On Guilt and Grace…

I’m not a theologian and this isn’t exactly a deep theological post. I am merely a bearer of guilt and a recipient of grace more often times than I can recount. And I’m a firm believer that God uses simple, tangible things to teach our simple minds.


guilt
/ɡilt/
noun
verb
grace
/ɡrās/
noun
2. the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.
verb

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about the hard decision my family had to make about choosing life or death for our old dog. While ultimately everyone said it was the merciful decision, it still caused me to wrestle with guilt and all the “buts and what-ifs.” Was I betraying my dog? Was I being irresponsible or taking the “easy way out”? Was she really ready to go, as many people suggested?

Guilt is heavy. It makes you question, judge, and condemn thoughts, motives, and actions. Sometimes guilt is appropriate and helpful to convict, correct, and even clarify beliefs, patterns, and purposes. It can be saving and transformative…providing you use it as a stepping stone to get safely to the other side of the raging sea and not a millstone tied around your neck, dragging you down to drown with it.

But grace. If you believe there’s a God and He is really concerned and deeply involved in people’s lives, you see things differently. Not perfectly, not always 20/20, but differently.

Now to the totally non-theological part. Two days after the difficult decision, I received a text from a friend who knew I had struggled with the loss of my dog.img_1822 Good news! A friend of a friend had six week old puppies she needed homes for. Free puppies! I would like to say I wrestled with the decision. I prayed about it. I sought all the veterinary or psychiatric advice about trying to fill old paw prints too soon. But I didn’t. With a resounding “yes!”, we committed to a little bundle of puppy joy. We contacted the owner and she confirmed she had a little black and white, blue-eyed puppy she would save for us until I returned from a trip the following week.

img_1821While on the trip I wrestled again. Was it too soon? We hadn’t even seen or met this puppy. What if the owner gave her away before next week? It’s so easy to rehearse unnecessary worries and fears. And this was just a puppy! How often and easily can we get consumed by day to day whys and what ifs! Was it coincidence or a God-inspired reassurance that everything was going to be okay when I found a little token of reassurance in gift shop 200 miles away from home?

Welcome, Maggie Grace…img_1823

My daughter calls it “Jesus-juking” when someone overspiritualizes or credits everything to divine intervention. Let me Jesus-juke for a moment:

  • My friend’s nephew’s friend (complicated) had puppies available at just the right time. Free!
  • We were first told they were all taken (tragedy) but someone wasn’t fully committed and backed out.
  • I went in a store in Gatlinburg to find a small garden flag and found one with the close likeness of the pup’s pic on it. (In the colors and flag theme we were wanting!) It even said “Welcome” on it.  🙂
  • While we were waiting to meet the pup, we visited an old antique store that had an old red truck like the one on the flag.
  • She was even more beautiful and cuddly in img_1824person than in the pic.
  • She snuggled in and fit perfectly in our home and hearts right away.
  • She gets along great with the cat and all the other dogs that come and go.

So ultimately…it’s just a puppy. But healing and happiness can be found in small gifts of the ordinary and everyday sights, sounds, and presences in your life. It’s grace.

There’s a song I really like by Matthew West, “Grace Wins”

There’s a war between guilt and grace
And they’re fighting for a sacred space
But I’m living proof
Grace wins every time
No more lying down in death’s defeat
Now I’m rising up in victory
Singing, hallelujah
Grace wins every time

Words can’t describe the way it feels
When mercy floods a thirsty soul
The broke inside begins to heal
And grace returns what guilty stole

And in the shadow of that shame
Beat down by all the blame
I hear You call my name saying it’s not over
And my heart starts to beat so loud now
Drowning out the doubt
I’m down, but I’m not out

Maybe that seems like a stretch when I’m just talking about a puppy. But it’s really all grace. All a gift. All unearned.

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My friend, Sharon, who found Maggie for me.

Today is Maggie’s birthday. She is three months old. Since we brought her home, she has been lavished with love and attention. She has been taken for walks on the Greenway. to PetSmart, to Petco, to Dunkin, to Sonic. She has received treats and toys, beds and blankets, snacks and snuggles. What has she done to deserve it? Nothing. We love and accept her…chewed blankets, house accidents and all.

img_1840
She brought new life and hope to my son.

