Sunday, December 25, 2011

Because of His Grace, it IS a Wonderful Life!

This morning Brighton seemed to be coming down the stairs awfully early.  
Jeff asked, “Have you brushed your teeth?”
Paused on the stairs, “Almost.”
“And how do you “almost” brush your teeth?”
“Well, I did it half way.”
This same morning as I was headed up to awaken them to start the day, I stepped over a piece of notebook paper and saw that it was something intended for me.  
“Dear Darling Mother,
If it pleases you, will you wake me up at 6:30 sharp?  I wish to start my chores, practice pano (I forgot where the “I” goes) and do my BSF lesson.  I will be so grateful and pleased.  I am sorry for __________.  I had vowed not to speak to you, but that was not right. I love you.
Your grateful daughter, 
Julia Sanders”

There’s your peek.  And so goes the day~ always interesting, always dramatic and ever changing.  Julia and Brighton are 4th and 2nd graders this year and continue to enjoy their same activities.  Julia is not intimidated by my sewing machine that, for me,  sends chills down my spine.  Her ballet moves have turned into words I cannot say, much less spell and maybe next to watching her dance, I love to watch her play the piano {I know where the “i” goes}.  She plays critical roles in keeping our home running smoothly but her favorite roles are the ones she plays in her mind in centuries long gone.  She’s torn between iTouches and out of print books, North Face jackets and crocheted shawls.  She’s delightful to talk with, that is,  if you can find her without a book.  Then it gets a little difficult.  Day after day, I am blessed by her.

Brighton, in the best sort of way, doesn’t care what she’s doing.  He’ll talk to her at 3am- and to you at 3am , if he found you.  I’m never worried about him while he is playing out in the neighborhood, because I can always hear him above all the others.  I know he has not gone far.  And if for some reason I miss an injury, a scrape, a spin, a roll, a jump, a dance ~ no worries, he thrives on instant replays.  Sometimes that means I just get to see it twice.  He is enthusiastic about baseball, not so enthusiastic about reading {if there aren’t rewards after the last page}, enthusiastic about picking out his own tunes on the piano, not so enthusiastic about reading music, enthusiastic about all things Dad, not so enthusiastic about chores.  He singlehandedly makes it safe for you to walk in our backyard.  And the icing on this cute little cake?  He may be the most relational person I know and he flourishes in a room full of people or with just you.

By God’s grace, Tarrant Net is still going well.  Jeff and his staff recently met with a group of pastors that will serve as a new pastoral leadership team in 2012.  October brought the second county wide Faith in Action where 56 churches and thousands of believers of all denominations invaded our county with good deeds and major service projects.

The animals stood around his bed. And the whole earth and all the stars and sky held its breath....”The One who made us has come to live with us!”  And a young mother with no place to rest, nowhere to stay, kept it as a song inside her heart..... 
And they gazed in wonder at God’s great gift.  Lying on a bed of straw wrapped in rags-- a tiny little baby.  Heaven’s Son sleeping under the stars He made.
Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd Jones

Rescue us!  Emmanuel!  God with us!  Praise be to God!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Five Days Out

"We must both read and meditate on the Nativity.  If the meditation does not reach the heart, we shall sense no sweetness, nor shall we know what solace for humankind lies in this contemplation.  The heart will not laugh nor be merry.  As spray does not touch the deep, so mere meditation will not quiet the heart.  There is such richness and goodness in this nativity that if we should see and deeply understand, we should be dissolved in perpetual joy."
~Martin Luther

The scene in Luke 2 does lead to perpetual joy.  Come April 8th, 2012, we will have been through the agony of Good Friday and will be celebrating His resurrection.  This year, I cannot forget that.  It’s why He came.

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Romans 5: 17-19

And this is why He came.  The Scripture that replayed in my mind last year and was Luke 2:6 and if you could do this sort of thing in Scripture, a magnificent drumroll would be inserted, most certainly, right here, 

“While they were there, the TIME came for the baby to be born.”  

The TIME came this unfathomable plan, "justification and life” to be set in motion and for the “gift of righteousness” to be given.  

