Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Nix the Killjoys in 2010

I'd like to make some improvements in 2010, but they have little to do with tangible "resolutions." They have everything to do with motivations, the stuff of the heart, the invisibles of life. The beneath-the-surface intentions that our heavenly Father knows and looks on--not the outward appearances. 
A few weeks back, the husband and I were in Ohio, taking his 86-year-old father to visit two of his brothers, a sister, and a cousin. The rest of the clan are now in their 70s and 80s. When Jesse James came up in conversation and someone asked about him, I said he rode motorcycles. David's dad wasn't talking about Sandra Bullock's husband, though, he was talking about the original Jesse James. (smile!) And so goes the conversation when we visit the relatives--always reaching back into the past, dusting off memories and reliving them by talking about them, holding them up in the light as you might hold up a beautiful piece of crystal, one by one.

Alice, the sister, with her beautiful curly white hair and sparkly personality, adds vibrancy to the room, and I imagine her as the child Alice, buddying up to her brothers and floating through the days with wonder, exuberance, and joy. Her story further illustrated my impressions, as she reverted back to her childhood, when she might have been six or seven.

There were 11 kids in all, and Alice was outside of the house one day, twirling across the driveway in dramatic fashion, all the while singing with abandon. Heaven knows how long this went on, though it might have been awhile. Alice might not have noticed their next-door neighbor, Tillie, who was tilling in the garden, working the soil, in the house directly next to their driveway.

But in a flash, Alice felt sprinkles, rain even, which turned out to be their 80+ year old neighbor, turning her garden hose on Alice, hoping to stifle the incessant singing and dancing she witnessed. And for the moment, Tillie succeeded: Alice dashed into the house, probably crying by then, sharing her tale of woe.

As it turns out, Alice's brother Mickey experienced the wrath of Tillie on another occasion, when he himself became a victim of the garden hose. Tillie pretended as if nothing happened at all, but the wet spots on the pavement told another story. The neighborhood killjoy had little patience for the joy of childhood, even if they never set foot on her property, which they were extremely careful not to do.

But in the end, the bitter taste the children experienced from their next-door hose-sprayer would vanish: both Mickey and Alice have easy smiles and gracious hearts today. You can't let the killjoys ruin your happiness or steal your gumption. You've got to listen to a different voice. In the case of Alice and Mickey, it's the voice of abundant life found in John 10:10. The voice of Christ himself, which brings us the hope that allows us to stand upright, to carry on, to extend His gracious rule and relationship however we can with whomever we can.

I, myself, am determined to nix the killjoys in 2010.
  • I hope for a more unselfish heart, as I ask my heavenly Father how I might please him in each and every interaction, until love, not selfishness, becomes a more ready default response.
  • I desire a child to hold and to celebrate, and since God has given me this desire, I refuse to deny it, though I am in my 37th year, and it would be easy to move on and redirect my energies into a full-fledged career or something I have more control over.
  • I thrill at the opportunity to discover and learn more about my heavenly Father by attending seminary, and I will continue to take classes, no matter if others think I should be elsewhere, since I answer to my Savior, and not the whims and fancies of others around me.
  • I watch for God working around me, and will continue to ask Him how I might join Him in His work, even if the Holy Spirit leads me to step out of my comfort zone, and I am asked to do something that makes me uncomfortable. I pray for grace to obey, wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly.
  • I pray and I want to pray more--not to satisfy a resolution, but to walk so closely with Jesus that His heart beats inside of mine, and people are drawn to Him just by observing the way He continues to overhaul my heart.
  • I love my husband, and I want to love him better in 2010, to encourage and delight in him, as a picture of how God and his church are meant to relate to one another. This will inevitably mean more of dying to myself in the best possible way.
  • I will teach in the new year, especially the message of freedom for women, single or married, that God lays out for His ezers in Genesis 2. I'm going to do this even though it will be unsettling for some to hear and liberating for others. I will teach the truth because God says it will set us free--and because I am called and responsible for using the gifts He has given.
  • I will embark on new writing adventures in my business because writing is one of the things I do best and in which I feel most alive. If God wants to bless my efforts, I will rejoice in expanding my territory, and if He wants to bless them quietly and without fanfare, I will still do my part. I want to be faithful in the little things--excellent in all, because my work reflects my Creator.
  • I will seek beauty in everyone and in every place I can in 2010, because the beauty of God's Creation is the best reminder of His otherness, His sovereignty, and His glory.
  • I will not allow the killjoys of life to remove the grace, winsomeness, love, wonder, expectation, hope, or vision God is fashioning in me. Not in 2010, and with God's help, not ever.
Please post something you won't allow the killjoys of life to take from you in 2010...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is "virgin birth theology" optional?

This morning's Sunday School discussion got me thinking.

Some scholars who say they are Christians say "yes," they can be Christians and deny the virgin birth. Obviously, they aren't standing with those of us who embrace the Apostles' Creed and the veracity of the gospel accounts. They're thinking quite pragmatically, and claiming that the "virgin" part of the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke was not central in importance, nor can it be verified by an extrabiblical source.  They're wondering why Mark, the first gospel written, doesn't even mention that Jesus was born of a virgin. (And, although I didn't hear this stated, I have to wonder if they believe Joseph's call to obedience--and chastity--would have held out until Mary had given birth.)

Now to fast forward--we learned awhile back that the Resurrection of Christ is a verifiable fact--that is, it is corroborated by other literature, by a hefty amount of witnesses, and even by the "seemingly contradictory" internal evidence of the gospel accounts. (No one trying to prove something would have had such different impressions; they were simply recording what they observed, from each individual's perspective.)

The virgin birth story, however, is not quite so easy to prove. I can tell you what the angel said--that "nothing is impossible with God," but if you don't have faith in the biblical account, and in the ability of God to do miracles, you're likely to shrug me off, to deny it altogether, or to come up with some outlandish "spontaneous generation" theory. (And BTW, we learned that when select species from the animal kingdom do "spontaneously generate" a new life without coitus, they give birth to a female, never a male. Of course, we don't have the ability to do this as humans, though one episode of the TV show House might have you believe otherwise.)

As our teacher, Doug, outlined today, the virgin birth in the Jewish culture, where people were waiting for the Messiah, was an affront. For if Jesus was the one foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, then He would demand absolute allegiance. He would be Emmanuel, God with us. And He would literally change everything.

Today, for 21st century humans, it is just as difficult to accept a virgin conception as it would have been for 1st century Jews. "On the other hand," (as Tevye often says in "My Fair Lady") the author of Luke is trustworthy with historical notations that can be checked. If we think about it, we must realize that there was no need for the early church to invent a virgin conception--in fact, their claim created problems from the start. There are few details recorded about the life of Jesus, aside from the gospels, and both Matthew and Luke unabashedly claim a virgin conception. Finally, this story is simply too fantastical for the early church to have invented it. And if one accepts the Incarnation, God becoming man to dwell among us, the virgin birth is no longer unreasonable.