Loving a puppy isn’t difficult. Training, disciplining, watching, protecting, going outside in the rain and early morning hours… Well, it’s grace. We all stumble, mess up, and need a little extra care now and then.

She is growing so fast…not as fluffy; long, lanky legs, a little awkward… She’s still growing and learning to trust and to become her real self. But aren’t we all: awkward, changing, imperfect. But hopefully we can rest in the knowledge that we are loved, we are learning, and we are growing in grace. Happy birthday, Maggie Grace.  🙂

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Phil 1:2-3

 

 

Dogs, Days, and Decisions…

I’m a terrible decision maker. Not that I make bad decisions, I just have a hard time deciding what to do. Something as simple as where to eat after church on Sunday, what color to paint a room, or where to go on vacation can send me into a dizzying tailspin of confusion and indecision. So for someone who has trouble deciding on tacos or pizza, beige or gray, the beach or Boston, what do you do when faced with a decision of life or death?

I made a very good decision about fifteen years ago.

img_7161Sitting at a computer screen perusing an animal rescue site, I saw her. Little bitty ears, bright eyes, and a playful face…I knew we had to have her. So we packed up the family van with a little clothes basket and blanket in the back and drove to the Franklin County Animal Shelter in Belvedere, Tennessee. There in the front office we met the little black and white pup we had seen on the screen. They had affectionately named her Bonnie and she was the unofficial office pup, scampering freely in the office with her other little furry partner in crime. Bonnie had had a rough start: abandoned, wormy, malnourished, found wandering on the side of a busy highway, narrowly avoiding traffic. Someone had rescued her and brought her to safety and nurture. She was 10-12 weeks old when we met her and she wasn’t wormy, malnourished, neglected, abandoned, unwanted, or unloved any longer. She was playful and thriving as she bounced around the office, back and forth between our excited children.

In the van and into the padded clothes basket she went. We had already named her before we even img_7213saw her in real life. No longer Bonnie…welcome home Molly Ann Foster!

We’ve always been dog-people. Molly joined big brother Zack, also a rescue, and the next several years consisted of dog toys, backyard chases, treats, and snuggles . There was the fishing-lure-up-the-nose-requiring-surgery incident, but mostly fun, furry times. It would take hours to list all the love, laughter, memories, and blessings that Molly brought to us all. Dogs are like that. “Man’s best friend.” Also, kids’ best friend…and mom’s best friend. 🙂


Days turn into weeks and months and years. Even as I write this, I feel the weight of  a hard day, week, and year. Today I  made one of the hardest decision I’ve ever made: to let Molly go. It was a family decision along with discussions with the vet, numerous friends, img_7212and even Facebook advice. But I was the one who took her for that last dreadful drive. Honestly, it felt a little like betrayal. But also mercy, compassion, and love.

Actually, it didn’t really feel like love at the moment. It felt necessary, but it also felt like a hard, heavy, ultimate betrayal. Like I was giving up. I was supposed to protect her and make the best decisions for her.

I am thankful for a friend who called at just the right moment.

A friend who loved Molly as her own, who puppy-sat her on our first trip away, who created so much excitement in Molly that it made Molly pee a little every time she saw her. Maybe that’s a little too much information, but funny every time. A friend who had walked the same road and told me I did the right, loving, merciful thing. A friend who believes our pets are gifts from God and who believes we will see our pets again. Maybe some people don’t believe that; but I do. I believe she is free and whole and pain free, and running with her big brother, Zack.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. Proverbs 31:26

What would I say to Molly? That I’m sorry. That I tried everything, every medicine, every prayer that I had. That she was so good, so loved, so wanted. That she was beautiful and smart. She was chosen and she was perfect. That I miss her already. That she had a good life and her life made our lives better. What could be a better tribute for anybody? Your life made someone else’s life better.

