Monday, February 25, 2013

How Quickly We Forget

How quickly I forget that the census numbers are only a small part of the Biblical book of Numbers.

How quickly I forget the many great, pivotal, true stories found there, even though the New Testament refers back to several of them.

How quickly I forget how quickly the Israelites forgot the miracle of the manna, wailing, "We're all gonna die!" whenever no water was in sight.

How quickly they forgot the Passover, the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire leading them through unknown territory.  They forgot and despaired that the conquest of the Promised Land was too hard, the people too numerous and powerful, their own strength too little.

How quickly I forget that seeds of complaint ripen into fruit of rebellion, a "no" heart towards God, and even idolatry; that complaining equates to rejecting and despising God (Numbers 11:20); that fear is disobedience and unbelief (Numbers 14:9-11; Hebrews 3:12-15).

How quickly I forget. . .

So I remember Truth by reading it again and again.  I remember God's goodness by slowing down to count His gifts.

Thank You, Father,
for the life and ministry of Prof (Dr. Howard Hendricks)
for Christians who finish this life well
for marriages that last 66 years, both partners faithful until death parts them
for my physical therapist's extra time Wednesday to perform additional diagnostic tests for upper body pain
for a new strategy (decompression machine) for my back
for guiding PT Dave to a way to extend my therapy prescription without interruption or time/energy/financial cost of an additional doctor's visit
for a new coffee maker when Sir Cuisie died quietly during the night Wednesday
for Allen's presence at home next to the refrigerator Friday when an electrical relay failed, sizzled, and smoked
for protecting us from the fire that would have resulted otherwise
for a good, honest, local appliance repairman coming out on Saturday at no extra charge
for a problem that could be repaired
for strength to help A. with errands Saturday
for inheriting his cold
for his quick recovery
for a chilly day perfect for staying home in warm pjs, maybe even all day
for a clean bill of health for Ebony at annual check-up and dental cleaning last week
for solace in time of need
for God's patient instruction and relentless transformation of His children
for the grace of this edited repost on a day of rest
(gratitude journal #9392-9410)


Friday, February 22, 2013

On Finishing Well {What I'm Holding}

Wednesday, as I prepared to leave Bible study, my sister sent me a text message. In contrast to her encouraging photo message the previous day, this one prompted me to step into a dark classroom adjacent to the one where class meets so the first tears could escape in private and I could collect myself to say good-bye and drive home.

Her words? "Our beloved Dr. Howard G. Hendricks went to be with the Lord early Wednesday morning," and the information on the memorial service.

Dr. Howard Hendricks. "Prof" to his students. Anyone affiliated with Dallas Theological Seminary can tell you that of the many professors who have opened God's Word to students and won their hearts, there is only one Prof, Dr. Howard Hendricks, who served on the DTS faculty for 60 years. His flagship course was 301, Bible Study Methods and Hermeneutics, shared in my day with Dr. Mark Bailey. This required course, intended for the first semester's coursework, laid a foundation of inductive study methodology not just for the rest of the degree plan but for the rest of life and ministry.

301 was my second course of the day on Tuesdays and Thursdays that fall semester. Three other unmarried women from my church shared the same morning schedule I had on those days, and even though I was the newcomer to the group, they befriended me from the start. As a new student of the minority gender at the school, it was an unexpected blessing to find a mini-community with whom to sit in those classes, chapels, and lunches.

For at least the first month of our Bible Study Methods class, Prof extended the offer to have lunch with any group of students who wished it. All we had to do was schedule a date with his secretary. Surprisingly, students were slow to take him up on this offer, possibly intimidated by his reputation and energetic teaching style. At some point, the boldest of my little group decided we should do this. She got us on the schedule, and on the appointed day we all brought our lunches up to his office from the cafeteria or from home. Someone brought homemade cookies. I brought him sugar-free chocolates, since he had mentioned his diabetes in class.

