Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lent Day 7: Thankful for sickness and health

"That's as far as I can reach." Our daughter lifts her right hand to elbow height. Her other shoulder and elbow are slightly more mobile but she hasn't had full range of motion for years.

Kirsten flew home to Austin today after spending three months with us. She endured foot surgery and the recovery amid arthritis flares. Every storm heralds its immanency with swelling and stiffness; Seattle had plenty of winter storms this year. W and I watched K regain her footing as she protected her other painful joints. Hopefully the warmer weather of Austin will be kinder to her than the grey brutality of the Pacific Northwest.

Some of us suffer for a day, for a week, or for a lifetime. Many become so accustomed to pain that they cannot remember a day without it. Our daughter is among those.

We've cried to God for help for fifteen years, since she first was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. I wept at her bedside last year as she groaned through the sores that erupted over her body and inside her stomach. W sat with her for hours as her foot lay immobile in its post-surgery cast in December and January. Oh God, when has she suffered enough?

W and I are so grateful for parents who still enjoy strength for each day. We thank God for our own health and the sound bodies of our three sons and their wives. We gasp with pleasure at the normal stages of our new grandchild. Thank God for healthy bodies!

Somehow, the grief of watching someone we love has made good function all the sweeter. We are glad that Christ bore the brokenness of soul and body on the Tree. We trust that at some point he will turn to Kirsten to say, "It is enough" and apply the hard-won healing to her body. In our view, sooner would be better than later.

Lord have mercy on Kirsten and all those who suffer today.

Read more:
*Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Lamentations 3:22-26 NIV 

*Psalm 31:10-20, Exodus 6:13-7:24; Matthew 20:1-16

*Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. Job 14:1 (NIV)


*It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 1 Corinthians 15:43


Moravian Prayer: Father God, help us follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus who was born, remained sinless and was raised in the power of your glory. Amen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lent Day 6: Thankful for mission

"I'm still shaking!" he pointed to the left, remembering the bullet hole in his car door. "I though he would kill me." Ken told us about how a gunman had walked up to his car, stalled in a Nairobi traffic jam. The shooter pointed a gun at him, demanded cash and valuables, and walked away between cars.

"Didn't anyone come to help?" we asked, sitting as a mission cohort in the safety of a classroom.

"No, everyone pretends they haven't seen anything. Foreigners are targets. The policeman ahead probably was in on it and stopped us so we could be robbed."

I've found a few quiet heroes like Ken over the past five years among a study group of men and women who risk their lives across culture. They learn languages, communication, and customs so they can tell others about Jesus, training nationals to preach and teach to their own people.

Today I'm in the classroom of an outstanding woman with tales of her own to tell. She and her husband will return full-time to the mission field this summer. Over the past four years, they finished their doctorates, carried a teaching load at a university, and traveled the world as missionary-trainers. There's nothing about them that would suggest heroic ministry yet their experience and records say otherwise.

I am so grateful that someone told my grandparents the Story. They told my parents, who told me. Someone - like Bev and Will who rank high among those I admire - risked their comfort and health to wrestle my tribe from our idolatry to the Living God.

Please pray with me today for such seemingly ordinary people, doing extraordinary things in the power of the Spirit. And if you have resources, don't delay. Consider sending $10, $25, $100 or more to someone in the directory at http://worldmissions.ag.org/. A new Family tribe will thank you for it.

Read more:
*Both men and women came, all whose hearts were willing. ... So the people of Israel—every man and woman who was eager to help in the work the Lord had given them through Moses—brought their gifts and gave them freely to the Lord. Exodus 35: 22, 29 NIV

*I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. Psalm 145:1-3   NIV

*Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. Jonah 2:8 (NIV) 

*The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 1 Timothy 6:10

Moravian Prayer: Lord God, we confess our weaknesses. We need your help to turn away from the idols we have created. May we always put our trust in you and worship you - the one true God. Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lent Day 5: Thankful for new beginnings

"Yikes!" I just picked up the dissertation sent in last week. The editors and I missed a few things. How can there still be dozens of improvements after dozens of readings and hundred of dollars spent for edits?

Laying aside the copy (at p.35 of 350 already zoning out with all the qualifiers - get to the story, get to the story!), I'm reflecting on the grace of God at the cusp of another week. Some of you are hunched over your keyboards at work. Some are unloading tools for manual labor. Some stretch in their beds after a long weekend or a night shift.

