Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More Grace from Annie Johnson Flint

Annie Johnson Flint (1866-1932) entered my life during my freshman year at university. At least daily, sometimes more frequently, I would work out my troubles in a practice room with a hymnal and a piano. During those therapy sessions, I discovered Miss Flint, in particular her hymn "He Giveth More Grace." Although none of my church homes over the years have included it in corporate worship, it deeply blesses me in private worship. Over the last two weeks it has sung often in my heart and given comfort.

When I searched for a little biographical information to share with you, I discovered that she suffered from severe, disabling arthritis. In fact, she only turned to composing poetry when her illness excluded her from teaching. Isn't it a kind encouragement of our Lord to bring us together with those who have preceded us along a particular road of affliction?

Today (Monday) I heard the words to this hymn two different places, on the Revive Our Hearts radio broadcast and in the Audible audiobook of Evidence Not Seen. I've shared this poem with y'all before, but it's worth sharing again. As I reviewed it just now, it was the third verse, the only one I don't know by heart, which most directly encouraged me, especially as some loved ones face daunting needs and heavy loads and I approach a second epidural pain injection Thursday morning. I love the contrast in this hymn between God's "more" and "full" and our exhaustion, failing strength, and "hoarded resources." How much time and energy I waste fretting that He will not give me aid the next time I need it! How gracious He is, and how much I value encouragement by the saints of days gone by. Perhaps Miss Flint and I may share a cup of tea together in the eternal Kingdom, and I can thank her for her testimony.

Whatever burdens, labors, affliction, trials, and needs you face today, beloved, may you discover in experience the truth of this song (and the Scriptures, before that): God giveth, and giveth, and giveth again. However dire your circumstances, however impoverished your resources, He is enough and more. Cry out to Him, and watch how His mercy and peace meet you in your need. May you taste and see that He is good.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
His pow'r has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
     ~Annie Johnson Flint

Here are two more of her poems, less familiar than the first perhaps but no less encouraging:

Better Than My Best

I prayed for strength, and then I lost awhile
All sense of nearness, human and divine;
The love I leaned on failed and pierced my heart,
The hands I clung to loosed themselves from mine;
But while I swayed, weak, trembling, and alone,
The everlasting arms upheld my own.

I prayed for light; the sun went down in clouds,
The moon was darkened by a misty doubt,
The stars of heaven were dimmed by earthly fears,
And all my little candle flames burned out;
But while I sat in shadow, wrapped in night,
The face of Christ made all the darkness bright.

I prayed for peace, and dreamed of restful ease,
A slumber drugged from pain, a hushed repose;
Above my head the skies were black with storm,
And fiercer grew the onslaught of my foes;
But while the battle raged, and wild winds blew,
I heard His voice and perfect peace I knew.

I thank Thee, Lord, Thou wert too wise to heed
My feeble prayers, and answer as I sought,
Since these rich gifts Thy bounty has bestowed
Have brought me more than all I asked or thought;
Giver of good, so answer each request
With Thine own giving, better than my best.

The Pruned Branch

It is the branch that bears the fruit,
That feels the knife;
To prune it for a larger growth,
A fuller life,

Though every budding twig be lopped,
And every grace
Of swaying tendril, springing leaf
Be lost a space.

O thou, whose life of joy seems reft,
Of beauty shorn,
Whose aspirations lie in dust,
All bruised and torn,

Rejoice, though each desire, each dream,
Each hope of thine,
Shall fall and fade; it is the hand
Of love divine

That holds the knife, that cuts and breaks
With tenderest touch,
That thou, whose life has borne some fruit
May now bear much.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Prayer and Helplessness {Reflections on Prayer}

"For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us.
We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
2 Chron. 20:12, ESV

"Prayer and helplessness are inseparable.  Only those who are helpless can truly pray."  These words from O. Hallesby's book Prayer surprised me at first, but as I reflect on them I realize that perhaps this partially explains why I still do not know how to pray as I should.  I don't, you know.  In fact, the longer I walk with the Lord, the greater my realization of that shortcoming and of the corollary that I don't pray what little I do know.

More and more I become convinced of my own helplessness:  to walk in a manner worthy of my Lord, to be the woman and wife He calls me to be, to minister where He places me, let alone to pray faithfully for all the needs around me.  Pray as I should?  How often I am helpless even to find a quiet place in my own heart to meet with God in the truest sense.