My palms were sweating and I didn't know if I would be able to say anything coherent during the lunch, but it was a treat to spend time with this man of God and profoundly gifted (and hard-working) teacher in a more personal setting. His quiet, unassuming demeanor took me off guard. In class he resembled a stand-up comic or motivational speaker. That day he could have been any other septuagenarian if we hadn't known otherwise.

He had invited us to come with questions. I don't remember what the others asked, but I remember mine. "If we forget everything else you've ever taught us--I don't think we will, but saying we did--what one thing would you most want us to remember?"

He paused to consider for a moment before replying, "Finish well. So many of the people in the Bible had moments of great faith and obedience, but very few of them finished well." He's right about that. In fact, on just about any page of Kings and Chronicles, you can find an example of someone who didn't finish well. Even some of the very greatest kings fell away from full trust and wholehearted obedience right at the last.

This man did what he admonished us to do. He finished well.

After multiple battles with cancer which cost him part of his skull and one eye, his earthly tent wore out. This Wednesday morning, he traded it for his "building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Even knowing this, knowing that he was out of pain, knowing believers will be reunited one day with those who have preceded them in the sleep of death, tears continued to come for the better part of an hour after the news, until I had to pull myself together for physical therapy.

Why did I cry? I was just a student in one large lecture class whose personal interaction was limited to one lunch and a conversation at my sister's wedding, where he officiated.

This isn't much of an answer, but I felt in that moment a bit like Scout in the courtroom in To Kill a Mockingbird when her father leaves the courtroom and she's told, "Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passing." Awed. Small. Realizing the greatness of a person in a new way. Humbled to have received even one ten-thousandth of his teaching ministry.

I felt sad just knowing Prof would never again say, "For the next session, you will ask and answer the question. . ." or "For the gentlemen here, your first assignment is this: if you don't have a wife, get a wife," or "It's a crime to bore people with the Bible!" or "The Bible was not written to satisfy your curiosity but to transform your life!" "The world doesn't need another Howard Hendricks; it needs the first you!" or "The Christian life isn't just difficult; it's impossible." (Sad, and perhaps a bit envious, too.)

Prof's passing also brings home to me the weight of responsibility to steward what he entrusted. Beginning to flip through my notes for those Profisms that make me smile has reminded me of how much I've forgotten and neglected. May the Word-seeds he sowed not fall into the ground and die or be carried away by birds. What thorns do I need, with the Holy Spirit's help, to clear out of my heart and life so God's Word can grow and become more fruitful? What farming tools do I need to de-rust, sharpen, and polish to serve more faithfully in the field appointed to me?

His family, friends, and colleagues, of course, have the greatest grief, and I pray God's comfort for them. Mine is the merest shadow by comparison. For the more than 10,000 students he taught in his seminary classes, however, and for the many more he taught in conferences and through his books and video series, the world seems emptier without this man who spent his life endeavoring to start an epidemic of contagious love for God and His Word.

I wish you could have sat in that class, even just for a day. If you have ever benefited from the teaching of Chuck Swindoll, Robert Jeffress, David Jeremiah, or Tommy Nelson, to name just a few, you have indirectly benefited from Prof's service, for he trained all those men.

Still, there's only one Prof. And he finished well, to God be the glory.

what I'm holding today
good memories :: smiles reviewing my course notes and jotting down more Profisms :: gratitude for the chance to share some of that material with women in V--tnam once upon a time :: prayers to finish well myself :: a new physical therapy treatment plan :: mixed feelings about the next uncomfortable but helpful spinal decompression treatment :: hope to be able to read and write with less upper body pain soon :: desire to get back to walking pain-free with Amore and Ebony :: relief that my sister's first week of PT went well despite her anxieties :: concerned prayers for a loved one struggling at home and work :: gladness to have Ebony home again after a day at the vet for a dental cleaning :: a house full of tissues, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes for husband with a cold :: readiness for the weekend and rest (Lord willing) :: a pause for breath between ladies' Bible studies :: honor to those to whom honor is due :: awe at what God will do with one person fully committed to Him