I don’t cry often but I’ve found myself weepy all day. At the vet, on the way home, in the middle of Sam’s, with every phone call, with every typed word. And that’s okay. It tells me that it matters, it hurts, it’s loss; but mostly it’s love and privilege. I’ll always be a dog lover. They bring out the best in us and model unconditional love and acceptance. I didn’t write the following passage, but I wish I had.

img_7211And on the 9th day God looked down on his wide eyed children and said, they need a companion.
So God made a Dog
.

…God said I need somebody willing to sit, then stay, then roll over, then with no ego or complaint dress in hats they do not need and costumes they do not understand…  Somebody who no matter what you didn’t do or couldn’t take or didn’t win or couldn’t make, will love you without judgement just the same.
So God made a Dog.

God said I need somebody strong enough to pull sleds and find bombs and yet gentle enough to love babies and lead the blind.  Somebody that will spend all day on a couch with a resting head and supportive eyes for the broken heart.
So God made a Dog. img_7158

It had to be somebody who would remain patient and loyal even through loneliness, somebody to care, cuddle, snuggle, and nuzzle and cheer and charm and snore and slobber and eat the trash and chase the squirrels.  Somebody who would bring the family together with an open heart. Somebody to bark, and then pant and then reply with the rapid wag of a tail, when their best friend says, “let’s go for a ride in the car.”
So God made a Dog.

img_7160God said I need somebody who would stand at your side when the world around you collapses.  Somebody to lie next to you during the long nights of pain and sorrow when it hurts to move, to talk, or think, or be.  Somebody to stand guard, play games, snore for hours and repeat as needed.  Somebody to give you strength when you have none of your own.  Somebody to fight when you have no fight left, to hold onto your soul as if it were their favorite toy, playing tug of war to keep you in this world. Somebody to be your companion and guide in this world and the next. Somebody to wait for you on the other side or stand guard in your absence until they can join you for eternity.
So God made a Dog

(From a popular Facebook video)

For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills.I know every bird on the mountains, and all the animals of the field are mine.     Psalm 50:10-11

 

Have you Hugged Your Health Care Provider Today?

I’ve worked in healthcare for 30 years. Well over half my life…closer to 60% of my entire life.

My love for my work created a tangible picture  that wpstethoscopeinspired my husband to go back to school to get a nursing degree in his early 30’s. He actually told me I was the only person he knew who loved her job; so there must be something rewarding in it. And I do! I love my job. It’s more than a job. It’s my lifework and ministry. A high and holy calling, a privilege.

Then perhaps as a combination of her parents’ example and natural God-given gifting and wiring, my daughter went to nursing school and now works in a busy, high-acuity critical care unit. She eventually hopes to be a Life Flight nurse. #proudmom

My son-in-law…medical. My son…not so much. He said he would consider it…if he didn’t have to touch people.  I guess that’s a 19 year old young man for you.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

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King Solomon said it well:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die…

Some seasons are harder than others. Seasons of struggle, sickness, sadness, lack, and loss. Some seasons are bountiful with God’s greatest blessings and overflow with love and laughter and life to the full. Some seasons are unpredictable but you still can’t help but be thankful for every warm ray of sunshine, hard spatter of rain, and even threatening wind.

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

It has been a great year. I have laughed and danced more than I have deserved. I have felt more alive and have lived life to the full, perhaps more than any season past. But nestled in the shadows of my year-of-plenty, like everyone else I know, have been pockets of grief, struggle, and loss.

I love my job; which means I love the people I see and touch and talk with. I know their stories, their families, their health concerns, and many of their personal struggles. I have followed many through multiple, evolving seasons in their own lives and families. Springs of new life and celebration.  Summers of fun and victory and living life to the full. Autumns of peace and calm, sometimes stagnation. Winters of lack and loss and loneliness. Sometimes in the midst of such intimacy, whether you do it intentionally or not, you become a burden bearer. You sense others’ pain, grief, and heaviness so intuitively and personally that it becomes your own.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

David was one of my first patients at my current practice.wpwalker A farmer, strong, hardy, rugged…but kind, simple, gentle. Friendly, fatherly, grandfatherly. I first met David after he had fallen off a roof. 70 years old and still climbing and working. His injuries were extensive but he didn’t complain. He just wanted to get better and get back to work! That was ten years ago. This year I watched David’s body slowly ravaged by three different cancers. He left life a fraction of the giant size man I first met.