So how do I respond to this sense of inadequacy?  The pride native to my sinful flesh, that Adamic spirit of independence, resists even asking for help.  To admit that I am in fact beyond help, unable to change anything in my own strength, puts that "self-sufficiency" on the cross, so that I am reduced to trusting God and Him alone.  How easy it is, instead of coming to Him in helplessness, with empty hands, rather to convince myself to try harder or ask Him for "help" when His real desire is to do in and through me what I cannot do for myself.  My view of myself is still far too great, and my view of God far too small.  (Oh, that He would increase and I decrease!)

On the contrary, "The greater your self-sufficiency, the greater your potential for disaster.  Helplessness is our greatest source of strength," as Charles Stanley once observed.  Only when I come to God openly confessing my inadequacy and inability even to gather and still my thoughts, can I truly pray.  Hallesby goes so far as to define prayer as "the helpless soul's helpless look unto a faithful Friend."  No words, no struggle, only a look up to hear Him say, "Cease striving, and know that I am God" (Ps 46:10).

When I do this, His grace--which always flows downhill--meets me in my point of need.  Throughout Scripture we see God's delight in filling truly empty hands.  Frequently He reduces His children to blatantly impossible situations to demonstrate His sufficiency all the more in their weakness.  Hundred year-old Abraham and the promise of a child, Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, Gideon and the Midianites, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Daniel in the lions' den, the disciples and the loaves and fishes, . . . the most impossible of our "impossible situations" are no match for the infinite resources of our matchless God.

True progress in prayer, then, comes when I start from my helplessness, when I make my "last resort" the first resort, when I come like Jehoshaphat:  "we are powerless. . . nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on Thee" (2 Chron 20:12b).

As I learn to do this, to come with empty hands to God, He never fails to meet me and quiet my heart.  "Do not fear. . . for the LORD is with you."  God doesn't need my help to rule the universe.  His great desire is simply to be with me, and for me to be with Him.  Helplessness opens me to the full enjoyment of His presence.

"Lord Jesus!  I ask You this day to enroll my name among those who confess that they know not how to pray as they ought. . . .  May a deep sense of my ignorance, of the wonderful privilege and the power of prayer, of the need for the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of prayer, lead me to cast away my thoughts of what I think I know, make me kneel before You in true teachableness and poverty of spirit" (Andrew Murray).

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On July 23, 2013, at Wits' End

Outside my window...
It's 98 degrees Fahrenheit with 40% humidity. A family of robins has claimed a corner of the front garden. Amore's new grass is weathering the heat so far, thanks to his hand-watering.

I am thinking...
about the news of the British Prime Minister's words yesterday about Internet pornography and our collective duty to protect children from it;
about the various misbehaving parts of my body and which one to attend to next;
since it's 5 till 6, I should probably know what we're having for supper by now and have it in the toaster oven. (I know it will be chicken, but with what seasonings/toppings/sides?)
Yesterday, the rediscovery of an essay series from the original "crumbs from His table" e-mail list reminded me of the peculiar phenomenon when one's own words from the past read like someone else's.

I am thankful...
God is who He says He is.
He will do what He says He will do.
I am who God says I am.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
God's Word is alive and active in me. (from the Believing God Bible study)

My dear friend and I were able to talk on the phone last week for the first time in too long (She lives in a different country.);
The afternoon has been quiet after a tumultuous start to the day;
The dog Amore brought home from his walk with Ebony was reunited with its owner before animal services arrived to collect him;
The electrical repair, part 2, passed inspection this morning;
We both were able to attend our youngest nephew's birthday party Saturday;
A relative's cardiac procedure went well, and he was released from the hospital sooner than expected;
The new tires purchased immediately beforehand proved their worth in a rainstorm on the way home;
The shower and tile are installed, only awaiting grout and some wall texture to be completed;
My cleaning helper comes tomorrow to attempt to help me remove some of the drywall dust;
The Lord provided the right help at the right moment to devise a way to maneuver the top half of our shower unit around the corner into the bedroom;
My new computer is working great;

The Lord is sending strength like manna for each day's needs;
He isn't scratching His head in perplexity over how to solve this or that dilemma;
None of the unexpected things lately have caught Him off guard;
The Lord is patient with my lack of concentration in my time alone with Him;
There is always time to read His Word, even if I don't manage to read anything else.
(gratitude list #1086-1106)

In the kitchen...
The clean dishes are all stowed, and chicken is defrosting in the refrigerator chicken is baking with salsa (cheese pending) for tonight.