I can't take credit for the above reasoning--it all came from our Sunday School teacher, Doug, today. And I'll post his citations below. I can tell you that I believe in the virgin birth with no apology. And as a protestant who was largely steered away from thinking too much about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I have to admit I've become somewhat more enamored with her in the last several years. (I believe her life serves as a shining example, and that she may have been the first Christian.)

I guess what gets me most is that she said "yes" to God's mission, without hesitation, even though it might cost her everything, including her very life. (And that Joseph did, too, for that matter!) I'm also thrilled to see that unlike Zechariah (who questions God), she does not lose her voice when she asks "how can this be?" It tells me that questions are not an affront to my Creator--disbelief and ridicule are. Mary "pondered all these things and treasured them in her heart."

When I really stop to think about the virgin birth account, I think that much of our skepticism comes from a willful decision not to believe. Jehovah God has revealed himself throughout history, and the predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures have been fulfilled in the coming of a Messiah--his birth, his death, and His resurrection.

Not much more to say, except that because of the virgin birth, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, my Christmas will be a merry one, indeed. I hope you can say the same.

1. Craig L. Blomberg, 1997. Jesus and the Gospels, Broadman & Holman: Nashville
2. Craig L. Blomberg, 1992. Matthew, (The New American Commentary), Broadman Press: Nashville
3. Darrel I. Bock, 1996. Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50, (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Moises Silva, Ed.), Baker Books: Grand Rapids
4. Leon Morris, 1992. The Gospel According to Matthew, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids
5. Tom Wright, 2004. Luke for Everyone, Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Semester in review

On Thursday, I'll take my final for World Religions and be officially done with semester #1. It's hard to believe--it's been more challenging in some respects than I thought, easier in some than I imagined, too.

I've found it difficult to blog about what I've been learning because I'm learning so much. It's as if I want the information to sink in, to germinate and grow, to mature. Through World Religions, I've come to appreciate and understand the complexity of life in other cultures and the meaning that differing religious beliefs have in the lives of others.

As Christians, of course, we believe that allegiance to Jehovah through the person of Christ is the only way to true faith and religion. Yet, we can learn through the holistic, community approaches of other cultures, we can see that meditating on God's truth and His Word are important areas we neglect, we can realize how our materialistic culture crowds our soul, how we need silence and solitude to truly commune with God.

In Spiritual Formation class, we've learned that "the only way up is down," from Miles Stanford. The very things we avoid as we seek to control our lives are the things that help to shape us spiritually. We began to realize that the "perichoresis" of the Trinity, the perfect relationship, beckons our heart to relationship--and that our best relationships here just make us ache for the union that is to come in heaven.

From my Spiritual Formation in community paper:
The real need of each soul is a genuine connectedness to God and others. When a believer freely receives connection, discipline and structure, accountability, grace and forgiveness, support and strengthening, he or she naturally grows from a human-centered, self-protective life to a spirit-inspired life where personal needs are met and the individual is able to freely offer up his or her gifts to strengthen and enhance the work of the Body of Christ. (How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), 122-132.)

In simpler words, we can't do this on our own. We receive and give God's love to each other only when we participate in community. Something is sadly lacking when we don't. And we certainly never become everything God intends for us to be.

Next semester will bring new opportunities for growth through The Principles and Practice of Prayer and Intercultural Ministry courses. I keep wishing for my theology courses to fit into my class schedule, but today I realized that each of my classes schools me in theology,  teaches me how to know God and to practice His presence in my life. The journey is rich, and I hope you'll share it with me, friends.
"...for most of us...the reason we exist is to serve ourselves. Or to serve our families. Or to serve God. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not exist to work. We do not exist to evangelize. We do not exist to marry & raise children. We do not exist to make the world a better place. The reason we exist is to be in fellowship with God." 
 ~Randy Kilgore

Friday, December 4, 2009

A new digizine for Christian women in leadership

Check it out here. The first issue is devoted to teaching us to rest, with content from Ruth Haley Barton, Mary DeMuth, and more. Looks like a subscription will eventually cost $14.95 a year...so enjoy this first issue for free.

Feel free to add your thoughts on the content below...from what I've read so far, it's been a welcome reminder of the absolute necessity of incorporating rest into our lives. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I thank God for you

Last Thursday, we had 18 people around our Thanksgiving table, stuffed into our little home. We combined both sides of our families for the first time. We wondered how things would go. We needn't have worried for a minute.

Things went swimmingly. Ages ranged from my two-year-old whippersnapper of a nephew up to David's dad, who is 86 years of age. We filled out slips that said what we were thankful for, decorating the table. And since I sat next to David's dad, I observed his top two causes for thanksgiving this year: "my eyes" and "my country." After decades with glasses, his dad can see without them now, due to laser cataract surgery. What liberation! His dad was also a merchant marine in World War II, and so I understood the meaning behind the simplicity of his thanksgiving.

Although I baked pumpkin custard and created our cider holiday punch last Wednesday, the cooking was left to David. I haven't the faintest idea what to do with a raw turkey, and since my husband enjoys cooking so very much, I leave these things to him. The turkey was delish, the sweet potato souffle was scrumptious, and everyone enjoyed themselves.

We decorated sugar cookies and colored Thanksgiving pictures. We swapped stories and suggestions on life issues. We thought about Thanksgivings past and those yet to come. We enjoyed the treasure of having 18 family members gather around three tables to remember what we have to be thankful for. To give praise to the One who loves us and provides for us, lavishly.

To all who gathered around the Burden family table: I thank God for you. For another Thanksgiving to enjoy you and to be grateful for all God has done.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Woe is me

Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned . . . again.

Last Saturday was not a banner day for me. I had the distinct feeling that in a spiritual sense, my slip was showing. And it was not just slipping beyond my hemline, it was almost dragging to the floor. I was caught red-handed with my personal pet sin displayed in full glory. To those who should have commanded my respect. To those in my larger circle of influence, people to whom I might have displayed the virtues of humility and grace. People whom I failed, miserably.

Before you get too worried about what I might confess, I'll let the cat out of the bag. In the last few months, I took a survey out of the book The Emotionally Healthy Church for my Spiritual Formation class. I scored quite low on being able to take criticism or confrontation from anyone. I told the husband I wanted to tell him where I scored low, but without even seeing the test at all, he knew instinctively what it was. I might not have been self-aware enough to see it in the past, but others around me have seen it, for sure.

I get defensive, fast, when confronted. I don't want to be at fault. I want to be right. Beneath it all, of course, lurks the sin of pride. And when the rest of my world spins fairly uneventfully and I feel like things are going well in life and ministry, a moment comes when I am put on the spot--and without thought, I lash back in defense. While I usually carefully think through my words, these moments betray a deep-seated pride and a feeling of inferiority all rolled into one.

(I should mention right here that I had started my day with a time of spiritual reflection and a prayer of abandonment to God's Will. I had also read a great blog posting about our "larger circle," and how we have opportunities each day to show God's love to them. Those wonderful thoughts were a million miles away when the following unfolded...)

