R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

When someone becomes a Christian, one of the many gifts they receive is that of Priest in the Kingdom of God. For me, as a woman, that sounds and feels a little weird, I’ll admit. But, nonetheless, it is true…

and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 1:6 HCSB*

With that great assignment comes great responsibility. We are given full access to the Father through Jesus, the Son of God. That means we do not have to go through any man (or woman) in order to pray. When Jesus died on the cross God tore the curtain blocking the average man or woman from entering the Holy of Holies in two…from top to bottom like you or I would tear a piece of irrelevant mail…because in that moment the curtain was wonderfully and beautifully irrelevant. Jesus blazed the path and paid the price that would forever make worship and prayer a personal and intimate act between human and God, child and Father.

So what are we doing with this incredible privilege that was bought for us at an incomprehensible price? Are we being faithful to our calling as priests to God?

In Malachi chapter 1, God comes down on the priests for compromising the excellence He expected of them and attempting to satisfy Him with less than their best:

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. But if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is your fear of Me? says Yahweh of Hosts to you priests, who despise My name.”

Yet you ask: “How have we despised Your name?”

“By presenting defiled food on My altar.”

You ask: “How have we defiled You?”

When you say: “The Lord’s table is contemptible.”

“When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “And now ask for God’s favor. Will He be gracious to us? Since this has come from your hands, will He show any of you favor?” asks the Lord of Hosts. “I wish one of you would shut the temple doors, so you would no longer kindle a useless fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

“For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.

But you are profaning it when you say: “The Lord’s table is defiled, and its product, its food, is contemptible.” You also say: “Look, what a nuisance!” “And you scorn it,” says the Lord of Hosts. “You bring stolen, lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” asks the Lord.

“The deceiver is cursed who has an acceptable male in his flock and makes a vow but sacrifices a defective animal to the Lord. For I am a great King,” says Yahweh of Hosts, “and My name will be feared among the nations.

Malachi 1:6-14 HCSB

Now, before I dive into this passage I want to remind you that we live under a state of grace. The requirements of the Law were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, therefore we no longer have to follow the Old Testament system of sacrifices, etc. BUT…the principles contained in these passages still stand today. No, we cannot earn the favor of God. Nothing we do makes Him love us more and nothing we fail to do makes Him love us less. It is out of love and a desire to serve our Father that we seek to learn from the Biblical history contained in the Old Testament and incorporate what we learn into our spiritual practices and disciplines of today.

That being said, how does this passage written nearly 2500 years ago have to do with us?

The first verse says, “A son honors his father and a servant, his master.” As a daughter of the King, this applies to me and to you. If I proclaim God to be my Father, then it would make sense that I honor Him as such in my daily life. If I am a servant, it would be expected that I would act respectfully toward my master (or employer).

So, what was the problem with the priests? Why did God accuse them of “despising” His name and saying that His table was “contemptible?” Doesn’t that seem awfully harsh towards someone who spends their life in service to Him day in and day out? Weren’t they better, more holy even, than the general population who had to depend on them to make the sacrifices and perform the required rituals at the temple?

But God was mad. Livid. He had standards and they were not even trying to meet them.

The Mosaic Law was very specific and sacrificing lame, blind, or sick animals was expressly forbidden. The purpose of the sacrifice, which pointed forward to the promised Messiah, was to cover (atone for) the sins of the people and only a perfect, spotless animal could do the job. The priests were offering to God what they wouldn’t have fed to any human ruler. What they offered God was not honoring to Him, but an insult.

It wasn’t like they had nothing else to offer. They had acceptable sacrifices in their flocks, but they were stingy. What they were saving them for, I don’t know. They were keeping the best for themselves, though, and giving God the leftovers.

God wasn’t having it. He reminds them in no uncertain terms exactly WHO HE IS.

For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.

Malachi 1:11 HCSB

In essence, God is setting them straight as to who deserves what in the pecking order of the Kingdom. It is HIS name that will be great among the nations. It is HIS name in which pure offerings and incense will be presented in EVERY place. Not the governor’s, not the priest’s, and certainly not the king’s. God deserves the very best because He is the Creator and Lord of all, including the lower level rulers that the Priests were probably hoping to gain favor with by offering what belonged to God alone…worship, honor, and the very best of their flocks.

My goodness, this is convicting.

How am I guilty of this? How are we, as a church, as women, as wives/mothers/friends guilty of this? This passage of Malachi is closely tied to one commonly read during most churches’ offerings but I think we do it a great disservice when we limit what it teaches to tithing.

