Tuesday, November 24, 2015

receive what's in front of you

 “What you have made me see,” answered the (sinless) Lady, 
“is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before.  

Yet it has happened every day.  

One goes to the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one's mind.  Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of.  One joy was expected and another is given.  

But this I had never noticed before-- that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside.  The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you.  And if you wished-- if it were possible to wish-- 
you could keep it there.  

You could send your soul after the good you had expected, 
instead of turning it to the good you had got. 

You could refuse the real good; 

you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.”

Lewis, Perelandra, p68

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

just pouring coffee

As I write this one sentence, at least thirty cars have driven by my house here in the city.   I take a minute to watch them, to wonder what conversations are going on in front seats, and where they are going. 

There is so much more.. everything, here in the city.  More lights, more people, more stories, more things to do, more places to buy groceries; more sirens, more emergencies, more reasons to lock the door. There is more beauty here than I expected. And there is more hardness, too. 

I've been asking questions, trying to get to know people here; questions like "How long have you been at this church? Have you always lived here? Do you have children in the school?" But I have yet to ask my big questions to these city-dwelling Christians:

How do you do live here, in the city, with all this human suffering at every street corner? And, how do you live here, with all the pizza and the neon and the nosie that distracts from the things that matter?

It is not safe here!
How do you live here without becoming hardened? or broken?

And I wonder quietly,
How will we live here without becoming hardened or broken?
My daughters and I helped out at a soup kitchen last weekend. My wide-eyed country girls handed out stale donuts and soup to people that smelled strange and acted strange, and, in some cases, had minds so foggy they couldn't even decide if they wanted coffee or tea.  As they looked people in the eye, they were exposed to stories they are much too young to understand, but they served all morning with nervous kindness. One woman demanded a bowl full of sugar, and they had to say no. Another cursed them for not giving out two bags of candy. One accused us all of being in a cult, and with burning anger called us "pathetic" as she took her hot food. Was she mentally ill? Had she been injured by church people in the past? I don't know. I just poured her coffee. 

Someone wantes us to post for a picture, so we smiled by the coffee pot, wearing our silly hair nets.  It felt ridiculous: like we were tourists, getting a peek at human suffering, collecting souveniers for our do-gooder scrapbooks.  We gave a couple hours of simple service. It didn't feel like anything that could remotely make a dent.

I poured a coffee for a woman wearing three winter coats, and she responded with an uncomfortable amount of gratitude. "Oh thank you so, so much; this is so good what you do here, you don't even know...  it's just so good, oh thank you, thank you." 

I was uncomfortable because her gratitude was misdirected. I didn't buy the coffee, or make it; I didn't arrange the meal, collect the food, set up the tables, organize the volunteers. I literally just poured the coffee; the coffee that was not even mine, and I handed it to her. 

But what else is there for the Christian to do, really? We pass along what is not ours. We take the gifts God gives us, and let them run through our fingers into the hands of others.  And so often it feels like it doesn't even make a dent.  But what else can we do? We keep on pouring the coffee.  And when the needs are greater than a cup of coffee, our hearts break a little, and we remember that we are not enough. 

Will be be broken or hardened by this place? 
It is not safe here.

Father Tom has been doing this for years.  I wanted to ask him how he has not become hard, or broken. He spoke to us all after the meal, describing the people they serve (six days a week!).  As his words showed us his heart, I saw that it does have broken pieces- how can it not after the time he's spent with the poor? And yet, he does not despair. He just keeps pouring coffee, feeding the poor, and encouraging others to do the same. 

It is not safe.
But it is not safe anywhere in this broken world. And we serve a broken God; God broken for us, who pours his love into us, that we might pour it out onto our neighbor.

I see this in the teachers here, and those who have served in this community a long time.  I see the beauty of the broken heart.  Hearts broken in loving service to the neighbor are also hearts comforted by the love of God in Christ.  

