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.

Source:  strokemanswoman.wordpress.com
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?)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Holding Hands {What I'm Holding}

Someone held my left hand so gently, rubbing the back with her thumb. The hand's mate stroked my arm, as I might do for a young child upset by illness. Whose hand was it? Female, certainly, too soft and small to be my gardener husband's; skin too smooth with youth to be my mother's. Had my baby sister come? But who was minding the boys, and why wouldn't my eyes open? The kindness of the touch wrote love on my arm.

Gradually I began to see a bright blur that made me squint. My head turned toward the other hand--Allen?--rubbing my right shoulder. The face came into focus. Oh! The doctor! When did he return, and what was he saying? He repeated it until I could understand. Yes, yes, I could hear him. But where did Fernando Ortega go, and why were my earbuds ringing so high and steadily instead? My phone must have been acting up. The doctor persisted with his questions, Did I have tunnel vision? (Oh, is that what this is?) OK, sure, I nodded.

Then I remembered having said I was lightheaded, and my beloved's face moved into view. Oh, good, he's here. Someone had reclined the chair which held me, but I still felt lightheaded and queasy. I started to ask him if I had fainted, but even in my disorientation it occurred to me that perhaps I should assume that I had, that perhaps that was the most likely explanation for these strange goings-on and the level of concern around me. Instead, I asked, "So... how long was I out?"

"Not long," he replied.

The kind hand was gone from my arm, and a blood pressure cuff replaced it, squeezing hard before the click, click, click, and slow hiss as it released air. The room held its breath a moment before the doctor said, "Take it again." The nurse replied in the affirmative from my left side. It was her hand, then? Astonishment and gratitude rose up together; she had been all stern, quiet business before I fainted, yet when I was in trouble she treated me like a sister, a friend. First impressions don't always tell the truth, it seems.

On the second reading, the doctor asked if I thought I could drink some coffee or tea. My pulse was only 41, he said, and my blood pressure was still 80/40, even with consciousness regained. We could not continue with the tumor removal like that. Yes, I could drink some coffee. (This office had good coffee, but I didn't trust their tea.) Allen was dispatched to fetch me caffeine and alarm update my parents, who waited in the lobby.

The doctor left with him, leaving the nurse with me. I apologized for causing a fuss and thanked her for taking care of me. She refreshed the cold cloth on my forehead and asked me more questions to type into my chart before returning to my left side to take my hand again. I told her that I used to grow lightheaded routinely in health and science classes when teachers told gory stories, but that life with chronic illness, lots of needles, and multiple surgeries had desensitized me to the point that this really surprised me. She began to share a little of her own health story when Allen returned.

They helped me sit up a little, slowly, so I could sip my drink. The doctor popped his head back in, seemed pleased to see me drinking, and asked if the coffee was the way I liked it. Nodding and patting Allen's hand, I just said, "He knows," and he does. It's nice to be married a man who knows how I like my coffee, especially since he's the only reason I bothered learning to drink it.

After a few sips, the doctor returned to repeat my blood pressure, and it had normalized. "Your color's back," the nurse said. A few more sips, and they repeated the readings again to make sure I was stable.

"Are you sure you want to do this today?" the doctor asked. "If this has made you too anxious, we can send you home and reschedule at another time."

"I want to get it over with, please."

"OK, then. If you're sure you're all right."

(They hadn't even started cutting yet. We had only proceeded as far as the local anesthetic and sensitivity test when the world went black.)

The rest of the procedure went smoothly. Microscopic inspection confirmed the doctor had removed all the cancerous cells on the first try. Recovery will take some time, and I'm on a shorter-than-usual activities leash for eleven days, until the stitches come out. Today only my head hurts instead of my whole self.

The pieces are still coming together from the scary start yesterday morning. The complexity of our bodies amazes me. Despite my perception, my eyes never completely closed, Allen said. During what seemed merely a long blink to me, noise and hasty activity had erupted around me. Allen said I was unconscious less than a minute, but I wasn't immediately certain I had fainted at all.

Later I remembered the verses about God holding our hands, but only when I looked them up just now did I realize I had read one of them yesterday morning before the adventure started:
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:9-10).
The verse of Psalm which had stuck with me at the time was a different one, about God having scripted the day before I even was:
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:16).
How glad I am that He wrote into the script the loving hand of a stranger to remind me of His. Taking a hand is such a simple action, but in that moment when all senses but touch had deserted me, when I wasn't even certain what was wrong, one nurse's simple kindness reassured me that everything would be all right.

As a way to reflect on the week, my friend Amy has begun a Friday series of blog posts called "What I'm Holding."  At the risk of oversharing, this story of being held seemed a good place to begin to keep company with her in this way.

What else I'm holding~
An ice pack on my aching head
Extra prescriptions to relieve pain and prevent infection
A few hairs fewer for God to number
A dear husband at home to take care of me
Leftovers in the refrigerator from the supper my mom prepared
Comfort in the knowledge of gracious prayers lifted on my behalf
Mixed emotions about the results of the many elections just held
Relief that the surgery is behind me
A full laundry hamper that is not my responsibility today
A half-finished crocheted hat to cover the stitches when I feel like going out again
A cleared schedule for a week to rest and mend
Incipient holiday gift planning
Stack of magazines to peruse
A long Netflix queue and temporary control of the remote
Red pears and Cortland apples
Smiles at Ebony barking at dream squirrels while he naps next to me
The lingering, comforting awareness that God is the one who holds my hand, and gratitude that sometimes He sends someone else to remind me.

sharing with Teagirl in a Coffee World today

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Praying on Election Day

Ancient of Days, we praise You that You are the one who removes kings and establishes them. We praise You that Jesus, the King of kings, sits at Your right hand, far above all rulers and authorities, powers and dominions, and every title--including President, Senator, Representative, and Judge--that can be given, not only in the present age, but also in the one to come.

