Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Am From…

Google map of my childhood home

I am from Florida's sweaty air, from the close quarters of a small home, from one bathroom shared by five people, from wide-mouthed Jalousie windows which gasped for breath just like we did in the endless, merciless summers.

I am from the lake behind my house, the mud squishing between my toes, the wooden-handled net swooshing down to snag wily turtles, the creak of oars in oarlocks.

I am from bare feet wincing and mincing their way across scalding roads and sandspur-choked lawns; from hours of play with Breyer model horses (who needs other kids?); from curtains flapping in moonlight as mallards murmured and crickets chirped me to sleep.

I am from a 90-minute drive to Disney World, and knowing better than to even ask if we could ever afford to go there.

I am from family gatherings at Nana's little house, from the old folding stepstool-seat that boosted generations of children to her table; from Uncle Roger's hearty belly-laugh; from Nana and Mom whose humor gave release to happy tears…tears which provided cover for the heartbroken ones we would have otherwise kept inside.

I am from Nana's Bible full of tiny handwritten notes; from learning to sing alto beside her in the choir while Mom sang soprano behind us; from wounded and struggling women who led and fed their family's souls the best they could, because the men would not.

I'm from pizza for Christmas Dinner; from Nana's "Man Pleaser" Casserole, from "Tang" and "Space Food Sticks" made popular in the years when Neil Armstrong's boot print still pressed deeply into America's spirit.

I'm from longed-for day trips to the Moncks' farm, from tomboy-wanderings among Live Oaks which dripped with Spanish Moss; from putting a quarter between my middle and ring fingers so I could learn to make the Vulcan salute.

I am from bitter squabbles with older siblings whose adult love and loyalty I did not foresee; from hidden hurts we could not help each other through until we grew up and realized the others felt them, too; from agonies that brought us to our knees to find, when we arose, that God sometimes hugs us through the very ones we used to fight with over breakfast cereal.

The ones whose faces stare at us in the black-and-white photos of the places from which we've come.


I wrote this little piece in response to a post called, "Autobiography: Template for 'I Am From…'" If you would like to participate or just see her similarly-written work, pop on over there!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sharing in the Father's Love

The Last Supper by Palma il Vecchio, National ...

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I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus, John 17:26

Jesus wanted us to know the very love that God the Father had for Him. Not to know it academically, as if we should all sit back and say, "Oh, I see, God loves Jesus this much."

No, Jesus wants that love to be "in us." He wants us to feel it in our bones, our hearts, our souls. He wants it to so fill us that it controls our every thought and action, just as it did Christ's.

Jesus described it simply as, "The love with which You (the Father) have loved Me (the Son)."

Is this a warm-fuzzy kind of love? The kind that sends us off to a life of ease and prosperity?

Where did the Father's love send Jesus?

You see, Calvary wasn't just about loving us, though of course that's huge. But even through the scourgings, the mockings, the nails, the agonies of heart and soul, the bitter taste of death…even through all of these, the Father was loving the Son. And the Father did not love as a helpless onlooker, the way the women looked on at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:40).

God sent Jesus there. In love. God wielded the whip through human hands. God drove the nails. God left Him feeling forsaken. In love. In love. In love.

It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. (Isa 53:10 KJV)

What kind of love is that?

Do we really want to share in it?

Jesus wants us to! He said so when He prayed in the Upper Room, immediately before walking His disciples to Gethsemane where their nightmare, and His, would begin in earnest. And in that same prayer He talked more about His desire for us:

…that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:13)

Joy? Can that possibly be compatible with the kind of love that sent Jesus to Calvary?

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)

Somehow, when we lose our life, we find it…and in finding it, we finally find our joy.

And where will we find our life?

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:3-4)

Somehow, in a way that boggles our fleshly minds, our greatest joy comes from experiencing God's love just as the Son experienced it…even on Calvary's road. Not by experiencing things which parallel Christ's experiences, but by experiencing Christ on that road…and through Him, experiencing the Father.

…that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.John 17:26

So how was the Father's love expressed to the Son throughout His life and agony and death? And how do we experience it?

Any thoughts?

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Confessions of A Not-So-Renewed Mind

Diagram of human brain showing surface gyri an...

