Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Luke 2:1-20 (The Message)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Day in the Morning - by Pearl S. Buck

(This is a reprint of my very favorite Christmas story.  It still makes me cry every time I read it.  Now, put on your jammies, snuggle up by the fire, and read about the gift of true, selfless love.)

He waked suddenly and completely. It was four o’clock, the hour at which his father had always called him to get up and help with the milking. Strange how the habits of his youth clung to him still. Fifty years ago, and his father had been dead for thirty years, and yet he waked at four o’clock in the morning. He had trained himself to turn over and go to sleep, but this morning, because it was Christmas, he did not try to sleep.

He slipped back in time, as he did so easily nowadays. He was 15 years old and still on his father’s farm. He loved his father. He had not known it until one day a few days before Christmas, when he overheard what his father was saying to his mother.

“Mary, I hate to call Rob in the mornings. He’s growing so fast and he needs his sleep. If you could see how he sleeps when I go in to wake him up! I wish I could manage alone.”

“Well, you can’t, Adam.” His mother’s voice was brisk. “Besides, he isn’t a child anymore. It’s time he took his turn.”

“Yes,” his father said slowly. “But I sure do hate to wake him.”

When he heard these words, something in him woke: his father loved him! He had never thought of it before, taking for granted the tie of their blood. Neither his father nor his mother talked about loving their children – they had no time for such things. There was always so much to do on a farm.

Now that he knew his father loved him, there would be no more loitering in the mornings and having to be called again. He got up after that, stumbling with sleep, and pulled on his clothes, his eyes tight shut, but he got up.

And then on the night before Christmas, that year when he was 15, he lay for a few minutes thinking about the next day. They were poor, and most of the excitement was in the turkey they had raised themselves and in the mince pies his mother made. His sisters sewed presents and his mother and father always bought something he needed, not only a warm jacket, maybe, but something more, such as a book. And he saved and bought them each something too.

He wished, that Christmas when he was 15, he had a better present for his father. As usual, he had gone to the ten-cent store and bought a tie. It had seemed nice enough until he lay thinking the night before Christmas, and then he wished that he had heard his father and mother talking in time for him to save for something better.

He lay on his side, his head supported by his elbow, and looked out of his attic window. The stars were bright, much brighter than he ever remembered seeing them, and one was so bright he wondered if it were really the star of Bethlehem.

“Dad,” he had once asked when he was a little boy, “what is a stable?”

“It’s just a barn,” his father had replied, “like ours.”

Then Jesus had been born in a barn, and to a barn the shepherds and the Wise Men had come, bringing their Christmas gifts!

The thought stuck him like a silver dagger. Why should he not give his father a special gift, too, out there in the barn?

He could get up early, earlier than four o’clock, and he could creep into the barn and get all the milking done. He’d do it alone, milk and clean up, and then when his father went in to start the milking, he’d see it all done. And he would know who had done it.

At a quarter to three, he got up and put on his clothes. He crept downstairs, careful of the creaky boards, and let himself out. The big star hung lower over the barn roof, a reddish gold. The cows looked at him, sleepy and surprised.

“So, boss,” he whispered. They accepted him placidly, and he fetched some hay for each cow and then got the milking pail and big milk cans.

He had never milked alone before, but it seemed almost easy. He kept thinking about his father’s surprise. His father would come in and call him, saying that he would get things started while Rob was getting dressed. He’d go to the barn, open the door, and then he’d go to get the two big empty milk cans. But they wouldn’t be waiting or empty; they’d be standing in the milk house, filled.

The task went more easily than he had ever known it to before. Milking for once was not a chore. It was something else, a gift to his father who loved him. He finished, the two milk cans were full, and he covered them and closed the milk-house door carefully, making sure of the latch. He put the stool in its place by the door and hung up the clean milk pail. Then he went out of the barn and barred the door behind him.

Back in his room, he had only a minute to pull off his clothes in the darkness and jump into bed, for he heard his father up. He put the covers over his head to silence his quick breathing. The door opened.

“Rob!” his father called. “We have to get up, son, even if it is Christmas.”

“Aw-right,” he said sleepily.

“I’ll go on out,” his father said. “I’ll get things started.”

The door closed and he lay still, laughing to himself. In just a few minutes his father would know. His dancing heart was ready to jump from his body.

The minutes were endless – ten, fifteen, he did not know how many – and he heard his father’s footsteps again. The door opened and he lay still.

“Rob!”

“Yes, Dad–”

His father was laughing, a queer sobbing sort of a laugh. “Thought you’d fool me, did you?” His father was standing beside his bed, feeling for him, pulling away the covers.

“It’s Christmas, Dad!”

He found his father and clutched him in a great hug. He felt his father’s arms go around him. It was dark, and they could not see each other’s faces.

“Son, I thank you. Nobody ever did a nicer thing–”

“Oh, Dad, I want you to know — I do want to be good!” The words broke from him of their own will. He did not know what to say. His heart was bursting with love.

“Well, I reckon I can go back to bed and sleep,” his father said after a moment. “No, hark– The little ones are waked up. Come to think of it, son, I’ve never seen you children when you first saw the Christmas tree. I was always in the barn.”

He got up and pulled on his clothes again, and they went down to the Christmas tree, and soon the sun was creeping up to where the star had been.

Oh, what a Christmas, and how his heart had nearly burst again with shyness and pride as his father told his mother and made the younger children listen about how he, Rob, had got up all by himself.

“The best Christmas gift I ever had, and I’ll remember it, son, every year on Christmas morning, so long as I live.”

They had both remembered it, and now that his father was dead he remembered it alone, that blessed Christmas dawn when, alone with the cows in the barn, he had made his first gift of true love.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Relief Effort

Sometimes, when I was very little and I would go shopping with my mom, she would escape my presence for a second or two and I would panic, thinking I was lost.  I remember this feeling of sheer terror, thinking myself alone and unprotected…then my dear mother would emerge from the dressing room and wrap me in her arms.  I wasn’t lost after all—she had been there all the time, I just couldn’t see her.  I thought of that experience when I read this passage from Psalm 31:21-24, and it made me remember that God is like that:

Praise be to the Lord,
for he showed his wonderful love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
In my alarm I said,
“I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
when I called to you for help.

Love the Lord, all his saints!
The Lord preserves the faithful,
but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.

He is forever present.  He is protecting us even when we can’t see Him. He hears us when we call.  Just like my Mom would never forget me when we were shopping in a department store (maybe at a football game, but never at a store –it’s Ok Mom, I’ve gotten over it), God will never ever forget to be present.

We don’t have to panic or be alarmed.  He is waiting to help.

The Lord preserves the faithful.

Be one of them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hide Myself

I read about myself today.  It was in Proverbs 18:2…

“A fool finds no pleasure in understanding
but delights in airing his own opinions”

The minute I read it, I knew God was showing me that I had been a fool recently, when in a conversation with my husband…ON HIS BIRTHDAY…with the rest of my family…including my parents (sorry I was such a dork, Mom and Dad)…I INSISTED that I knew something that I really DID NOT.  In fact, I was so sure that I thought I knew what I DIDN’T KNOW that I said confidently, “I am 100% sure!” Well, obviously, WHEN I WAS PROVEN WRONG, I found that I really wasn’t even 1% sure of my previously aired opinion, and I felt like the fool that I had actually portrayed. 

This kind of thing happens to me when I decide that I AM RIGHT and EVERYONE ELSE IS LESS SUPERIOR THAN MYSELF.  And it happens when I AM FOCUSING ON ME AND MY WORLD AND THE STUFF I THINK I KNOW.  And it happens when I FORGET THAT I AM SUPPOSED TO HIDE MYSELF IN JESUS AND LET HIM LIVE HIS LIFE THROUGH ME.

Really, folks, I have no business in drawing attention to myself, no business in bringing myself glory, because as I learned with the children when they were small, MAN’S CHIEF END IS TO “BRING GLORY TO GOD AND TO ENJOY HIM FOREVER!” (Heidelberg Catechism). This kind of leaves me and my ‘100% sures’ out of the equation. 

Next time I am tempted to jump into a conversation just to show WHAT I AM SURE OF, or to correct someone that I KNOW is wrong, I think I will remember another proverb I read recently and take it to heart:

“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.”