How often do I give God my leftovers? I wake up early, grab my Bible and head to the porch with coffee in hand. I sit down…thirty minutes later I realize I spent half my quiet time quietly checking email or social media. My Bible sits open on my lap with my phone or I-pad resting on top. Ouch. I rush through reading and prayer because now it’s almost time for the kids to get up and we have a full day ahead, then I struggle to give them the overflow of God’s love and presence in my life because, to be truthful, I didn’t exactly get filled all the way up myself.

Friends, we cannot give what we do not possess.

How about your typical Sunday morning? If you are like me, it is prime opportunity to catch up on sleep. Our church has second service at 10:45, which means I can sleep until 8:00 and still get all the morning things done…hallelujah! We head to the service and arrive before it starts, often surprised by “the small crowd today” but wait…the worship begins, music and praise filling the air and the Holy Spirit igniting our hearts. Eyes closed, I realize the empty seat next to me is suddenly filled as are most of the ones around the room. When did all these people come in? The music ends and the pastor takes his place to give the sermon and I feel kind of sad for all the latecomers who missed the worship service. Is God not worthy of our taking part in corporate worship? I have a hard time believing nearly half of the congregation had an unexpected interruption to their Sunday morning which made them a good thirty minutes late. And this is not just in our current church…it has been typical of every single church I have attended since becoming a Christian when I was 21 years old. Every single church.

Now I am fully aware that the “order of service” is a more contemporary tradition than the way early Christians worshipped. I am not trying to be legalistic or have a religious spirit about quiet times or getting to church on time. What I am hoping to do is help you think about your “why.”

Why do you get up in the morning…or not?

Why do you read your Bible…or not?

Why do you leave your phone off or in another room so you aren’t distracted during your quiet time…or not?

Why do you go to church…or not?

Why do you skip worship and just show up for the sermon…or not?

It all boils down to who we are really serving. Am I giving God my very best or saving the best for myself and serving Him the bruised apples and day-old bread? Am I putting my walk with Him first, above my marriage, friendships, family and/or job or am I worshiping my husband,kids,friendships and/or job, effectively making them idols and serving them over the God who created me? Am I living a life that is self-centered (because even idolatry is self-centered at it’s root) or Christ-centered?

​ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Romans 12:1-3

We cannot do it all, and we certainly cannot do it all with excellence. In order to show proper respect to God, we begin by finding out what respect means to HIM. I think Aretha Franklin said it best…

“R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me!”

The dictionary gives three main definitions of the word, respect, in it’s noun form. The first two apply to our discussion here:

  1. a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
  2. due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.

What or Who I respect will, in large part, dictate the habits and routines of my day. If I have misplaced or disproportionate respect for anything or any one besides God, it will show.

For instance…I talk a good game about getting up and reading your Bible every day. I’m consistent with it most of the time, but not always. On the days that I am “off”, what is my problem? It is lack of respect. I, for various reasons, have decided it is ok to put God at arm’s length for the moment. Either I am mistakenly believing “I’m good” and can slack off since no major crises are impinging my plans, or I’m so distracted by the turmoil that I want to escape into someone else’s life, even if for just a few mindless minutes. Either way, I’m shutting the door in God’s face and showing disrespect to the only One who can calm my storms and keep me on the right path.

Another word for disrespect is good ol’ PRIDE. Yep, I’m referring to the persistent pride-monster responsible for the fall of Adam and Eve as well as every attempt of man to do it himself, thank-you-very-much, for the millenia since. We like ourselves way too much. We want to be in charge and run things, only singing “Jesus Take the Wheel” after He has forcefully pried our stubborn fingers off the dang wheel and allowed us to run ourselves into a ditch once again. We like how it feels to do things our way, in our timing, and on our own until it backfires and we find ourselves in the pity pit, crying out to God for mercy and deliverance.

I know I’m not just talking to myself here.

I’m not going to tell you what to do now. I’m not going to suggest amethod or rule that will help you get up thirty minutes earlier or arrive to church on time, because we don’t need rules.

We need respect, a healthy respect of our Savior who lived the life we could not live and died the death we should have died. How easily we forget this! We need to stop thinking so highly of ourselves that we justify fudging on our calling to serve God with all that is in us and live humbly, realizing our great need for His love and mercy at all times, whether rocky or smooth. We have been bought with an unspeakable, incomparable price, friends. Instead of finding ways around it, instead of coming up with modern explanations to justify idolatry and sin, conforming to a world in which we do not belong, we must be transformed by the renewal of [our] mind, that by testing [we] may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We must live life on HIS terms, not ours, as a kingdom of priests to God the Father who is worthy of all honor, glory and power. This is our high calling and most noble duty. I pray we will find our why and live forward into who our Father created us to be, starting now!

