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

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 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.