As I went to check out a few things, the library clerk told me I had an $18 fine due at the local library. I believe that in the next few moments, I ruined the clerk's afternoon. And then I talked heatedly with the library manager. What makes this story infinitely worse, in my opinion, is the fact that said overdue books were theology books, for crying out loud! Not only was I defensive and hot under the collar, I was a horrible example of the grace God has lavished on me. I did not embody His love. There was no trace of humility in my tone.

(I was justifying myself, because I didn't receive any of the usual coming due or overdue email notices, which I later discovered was a feature of my gmail program--it indexed them and hid them from my view. This, of course, is not the library's fault!!)

So I approached the library manager and told him I was sorry, that I was out of line. I explained that the emails the library sends to remind me books are due were buried under the "hold" notices in my inbox and I never saw them. I agreed to pay the fine. I asked for his help in doing this online. I wanted to crawl into a gigantic hole and disappear into another country. But I could not.

I did my duty and left the library, crying as I walked into our home. I immediately asked the husband why I am such a jerk, why I have to be so defensive and reactionary. Why I can't love people like Jesus does. And to make me feel better, he tells me he thinks he can be just as abrasive as I am sometimes, and I cry harder, because I never, ever in my life want to be thought of as abrasive. It goes against every good thing God has done in my heart, so I was beside myself.

As I took a bike ride around our neighborhoods, sunglasses hiding my tears, I confessed my sin to God and He forgave me because of what His Son has already done on my behalf, and this made me cry a little harder, actually. I wanted 50 lashes with a wet noodle or something, and He forgave me, just like that.

I wanted to do some kind of penance and earn back my good reputation and my charitable heart toward others, but all of it is covered because of my position in Christ. I found this very difficult to accept on Saturday. But it is utterly true.

Of course, further talks with friends helped me to realize that God wants to use this little episode, and the test that has revealed one of my greatest weaknesses, to shape me for His use, to make me more like Him. To use my brokenness to help me grow and heal, so I can be Jesus to others in my interactions, so they can grow and heal by knowing Him, too.

Woe is me. But all is not hopeless. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9). Confessed. Forgiven. His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 2:22-23) He is compassionate and gracious; He does not go on accusing us; He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)

Christians fail to do and be all that God calls them to be. But God never fails. He disciplines those He loves--then He picks us up, dusts us off, forgives our sin, and sustains us with His compassion and grace.

I'm humbled by this knowledge and grateful for second, third, and fourth chances. How about you?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Women as Theologians

While reading a blog post from Carolyn Custis James, I was reminded that we as women, as ezers (Genesis 2), are also called to be theologians. To know God and to make Him known. Yes, you were created for this!

You, in whatever sphere you find yourself, are called to be a theologian, and you are called to be a strong helper, warrior, and rescuer in God's Kingdom. You're to do all this alongside men, in this tremendous Blessed Alliance God created in the Beginning.

As Carolyn Custis James says, the moment you ask "why?" you are doing theology. Despite knowing this, and truly believing it in my heart, I can't summon the names of great female theologians very easily.

Carolyn Custis James could be numbered among them. Dorothy Sayers. Perhaps Alice Matthews? Now I know there are a lot more of us out there, but they aren't well-known. And since this isn't the way God designed it--He truly intended for men and women to work together in His Kingdom from the beginning--I wonder if we might take a nod from this quote, also posted by Carolyn Custis James' on her blog:

"When a man partners with a strong woman, everyone benefits . . . What I find remarkable is that more men around the globe don't realize how much stronger they would be if partnered with a strong woman.Way too often and in too many corners of the globe, women are denied the opportunity to reach their full potential. It's wrong and it's backward, and of course, the irony is that by keeping women down, men lose out too."

-Bill Gates, Sr.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Treasured Winner Announced!

Hello all:

Annise won the book Treasured by Leigh McLeroy due to her wonderful persistence! Annise, please send me your address on facebook. I can't wait to get this book to you! And thanks, Natasha, for sharing about your treasured photos. I never knew all that. It was fun to hear about the history of your well-loved hobby.

One more thought on treasures and being treasured:

“What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” ~Helen Keller

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Treasured Review and Book Giveaway TODAY

INSTRUCTIONS: Be the 10th one to comment on this post with a note about something you "treasure," and you will win a free copy of the book Treasured!

She's a noticer, this one. Author and friend Leigh McLeroy notices the tender, but insistent reminders and remembrances of God's attentive love for us--in a heart-shaped leaf found on Valentine's Day, in a God-crafted animal skin wardrobe for Adam and Eve, in a glass box filled with the ashes of a dream, and a scarlet cord that literally saved a prostitute's life and eventually her reputation.

If you don't win a copy of Treasured, you'll want one for your library anyway. And you can get one here. (BTW, this is a beautiful hardcover book that makes a great gift.)

The book opens as Leigh receives a sweet-smelling cigar box filled with her recently deceased's "Pepaw's" (grandfather's) worthless, but priceless treasures. Our hearts are moved as we progress through these pages to yearn and to hold on to the "treasures" that indicate God's matchless, relentless love for us. And they are easier to find than we might think. Usually in the ruins and the heartbreaks, the pain and the brokenness.

Quotes I treasure:
  • "That's why death--any death, even one that arrives deep into old age and provides a blessed relief to sickness and pain--is always an affront, always a shock no matter how prepared for it we believe ourselves to be. Each of us has eternity infused into our souls beneath our bones and blood, and something in us knows it for a fact. We were made for never-ending, abundant life by a God who loves us and who went from heaven to earth and to hell and back to make sure we could have it." (p. 80)
  • "My proclaiming is mostly done in small, specific ways these days. I tell friends without joking that I feel "called to small." I don't aspire to stadium events, or the top of the New York Times bestseller list. I don't necessarily have what some call the gift of evangelism, but there's nothing I'd rather talk or write about than Jesus. I'm not brave. I'm just in love." (p. 98)
  • "When God wants to get our attention, He is not limited in the ways He can do so. He may speak through His Word...or His prophets or preachers or teachers. He may speak through creation--the very stuff of heaven and earth. Or He might speak strongly but inaudibly straight to the human heart. No matter how the message comes, it comes with utter authority. God may whisper at times--but He does not stutter." (p. 128)
Each new chapter reveals a new "treasure" that unveils a biblical story's promise: there's a fig leaf, Abraham's knife, a strip of bloodied cloth, a head of barley, and one smooth stone. The promises of Scripture will fly off the pages and into your heart. You'll want time for pondering, for embracing what God has to say to your heart.

And the personal reflection and group discussion guide at the end will make all of this--which might sound figurative at this point--real to you and your situation, to your heart. Although I've finished the book, I can't wait to go further in my personal devotional time to uncover "The God Who Covers Me," "The God of New Beginnings," "The God With a Bigger Plan," and "The God Who Speaks."

Leigh is right: Every treasure tells a story. And this story has your name on every line.

Find out more about Leigh McLeroy or subscribe to her free Wednesday devotional at LeighMcLeroy.com.