*All Scripture is quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

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Illuminate.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

Isaiah 9:2

The concept of light is all over the scriptures.

You are the light of the world. (Matt. 5:14)

Light shines in the darkness. (Psalm 112:4)

Shine your light. (Matt. 5:16)

Moses glowed with the glory of God after meeting with Him on Mount Sinai. Jesus radiated light when he was transfigured in the presence of Peter, James and John. Adam and Eve began life in unimaginable beauty. They existed for who-knows-how-long in the perfection of Eden. No sin, no sickness, no death. They lived and loved and ate and drank and walked with God in the cool of the morning. All was well until the serpent slunk his way into the picture and bent Eve’s ear with half-truths and suggestions, to which she listened and succumbed.

Then suddenly, in an instant that could not be undone, they lost it all. We lost it all.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.

Genesis 3:7

What happened? Why the sudden awareness of a state that, until that moment, had been perfectly acceptable?

I recently learned a theory that I believe to be entirely plausible. When you see the consistency with which unbroken, face-to-face fellowship with God results in the human radiating His glory, it is not a stretch to realize that this is exactly what we, you and I, were created for.

Adam and Eve were created to radiate, to glow. They literally shone with the glory of God, reflecting it to the earth around them. But when they sinned, the glory left them.

Suddenly they were naked. Bare. Exposed.

As a result we (and, dare I say, women?) would spend the rest of time trying to dress ourselves up, covering the dullness and finding our worth too often, in our appearance. We would no longer walk in the beauty of God’s radiant perfection. His light upon us went dim and we are ashamed.

But there is such hope for us! Jesus died for the very sins that robbed us of His Father and the light of His glory. He rose from the dead, ensuring that those who put their trust in Him will, too.

And you know what really blows my mind? When we receive our resurrected bodies, we will be as God intended us all along…radiant in His presence.

Friends, we will GLOW. All of us. Every nation, tribe and tongue.

Every race.

We will reflect the glory of God from brown, black and white skin tones. We will stand side-by-side, hand-in-hand as justice is served at last and we finally live fully as brothers and sisters, children of the living God, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. There will be no division, no prejudice, no sense of superiority. Our lights will shine together, uniquely yet the same with God the Father being the eternal source.

My goodness, what a day that will be! Until then, we must remember who we are and whose we are, living forward into who we will be. We must fight against injustice and division here on earth, preparing this world for what is to come. We must build bridges and love one another well, regardless of zip code or shade of melanin. We were created to shine.

Might as well start now.

When You Can’t See the Ending.

The rain falls softly, dribbles of drops battering the downspouts as a sort of back-rhythm to the melancholy of damp dusk. In the distance I hear the lonely whistle of a train and I wonder where he is.

My son.

He graced us with his first visit this weekend, driving two hours to spend the night at home.

It made me giddily happy to see him pull into the driveway.

A little over 24 hours later he is back on the road, accompanied by his mama’s prayers and words of wisdom from his father. His car is loaded with clean laundry and a fresh supply of snacks to stash under the bed in his dorm. I’m thankful he is driving ahead of the rain and will have dry roads until he arrives.

I’ve thought a lot about God’s heart toward us this week as we have adjusted to the new normal. How often did God, though He knows the beginning and the end all at once, want to intervene when toddler Jesus teetered at the top of the steps? Or when he played with Joseph’s tools and nearly sliced off a finger?

How about when he was desperately hungry after forty days of fasting and the enemy slunk into the picture, determined to wreck the plans for God’s redemption of the world that had been in place before the beginning of time? Or as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey and the cross stood ready, a certain destination of torturous death for the spotless Lamb of God?

The unknown often gives me pause and drives me to my knees when I think about my childrens’ futures. But God? He does not experience the unknown. It is all known to Him. Good, painful, wonderful and exruciatingly horrific…He saw it all coming and chose to let it play out to the fullest extent necessary until His pupose, His eternal tapestry that we on this side of the veil can only see from the backside, was complete and the last knot securely tightened.

If I could see what was coming, and see how it all would end, would I be able to step back and let it play out? Or would I still be tempted to swoop in and rescue my babes from danger and trauma, even knowing that the suffering was part of God’s plan for their lives?