God is extending his favor to each of us. Lent, the time for thanksgiving and meditation on Jesus as Savior, reminds us that God's mercy is new every morning. We do not have a Father in heaven who looks for the smallest infraction so he can thump us and cow us with power and anger. Our Father calls us into relationship, allowed us to kill his Son to ransom us from eternal banishment, and then--and then--lets us choose for or against his provisions. No other world religion or folk traditions can dream up a God so tender, so lovingly sacrificial, or so merciful!

This morning, I'm asking God for wisdom and understanding. I want to recognize him when he speaks. To obey him better. To follow more closely. To swim in his sea of new beginnings and surf his waves of grace. How about you?

Read more:
*Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. Psalm 25:8

*My child, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and people. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine. 

My child, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke because the LORD disciplines those he loves as a father the child he delights in. 

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed. By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the watery depths were divided and the clouds let drop the dew. 

My child, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight. Preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked for the LORD will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”— when you already have it with you.

*I will set my eyes upon them for good. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. Jeremiah 24:6

*So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:7


Moravian Prayer: God of heaven and earth, as we worship, let us praise you as Lord who is able to shape us as a people of one mind. You are the one who also provides for us the life-giving water needed to sustain our growth. Amen.

*But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lent Day 4: Thankful to be forsaken

"I feel so alone."

"It feels like no one cares about me."

We've all said (and heard) those words. The cry of Jesus on the cross, "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?" echoes our hurts and feelings of abandonment.

I am thankful today that God experienced all the pain of humanity and humiliation. Christ, God and man, knows the depths of our despair and the heights of our joys.

Jews, hearing Jesus call out, would have known the entire Psalm 22 - (read more below), in which his expressions of loneliness and his anguished tears balance with abandon to God's will and assurance of His triumph. Like our Savior, let us rest in God's goodness, which reveals itself as most abundant when we feel most helpless.

Read more:
*I rejoice in your salvation. 1 Samuel 2:1 (NASB)

*My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.

But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.

The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! Psalm 22

*When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. Mark 16:9,10

Moravian Prayer: Precious Lord, we rejoice with the angels and the disciples in the salvation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who died for our sins and was raised as King of kings. Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lent Day 3: Thankful for "no"

No snacks before bed. That's my Lenten discipline. Big deal? Maybe.

The Becoming Minimalist blog, "The Opportunity of Lent," challenges readers to ask, "What can't I live without?" Sad me -- "bedtime snacks" popped into my head. Mind you, I had just plunged my hand into a warm bag of kettle corn, propped up in bed watching "House." I eat enough during the day that I won't go hungry, so what's the big deal about denying myself snacks before bed?

From my bedside trash, I cleared bags for the snacks I've consumed over the course of a month:
  • chocolate chips (TJs vegan, eaten over 2+ weeks. Just sayin'. Shame on me.)
  • dark chocolate bar
  • veggie "chips"
  • kettle corn popcorn
How did those empty bags get in? I lost ten lbs in December by cutting down on huge meals and constant snacking. I haven't gained since and am at a good weight. My conclusion? It's time to fill myself on core food like salads, grains, and fruit which keep me fueled with few calories and many nutrients.

The Lent Minimalist blog reminded me that I am fully dependent on God.

When I abuse the abundance he provides or trust my own resources, abilities, and finances, idolatry and distractions easily capture my heart. I want to be devoted to God through my simple "no" this season. I trust it will remind me to say yes to a life fully devoted, with God's priorities and provisions guiding the way ahead.

I am grateful for the opportunities where God teaches me by helping me say, "No."

What about you? Click this link to read the Becoming Minimalist blog that inspired me.

Read more:
*Happy are those who make the Lord their trust. Psalm 40:4

*Thieves are jealous of each other's loot, but the godly are well rooted and bear their own fruit." Proverbs 12:12

*The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11 NIV

*Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, 'Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!'

Jesus cut him short. 'Be quiet! Come out of the man,' he ordered. At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him. Mark 1:23–26

*If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19

Moravian Prayer: Lord God, our hope is in you and we are thankful your love for us remains unconditional. May we as a people delight in that love as we walk in your path of righteousness. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent Day 2: Thankful for turbulence

Turbulence. That's how my little plane feels this morning: as though I'm shooting through waves of air I can only feel, not see.

Today I am grateful for small trials. Living in North America, we can truly say our trials are small. We can survive our financial crises, health issues, and relationship challenges with God's help. Our light and momentary sufferings are nothing in light of eternity.

When I read about Youseff, the Christian pastor whom Iran condemned to death this week, I am grateful for freedom to worship.

