Monday, April 4, 2016

{A Temple to Build}

I don't expect you to call me Mother Bear anymore. Actually, I haven't expected it for about thirteen years now. But you did say it was okay if I slipped and called you Little Bear every once in a while. (I'll try to avoid it in public.) Old habits die hard for a Mother Bear.






The days of Little Bear and dump trucks, Thomas the Tank Engine and ornithological obsession seem to belong to a distant past. But as I scroll through the pictures, I can see the becoming that God was working in you through the years.

Where you once lined up matchbox cars and trains, where you once pored over recycling brochures and animal encyclopedias, where you once organized your friends and family according to their Thomas the Tank Engine names (you were Rusty, I was James), I now see a new creativity, a new appreciation for order and design, a reaching for faithfulness and goodness.






I see it in your love for music, your ability to recall sports statistics, your positive work ethic, your sensitivity toward others, and in your drive to further your education. I see it in your devotion to friends and family, and most of all I see it in the way the Lord is continuing to call you to Himself.

This morning I was reading I Chronicles 28, and I kept thinking about you. King David had prepared everything that was needed for the building of the temple of the Lord. However, he would not be the one to actually build it. That honor was given to his son, Solomon.

On the cusp of this mission, King David gives a charge to his son:

Serve [the Lord] with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind . . . . 
If you seek Him, He will be found by you . . . . Consider now, for the Lord has chosen you to build a temple as a sanctuary. Be strong and courageous and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you . . . . 


Drew, this is my prayer and the prayer of your father, too. We've seen this "wholehearted devotion" and "willing mind" throughout the years, in so many various (and often humorous) scenarios. You once memorized over 100 countries and could point them out on a map. At age two. This shows a willing mind. You often called THE ENTIRE family to the front window to watch the garbage . . . and recycling . . . and yard debris trucks circle through our cul-de-sac. Every week. This shows a wholehearted devotion.

It's still there, it's just matured quite a bit. (Trust me.)








And now you have a temple to work on: "The Lord has chosen you to build a temple." You're on the cusp of a new mission: the mission of adulthood. We -- along with many, many friends and family -- have given you tools and plans and guidelines over the years . . . and now it's time. It's time for you to step over the threshold with those tools in your pocket and to "be strong and courageous and do the work" the Lord has placed before you.

I know you will do well, Drew. You already have, and we are so proud of you. There will be bumps in the road. I know that you know that. For this I say with King David, "Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God" (yes, I too can attest to His faithfulness) "is with you. He will not fail you."






He will not fail you, Drew. Which means that -- in His hands and with your open hands -- your temple will be strong and mighty, a fortress that will declare His glory and majesty.

Your mission is a grand one, my son. Such a grand one! And I'm excited to see where the Lord will take you. I'm thankful for 18 years of delighting in your being, of marveling at who you are and how your mind and heart work. I'm thankful for your sense of humor, your generous heart, your respectful bearing, your responsible actions, your faithful friends, and your thoughtful nature.






Most of all, I'm thankful that God entrusted Dad and me with you. Apparently, you don't mind so much either. Last night, as you headed to bed and flashed that characteristic grin our way, you closed the first book of your life and eagerly cracked open the next, calling back, "Thanks for a great childhood!"

Yes, Drew. Thank you. Thank you, so very much.



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Thursday, March 17, 2016

{Waiting for Death}

My heart reacted to each notification. Each "ping" had me anxiously checking messages, wondering if the time had come, wondering if my uncle had been called to his eternal home. My parents were on the other end in Nevada, sending us updates. Hours passed. Days passed. The "pings" continued.

We passed the time here at home, trying to go about our normal routines. Music soothed our spirits. Aidan suggested that we listen to Crowder's Neon Steeple, and it quickly became an integral part of the prayer-worship-supplication that filled the atmosphere of home.

I was especially moved by the Crowder-Gaither rendition of "Because He Lives" and sent the Amazon link to my dad. Perhaps they could listen to it at some point.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone,
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives!

A few minutes later, my dad wrote that they had just listened to it all together. It was one of my aunt's favorite songs. "Give Uncle Harry a kiss from his Jules," I texted. Auntie Cher kissed him for me, and we continued to wait.

And then on a Tuesday night, my mind elsewhere, I quickly checked my messages before helping the kids get ready for bed. My heart stopped. Tears filled my eyes as I read and then re-read that my uncle's struggle was over. It was finished. And I had missed it. I had missed the final message. Really only a handful of minutes had passed, but in a way my delayed grief felt like a betrayal. I thought back over the last half hour. What had I been doing? What had distracted me from the waiting?