Oh, the conflict of a mother’s heart!

College, for me, is the most recent great unknown. We sent my oldest off at his request to experience life as an adult, independent and determined to follow his dreams. In a town I have only visited as a tourist, surrounded by people I do not know, influenced by authorities I probably don’t trust he now lives and is having to put to practice…or not…the things he has been taught from birth. Right vs. wrong, godly vs. ungodly, constructive vs. destructive…endless choices all await him now.

And the only thing I can do is pray.

Truly.

And what does that say about my faith when I say I can “only” pray? Isn’t prayer the most powerful tool we have been given by our gracious and merciful God?

Do I believe? Really?

Let me tell you, launching your firstborn son will make you put more stock in prayer and cry out to God on their behalf with more desperation, more faith, than you ever thought possible.

The result of all that tearful, sloppy prayer? Peace. When I am leaning in and storming the gates of Heaven on behalf of anyone, especially my kids, the Lord never fails to settle my heart and remind me that He is the perfect Father and knows how this is all going to end one day. That I can trust Him and that He loves my boy…in fact, both of my boys and all three of my girls…perfectly, completely, and with a love that allows suffering, hardship, and even failure to mold them into the image of Christ.

Which, after all, is the ultimate goal.

So let the rain fall. Let the storms come. My God, who did not spare His own Son, has every detail under control and I’m going to choose to trust Him with the unknown. What a gift to know He has my boy’s back. What a blessing to remember the faithfulness He has demonstrated since that day, over 19 years ago, when that seven pound baby was placed in my arms. I can, and must, trust Him.

On Finding Rest

It was the week of my forty-seventh birthday. I had booked a cabin in the middle of nowhere, on a sheep farm no less. For the first time in my life I would spend my birthday alone.

The kids were fine with it. They knew this had simply worked out to be the best block of time for me to go on a writing retreat. Between school/sports/work/dance/graduation/recital and laundry, y’all, I didn’t exactly have lots of weekends begging me to go away and watch the sun rise and set for three days!

So on Memorial day I hit the road. I had about a four hour drive ahead of me and determined to make it count. I stopped when I wanted to stop, ate when (and what!) I wanted to eat, and took advantage of every scenic overlook in the Blue Ridge Mountains to bask in the wonder of creation.

I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you that it was the slowest yet busiest three days I’ve ever spent. Busy?

Well, yes. Busy being not busy.

Because choosing to not be busy turns out to keep one’s mind very busy.

I turned off all social media. My ringer stayed on in case one of the kids needed to get hold of me. (I have a certain child who worries and needs to check in periodically) I settled into the beautifully restored cabin and didn’t even turn on the a/c. Due to the altitude and gentle breeze, I didn’t need it. The only sounds I heard were sheep, chickens, birds and barking dogs.

It was glorious.

I wrote like a mad woman. Page after page, dumping my brain onto the blank screen and acting as my own therapist. I finished the first edit of my novel, readying it for the “real” editor who would do the final cleanup. I prayed, I ate chocolate, and I slept like a baby.

The most surprising thing to me was the effect the electronic detox had on my thought life. It took hours-from the time I arrived at the cabin in mid-afternoon until I fell asleep-for my mind to calm down. I battled racing thoughts, not fears or worries, just a brain that refused to be quiet and had grown too accustomed to constant input. I found peace at last and was able to truly settle into prayer and read without feeling like I needed to get up and do something every few minutes.

I noticed every detail of the cabin, the land around it, and the sky above. I listened to the music of nature, tractors pulling hay-cutting equipment then baling it the next day, sheep and chickens going about their business and the farmer taking slow walks out into the pasture throughout the day to check on his wooly charges. I watched a puppy snap at a snake then yelp when the snake lunged at him. (Thankfully it missed.) I noticed butterflies and bluebirds, dragonflies and wasps, and I lit a candle in the lantern on the rickety table out back as I ate my dinner.

Hello, little friend.

How much do I miss in the business of real life? I’ll admit I’ve fallen back into old habits. I enjoy social media, probably too much, and have determined to reign it in as I begin my Theology and Apologetics classes. (Which I absolutely love…I’ll elaborate in a future post.) I am spending more time reading and less time scrolling, yet still my mind struggles to settle down and find a home on the pages before me.

But I’ve experienced the quiet, now. I’ve felt the peace of a settled heart and a mind at rest. I’ve slept the sleep of a body that has shed the day’s burdens and settled between the crisp white sheets of a plush, cozy bed. I’ve lived three days with the only busyness being that of a woman focused on better communion with my Lord and letting some things go.