Best wishes on being the 10th person to post a comment about something you treasure.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Treasured book giveaway coming November 18

Come back next Wednesday when I'm giving a copy of the book Treasured away to the 10th person to post a comment to my book review. You can watch a short video about the book here.

The author of Treasured is a good friend in Houston whom I've never met in person. Typical of this social media age, eh?

I worked with Leigh McLeroy while at Baker Publishing Group. We've had some terrific phone conversations, and we like to share tips and dreams with each other over the email. We've talked about work and her sister's cancer and losing my dad and receiving
God's love. She's a contemplative who finally relented and signed up on facebook a few months back.

But what you really need to know about Leigh is that despite the fact we never met in person she is one of the most "fully-formed" souls I know. God's work in her is truly beautiful, and out of that work came one of my favorite books ever, The Beautiful Ache. Yes, this is one of the books I reread frequently! Until I give away my copy and have to order another one. It helps each of us who desire to follow Jesus to hear His voice and to live in and out of the longings He has given us, all of which ultimately point us to heaven. It will win your heart!

As will this beautiful little book Treasured: "Leigh McLeroy considers tangible reminders of God's active presence and guides us in discovering evidence in our own lives of his attentive love."

I like this review: “LeighMcLeroy has interwoven her story with God’s story—a rich tale of treasures and being treasured. She has done what I love in good writing: mixed sweet memories, profound observations, sharp insights, and exquisite words into a delicious narrative.” -Judy Douglass, director of Women's Resources, Campus Crusade for Christ, and cofounder of SynergyWomen's Network

You can also check out the Treasured facebook page or Leigh's website.

Finally, don't forget to come back next Wednesday for the Treasured review so you can win a free book! The 10th person to post a comment will be the winner.

P.S. These are the books on Leigh's bookshelf:
Emily Dickinson, Anne Dillard, Frederick Buechner, C.S. Lewis, Peter Kreeft, Ken Gire, Wendell Berry, Dorothy Sayers, the apostle Paul, Luther, John Piper, N.T. Wright, Eugene Peterson, Flannery O’Connor, G.K. Chesterton

Monday, November 9, 2009

You make me want to be brave

There's a Nicole Nordeman song that says "You make me want to be brave"-- a sentiment I claim for two of my dearest friends:

This is Beth. Beth with Gertrude, the pumpkin we decorated this October, together as we celebrated her soon-to-come 37th birthday. Welcome to the ranks, friend!

Beth and I grew up together--literally, we were neighbors--from 1st grade through 7th grade. Her mom cooked me good food. I swam in her inground pool. I played with her Barbies. We were tight!

And even when I moved away from my very-good childhood chum, each time we would reconnect it was as if nothing had happened in between. We both grew in different ways, but seeing dear Beth transports me back to being seven or eight. Life was simpler then--and we still love to talk about those simpler times.

But life isn't quite as simple now. Beth, who almost has her support raised to be a full-time missionary in Hungary, started coughing last winter. And the cough wouldn't go away. Though she's been healthy as a horse her entire life, we discovered she had lymphoma, the aggressive kind. Da--ed cancer! I remember the day she called me and told me while I was sitting in the parking lot at the grocery store. I forgot what I was doing, and while I had her on the phone, I asked Jesus to heal her cancer. And to help her to live an abundant life where she can live out of His goodness to us.

After chemo, the cancer is currently gone--but meanwhile, we're enjoying the many looks Beth has been sporting. I almost kept the auburn wig myself...

My friend is brave and true, and I am blessed beyond reason to have her friendship through this life and beyond. Don't doubt for a minute that this girl will end up in Hungary serving Jesus. She just got back from a short trip completed just weeks after her chemo ended. Take that, cancer!

Then there's my dear friend, Brenda. What we haven't shared together!

Brenda also prayed over David and me during our wedding ceremony last year--a psalm of prayer to ground our new marriage in the promises of God. And she was there every time I needed her encouragement as I let go of my dad and embraced the promise of life with David.

Last Saturday, we met up in Michigan to celebrate Brenda's 40th. Life is taking some exciting turns for my friend, and I soaked up all the goodness, just the sheer pleasure of walking by her side on this journey. Happy 40th, beautiful friend. I marvel at God's amazing work in you.

Both of these dear women make me want to be brave. I'll love them forever...and beyond.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I've been...reading!

My friend Brooke recently sent me an email that included this paragraph, a fitting view of the seminarian's life:

"Brooke is up late reading. Brooke is reading again. Brooke got up to get a cookie and is back to reading. Brooke walked her dog in the rain and is going to start reading...again. Okay, you get the pic."

Students, can I hear an "amen!" Brooke, I'm going in good faith that you don't mind me posting this here... :)

Yes, so I've been reading as well. I'm reading Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart, I'm laboring over The Green Letters by Miles Stanford. Larry Crabb's Inside Out? Check. Introduction to World Religions? (Not to mention side reading like a Mitford novel, a social media book, and the devotional Champagne for the Soul.) Oh, yeah. And after I get done reading, checking my email, reading some more, I will resume...

Writing! A little 8-10 pg. treatise on my philosophy and theology of sanctification and weakness. Nothing too difficult.

Thankfully, I just ordered smashing AccordanceBible.com software that will make my writing and research experiences better than ever. Thank God for software that caters to the mac users of the world. Sorry, PC lovers. I'm happy to report Jesus loves you just as much, but that doesn't mean your Bible software sings like Accordance. It's best to face the truth on these matters.

Sorry, but I just finished the section in Renovation of the Heart where we're challenged to correct our thinking. I really must get some fresh air!

Toodles for now,
Seminary Suzie

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Say It Isn't So--The New "Twitter" Bible

The new "twitter Bible" converts Scripture into mini-messages. Read article here.

Here's a word from theologian John Piper on why he's using social media to distribute the Christian message:

"We are aware that the medium tends to shape the message," Piper said. "But it seems to us that aggressive efforts to saturate a media with the supremacy of God, the truth of Scripture, the glory of Christ, the joy of the gospel, the insanity of sin, and the radical nature of Christian living is a good choice for some Christians," he said, adding that they may not be good for all and that some of these media should be abstained from."

What do you think? Should we use twitter to share God's redemption story with others?? Please post.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dinner, anyone?

Tonight, in approximately 49 minutes, the husband and I will be serving dinner to three seminary friends--Rachelle, Jenny, and Jason.


tortilla chips with guacamole (Jason's recipe!)
veggie tray
white chicken chili (the husband's good cooking)
cornbread (my baking)
hot spiced cider

And for dessert, chocolate cupcakes and candy corn. We are not going vegan tonight, baby. And actually having someone over for dinner at our initiative has become quite rare. So we're excited. Putting the to-do lists away even as I speak. Promising myself that my reading can wait until tomorrow. Thanking God for the promise of good fellowship, warm hearts, and shared dreams.

If I can convince the guests, I might even post a pic! Be back soon...