David is one of hundreds I’ve watched wither away over the past 30 years but for some reason his death hit me a little harder. At one point I told David and his wife that he was like a Timex watch because he “kept on tickin.”  That was in the first few years of his series wphosp2of accidents and bad diagnoses. The last time I saw David I didn’t even recognize him. I walked into his hospital room and had to double check the name on the wall. The sickness had made him a shell of the tough old farmer he had been. I miss David.

It’s not just David. Time and our human mortality have taken so many names and faces and stories. Our bodies are fragile. They age, they break, they die. It’s a hard reality; yet it is both a privilege and sacred responsibility to be an eye witness to the sanctity of life and loss.

A mom who lost her son in a tragic accident. A woman whose young husband died unexpectedly. A child diagnosed with aggressive cancer. A man whose wife abandoned the family. Heroin overdose. Victims of violent crime and every imaginable abuse. Sometimes it weighs very heavy.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

The next time your doctor is late coming in the room and you’ve been sentenced to play Candy Crush on your phone or scroll Facebook for an hour in a lonely exam room, consider not huffing, rolling your eyes, and complaining when he or she finally makes it in. They know your time is valuable. They don’t enjoy seeing the schedule get farther and farther behind. They probably won’t get lunch and will definitely be late getting home; but after they have just left a room with a terrible diagnosis, signed a death certificate, filed abuse charges, made phone calls, opened up lab results and x-rays with poor prognosis… They will still smile, apologize for being late, and be thankful that you’re safe and have the time that others do not…other chances at life.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

In an ICU, death and suffering are common realities.wpnurse Sometimes I feel a great  burden for my daughter: 23, full of life, innocent…but now thrown into a world of IVs, ventilators, cancer, addiction, overdose, and split-second life and death decisions. She’s a strong young woman. She sees and she cares. Many people do not. She learns her patients’ names and needs, She feels their pain, their fears, their frustrations.

Jesus told us to bear one another’s burdens. That includes holding a dying man’s hand so he doesn’t die alone. Hugging a family member who is exhausted and at a breaking point from grief. Learning sign language just to be able to comfort that one deaf patient. But does loving and caring and turning the other cheek include being cursed, scratched, manipulated, disrespected, and demeaned? Sadly, it’s a reality.

 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

My husband works in psychiatry and drug rehab. They like him there because he is big and can protect other nurses. People withdrawing from drugs like to throw things at their nurses. They like to curse them, throw urine on them, hit them, scratch them. My husband and daughter have both come home with soiled clothes and scratch marks. I’ve never understood how people lash out at those trying to help or comfort them. Actually, I’ve never understood how people can wound anyone so carelessly.

Jesus had compassion on the crowds “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd,” (Mt 9:36) but sometimes it’s hard.

Have you hugged your health care provider today?

Sometimes I think thirty years is too long. People have become too difficult, insurance companies too devious, red tape too thick. I’ve considered the feasibility of retirement…

A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away;

But every hard day, every painful experience, every grief and loss, is somehow always overshadowed by love and passion and purpose and a glimmer of hope that one life will be touched, helped, changed, or offered hope.

Therefore I will echo King Solomon’s words:

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.  (Ecc 3)

For today, I will continue to find satisfaction in my toil because it is indeed a gift from God.

But…Have you hugged your health carewpkoala provider today?

 

 

 

Father’s Eyes

I woke up early this morning and the house was completely img_7238still and silent. My favorite. The sun was shining, the sky was bold and blue, and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day as I stood at the back door watching the morning come to life. Four bluejays, a pair of cardinals, a myriad of sparrows, and a squirrel were having breakfast at the bird feeder. A young bunny hopped through the fence and was promptly greeted by another. They immediately engaged in a game of chase…not sure if they were looking for love or for a fight but I still enjoyed the pregame show. My heart welled up to overflowing at the bounty and beauty of all the natural scenery.