Though I know it is not realistic to experience that level of quiet in my normal day to day, I believe God wants me to cherish the nuggets when I can. He calls me to be still and know. He beckons me to come away and let him remind me that I am his beloved and He is mine.

He admonishes me to turn off the glowing rectangle in my hand or on my lap and grasp the heavy pages of His love letter to me, letting the words penetrate my mind and quieten my soul.

May I listen. May we listen to the still, small voice that beckons us to come and drink of the living water. He offers true rest, for in that place of rest we will be renewed and restored.

I cannot give my family what I do not possess. Peace begets peace. Quiet begets quiet. Gentleness begets gentleness.

Time with Him, removed from all distractions, makes me a better wife and mom. It also makes me a better daughter of the King. He filled my cup and will continue to do so if I will but sit and soak in His presence, averting my gaze from the cares and distractions of this world and focusing in on the One who died for me. He will fill my cup to overflowing and the overflow will spill onto those I love the most.

Well water. Healthy and so delicious.

In quietness and rest is my strength. May I remember this important truth when storms threaten and I’m tempted to fret instead of drawing close to my Father.

Scratch That.

Sometimes it’s ok to be a quitter.

That is really hard for me to write. I am one who prides myself on seeing things through, plowing through the hard stuff and checking the box when I’m finished.

But I quit my Algebra class.

I was doing fine, had a high B average and learned a ton about Algebra. (Which had nothing to do with Apologetics, the whole reason I even googled classes to start with.)

I spent the first half of the summer working hundreds of problems, staying up late at night and feeling like life was slipping by as my kids played at the pool and I sat out on the fun.

Is that really what God was calling me to do?

But I had started and, darn it, I was going to see this through. I would show my kids what it looked like to do hard things and remove the potential stumbling block of not having an actual “degree” as I pursued God’s call to write and teach. My friends would admire my tenacity. I’d make my man proud. (See a pattern? An ugly one?)

Then a dear friend came over and loved me enough to challenge me.

She, a math whiz (an accountant!), took one look at my Algebra book. “What does this have to do with Apologetics?”

I explained it was the only general studies course I lacked. I told how I wanted to pursue a degree to remove the stumbling block.

“You do realize there will always be a stumbling block of some kind, right?”

Well, yes, I guess so.

“Is it possible that there is another way to get the training you need without placing such a burden on your time?”

Maybe…well, actually I know there is. It’s just not as “glamorous.” (Ouch, the pride monster has bitten.)

Long story short…I quit the class. I prayed for direction. Then I waited.

Within a couple of weeks I was presented another opportunity…a two-year program that will train me and educate me for ministry. Instead of ten-to-twelve hours of study per week, it will require four. I can do that. I will attend actual live classes once a week, the best part being that it will be alongside friends and leaders from my church. I will not be sitting in front of a computer, alone. I will be interacting and immersed in theology and apologetics and community and I could not be more excited.

God worked out all the details very quickly. He is nodding as I move forward, showing me that yes, this is it. This is the right path. He is preparing me for the second half of my life while allowing me to still enjoy long afternoons with my youngest children who only have six years left of homeschool. Six. That time will be gone in the blink of an eye.

Trust me, I know. I’m about to send my firstborn to college in two short weeks.

I tell you all of this because I am learning, through my own stumbling and false starts, that God sometimes places a passion in our hearts and allows us to explore the options. Then, in love, He redirects us gently. He refines our path, shutting and opening doors, allowing storms and frustration to steer us until we are sailing smooth with the moonlight reflecting off the calm waters as we dock on the other side of our calling. I’m getting in the boat. I’m ready. And I am looking forward to getting out on the other side to use what He is going to teach me to lead women and girls to Jesus Christ through writing, teaching and community.

He has the plan in place. What a humbling realization that He would use me.

I’m yours, Lord. Let’s do this.

Endings and beginnings.

I took my dog for a walk this morning, noting the silver slug trails scribbled across the sidewalk. The light of dawn made them shimmer and become almost beautiful. For the first time in several weeks, I felt inspired to sit down and write.

The flowers in the South are in full bloom, knockout roses scenting the air and daisies standing tall behind the monkey grass edging the flower beds. My potted plants struggle to survive due to my occasional neglect and I find myself flooding them in order to rescue them from the wilt. I have great dreams of gardening in the Spring when the weather is cool which quickly wither in the oppressive heat of Summer.