I am wearing...
a navy polo dress and grey leggings. And hiking boots. Again with the hiking boots.

I am creating...
a crocheted cozy for Allen's lumbar pillow, which tore along the zipper and is temporarily held together with duct tape. I have yarn selected and wound into balls for a possible Christmas project, but that is not in the present tense yet.

(Here is Ebony modeling the blanket given to the aforesaid nephew Saturday:)

I am going...
(perhaps) to a corporate movie night with Amore Thursday night, if my back can handle it, and still going to the pool to exercise.

I am wondering...
what "adventures Aslan may send" for tomorrow
and whether my new senior pastor factors into the answer to my prayers for revival (starting with me and moving outward).

I am reading...
Acts and Psalms, Bonhoeffer (still), Divergent, Weakness Is the Wayand Evidence Not Seen, along with several devotional books

I am hoping...
to have our home repairs finished tomorrow, and certainly by week's end.

I am looking forward to...
quiet in the house more days than not, removing drop clothes from the book shelves and piano, and having our shower working again.

I am learning...
Ephesians 4:25-27, NIV:
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,  and do not give the devil a foothold.

Around the house...
Dust reconvenes on every surface as soon as I turn my back. The path from the garage to the work area is spotted with spots of indeterminate stuff. Old sheets cover some of the bookcases. Ebony is hiding in his nesting bed, temporarily not barking at potential threats. (He's been a little on edge with the workers in the house, seeing as how he's my self-appointed bodyguard.) My swim towels are in the dryer. The air conditioner is running quietly. The light that was arcing last week is no longer doing so. It's still a mess, but a mess with progress.

I am pondering...
what it looks like for me, right now, today, to put off my specific "old self" and put on my "new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:22, 24).

A favorite quote for today...
God is represented as treasuring the prayers of His saints in vials. . . . They are placed like fragrant flowers in the chambers of the king. . . .  And later they are represented as poured out upon the earth; and log, there are voices, and thunderings, and great providential movements fulfilling God's purposes for His kingdom. We are called 'The Lord's remembrances.' And are commanded to give Him no rest, day or night, but to crowd the heavens with our petitions. And in due time the answer will come with its accumulated blessings. No breath of prayer is lost. The longer it waits, the larger it becomes (A.B. Simpson, quoted in We Shall Have Spring Again, 118).

One of my favorite things...
hugs from nephews, sisters, and grandmother

A few plans for the rest of the week:
Yesterday, the electrician and the bath workers both came in the morning. The latter stayed all day. I made two trips to Home Depot, one without a supervising Y chromosome (shocking, I know).

Tomorrow, Lord willing, the shower work will be completed and the bathroom put back together. My house helper is expected in the afternoon, and I hope to go to the pool again at least 2 more times this week.

There are some medical decisions pending and appointments to schedule. If able, Amore and I are going to a movie Thursday night. Through a program arranged by our church, my parents are hosting 2 Chinese exchange students for 2 of the next three weeks, so we plan to meet them at some point soon and probably share at least one meal.

Sunday I get to hear my new senior pastor preach again. It will be the third time for me to hear him in person. It's so nice to have stability in that office again.

A peek into my day...
the runaway dog, named Luke, who played in our back garden for a few hours early this morning

Sharing with Peggy Hostetler's The Simple Woman's Daybook today and with Ann Voskamp's Monday Multitudes Community

Full Disclosure: This post contains some Amazon affiliate links. Purchases made by clicking those links will yield a small percentage referral fee to the owner of this blog.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lament or Complaint? {A Repost}

A dear friend's most recent blog post, "Just Grieve," reminded me of this bit from the archives. It still speaks to me. I pray it benefits you, too. Isn't it nice to know God grants permission to feel sad before Him?
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion (Ps. 137:1, ESV).
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1, ESV)
On this blog we've spent a good many posts discussing the spiritual practice of celebration and delight, but that is not the only appropriate emotional response to the life circumstances God assigns us.