sharing with Amy's Friday What I'm Holding series

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our Shepherd's Care

Photo credit: Monica Leone, used with permission

This morning my sister Mezzo sent me the above iPhone photo with the following text:
For the last week, each time I look out my window and see the bright green pasture across the street with colorful cattle calmly grazing, I feel peace as I'm reminded of how well our Shepherd/Lord cares for us, provides what we need, and leads us to greener pastures when it's time.
Lord, You are our shepherd. In You we have everything we need. You make us lie down in peace, without cause for fear, in green pastures. You lead us beside waters of rest. You restore our souls, and do we ever need that! You lead us in right paths, paths of righteousness and not evil, for the sake of Your name.

Because You our shepherd are leading us, we need not fear when the path leads through the valley of the shadow of death. We need not fear because You have led us and remain with us. We need not fear, but we do. Lord, have mercy on us. Let Your perfect love drive out our fears. Let Your rod of defense and discipline and Your staff of rescue and guidance reassure our sheepish hearts.

You even prepare a table for us in the presence of our enemies. Talk about unintimidated! You anoint our heads with oil. . . oil for healing, oil to repel pests, oil of consecration, oil of joy. Our cup overflows. Surely your goodness and steadfast love will chase us down all the days of our lives. Beyond that, we will dwell in Your house forever!

We thank You, Lord. You are good. Your steadfast love endures forever. We praise you for bringing us into Your flock through Jesus the Shepherd-Lamb. Only because of Him do we make bold to approach You in prayer. Amen.

(Prayer adapted from Psalm 23)

Thank You, Lord, for more of Your gifts:
Your goodness :: Your sufficiency :: Your sovereignty :: taking the Lord's Supper Sunday ::
failure of a temporary plumbing repair :: needs exceeding resources :: lunch with my parents::
the prayers of the saints :: continued back pain not responding much at all to therapy this time ::
ankle improving again after lost ground due to my mistake in home exercises a week ago ::
enough pain control Saturday to celebrate the Thunder Twins' 6th birthday :: Nonni hugs ::
the energy of a house full of young children playing :: frozen yogurt date with Amore  on a sunny Sunday ::
physical therapist willing to work with me to adjust care to insurance and new pain issues ::
youngest sister's first PT session going well with her sons in the waiting room watching a movie ::
parents able to spend long weekend away ::  Ebony staying out of the compost this week :)
a new wren (Luciano?) visiting my kitchen window yesterday morning :: the whole bird orchestra tuning up at dawn :: encouraging e-mails :: my Valentine

(Joy Dare #9289-9310)


Monday, February 11, 2013

UGOs and Broken Cisterns

Ebony's spy name is Special Agent Hoover with good reason. Here at Wits' End, we have no five-second rule when otherwise edible food falls on the floor. We don't even have a three-second rule. Special Agent Hoover swoops in and vacuums up the evidence before we have time to think.

(If you ever visit our home and hear one or both of us yelling, "Leave it!! Off!!!!!" we have most likely dropped a grape or coffee bean or something else that could put Special Agent Hoover out of commission.)

Sometimes he even scoops up that which is not food. We call these things UGOs, as in "Unidentified Ground Objects," following the lead of the dog Satchel from the comic strip "Get Fuzzy." Dogs experience the world through nose and mouth (not unlike toddlers?), so this can be Ebony's way of identifying an object which may or may not be food. Acorns, rocks, twigs, plastic artificial tears caps, lettuce, . . . such things usually fail the UGO screening criteria and return to the sidewalk or floor with a comically wrinkled nose. Sometimes, however, Special Agent Hoover's taste buds operate on faulty intel and he actually swallows non-food UGOs like part of a zip-top bag he found in Amore's coat pocket. We have to be quick with this one.