May He keep on breaking us that He may remake us, emptying us that He may fill us, and moving us with compassion that we may pour His love out into our neighbors.  All good things come from His hand- to God be the glory.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition orconceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of aservant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Phillipians 2:1-11

More info: Manna Meal Soup Kitchen

photo credit: Melitta

Monday, November 2, 2015

when the "adult" costume isn't fooling anybody...

“Seriously, boys? Can’t we just have one car ride without screaming?” Glare, stomp, pout. So often I act as if trouble is an injustice to me, as if I deserve a day without boys fighting and dumping a box of Cheez-Its in the back of my car!

In this life we WILL have trouble! On paper, I expect it, but when it happens to me, I am still surprised.

Imagine something with me…
Imagine, with a faith-filled imagination, guided by the words of Scripture:
Imagine God, who is and was and ever shall be.
And us, His children, lovingly created by His hand.

Imagine yourself as a squalling infant, welcomed, fed, and cared-for, yet fighting against help and fresh clothing and a mother’s embrace. Imagine being so confused as to cry about the chill of the waters of Baptism, to fuss in response to the gift of eternal life.

Imagine yourself now, not much bigger (in spirit),
still breathing grace, still surrounded by His provision, His gifts.
Imagine your life, sustained and growing, as a branch on a vine.
Imagine our vinedresser is our Father, who loves us and cares for us as He has promised. Imagine He seeks only our good, our REAL good, the kind that has to do with eternal things and not just having a pleasant uninterrupted phone call.

Imagine we are still infants in many ways, so little in Christ that we have to be told what is good and bad, what is poison and what is blessing. Just like a two year old will fight gravity, and lose, so we fight to avoid falling down on the inside, because we like to pretend we are adults, like we can do it all by our OWN selves. Then something minor, like a broken lamp, sends us into fits, and our “adult” costume isn’t fooling anybody any more.

Displaying IMG_0259.JPGI rage and complain because it’s not fair! My time is much too important to be dealing with all this stupid little stuff! I have a RIGHT to not be inconvenienced!

Really, self, do you?
Does the universe OWE you a day without someone stepping in fresh raspberries and leaving footprints on other people’s stuff?

Do you dare storm before the throne of God and scream that you are entitled to a dry toilet seat, and water bottle without floaties?

In this world we will have trouble. Though trouble is not good, falling down on our faces can be good if it helps us remember who we are. He is the vine, we are the branches. We do not control the weather, or the traffic, or anything else that matters, really.  Yet, we remain in His hand, and nothing can take us from His care.

Help us to receive this day as a gift from Your loving hand. When it is pleasant, may we thank you for your grace. When we face frustration, may we look to you for patience. Sustain us in body and soul, for without you we can do nothing. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Gathering Acorns: Remembering and Looking Forward

What a great opportunity to talk to kids about death!
All saints day, coming soon! Are you ready?

I'm not. I'd rather just make a costume, and I am not a fan of sewing, so that's saying something. But the church year has brought this holiday along again already, as it does every year, and I find that it is actually good for me.

It is a time to think of those who have already finished the race, those who are done with sadness and trials and now live a life of joy in presence of God.

It is the time of year for remembering, and for looking-forward. 

I have an "All Saints" scrapbook, and I make sure that the children and I look through it together at least once a year.  Of course, life being what it is, we tend to look at it a bit more often... every time we add a beloved family member or church member to the book.  

Don't assume that this is something I am actually comfortable with.  It is definitely not, but I do it anyway.

Why a scrapbook?

I started it for myself, actually.  At first, I did not want to share it with the kids.  Yet, I was sure I would have to, and I thought I would have to do it soon, which is why I started the scrapbook in the first place.

I was pretty sure that my dear Aggie was going to die.

I knew that if her eyes closed one last time, I would have four other sets of  little eyes, staring at me with questions.

And what if Aggie knew?  What if there came time for Hospice and preparing and Aggie's own questions?  What would I say to her?  How in the world would I be able to say anything, or do anything at all, other than try to merely function under the weight of my own grief?