Proverbs 17:28

And all the people said, “AMEN!”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Practicing Prudence

Here’s a good word for you to add to your parenting vocabulary:  PRUDENCE.

Now go check out what it means at  www.18shortyears.com where I am the guest blogger today.  You’ll be glad you did!  See you there!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Released

Just the other night, Shay came running out of her room screaming that she had seen a mouse.  Shay did not do this quietly or gently, but she very clearly announced her predicament to the entire family so that we were aware of her distress.  In fact, she was so loud that I’m sure that her brother and sister in Iowa City probably heard her exclamations of fear and dread.

Shay feared something that looked like this:

                                         

Cute, huh? 

She wouldn’t even go in her room until her dad went in with a spade (I think he was going to garden it to death) and hunted the tiny, albeit elusive, enemy.  Finally, convinced that it had ventured on to more important items like toothpaste and Q-tips, she returned to her rodent-defiled abode, still fearing that the mouse might return and eat her hair, giving her a bald spot, like Pa in Little Town on the Prairie.

The funny thing about this story is that, besides eating a hole in her luscious locks, the tiny little creature really couldn’t hurt her because she was much bigger and stronger than it.

It’s the same with trials in this life; they are scary, they throw us off balance, and we like to cry about them so others can hear.  But when we call in the big Guns--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can rest assured that they listen...and act.

It is God’s job to protect us, to give us what will make us look most like Him.  His judgments are always right even when we don’t think so. Even when they make us cringe.  Because we are His children, He will go to the ends of the earth to aid us in our understanding of Him.  He tells us that we are “more than conquerors through him” (Romans 8:37) and that “no one can snatch [us] out of [His] hand.” (John 10:28).

So, if we truly believe that God is good, and that He is working for our eternal good, we need to stop letting the trials of this life overwhelm us and we need to look forward to our forever Home where “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things  [will have] passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).

Through Christ, we are much bigger and stronger than anything this world can throw at us.  We need not be trapped by our fears. 

God’s got it.

Get it?

Good.

 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Monday, December 10, 2012

Death by Denial

While we are on the subject of sin…

“Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh . . . .” The cost to your natural life is not just one or two things, but everything. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself. . .” (Matthew 16:24). That is, he must deny his right to himself, and he must realize who Jesus Christ is before he will bring himself to do it.

Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence.

-Oswald Chambers

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Stop Feeding It

I once had a very wise 7th grade English teacher who, when asked how he got his dog to stop pooping inside the house, said,

 “It’s simple; I just stopped feeding him.”

Cute.  Now, if you love your dog, I wouldn’t recommend that.  And maybe if you want to keep feeding your dog and he won’t stop pooping on your carpet, you could get some diapers and cut out a hole for his tail, or you could hook up a bucket-type thing—like you see on horses in parades—to catch anything falling from his little hiney.  Or you could train him to do his duty outside.  Novel idea. 

You know though, when you apply this idea to sin in our lives, it makes perfect sense.  We can struggle with sin all we want, but until we make a decision to demote it to it’s rightful place—with us being it’s master through Jesus’ resurrection on the cross—and it being our slave, we will have no victory (I wrote about that in my last post.  You can read it here). Really, it’s all about starving;  starving our sinful habits until they are no longer habits, saying “no” to ourselves when we struggle with an appetite for temporal sinful pleasures, and ignoring our feelings (by listening to our minds that are filled with God’s truth) when they thirst for vengeance, unforgiveness and immorality.

If we want sin to stop coming out of us (believe me, dear reader, I could have written that in a much more creative, distasteful way), we need to stop feeding it.  We need to crave God’s glory more than our pleasure.  We need to see long, like God does, and not short, like we do.  And we need to make choices that make us look more and more like Jesus and less like ourselves.

So, here’s to starving our sin (and our dogs, but only if we don’t like them. Kidding, I’m kidding.  Don’t report me) until old habits die and new life appears.

No carpet cleaning necessary.

 

What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:21-23

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

De-clawed

Every time my super cute and furry cat, Sasha, gains access to the garage, she spends many minutes sharpening her claws on the mat that sits right below the stairs.  She seems to think this innate activity is very important and so she exerts great effort to complete the task.  Here’s the weird thing, though; Sasha doesn’t have any claws.  She just does the whole claw-sharpening thing because it comes naturally to her—being a cat and all.

As I watched her habitually scratch the mat this morning, it brought to mind the book of Romans which we have been studying in church, and it made me think that we, as Christ-followers, are sometimes like that. Though formerly sinners, we have now been given freedom from the dominion of sin in our lives because of Jesus death and resurrection.  Romans 6: 5-7 says that,

“If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.”

Basically, because Christ died for us, and for our sin, sin has no right to our lives anymore—we are freed from it’s control.  Like the scripture states, we are “no longer..slaves to sin”.  And because Christ rose again, through His life (resurrection) we receive power.  It is this power that enables us to say no to sin. 

But sometimes we still live like sin is our master. 

We do this because in our old life, we were controlled by sin.  Sin is our default and it comes naturally to us.  Sin is built into us, just like claw sharpening is built into Sasha.

And, like Sasha, sometimes we still act like sin’s claws control us-- even though the claws have been removed.  We do this because we don’t fully understand that we have been freed—so we act like slaves—slaves to wickedness.

And sometimes we continue to be controlled by sinful behaviors because old habits die hard.  And because they die hard, we don’t really believe that God is strong enough to help us “do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Philippians 4:13).  We don’t fully understand that we can now be slaves to righteousness.

When we, as Christ-followers choose to live in sin, we are telling God that His plan—the sending of His Son, the suffering of His Son, the crucifixion of Son, the separation of His Son from Himself—was not the ultimate sacrifice…that it doesn’t impute His power to us…that it’s really not enough to overcome our impure habits…and that we’d really rather just remain as we are.  When we call ourselves Christians, yet choose to be overcome by sinful behaviors and thoughts, we are telling God that He is not enough.

But He is enough. 

And his grace is enough.  Because we have been freed from our old selves and have been made new in Christ.  Sin no longer has mastery over us.

It’s true.

The claws have been removed. Sin no longer wins.

Let’s live like it.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Romans 6:15-18

 

 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

While you’re waiting…

OK.  So I’ve written nothing serious for nearly a month now…well, the Psalm on Thanksgiving was serious, but I didn’t write that, I just posted it; someone else wrote that.  I think his name was David.  And I’ve not posted anything for over a week, so I decided I better get busy writing so y’all won’t abandon me on account of my lackluster appearances.  Give me another day or so, though, to let my brain marinate some ideas, and I’ll come up with something to charm your socks off.  However, while you’re waiting, and since we start December TODAY, I thought it wise to re-post something I wrote on December 1st last year.  It seriously helped me to enjoy the season more.  Maybe you need to write your own Christmas “To Not Do.”  Check it out:

“With all the hullabaloo at this time of year, and the pressure to achieve that “perfect Christmas”, I have decided to rebel. Buying presents, decorating the house, making goodies, and entertaining others are all good things, but sometimes my December “To Do” list can get very long…and stressful.  And if you remember correctly, I am not getting stressed this year.  So, here’s my rogue (that’s rogue—as in Sarah Palin, not rouge—as in color for my cheeks) plan:  I  have decided to write myself a “To Not Do” list. Nothing on this list is bad, but the experiences that I am choosing instead, like watching old family movies or reading Christmas stories to my kids, are better.  In fact, this year, I’m going to bypass some really great things so that I have time to do the best things.  Here goes:”

Christmas TO NOT DO list

  • I will not stress myself out to make Lefse. I will just go to Story City, where all Lefse-makers live, and buy it.
  • I will not worry about making the contents of the children’s stockings equal.
  • I will not host holiday parties when I don’t enjoy it.
  • I will not stay up all hours of the night creating something complex and homemade in my sewing room just so I can say “I made it.”
  • I will not force myself to put the decoration boxes in the storage room when no one can see them in the porch.
  • I will not feel compelled to write numerous blog posts explaining the true meaning of Christmas.
  • I will not write something personal on each and every Christmas card.
  • I will not feel compelled to send an extra Christmas card to those people to whom we didn’t send one when I get their card in the mail.
  • I will not feel compelled to have homemade peanut butter cookies with Hershey kisses on top in my freezer.
  • I will not make a gingerbread house.
  • I will not use holiday placemats.
  • I will not go out and buy more Christmas paper if ours runs out.  I will just use the ugly peach stuff I bought for the school fundraiser.
  • I will not clean my house every Monday if I want to do Christmas stuff.
  • I will not force my family to listen to “Read Aloud Family Christmas” every night after dinner.
  • I will not grieve that no one in my house wants to do the count-to-Christmas calendar anymore.
  • I will not force myself to learn Spanish or learn how to knit.
  • I will not get mad at myself if I want to sit in my polka-dotted chair and drink tea and read other people’s blogs.
  • I will not force my children or any other member of my family to unnecessarily clean their rooms, or their closets, or the kitchen, or the cat’s house, or the porch, or the garage. Even if I have company coming over who I don’t really need to impress with my immaculate cleanliness anyways.
  • Actually, Tess hacked my blog and wrote that last one, but I will abide by it.