In that confidence, we entrust ourselves and our nation to You. Guide us in Your will, not ours, as we cast our votes.  May the elected officials, including our next President,  live in voluntary personal submission to Your reign. Show them Your ways, O Lord; teach them Your paths, for You are God our Savior, and our hope is in You all day long. We ask this in the name and authority of Jesus the mighty one. Amen.

(Dan. 7:9; 2:21; Eph 1:20-21; Ps 25:4-5)

Monday, November 5, 2012

"But Also..."

My morning Bible reading has reached a dismal stretch in 2 Kings, wherein almost every paragraph documents a ruler worse than the previous one, a nation mired in idolatry and unfaithfulness to Yahweh, and threats or actual defeats by foreign armies. Israel has been divided between northern and southern kingdoms, which occasionally join forces against a common enemy but sometimes attack each other instead.

God's faithfulness nonetheless shines through. He sends prophets like Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah to speak truth, to call the nation back to the true God, and to minister with signs and wonders to the faithful remnant and even an occasional Gentile (non-Israelite) whose need opens him or her to the God of Israel.

In the midst of this context, the Biblical historian summarizes the circumstances:

They feared the Lord, but they also appointed from their number priests to serve them in the shrines of the high places. 33 They feared the Lord, but they also worshiped their own gods according to the custom of the nations where they had been deported from. 
34 They are still practicing the former customs to this day. None of them fear the Lord or observe their statutes and ordinances, the law and commandments the Lord commanded the descendants of Jacob. He had renamed him Israel. 35 The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, 
“Do not fear other gods;
do not bow down to them;
do not serve them; 
do not sacrifice to them.
36 Instead fear the Lord, who brought you from the land of Egypt with great power and an outstretched arm.
You are to bow down to Him, 
and you are to sacrifice to Him.
37 You are to be careful always to observe the statutes, the ordinances, the law, and the commandments He wrote for you; 
do not fear other gods. 
38 Do not forget the covenant that I have made with you. 
Do not fear other gods, 
39 but fear the Lord your God, and He will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.” 
40 However, they would not listen but continued practicing their former customs. 41 These nations feared the Lord but also served their idols. Their children and grandchildren continue doing as their fathers did until today (2 Kings 17:32-41, HCSB, formatting and emphases mine).
The repeated pattern, "but...also," captures my attention and probes my heart. The people fear the Lord, but they also appoint their own priests to worship their own way in the places they choose. They fear the Lord, but they also worship their own gods, gods they borrow from the cultures around them and out of which they have come. They fear the Lord but also serve their idols and leave that legacy to their offspring.

What about me? Do I have a "but also"? If so, what is it? Is the worship, service, devotion, and trust of my heart divided between the God who brought me out of my own Egypt and anything or anyone else? Have I tried to meld His worship with the practices of the world system around me?

The preacher's words yesterday still ring in my ears:
When a good thing becomes the ultimate thing, then it's a bad thing.
Has any good thing--family, health, comfort, home, the bank account--become ultimate for me?

God's gracious correction to His people of old calls me back today. "Don't do that; do this." Israel rejects the call to repentance and remembrance, and history tells the sad tale of exile by their conquerors and the redemptive tale of God's faithfulness in captivity and in restoring them to the land in the fullness of time. In refusing to forsake their idols, they choose defeat over deliverance.

How will I respond?

Lord, knower of all hearts, search me and show me my "but also" idols today. Forgive me, and grant me grace to love You only and with all I am and have. Thank you for the written record of Your dealings with Your covenant people in the past. By Your grace, allow me to learn from their examples, to emulate the good and avoid the bad. Enable me especially to learn from the example of Christ in whom I live and who lives in me. What a great grace that is! Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness even when I am unfaithful. Thank You for the assurance that You will complete the good work You have begun in me. Let Your work shine through in me today, in the name of the Savior Jesus. Amen.


Let me continue to give thanks to the Lord for all He gives:
first batch of cranberry sauce of the season;
cupcakes to share and savor;

garden roses and a bit of lavender perfuming the kitchen;
full moon on a cloudy night;
a new bird guest in the garden, not yet identified;
a very thoughtful greeting card from a Bible study friend having her own surgery today;
the ongoing dance of the queen butterflies in our garden;
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a box of my late grandmother's music to sort through;
ability, graced by God and cultivated by parents and teachers, to enjoy it;
walking in fog rather than darkness this morning;

enough light for the step we're on;
prayers upholding me as I await an outpatient surgery Thursday morning;
laughter at photos and inscriptions in childhood yearbooks my parents unearthed from storage;
hugs from friends at church;
God's worthiness to be worshiped exclusively and entirely with no "but also."
(still counting gifts, these #7872-7887)