I did not trust myself.  I had to prepare. I had to organize the Truth and have it at hand, sitting there in black and white, ready to strengthen weak faith and heavy hearts...  just in case.

So I started a scrapbook.  Like a squirrel gathering acorns, I gathered promises.  I stored away Words of hope and truth.

I read those Words, I cut them out, and I clung to them.  I put them in a scrapbook right next to pictures of those who have gone before, and I imagined those promises fulfilled.

I am a terrible scrapbooker. I do not own a pair of those scissors with fancy edges, nor do I know how to mat and place things so they look pretty. I can't even cut a straight edge (seriously, it drives my husband and one son crazy.)  For this reason, you will see few photos of my book. It is definitely not pinterest worthy!

Dearest Christian friends, I encourage you to take time this fall to gather promises.  Grab an old photobook, or even a three ring binder, and make for yourself a place to store those precious words and promises of God that encourage you in the valley of the shadow of death.

Remember, rejoice, and look forward with me.

baby me, and grandma, and grandpa


This week I am sharing pieces of my All Saints Scrapbook.

Why not make your own?

It can be as simple as this:

Need help getting started?

For a text file of my favorite Scriptures, quotes and articles click here.


Who are you remembering this week?
Share a photo and (if you like) some words with me (via facebook or email or in the comments) .
Then, I'll randomly choose one of you to win a free copy of my book, 

It is also available for purchase on Amazon, along with my other books: Tend to Me: Devotions for Mothers, and Weak and Loved: A Mother-Daughter Love Story.

post updated from oct 2011

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Be church.

It is not we who bulid. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to bulid the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.  We must confess---he builds.  We must proclaim---he builds.  We must pray to him---that he may build.

We do not know his plan.  We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down.  It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction.   It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.  Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well.  Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don't ask for judgments. Don't always be calculating what will happen. Don't always be on the lookout for another refuge!  Church, stay a church!  But church, confess, confess, confess!  Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can yo ulive as you are. Christ builds.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, October 22, 2015

success, contentment, and the boxes that remain

A good question: What is your idea of success?

Success, right now, today, in your various callings: what would you say that looks like?
Take a moment to consider this with me.
Many months ago, I was challenged by some words from a friend. She said, “It was when I dropped my idea of success that I began to experience contentment." (Heidi Goehman)

Wait, what?

She dropped her idea of success?
Why would someone do such a thing?
That makes me anxious, not content. How could I find contentment if I drop my long (long) list of goals for the day?
Her words continued to echo in my head, “When I dropped my idea of success…”
What is your idea of success? Mine has a lot to do with completed tasks, with order and neatness, and being helpful, with emotions in control and cheerfulness and health. Basically: cleanliness, productivity, order, health, and a good attitude to smooth over any rough patches, which there should never really be if you’re doing it right.
Am I right? And assuming this checklist is perfectly completed, contentment will come naturally.
This is why I need God to adjust my aim.
I make myself a list, and contentment becomes my reward for “success,” for perfect completion. It’s on the list, it’s just at the very end. 
Oh friends, don’t you see? Our God is not such a harsh taskmaster as we are ourselves.
He is the author and finisher of our race. He has set us on this journey in the first place.  He invites us to rest and contentment along the way, not as something we earn but simply as another gracious gift from His loving hand.
Surely He who gives us His Son will give us this thing.
Soul rest.
Sucess. What if it has more to do with rest than with work?
No, we don’t get to curl up with our Bible and ignore our neighbors. But we can return to our sanctuary often, in His lap, in His Word. In fact, we are actually invited to do this time and again, as if resting in God and believing in Him were our most important “work” in this life. As if everything depends, not on our constant giving, but on our receiving.
The boxes are not all unpacked, but I have more important things to do.  The children are napping, and it's time for me to set down my vocation for a moment, and become a child.  
Eyes on Jesus, hands open to receive.  It is enough.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone,
my hope comes from Him
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to Him,
for God is our refuge.