Monday, October 26, 2009

ode to an autumn bicycle ride

just returned on a bike colored champagne
heard the leaves crackling happily
spied burning bushes flaming scarlet
accented by brilliant oranges and yellows, oaks and maples
saw a bare tree with a lone nest perched precariously
passed endless rows of dry, rustling corn stalks
flew down a hill, trying to use my old "backward" brakes
spotted a whole football team arranged like chess pieces
felt the sun smiling while beating down
laughed when I passed a sign saying 73 degrees
sensed the wind at my back

some call this indian summer
i call it autumn in full glory
seasoned by the Most Creative
enjoyed by this audience of one
on a bicycle colored champagne

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shoulda, coulda, woulda

You keep looking at the blog link and seeing the goofy picture of the husband and I and wondering when in the world am I going to post something, anything? If you guessed that I have been busy, living a bit beyond a comfortable margin in life, you would be correct. Utterly so.

This morning, for a few moments, though, I am coming up for air. The semester is halfway through, and I would love to say that it's been all sweetness and light, a joy, that my path has been confirmed at every turn, but I would be lying. It's been hard. There have been some bright spots, but lately those have been overshadowed by some pain.

One of the things God has been teaching me this semester is to set boundaries with people according to His Word and His work in my heart. And boundaries are not always easy to set or maintain. People disrespect them, and then you have to draw a bigger boundary with a person, even when you don't want to, even when you'd rather forget it, even when you'd rather eat an entire carton of Ben & Jerry's chunky monkey instead of facing it, whatever the personal circumstance for you might be.

Sometimes drawing a boundary you know is needed causes you to be misunderstood, or to be challenged, or to be marginalized because you stand up for what you know deep in your heart you must do. At times, when we are faced with a situation that begins to feel like spiritual death instead of spiritual life, we must take stock and ask God if this is what He wants for us as His sons and daughters. We're told to guard our hearts and that Jesus has come that we might have life, abundantly. And so we sometimes make hard decisions that tear us up inside so we can continue to follow our Savior with our hearts intact.

In case you were wondering, I have not eaten the carton of Ben & Jerry's yet this semester, though I must admit it's not due to my incredible willpower. I simply have none in the freezer, and no time to buy any, either.

I'll close with a quote from the book The Emotionally Healthy Church, which has been a cherished read for me this semester:

"Christian leaders all too often allow themselves to be disrespected, allowing people to speak to them and about them in ways that are inappropriate. They think that this is the "Christian way." But for healthy community to thrive, there must be a foundation of respect. By respect, I am referring to how we treat one another, not how we feel about each other. We have a right to be different, a right to be taken seriously, a right to be heard, and a right to disagree. Take away any of those and you have relationships dominated by one or more persons at the expense of another." -Peter J. Scazzero

Jesus loves us, friends, more than we can understand. And when someone is hurting us, especially in a spiritual sense, we must choose boundaries that bring life to a situation. I'm learning this through a difficult path this semester, but the good thing is, I'm learning it! If you have interest in pursuing this further I'd recommend the "Receive the Gift of Limits" chapter in The Emotionally Healthy Church. And the good book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.

Embracing and living with healthy boundaries really can change the fruitfulness of a person's life, or the temperature of a small group, even the effectiveness of a church. I hope in my heart that every person reading this will learn how to implement boundaries in every one of their relationships. It really can change difficult circumstances and relationships in some surprising ways.

Thanks for listening!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pleasant places

Today the husband and I returned from a 4-day trip to Michigan. And I have to tell you this right up front: we are blessed. (No, David does not always look this goofy, but at the moment I don't have a better photo. Smile.)

It was a weekend of pleasantness as we gathered with friends and family, renewing old ties, exchanging issues of the heart with kindred spirits, David on a early morning fishing trip while I walked around a familiar lake with a friend, us celebrating my birthday with those who love me most, getting a report on how much my health has improved from my naturopath doctor.

I have to tell you right now, our boundary lines have fallen in pleasant places! (Psalm 16:6)

And all the while, I was starting to understand things about myself that until now have been unknown to me. Just some moving and shifting, adjustment of my heart attitude toward others, an awareness of how I can be critical with those closest to me. A yearning to be a better woman, a better reflection of my Abba-Father.

This morning I realized at about 9:30 am how truly blessed I am. After a pretty hefty struggle with my health and adrenal glands since March, the doctor tested me and was excited over the progress I've made. Even said I am doing great. Hormones are regulating, too. Allergy misery is now subsiding; back is in alignment after an adjustment.

I am comfortable. And since it has been a rough year healthwise, this discovery of rest and overall wellbeing brings delight and new hope. A month of seminary under the belt, with lots of challenges to come. But this life is good. Even the discovery of the ugliness in my heart is a gift on this journey of growth. Time in the car spent with my husband discussing where our marriage is going right and how we can improve on the things that cause each of us pain.

Nothing is perfect; but the sum total of it all is good. Even very good. Will you take a moment and reflect on where things are going right for you as well? Although we have many friends struggling with the weight of life's trials right now, I hope you can see the ways in which you are blessed, through common grace and yes, even God's intervention in your life specifically.

Perhaps this song by artist Allen Levi will help you get your mind in the right place. Click on the musical note to play. And may you discover your delightful inheritance...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Comments don't work

Sorry, everyone. I know my "comments" feature doesn't work, and that has been frustrating for some of you. Especially on the last post!

I'm frustrated, too, and am asking a friend who knows html if she can help. And if you know anyone who might be willing to help fix it, feel free to contact me.

Quotes for today:

"There are many things that are perfectly legitimate, but if you are going to concentrate on God you cannot do them." - Oswald Chambers

"To accept and live within my limitations is freeing . . . to be faithful to my true self, I must continually resist not just sin but many forms of virtue that may not be appropriate for me right now, many legitimate expressions of Christianity that aren't legitimate for me, many good deeds that aren't mine to do. Christ's "narrow road" is that of doing only those acts that arise from real faith, knowing that 'everything that does not come from faith is sin' (Romans 14:23)."
-Mike Mason, Champagne for the Soul

Friday, September 18, 2009

Watch your language

Yesterday, I was told that Titus 2 supports the fact that women are built to be "housewives." This is the passage where Paul is exhorting younger women to honor the Word of God through their conduct.

First of all, let me say that the term "housewife" has got to go. The actual word of God, depending on the translation you use, calls them homemakers or keepers of the home. Women are not married to their houses, people! And this is not about being politically correct. It is about honoring those women who are serving Christ through tending to the needs of their families. Call them homemakers, for that is what they are.

Secondly, am I being disobedient to God if a) my husband helps to keep my home, by contributing to the cooking and cleaning or b) I sometimes hire someone to do the basic cleaning at my house? I can't find any Scripture to back that up. I can find Scripture, namely Proverbs 31, that suggests a women's sphere of influence can be much larger than the four corners of her home.

And, here is something I ponder: if the Apostle Paul commissioned Phoebe as a full-fledged deacon to deliver the book of Romans over land and sea to its intended recipients, who in the world was keeping her home? And was she being disobedient to God by filling her leadership role in God's Kingdom while neglecting her household duties? I think not.