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I had a lousy attitude on Saturday.

I'll spare you the details.  They aren't pretty.

At one point my children were off on a whining binge about some tragic problem like "not being able to play the exact computer game they wanted to play at the exact moment that they wanted to play it," and I launched into one of my usual "mom sermonettes."  You know the kind, I'm sure.

After a while it occurred to me that I should have listened to myself.  After all, I'm almost(?) always guilty of the same sins that bug me in my kids.  So I began to tell myself some facts that I thought I needed to hear, so that I would be more grateful for what I have.

My voice, preaching to myself in my head.  Who was missing there?

I'm good at "preaching," teaching, writing, lecturing, making points.  But am I the main one I need to be listening to?

How well do I listen to God?  Am I drowning Him out with my own sermonizing?

What's the difference?  If I'm teaching God's word or a truth extrapolated from it, shouldn't I be listening to myself?

My heart balks, because I know the difference. 

You see, I'm very accustomed to the sound of my own voice.  It doesn't impress me, as of course it shouldn't.  There isn't as soul on this planet who should (or does) tremble at "thus saith Betsy."

So when I preach to myself, it tends to be an intellectual exercise which I listen to with a "take-it-or-leave-it" attitude.

Even if what I'm telling myself comes straight from the Word of God, my voice in my head makes it sound like my own thoughts, with the same impact as, "I ought to go change the laundry loads."  It's a good idea, and I'll get around to it, but there's no urgency.

No authority.

Even if I'm deeply impressed by some truth that's struck me, I tend to be more delighted by its genius, more intellectually satisfied by having found a lost puzzle piece, than I am to bow and humbly, wholeheartedly submit.

I've forgotten, "Thus saith the Lord."  The Master.  The King.

I claim Him as my Lord, my Master, my King, and by His incredible grace, that's what He is.  But how seriously do I really take Him?

Rom 12:2 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  I've often heard people explain this verse by saying we should control what we think about, as we're instructed in Php 4:8.  And of course that's part of it, a very important part.  But is that all there is?

 Can any mind be called "renewed" which has not bent all of its powers toward obedience?  Does God grant us understanding so we can admire our collection of "truth nuggets" on a shelf?

Who on this planet ever knew more, ever had a more brilliant mind than Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things? 

Who was ever more perfectly obedient?

This kind of thinking scares me to death.  Intellectual pursuits feel so much safer and more comfortable than bent-knee obedience.  One feels powerful.  The other is humbly dependent.

My flesh wants to believe that an un-renewed mind is safer than a renewed one.  Boy, do I want to believe it.

But everything depends on my not believing it.  And that's terrifying.

Whether I like it or not, the fact is that I don't need to preach to myself, convince myself, or lecture myself.

I need to listen to the Holy One with an eager mind that believes, "Whatever He says is right, perfect, and just.  I will obey, no matter what." 

Pray for me.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lost in the Packaging

"Grace" by Edenpictures
"God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways."
~ 2 Corinthians 9:9 (MSG)

When Deborah Shank asked us to comment on this paraphrased verse for the "In Other Words" writing meme, I didn't get any immediate inspiration.  But then I read from my daily devotional schedule (this was yesterday), and came across this account:

Then they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you." And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, "This Man blasphemes!" But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven you,' or to say, 'Arise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"—then He said to the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house." And he arose and departed to his house.

(Mat 9:2-7)

Yesterday I wrote a short story called, "The Gilded Box" which was inspired by that account.  (Haven't read it yet?  Please do, and then come back here.  If you don't read it, you'll miss some of what I'm saying below.)

Ok, in case you're wondering, there really is a connection tying "The Gilded Box" with both of the quotes above.  Having trouble finding it?  Read on.

What's one of the "astonishing ways" that God pours out His blessings?  The one that comes to my mind today is, "The packaging they come in."

Sometimes His blessings come in ugly packages.  Oysters house pearls.  Prison cells echo with joyous hymns.  A feed trough nestles a savior. 

The more we grow in Christ, the more we find that ugliness reminds us to look for Him.

But what do we do with the lovely packages He gives us?  Do we become so distracted by their beauty that we never look inside?