Psalm 62:5-8

Friday, October 16, 2015

art in transition

Have you ever been given a time in your life when you get to just sit back and watch God provide?

That's where I'm at right now.

Well, when I say "sit back" I really mean pack and unpack a million boxes, learn a new city and a new school and a new life for myself and my husband and this wild pack of children, and meet hundreds of new people whose names are a blur, and organize a house while pizza-eating kids stomp on bubble wrap and fight over night lights.

This life is full of so much everything right now.

But part of me is sitting back.

Though the grief lingers, and I miss my Indiana home, and the to-do list is huge, the biggest of the Big Feelings I have at this moment is: Wow.

Wow, how God provides.

We have only just begun to drink of His provision here in Michigan, but the well is deep, and He has already given so much more than we asked or imagined.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

hand-me-down art and luncbox packing art!
I haven't been writing much. And I almost said something crazy about that, like, "I am setting my art aside for awhile while we get settled." But then I remembered what I learned from Emily P. Freeman about art.  I'm still me, still a child of God accepted by grace alone, still receiving all that I need and more from the Father.  And what He gives is still spilling out all over the place on those around me. And that's art.

I've been practicing the art of organizing a home, helping with homework, walking a dog on a leash, and hanging up uniforms in a neat little rows.  We've been learning the art of sitting in grief, and the art of opening hearts to a new place and new people. We've eaten the fruits of other people's kitchen art, and we've moved into a house full of new-floor art, and clean everything, and the smooth art of freshly painted walls.

And God is still creating, sustaining all things by His Word:
the pine trees, the black squirrels, and the people in the hundreds of cars driving by my new home each day; and the pastor, called to this place, to this enormous job; along with his family.

We are upheld.  God is faithful.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Sheep of His Hand

When we moved to Indiana, nobody had ever gone to school before. I was a stay-at-home mom with four preschoolers. Little Lorraine was the first one to leave. I remember the nights leading up to her first day of kindergarten: her big brown eyes asking me terrified questions, “Mama, what was school like when you were a kid?”

“Mom, will I get to have a stay-at-home day with you again?”

“But what if I miss you?”

Years later, a son's first day of school. His face said “this is no big deal” when he left me, but after school, he grabbed my hand and made a quiet confession: “Mom, I cried a little at rest time because I missd-ed you, but nobody saw me.”

Now, a new city, a new home, and all six are old enough for school.  God is asking quite a bit of me, it seems, to trust my precious babies with people I hardly know. But He is kind to me, even through this, providing me assurances of His presence and His love for these dear children; a love greater than mine.

Displaying IMG_0309.JPG

In Indiana, and now, here in Michigan, we walk across the yard to school.  I may be able to see the school from my window, but the distance between home and school is huge, no matter where you live. Here, I am the one to whom they come with joys and problems. At school, to whom will they go? If they cry, will anyone see? Once they are on the conveyor belt that takes them to kindergarten, to sports, to junior high, to high school, to college, will they ever come back to me, to simply rest in my arms?

Yet, they are not mine, and I have no right to hold them as if they are. Our children are ours for a season, but by the grace of God given in Baptism, they are His for eternity. And here in my kitchen as I pray for my school kids, I know that God Himself is there in the school with them, helping them grow into who He has made them to be.

God is there, and I thank God, that His presence is welcome at this school.

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Last night, one wouldn't eat. Another had a horrible dream that he went to school and forgot his shoes. One was extra fussy about her hair. They are wearing unfamiliar clothes (uniforms!), and they don't know their way around the building.  They need to learn to use lockers, and they are meeting all kinds of new people.  And yet, this morning, they each managed to put one foot in front of the other and walk into the unknown.  Not one of them cried when I left.  God is holding them up, even as He has promised.