I hope, after reading this, that you will never again call someone a housewife. Even if you mean it in the nicest possible way, the language we use means something. Being a homemaker is a noble calling, one that deserves to be celebrated and honored. Let's part with our deeply-held patriarchal lens for a moment and get a clearer look at all that God intends for his daughters. In my humble conviction, the very furtherance of God's Kingdom here on earth depends on it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thankful for bibme.com!

Wish you could automatically format a bibliography in MLA, APA, Chicago, or Turabian formats?? If what I just said made no sense to you, come back another day for more musings on my spiritual journey.

But if you are the type of person who has to write papers or articles or books, bibme.com might be your next best friend. You may not even need to type in the information from your source, since you can search for it online and it can fill in the blanks. Eureka!

Here's how it works, from the bibme.com site:

Welcome to BibMe! The fully automatic bibliography maker that auto-fills. It's the easiest way to build a works cited page. And it's free.

1Search for a book, article, website, or film, or enter the information yourself.
2Add it to your bibliography.
3Download your bibliography in either the MLA, APA, Chicago, or Turabian formats and include it in your paper. It's that easy!

One last thing. What are you waiting for? Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Finding joy in the struggle

Another quote from Mike Mason's book Champagne for the Soul:

How strange and vibrant and astounding is this gift of life! So what if it's hard? So what if we're hounded by troubles, pressured and embattled on all sides? So many good gifts outweigh the trials. Thank God that we encounter some resistance to our cavalier passage through this world. Thank God he has designed life not to be easy but to test us to the limit and so turn ingrates into children of God who are strong and fearless and full of love.

"Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: The Lord's right hand has done mighty things!" Psalm 118:15

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Day at the Fair

It felt exactly like the stomach flu. But in all reality, it was probably never the flu. Misdiagnosed incorrectly by a nurse over the phone. In reality, it's just really, insanely bad allergies and drainage. Let's just leave it at that, shall we? My doctor said it explains all my symptoms...and she handed me nasal spray and directions to buy claritin asap. It is no exaggeration to say that I now HATE ragweed.

So I was fuming about this yesterday afternoon, because although slowing down can be therapeutic, I lost a whole week of school and life, for crying out loud. I lost five pounds and have grown increasingly weak when I could have taken a claritin?? Enough said.

Anyhoo, I didn't sleep all that well last night, for the sixth night in a row. Drainage isn't completely gone yet. But when I woke up, I felt well enough to seize the day. Get out of the house and experience sunshine and companionship again. It was a welcome relief.

So the husband and I went to my nephews' 9 am football game--the 13 year old and the 11 year old played back to back. And although I've never been a football fan, it was pure bliss to be seated next to my husband and my niece, my sister-in-law's mom and my brother-in-law. I even ate popcorn!

I really do need to get out more! While I was sitting there, my sister-in-law's mom started talking about how the Grabill fair is going on, and all the crafts and merriment, and my 14-year-old niece asked if I had ever been. "You've never been?" she said. "Seriously?" "I know, it's shocking, isn't it?" I replied.

And then we went to the Grabill, Indiana, fair, David and I. And it restored my faith in certain segments of Americana, friends. When we first entered the town, there were more Amish buggies than cars, and I love to watch the Amish tooling down the road, capable and content. We saw some Amish at the fair, too, three girls in fact. They were about 14 or 15 years of age, all three of them dressed in the standard long sleeve dresses with hems below the knees, utilitarian black lace-ups, and bonnets. Except one of them was talking animatedly on her purple cell phone. Where was my camera?

[Side note: many amish are allowed to have cells because they are not considered "links to the outside world"--that is a landline does not go out from their home to the outside world. See this story for more notes on Ohio amish culture.]

Then I saw another interesting site. A young woman dressed in some sort of costume, probably to reflect the colonial era, was sitting behind a tent with her pack of pall-malls next to her, puffing on her cigarette. And the combo of the hat and the nicotine just made me shake my head in wonder.

But the sweet parts of this fall fair mostly fall in a road of antiques and quaint shops that are all connected, and the old Souder general store, that is full of all sweetness and candy and things like that. There was a guy standing in an old-fashioned cart filled with barrels of old-fashioned soda. And the husband got a root beer for $2. It was fun to look at all of it, but when we really got down the lane into the thick of the people, it was as overstimulating as it was beautiful.

We ran into some friends from church whose four-year-old son had this great shirt on that said something like: "Sorry, ladies--my mom says I can't date." And when I read it out loud he started laughing, which put a smile on all our faces.

It wasn't long before I started to tire and we had to leave. But I was so thankful for our moments in the sun, beside the rest of the hardworking hoosiers, and I felt connected to something bigger. Something that isn't made up of all smoke and mirrors, corporate greed, or the 24-hour Crisis News Network.

I stepped back from it all and realized small towns are still thriving in pockets and places where wood furniture is handmade by calloused hands connected to men who wear broad-brimmed hats and drive buggies. Where the town hardware store is the busiest spot around. And people are friendly because they want to be, not to sell you something.

Quite possibly, next year I will find a bench just on the outskirts and watch people the whole day. To remind myself how important flesh-and-blood community is in the era of twitter, blogging, and instant online transactions.

And that is reason enough to make the Grabill, Indiana fair an annual tradition.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

When life hands you the stomach flu . . .

I cannot bring myself to complete that sentence! All I can say is I am into the fourth day of this ridiculous, and persistent nausea, achiness, and general weakness, and the advantage of being almost-37 is that I have purposed to accept it.

I decided to take the grown-up approach, especially after talking to my doctor's nurse, who told me I am almost certainly suffering from the latest bug she's been seeing. She was sympathetic, but not surprised that every night includes alternating episodes of cold and hot, which keeps me waking up perpetually, until the sun finally peeks in, and I awaken to another day of yuckiness. Beautiful, eh?

My usual prayer when being assailed with a flu or a bronchitis or a strep throat, etc., is to ask God that it would be the 24-hour variety. And the husband did pray over me last night, asking God to give me a better day today. I do see a teensy bit of improvement in that I actually ventured out of the house and took a 1/4 mile walk around the neighborhood. If the nurse is right, I've got to be almost to the end of this little episode, which gives me comfort.

But meanwhile, my life's activities have grinded to a halt. No classes yesterday--and I only get one skip in my night class, Spiritual Formation. But there was literally nothing I could do. I canceled two appointments as well, but was a bit surprised to find that I can still read my world religions and even my hermeneutics text while feeling . . . I won't complete that sentence either. If I take my time, I can get through them.

Today I received my Real Simple magazine in the mailbox, and I slowed down to read it, after having consumed entirely too much television over the last three days. And a writer named Daphne Murkin had written an article titled "The Memory Game." I especially appreciated this quote:

"Contemporary existence demands so much splitting of attention--between phone calls, emails, text messages, Twitter, and the constant allure of online shopping, not to mention TV and DVDs--that only the most strong willed go through life in an undistracted fashion. The problem in turn with being so distracted is that we inhabit daily experience in an absentminded mode and, as a result, have more difficulty forming strong memories, as though the passing moment didn't leave enough of a trace."