I haven’t written a thing since my retreat in May. It was three glorious days of driving through incredible scenery along the Ocoee River and through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I finished my novel (yay!) and wrote whatever crossed my brain in the moment. Pages upon pages were laid down-my way of figuring things out, straightening what had become crooked, and reconnecting with God in the quiet of a sheep farm in Georgia. It was heaven on earth. Then, I came home and hit a creative wall. Oh, I’ve started a few posts, scrolled mindlessly through social media and shared a few memes and photos, but nothing of substance has been produced due to various circumstances.

First, I started back to school and I’ll just tell you, College Algebra is hard. I’m a writer, not a math brain, so it is stretching and challenging me in a myriad of ways. Not all of them constructive. I have sighed, cried, and sought every way I can imagine to get out of taking this class, but the fact is it is a basic requirement of a bachelor’s degree and it is the only general studies course I didn’t take back in the early nineties. It’s been a long, long time but it has to be done. Thank God for my brilliant husband who remembers all of this stuff! He has saved my academic life!

Second, Summer has been busier than I would like. Last year I felt like we spent endless, luxurious days by the pool, reading and splashing and meeting neighbors. This year has been filled with appointments, camps, preparing my oldest to transition to college, a trip to the beach…and math! All of these things are good and necessary but I find myself just wanting to be home, curled up on the sofa with a good book. (But, I really need to catch up on laundry.)

Third, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful, majestic, tender-hearted German Shepherd. What we thought was an ear infection turned out to be advanced cancer. We didn’t have time to wrap our heads or hearts around it but we had to put him down. I can’t describe the heartache of holding that huge head, looking into his soulful eyes and telling him what a good boy he was as he succumbed to the anesthesia. We all were there, weeping, as my husband read a prayer over our dog and we let him go. Grief has hit in waves and our yard feels so empty without his 120 pound presence. He was a big boy with an even bigger heart and we hurt.

Fourth and finally, in our grief we couldn’t be satisfied with one little dog who was lonely and lost without her best friend. We watched Hollie mope around and lose all of her mojo and we knew we needed to bring joy into our family quickly. Yes, we got a puppy(!) and that has been good and right therapy. She is a Cavachon-a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix. Like someone told me who had recently lost a beloved dog, if I have to be sad, at least I can be sad with a puppy. We named her Clara June and she is a sweet, soft bundle of snuggles who is healing our hearts and teaching our Hollie about playfulness and the fun of pouncing on a toy once again. Hollie isn’t sold on her just yet, but she is making baby steps that direction. Hollie gives a killer side-eye, though. Her shih-Tzu expression is consistently sour mixed with a healthy dose of annoyed at this new little sister who is full of puppy energy. We have laughed a lot this past week and I am grateful for that. Puppy breath is good therapy.

So, here I am. I still intend to write about my retreat back in May. I have incredible pictures to share and stories of how God met me there but today I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I wanted to share a bit of real life that has been happening and just check in with you as July dawns and we in the South hunker down to endure the summer heat. I hope you are able to enjoy some long mornings. I, for one, have to get up early to enjoy my devotionals outdoors or else I end up being driven inside by the humidity and bugs!

God is faithful. He is near. He is moving in the good and the hard and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. I have felt more dependent on him in recent days, even in the midst of massive struggles to form coherent prayers at times. But He reminds me to cast all of my cares upon Him for He loves me.

I think we could all stand to be reminded of that, don’t you?

Happy 4th of July (if you are in the United States)! As we celebrate the country in which God has ordained us to live, may we be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and use it for the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Retreating

It’s been a dream of mine for while, now, to get away to somewhere remote and just write.

No noises.

No distractions.

Just for a couple of days.

Because of the sweet generosity of my husband, who gifted me this very thing last Christmas, my bags are packed as I type.

As soon as I water my flowers and load up the car I will be hitting the road for my destination…an 1880’s cabin on a sheep farm in Georgia!

I am so ready and, to be honest, a little nervous. I’m a solid extrovert so this extreme removal from society and social media is going to challenge me! I pray the quiet of the farm will seep into my mind, allowing God more room and opportunity to speak.

I will be writing as much as I can hammer out, while cleaning up the novel I recently finished and preparing to send it off to an editor. I will also take lots of photos, documenting this unusual experience to mark it as a stone of remembrance, for I do believe the Lord is going to move over the next two days!

Oh, and remember that little thing called College that I started last week? In order to get away like this I have been doing algebra like a crazy woman.

Algebra.