We are five days out.  Let’s meditate deeply and be “dissolved in perpetual joy.”

Glory to God in the highest.  
961.  Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God

962.  Christmas cards

963.  getting to be a part of this creative, talented group of kids

964.  Amy, who set up these great opportunities

965.  my brother and nephew asleep under my roof

966.  RJ and how he loves my children, his cousins

967.  my niece, Hunter, finding a ride to Texas

968.  her untainted Southern accent {and the snippets of my brother I see in her}

969.  Julia and Brighton’s excitement and love for their extended family

970.  that Sarah let us come “craft” with her and her handsome boys {take a peek here to meet one of the neatest families I know}

Learn to make these here on Sarah’s site.

971.  friends who loved on Hunter

972.  old friends, old stories, homemade Mexican and lots of laughs

973.  these four in MY front yard!

974.  Christmas lights

975.  friends visiting from FAR and near


{Austin- Yvette, it was fair to post this picture.  NONE of us have on make up!!}

976.  White Christmas and all its songs

977.  Mrs. Cox, Lover of Children and Sewer Extraordinaire

978.  Julia and Brighton’s words when we left Mrs. Cox’s house, “She’s an angel.” {J}, “We could call her ‘Angel Betty’!” {B}, “What would we do without her?” {B}, “I would have such a hole in my life.” {J}, “She’s a godly woman!” {B} ~ all this and our time with her warmed my heart...

979.  that Jesus came

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Poem and a Stranger

His intent was to share Jesus with me and he did.  I don’t know how old he was....older than my Daddy.  As I answered emails on the banquette at Panera, he stopped to make a comment on my shirt.  A simple tactic to get to his real point, “Why are you celebrating Christmas?”  He was a tall man, with, as one of my favorite customers says, “snow on the mountain” which grew down into a darker beard and mustache which framed a very warm smile.  His “mountain” was topped off with a 101st Airborne Division cap.  Feeling a little put on the spot, I smiled and gave him the best Sunday School answer I could, in order to convince him there was no need to pull out a gospel tract because I am sure he would have.  He was satisfied with my answer but there was something else.

When he walked over, I immediately pulled ear plugs from my ears.  I was listening to Elyse Fitzpatrick’s podcast on her book Because He Loves Me, trying to saturate myself in this message of God’s immeasurable love for and acceptance of me in my sinful state.  I had struggled this morning even before I could get kids in the car by 9:30.  As a friend shared this weekend, I can ask God for grace to cover my sin knowing His grace will not run out and that I am not too much for Him but my kids??  They are sinful like me.  Will their grace for their Momma run out?  {Thank you, friend, for putting words to my struggle and helping me figure out from where the deep sadness stems.}  As I was quickly gathering my things to leave the house, I had condemning thoughts questioning the way I was wired, why some things were so important to me, why I respond so harshly so quickly, why I can’t remember ~ after a year ~ to STOP and give thanks instead of hot words that bear NO fruit.  Why do I make it such a struggle?  Why do I seem to wrestle against what He wants to do in my life?  This purging is not pretty.

Out of the blue, the big man in the black hat had Ephesians 2:8-10 for me.  The gospel, Pure and True.  He didn’t know I needed to be reminded of that today, but Someone did. “For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the GIFT of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.”  vs 8-9  A grace gift.  Of course.  He made sure I did not miss verse 10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  He told me that “handiwork” could be translated as “poem” {I did check him out on that and his Greek is good.}  and that I am God’s poem.  Crafted.  Thought through.  Loved. Cherished.  As the lines of my life were being written, He included good works for me to accomplish.  My work is parenting {and “wife-ing”} right now so I am sitting up straight listening to this stranger.  He leaned over my computer to emphasize his verse 10 point, “The word says you are “in Christ Jesus”, “created anew in Christ Jesus”.  You aren’t to struggle and strive in your good works.  You are to walk in it.  Just walk in it.”  All I could think of to say was, “Yes, sir.”  He smiled and said goodbye.