Last Thursday, Ebony had been outside enjoying the mild weather longer than usual. Unable to see him from the door, I called to him to come to make sure the nefarious Dr. Miao (a neighbor's cat which frequents our yard) had not taken him hostage or worse. He did not come after several opportunities and ample time, so I put on my outdoor shoes and found him loitering by the compost pile with no obvious reason for having ignored me.

At 3:56 the next morning, we discovered the reason: he had been eating dead leaves from the compost pile and that his stomach had determined they were not in fact food.

One load of laundry later, Friday afternoon I let Ebony outside to greet the dogs across the alley. I turned my back to answer a text message, and when I looked outside again he was gone. As before, I called. No response. Sigh. When I went out to retrieve him, I discovered he was not in fact eating from the compost pile, which does contain food waste and might reasonably appeal to an always hungry dog. Instead, I found him up to his ears in this:

Behind the compost lay a heap of vacuumed, shredded leaves being processed for mulch. In layman's terms, a pile of rotting leaves. Appetizing, yes? For Ebony, they were at that moment the most delectable treat in the world. Truly there is no accounting for taste. Not only did he ignore his training and refuse to come when I called, but when I stepped around the side of the house he glanced at me and ate faster.

"No, Ebony! Leave it! Come!"

Munch, munch, munch.

The only way to separate him from his toxic treat was to take hold of his collar and physically move him out of that area. Even though he'd already been sick on leaves once, they tasted so good on the way down that he returned for more and forgot all his training to listen and heed my voice.

Following the vet's instructions, we watched and waited and nothing seemed abnormal. All was well this time, but if he ate these leaves again his life and our wallet could be in danger. Rotting leaves are toxic, and because they are hard and sharp they could injure his digestive tract just as surely as a splintered chicken bone.

On Saturday, Amore screened off the area with chicken wire as a temporary barrier until he can install something sturdier. The first time Ebony went out after the new hindrance to his favorite snack, he headed that direction almost immediately.

He trotted over to the temptation, tail wagging in anticipation. Then he discovered not all was as expected. An obstacle stood between him and his leaves, and he couldn't go through it.

Nor could he go under it. (He probably could have gone over it, but thankfully he didn't try that option.) Foiled again! No doubt this was the handiwork of that nefarious Dr. Miao.

He lingered some moments longer with the most disappointed look on his face. How could I refuse those eyes? And yet I did, because those puppy dog eyes wanted what would only do them harm.

In my initial frustration at this nonsensical behavior -- why on earth would he return to what had made him ill once already? -- I failed to notice the "log in my own eye." Rotting leaves don't tempt me, but how often have I (do I) try to fill an empty love tank, an aching soul, or a spirit growling in hunger with that which is not food and does not satisfy?

The word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah speaks to just such a pattern, so I have a hunch I'm not the only one who does this:
“Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourself in abundance" (Isaiah 55:2, NASB).
These words present two clear alternatives: pouring out my resources on futility or listening to my Father and Master and receiving what is good and delightful in abundance. Phrased like that, the choice is obvious. I'll take the abundant good, please.

In daily life, on the other hand, things get a little blurry, at least for me. Will I eat an extra-large serving of chocolate or waffle fries or cake, or will I take my melancholy self to the Lord in prayer, worship, and listening to His Word? Will I take my troubles to Him or anesthetize them with Web browsing, shopping, or entertainment? Will I give prayer the priority or run to friends and doctors first, before seeking the Lord's perspective?

Jeremiah presents the choice even more starkly than this Isaiah verse. In Jeremiah's terms,
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13, NASB).
Evil? Really? Twin evils, in fact. The nation of Israel in Jeremiah's day had forsaken the Lord by idolatry and rejecting His law; furthermore, they had "hewn themselves cisterns" by seeking help in military alliances instead of repenting or trusting the Lord to help and guard them in the coming discipline.