When I hear about Christians shot and hacked to death by Muslims in Africa, I am thankful for a safe neighborhood.

When I look at my daughter, racked with arthritis but strong in heart, I appreciate my own health and pain-free waking and sleeping.

As I prepare breakfast, I think of those hungering to death and savor each bite of God's abundance.

As I read about the life of Christ, I consider the blessings of his life and death applied to debtors like me.

Today, I am thankful for small trials and the turbulence that reminds me to pray for those whose storms sweep them into the raging sea.

Read more:
*But they are glad now that I am in trouble; they gleefully join together against me. I am attacked by people I don't even know; they slander me constantly. They mock me and call me names; they snarl at me.

How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing? Rescue me from their fierce attacks. Protect my life from these lions! Then I will thank you in front of the great assembly. I will praise you before all the people. Don't let my treacherous enemies rejoice over my defeat. Don't let those who hate me without cause gloat over my sorrow. They don't talk of peace; they plot against innocent people who mind their own business. They shout, 'Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we saw him do it!'

O LORD, you know all about this. Do not stay silent. Do not abandon me now, O Lord. Wake up! Rise to my defense! Take up my case, my God and my Lord. Declare me not guilty, O LORD my God, for you give justice. Don't let my enemies laugh about me in my troubles. Don't let them say, 'Look, we got what we wanted! Now we will eat him alive!' Psalm 35:15–25 NLT

*Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed. Isaiah 54:4

*When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Mark 13:11


*Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11  NIV

Moravian prayer: Merciful Father, we thank you for always being with us. We are thankful for the power to see clearly the task set before us provided by the Holy Spirit who dwells within our hearts. Amen.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy Ash Wednesday

The ugly smudges looked like dirt. "What's that on your forehead?" I asked a friend. We lived in Cambridge, UK, and were learning many religious traditions left behind by low church Protestants.

"It's Ash Wednesday," said Terrie. She explained that her family and she had gone to an early Mass where the priest had crossed their foreheads with ashes after burning last year's palm fronds. They'd wear the cross all day, at work or at rest. The ritual fascinated me.

Though Terrie's family did not evidence faith in Christ by holy living, they celebrated Christianity in a continuous round of traditional calendar events. How many of us will thoughtlessly do the same in the coming season of Lent that leads to Easter?

Most of us will barely reflect on Christ's sacrifice. We'll go to church or skip a Sunday when it's inconvenient to meet. We'll walk through the foyer to settle into a pew, clap along with worship while watching a band on stage, half-listen to a talk by a pastor, and walk out again without any life change. My heart's cry is, "Oh Lord, please don't let that be me this year! Let me remember your life of meekness and your endurance on the cross."

During these seven Lenten weeks, I'm asking God for the ability to surrender to him. While I could stay on my knees forever, repenting for things done and undone, I hear his call to focus on all the wonders of following Christ. How good God has been to humanity - and to me! His love encompasses us and his mercies never fail.

Today, I'm happy, utterly thankful for God's patience as I've muddled my way toward him. How has his grace and longsuffering kept you from harm?

Read more:
* You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. Psalm 116:8

*The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 NIV

*Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 51:1-17; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

*Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him. Matthew 14:29-31


Moravian Prayer: Creator of the universe, only you can deliver our souls from death. When we become overwhelmed with the activities of the world, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Resurrection days

"Life from 30,000-Year-Old Seeds!" Wow - I read via the BBC that scientists have coaxed plants from seeds buried by squirrels. Very old squirrels, apparently. Chinese scientists also found a 300,000-year-old swamp formed "in a few days," beautifully preserved by catastrophe. I always wonder who verifies the dating process. Does someone get into a secret time machine and zip back to check the calendar? Scientists rarely follow their own rule that the simplest explanation is the place to start. Um, the Flood, anyone?

Like the seeds and the petrified swamp, many of us have dormant seasons. I feel like I'm looking ahead to life again. I submitted my dissertation yesterday. The committee will read it and I still have to defend it before it goes to the copy editor and bookbinder. This morning, after waking in a sweat to wonder if I should have read it ONE MORE TIME!, I decide not to look at it until later in the week.

I'm going grocery shopping instead. That may not seem like much of an outing to those who regularly visit Safeway or QFC. (I've been at a regular grocer 2-3X since last summer.) W and I typically visit Costco, Trader Joes, and Grocery Outlet twice or thrice a month. Our pantry is bursting but my eclectic shopping list has been growing for a month. We're low on rolled grains for Mueli, cornstarch, Asian-style corn oil, and silver polish. (The polish has lasted 24 years, purchased at JAFCO in Bellevue the year after we moved to Seattle.)

