:6).
·         Staging the perfect display of God’s sufficient grace (v.9).
·         Opening the way through weakness for Christ’s power to reside in him (v.9).
Paul so esteems these blessings that he boasts for Christ’s sake about the tough stuff of life rather than in his heavenly vision.
            Lord, thank You for the gift of thorns. We don’t like them and will be pleased for You to remove them as soon as they have accomplished Your work in us. Until then, they are a gift from You, our loving Father. By faith, we thank You and ask that Your grace and power would shine all the more because of them. Amen.

Prayer note: The physical therapist diagnosed the knee pain (i.e., not my imagination) and believes both that and the ongoing back pain are "manageable."  The less pleasant news (see paragraph 2 above) is that managing the issues requires 9 appointments (plus homework exercises) over 4 weeks. This will stretch my stamina and require some tough decisions about what to do and what to leave undone. My sincere thanksgiving goes out to you who pray for me! You are a grace.

Sharing with the Faith Jam about "vulnerable" today:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Time Capsule

a surprise from my friend Kate
Bonnie the Faith Barista encouraged her married readers last week, by word and example, to remember the affectionate flirtation of courtship and to revisit those in the days leading up to Valentine's Day. She shared a study which found that the key ingredients in successful marriages were fondness, admiration, and "put[ting] a positive spin on their marriage's history."

This challenged me. By God's grace, my beloved still owns my affection and admiration, but with the losses and brokenness we have sustained over the past 12 years, sometimes it seems the brokenness is our identity. As we take up our crosses to follow Jesus, as we die to ourselves in the daily endurances of life, we (or at least I) may be tempted to forget that the Gospel of Christ does not end at the cross.

As the angel said to the women at the tomb,
You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here (Mark 16:6, ESV).
The brokenness is not the end of our story. Affliction is not our identity. The trials of life are instruments in God's blessed hands that we might realize more fully the life of Christ in us. No matter how things appear, no matter how things feel, our story has a happy ending which ought to bring hope and that "positive spin" to our interpretation of today. For the Christian, every cross ends in resurrection; every broken place makes room for more of God's glory.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory (Col. 3:3-4, HCSB).
Taking up Bonnie's challenge, I pulled out the notebook of our love letters. Actually, they were love emails. I don't recall when I printed them, but it's a good thing I did, because those accounts no longer exist. Where did we come from as a couple? Besides books and coffee and seminary chapel, what did our first love look like?

The notebook has lain open on our table since Thursday, each of us paging through by turns. The joy of revisiting them has surprised and blessed me.

It has encouraged me to see more continuity than I expected between the then and the now. The endearments we still use were selected in the very earliest days of courtship, and their number has only multiplied. Our first Valentines to each other fell out of the notebook when I picked it up, and the inscriptions were so similar that A. asked if we had planned it intentionally. We still do that, taking words out of each other's mouths on a regular basis. Sharing coffee and tea, exchanging prayers and counsel, trying to make him laugh with mixed results, printing on both sides of the paper--none of these things have changed.

Discovering some troubles during courtship which had been completely forgotten in the intervening years also strengthened my heart. Sometimes forgetfulness is a grace, too.

The words of our younger selves have also edified me in surprising ways. The great, gleaming faith of those days humbles me and makes me a little wistful. Our faith now is smaller, perhaps like a mustard seed, but it may through grace be a truer faith because a tested one. May God grant that our seeds of faith would grow and mature into bigger trust again.

We have enjoyed laughing together at our naivete and mushy romantic talk. I did not remember my non-fiction, deep-thinking husband being so smitten! My own silliness, on the other hand, was no surprise at all.

Last of all, the nostalgia has reminded me of the preciousness of exclusivity. We are each other's first romance. Excluding my dad, A. is my first and only Valentine. There are no other love letters, no other roses, no other kisses. Not everyone has that story, and I don't at all mean that ours is better. God gives a variety of tailor-made gifts; this happens to be one of ours, and I had come to take it for granted.

If you are still reading, I pray that this has encouraged you in your own relationships in some way. We are all living a romance, and the same need to remember and refresh our first love applies to our relationship with the Lord who loves us just as much as to our human relationships.