My Bible reading lately has been in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Lamentations, and a bleak stretch it is. Israel has persisted in disobedience and idolatry for so long and to such an extent that God sends Assyrian and Babylonian forces to conquer them and carry most of the people away into 70 years of captivity. Jerusalem is besieged and sacked, the temple is destroyed, and the Glory has departed.

In the face of such catastrophe, faith does not demand that we put on a plastic smile when our hearts are breaking. God does not desire us to be false with Him. Grief is a spiritual discipline, too, and at times the only right and appropriate response.

Godly grief expresses itself in the laments of Scripture. Job's speeches and Lamentations fall in this category, and individual or corporate lament is the largest subgenre of the Psalms (which more generally constitute lyric poetry). Scholars estimate that at least a third of the Psalms express lament; a few examples include Psalms 13, 22, 40, 59, 74, 88, and 109.

The Thomas Nelson Study Bible describes Biblical lament this way:
In the lament psalms, we hear the strong, emotional words of sufferers. These are words written by real people in very difficult situations. Sometimes the forcefulness of the psalmists' complaints against God is shocking. But these godly sufferers know that God will not be angry with their honesty, for even when they scream at God, it is a scream of faith (887).
These are the prayers for the sleepless nights and weary days, for the seasons when we feel like Bilbo Baggins, "too little butter spread over too much bread," for the days which seem more Romans 7 than Romans 8, for hospital rooms and funeral homes. The sheer multitude of laments in Scripture bears witness that hardship is a commonplace in life in a fallen world, yet God desires to fellowship with us in the midst of suffering as we cry out to Him. What is more, they offer us a guide for how to do so and give us words when we have no words.

Although no strict pattern applies to every lament, common elements include
  • an initial cry to God,
  • the list of complaints,
  • a profession of reliance on God,
  • a presentation of reasons God should intervene (such as past covenants, promises, and actions that shape the psalmist's expectations of the future),
  • specific requests for deliverance and action, and
  • a resolution to praise (TNSB, 887, and Leland Ryken, How to Read the Bible as Literature, 114-115).
These elements may occur in any order or repeat, and some may not appear at all. Psalm 88 never turns the corner from lament to praise, which gives me comfort and confidence that I don't even need to pretend that before God.

However, Israel incurs God's displeasure and discipline when they whine and complain. What's the difference between grumbling and lament?

As I've been mulling this over ever since that earlier post and the comment dialogue on "Worn Out," I believe there are at least four areas of difference:
  • Audience: Grumbling speaks about God to other people; lament addresses God directly in prayer. This resembles the difference between gossip and conflict resolution.
  • Content: Complaint disputes God's previously revealed character; lament seeks to reconcile God's character with circumstances that seem to contradict it.
  • Attitude: Grumbling stems from a heart of unbelief; lament worships in wounded faith.
  • Result: Whining produces rebellion; lament limps forward in obedience as best it can.
Amid all the disasters and crises in the daily news and the personal trials facing friends, family, and ourselves, it comforts me to know that I can pour out my heart like water before the Lord (Lamentations 2:19) and mourn with Him as well as dance for joy. Learning about lament set me free to do that, even writing my own laments from the patterns above, and I have found the Psalms helpful guides to prayer in times of trouble. May you also find blessing in these thoughts as you grow in relationship with God in the hard times as well as the glad.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Thank you for your kind prayers and encouraging words in the comments these last two weeks. Please forgive my failure to respond, but know they are very gratefully received. You are a blessing!

This little rascal from two houses down appeared in our yard last Monday.
This was last Wednesday's demo.

Thursday and Saturday mornings, my computer was not a happy camper. This lovely pattern apparently means the motherboard is failing.

The extra hole in our garage ceiling a worker made when he fell through. He's fine, thanks be to God!
A very happy unexpected: record-low high temperatures in July
Part one of shower repair. Our 4-year-old neighbor, on seeing this, said, "Who broke your shower?"

See that crack, just left of middle? That shouldn't be there.

The best word I know to describe the last 10 days is "discombobulated." From the tiny (4 pounds, I'd guess) interruption of a neighbor's dog, whose name I do not know, suddenly appearing in our garden and refusing to go home, to the middle-sized disruption of a terminally ill computer, to the bigger upset of major home repairs, life has been. . . irregular here lately. The toilet from the master bath is in a trash bag in the bedroom. Half a shower sits in the garage under the hole in the ceiling, which needs to be repaired a second time.