Ahhhhh.  I feel so relaxed.  Isn’t Christmas grand?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Psalm 100
A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

 Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stretching the Truth

I went shopping with my daughter who shall remain unnamed (but who just happens to have the same initials as me), and she talked me into buying a pair of TOMS (or maybe I just decided to buy them without her encouragement—anyway, she was with me).  Now for those of you who don’t know, TOMS are little canvas shoes that look like this:

                           w-ash-canvas-classics-s-su12_1

Cute, huh? 

I thought TOMS would be a great addition to my wardrobe because I really don’t like to wear shoes at all—I am a flip flop girl—and TOMS seemed like a more socially acceptable winter-appropriate option.  But here’s the deal with TOMS: you must buy them a little small because they stretch to fit your foot—being canvas and all. For most TOMS wearers, this is probably a minor inconvenience—wear them a day or so to stretch them, and wala! they feel like a second skin.  But for me, it proved to be a contest in endurance.  You see, my right foot is a full size larger than my left, and normally, this doesn’t present a problem; I just buy the shoes to fit the bigger foot.  So after I tried on several different size TOMS…and after the sales guy said they should be pretty snug…and after my daughter told me that I didn’t want them to be too big so I should get them to fit the smaller foot…I settled on a very small-looking ash gray pair in a size 8. 

Even before I exited the mall, I was walking unnaturally because though my left foot was happily swaddled, my right foot was not able to extend fully, and I felt like my big toe might make a hole where the cute little crease started in the front.  But since the salesman assured me they would stretch, I kept on walking, and wincing, my way through the day.  That was Saturday.  I forced myself to wear them until I went to bed that night even though I was beginning to have shooting nerve pain up the back of my leg because of the pressure on my heel. 

He said they would stretch.

Enter Sunday.  Ok, so I thought these teeny tiny shoes were so cute that I decided to wear them to church…because I figured the more I wore them, the more they would stretch…and then they would be perfect.  So, after putting a band-aid on the developing blister on my heel, I stuffed my feet into them hoping not to bust them open.  They seemed just as tight—maybe tighter?—than on Saturday, but doggone-it, he said they would stretch, so, walking in little choppy steps, I made my painful way into church where I got to sit during the service—but I didn’t take my shoes off because I was stretching them.  After the service, I taught Sunday school and tried to stand especially still while talking about Jael pounding the tent peg through Sisera’s skull (great upbeat lessons lately, huh?), and even though pain was coursing through my feet, I forced myself to keep the shoes on. Do you know how hard it is to concentrate when your toes are jammed together in a bunch and your foot cannot fully flatten?  It gave a me a real heart for the old Chinese women whose feet were bound tightly.  It was said they did this because Chinese men liked dainty feet.  Well, I’m not Chinese, and I wasn’t feeling very dainty at that moment, and Brent doesn’t really have a thing for tiny feet, but I thought that suffering must be part of the process, so I was going to hang in there, dang it! He said they would stretch!!!! I even had a party at my house that night, and after figuring out how to walk more naturally by striking my heel down first, I convinced myself that they were finally stretching. I would have cute comfy shoes by morning!

Monday.  On Monday, the shoes still seemed a little lot tight, but I thought maybe my feet were a little swollen because I had forced myself to wear my TOMS all weekend…because He said they would stretch.  And, upon forcing them on gently over my band-aided heel and across the big toe that was developing an ingrown toenail, I decided that this would be my last day of experimentation.  If, by tomorrow, the blasted shoes did not feel amazing, I would return them for a larger size.  Mostly I just stayed home Monday, but I will let you know, I made myself wear the shoes because I did not want them to win.  I was in charge here.  And no matter how socially conscious the stupid TOMS were, they WERE GOING TO GET BIGGER!

Tuesday.  Feeling cheated and wanting to try just one more day to stretch my TOMS, I gingerly worked them onto my damaged feet trying not to rip my band-aids off in the process. But most of the morning, I just felt depressed and unmotivated because my feet hurt so badly.  I wished I could just sleep—with the shoes on of course—to escape, but I had things I had to get done—things which required me to be on my feet—so I came up with the genius idea of wearing thick socks with my TOMS to quicken the stretching process.  Now, here’s the deal:  If you are wearing shoes about two sizes too small and you put on a thick pair of socks underneath these shoes, they will feel even tighter. I finally had to admit that my TOMS were probably too small.  Ya think?

So, after deciding that most people who buy TOMS probably don’t go through the same initiation trial that I had endured, I gave up the fight and called the store to ask if I could return my TOMS for a bigger size.  They said yes.  And so I did.  And I made sure to tell them I gave the whole stretching thing a pretty heroic effort.

Guess what?  I am wearing my new TOMS right now and they are not making me crabby.  I have no pain in either foot.  I have almost forgotten about ancient foot binding.  I have been productive and cheerful.  And they really didn’t stretch all that much.

And best of all, I can walk normally because my shoes are the right size. Imagine that.

What a concept.

Moral of the story:  Sometimes the little sales guys that help you with your shoes are really just there to make a buck and you probably should just buy shoes that feel good right away.

Amen.

Monday, November 12, 2012

‘member that time?

Member that time that my daughter convinced me to wash my hair first with baking soda and then vinegar instead of shampoo because she said it would give my hair a natural wave?  And member how I’ve always wanted thick, wavy hair and I even wrote about it once here and another time here?  Member that?

And member how I was super paranoid that the baking soda and vinegar would mix and cause a great explosion, and that my head would blow up all over my shower? 

Well, I’m still doing it, and I’m still rinsing really well between the two because losing my head would be way worse than fine, straight hair; don’t ya think?

Check out the formerly fat-lipped Paige, creator and mastermind of ‘member that time’ at http://teamvanvoorst.blogspot.com/!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hand Over the Wheel

My friends, fellow bloggers Joy and Mandy, have a pretty nifty parenting blog they call 18 Short Years, filled with everything you need to know to raise perfect kids…well, almost everything

Check out my post today on Tween Talk Thursday (http://18shortyears.com/?p=1068)

And get ready to Hand Over the Wheel.

You’ll be glad you did!

 

See you there!

Monday, November 5, 2012

‘Member that time?

Member that time when I got a little brown diary from my sister for Christmas and how I felt like I had to write in it every night?  Even when I didn’t want to?  Member that? 

And member after like the first two weeks, I just started writing “Did stuff” on every page because I was too lazy to think of the things I accomplished that day? 

Yeah, well mid-January until December of that year is pretty dull, according to my diary, but it looks like lots of Stuff got done.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Last week’s lowdown

It’s been awhile since I posted on my blog because my normal life has gotten in the way.  Here’s what’s been going on at the Haverkamps:

Last week Monday, I decided it was high time I get my lazy self out on the road again after taking a few days off of running (since I ran the Des Moines half marathon the previous Sunday), and so after donning my brand new race shirt and some stretchy capris, I went out for a run and came home frozen.  Last Monday morning it was 30 degrees.  And 30 degrees is really cold when you are only wearing 2 layers of polyester. I ran really fast so I could get home and take a hot shower which I couldn’t even stand in until I warmed up because I felt like it was burning my skin off. 