Some of you may protest that I'm making a mountain out of a leaf pile here, but I have seen affliction enough in my life that I know for myself how alluring false comforts and broken cisterns can be. They seem to provide immediate comfort or solutions for a painful problem, but they have always eventually added to my trouble in the end. Friends, doctors, delicious food, and recreation are good and have their place, but if I am seeking from those things that which only God can supply, I'm trying to store the water of life in a leaky bucket. By trying to meet my God-given deepest needs in those ways, I am giving them priority over Him, and that's idolatry in my book.

When He kindly allows my broken cisterns to produce immediate discomfort, how will I respond? Will I run back to them at the next opportunity and try to get all the pleasure I can before He makes me stop? Will I fret in frustration if He graciously puts roadblocks in the path for me to "spend my wages for what does not satisfy"?

Better yet, will I stick close to my Master, listen to His voice, and trust Him to give what is best in the right times and amounts, even if it feels inadequate or tastes yucky?

Lord, keep making me Your Velcro companion. I want to follow You so closely that the clink of my dog tags always points to Your presence. I fail often, daily, but that's my desire, Lord. In sad times, in hard times, grow my trust in You. Strengthen me to choose to come to You, to listen to You, to follow Your commands, and to hold fast to You as the only fountain of living water and the only source of true joy and satisfaction. You know what my personal rotting leaf temptations are, Father. Call me away from them and put barriers in my path if need be to keep me from running to false refuges instead of to You. You are the only wise God, my Savior. I yield myself and my emptiness once again to you. You are Yahweh my God, who brought me up from the Egypt of my sin. I open my mouth wide to You and count on Your promise to fill me (Psalm 81:10).

Thanks be to God for His good and abundant gifts this past week:
His patience with me when I keep trusting in broken cisterns :: learning from life with Ebony :: no emergency vet visit :: chicken wire :: strength for a very long day Wednesday :: shower knobs I can turn and completely shut off :: lovely date Saturday night :: working on Bible study Sunday afternoon :: goldfinch sighting at our feeder :: the little wren Caruso cleaning out our window screens and bug zapper :: visually locating the doves I heard in the live oak ::  

a day at home today :: relapsed ankle pain after using the wrong resistance band in my therapy :: invitation for Mezzo's master's recital :: anticipation of family time for Thunder Twins' birthday party Saturday :: God's ever-present help to strengthen me for this day
(counting gifts #9170-9185)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing


"[God said,] 'I will surely bless you.' GENESIS 22:17 (NIV)

"People say, 'Bless you!' when you sneeze.
'Bless' has turned into a bit of a feeble word.

"But in the Bible it's much stronger.
(And it has nothing to do with sneezing!)

"When God promises to bless you, he is saying,
'I'm going to make you into everything I ever meant for you to be!'

"It means God is taking every day and every
single thing that happens in it--good or bad--
to make you stronger, to mend whatever
is broken inside, to change you into the person you were always meant to be.

"Just as a caterpillar is totally changed into a
butterfly, being blessed means being totally

"God is transforming everything--his broken
world--and you."

     ~from Sally Lloyd-Jones (with illustrations by Jago), Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing

Quietly continuing to give thanks to God for all His blessings:
God working everything together to change me into the person I was always meant to be :: made stronger :: broken places mending :: hope of total transformation for myself :: and for His broken world

pale moon veiled in grey clouds in early morning :: a wisp of cloud and a jet trail inscribing a cross in the sky :: watching the sun set on the way to pick Amore up at work (lots of red lights...not to worry, eyes on the road)

a degree of pain relief :: large portions of days this week with no ankle brace :: halfway through the extended therapy duration, Lord willing :: gift of an unplanned nap yesterday, falling asleep at my prayers at midday, sitting in the hard wooden kitchen chair! :: kind words from friends :: encouragement from the spouse of a sciatica patient

husband coming to rescue me when I inadvertently left the headlights on and killed the car battery at Bible study last week :: husband completing and filing tax return :: a couple of good nights' sleep :: participating in thrift shop donation drive at church :: "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" on Sunday morning and always :: this new book friend :: never outgrowing admiration for good children's books

moment-by-moment grace for hard things
(Joy Dare, #9102-9123)