And you have to know what I was thinking. Getting the flu slows you down long ago for you to notice that you tend toward distraction. And to realize that you don't want to live absentmindedly. That you want to live this abundant life Jesus calls us to, forming strong memories, living well, gratefully, and graciously.

I am not recommending sickness as a cure for distraction (or a weight loss cure either!) but it does force us into slowness and contemplation at times. When life hands you the stomach flu, you might as well accept it. Slow down. Reflect Jesus well and lovingly. Appreciate the health you've been given. Cut down on distractions.

And if at all possible, complete your hermeneutics reading.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Weary, but happy


Excuse me for not posting about my first seminary week earlier. But I am exhausted. And the husband is exhausted. And the dog . . . well, we don't have a dog, but if we did, I have a feeling she would be tired, too. As it is, even the house plants appear slightly droopy.

I feel that I am among friends at seminary, and that will make things easier as the semester progresses. I've created a semester assignment calendar that hangs on the wall and was also copied into the smaller planner I carry with me. No excuses for late assignments!

I have changed my expectations about being able to handle a 12-13 hour on Tuesdays and will now be missing chapel to arrive on campus for a 12:30 class, and then to leave the premises at 9 pm after my last class is over.

Two of my classes are large and filled with a combination of undergrad students and seminary students. I'm not thrilled about this, but I'm working on having a positive attitude and simply trying to learn all I can. The third class is smaller, seminary-students only, and will be so challenging and stimulating. I'm quite excited about it.

And as I start this journey, believing that God is calling me to use my full giftedness, I am also asking God to show me how to respect other convictions and how to give the new friends I meet the benefit of the doubt.

For instance, in the challenging class, we were encouraged that we will use what we learn in our preaching ministries. The professor added "or when you teach women." Because I was the only woman in the class, I quite naturally, took this personally. And it didn't make me happy in my heart, friends. Far from it.

But as I gave myself some time, I came to realize that the professor was actually trying to be inclusive rather than exclusive. That is, he is honestly used to teaching males how to preach. And because I was also in the class, he wanted to make sure I was included. I truly believe he didn't know where I was coming from or how I believe God wants me to use my gifts. That will come in time.

Grace upon grace, mercy upon mercy. I am asking my heavenly Father to help me act as He would.

And one thing I'm grateful for, that I know has certainly evolved over time at this seminary, is that they have emphasized that grades are not the most important thing. They are encouraging us to develop a desire to learn as a way of loving God well, and others well, too. More later...for now, I rest.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Seminary orientation, check

Whoa. Well, I survived seminary orientation. I even enjoyed most of it!

And I am so grateful for the chance to meet all the new students, both residential and online (I'll be residential). There was a Presbyterian pastor/elder, a community church worship leader, and lots of Baptists and Grace Brethrens. I believe I was the only Nazarene in the bunch. And you should have been there when I told a Southern Baptist guy my denomination puts women in leadership, even ordains them. At least all he did was shake his head. The Presbyterian guy smiled.

I have to tell you something that people from my seminary might read, but I'm OK with them knowing this. Last March, at seminary preview today, I happened to run into the only female professor in the seminary. She is the first female professor in the seminary ever...and she has become a friend. Initially, we only spoke for a few minutes, as she was running to a class.

But as the chain of events in our decision process unfolded, I called her and asked her all the questions I would need to know to decide on a seminary. I know now that if she would not have been on staff I would have gone elsewhere. This is a really warm and caring group of individuals, but I'm already pushing their envelope in a semi-big way regarding my beliefs and convictions of what the Bible has to say about women using their leadership gifts. So I would have gone elsewhere. Probably an online program that would have left me languishing for community and personal face-to-face connection and discussion.

So I'm glad she's there, and I'm glad I'm there, too. And, most of the time, I was encouraged by our interactions this weekend. I was encouraged to see that almost 1/4 of the students are female, even if many of them are online. I was especially proud of the two moms with young kids who were there, signing up to start the online program so they can balance the demands of motherhood and ministry. You go, girls!

But what did I learn? I learned this...seminary cannot be primarily about grades. It has to be about learning--an internal motivation to learn and grow in my walk with Jesus and in ministry or I will burn out. I'm going to write up a short motto to that effect and place it above my laptop.

And as I crash tonight so I can do a 12-hour day tomorrow, I'm smiling as I think about my new student ID; and the collegiate feel of the library; the dining commons; the engaging, challenging students; and the beautiful campus. I'm back in school, friends. And this time, it's for the best reason ever.

As my husband said last night, "You are where you are supposed to be doing what you are meant to do."

Thank you, Abba, for this opportunity. Less than 1% of 1% of Christians get to study the Bible and God's intentions for us in seminary. How amazing that God is allowing me this opportunity. I'm hoping to make full use of it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seminary orientation, meeting 1, check!

The husband and I just got back from our first orientation activity--dinner and a Q&A time with current students. Nothing flashy, really.

But get this. I have "folks" now! Community! Thank you, Jesus. I can hardly wait to get to know every blessed one of them.

And the "gathering place" seminary lounge has flashy new red leather furniture. And a cool coffee machine.

That's it for now. See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Joy, joy, joy

It hasn't been a banner day. There was the *free hair color* I got this morning after getting a nice haircut. That was certainly unexpected! I am now a dark auburn. Thank you, Ulta salon.

However, a disappointment came today that made me second-guess myself and others, too. I was just a little bummed about something that fell through, and it seems to have colored this 24-hour period, this entire day.

The day that the Lord has made. The same one I am supposed to rejoice and be glad in.

And, tonight, I am profoundly grateful for this week's choice reading materials. I picked up a copy of Champagne for the Soul by Mike Mason at 1/2 price books last weekend. (I love and cherish another of his books, The Mystery of Marriage, and would recommend it to anyone.)

The subtitle of the champagne book, though, is Celebrating God's Gift of Joy. Mike Mason, an introspective fellow who sometimes tends toward depression, decided to all-out celebrate the joy of the Lord for 90 days. It wasn't easy--and it wasn't that bad things didn't happen in those 90 days. It's just that Mason learned joy is "a response to the Lord's presence." And he claims just as happiness is a choice, joy is, too.

And something I'm finding quite insightful, since I have experienced my share of depression, too, is that in these pages he talks about how joy often comes when suffering is present. Indeed, Mason found a permanent joy could be experienced even when he was sad, confused, melancholy, or afraid. He points us to Matthew 28:8: "So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy."

We are complex creatures, and though the fall and sin color our emotional landscape, we can choose joy. We can respond to God's presence, and we can choose to change our thinking, to move toward the assurance of our position and relationship with Christ. "Though there be clouds in the sky," Mason notes, "the sun can still shine brilliantly."

Tonight, I choose joy. Tomorrow, by God's grace, I shall do the same.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What's a girl to do

I am completely serious when I say seminary orientation starts a week from tomorrow! Really.

And I have to tell you, there is nary a moment to spare. Between adding more freelance writing projects, chaplaincy work, home stuff, friends who need help, husband stuff, church stuff, hormone stuff, and keeping connected to my Abba-Father, there is no time. Add to that, the husband has started working between 50-58 hours a week.