Noise, strangers in and out of the house all day long, and what have seemed constant, urgent decisions from breakfast through bedtime, are not my comfort zone. At one point, in reply to a sister's text, I said it was Crazytown here. She is in her own season at that address, so she understands.

(In the midst of my discombobulation, it is not lost on me that all the issues that have arisen are, in my husband's phrase, "first-world problems." We have shelter, safe drinking water, and ample food. Our families love us. We have a house and Kindle full of books and the education necessary to read them. All those things make us among the richest people in the world. That puts the recent challenges in perspective for me.)

Yesterday morning, the Lord reminded me of the hymn I've been pondering since one line bubbled to the surface of my mind a couple of weeks ago, "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." This seventeenth-century text, translated into English by Catherine Winkworth 150 years ago, appeared regularly in the order of worship at the church where I grew up. The churches of my adulthood have not often (or at all?) sung it, but music has a way of embedding texts deep in our memory banks, doesn't it?

The entirety of this hymn merits the time to read and respond in worship, but here is the first verse which specifically came to my mind:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.
Initially, the second line attracted my focused attention. "He is thy health." For someone with chronic health problems, that brings profound encouragement and reorients perspective.

Yesterday, however, all I needed was the first line. "The Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation." No matter how chaotic my circumstances may feel or appear, no matter how out of control, no matter how high the waves around my boat may rise, I have not discovered the one bit of creation exempt from God's reign. If I move to Crazytown, He's the mayor. More accurately, He's the monarch. He provides sufficient grace for the discombobulated. When I collapse on Him in faith, He brings peace even to Crazytown.

Today brought positive news on the plumbing part of our repairs. Even better, it brought 2 hours of quiet solitude with no workers, decisions, or phone calls. What luxury! They have returned now, but before another disruption arose I wanted to stop by here to visit with you.

It wouldn't surprise me if someone else reading this needs the same reminder I did. Crumble, if it feels like you too are living in Crazytown, please take heart in the knowledge that the Lord, the Almighty, reigns as King there. He delights to come to the aid of those who call on Him. "All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;/ Praise Him in glad adoration."

May He bring peace into your chaos, love into your conflict, provision into your need, and salvation in every way you want deliverance, through His Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Without numbers, here are a few reasons I thank Him:
His sovereignty
true health in Him
salvation through Jesus
old hymns that still speak

provision of our needs

Amore shopping for, purchasing, and setting up a new computer for me
my vigilant watchdog making sure I'm safe
visits from our young neighbor almost daily

safety for all the workers so far, even when one fell through the ceiling of the garage onto the concrete floor

surviving 7 hours on a July afternoon without air conditioner
a "restorative niche" this morning when badly needed
blissfully cool, wet Monday

seasoned friendships

gifts well-received
escapes to the pool in the afternoons
happy anticipation of my side of the family gathering Saturday for the youngest member's birthday

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Arrival Day

Today we are celebrating Ebony's five-year anniversary in our family. He has been a blessing beyond my ability to express. He deserves a new post sometime soon, but since the electricity is off at our house for a repair all day Wednesday, this retouched story from the archives will have to do. Happy arrival day, Ebony! The bits of grey in your hair add dignity. (No, you can't have a double bacon cheeseburger with ice cream for supper tonight.)

Try to contain your excitement, buddy... Ebony, July 2013

Three years ago today, Ebony joined our family. After Somo died around Memorial Day 2008, Steinway and Amore were lonely. For at least a week, Steinway would sit on the mat staring at the front door as though waiting for his buddy to return from a walk. Amore missed his fuzz therapist and personal trainer. I missed him, too, but I was still somewhat shell-shocked from his final days and not as quick to look for his successor. Whenever the time came to adopt another, I was already asking God for a healthy dog who would be a good and loving companion for us both.

As soon as A. had returned from a mission trip to Guatemala,  the search commenced. We scavenged for candidates and kept detailed bookmark folders of our favorites. We considered Chiweenies (Chihuahua-dachshund mixes), dachshunds of all varieties, terrier and beagle mixes, and we drove around town meeting and greeting a few but without agreement.

Finally we saw a dachshund mix named Rex. The description said he was super-sized; as it turned out, he was around 35 pounds, considerably bigger than Somo or Steinway or the other pint-sized candidates. After a little research into the shelter where he was living and other possibilities there, we planned an evening visit.