I'll send off the last tutorial this morning before I head out the door. (I may have to learn to drive the car again: W's been chauffeuring us to church and out to eat out at least once a week.) It will be nice to visit with our daughter, who's been here since early December but travels back home on Tuesday. My house needs more than the once-over that's been its weekly fate. The fresh and saltwater aquariums need an algae clearing. And - if the rain stops - the dogs could use a good walk.

Many of us currently live in stormy winters, dormant or tossed about by circumstances. Some of us can feel warmth ahead, a growing season with longer days and new sprouts shooting up where the earth has been bare and cold. Others enjoy a personal summer, fully blooming with fruit maturing and feeding those around us.

Before I do anything else, I pause to thank God for endings and beginnnings. We're glad our daughter's foot is healing from surgery. We're thankful for ongoing health and strength for W and me. We're grateful for baby Kinsey, who continues to delight with normal development. I'm awed by God's provision in 1001 other ways.

Please join us in praying urgently today for Donny Neary. A high school student, he's suffered loss of central vision in both eyes over the past two weeks and had stroke-like symptoms yesterday. He's in San Diego, where an eye specialist was to see him today. Instead, he's under observation at Children's Hospital because of the other symptoms. Please pray that God intervenes for him and his folks (Dan and Laurie). When children suffer, parents' lives also become turbulent; they need the sustaining prayers of others.

Meanwhile, our daughter's body has flared with severe rheumatoid arthritis symptoms as the rain and winds blow across Seattle. How we would love for God to heal her! She's suffered for 15 years; we'd all be grateful for her complete remission.

Let's look around today to see where God is at work in his Family and in the world. Is he directing us to be his helping hand? A praying partner? An encourager and cheerleader? The one who cooks meals or cleans the house for needy sisters or brothers? The provider of rent or giver to missions? To visit someone in the hospital or a shut-in at home? (cartoon: http://cakeordeathcartoon.wordpress.com)

Let's be like those old seeds, reviving and thriving in surprising and perhaps unexpected environments. God, let us feel your touch today. Water us with the Word, warm us with your presence and interactions with Family, and guard the tender new growth as our prayers rise to you.

Read more:
*I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me. Psalm 17:6-9 NIV

*Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. Isaiah 40:28


*God has not left himself without a witness in doing good - giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy. Acts 14:17


Moravian Prayer: Creator God, you will not faint or grow weary of your people. Your love is endless and your provisions are bountiful. We joyfully give you thanks and praise for your goodness towards your whole creation. Amen. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Lent's a'coming

Ash Wednesday is this week. I won't wear the smudges of the cross on my forehead, but I'll be starting the annual Lenten journey of writing daily.

For me, writing clarifies what God is doing. Occasionally I'll go back through old blogs (not all of them!) and revisit the goodness of the Lord. It takes stamina to write every day. (I'm sick and tired of it by the time Easter rolls around.)

Writing is also an act of worship––it reminds me that God alone is worthy of adoration. He knows the way ahead. He is in control but I have great freedom to choose the path toward him. When I read the footprints, there's a lot of wandering rather than straight-ahead running.

Today after church, four generations of our family ate Sunday lunch together, from my parents (who drove down from Canada) to the newest member, granddaughter Kinsey. Seeing the generations bound together by faith as well as blood, we rejoice in God's goodness. There's a lot to write about. But today is a day of rest :-)

What made your heart sing today?

Read more:
*Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the LORD. Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it." Psalm 34:11–14 NLT

*For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 NKJV

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Feet in the fire

"Where's the blog?" some of my readers asked. The easily distracted (like I am) thrive on routines--not sameness, but knowing what's coming. Instead, the week of appointments brought surprises and opportunities.

One of those great pleasures was my accountability group (the WPPRs  from the initials of our names.) We shared breakfast this week, talking about life, faith, and family.

For many years, we met every three weeks and took two annual weekend retreats. Back when we were 38-54 years old, we thought we were busy with kids and husbands and work. 17 years later, aged 55-71, we only find time to meet every month or two. We're traveling, in ministry, watching our grandkids, and still learning new things. The time we set aside is unlike any other relationships we foster, laced with love and integrity.