And now, they are sitting in new desks, learning their new lives. And God is with them. They are watching for his provision, and He will provide. They gather with their peers and their teachers, not only to learn multiplication tables and phonics; they gather with the body of Christ, and together, they will receive good things from His hand.

The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand;
    you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 145:15-16

Almighty God, heavenly Father, You have blessed us with the joy and care of children in our homes and in our school. Give us calm strength and patient wisdom that, as they grow in years, we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord. We cannot do this except by your strength. Please pour out your abundant provision for us, your church, and grant us faithful hands and faithful hearts.
In His name we pray, Amen.

(prayer paraphrased from LSB p. 315)

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Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,

    and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another,

    and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
    and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
    and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
    and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,

    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
    and his mercy is over all that he has made.

(Psalm 145: 3-9)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

see you in His hand...

When we moved to Indiana seven years ago, there was crying and hugging and much sadness as we said goodbye to our dear friends there.

But I remember one lady, an elderly lady who worked alongside me at the pregnancy care center, and I remember her goodbye as quite unusual. We loved each other, and she was surely sad to see us go, but she didn’t talk about that so much. Instead, she filled her conversation and her goodbye card to me with encouragement from the Lord, thanking Him for the times we had shared, and praying to Him for future blessings. Then, she ended her card simply,

See you in heaven.

Those four simple words, “see you in heaven,” were startling to me then, and strange enough that they made me think. She had the perspective of age, and perhaps her age gave her this clear-sighted perspective. She did not know how long she had in this world; for that matter, none of us know. My friends and I comforted each other with promises of visits and emails, but these things were unnecessary with her. And in truth, there were further visits, and I have seen her again, and when we parted again, her response was the same: See you in heaven.

The words, the life of this dear saint, has become a sermon to me. She lived , eyes on Jesus, always walking toward her rest in Him. She said her see-ya-later simply, as if to say, “I may see you before then or I may not; we cannot know those things, and how much do they matter, really? We have eternity together, and in Christ we will be reunited when change and tears are forever past! Perhaps we will be allowed more time to encourage each other in the weary journey of this life, perhaps not; but surely we will be together in the great celebration at the end, the final victory, when sin and death and the devil are defeated, when the saints are perfected in love, when we begin the forever days of perfect love and life in the presence of Him who made us his own!”

As I received this open-handed love, it gave me permission to fly, to seek the Lord where He called me to find Him, and to trust Him to restore all that I grieve back again someday, in His timing.

I carry these thoughts with me today, as we say our last round of goodbyes to Indiana.

I want to make more memories with these people. I want to know when I will see them again. Yet these things can only be placed in God’s hand, in His hand that has provided all we have needed and so much more. We place ourselves and those people and places we love in His hand. When the grief tsunamis come, I will curl up and ride them out, in His hand. And when the new joys pour over us, we will receive those also, from His hand.

It will be His own hand that cares for the church here, and for us as we leave. And it will be His own hand that brings us back together again, in His timing, as He works all things for our good.

As we leave our dear friends in Indiana, words cannot recount the ways we have been loved and cared-for here, or the depth of our gratitude. We will miss you dearly, but even as we part, we know that neither you nor we will be so far as to be outside of God's loving hands.

See you in heaven
(and maybe even sooner!)

See you in His hand!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

on last times

On last times

One after another, last after last,
the lasts are coming in quick succession these days.
The lasts press down heavily on my heart,
But the weight is not only sadness.

These moments are heavy with significance,
filled with long embraces,
when words too awkward to say during the flow of normal days
                                                         fall from our lips,
                                         and we share gratitude,
                              and the flood of memories,
                            and our powerlessness
                   over the passing of time
and the love that has always been there comes bubbling to the surface and pours out our eyes
            and we cling tight to one another,
                                                and to our God
                                                       in with and under us
                                                                  and we give thanks to Him
                                                                     for friendships that will hold together
                                                                                         long after our embraces end.

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