Green lights when we're running late.  Safe flights.  Uncomplicated births.  Cancer miraculously gone.  Lame legs which leap up and run.

Should we thank Him for each blessing?  Of course! 

But do we remember to open up each gilded box and look at what's inside?

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead…but some time later, he died again.  So did everyone else that Jesus ever healed.  How many of them ever opened the treasure they'd received…ever found the message inside the golden miracle?

But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins"—then He said to the paralytic, "Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."

The note inside the box…the meaning in the miracle is simply this:  Jesus has the power to forgive sins.  The miracles and blessings you can see point with unwavering fingers to the miracle you cannot see, and they offer assurance.

He who opened your eyes, He who softened your hard heart, He who healed your disease, He who created the beauty all around you…He also has the power to forgive sins.  And because of the cleansing He provides, He can also give you an offer of marriage…the chance to be joined with him in engagement throughout this life, and in perpetual bliss throughout the only real Happily Ever After.

How many receive His gifts of common grace without ever looking inside the pretty packages for the offer of lifelong relationship hidden within?  How tragic for them!

How many of us who already know Him still forget the greatest gift of all…His forgiveness and eternal love…because we're distracted by the pretty packaging of His earthly blessings?

Jesus forgives sins and offers His love to us forever!

When was the last time you felt astonished by that?


This week's "In Other Words" is hosted by Deborah Shank at Chocolate and Coffee.  Drop by there to find links to other entries on the assigned quotation, or to add a link to your own!


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Monday, January 11, 2010

The Gilded Box

"Tiny Gold Jewelry Box" by asolario

I don't often write fiction to post here, but something struck me today in my Bible reading, and it made a story come to mind. Please indulge me by reading this quickly-penned little narrative and, if you like, you can speculate in the comment section about why I might have written it. Tomorrow I'll post an entry that will unpack the point of the story in my usual devotional format.

The Gilded Box

Amelia sat on the hard, wooden pew, trying to pretend she cared about the minister's droning words. The sun shone hot through her window, a fly buzzed past her ear, and Mr. Thorpe snored annoyingly a few rows over.

But none of that bothered her as much as what she saw across the aisle.

Prissy Waldrop was sitting beside him. Beside Charles Westfield, the handsomest young man in all of Kansas territory. The man Amelia would have given anything to sit beside.

Not that she ever would have admitted it.

He keeps glancing my way. I wonder why? Amelia kept her own nose pointed straight towards the minister, and occasionally nodded a little to keep up an appearance of attentiveness. But her eyes strained themselves rightward, keeping Charles the Desirable and Prissy the Interloper in sight.

How dare she?

Charles glanced at her again, and Amelia quickly turned her eyes away. Mustn't let him see me looking! She kept her spine ramrod stiff. He must know I'm too good for him…or at least, he must think I am, if he's ever to covet me as his own.

The pastor finally made his last point, whatever that might have been, and the congregation dutifully stood to sing the closing hymn. Amelia didn't need to look at the hymnal to join in, which was a good thing, since her eyes had a far more interesting subject to stare at.

If Prissy tries to keep him all to herself at the picnic, I will be scandalized, simply scandalized! And I'll make sure she knows it, too!

The church picnic featured plenty of delicious food, but it might as well have been platefuls of Kansas dirt for all the enjoyment Amelia got out of it. Charles and Prissy sat together for the whole event.

But she must have noticed how often Charles looked towards me. Amelia had at least that one consolation.

"Time to go, Amelia." Her father extended a hand to help her up from the blanket.

She smiled and accepted the help, but inwardly she fretted. I'm seventeen years old. How much longer am I going to have only Father to extend a hand to me? When will Charles come to his senses and realize he should be helping me up instead?

She made certain never to let Charles see her interest, so she did not look back as she walked to the wagon. But as soon as she had seated herself, she heard the last thing she expected to hear.


She turned to see Charles just a few steps from the wagon. For a moment she almost smiled, but she thought better of it. He doesn't deserve me, and he needs to know it.

"Amelia, there's something I need to give you." Charles fished something out of his pocket, while glancing around as if afraid someone would see.

Amelia tried not to be too obvious about scanning the area for signs of her rival. I don't see her anywhere…

Excitement and triumph threatened to erase her carefully cultivated composure, so she reminded herself that, whatever Charles might want to give her, it would probably be less than she deserved.