The volunteer couldn't find him at first. A black dog pressed against the back wall of his crate on the bottom of double-decker kennels proved well nigh invisible. Checking and double-checking the tags against the print-out we'd brought, she finally found him and was astonished she hadn't met him before in his four-month residence.

She led him out to the courtyard and handed him off to us. He was tentative at first but quickly warmed up to the Milk-Bones we had brought along. (My husband has a natural way with animals; I'm not too proud to bribe them.)

We interviewed a couple of other candidates. The other strong possibility was a brown, Benji-like terrier mix with a very outgoing personality.

After talking the decision over at home, praying together, and "sleeping on it," we decided on Rex the super-dachshund. Well, actually, my beloved recognized I was smitten and honored my preference.

The next day, July 11, 2008, I brought Rex home while Amore was at work.

No, he wasn't in trouble already. The shelter advised using the crate for housetraining him.

Also, we decided he would be safer there until Steinway decided he was a friendly.
We renamed him Ebony. Not only did he ably fill the roles of buddy for Steinway, fuzz therapist for Allen, and personal trainer extraordinaire for both of us, he has also become our court jester on many needful occasions. When Steinway breathed his last a few weeks before Ebony's first Arrival Day celebration, Ebony helped me through.

There is no "he loves me, he loves me not" fickleness to his affection. After five years, I have no doubt that this little guy loves me. And his treat ball. And his squirrel dude. And his blankie. . .

Ebony's first afternoon at Wits' End

Ebony also inspired one of the very first blog posts here, the poem "Sermon on the Sofa."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Singing Amid the Tempest

"Our heart shall rejoice in Him."—Psalm 33:21.
BLESSED is the fact that Christians can rejoice even in the deepest distress;
although trouble may surround them, they still sing;
and, like many birds, they sing best in their cages.
The waves may roll over them,
but their souls soon rise to the surface and see the light of God's countenance;
they have a buoyancy about them which keeps their head always above the water,
and helps them to sing amid the tempest, "God is with me still."
To whom shall the glory be given?
Oh! to Jesus—it is all by Jesus.
Trouble does not necessarily bring consolation with it to the believer,
but the presence of the Son of God in the fiery furnace with him fills his heart with joy.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, "Morning, July 2," Morning and Evening (formatting mine)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Culmination: Blackberry Cobbler

This is not a food blog (I know, you're shocked), and I don't think I've ever shared a recipe here before. With good reason. Love covers a multitude of frozen dinners, and my husband loves me a lot! Today is an exception. Since I can't send y'all the actual blackberries from Amore's garden, this seemed the next best thing. If you can find fresh blackberries at your local farmer's market or grocery store, I hope you enjoy this cobbler as much as we did.

Wits' End Blackberry Cobbler

Preheat oven to 375F.

Toss 6-8 cups of fresh blackberries
with 3 TBSP cornstarch
and 1 cup of sugar.
Spoon this mixture into lightly greased 9" square baking dish.

In large bowl, stir together 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar,
1/2 cup (which is 1 stick) butter, melted,
and 1/8 tsp salt.
Add 1 1/2 cups flour,
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans,
and 1 tsp cinnamon (or to taste).
Stir until blended.
Let this mixture stand 20 minutes or until firm enough to crumble into small pieces.
(I actually mixed the streusel up the evening before and chilled it in the refrigerator.)

Crumble streusel over berry mixture.
Bake at 375F for 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly and golden brown.
Serve warm.
(We kept the leftovers in the refrigerator.)

This recipe is adapted from two separate recipes in a Southern Living magazine from summer 2012. Plus a couple of tweaks of my own.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Balance Sheet {Three Years of Chronic Pain}

My goal is to know Him [Christ] and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death. . . (Philippians 3:10, HCSB).

Three years ago this week, unexpected, mystifying chronic chest-wall pain knocked me off my feet. After a multitude of medical appointments and tests (and some weeping and gnashing of teeth), serious heart and lung issues were ruled out and the diagnosis of costochondritis was pronounced. This provided some psychological relief and opened the way to treat the "not serious, just pain" concern and begin the painfully slow--still incomplete--work of rebuilding strength lost in 6 months of complete or partial bed rest.