Not sure why the words came…maybe because it’s Father’s Day weekend or maybe just seeing the beauty and wonder of creation; but my mind immediately began playing the old Amy Grant song Father’s Eyes:

When people look inside my life, I want to hear them say,
She’s got her Father’s eyes,
Her Father’s eyes;
Eyes that find the good in things,
When good is not around;
Eyes that find the source of help,
When help just can’t be found;
Eyes full of compassion,
Seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through
And feeling it the same.
Just like my Father’s eyes…

The words are pretty straightforward but, looking back, I’m not sure I fully understood the song as a teenager with limited experience and worldview.

What does that even mean? Father’s eyes? Some fathers teach their kids about football, baseball, or fishing. History, space, politics. Relation, interaction, confidence, belief. Some don’t. So they may teach them to do or to be, but what do they teach them to see?

I recently finished studying Genesis. What a way to look at the big picture through my Father’s eyes…eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around; eyes that find the source of help, when help just can’t be found, eyes full of compassion..

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light…And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…” And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

And it is so good. I have a shirt that says Life Is Good, so it must be true, right? But sometimes it’s hard too. I read it in Genesis, I’ve seen it on the news and in people’s lives, and I’ve lived it.

…Eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around…

img_7253Sometimes I look at my backyard and marvel. Shortly after we first moved in, I stood in the backyard and cried. Cried. I loved the new house but the back yard was empty and houses were everywhere I looked. I felt so exposed but so alone. No privacy, no comfort. no cozy homey feeling. I was thankful, I was blessed; but it still wasn’t my garden, my Eden, my place to tend and nurture and commune with God. So… we created! Trees and flowers and birdhouses and feeders and cheap yard ornaments… Well we didn’t actually create trees and all the other stuff; but we created space, a habitat, and a view. Sanctuary.

What does all that have to do with Genesis, an Amy Grant song, and waking up too early? Sometimes I feel like the creator of my yard. I look at it andimg_7272 it is good. It brings me joy and peace and comfort. A healthy sense of pride and accomplishment. But like the real world, my little backyard world sees both joy and pain, life and loss.

…Eyes that find the source of help when help just can’t be found...

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Mt 6:26-29

img_7252Sometimes in the little picture of life, I see my back yard as a reflection of the big world. There is life and beauty and provision; but sometimes there is struggle, sickness, and death. I just want all the animals to have provision and safety and all the plants and trees to thrive. Birds, bunnies, squirrels, possums, raccoons, toads, even a snake  have all inhabited the yard and have delighted us all. (except maybe the snake) But they’ve also seen struggles, loss, bullying, predators, changing seasons. They’ve weathered harsh climate, circling hawks, empty feeders, bigger bullies, a prowling cat, and loud, clumsy dogs.

…Eyes full of compassion, seeing every pain…

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Mt 9:36

Okay…maybe that’s a stretch to compare human spiritual img_7247conditions and worldly struggles to animals in a semi-controlled habitat; but it’s a picture of care that I believe God has put on my heart. The sadness or anger or hurt or injustice or pleasure or satisfaction I feel when I watch life unfold in the backyard is minuscule compared with the heart of God when He sees his creation…both the struggles and the victories, the sadness and the joy.

What does it mean to have His eyes in a sin-sick, broken, desperate world?

There’s a line in a popular contemporary Christian song that changed the way I look at people who may look or act or live differently that I do or think or expect.

One by one the enemy has told them lies and led them off as slaves…

Does that change the way you look at people? It does for me. Addiction, abuse, abandonment, hurt, just plain meanness…

It makes me want to be able to see good, the value, the potential.  It makes me want to have compassion, love, and forgiveness and to walk in truth and love.  I don’t think it’s easy or natural. Sometimes it even hurts. But it is freeing and is one step closer in making you who He meant you to be.

Well…the bunnies came back. I think they’re friends, flirting not fighting. I just watched them chew my sunflowers and then hop away happily.

My prayer is that my concern, my delight, my compassion will continue to expand well beyond my yard, my family, my circle of friends, my church, my community, the world… I pray that I will have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to help, and a heart to love.

Happy Father’s Day. May you have your Father’s eyes today.