It’s been almost thirty years since I was in high school and, y’all, college algebra is NO JOKE. (Thank the LORD for my amazing husband who remembers all of it! He has happily sat with me and talked me through negative fractional exponents and seventh root variables, preventing my mind from, very literally, melting) I asked him, the other night, why this is so hard for me (I may or may not have been on the verge of tears) and he said, in his calm, matter-of-fact tone, “Because you are a writer.” And then I was ok.

I don’t have to be good at everything. I just have to pass algebra so I can move on to the classes that spark my passion. I just have to pass.

All that to tell you, I will NOT be taking algebra with me to the farm!

So, with that I’m off to water the flowers and hit the road! If you think about it, I would be so honored if you would pray for me as I travel and leave my babes. They always get a little said when mama leaves, as do I.

Until I return, happy Memorial Day! And thank you to our men and women who gave all for our freedom. There is no greater love.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

It’s an intense season. I’ve been immersed in all things “end of school” and barely have time to breathe, much less write.

My firstborn graduates from high school in less than two weeks, which does not seem possible since he just started Kindergarten five minutes ago. But, alas, it’s true and we are about to launch a child into this world. Scary, exciting, emotional…I’m feeling all the variety of feels right now! (I’m ok. Really.)

My self-imposed therapy has varied…reading, writing when I have time, and long walks through our beautiful, Spring-cloaked neighborhood. The sun has browned my shoulders a bit and my feet are readjusting to the feel of flip-flops. Finches grace the new bird feeder out back and the roses are blooming. Creation declares His glory and it is outdoors I go when I need to be refueled. A long walk or run, podcast or music in my earbuds and a prayer on my lips as I commune with my Father is truly the best medicine.

So, this week is different. I have a post I’m working on that I’ll share soon but I feel the need to just enjoy the beauty of Spring today. I haven’t edited these photos at all, just posting them straight from my iPhone.

No filter needed.

Just unfiltered worship to our God who created the beautiful seasons.

Enjoy:)

My wake up each morning. Best alarm clock in the world.

The first rose of the season. Made my kitchen smell lovely:)

My daughter and Danny sitting with me as the day warms.

Horses in the pasture grace our front yard and, after a year and a half, I still want to pinch myself when I realize I get to see this every day. So thankful.

Self-imposed Misery

You may not consider this a “joyful” post, but bear with me. I believe what I have to say is important for us to understand.

Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through the Bible with the intent of reading it cover to cover by the end of summer. Yesterday I finished the book of Judges and thought, ‘Whew, I’m glad that is over.’

I told my husband it read like a horror movie at times, just one miserable story after another. A vicious cycle of sin, consequences, crying out to God, his mercy, then the people forgetting and starting the whole thing over again. Sometimes I read a story, certain that I was misunderstanding it…that surely God would not expect them to do that.

Take, for instance, Jephthah in the eleventh chapter of Judges. He thought it would be a good idea to “make a deal” with God in order to ensure victory against the Ammonites.

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

Judges 11:30-31

Note that this was instigated, not by God, but by Jephthah.

So Jephthah wins the battle and Israel conquers the Ammonites. All is well and good until his only child, his daughter, comes out of the house with her tambourine. Dancing.

I’m sure his heart exploded in terror as he realized the vow he had made. He had expected to sacrifice an animal.

Not his child.

It is hard for us to fathom following through on a vow such as this as Jephthah did, especialy through our Western filter. But in that time, and in that culture, such things were commonplace among the Pagan religions and idolotrous worship practices and it appears Jepthah had allowed his theology to be influenced by his surroundings.

Sound familiar?

Note, again, that God expecting Jephthah to follow through is not mentioned. Jephthah dug this hole. Jephthah made this bed. He had even trained his daughter, as well, to the point where she apparently did not question his decision. She grieved that she would die unmarried, but accepted that she would be sacrified.

What in the world?

How is this possible?

But look at our world, friends. Every day, children march into battle toward certain death because they have been taught from infancy that to die for their god is honorable and will be met with great reward. It happens in Africa and the Middle East and it happens here, in America.

Children are sacrificed and sent into war, as collateral in trafficking and abuse, and through abortion. Sometimes they are aware of what they are being asked to do but have been brainwashed into accepting it. Often, though, they have no idea why they are facing abuse or death at the hands of those who should be protecting them. The place where they should be the most safe…among their families, in the home or in the womb…is where their lives come to a tragic end.