At that time no one, least of all I myself, expected that the issue would persist in three years' time, but it has. Perhaps I should say, no mortal expected it; God foreknew and granted permission, or this could not have touched my family and me. (This particular area of pain is much better controlled by medication than it was. Not gone, but ever so much improved.)

The realization last weekend of this imminent anniversary brought discouragement and tears. The losses loomed very large in my heart and mind, and there have been losses. No longer can I curl up in an overstuffed chair with a book in my hands: comfy chairs aren't comfy anymore; sitting "criss-cross applesauce" makes my joints cross; any book I read must be in my ears or on a stand at eye level. Long walks are a memory, too. I can no longer exercise in the manner, intensity, or frequency I prefer. My walking and travel difficulties affect my husband and family as least as much as they do me. Thankfully, I can do the dusting, dishes, and laundry now, which I could not in the first months of this adventure, but the rest of the "heavy cleaning" we hire in. Having someone else responsible for the cleaning sounds like a great idea until one has no other option. As it happens, I might have a few tiny issues with control and wanting things done the way I want them done.

The harder losses are the interpersonal ones. In the past three years, members of our families have suffered bereavements, major surgeries, a stroke, concussions, inadequate employment, moves, marital crisis, the unexpected and traumatic losses of two pastors and a pastor's son, two serious car wrecks, and more. My limitations have largely left me unable to render the practical help and support my loved ones have needed in these afflictions, and more than once they have also left Amore unable to render service to his family because I could not do without him at that point in time. This has humbled and grieved me.

This protracted trial has brought gains, too: a scar on my scalp, a dental implant, an assortment of orthopedic devices for foot and ankle, lists of medications and physicians double their previous length, survival of three rounds of physical therapy, four additional areas of chronic pain, and stretch marks on my soul and my marriage.

It has, however, brought other gains as well: a discovery that Christ in me is stronger than I thought He was, new admiration for Amore's commitment to serve me in worse and in sickness, much time with my mother the first two years and both parents in the third, and a number of new friends through the blog, my medical peregrinations, and the ladies' Bible study at the church down the road. This blog itself directly results from this season of illness, in fact.

We have also marveled at God's grace in relocating Amore to an utterly unsought job closer to our home mere months before his previous employer filed for bankruptcy and most of his friends there lost their positions. (We did not know this would happen when we decided about the new job.) Not only that, but He timed it in such a way that no break at all in insurance coverage occurred. We didn't have to pay COBRA for a single month, which has never happened to us in any previous job change.

We never really know what God's specific purpose for an individual is in a particular affliction, though we know that in general all is for His glory and the good of those who love Him. (The rub, of course, is that "good" in Romans 8:28-29 is defined as "conformity to the image of His Son," who was rejected, betrayed, mocked, scourged, and crucified. And resurrected. Let's not forget that.)

Over the last year, however, God's objectives in this particular discipline of pain have come into focus a wee bit. Three more gains or gifts I must record on the balance sheet are these:
  • An opportunity to begin to learn more humility by the frequent repetition of the words, "I can't do this. Will you please help me?" For me, asking (sometimes urgently) for prayer as well as offering it has also provided an opportunity to die to pride.

  • A stronger, deeper hunger for corporate worship and fellowship.

    Corporate worship and group gatherings for study or fellowship have often overwhelmed this shy introvert and drained more energy than they have given.  Six weeks of confinement to home and irregular ability to attend church for the following year have grown not just my commitment but my actual desire to worship in church with my brothers and sisters, to partake of the Lords' Supper as often as I may, and to learn with and from the sisters to whom God has connected me in Bible study.

    My core temperament has not changed. Sometimes my heart still races when I feel there's something I'm meant to say in Bible study discussion or in anticipation of a fellowship lunch, but I'm thankful to feel more hunger and taste more sweetness than previously in the foretaste of good things to come when we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as we someday will in the fullness of the coming kingdom.

  • An opportunity to begin to learn perseverance after amassing an impressive lifetime resume of quitting when things get difficult or look like they will soon grow difficult.

    In some cases, quitting the thing in question seemed like the only right choice for ethical or relational reasons, but the fact remains that this is the longest, most arduous demand I've ever faced to persevere in what was not only difficult but impossible in my own strength.