I quickly typed what he had said so I wouldn’t forget.  I knew God was speaking through him and I didn’t want to miss it.  My thoughts led me here.  I think of a good poem, a beautifully written poem.  The words flow.  There is a cadence, a rhythm.  Once written, there is no striving, no struggling over the words.  A crafted poem flows.  Beautifully.   Easily.

This sputtering, this “cranking out”, this striving was never His intention.  I’ve missed the point.  I lost it somewhere.  He’s already written my poem.  He did it in advance.  I want flow and rhythm and beauty in my life.  A poem.  I am created for that-- by grace, through faith.  I believe it’s there.  He’s helping me find it.

940.  girls {still} playing immigrants {thus the creative December garb}

941.  “rockin’ around the Christmas tree” with Brenda Lee and Julia’s friends

 942.  getting to have this group around my table~ so thankful for the way you bless my husband and serve our God by serving our city

 943.  Sugar Plum fairies upstairs

944.  Saturday for home

945.  20 years of candy making {and now we have helpers}

946.  friends that comfortably interrupt {read: bless us tremendously or just want us for our TV } our Sabbath

947.  opportunities bigger than I can imagine

948.  Kingdom minded pastors and churches

949.  my friend, who is as enthusiastic about Mexican food as I am

950.  65th birthdays for over the top special people

951.  extravagant homemade hospitality communicating love and admiration {Lana and Kristi, you blessed me while blessing her.}

952.  lunch with time tested friends, now grandmothers

953.   her excitement for times like this with no schoolwork hanging over her head

954.  toe socks

955.  these drawings that line my counters every bless me and remind me

956.   vulnerability

957.  forgiveness and new mercies {can’t make my list too many times, yes?}

958.  Advent book from Emily

959.  anticipating FAMILY during the Christmas season {!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!}

960.  angels that wear hats from the 101st Airborne

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Field Trip

I mentioned a few weeks ago a book I wish I had read years ago.  I’ve heard a couple of people use the expression that a book “really messed me up”~ and I am figuring out they mean “messed [them] up” in the best sort of way.  Typically, they go on to explain in coherent detail the amazing truths they gained and how they took hold of them, applying them to their lives and how their lives, now, are completely different.  Well, I started a book and a couple of months later, I’m still in the “really messed up” stage, which for me means, I am really churned up on the inside~ like deep down where it matters.  The Lord’s been gently plowing for a while and I think, preparing me for just these lessons.  The problem is, I haven’t been able to get a good grip on any of it.  Borrowing thoughts from Christa Wells, I don’t see these clouds framing up nicely and neatly any time soon.  We have~and I do mean “we”~ got a forty year pattern to redirect.... or maybe, shatter.  To smithereens.  The words I read continue to drift about and morph in my mind and I can’t see exactly how they are going to frame up in my particular life.  Frame up, they will, because it’s all Truth.  I just can’t envision it yet. Sometimes the longest journey seems to be from your head to your heart. I told a friend today, I am ready for this field trip to be over.  You know, get to the simple little talk at the end.  Selfishly.  Seriously.

Okay-- the book.  Well, two books really. First book: Two friends from two different circles told me about the parenting book, Give them Grace:  Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus  by Elyse Fitzpatrick and one of them also recommended, by the same author, Because He Loves Me.  {Thank you, Tara and Whitney.}  The way I see it is that Because He Loves Me lays the framework on which Give them Grace can be built.  Personally, I don’t think I can implement the teachings of the latter without fully understanding the former.  And guess what?  It’s messed me up so much that I can’t even type two coherent thoughts about it.  I just know I want to understand these things in my soul, live them out in every area of my life and pass them on to my kids.

I’ll just give you some snippets to maybe whet your appetite or cause you to wonder if I am really a Christian or make you want to run as far away as possible from these books.  I pray the first.  It’s good stuff.