Last week Tuesday, we had some guys come and install more insulation in our attic so we could keep our house toasty warm this winter.  And it probably would be toasty warm now if they hadn’t stepped through the dry wall when they were tromping through  my attic like a herd of Rhinoceroses.  So now I have a huge hole in my ceiling letting all the warm air out and all the dust and paint and ceiling pieces in and it is all very messy.  I don’t like messes.  Have I ever told you that?  Messes make me very unhappy—especially when they occur right before my connection group arrives.

Last week Wednesday was a very sad day for me because it was Halloween and I had no trick or treaters.  Not only did I have no trick or treaters, no one even came to our house for trick or treating and I had to make Shay hide the candy so I wouldn’t eat it.  And not only did I have no trick or treaters and no trick or treaters came to my house, my neighborhood did not take our 12-years-running annual picture of all the kids dressed up, because lots of the kids have grown up and moved away and the rest think they are too old for such childishness. It was all very depressing. But on a positive note, on that same depressing Wednesday, I did get to visit some of those children who have moved away when we saw Luke and Tess in Iowa City. As we arrived at Tess’ dorm room, I noticed that she had 4 pineapples in her kitchen.  So I said, “Hey, what’s the deal with the pineapples?”  And she said that since they were only $.99, she and her roommate, Dakota, had decided to buy several.  And, she added, they were planning to go back tomorrow and buy 4 more…each…because 4 is the amount that fits in each of their backpacks and that is important when you ride a bike to the grocery store.  So, when I talked to Tess yesterday, she said that at that moment, she and Dakota had 12 pineapples in their kitchen, waiting to be cut up and frozen for smoothies—green smoothies to be exact—which you can read about here.  

Last week Thursday, I started boot camp again—which I love.  Thursday was a good day and I even got a 20 minute nap.

Last week Friday, I decided to be super healthy and make black bean burgers for supper, but I had a moment of panic when the bean-slop stuck to my fingers and the pan, but eventually, after throwing out the first 3 burgers, I was able to produce something remotely akin to a black bean burger, and we ate them on buns with avocado and tomatoes and spicy mustard and Brent pretended that they were good.  

Last week Saturday, I had to plan a Sunday school lesson about Ehud who stabbed a very fat king, Eglon, whose fat engulfed the sword and whose intestines burst from the attack; not a super easy, nor child-friendly lesson, while my children both knitted scarves and watched The Sound of Music in the background.

And that brings us to today.  Today, Shay woke up with her forehead swollen so much that her eye was swollen shut, so I rushed her to the emergency room, where they told us it was cellulitis and gave us drugs—which she took and continues to take because she still looks slightly misshapen with the whole creepy eye thing and all, and then we got ourselves together and went to church where she was embarrassed and swollen, and I where I taught about the fat king. 

And there’s everything you didn’t really want to know about life on the ranch, with more pity-producing details than you could ever hope for. 

But I’m still OK.

And God is still good.

And next week is bound to be spectacular, don’t you think?

 

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

Friday, October 26, 2012

Wash You Clean

falls boys africa

They followed us to the rocky falls, chasing after the truck, bare feet running, little hearts pumping—hoping for a chance to see the Americans.

The orphans, dressed in mismatched clothes, torn and tattered, just watched with their almost-black eyes, as we, the “mzungas”, took off shoes and socks and waded in the water.  River water, to them, was a way of life, used for bathing and washing and cooking and drinking—nothing special. They seemed fascinated that we would think it fun. 

When they did finally join us, they immediately began rubbing their dirty heels against the rocks—almost as if on cue.  Seemingly trained for this task, I asked them what they were doing, but they just looked at me and shook their heads, unable to explain.

Seeing that their faces were also streaked with dirt from their journey, my friend Sarah asked me for the white handkerchief I kept in my backpack. When I had given it to her, she dipped it in the water and began washing the dust from their little foreheads…and cheeks… and necks.  In a line they sat, so still, faces turned toward her, each one waiting their turn to be noticed, and touched, and loved.

As I watched them being bathed by Sarah, they seemed almost sleepy as she put the wet cloth next to their warm, musky-smelling skin.  And I wondered if they would lie right down on the algae-covered banks where they sat.  Then I realized that they weren’t  tired, they were mesmerized by tenderness; intoxicated by human touch; overcome with the reality of their preciousness.

And I thanked my God, who is the God of Africa too, that Sarah’s hands had become His hands that day.

And I praised Him for letting me be part of it.

And I rejoiced in the glimpse of His grace He had given—through the children, and the water, and the washing—His intoxicating grace that promises Heaven to all who call on His name. 

He is our Father, you know.  We are His children. 

He longs to notice…and touch…and love…YOU.

Because you are precious.

Let Him wash you clean.

 

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

Galatians 4:4-6

Monday, October 22, 2012

‘member that time?

I’m not quite done telling my Africa stories, but I needed a little break and decided to take a ‘member that time’ detour for a day…

‘Member that time when I was watching M*A*S*H while running on the treadmill at 6:30 in the morning and I had to turn the speed way down because I was crying and I couldn’t catch my breath?  Yeah, well, Sargent Houlihan, who is usually super mean, was being super nice and feeding a stray dog, and that stray dog got hit by a truck.  And it made both the major and I cry—at the same time—like we got hit by a truck or something. 

And then member how I came in all sweaty and told Brent about the dead dog on M*A*S*H and Sargent Houlihan and my crying?  And how he was super sweet and said something like, “You really love animals, don’t you?” but my kids thought I was super weird and said, “I never cry when I watch M*A*S*H.”

Yeah, well, I’ve decided to nix the M*A*S*H videos for my early morning video sessions and only watch the Waltons—even though I have seen every episode—because John Boy never makes me cry.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Serenje Adventure

This is a very long and newsy repost of a blog I wrote about my trip to Zambia for the Hope Children’s Center blog at http://hopechildrenscenter.blogspot.com/.  Check that site out for the history of Cornerstone’s involvement in Serenje at the Hope Children’s Center.

On September 27, 2012, a team of seven members from Cornerstone Church plus two from Harvest Vineyard Church (Jeff Dodge, Tim Day, Derek Quam, Jacob Overman, Sarah Stevenson, Kathy Houseman, Tori Haverkamp, and Paul and Patience Lueth) left Des Moines en route for the Hope Children’s Center. After nearly thirty hours of travel to Lusaka, (did you know they serve dinner on a 2:30 a.m. flight?) and a death-defying 6 hour ride in our rented van to Serenje, we finally reached the guest house, exhausted, but excited to start our week in Africa. Here are some highlights from our time there:

While driving to the guest house in the dark on our first night, Jeff misjudged where the road was and started driving through the adjoining field—all the while complaining about the upkeep of the road—until two local Hope Center kids came and rescued us from our folly and put us on the right road—which was actually fairly well maintained. After getting settled into our new home and putting away the groceries we had purchased earlier in Lusaka, we ate a quick meal of peanut butter sandwiches and finally got to sleep in actual beds (not airplane seats).

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                 Jeff driving our rented van on the actual road…

Bright and early on Sunday morning (our first full day in Serenje), we piled into the back of the big flatbed truck, along with about 37 African friends, and made our way to the church in Kamena. The ride was long and bumpy with several stops to pick up more people along the way; just when you would think they couldn’t possibly fit anyone else onto the truck—more would pile in on top of the others. When we arrived at the church, we were greeted by lots of children and families who were eager to meet Americans; and as the honored guests we were taken in the side door of the church and seated on wooden benches on either side of the pulpit. The African men sat separately from the women during the service, and the children all sat very quietly in the front on the floor. Navice introduced us to the congregation, and then allowed his wife, Ketty, to pray to begin the service. After her prayer, Navice invited Jacob to come up and give the message for the day while he (Navice) interpreted. Jacob encouraged the people “to not become weary in doing good” and to keep training themselves to be godly so that they will finish the “race” of this life well. After Jacob’s message, we all sang several songs in which everybody but us (little children included) knew the words and the actions. God made the Zambians very musical—it is a huge and beautiful part of their culture and church. At the close of the service, Navice invited several of his children to come forward with a gift. Since it was Tim’s birthday, the church presented him with a live chicken as a present. Tim, not accustomed to receiving birds, said something like, “I’ve always wanted a chicken for my birthday”, and everybody, even the Zambians, laughed. When the people had dispersed and we had socialized outside for awhile and taken pictures, Navice and Ketty brought us back into the church where they had prepared lunch for our team—chicken (not Tim’s), rape (a cooked form of Kale with onions), and nshima (the staple food in Zambia, made of boiled cornmeal)—a meal that would become very familiar to us before the week’s end.