 

A Prayer For My Hometown

Most of us know Proverbs 31 as The Wife of Noble Character chapter, IMG_5693but I want to encourage you all, being of noble character, to read the verses directly before that passage. Proverbs 31:8-9 says:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Few expressions are more noble than speaking up, defending, and caring.

Micah 6:8 in the Amplified says: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you except to be just and to love (and to diligently practice) kindness (compassion), and to walk humbly with your God (setting aside any overblown sense of importance or self-righteousness.)

I would like to briefly address an event happeningIMG_5564 right here in my very own hometown this week. People from outside our community, many of them paid protesters, are gathering at our beautiful, historic square to stir up, maybe even encourage, feelings of anger, hatred, and division. First of all, in the above scripture, I’m in no way calling any certain group of people destitute, poor, or needy (other than the fact that we have all at some point been destitute, poor, or needy). But God calls us to speak up, to seek justice, love mercy and kindness, and to walk humbly with him. To defend. To love. I know this “demonstration” is not representative of the people in our community.

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Encased bible outside Murfreesboro courthouse

In Matthew 28 when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, this is what He said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Lord we thank you that you love us as a parent loves a child, and you instruct us through your word and the power of the Holy Spirit. We praise you that you enable us to love. We lift up the safety and integrity of our city and our brothers and sisters and ask you to place a hedge of protection (physically, spiritually, and emotionally) around us during this time of attempted hatred and division..


The Way of Love (1 Corinthians)

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels,

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Cannonsburgh, near downtown

but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


IMG_5689
Cannonsburgh chapel, near downtown

Lord God, we come to you in faith that you hear us. Your word says that where two or more are gathered in your name, you are there with them.  It also says that ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” You are our God. We are your nation, your state, your city, your people. We stand on your word from Galatians 3:26-29: for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Lord, we also come to you today hopeful. You assured us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We claim that hope today. We will have trouble but you have overcome. We also stand in agreement with 2 Chronicles 7:14-15 which says: if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.

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Murfreesboro Greenway

We pray for forgiveness. We pray for healing. We pray for peace and protection over our city, our neighbors, our families. We pray that as evil, dissension, hatred, and confusion try to invade our community that people will be overwhelmingly, divinely called and set apart to follow the path described in Psalm 34:14 and will Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

1 John 3:16-18 says: By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

God, we are so thankful that you love us. img_5200We are a fallen, imperfect people but we ask you to equip us to love. Open our eyes and allow us to see your image in your people so that we may encourage and build up one another in the faith, hope, and love you have given us, your people. We lift our city to you for your wisdom, your protection, your mercy, grace, and love. We have humbled ourselves. We seek your face, your way. We ask that you go before us, shield us, be our rearguard and defender. In the mighty, matchless name of Jesus.

That’s a prayer for my hometown. Will you make it yours too?IMG_5692

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22 Things Being A Parent Has Taught Me

This time last year I wrote a post titled “21 Things Being A Parent Has Taught Me.” As the time approached this year, I questioned whether to add anything to it or to let it rest in the archives. After all, I don’t want to be guilty of continuing to update every year: 25 things…35 things…50 things! Well, you get the idea. But this year will mark major milestones in my 22 years of parenting. In the next five weeks, I will be the mother of a college graduate who will then be an RN and a married woman. And I’ll be a mother-in-law! How can so much change in a short 22 years? 😉 I didn’t really change the post much from last year. I just squeezed in an extra number. Feel free to get back with me to share some of the lessons that parenting has taught you.


Today it’s official: I’ve been a parent for 21 22 years! From first steps to first day of school, first car to college, first apartment to soon-to-be-married… I have very few regrets. I haven’t done it all perfectly but here we are: not in jail, still speaking to each other, more good times than bad, and we even like each other. Isn’t that successful parenting? I’m sure the title could read 21,000 things being a parent has taught me but I’ve narrowed it down.