My criteria in seeking them out?
  • lovers of God so they would hear His voice and speak His words for their entire lifetime
  • women who had secrets and could keep confidences for mutual responsibility in exposing the heart
  • women of power and influence so we wouldn't be threatened by others' accomplishments or fears
I didn't care if:
  • we were or became friends
  • we went to the same church or denomination
  • we held similar positions or--God forbid--had the same opinions on everything
Those lists may seem ambitious or egotistical. But I was very pragmatic about those partnerships, looking for help not hysterics; faith not fear; complementary gifting not complacency or competition.

Our group's foundation rests on the question, "Is God pleased with us and ours?" As our children have grown, we've prayed them through jobs, marriage, illness, and other challenges. Our marriages come under scrutiny, too. "Does that reflect Christ to our spouses? kids? those who observe us? The WPPRs have prayed me through great opportunities, the challenges of masters and doctoral studies, and a horrible season at work. Nothing is off the table. They've kept secrets, advised me from scripture, their POVs, and their hearts. They've lifted our family before God when we were too tired to pray. And I've done the same for them.

The great advantage of such intimacy is that sisters of the heart provide balance. We've said to each other, "I wouldn't think of it that way. Do you think that might mean... instead?" Or, "Check your attitude and make sure your thoughts are pleasing to God." Occasionally we have put another person on high alert: "If someone said that to me, I'd be very cautious. You can't trust them." And, "They said what!? Wake up! They're undermining you."  And once in a while, "Stop. That was a compliment. Did you appreciate the honor you were given?"

While we may not always agree, I consider carefully what they say. They are wiser than I and further along on the spiritual path. Their thinking is more feminine so they bring a wholesome womanliness to my life. We asked, "Is God pleased?" as we faced new possibilities and challenges yesterday. Today I am -- once again -- so grateful for their counsel and their prayers.

Who's holding your feet to the fire? Who tells you to your face what they think about your attitudes, ideas, and lifestyle? If you are in any circle of influence, please gather a trusted Few around you who can speak truth. They may be the only ones who photograph the elephant in the room and make you sit down to look at it. They'll bring equilibrium, whether times are sunny or stormy.

Thank you, WPPRs. You have been God's words and life and breath. This morning, I celebrate the gift of God in you!

Read more:
*Psalm 26; Genesis 46:1-27; Matthew 16:5-20

You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God. Psalm 40:17


*Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. Isaiah 42:1

*One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, 'You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.'"Mark 1:9–11 NLT


*A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, "I do choose. Be made clean!" Mark 1:40-41
*Jesus Christ received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." 2 Peter 1:17

Moravian Prayer: Heavenly Father in whom the world delights, we give you honor and praise. You sent your Son into the world to redeem us of our sins. Your voice still echoes, "This is my beloved Son." Thank you for the confirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord.
 

O God our help in ages past, may we take up our cross and emulate our Lord Jesus who was not afraid to be a servant by helping all in need. Amen.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Scary stats on a lethal profession

  • Stress and conflicts cause the most physical and psychological harm to the health of pastors.
  • 35% of pastors will be fired or voted out of their churches.
  • 50% of those will leave pastoral ministry.
  • 85% of AG churches are under 100 people.

Those were a few of the stats presented at the ministers' area meeting today. I looked around the room. Many of the men and women have endured hard seasons and stuck it out. Other faces were missing, casualties who have slipped out of ministry in the past ten years.

"I was unprepared for the hostility of the church people," said the speaker, about his topic, Ministry: the Lethal Profession. "I thought if I liked them, they would like me."

Not only do we expect our pastors to tell us about Jesus; we also expect her/him to BE Jesus, perfect in every way. We dishonor them (and Christ) with unrealistic expectations and harsh criticism. If our bosses or employees treated us with the disrespect we show our spiritual leaders, there would be fireworks! (I'm not referring to ministers who steal or have moral failures; I'm talking about those who don't do things the way we'd like, aren't brilliant speakers or administrators, or who have lapses in judgment or congregational culture that irritates us.)

Our family is friends with missionaries and pastors around the world. My mom's often lamented the heartache of pastors who do their best and have to leave a church, pushed away by an ungracious congregation. Off they go, wounded but willing, into the next pulpit.

It's not "love your pastor" week or any specific occasion. But post-Valentines Day, it might be nice to give a warm handshake, slip a thank you note with a $20 bill to "take your husband/wife for coffee," or to show appreciation in a way that's comfortable for you. We're individuals, so we won't agree with everything that is said and done, but we can support honest efforts with kindness and prayers for our pastors (and church board members).

Most ministers, trying their best to serve God, hear more grumbling than gratitude. You and I could reverse the trend this month. What do you think?