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                   A very traditional Zambian meal of chicken, rape, and nshima

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           Paul and Patience surrounded by the children at the church in Kamena

Before leaving Kamena for the day, we drove a few miles up the road to some falls, where we spent the rest of the afternoon with several of Navice’s family members and numerous village children, just playing in the water and getting to know one another.

On Monday morning, we gathered at the Hope Center for music and devotions and introductions of the pastors and their wives. 15 Pastors had come to complete their 3 year training track—hoping to graduate at the end of the week. Many had traveled several hours by bus or by walking to attend the conference. The wives that attended with them brought their youngest children (babies and pre-school aged), usually leaving many children with friends or family at home (most of the couples had between 6-10 kids!). After introductions, we split the men and women up for teaching; the men stayed with Tim, Jeff, Derek, Jacob, and Paul at the Hope Center, while the women went with Sarah, Kathy, Patience, and Tori to the guest house porch.

The next four days followed this pattern, with the pastors staying with the men to study Revelation and the wives going with the ladies teaching team to learn how to be Biblical women. When the Hope Center kids were around, Kathy spent time teaching them about Jesus and helping them make salvation bracelets. We found that the men and children had the greatest command of English, while the women spoke the least. We were very thankful for our fantastic interpreters who helped us to teach God’s truth in Bemba. We also learned a little Bemba through songs and interactions with the people. Often times, during the women’s sessions, someone would break out into spontaneous song or powerful prayer—it was truly amazing to be surrounded by African sisters and brothers yearning for the same truth and the same God we know in America.

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                                    Tim teaching the pastors at the Hope Center

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              The women on the guest house porch showing off their salvation bracelets

Also during most of these days, and sometimes into the evening, Jacob, a dentist, was pulling teeth and checking out the dental health of numerous pastors, wives, Hope Center employees, and villagers. One local boy had an abscessed tooth that was so infected that the infection had penetrated his jaw bone and was draining out of his lower chin. Jacob was able to pull that tooth and give the boy antibiotics to clear up the infection—possibly saving his life. We awarded Jacob MVP status that day.

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    A pastor pointing out to Doctor Jacob which tooth has been hurting for months

Thursday was graduation day for the pastors and the ceremony was a grand affair with the local, purple-robed choir and pink and white toilet paper streamers, and many important and influential community people in attendance. The pastors and wives (who danced in together to take their seats) were dressed in their finest. Because of this, Jeff and Tim quickly visited the market (earlier that morning) and purchased suits to help them look “official”. Jeff was looking fine with his gray suit and black tennis shoes and Tim sported a dark suit with both a plaid shirt and a patterned tie—all in all, they looked very Zambian, plus, they were able to give these suits as gifts to some of the pastors at the end of the week. 15 pastors graduated and were presented with a bicycle and an Iowa State backpack in which to carry their Bibles and other evangelism tools. It was a great day.

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                                                                     Graduation day!

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                      Tim shows off his fancy duds and poses with a graduate and his family

Friday was our last day in Serenje, and since our work was done with the pastors and wives, we decided to visit Kundalila Falls, which is within an hour’s drive or so of HCC. The hike to and from the falls was somewhat arduous, but, we all made it and were amazed at the beauty of God’s creation. The guys even decided to swim in the ice cold water and make their way underneath one of the water falls. Since it was National Teacher’s Day in Zambia, we were joined by several off-duty teachers who were also taking in the falls. One of the young Zambian female teachers decided that she would like to swim under the waterfall, and she dove in the icy water. Shocked by the change in temperature and the pressure of the swirling tide, she immediately began going under water and gasping for air. Seeing that she was drowning, the women of our team called for our guys to save her (since her male Zambian friend was also near drowning), and Jacob swam over and helped her out of the water and onto the rocks—saving the life of yet another person that week. He got MVP that day too.

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The falls were amazing!

While heading back to the guest house Friday afternoon, Jeff recalled a national park he had visited on an earlier trip, so we all decided to try to get in our last little bit of Africa by visiting the Kansanka Trust Lodge. We stopped here and were told that we could get an evening Safari if we waited around awhile. While waiting, we enjoyed chatting with Sam and Heather—a young British couple in charge of the lodge, sitting on the porch watching for hippos in the lake, and eating amazing, home-made pizza. When Safari time arrived, we piled into an open air jeep with our soft-spoken Dutch guide, and his driver, Steven. Although we saw lots of Puku on our ride, most of the Safari was uneventful, save for the biting Tsetse flies and the bush rabbit. We were glad we had at least seen some baboons on our smooth drive to the lodge. At the end of the evening, we loaded up the van and drove back to Serenje to prepare for our departure on Saturday.

After another harrowing drive to Lusaka the following morning, we flew out at almost midnight Saturday, Zambian time, direct to Amsterdam, where we were supposed to have a connecting flight Sunday afternoon. As it turns out, the connecting flight was cancelled, so we all got to spend one more night together as a team (the airline put us up in a fabulous hotel), touring downtown Amsterdam and being amazed at the millions of bikes in that city.

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Walking along Canal Street in Amsterdam

We arrived in Iowa on Monday evening, October 8th, a full 24 hours after our originally scheduled arrival, happy to finally be home, and thanking God for His favor on our trip to the Hope Children’s Center in Zambia.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Palace fit for a King

The stench was almost nauseating. 

Sitting on the floor of a four-ton flatbed truck, uncomfortably squeezed between sweaty, dark-skinned strangers, I unconsciously judged the Africans. “Backward…dirty…poor…”; rouge assumptions began to wander recklessly, unfiltered, through my white American mind.  So, when we finally arrived at the church in Kamena, Zambia, after a seemingly endless and bumpy ride, I was anxious to exit the vehicle.

Climbing clumsily out of the back of the truck, my ankle length skirt making the descent difficult, I spied a little girl in yellow. And just as my foot reached the ground, I felt a hand on my arm.  Again, I saw the tiny tattered child, her eyes unblinking in unearned adoration.  Her miniature fingernails were caked with grime, her clothing torn and dirty.  Putting my ear close, I asked her name and she quietly offered “Palace”.  Then she took my hand in hers and led me into the little brick church to a wooden bench on the side of the pulpit.  And there we sat, as the service began and as the Zambians sang and prayed and worshipped the God who sustains them…and us.

Throughout the service, Palace stared at me—not smiling, but contented—and I rubbed her back and kept her close.  Her innocent eyes continued to adore, and I realized that she accepted me and loved me—not because I was like her, but because I was different; and not because I could speak her language; she didn’t seem to need words.  She wasn’t loving to receive anything at all.  She loved me because her uncalloused child’s heart didn’t know pride or arrogance or judgment…like mine did.  She loved because she was a child who had no assumptions about who I was; she just expected me to love her back.  And I did.  It came so naturally.

Palace’s presence in that little church in Kamena on my first Sunday in Zambia, allowed me to capture those unconscious accusations that had also come so naturally.  Her complete acceptance changed my mind and showed me that I was thinking wrongly.  Her childishness softened my heart and allowed me to love like Jesus loves—unguarded, with lavish affection; so undeserved, so thrilling.

Such big lessons from a such a tiny teacher.

And from an such an awesome God.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26-28

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Friday, October 12, 2012

The Very Same ONE

Hey Y’all.  I played a fast one and went to Zambia, Africa for 12 days without even telling you. I had a few things post in my absence just to heighten the sneakiness.  But, now I am back and I have lots of stories to tell, and the first one is this:

Guess what?  The Almighty God that we serve here in the American church is the same One they serve in Zambia! He is big and powerful and strong enough to change Zambian and American hearts.  He speaks English and Bemba and a whole lot of other languages too.  His spirit lives in people with black skin as well as in those with white.  The same Spirit that is alive in me lives in the woman in the mud hut in Serenje!  And His character remains the same half way around the world because He never changes.  Culture does not affect our God; He freely gives His Spirit to those who confess their sins and accept His leadership. God does not show favoritism to any race; His people from around the globe yearn for the same Truth and the same Power and the same Wisdom; these things can be understood by any nationality because the same huge God has made them plain to them.