  1. It’s not all about me. Oh, if everyone in the world could recognize that truth at the same moment how different the news headlines img_9638would read! Most women really embrace this truth about the time they feel the first tiny movements inside. How much more apparent it becomes with midnight feedings, a hundred loads of laundry, and a thousand diaper changes. It’s even more evident when big brown eyes look into yours and tiny fingers hold your heart.
  2. It’s not all about my children either. What a harsh realization when you discover that not everyone thinks your child is the center of the universe! This seems particularly apparent in the midst of play-dates and 4 year old soccer games. While you love your children and think they’re the best artists and athletes and scholars, sometimes other parents give their own children those titles as well. Teach them balance, respect, personal responsibility, and healthy pride in accomplishment.
  3. My heart is bigger than I thought. It was bittersweet when I first felt the deep pangs of parental love. Not that love for my own children was painful, but I suddenly became aware of all the people in the world, especially those that had never been loved as I loved my own. I saw people very differently. Either they were loved deeply and deserved my love and respect; or they had been denied that deep, unconditional love and protection and merited my compassion. The depth of that loss changed the way I viewed people in their pain and messiness.
  4. How to be brave. Noises in the night, scary looking insects, bad dreams, bad guys, and bullies can all seem overwhelming. What better way to overcome those fears than to become a fearless champion, knowing little eyes are watching? What about bigger fears? Sickness, stitches, broken bones, and bruised hearts? Parenting is not for the weak or the faint-of-heart.
  5. Spiders won’t kill me. Okay, this one should probably fall under the how to be brave category, but it was such a victory that it deserved its own bullet point. Enough said.
  6. I can’t stop all the pain. From lost stuffed animals, being left out of friendship circles, not making the team, to the death of pets and people, the sting and sadness of rejection and disappointment cannot be avoided. While I can’t stop it, dress it up, or discount it, I’m called and equipped to walk through it, providing support, encouragement, and hope along the way.
  7. The importance of presence. Availability. Attention. Acknowledgement. Who hasn’t noticed the eager eyes of children as they searched for a parent at a ballgame, a performance, or a school program? A field trip, a day of shopping, a quiet lunch for two? A funny movie on the couch?  When you are truly img_9630present, you are better able to really see, hear, learn, and know your children. You’re not only their greatest cheerleader; you also become a shepherd of their heart.
  8. Words are really important. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak life, truth, and encouragement. Tell them you love them, are proud of them, and are always available.
  9. How to say I’m sorry.  I messed up. I was wrong. Please forgive me. A little humility and humanity encourages grace and mercy. It says you can own your shortcomings and it models good communication and responsibility.
  10. Let go of guilt. “I wish I had..I wish I  hadn’t..I should have..I shouldn’t have..if only… Home school, public school, other moms, other kids..What if I make the wrong decisions? What if my kids end up in counseling because of me?” Let it go. Do your best. Pick your battles. Say your prayers. Love your kids. Repeat.
  11. Stop comparison. Younger moms, thinner moms, cooler moms, moms with more money, more time, and more creativity… Who hasn’t felt the drive to compete, compare, or self-degrade? Your children were given to you, not your next door neighbor, the preacher, or the lady down the street. You are good enough, smart enough, brave enough, and just what they need.
  12. Always eat dinner around the table. Mealtime is always good. Why? We love to eat. We love to laugh. There’s something about sitting around in a circle that encourages conversation and accountability. No television, no video games, no phone. It’s a time to recount events of the day, plan future events, and ask lots of questions.
  13. Cereal is okay for supper. It’s fortified with essential vitamins and grains. It’s cheap. It’s easy. Knowing that so many people in the world go to bed hungry, there is no condemnation in Frosted Flakes. Or pop tarts. 🙂
  14. Stepping over piles of clothes counts as exercise. So does walking around aimlessly, running in circles, and going the distance. Patience takes practice so that’s also a sport. Hiding in the bathroom counts as a cool-down routine.  🙂
  15. The car is a great classroom. It’s quiet. It’s confined. img_9636They can’t escape. The greatest lessons don’t happen in the classroom, but in the day to day moments of life when you can teach, share, and create real life and relationship. Believe it or not, they are listening.
  16. Make bedtime the best time. They’re tired. They’re vulnerable. They’ll open their hearts just to stay awake and to spend a few more minutes with you in the quiet darkness. What a sweet time to snuggle, to pray, and to listen to their hearts, dreams, and details of the day. It can be the great eraser of an awful, no good, very bad day.
  17. Take lots of pictures. There was no Facebook or Instagram when my children were little. Milestones and memories were captured in 4×6 glossy images in frames or behind plastic sheets. What seemed like too many at theimg_9635 time have proven to be never enough, but still offer glimpses into life and love and living.
  18. How to appreciate good art. Who needs expensive oils, French impressionists, and murky watercolors when hand-scribbled notes, finger-paints, play-doh shapes, fingerprint faces, and reindeer made of footprints can adorn walls and refrigerators?
  19. Laughing is the best. It reduces tension, stress hormones, and the need to hit something. Create inside jokes so no one else understands and you seem weird to other people.
  20. Remember to invest. Children are a treasure, a blessing from the Lord. Each season is to be savored and captured in word, photo, laughter, and experiencing each moment to the fullest measure. But…part of our investment is in teaching children to grow, stand, walk, move on, and create their own journeys. Then what’s left besides the memories, photographs, and holiday visits? What of the other relationships? The other investments? The spouse, the deep friendships, the knowledge and care of self, the spiritual growth that is left to explore and experience after the children marry, move, or follow their own paths? Cherish, but don’t idolize your children, as you make investments in other lifelong, life-changing relationships.
  21. Be consistent and reliable. (Not perfect) As their parent, coach, cheerleader, and advocate. Then you will have a friend for the rest of your life.
  22. How to let go. It starts the first time you leave them at daycare, with a relative, or a babysitter. It intensifies with the first “no” or “I can do it by myself”.  Then  classroom, camp, a car, college, marriage, moving away. There is beauty in freedom, success in standing alone, amazement as they fly. After all, they were only yours for a little while.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverb 22:6