Speaking of which, another week means another list of the silly and serious ways He loves:
~our truest, eternal Valentine, the God who sings love songs over us
~red roses on the table
~wise counsel
~laughing with A. at the emails we exchanged through courtship and engagement
~silly nicknames
~husband who still opens doors for me, assists me in and out of the car, and helps me into my coat
~my one and only human Valentine
~our own words speaking back to us to strengthen and encourage today
~Faith Barista's post that prompted me to revisit them
~grace for lots of things left undone last week
~a week without medical appointments
~two long phone conversations with crumble friends
~"upheld," the word and the truth behind it (Is. 41:10)
~choosing Valentines to send
~God ministering to two online friends through comment prayers
~a blurb from my Hawk and Dove review making a surprise appearance in the Kindle edition of the new book in that series
~my dad for discovering that and sharing the news
~having attended four for four Bible study meetings
~kind words affirming my involvement in that small group
~community's answered prayers for husband's colleague
~plans for coffee with a neighbor in a few weeks
~full bird feeder with lots of visitors
~a friend making herself available for intercession at any time of day or night: "My phone is always on and always with me. Just text, 'Pray now,' and I'll pray." God's grace at work in His body.
~strong hot tea on a cold, grey day
~addresses known by heart
~handwriting I recognize without seeing the return stamp
~more love in the mail, sent by a friend from long before the blog
~opportunity for more physical therapy help the next two weeks
~pleasure of anticipating a visit with family and my grandmother, come the weekend
~your patience with my unanswered comments

Sharing with the communities at Ann's, Laura's, and Bonnie's:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Surrender {Poem}

Sorry about the poetry jag the blog seems to have taken recently. Any suggestions to remedy that? Multiple conversations this week, in person and in pixels, have reminded me of this piece that I personally never stop needing to revisit.

Thanks for your prayers for R. Monday. We don't know the details, but he was back at work yesterday, so it seems God granted our requests. May He give you joy and sincere worship this weekend. ~cm

Thy will be done— 
Four little words,
Mighty in the divine fiat
To tumble mountains,
Overthrow kingdoms;
Open prison bars,
Shut lions’ mouths;
Strengthen Gethsemanes,
Cheat death of its prey.

Mere syllables—
As You wish,
A verbal curtsy—
To unleash the Lion of Judah
Into the jungle of my circumstances.
On close inspection,
Wasn’t the back door of His cage
Open all along?
Yet in meekness
The Lion waits,
Until I bid Him
Do His bidding.

Thy will be done
The noblest petition,
Choosing His choice;
The one prayer
Never refused,
Always heard,
Had for the asking.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


When changes lurk like bandits around dark corners,
When life's steadiest certainties register on the Richter scale,
When the most dependable crutches don't bear the weight of my cares,
When wedding photos and doorjamb growth charts rise smoky red in the night sky,
When paramedics carry "normal" away on a stretcher,

You, Lord, You make my mountain stand firm.
You make my boundaries secure.
You are my abundantly available help in tight places.
You named Yourself "I Am," yesterday, today, and forever the same.
Your love is my one sure thing.

Shaddai, shelter me in the shadow of Your wings while the storms pass.

Lord, help me to learn how to hang on tight to You when my life is rocked by dramatic change. Empower me to trust You and not to panic or fight for control. Help me to stop confusing a change in my circumstances with a change in my security status. You are my security, O God. You are the one sure thing. When everything around me shakes, You are unshakable. Nothing has the propensity to reveal false gods to me like a sudden change in my circumstances. Help me to see them and surrender them instantaneously. Use change to provoke what needs changing in me, Lord, and to increase my appreciation of the only one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Beth Moore, So Long, Insecurity, p. 171).

Scripture references: Psalms 30:7; 16:5, NIV1984; 46:1; Exodus 3:14-15; Hebrews 13:8; Ps. 100:5 and many other verses which proclaim the endurance of God's steadfast love; Psalms 57:1 and 91:1.

P.S. Please don't worry. :) There are some uncomfortable changes pushing me towards God right now, but this prayer seeks to move beyond my relatively small stuff to bigger losses I know about. I considered using our/us language but felt that me/my would be more personal here, not because every concern listed applies to me, but with a view to identification with any reader God should bring who is feeling shaken or insecure today.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Worlds to Conquer

Urgent prayer note: Just as I was about to post this, my husband's co-worker R. was rushed to the hospital with heart attack symptoms. God knows his name, and I know you and how generous you are with your prayers. Please join me in lifting this man and his family to God?

I am Yahweh your God,
who brought you up from the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

Psalm 81:10, HCSB

My new acquaintance, Thomas Traherne (1637-1674), relates a tale of an unhappy king in his work Centuries of Meditations:

To what end do men gather riches, but to multiply more? Do they not, like Pyrrhus the King of Epire, add house to house and lands to lands that they may get it all? It is storied of that prince, that having conceived a purpose to invade Italy, he sent for Cineas, a philosopher and the King's friend, to whom he communicated his design and desired his counsel.