And the people who reject Him in Zambia are grieving the same God as those rejecting Him in America; their curses wound the very same heart .  The Father of all longs for His children to run to Him, no matter where they live.

It blows my mind that we all serve the same God—the very same One.  And we can all know the same God intimately—the very same One. And He can be our forever Father—for eternity together…even if we live halfway across the world from each other.

God’s got it covered.  He really does have the whole world in His hands.

And that my friends, is amazing.

 

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,  since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Be at Peace

Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life;
rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise,
God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely through all things;
and when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you in His arms.
 
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for
you today will take care of you today and every day.
 
He will either shield you from suffering
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.







-Saint Francis De Sales

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Prayer…

When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don't pray, they don't.

--William Temple

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reflection

People like Mother Teresa didn't spend much time in front of the mirror. Instead, she devoted herself to becoming a mirror, reflecting God's dancing light wherever she went.

-Jenny Schroedel

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Perfect Trust

TRUST

Isn’t that really what the whole accepting/rejecting God thing about?  Do we really trust that there is a God out there with our best interests in mind?  Do we really think He will never leave us or abandon us?  Do we really believe that all things work together for good for those who love Him?  Do we really understand that He is?

A lot of the time, I think the answer for me is, “I don’t think so.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe He is Who He is with my mind, but my heart sometimes gets infatuated with the lies that this world offers, and I start to doubt.  And I start to think that maybe He’s not telling me the truth, cause sometimes what I see with my eyes and feel with my emotions doesn’t seem to line up with what I read in the Word. 

But God taught me something the other day about what feeble things I put my trust in.  Here’s what happened:  As I was running through a neighborhood in the early morning, I passed a house and saw a ferocious (albeit tiny) dog in the window.  He had his tiny teeth bared and was barking like he would like to put his millions of tiny teeth into my legs.  But I just kept on running and I laughed because I knew he couldn’t get me; the window was holding him back. 

The WINDOW.

God said, “You trust in a window; why not Me?”  And I realized that I put my trust in silly things like glass and leashes and fences and NOT GOD.  How silly is that?!  Embarrassingly silly.

So, lately, every time I start to doubt that God is who He says He is, I think back to that window…and then I think about the Creator of me, and of earth and space and sky…and I make my mind make the logical choice because my heart has been convinced;  I can trust Him because He is a good God who loves me more than I can fathom.

What are you trusting in?

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. 

Isaiah 26:3

Monday, September 24, 2012

‘member that time?

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a “member that time” but I thought this occurrence was memory-worthy.

‘Member that time when I was at Target and I bought some NyQuil for my sick daughter? And member how the clerk asked for my ID and I gave her my debit card and she said, “uh, no.  Not that.  I need your license.”  And  how I was so stunned at being carded for NyQuil that I forgot to ask why and instead walked out of the store thinkin’ I must be looking good that day?  Member that?   

And member how when I got home and looked up “carded for NyQuil” on the internet, it said that people drink NyQuil because it contains 25% alcohol?  Who knew?

And then member how I started not feeling as good about myself anymore because I realized that she thought I looked drunk not young? 

Yeah, well, drunk-looking or not, I still saved 5% because I used my Target Red Card.

And saving money is always good, especially when you’re not drunk.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Smooth Move

Yesterday Tess called me from her college dorm room to proudly tell me that she had made a delicious green smoothie.  Less than an hour later, her brother called from the same city to tell me that he had just fixed himself an amazing green smoothie which he planned to eat with his supper.  These two phone calls thrilled me…and not just because they were from my sweet babies and they were on the same day.  No, they thrilled me because my sweet babies were doing what they had seen me do, again and again and again, morning after morning; they were preparing healthy green smoothies for their very own selves.

Now you must understand my excitement here; these are the same kids who ridiculed me for drinking this unique concoction day after day; the same kids who warily asked me every time I fixed them their own smoothies, “Is there spinach in this?”; and the same kids who thought their mom was over-the-top weird because she ate last night’s veggies in a shake every morning. 

And here’s the take-away from all of this:  Your kids are watching you.  If you continue to wholeheartedly embrace and chase after certain things like good nutrition and exercise, your kids have a good chance of following in your footsteps—even if they made fun of you at first.  Those consistent habits they watched you forge are what they know of “how things work”, and they will often adopt them when they have lives of their own.

But here’s the even better take-away:  If you have been chasing after Jesus with your whole heart while your children have grown, they have seen that too.  In fact, they have had a front row seat to your success at reflecting Jesus…and your failures.  I think maybe it is how we deal with these failures, in the light of eternity, that   affects our kids most profoundly.  And I think our authenticity about our relationship with the Creator of the Universe speaks volumes to their souls—even if they make fun of it at first.

So….keep doing what you’re doing Mom or Dad; walk in the Truth, admit you’re wrong, seek forgiveness, extend more grace than judgment, and love those who seem unlovable.  Your actions are imprinting on your children whether they know it or not, because…they are watching.

And you are pleasing God.

Now, If I could just convince you to try my green smoothies…

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Holy Sieve

God is teaching me so much about obedience lately.  Obedience is kind of a new thing I have learned since I was a rotten kid and all.  And the cool thing is, that if we obey, really amazing things start developing in us and our mind starts thinking more wisely. This said, I have been experimenting with being more and more obedient to God and His ways, and I must say, I really like the outcome.  Believe me, it has not been all easy-peasy, since I didn’t even know I was being rotten in some of the areas that the Holy Spirit has exposed to me, and since I have an incredibly strong will that likes to be rotten sometimes.  But when I have chosen the thing that I know I am supposed to do, when I have denied myself, when I have done the hard thing and refused to feel sorry for myself, I feel really good and strong inside—like I am getting “fitter” in my spirit or something.  God will sometimes stop me mid-thought and say “judging…” or “complaining…” or “watch it!” and when I heed that voice that speaks Truth, and when I listen to it and stop my thought instead of letting it germinate, I feel like I have just done like 100 push ups spiritually—do you understand what I’m sayin’ here?  I mean the discipline of it all is hard, but it gets lots easier the more I practice it.  I think it’s pretty cool that Christ’s Spirit in me gives me the ability to sift through my thoughts and just capture the good ones—the ones that think truth—kind of like a holy sieve.  But here’s what I’ve also figured out: To learn to think with Truth requires me to remind myself of the Truth each and every day.  And this reminding occurs when I spend time reading and studying the Word of God.  If I forget to remind myself of Truth daily, then my holy sieve doesn’t work near as well…or at all; and then we’re back to rottenness again.  And nobody likes that.  Let me show you a neato (I can say that ‘cause I grew up in the 70’s—even though spell-check does not acknowledge it as a word) passage about obedience that God showed me yesterday.  I loved it so much that I wrote it out two times and plan to memorize it as a counter-attack for when my will rears its ugly head.  Drink in its truth:

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.  The man who says, “I know him”, but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys his word, God’s truth is truly made complete in him.  This is how we know we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

1 John 2:3-6

Neato!

 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sanctus Sci-fi

At the last writers conference that my friend, Kim (from 26 Letters--A Million Stories), and I attended, we were encouraged to purchase The Christian Writer’s Market Guide, a huge book that is published every year with listings of publishers, niche-markets, groups, conferences, and workshops.  I have cracked open the book once or twice and will hopefully be studying it more seriously this fall, but apparently Kim has been looking at it a bit more carefully.  Here is the comment I found on my Facebook wall today… "Okay - one more publication I'm sure you'll want to look into. The Midnight Diner is looking for horror, crime and UFO/Alien fiction - from a Christian perspective of course. They accept any Bible translation."