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Children are a heritage from the Lordoffspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them    Ps 127:3-5

Heartstrings

I didn’t realize how much I liked violin music untild9fwnzushr0-adamara earlier this week. Literally…three days ago when the vibrant chords of Hallelujah awoke a quiet, slumbering place in my soul.

Fiddle…that’s what I had always called it; and my limited experience with the funny looking instrument had primarily consisted of the roar and excitement associated with group renditions of Rocky Top and the familiar southern twang of The Devil Went Down to Georgia. But I found the gentle, rhythmic chords stroked with precision by the gifted artist, the violinist, to be both inspirational and soothing.

1 Samuel records the story of how young David skillfully played the stringed instrument and describes the soothing effects the music had on King Saul’s troubled mind. Was it merely the skillful plucking and strumming of the strings or was it a deeper work, resonating from the heart of God to the fingers of David to the heart, soul, and ears of Saul?

And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.   1 Sam 16:23

img_2707Refreshed and well. That’s a good description of how I felt as I found more and more hymns played masterfully by various violinists. My son might even report that I danced around the kitchen. Just a little. The formerly deaf place inside hungered for the audible art that fed the precisely shaped hole that the music seemed to fill so completely. I was amazed at the number of hymns I found that were predominantly accompanied by the violin: Amazing Grace, Come Thou Fount, It Is Well With My Soul, Blessed Assurance… All my favorites! All were beautiful. All were soothing. The more I basked in the stringed harmony, the more I realized that the instrumental versions were like a timely gift of medicine for my soul. The violin played center stage and I simply let my spirit voice the words.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.  Psalm 119:11

Okay, so hymns aren’t scripture, but as the words of the old hymns flowed so freely from my mind and heart, it reminded me of the importance of knowing: Knowing encouraging, soul-edifying words. Knowing the Word. Knowing the Truth. Knowing ways to nourish and uplift your spirit. Knowing how to soothe a troubled mind or weary heart.

God uses scripture, music, people, nature, circumstances, dreams, visions, and countless other ways to get our attention,to  speak to us, to encourage us, to transform us, to heal us, and to equip us. This week He used a violin.

I probably won’t be attending the symphony any time soon. My kitchen will be my dance floor, my phone speakers my instrument, my heart my voice. But Hallelujah is still playing in the background, I am a captive audience, and I will choose to hear each beautiful strum as preparation for a deeper work in the deepest places. And I will sing.

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He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD Psalm 40:3 NLT