From Because He Loves Me:

Most of us view God’s love and the gospel as elementary topics meant to get us in the front door of faith, and they are that.  But we’ve forgotten how these truths are also to transform us every moment of every day. {pg.38}

Peter writes [in 2 Peter 1:9] that one reason we don’t grow in ordinary, grateful obedience as we should is that we’ve got amnesia; we’ve forgotten that we were cleansed from our sins.  In other words, he is saying that ongoing failure in sanctification {the slow process of change into Christlikeness} is the direct result of failing to remember God’s love for us in the gospel.  If we lack the comfort and assurance that his love and cleansing are meant to supply, our failures will handcuff us to yesterday’s sin and we won’t have faith or courage to fight against them, or the love for God that’s meant to empower this war. {pg.39, italics mine}

The gospel message- you have been cleansed from sin-- is the pinnacle of God’s loving work in the world, and just as it is this work that saves us, it is also this work that transforms us and sustains us.  The gospel is the message that must remain paramount throughout all our life.  It must not be relegated to yesterday’s news or tucked away with the faded photos of our first steps in Christ.  {pg.41}

Our problem is that if we don’t continually remind ourselves that he has chosen, renamed and remade us, the struggle to grow in Christian character will become nothing more than another attempt at self-improvement, and self-improvement always results in self-loathing or pride.   Our Savior has declared that we are completely dependent upon him and what he accomplished for us, but in overconfidence we hastily run past his accomplishments and seek rest in our own.  {pg.50}

From Give them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus 

Grace, or the free favor that has been lavished on us through Christ, ought to make our parenting radically different from what unbelievers do.  That’s because the good news of God’s grace is meant to permeate and transform every relationship we have, including our relationship with our children.  All the typical ways we construct to get things done and get others to do our bidding are simply obliterated by a gospel message that tells us that we are all {parents and children} both radically sinful and radically loved.  At the deepest level of what we do as parents, we should hear the heartbeat of a loving, grace-giving Father who freely adopts rebels and transforms them into loving sons and daughters.  If this is not the message that your children hear from you, if the message that you send them on a daily basis is about being good so that you won’t be disappointed, then the gospel needs to transform your parenting, too.  {and that from the introduction! pg.21}

How can we tell whether our efforts at parenting are motivated by reliance on God’s grace or on self-trust?  How can we know whether we’re trying to obligate God or serve him in gratitude?  One way to judge is to consider your reaction when your children fail.  If you are angry, frustrated or despairing because you work so hard and they aren’t responding, then you’re working {at least in part} for the wrong reasons.  Conversely, if you’re proud when your children obey and you get the desired kudos---Oh! your kids are so good!-- you should expect your motives.  Both pride and despair grow in the self-reliant heart.  {pg.54}

See what I mean?  This is spiritual DNA stuff.  It’s the Spirit’s inner workings of who we are and how that is manifested every day~ outside my home and inside my home.  One day, maybe, I can write a sensible post on these truths and the way I understand them and the way they’ve changed me.  But I’ve got a feeling the field trip is far from over and I’m okay with that because I know He’s there.
920.  Christmas shopping with Jeff, hands down the best husband shopper in the west {can think of only one other that might compete-- CW!!}

921.  childhood memories in these aqua boxes~ these dolls stop me in my tracks and I must look at every one.  Big sigh and bigger smile.

922.  still getting to shop toy stores

923.  free samples from Julia to welcome us home

924.  Remey and Kollin~ thanks, you two!

925.  evidence of a good little reading stop

926.  these notes under the, yes, BATHroom door  {I have to give thanks to keep me from torching them.}

927.  Julia cheering LOUDLY for her team {LSU}

928.  this changing face~ how I love it so

929.  Julia’s sadness seeking out her Daddy and later, quoting Mrs. Summey to help her heart

930.  traditions... and Mortimer’s Christmas Manger

931.  B’s passion for school project

932.  watching squirrels play in the treetops from Julia’s window

933.  borrowed bowls and borrowed recipes {thanks, TJ~ and Jamie}

934.  forgiveness, all around, for everyone

935.  man at Panera that let me know my PRICE tag was hanging out of my sweater

936.  the anticipation of this season.... the Advent... the wonder of it all and getting to share it in new ways with our kids as they mature each year

937.  prayers and coffee from Em {grateful to have you in our home, girl}

938.  car talks that do my heart good

939.  being challenged as never before by the “mystery of the gospel”

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Cots and Friends and Things

I had the real treat of sharing one of my mentors with friends the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  We set up chairs in the den, put yummy food on the table, put the coffee on and just enjoyed each other.  Add to that, Mrs. Summey’s warm personality, her stories, her confidence, transparency and Biblical wisdom, the night exceeded my expectations.