Cineas asked him to what purpose he invaded Italy? 
He said, "To conquer it." 
"And what will you do when you have conquered it?" 
"Go into France," said the King, "and conquer that." 
"And what will you do when you have conquered France?" 
"Conquer Germany." 
"And what then?" said the philosopher. 
"Conquer Spain." 
"I perceive," said Cineas, "you mean to conquer all the world. What will you do when you have conquered all?" 
"Why then," said the King, "we will return and enjoy ourselves at quiet in our own land." 
"So you may now," said the philosopher, "without all this ado."
Yet could he not divert him till he was ruined by the Romans. 
Thus men get one hundred pound a year that they may get another, and having two covet eight, and there is no end of all their labor because the desire of their soul is insatiable. Like Alexander the Great they must have all, and when they have got it all, be quiet. And may they not do all this before they begin? Nay it would be well, if they could be quiet. 
But if after all, they shall be like the stars that are seated on high but have no rest, what gain they more, but labor for their trouble? It was wittily feigned that that young man sat down and cried for more worlds to conquer (Waking Up in Heaven, 13-14).
Every life has its aching emptiness. Some of the soul holes last all the life long. Some shift and change like soap bubbles. The question the Christian believer must answer is what he or she will do with the emptiness? Will we chase after worlds to conquer and thus attain the contentment we crave? Perhaps world domination does not capture your fancy (as it does not mine). Will I pursue a bigger house, a faster car, a smaller smartphone, a wardrobe update, or a stack of new books and thus satisfy my empty places?

That hasn't worked for me. Has it worked for you?

My Bible study homework on James 1:17 last week offered an alternative. One or the exercises asked that we divide our lives in four equal sections. Considering one section at a time, we were to list God's good and perfect gifts to us during those years. What at first seemed daunting proved a source of joy and gratitude for the different gifts and circumstances the Lord has chosen for me and for the role they each played in forming (for better or worse) the person I am today.

What began as a mental exercise so I could get through the day's questions became an offering of thanksgiving, an act of worshiping the Father of lights who perfectly and generously gives all good gifts, even the ones I wish at the time came with a return receipt.

The emptiness in my soul will never be filled by earthly pursuits. Made in the image of God, no matter how broken that image may be, we can only be filled and "quiet" in Him. "Open your mouth wide," He says, "and I will fill it." It does not say "fill it with ___________," but simply "fill it."

My true hope of quiet contentment lies not in appetite, acquisitions, or accomplishments, but in being full of Him as I worship, trust, and surrender my will for His.

And so, I keep counting His kind and gracious gifts (#2844-64):
~free access to the throne of grace without fear
~God's constancy in a world of change
~promise of a day when all desire will be fulfilled by Him who is our chief delight
~strength for a week's laundry
~more real mail!
~a surprise from a friend left on the front mat
~God's protection and presence while Allen traveled for a family need
~hunger and thirst for God's Word and prayer
~the beautiful polyphony of birds singing this morning
~the flowering quince (I think) in a neighbor's yard
~the drone of lawnmowers welcoming the new month
~stems and leaves of daffodils rising hopeful above the cropped grass
~the color green
~frost sparkling on the old bridge like diamond dust
~a message perfectly suited to my heart at Bible study Wednesday
~ability to attend the first three of eight sessions
~crossing paths with two of the women outside of class
~a good eye exam
~flowers from my beloved, inside and outside the house

~laughing at Ebony's favorite Superbowl commercial and close second, although the second link won't make sense unless you have first seen it's predecessor the Darth Vader kid commercial (It is not my intention to endorse in any way the companies and products represented in these commercials. We don't actually own either one. We do, however, endorse clean humor when we encounter it.)
~the nineteen years God gave with my grandmother, who taught me to crochet and sew, who modeled for me the benefits of a well-worn hymnal and a piano, and who was one of my closest friends until her passing on a rainy February morning over two decades ago

sharing today with Ann and Laura's communities:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thou Art the Same God {Part Three: God of Tomorrow}

This is part three of a three-part poem. If you missed the first parts or would like to get a running start into the third, here are the links:
Part One: God of Yesterdays
Part Two: God of Today

III.                    The God of my tomorrow:
Preparing a place for me

God of tomorrow—
Red Sea impossibilities,
Wilderness wastelands,
“This cup,
this bitter cup. . .
You have given it;
How can I refuse?”
Valley of the shadow. . . .
You are there,
Will be there,
Faithful in my faithlessness.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Lie ahead,
Nothing certain but uncertainty.
One thing sure:
The Lion
Driving out my enemies,
Making the wilderness
Your castle.

Around the corner of my tomorrows. . .
Promising Tomorrowland,
When “all will be right,
When Aslan comes. . .”
Wedding dress for widow’s weeds,
Love songs for funeral dirges,
Beauty for ashes,
Mourning into dancing. . . .
No more hindered by these
Wooden legs,
Broken wings.
Farther up and farther in. . .

This three-part poem dates, I think, from the first few weeks back in the U.S. after our return from the mission field. Apologies to the very many authors, especially C.S. Lewis, whose scraps of ideas are quilted together here.