The margin in our lives, which was such a gift through the first year of our marriage, is dwindling. I am waving it a wistful farewell. I'm working to come to grips with our new existence. I'm asking God to show me what to do, what to delegate, and what to let go of. Truthfully, I think my husband and I are both a little bit wary of what this new season will mean for our marriage.

And there's the question mark about whether God will bless us with a child at some point. Where in the world does that fit in to this picture? Only God knows. And I'm so glad He does.

Anyway, all this hullabaloo means that I have had many a "come-to-Jesus" moment this last week or two. I mean this figuratively as in "get a grip" and literally, as in, "Help me, please, Lord."

I have already canceled two lunch appointments for next week. I mourned the fact that my new hairstylist here quit, and quickly called up another local salon, hoping for the best. I finished a freelance project, talked my dear mother into working for me on some database/coordination issues next week, then called our lead chaplain to ask if another chaplain might cover for me during the month of September.

Then I looked at the husband and asked him what all of this is going to look like. Our latest realization, although it goes against our grain a bit, is that we are in need of finding a kind soul to clean our small home once a week. This is something we've never done before--and frankly, never thought about doing. But we are asking ourselves how to be good stewards of our time and energy. How to preserve a safe haven for ourselves, while doing the work and learning God has called each of us to do.

We are not the type to burn the candle at both ends. That is, I was the type, but then I learned my lesson--years ago. We want to live life intentionally, with grace and joy. With healthy food, quiet time with our Savior, and time to give to each other and those who come across our paths. And so we are, with God's help, creating a new season in which He can use us.

It is like a blank canvas, really. But I'm thankful we're assembling the colors and the brushes. Getting ready to use what is needed to move forward on the journey. Now, after all is said, may my heavenly Father give me the grace to leave the paintbrush in His hand, to surrender the reins.

That's what this girl has decided to do.

Friday, August 14, 2009

One woman to another

Wednesday evening I sat in a small circle of women at church, in a meeting I completely forgot was happening until I walked in the church doors. So there we were, and a really dear woman from our denomination was there, too, and she was all fired up about a great women's conference we are planning to host at our church in 2010. We're Nazarene, so we're allowed to have conferences that are centered around the Holy Spirit. (This coming from a former Baptist pastor's daughter. I know of what I speak.) Not that we get too carried away, mind you, but we allow God to work, trying to follow His movement in our midst. Being open to what He might do.

By the time this woman got done talking, I was getting fired up, too. God is obviously on the move, mending hearts, changing lives, shaking things up and pouring out His love and mercy. We hope our church might be a place of refuge for all these women who will come through our doors.

And then this woman spoke what all of us face at different turns: she spoke of how fear creeps in at times as we are trying to do God's work, when we are trying to do almost anything. And the enemy of our souls does what he can to drive this fear deeper, making us afraid that something will fail. And sometimes we also fear that it will succeed.

She brought a wonderful card for each of us with a verse that helps her remember God's grip on us, his real presence that is with us, no matter what emotion might come or go. And I have this verse perched in my business card holder next to my laptop. Which is likely where it will remain for semester #1:

"I will not in any way fail you, nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake you, let you down, nor relax My hold on you! Assuredly not!"
Hebrews 13:5, Amplified Bible

All I'm saying is, God cannot leave us without support. He won't leave us helpless. And he'll never let go of us, no matter what. I'm thankful the Amplified Bible really wrings the truth out of this verse for us. I'm really thankful for emphatic promises from our Creator that we can sink our toes down into, where we can lean back and be caught, something in which we can ultimately put our trust.

No matter what the fear, he cannot fail us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sixteen days

Yes, that is when seminary begins. With a lovely orientation weekend. In case you were wondering, this is what the husband and I will be up to:

Saturday, August 29
4-5:30, registration
5:30-6:30, dinner
6:30-8:00, the mysterious "seminary life" gathering

Sunday, August 30
10-11, church service
12-2, hot dog and fried chicken lunch
2-3:30, library orientation (the husband will skip out here until there is more food)
3:30-5:00, doing online research
5-6:30, dinner in the dining room
6:30-8, meet the faculty

Monday, August 31 (the husband will be back to work at Government Motors)
9 am-12 pm, new student orientation

And, the next day, September 1, my first day of class. We are burning the candles at both ends right now, David and I. He is working about 58 hours a week for the auto industry. I am seeking to balance chaplaincy work, a rush of freelance work, writing church curriculum for our women's ministry, and the inevitable details that must be attended to for my first semester.

I need a haircut. I need some fall/winter clothing. There is a rolling laptop bag being shipped our way through ebay. There are people to email and call and encourage. And there is one amazing Creator/Sustainer/Lifegiver to fellowship with. I was reminded today of my first responsibility when my friend Katy posted this quote on facebook:

"...for most of us...the reason we exist is to serve ourselves. Or to serve our families. Or to serve God. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not exist to work. We do not exist to evangelize. We do not exist to marry & raise children. We do not exist to make the world a better place. The reason we exist is to be in fellowship with God."
~Randy Kilgore

Thanks, Katy. It is really all about relationship with this amazing heavenly Father who loves us. Here's a quote for the wall above your desk, folks. Or the refrigerator...or the mirror...or the car visor. Oh how we need the reminder to rest in His presence.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Be strong and courageous

Our Sunday School reassembled yesterday, with our friends, J. and D., from the previous post, joining us. Their grief is still raw, but the peace of God is very real in their hearts and on their faces.

I imagine that each of them has known Jesus for about 60 or 70 years. And in those years, God's goodness has been known to them. Inevitable struggles have been lightened by the strength of his mercy and grace. They have this wonderful, lifelong faith to draw from. And it will sustain them. It will be their daily bread, and in the end, it will be enough.

The strength of their convictions spoke to me yesterday as I prayed for them. And it occurred to me that this Jesus-thing, the Way, works on a deep and primal level. Blessed be His name when the sun's shining down on me, when the world's all as it should be. Oh, but the intimacy and knowledge of Christ we experience when the unthinkable happens in our lives. And it will. Blessed be your name when I'm found in the desert place. Though I walk through the desert place, Blessed be your name. (Matt Redman)

If the Christian faith is true, it must be true when the bottom falls out. And I can testify, it is.

It follows, then, if we know it is certain, that we must pattern our lives on it and we must share the truth that we know with others. That we will sacrifice our comfort to preach, and teach, and share, and serve. And that is where this song comes in.

I really love what artist Allen Levi is doing, giving away a beautiful song each day on his website. They are poignant and profound; rich and soul-soothing. This one is called "They Will Still Be Wrong," and it is for every believer in Christ who feels called to share the light with others, while sometimes being rejected. While always seeming to go against the flow of the world and its convictions.

Here's the link. Just click it, then click on the musical notes to hear the .mp3. Then close your eyes and let it minister strength and courage to your soul.

Be strong, courageous, and firm; fear not nor be in terror before them, for it is the Lord your God Who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.
-Deuteronomy 31:6