    Many days joy and gratitude are a choice, sometimes one that costs some tears and a bit of a tantrum first. Steadfastness does not come naturally to me, possibly not to anyone, and I don't always immediately turn to the Spirit's ready resources to come to my aid.

    Many days I just want to get well, to be past this, to be on the other side of this season. That's not my choice to make, however. Amore and I are making the best choices we know to make as we seek God's wisdom and trust Him to give it. We are still pursuing medical help and support and following doctor's orders.

    Ultimately, it is the Lord who gives and who takes away; it is the Lord who heals and who withholds healing. Even if He healed my health concerns tomorrow, that healing would only be temporary. Even Lazarus died eventually. If He withholds healing for the rest of my earthly life, on the other hand, that withholding also is only temporary. In either case, true, permanent healing will only come when I receive my resurrection body.

    At the same time, the spiritual healing which God may use bodily illness to accomplish will endure. Joni Eareckson Tada has said, "God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves." No matter how I might wish it otherwise, He loves perseverance, hope, faith, and our joy in Him, not circumstances.
In the grand scheme of things, my afflictions of these last three years are small potatoes. I have not faced profound suffering or real persecution for the sake of Christ. Compared with that of my brothers and sisters in Uganda, Congo, Egypt, Syria, China, much of Southeast Asia, Haiti, Moore, Oklahoma, and West, Texas, even the worst times of the last three years look like a paper cut. That they have been so difficult for me reflects my frailties and need of God's grace, and I know that.

Even so, this is the testimony He is writing in me. It's the only one I have, and refusing to share it because others shine brighter does not honor Him. I almost hesitate to identify this season with "the fellowship of His sufferings," but if the Spirit of Christ dwells in me, He suffers with me, yes? Perhaps submitting to whatever sufferings He permits, offering them to Him in worship, and seeking Him in their midst is His appointed means for us to know the fellowship of Christ's sufferings. And the power of His resurrection.

And so I "raise my Ebenezer," my "stone of help." This far the Lord has helped me. "Here by Thy great help I've come; and I hope, by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at Home." May the Lord do as He sees fit with me and mine, whether for healing or for ongoing, multiplying trials. He is good and does good; may I not forget that. His mercies endure forever. May He grant us all courage, steadfastness in faith, and love for Him who ordains our circumstances. May He use this testimony to bless and strengthen one weary soul who reads it. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.

Thanks be to God
for His great faithfulness
and unfailing love,
for His kind providences for me and mine,
for a day of true healing awaiting His children,
for my hard-working husband and his commitment,
for my supportive, giving family,
for glimpses of good things God is doing through the last three years.
(gratitude list, #916-922)

Linking up either very late or very early to the communities Ann and Laura host:

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Prayer for Our Nation's Birthday {Repost}

The Veterans' Memorial Park in my hometown

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4, HCSB).

King of heaven,
Lord of lords,
Ruler of princes,
Thank You for this land of my earthly pilgrimage;
For the faithful Christians among the founders of our nation;
For the multitudes, from colonial days to the present, who have sought and found freedom here to worship You openly;
For that freedom to gather in Your name without fear of police raids, imprisonment, or execution;
For Your protection of this land and its people.

Even so, despite the rich blessings You have given us, we are a nation of sinners, I myself at the head of the line.
Have mercy on us, for the sake of Christ,
For trusting in human wisdom, riches, and might instead of in You,
For cherishing political independence more than spiritual dependence,
For seeking the expedient more than the obedient,
For the oppression of the few by the many,
For failing to live within the abundant means You have provided.

Have mercy on me, Lord, for my sad neglect of Your command to pray for rulers and all who are in authority.
I am quicker to complain than to intercede; forgive me.
If we lack Daniels in our government because we have not asked, Lord,
I ask You now, for Your name's sake:
Raise up faithful Christian men and women to lead this nation, the nations of the world.
Equip them with courage to make hard choices
And integrity to serve You by serving this land.
Remind Your people, including me,
To ask and ask and ask again.

Thank You, Father, for the encouraging examples of spiritual revival in our history.
Would You do it again in this generation?
Revive me, Lord God,
My family,
My neighborhood,
My city,
My state,
This nation,
Your church among all peoples.
Give us courage to open ourselves to the answer to this prayer,
To yield more fully to Your plan instead of our own.

May Your kingdom come,
Your will be done on earth
As it is in heaven,
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.