Read more:
*Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9

*By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the
warning and built an ark to save his household. Hebrews 11:7 

*The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; he leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 NKJV

*Just as the prophet Isaiah had written: 'Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. …'

This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. …  John announced: 'Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I'm not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!' Mark 1:2, 4, 7-8 NLT

*Jesus came and told his disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Matthew 28:18–20 NLT

Moravian Prayer: Lord God, help us to be as faithful as our ancestors of old who loved you and trusted your guidance within their lives and households. Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mrs. Liz and Mr. Jim



On Saturday's trip to Costco, I encountered a time warp of the best kind. ... bump. bump. My cart tapped another, pushed by––can it be Mrs. Liz?!!! Wow, she has the same beautiful beehive hairdo, except it's now a crisp white instead of blond. Her face, as unlined as ever, stretches into a familiar warm smile. She asked about our kids, and remembered the details of what they were doing years ago, when we last ran into each other.

"What are you doing now?" she asked me, I told her I was finishing studies.

"Wow! I'm nobody. I bake cookies!" she exclaimed. My oh my. This influencer and neighbourhood fairy godmother is hardly a nobody!

Mrs. Liz was the loving cookie mother-lode of our street (our 31 year old son was in Grade 1 about 1987). Jeremy and Kirsten came in the house one day with big homemade cookies in hand. "Where did you get those?" said their sugar-rationing mommy, a bit enviously.

"A lady named Liz in the other house," Jeremy said. He pointed vaguely to the neighbourhood.

"That would be Mrs. Liz to you!" I firmly countered. We walked down the street to meet Mrs. Liz.

"Oh dear, I hope I haven't done something wrong, said the stunning 35-something, tall blond who opened the door. "I love to bake and thought your kids might like a treat."

No problem. We got to know Mrs. Liz well in the few years we lived in our little college house by the freeway. Our children visited her nearly every day. She was kind, friendly, and always immaculately dressed. Her husband Mr. Jim was extremely shy and moved out of sight when someone knocked on the door. Mrs. Liz always answered with a smile and friendly word––and best of all for kids, she always had cookies or treats. "Here you go, Love," she'd say, handing over a homemade goodie.

While I sighed over the sugar, I trusted Mrs. Liz completely. She baked, volunteered all over Kirkland, and became the heart of our street. Mr. Jim stayed behind the scenes, maintaining a manicured lawn, working in his shop, keeping up the yard for a paralyzed neighbor, and trimming the hedge for the widow a few houses down.

She became "Mrs. Liz" to everybody "because of what your kids called me," she told me a few years ago, and she remains that to today's kids. I goggled her last name once and forgot it immediately. She'll always be Mrs. Liz to us.

On Saturday, I invited her to lunch with our kids and us on Sunday. She refused, smiling off any offense: "Oh, Jim would never come. I have to stay home and fix him lunch. He's still busy and happy. Today, he clipped Mrs. Smith's cedars. This afternoon he's pruning an apple tree for Paul. You know Paul, don't you?"

Yes, I know Paul and the others she mentions from our old neighbourhood, but I didn't know Jim was the reason Paul's yard is kept neat and fresh. (Paul can't do yardwork; an accident left him unable to walk.)

I felt utterly refreshed as I wheeled away. Mrs. Liz and Mr. Jim are heroes from a gentler era. They look out for others, expecting no recognition or applause. They've lived near the university for nearly 40 years. Mrs. Liz still has a kind word and home baking for their neighbors and the little kids from the college housing that popped up a stone's throw from their house. Good news of a "pot of gold" or a jar of cookies spreads fast! Over the years, Mr. Jim has helped students repair their cars and showed up––tools in hand––to do minor repairs up and down their street. He would be appalled if someone noticed.

There's always a place for good manners and neighbourly care. Between all of us, we can be inspired by the model of Mrs. Liz and Mr. Jim. They're ordinary people doing good day after day, year in and out, with consistently kind words, the right tools, or a fresh cookie or two. Whom can you bless today?

Read more:
*Genesis 41:17-57; Psalm 22:29-31; Matthew 14:15-24

*We also will serve the Lord, for he is our God. Joshua 24:18

*A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1

*Christ says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5
*It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 1 Corinthians 4:2


Moravian Prayer: Father God, thank you for the earthly lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ! As we study his life's journey, may his words abide within us as we gather fruits worthy to be harvested in his kingdom! We worship the beauty of your holiness. May our love and service to you be honorable as we spend time in your presence. Amen.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

God the Artist

Monster whales. Northern Lights. Animal "art."