I recalled my prosaic activities. They were not worshipful, they were not prayerful, they were not driven by imminent loss. I was doing the laundry and making some bread.

But as my eyes brimmed and my throat constricted, the Lord whispered to my spirit: water and bread. I was washing, I was baking bread. I was living. While waiting for death, I was living.

And then I thought of Jesus' ministry. The Living Water and the Bread of Life. He, too, was waiting for death. His own. But with each intentional, passion-driven step He took toward that cross, He was living. He looked into the eyes of those He loved, He met their needs, He embraced them, He wept, He walked alongside them, He washed them, He broke bread with them, and He lived.

I thought of my uncle. He, too, had lived. It gave my Uncle Harold great joy to share with others. Often he'd call me out of the blue to recommend a book, share a Bible verse, or ask about Jamie's work. When we'd visit in person he delighted in giving us experiences, whether it was a swim at Tahoe, a drive in his Jeep, or an intense round of croquet.

It was hard to imagine that now the song "Because He Lives" had been fully realized for him. The stanza that always seems to dwell somewhere in the distant, unimaginable future, had happened.

And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain;
And then, as death gives way to victory
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives!

What could I do, but live? Death gives way to life, to the bread and water, the washing and renewing. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow. We can wash the laundry, we can bake the bread, we can put the children to bed. We can even wait for death as Jesus did: walking, loving, washing, living, eating, laughing, crying and embracing.

Today is my aunt's birthday. A celebration of life, even in the shadow of death. My mom -- her sister -- is with her now, and I can just imagine the mingled tears and smiles, the stories and reminiscing, the Italian eccentricities we proudly embrace, and maybe even some laughter, too. There's joy in spite of the sorrow. And there's purpose in the waiting. All because He lives.


* * * * * * *



One of my favorite childhood memories is watching the Nevada lightning storms at my aunt and uncle's house. I was given the opportunity to write for my Uncle Harry's memorial service, and this poem was born as I waited for death and rejoiced in his life.


A Marvelous Light

You held out your hand with that gleam in your eye, 
Saying, “Come, little Jules, your Auntie and I
Want to show you the sky
Breaking open tonight.”

We walked to the window, each one in awe, 
Witnessing splendor we seldom saw:
Flashes and peals,
Unleashed, wild, and raw.

Standing in wonder, sky-fire in our eyes,
Such glorious power caught us each by surprise,
Though harnessed, we knew,
By the King of all Light

Who holds out His hands with the Light in His eye,
Saying, “Come, My child, your Father and I
Want to show you the radiant
Love from on high.”

We rest in this love as we gaze on His face,
And He carries our burdens -- amazing grace! --
Even holding the tears
We have shed in this place.

For He held out His hand with that Light in His eye,
Saying, “Come, precious jewel, my Father and I
Want to welcome you home
Where no more shall you sigh.”

You walked through the window, healed and in awe,
Grace broke wide open; you finally saw
Flashes and peals,
Unleashed, wild, and raw.

So we hold out our hands -- though tears dim our eyes --
Saying, “Thank you, dear Jesus: our praises shall rise! ”
And the skies will break open
With marvelous Light.


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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Devotions On the Eve of a New Year

My morning devotions are rather simple and routine. I read a passage (usually just one chapter), slowly working my way through the Bible. After I read, I copy down a single verse that jumps out at me and then turn to my journal. There, I write my way through a prayer-conversation about that passage.


I'm always touched by the way certain words leap to the forefront at just the right time, as though God knows just what I need. Because, of course, He does. Furthermore, His Word is "living and active," which means it will always hold a rich cupful of truth for me to linger over and receive.

Today's reading was no different, although the words, interestingly, came from the less-than-stellar King Ahab:

One who puts on his armor should not boast like one who takes it off.
1 Kings 20:11

A fitting proverb, poised as we are to enter a New Year. 2015 has come to a close. We take off the armor of 2015, boasting only in what the Lord has done. But we cannot enter 2016 on the strength of 2015's victories. We cannot boast of what's to come, "This will be the most victorious year ever!"

Rather, we must put on our armor anew, moving forward in the strength of His promises.


As Spurgeon wrote, "Under the most happy circumstances you cannot give light for another hour unless fresh oil of grace is given you." Neither can we remain faithful and strong in our armor for another hour (let alone another year) without the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us.