So, Kim, I thought I might give the whole Christian horror writing thing a whirl.  This is for you:

It was a dark and stormy Sunday night and James, being distracted and despondent about his failed relationship with Alicia (an up-and-coming gospel singer), had decided not to attend evening services at his church, but instead stay home and watch the movie Courageous. He wasn’t feeling very courageous though, and in fact, he couldn’t shake the incessant feeling that someone had been watching him all night—kind of like how God watches you all the time.  So, after pausing the movie, re-checking the locks on his doors, and reading the 23rd Psalm, he wrapped himself up in his Precious Moments fleece blanket, and continued his movie.   But just as he began again, he noticed a reflection in the glass of the last supper picture which was positioned just above the set.  The reflected “thing” then jumped and disappeared as James turned his head to see it.  Paralyzed by fear and seemingly unable to move, James quoted Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” and jumped to his feet because he knew that his struggle was not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Then he saw it.  It had lots of eyes and lots of wings and lots of wheels that intersected each other, kind of like those creatures you read about in Old Testament prophecies.  He figured that either this was the Rapture or that he was dealing with a foe from another planet.  Deciding that the latter was probably the case, since he was still here, he willed his legs to run (because God gave us free will you know).  He ran to the window, removed the Fruits of the Spirit vinyl cling which his mother had sent to him on Easter, and peered into the darkness.  He saw a glow in the distance and he put his hand to his eyes as the brightness increased and blinded him temporarily.  When his eyes finally adjusted, they fell upon a hovering vehicle in his backyard—the creature must have come from that.  It was a spherical shape floating above the ground, and on it was written “WWJD”. 

James dared not go outside to witness this “spaceship” more closely because as he looked at his own wrist, and his own WWJD bracelet, he didn’t think that Jesus would fall for a trap like this, so neither would James.  But he wasn’t a coward either, and inspired by the movie, and his childhood memories of playing with the ever-bold Bible Man action figure, he decided to be courageous and face his fears.   Sitting down at the computer, he closed Biblegateway.com, opened a new browser, and typed in the letters WWJD.  Scrolling down the page, he saw the predictable “What would Jesus Do?” sights and books and games, but what caught his eye as he got to the last entry filled him with terror; there on the screen was a picture of the hovering craft he had seen with his own eyes and an explanation of the acronym he had seen:  WE WANT JAMES DEAD.

Even after recalling Paul’s words in Philippians, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”, James was still terrified and he called out for deliverance.  Just then, his doorbell rang.  James, thinking maybe it was his guardian angel, and forgetting that he had ordered a pizza, opened it quickly.  There stood a grungy college student, listening to Skillet, “Hey mister, there were some weird guys with lots of eyes on your patio when I pulled up, but they flew off when I drove up.  I found this in your driveway.”  YOUR NAME MEANS SUPPLANTER—OFFENDER, WRONGDOER, USURPER---WE WILL DESTROY YOU.

Then James fainted. (This was, of course, after he paid the pizza guy and tipped him well, because not having the gift of service himself, he appreciated those who did service jobs).  And when he came to, he realized that it had all been a dream, that he had fallen asleep after wrapping himself in a blanket, and that he was really on his couch in his living room, all by himself—without Alicia (which means “of the noble sort”) and without any aliens.  The movie had ended, but K-LOVE was still playing in the background, and The Message will still laying on the end table, right on top of Guideposts,—opened to Ezekiel 10.

Then James got up, took off his bracelet (he had decided not to wear it anymore), and fell into a fitful sleep in his bed, pizza uneaten, the Testa-mints he had picked up at Family Christian, unsavored.

And he decided never again to skip evening services on Sunday night and to always close his blinds while watching television.

The End

Monday, September 3, 2012

Happy Labor Day!

Enjoy your day of rest from your labors today…but tomorrow, remember Who you are working for…

 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Colossians 3:23-24

Friday, August 31, 2012

This little piggy surrenders

I slammed my foot into my cart wheel when I was grocery shopping last night, and I wanted to cry out in pain, but I chose to control myself—being in a public place and all.  And because I was wearing flip flops, I could see I was actually injured as the blood started pooling around my little toe.  This all happened in the spice isle as I was looking for Cayenne pepper and when I was right across from an older man who was studiously studying the whole wheat flour. The man, however, had no awareness of my accident because I was so quiet and grown up about it.  And this whole incident made me think about self-sacrifice; strange but true. 

I’ve actually been mulling over self-sacrifice and what submission to God’s will looks like for several days now.  Here are some of the conclusions I have come to:  Self sacrifice is the job description of the Christ-follower…We see self-sacrifice over and over again in the life of Jesus—in his forty days in the desert—in his not giving into Satan’s temptations during this time—in his washing the feet of his disciples—in his willingness to remain silent when falsely accused, and finally in his dying for a sinful people on the cross…Self sacrifice means that I must die to my will and to my agenda, and I must choose to do God’s will and join him in the work he has prepared for me to do…This dying to self is so hard, that it is truly impossible without Christ’s spirit in me, enabling me to do what is good…True joy lies in this self sacrifice (even though that seems contrary to logic) and self sacrifice lies in obedience…Obedience to God means doing what is godly and not just what is natural—which brings us back to my story above.

I think God allowed me to have the foot-stubbing experience in Fareway to teach me about myself.  It was almost as if He said, “Look, Tori, you can control your natural inclinations just fine when you are worried about what others will think. Do you not care what I think?”  This is true.  I care what others think—apparently more that I care what God thinks.  What is also true is that I have the ability to control my “natural-ness” if I so choose.  Why do I not choose to control my moods or my schedule or my words when they seem so overpowering?  Why do I just let rule over me with an iron fist?  I have a choice.  And God has given me his Spirit within me to give me power.  Some things are easier for me to set boundaries in and not to cross them—I have become fairly disciplined in eating and exercising because I have practiced making the right choices over and over and over.  But, it seems to me, that the things that are harder for me, the things I truly need Christ’s assistance to attain, like speaking gently to my husband and like putting Christ first and foremost in my daily schedule, those are the things I let slide. I let them slide because I haven’t told my will “No!”  I know the wrong things that I am doing and I keep on doing them because there seems to be satisfaction in that moment…and sometimes the satisfaction is not even there, but my will is so strong that is seems to take me prisoner.  I can relate to Paul when he says in Romans 7,So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. I think this last verse confirms what I have been learning.  It’s up to me to use the renewed mind that God has given to make the choices that truly reflect him—not me.   I must choose with my mind to become more like Christ and less like Tori—no matter how strong my natural tendencies are and no matter what “personality type” I may be; it is in these areas that my sin nature lies—and LIES.  I can make this choice only through the grace given me through Christ’s shed blood on the cross.  I cannot just pull myself up by my own bootstraps and expect to finish the race well.  God has delivered me through Christ Jesus so I don’t have to do what I want, but I am enabled to do what I must. 

To be the Tori that God truly wants me to be, I need to stop indulging my natural tendencies, start re-focusing on Christ and his character—keeping my eyes on Him—not on me.  It is then that Christ will be able to form in me the person I really want to become.  Bloody toe and all. 

I must strive to “live my life hidden in God”. (Colossians 3:3). Only by His Grace.

The joy of Jesus was His absolute self-surrender and self-sacrifice to His Father— the joy of doing that which the Father sent Him to do— “. . . who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

I delight to do Your will, O my God . . .

Psalm 40:8

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On a Mission #3 (by Luke)

Living Incarnationally

I was reading in Oswald Chamber’s Utmost for His Highest while I was in China. On July 6th, under the title “Visions Becoming Reality”, Chambers talks about how “God gives us vision, and then takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision.” Then on July 7th, under the title “All Efforts of Worth and Excellence Are Difficult” Chambers says: “Thank God that He does give us difficult things to do! His salvation is a joyous thing, but it is also something that requires bravery, courage, and holiness.”

I was on a sleeper train from Zhengzhou to Beijing while I read the July 7th devotional. It was late, but I put down the book and cried out to God. The summer had been good so far, but I longed for greater things. I wanted more vision and I wanted difficult things to do.

A few days later, I arrived at a camp to be on staff. I loved it. The entire camp was run out of an apartment complex. Everyone lived there together. Despite being an introvert, I loved the community; sleeping a room away from my other staff members and eating meals with them and even brushing our teeth together. When we were in Wuhan, it felt like our ministry stopped when we went to our hotel, but here it started the moment I woke up. I have heard people talk about “incarnational living”, living so that others see Jesus in you, and this was it. Most of the Chinese staff and translators were not believers and they got to watch us every day, to see how we lived, and especially how we loved the orphans that came to camp. There is great power in Christian community.