Jephthah made a vow, one that God did not ask of him and, I believe, one on which God did not expect him to follow through. His misery was self-imposed because he had added to the rules God had already put in place.

Jesus plus nothing equals everything. That is as true now as it was back then. Every time God’s people decide to add to their status and “holiness” by keeping extra rules or striving beyond their neighbors to win the heart of God they fall…and fall hard.

The reason for this is simple. As children of God, those who have accepted His Son as our savior, we already have His heart. We are holy, chosen, and dearly loved. He goes before us and fights for us because we are His and He has promised to do so. We do not have to bargain with Him and would be wise not to try because we will only heap misery upon ourselves by doing so.

I believe God had already planned to give Israel the victory over the Ammonites. It was part of the story He had written before Jephthah was even born, the saga of the unbreakable covenant made with Abraham when God stopped him from doing the very thing Jephthah thought he now had to do. In making the vow, Jephthah put his own hand on the wheel, seeking a modicum of control over the outcome.

The result was disaster.

A daughter, dead at the hands of her father.

This was but one tragic end to a story wrought with terrible decisions for years leading up to this point and that would continue for millenia.

We rebel, we suffer, we fall.

We cry out for mercy and our God gives it knowing full well we will forget and repeat the sin-cycle all over again.

But we must understand that only Jesus can stop the cycle. Only the Lamb that was slain can conquer death which relentlessly hunts us down. And only the Risen Lord can deliver us from our self-made graves into life everlasting.

Praise God. Praise God for His patience because, y’all, we have got to drive Him nuts.

Do we ever learn?

For the sake of the next generation, I pray so.

But I’m not holding my breath.

 

The Ninth Hour

“Mama, what does ‘the ninth hour’ mean?”

My daughter is good at throwing random questions at me, out of nowhere, when I am driving.

“You mean when Jesus died?” She nodded. So, I explained how he hung on the cross for three hours, from the sixth hour to the ninth hour (which is three in the afternoon). How he suffered, having already endured countless hours of torture, being beaten beyond recognition (Isaiah 53:5). I described the cat of nine tails, the whip with stones embedded in the tips so the flesh tore away as the whip gripped and pulled back. Agony. Blood.

So much blood.

The water that poured from his heart when he was pierced, because he had been in agony.

We talked about the sacrifices in the temple, how for centuries all the world looked forward, hoping and praying for the Messiah as they sacrificed one spotless, perfect animal after another. How the blood must have run in rivers from the temple. How the sacrifices had to be made every single year because and animal cannot forever satisfy the holy requirements of justice.

Behold, the Lamb.

And I looked at my daughter, this one who is peeling yet another layer back on her childhood faith. She wrestles and asks the hard questions and I do my best to answer, all the while praying to create wonder in her heart for this Savior who has literally crossed oceans and continents to accomplish his perfect will in her life. She loves him, has since she was seven years old, since the day she wept and said, “He wouldn’t get down off that cross,” surrendering her little heart to him even before she understood the ramifications of her decision.

She just knew Jesus loved her and had refused to quit. He did what he had to do for her and she loved him back because of it.

And isn’t that the crux of it all?

He intentionally made faith simple. We are the ones who make it hard, who think adding anything to the finished work of Christ could possibly be a good idea.

I looked at my daughter, tears filling my eyes, and spoke through the lump in my throat..

“When you realize what he went through, doesn’t it change everything about how you see Easter?” She was quiet for a long moment, then nodded again, turning over the mental images of her suffering savior in her mind.

Easter is about so much more than bunnies and eggs. It’s about a real God who really came down and took on flesh, and really did the unthinkable: dying for a crooked and lost people…whom He happened to adore.

He loves us, friends. He loves us, not because we are good…

but because HE is good.

Good Friday is good, because his death meant we live, no longer burdened by the weight of sin.

Easter is bright and joyful because He conquered death and rose from the grave…ensuring you and I will also rise again and live with him forever!

It doesn’t make sense. We had done nothing to deserve his love, much less his suffering on our behalf. Yet suffer, he did, beyond anything we can imagine. Even while we were lost and running from him in rebellion.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

What better time than today to give your life to Jesus? Can you imagine a more perfect celebration of his resurrection than recognizing your need for a savior and surrendering, once and for all, to him? Oh, I pray you will do just that. And if you do, please let me know! I want to rejoice with you and walk alongside you as you begin the beautiful journey of faith.

Celebrate this Easter as a fully loved child of the King. Let nothing hold you back. Lift up your face with the assurance of hope for he is risen…

he is risen, indeed!