She reached a gloved hand to receive the gift, making sure her "Thank you" sounded properly distant.

Charles turned without another word and walked away.

Amelia didn't even look at what she held until they had rounded a corner out of sight of the church yard.

The gift lay in a little velvet bag with a cinch-top. She opened it and withdrew a small gilded box, intricate in detail.

Her gasp made her father turn. "What do you have there, dear?"

"Why…it's a gift from Charles Westfield. A lovely keepsake box…quite exquisite. I wouldn't have expected him to have such refined taste."

"Well, isn't that nice?"

Amelia could not stop staring at the box. It spoke to her of the young man's esteem in ever more pleasing ways. He does realize how much I deserve, doesn't he?

As soon as she got home, she removed an heirloom knickknack from her favorite display shelf and put Charles' box in its place. By this time, it fairly shouted to her of his love.

Now all I must do is await his proposal. She planned out all the details…how surprised she would pretend to be when he came to call, how long she would keep him in agony before accepting, and how her demeanor should emphasize how very fortunate he was that she had done so.

He did not call later that day, nor even later that week. The next Sunday Amelia wore her best dress in anticipation of his proposal, but Charles did nothing more than favor her with an unusual number of glances during the sermon. She made sure he never knew she noticed.

On Tuesday next, her friend Emily Harrier arrived at Amelia's house with something less than acceptable formality.

"Amelia, Amelia, have you heard?" The girl nearly shouted her question as soon as she entered the house.

"Heard? Heard what?"

"Why…heard about Charles and Prissy, of course! He has asked for her hand, and she has accepted it!"

Amelia managed to maintain her dignity until she could be alone at last to sob out her grief. How could they? How could they?

The gilded box went into another, much plainer box, tucked away in a drawer…too painful to look at, but too precious to throw away. It remained in that drawer while Amelia pined at Charles' wedding. It rested while she stewed over the gossip about the Westfields' beautiful home in St. Louis. It reposed while she resigned herself to spinsterhood. Untouched, it languished as she did through the years that saw her bury her father beside her mother; the years that faded her beauty, grayed her hair, knotted her joints and bent her spine.

She never spoke of it, or of him. Not until the day her friends and neighbors began to gather by her bedside, and their hushed conversations with the doctor told her what their private words must have said.

Even then, she waited until only her old friend Emily stood beside her.

"Emily, go into that drawer there…do you see the box in the back corner?"

"Yes dear, I see it."

"Open it up and let me see what's inside it. I haven't seen it for so long…"

Emily opened the wooden box and gasped. "Why…it's beautiful! Whatever made you hide it away like this?"

"Let me see it." Amelia reached out a trembling hand and took it. Sixty years seemed to fall away when she felt it in her hand again. "Oh, it really is beautiful, isn't it?"

"What's in it, dear?" Emily's voice brought Amelia back to the present.

"Oh, nothing. I never used it. I just…well…it's just a decorative box.

Emily took it gently from her hands and lifted the lid. "Why…there's a note inside it!"

"What?" Amelia's surprise gave her the strength to raise herself up off the bed a little bit.

"It's very faded…shall I read it to you?" Emily unfolded it in anticipation of the answer.

"Yes…by all means do." Amelia felt dread rising up from somewhere deep inside of her, and the weight of it made her sink back onto her pillow.

"It says, 'My dearest Amelia, I think you must know by now of my great affection for you, though I fear that you do not return it. But as the poet says, 'Hope Springs Eternal,' and I feel I must declare my devotion and hear your reply at once. If you would do me the honor of giving me your hand in marriage, please give me some sort of sign at church on Sunday. A single smile from you will be enough to keep hope alive. If you will not have me, please keep the box as an eternal token of my love. If you refuse me, please know that I shall not trouble you further with my unwanted affections, and will ask the hand of another, though she will always be second to you in my heart. Ardently, Charles Westfield.'"

Amelia could only stare, wide-eyed at the ceiling.

"Why, Amelia…I never knew Charles had such feelings for you…oh dear, you're so pale…I should get the doctor."