We had four weeks of camp. The second week started out great. On Thursday, we even got to baptize two of our Chinese staff and one translator in the pool. I was really filled with joy, but so quickly that joy was zapped out of me. About half of our staff was sick and one volunteer was so sick, she had to be sent to the hospital and eventually back to America. The kids were really naughty this week and found ways to annoy us, especially when they realized that they had to go back to the orphanage. Two of the kids even got in a fist fight. They didn’t really mean to, but at supper they were spilling their food and water. I was pretty frustrated at this point, but I could handle it and I was still strong. Then I spilled my own water bottle all over the floor, and for some reason, I couldn’t handle it all anymore. I was my own worst annoyance. I felt defeated.

Then, I heard that one the girls of staff, Lily, her brother had just died, being hit by a drunk driver.

I know that what I felt was in no way equal to what Lily felt, and I wasn’t even sick. But because we were all in that community together, when other people were sad, I felt it and it weighed on me. That night in my journal I wrote “I didn’t expect the valley to be like this. I expected it to be in a certain way, exciting, a challenge to overcome, difficult, but rewarding. Like lifting weights hard. The valley is not like that at all. Instead it is sorrow and I know the way out, but it seems out of reach. Working harder doesn’t help. When I do get out, stumble out, there is no satisfaction or accomplishment. I don’t feel the growth. The only way I can endure is faith in a good God.” I didn’t expect sorrow to be like this, but this was an answer to my prayer and God was refining me.

I didn’t magically ever feel better, but God worked through it all. He worked in me to trust Him. And everyone around us got to see how Christians grieve with hope. And throughout the rest of camp five more people gave their lives to Christ. Praise to our Father!

My favorite part of camp though, was getting to baptize Evan. I didn’t do much, but I was there when Evan decided to give his life to Christ. God had been working in his life and he was so intrigued by the love of God flowing through those of us who believe. After he gave his life to Christ, he wanted to get baptized, but we couldn’t go to the pool, so Evan’s volunteer, Seth got to baptize Evan in the bathtub as I said “Sheng fu, sheng zi, shenglin” (Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit in Chinese). There was something about that moment that was so right. I don’t know how to adequately describe it, other than that it was the power of God moving in China, and I got to be a part of it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

On a Mission #2 (by Luke)

At Peter's House

There is a guy I met in my dorm, his English name is Peter. I didn't know him that well, but I had breakfast with him once in our dining hall. I found out that his hometown was right outside of Wuhan and so I got his Chinese phone number. Our team had been in Wuhan for about two and a half weeks before I thought to text Peter. I asked him if he wanted to come and hang out with our team in Wuhan. He instead asked us if our team wanted to come to his house that weekend for lunch.

It ended up that only Riley and I could go. So that Saturday at 11:00 am, Peter's uncle came and picked us up from our hotel. We were in the car with Peter, his uncle and two cousins. The car ride was awkward, partially because Peter was the only one who spoke English in the car. I thought that our stay at Peter's house might be in a manner similar to our car ride, but I was thoroughly deceived. When we arrived in the driveway of Peter's house, a box of firecrackers was set off in our honor. We got out the car and shook hand like foreign dignitaries. Quickly we realized that Peter, Riley and I were the only one that spoke English in this extended family of twenty or more. We went inside and were directed to two chairs that would be more accurately described as thrones. We were given fresh tea along will peanuts in the shell, crackers, watermelon seeds and a strange fruit I didn't know the name of. Then a strange thing happened, it suddenly became very quiet, and I realized the firecrackers had stopped.

We were told it was time for lunch and were ushered through a courtyard and into a special dining room and given the seats of honor. The food was all fresh, out of the family's own fields and pond: Lobster, salt-dried fish, pig intestine, green beans, cabbage, spiced rice along with dog (gasp!).Riley and I both ate a lot of food, because we were hungry. Everyone was so hospitable: they were constantly asking if I was hungry, thirsty or if I needed a napkin. It was humbling to be constantly served.

After lunch, we went back into the living room and had more tea and watermelon. Peter's father tried to explain to us the tradition of the Chinese tea culture, where people sit around and discuss the qualities of the tea they are drinking as well as chat about their lives. This whole time Peter was translating for us, until Peter's dad realized that if he spoke slowly and with a simple vocabulary, that I could understand. We held a strained conversation for about five minutes.

We started off with some black tea, then green tea (my favorite) and finally bamboo shoot tea. There was a small fixture on the table with plumbing, so there was hot water on demand to make the tea. There was even a drain, to let excess water drain away. Every few minutes, Peter's dad would pour hot water over the whole fixture and the water would drain away.

Peter asked us if we wanted to take a nap (Chinese custom) or go climb a mountain. We choose the latter. We started out, Peter, two of his cousins and Riley and I. We walked over a bridge, a canal and then wove our way through small fields, gardens really. It is just like you see in the pictures of rural China: small shacks and a farmer with the conical bamboo hat out hoeing the flooded rice paddy. We found a paved path and followed it up the face of the mountain. We climbed about 1.5 kilometers until we reached the summit. Climbing that mountain really reminded me of backpacking with my family. We arrived at the top of the mountain and found a Buddhist temple. We heard a drum beating and some chanting. The temple was inside a cave. The cave was physically dark, but it also felt very spiritually dark. Riley and I felt uneasy about going into the cave, so we prayed for the Holy Spirit to be with us and we felt confident to go in. There was a female monk sitting inside and many idols. We came out of the cave and with all that in that background, we got to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with Peter and his cousins. We knew that we had the power to combat the darkness that we felt around us with the truth.

As we walked the path down the mountain, the sun came out and beat down on us. We sweat no small quantity. At this point we asked Peter what time he thought we could go back to our hotel (envisioning a cold shower and a fresh set of clothes). Peter informed us that it is customary for guests to stay for two or three days at least, but we needed to talk to his father.

We talked with Peter’s father and asked if we could go back to our hotel, he told us we would offend the ancient tradition if we did not at least spend the night. Not knowing much about this “ancient tradition”, but not wanting to offend it, we decided we could spend the night. They showed us a shower and Riley and I washed up a bit, but we had to put our old, sweaty clothes back on. We hung out in the courtyard of the house and ate some more watermelon, while Peter’s father explained to us the meaning of all the hand-painted murals painted on the ceiling and awning of the walkway between the house and dining room. Then, Peter asked us if we would like to play Majong. We of course agreed and sat down at the special table. We didn’t realize right away how special this table was. It was automated, and our tiles rose through the base of the table at the press of a button.

After this, we made to dumplings, ate some dumplings (a before dinner snack). Then, out of the blue, Peter told me he had a relative that believed in Jesus. Even though it seemed like Peter hadn’t been receptive earlier, God was working on his heart and he was thinking about what we had said.

We went around to the front of the house, and this was a magnificent house. It was three stories tall, over one hundred feet wide and had three doors, one for Peter’s dad and one for each of his two uncles. The house was new, with a definite artistic style. It was dark, and lanterns were spinning sending dancing light all over the driveway. Peter’s dad repeatedly mentioned the size of the house, the unique and traditional style and the fact he had designed it all himself.

We were then called in for dinner, it was much like lunch: more great food, family and toasting all around. It did not cease to intrigue me. I realized that at the meals, it was only the males sitting around the table. I don’t know where Peter’s aunts and girl cousins ate, but not with us.

We finished supper and went to KTV in town. If you don’t know what KTV is, it is a phenomenon that is not easily described unless it had been experienced, but I guess it is somewhat like karaoke in America. The most noteworthy part was when Peter’s dad and his uncles sung us a “welcome to China” song. Then the owner of the KTV came in and sung us a song.

You know what we needed after KTV? More food. We went to get some “barbeque”. It ended up being crab, lobster, snails and fish. The manager of the coal mine (the largest employer in town) stopped by to say hi and eat some food with us.

At this point (about 2 am), we were a little tired. We drove back and were shown a bed. By the way, Chinese mattresses are approximately an inch thick. In spite of this, I fell asleep quickly and woke up six hours later and ate some breakfast (the fifth meal they managed to feed us in less than twenty four hours). We offered the only gift we could scrounge up—a Chinese Bible—considering the hospitality we had received.

The whole experience stands out among anything else we did in China. I felt like we experience more of Chinese culture in that day than in entire college courses. Our coming, in itself was like a holiday. We were told that we were the first Americans ever to enter their village, maybe we were the first with the gospel.