I have written many words about Mrs. Summey so I won’t repeat all the things that endear her to me, but every time I get to be with her, I am reminded how blessed I am to know her. As of late, I’ve been wishing I had paid more attention to her ways of parenting when her kids were younger.  I have much to learn from her.

The topic she felt led to talk about was the value of friendship~ the difference a friend can make.  The text was from Mark 2 and the story about the friends taking their paralytic friend to Jesus.  They did not give up when they could not walk through the door to get him to Jesus.  A plan was hatched and they climbed onto the roof and DUG a HOLE and lowered their companion down.  Not an easy task.  Interestingly enough, verse 15 says, “When [Jesus] saw THEIR faith......”. God commended each of their faiths, not just the paralytic’s.

In true Mrs. Summey form, she inspired, encouraged and challenged us fully.  I will try to sum it up here.
Our life can change in a day, in a matter of seconds~ completely.  At that point, a foundation of faith is critical.  We may be rattled but when it all shakes out, our feet will land securely on the foundation He’s been building all these years.  We need to remember that a foundation cannot be built in a day.  Foundations are built minute upon minute, verse upon verse, trial upon trial, prayer upon prayer, victory upon victory.  The investment will save your life. We can lean on a friend’s foundation for a time but we can’t take that one home at night.

The friends~ their faith~ dug the hole in the roof.  They got messy.  They hauled him onto the roof.  They let him down.  They went out on a limb for their friend-- in a big, big way.  Would we?  They believed there was something special about this man, Jesus.  Something significant.  Something amazing.  Something “other”.  Something for which they had been waiting.  Do we believe that?  Their faith in this Jesus they had only heard about is remarkable.  They absolutely expected their friend to be changed.  Do we?  Do I believe that my faith might change someone else? What a difference a day made for him.  What a difference an encounter with Jesus can mean for us, for a friend.

The best questions she asked us, I thought, were, whose on your mat?  Who are you dragging to Jesus?  Who are you willing to go out on a limb for-- dig a hole in the roof?  Am I a friend like this?   Am I regularly involved in introducing people to Jesus for salvation-- for them to experience the redemption of the gospel?  For our friends who know Jesus but truly need us to walk through a dark season and need for us to be the one on which to lean and to consistently place them before the Father, am I willing to get so involved that it might interrupt my schedule and might call for a difficult, messy, energy draining plan B?

My answer?  No.  I really, really want to be that kind of friend.  Really.  I may be that kind of friend for a few, for those of whom I am especially fond, for those whose lives are relatively easy, for the ones I know who would do it for me.......  I hang on for dear life to Romans 8:1 about right now.  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”   Because of this same Jesus, I am under the law of the SPIRIT who has set me free from that condemnation that comes so readily......  and steadily. Challenged, yes. Condemned, no.

When the paralytic got up and walked, verse 12 says, “This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  I have.  I have seen God transforming lives ~ our own, those dearest to us and even strangers.  You have to.

But I bet we have friends who haven’t.

What a difference a friend makes.  What a difference a Savior makes.
902.  a break from teaching

903.  not setting a morning alarm for a week

904.  picture books and popcorn

905.  neighbors, s’mores and caramel apples

906.  the way the Thanksgiving meal permeates the whole house

907.  people to eat it with!!

908.  homemade place cards

909.  half cord of firewood

910.  Sterilite totes emerging from the attic

911.  Julia’s invaluable decorating help and her free flowing hot cocoa

912.  strings of lights that work

913.  Jeff, always thinking with our family’s compass in mind

914.  new Christmas music {thank you, Christa Wells!}

915.  ornaments older than me

916.  these months of house church

917.  trees that stand upright~ yes, it was as awful as it looks

918.  Brighton dancing

919. my Mom’s group who blesses me all year long

920.  toddler in my house

921.  friends who have faithfully placed my cot before Jesus this year