Amelia scarcely noticed her friend's hasty departure. All she could do was whisper, over and over again.

"I never opened the box. I never opened the box."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Receiving and Perceiving

Adapted from "Beggar's Banquet" by Donald Macleod

“How we respond to difficulties will determine whether we are a winner or a whiner. One of Satan’s first temptations when our life appears to be on hold like Joseph is to tempt us to live by feelings instead of faith.”
~ Michael Yousse


I didn't sleep well again last night.

They tell me that it's normal to start having more insomnia at mid-life.  So maybe I've got a "new normal" to adjust to.

How well will I do that?

If you've hung around this blog long enough, you know that I have a cynical side to my nature.  It's not something I'm proud to admit, but it's definitely there.  One of the ways I tend to show it is by rejecting hope.  Another way is by rejecting happiness.

Sin makes us into such fools, doesn't it?

I am quick to despise whining and resentfulness and ingratitude in others, but tend to cling to those attributes in myself.  Why?

Because true happiness requires humility, at least when life hurts.  So the opposite feelings, resentfulness and ingratitude, spring from pride.  And pride magnifies me in my own eyes while denigrating others.

Picture it this way.  If I make a run-of-the-mill tuna casserole and bring it as a surprise to a beggar on the street, and serve it to him on my own worn and faded dishes, he's likely to be overwhelmed with gratitude and very happy (even if he's not overly fond of tuna).  If I do the same thing for a king, he's going to wonder who in the world I am, who I think I am, what gives me the right to approach him, whether or not I've poisoned the food, and how I could possibly think he in all his majesty would want my casserole on my less-than-royal dishes.

We receive as we perceive.  We are grateful in accordance with what we feel we deserve, compared to what was actually given.

When I have a whiny, resentful attitude toward the hardships in my life, I am telling God that I deserve better.  I am prideful.  I am the personification of Royalty Insulted.

When I gratefully receive what He gives, even when it doesn't look appealing, I am acknowledging to Him that I am a beggar, deserving no royal treatment whatsoever.  And that hurts.

Part of me screams, "I am not a doormat!  If I receive this gratefully, I'll never receive anything better than this!  If I let Him know how displeased I am, maybe He'll do better next time!"


Not only am I prideful, but I'm insulting to Almighty God.  I'm saying I know better than He does what I deserve, and that His gifts are substandard!

No wonder God takes grumbling and complaining and ingratitude so seriously (Deut 28:47-48, Job 40:8, Ps 106:25-26, Php 2:14-15)!

Is the Lord really a miser, giving only the bare minimum, waiting for any excuse to shirk on His generosity, and basing His giving on my willingness to be pleased?

Look at Calvary, Betsy, look at the promises of Heaven, and ask that question again.

Shame on me, oh shame on me!

Lord, please forgive my pride and my insulting attitude of ingratitude.  Thank You that You work all things (including insomnia, the challenges of special needs kids, chronic pain, etc) for my good as I receive them lovingly according to Your purposes (Rom 8:28) .  Help me to trust You that You make no mistakes, that You are generous beyond my wildest dreams, and that Your plans for me are better than I can ever imagine (1 Co 2:9).

If the converted thief on the cross can humbly receive his lot without charging God with wrong (Luke 23:41), if Job can bless the Lord through devastating loss (Job 1:21-22), if Jesus could entrust Himself to the Father in the midst of the most undeserved suffering that history has ever seen (1 Pet 2:23) , then who am I to grumble at life's hardships?

And yet, didn't I just grouse two seconds ago about my computer mouse not cooperating with me, as I'm writing this very post?  Don't I feel impatient with my son who is dawdling upstairs?

Of all the things I need to be grateful for this morning, I think God's patience, forgiveness, and continued work on my behalf (despite my thick-headedness) should be at the top of the list.

Thank you, generous Lord, from one very undeserving beggar!


Today's quote was provided by Karen at In Love W.I.T.H. Jesus, for this week's "In Other Words" writing meme.  Please drop by her site for links to more entries dealing with this quote.

The sketch is an adaptation of a photograph by Donald Macleod.  I can usually link the artwork directly to the source, but when I use Fotosketcher to adapt the photos, it somehow prevents direct linking, so I must include the credit here.

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