Everywhere we look, God sculpts, plasters, paints, and draws beauty. From the deepest oceans to the remotest corners of land and sky, God's artwork shows off his creativity.

What fun to read about new discoveries! People devote their lives to exploring the intricacies and vastness of the universe. We call them scientists, artists, and writers.

It seems easier for me to believe that a personal Artist designed it all, than to fathom how such splendor inched from nothingness to spectacular displays––in all their minute and astronomical proportions. What do you think?

What make me smile today, acknowledging God as infinitely generous, is that he gave humans senses and intelligence so we could observe and enjoy our surroundings.

An added bonus? He gifted some of us as researchers and artists, to reflect how differently we see and understand God's bounty. Lucky us!

Read more:
*Bezalel made the bronze washbasin and its bronze stand from bronze mirrors donated by the women who served at the entrance of the Tabernacle. Exodus 38:8 NLT

*I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:14-16 NIV

*More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord! Psalm 93:4

*Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Mark 4:39

Moravian Prayer: Lord of heaven and earth, you are high above all creation. You continue to provide for us the sustenance needed to sustain our lives. May we live lives worthy of the peace that Jesus brings to all humankind! Amen.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Puff puff, she thinks she can she thinks she can

Mmm. Who knew pistachios, almonds, and chocolate chips tasted so good together? I'm taking a tea and snack break from editing the dissertation.

What great help I got this weekend! Several friends and expert writers sent back their comments on the intro, which was limping along. Others helped clarify the chapters.

One gentle soul worried that I would be offended at her note, of "What the heck is this?" (She put it much more politely.) No worries. I am SO ready to finish this project; every willing eye and knowledgeable critic gets kudos rather than kicks from me.

God reminded me today how important the various gifts are, in his Body. I've been grinding through this dissertation since the chapters started to form in October. Being so close to the research, I need outside readers to point out my mistakes, unclear meanings, and obscure wording.

It feels like the end is within reach, though I have three more editors to please between this week and "The End" of it all = my advisor, my formatting editor, and my copy editor. I'm not sure I can meet my deadline to send the dissertation for formatting on Friday, but it won't be because I didn't try.

I've always heard that spouses are just as happy as the graduate. It was true for me when W finished at Gloucester. I suspect "relief" will express only a teeny part of his emotions, since both of us are really really really ready to be done. (I know; in scholarly writing you rarely use really.)

The question people continue to ask is, "What will you do after you're finished?" After five years of study, God has given me a small inkling about what this is for. But it's not set in stone. I've learned perseverance. To organize my writing. To find out what I dislike. And that I love writing.

Hmmm. What will I be doing after it's handed in and defended? I expect that will become clear in time. (Maybe God will give me the summer off. Maybe I'll be doing crazy prep for something else.) Meanwhile, Waldemar's helping me sort edits and post-grad options. Thanks, hon.

Ok, break's over. That means it's time to banish myself to the tub to do another read-through.

Read more:
*Watchword for the Week - Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:5

*To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Psalm 25:1-5 NIV 

*On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him. Isaiah 11:10

*Paul wrote: If you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. Romans 11:17-18


*Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11,20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39


Moravian Prayer: God, today we gather to sing our alleluias to you. On this our day of worship, we acknowledge that it is not us but Jesus Christ who made it all possible through his love to each of us. Help us to stand together as a living branch extended from that love. Amen. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Close to life - a day out with Tartuffe at Taproot Theatre

We laughed, we moaned. After the first five minutes of dialogue, if I could have, I would have smacked Tartuffe before I even met him on stage.

I took time off from studies for Tartuffe, a play at Taproot Theatre. Tartuffe is a charlatan who worms his ways into the graces of a hot-tempered, not-too-thoughtful nobleman. The chaos he brings to the household had the audience leaning forward on their seats. By the second half, we were groaning, chuckling, and listening to our neighbors' whispers, as they advised the actors on how to deal with Tartuffe.

The satirical morality play, banned by the Church until the playwright's sovereign intervened, felt a little close to reality for me. Especially, after various televangelist scandals, hearing about hucksters who claim to be holy, and the historical parallels I've read about in my studies.

Taproot Theatre, with limited resources and actors, stretches its facility and personnel with great plays and thoughtful performances. Karen Lund produced the show, which had excellent casting. Tartuffe's comedic presence depends on body language as well as verse. We enjoyed watching the actors "standing by," as well as those who were speaking. Their physical comedy engaged us and drew us into the action. In particular, Ruth McRee as Madame Pernelle, and Charity Parenzini as the servant Dorine, captured my attention in the first scene and held it to their last lines.