"Great is Thy Faithfulness" quietly streamed nearby as I read from 1 Kings this morning. I can surely attest to and boast in my Lord's faithful love and care throughout 2015.

This coming year holds new adventures, some expected (my oldest son's graduation among them!), but most of them unknown. And so we prepare ourselves as warriors who are sure of victory . . . but also as warriors who know that opposition and attack are a part of this earthly work.


(I'm reminded of a powerful poem a dear friend once wrote: The Epic.)

We faithfully put on our armor with confidence until that final, triumphant day when we will lay our swords and shields at our Savior's feet for the last time, reveling in our worthy King's glorious victory. That, my friends, will be the best "New Year" ever.

 
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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Please Pass the Gourditude

We sat around the table, gabbing rather mindlessly about nothing in particular. There were occasional lapses in etiquette, selfish tendencies cropped up unexpectedly from time to time, and eventually a general spirit of unrest had me squirming with dissatisfaction and frustration.

My kids aren't so little anymore. I used to enjoy the quaint November projects that reminded us to be thankful, projects such as writing notes on colorful sticky notes, rubbing leaf patterns onto cards, or adding verses of gratitude to construction paper artwork.


 
But they've outgrown the turkey hand-tracing phase. No longer would it be appropriate to invite my teen to stand on a chair and quote, "How Doth the Little Busy Bee." (Although if he did volunteer, it would probably be pretty entertaining. I'll have to keep that one in mind . . . . )

Still, no matter our age, our hearts must practice gratitude in order to grow, in order to truly live. With or without construction paper and marking pens, we must continue to train our hearts to "praise God from whom all blessings flow." (If you have ten minutes, I strongly encourage you to listen to Ann Voskamp's talk on the subject of gratitude.)

Elisabeth Elliot, whose radio program "Gateway to Joy" I've been listening to quite a bit lately, said:

When we learn to give thanks, we are being obedient to God, we are delivered from a mean and complaining spirit, and we maintain unbroken fellowship with the Lord. 



This is what I want for my family: unbroken fellowship with the Lord. So as we sat there around the table, I suddenly grabbed an especially odd-shaped gourd from the centerpiece. I figured it was worth a try. Clearing my throat I sat up straight and announced in sonorous tones, "This is the gourd of gratitude."

Jamie was quick to catch on. "The gourditude."

"Yes, the gourditude. We will now pass the gourditude around the table (you must hold it by the handle, like so) and share something kind about the person on your right."

The giggling and snickering commenced. We passed the gourd (holding the handle like so), and the tension was lifted. Kind words began to come from our lips, words that gave birth to more words of generosity and appreciation.



The passing of "gourditude" continued the next time we gathered, and I silently praised God for such a simple act that spoke to the teen and pre-teen hearts in our home.

This action reminded me once again of how crucial it is to be developing gratitude in my own heart. I'd allowed certain disciplines to slip -- disciplines such as Scripture memory and gratitude journaling -- that were instrumental in keeping my heart and mind focused on that which is "right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy." And my family suffered as a result.

A wise woman in my church once shared a key to motherhood that was both succinct and convicting: "It's my life or theirs." So simple, yet so difficult. My life . . . or my child's life?



Photo by Peter Bartausky

Yet in order to be able to sacrifice, in order to be able to give and give to my family again and again (and with joy, no less!) I must be filled. I cannot fill my life in my own strength, but I can ask the Lord to fill me. And He delights to do so.

The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure 
and sense in which he has attained liberation from self.
Einstein 

And so up went the Scripture passage above the kitchen sink (I'm working on a section of John 15) and out came the gratitude journal. And you know what? A funny thing happened. The atmosphere in our home shifted. My daughter, who has been prompting me on my memory cards, decided to write out some verses that she now wants to memorize. The words in our home are more inclined toward kindness, and a general feeling of peace and calm is not so out of the ordinary.




It's my life or theirs. Jesus was faced with the same decision . . . and He chose us. He chose me, He chose you. Such love prompts my heart to choose Him, to choose my husband, to choose my children . . . above myself.

Christ's love compels us.
(2 Cor. 5:14)

Sometimes it takes a little push to remind us, and sometimes it takes an oddly-shaped gourd. How thankful I am that my Lord has both a generous, patient heart . . . and a great sense of humor. 



         
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Thursday, September 10, 2015

{Murmur and Glisten}


A little something new . . . . Come for a walk with me?

(With the correct link this time!)

The Suburban Diary of an Autumnal Lady


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