Oh, the costumes. The costumes. Beautiful, especially in the intimate space that showed off the details of dresses and doublets.


I'd recommend the play for college students and young adults who value integrity (you'll recognize the opposite in the self-serving Tartuffe). Mature adults, who have "seen it all" in religious and political communities, will be shaking your heads, thinking of your own roster of names as you watch the hapless being taken in, the friends and family who advise, and the deceiver who passes as devout. Though the play resolved abruptly, we talked about Tartuffe through dinner and all the way home.

Well worth the price of a ticket (click here), -- especially if you take time to talk afterwards!

Tartuffe, by Molière, translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur
Directed by Karen Lund

WHEN: February 1-March 3 (Wednesday-Thursday, 7:30 pm; Friday-Saturday, 8 pm; Saturday matinees, 2 pm)

Dates to note:
Pay What You Can: February 8, 7:30 pm
Senior Matinee: February 15, 2 pm
Student Matinee: February 7, 10 am
Post-play Discussions: Wednesday nights, excluding preview

WHERE: Taproot Theatre Company, 204 North 85th Street, Seattle, WA 98103

TICKETS: Tickets are available online at www.taproottheatre.org/buy-tickets/ and through Taproot Theatre’s box office, in person or by phone at 206.781.9707. Tickets range from $22-37, depending on the performance. Taproot offers a $5 senior/student discount off regular priced tickets. $15 tickets are available for ages 25 and under. Tickets for the senior matinee are $20. Discounts are available for parties of 8 or more through Group Sales; call 206.781.9708. Tickets for the pay-what-you-can performance are available day of show at the box office only; contact the box office for details.

Note: Taproot provided complimentary tickets to the reviewer, but we bought an extra to accommodate our party. No regrets!

Friday, February 3, 2012

What we do for fun

We must be the most boring people on the planet. Whenever W and I have time off, we read, go to tech or book stores, and browse info online. We don't play or cheer sports. We loathe the mall and prefer to watch movies at home rather than in those messy theatres. (Still not reconciled to the garbage and sticky floors, after 25 years here.)

Currently, I'm trying to talk my husband into taking a survey that compares our inclinations and giftings with those of Bible characters. It offers advice on maximizing gifts. I'm thinking he'll come out like Paul in understanding theology, like John in love for Jesus, and like Solomon as a scholar.

Surveys must be one of W's least favorite activities. After a few marriage conferences our first year (the only time we had more than an hour or two together that year?), he put his foot down. "You know I hate taking surveys and answering personal questions. No more." We haven't been to such a conference since, and I know few surveys he willingly takes.

Maybe this time, this one, will be different. Smiles. Maybe not.

I was surprised by the accuracy of parts of the survey for myself. It affirmed that I love changing up my surroundings, enjoy finding out new things, and learn best by interaction with others. That would be me. "Learn to be grateful for what you already have, instead of always looking for the next thing." Yeah, that would indeed be rough spiritual discipline, mostly the not-looking. (I'm focusing on "gratitude" as my motto-of-2012.)

Actually, there is another thing that I do for fun and relaxation. I look forward to the changing of the seasons. I dislike autumn and winter and long for summer all year. That's not the kind of season I mean. I'm referring to changing around decor, by season. Yesterday we had a group of friends over. I wanted to keep the bright decor until they'd visited.

But whoo hoo! This morning I was thrilled to change our LR slipcovers from Christmas pink and red to winter black. Plain black. During my half-hour study break, I folded and put away the old colors, whipped out and replaced with the new. I swapped out cushions and moved things around in the LR, DR, and kitchen to stage the rooms for my own pleasure. I feel absolutely refreshed.

Sure, I still have to ignore Kinsey's PakNPlay, sitting in browns and pastel pinks in the corner. And I'm in the mood to buy 4 more pillows. (No time, luckily for the dear-man-who-budgets-for-us.) Every time I pass the room for a cup of tea, I feel rested and happy. It's amazing what we do for fun.

One of the most blessed gifts from God is our distinctiveness, in personality, experience, and training. What brings you happiness, when a few minutes or an empty half hour wedges itself into your schedule?

Read more:
*I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the LORD's greatness; let us exalt his name together.

I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears."Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the LORD, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing." Psalm 34: 1-4, 8-10 NLT

*This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[ sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:5-9 NIV