A Sunset

The 5 of us.

On a lake.

The very lake where I first really, truly, met with Him.

It’s amazing how nature displays His goodness.

And breathtaking majesty.

The 5 of us.

All romping, stomping, skipping stones, and marveling in a perfect sunset.

A little piece of heaven, this side of heaven.

The heavens tell the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made.  Day after day they tell the story;  night after night they tell it again.  They have no speech or words;  they have no voice to be heard.  But their message goes out through all the world;  their words go everywhere on earth.                                                                                       

Psalm 19: 1-4


Hard Obedience

{I’m gonna recommend opening this link in another window and taking a listen while you read…or after if you can’t do both at once 😉 }


He’s been asking  for some hard obedience lately. 

And it’s not just the supermarket variety.

It’s the kind that’s so easy to brush under the carpet, hide from view.  It’s the kind that requires ransacking the deepest, darkest chambers of my cobwebbed heart and shining  a light on the mess that I try to forget, the mess that’s so easy to hide;  

I simply close the door.

Heart obedience- the kind no one sees but Him. 

I’m sure He’s been asking for it for years.  I’ve just ignored it.  I’ve tuned out His voice in the areas I don’t want to hear Him. 

I’ve made excuses.  

The very fact that I needed them should have spoken mountains. 

But He’s shone the light that I was too afraid, too weak, too rebellious to. 

He’s holding my hand as we walk into these coal-black corridors together. 

And He’s not afraid to get dirty.

Because He wants the best for me. 

Even if it’s hard.

He knows my heart’s cry.  He knows I want only Him.  To live Him.  To breathe Him.

But it requires clearing out the junk so that there’s more room for Him.

He’s shown me that sometimes the smallest compromises make the biggest stumbling blocks. 

And it’s been true. 

The things I have least wanted to be, I have become.  The idolater.  The adulteress.

I have placed my fears, my hurts, my dreams, even my sins, on an altar and bowed down in worship. 

I’ve cheated on my first love.  

I’ve loved the messiness more.

And every time I close that door, say no to His leading, and pretend that everything’s just fine, I cheat again.

My fickle heart. 

But I’m ready, Lord.  Ready to open bolted doors, peek under dusty beds. 

Because I know how good a clean house feels.  I know how bright the path before me looks, when I take away the things that cloud my vision.  I know how sweet your melody sounds, when I take my hands off my ears and listen.

And I know that out of the mire, the dirt, the dust, You create beauty. 


Extra Credit Reading

Read this last night in the book I’m currently devouring.  Thought it was perfect timing considering yesterday’s post.  Timeless as well.  Doesn’t matter if it’s 50 A.D., 1870, or 2011, He never changes.

…so few people have any conception of what the grace of God really is.  To say that it is free unmerited favor only expresses a little of its meaning.  It is the unhindered, wondrous, boundless love of God, poured out upon us in an infinite variety of ways [like 20 bucks you don’t deserve], without stint or measure, not according to our deserving, but according to His measureless heart of love, which passeth knowledge, so unfathomable are its heights and depths.  I sometimes think a totally different meaning is given to the word “love” when it is associated with God from that which we so well understand in its human application.  We seem to consider that Divine love is hard and self-seeking and distant, concerned about its own glory, and indifferent to the fate of others.  But if ever human love was tender and self-sacrificing and devoted, if ever it could suffer gladly for its loved one, if ever it was willing to pour itself out in a lavish abandonment for the comfort or pleasure of its objects, then infinitely more is Divine love tender and self-sacrificing and devoted, and glad to bear and forbear, and suffer, and eager to lavish its best of gifts and blessings upon the objects of its love.  Put together all the tenderest love you know of, dear reader, the deepest you have ever felt, and the strongest that has ever been poured out upon you, and heap upon it all the love af all the loving human hearts in the world, and then multiply it by infinity, and you will begin perhaps to have some faint glimpses of the love and grace of God!

-Hannah Whitall Smith

The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life,  published 1870

Part II: Supermarket Grace

It was my first trip back to the supermarket since my little lesson in generosity.  It was mid-day this time and I was dragging 3 unwilling participants.  We were making the drug store-grocery store-grocery store-grocery store  rounds and it was only round 2. 

5 things, only 5 things, I told myself.  I clutched my circular and coupons and headed down the aisles. 

The natives were restless, that was certain.  While I looked at toothbrushes, the boys picked up Magic 8 balls and were howling at the answers they were getting to life’s most important questions:  will I have a girlfriend,  will Mommy buy us a candybar….you get the picture.  And Strawberry Shortcake decided we needed princess bandages and was filling the cart. 

How many more stores did I think I’d hit today?

It had been a rough week.  Really rough:  just back from a short, but no less work, trip;  tempers still simmering and hearts still mending after a stress-induced marital spat;  Honeybun working obscene hours;  3 sick kids and 4 days stuck in the house.    Basically Mommy H-E-double hockey sticks.  For the first time in over 8 years of mommy-ing I thought, Please God, I want one of those easy jobs, you know, one of those 9-5ers where you throw the kids in daycare and talk to adults for the rest of the day?  I’ll take one of those.  Now.  And here I was adding salt to a gaping heart-wound by taking the kids shopping.  The proverbial cherry on top.

I was heading toward the liquid stain remover.  At least I was trying. 

2 steps. 

“Watch where you’re going.” 

3 steps. 

“Quiet down!  They can hear you 7 aisles over!” 

5 steps. 

 “No!  For the last time, I AM NOT BUYING YOU THOSE MAGIC 8 BALLS!” 

A sweet little old lady made eye contact and I smiled my, please-excuse-my-deafening-children-who-are-not-watching-where-they’re-going-and-may-bowl-you-over-at-any-moment smile.  She smiled back as we passed and I made my beeline for the promise of stain-free clothing.

I was wrapped up in reading all the particulars of pricing.  Sale on the small size, coupon for the bigger sizes only…Darn!  Miscalculation!

And there she was, next to me, smiling. 

“Here, I want you to have this.”

She thrust 4 crisp, 5 dollar bills toward me.

I stammered out a “No!”  and a “I can’t accept this!” but I knew that if I dug in my heels, her feelings would be hurt.  She looked so happy to give it.  I thanked her as well as my frazzled brain and mumbling lips would allow.  My mind was tripping over thoughts as I stood there and watched her walk away.

Why?  Did my coupons betray a tight budget?  I mean, I actually put on something other than sweat pants and DID my hair today so I didn’t look overly haggard.  And the kids managed to get out of the house without jelly smeared all over their faces and mismatched clothing, so we couldn’t look TOO terrible.  It couldn’t be that.  Did she just feel sorry for me and my small tribe of capuchin monkeys? 

And then I remembered that long forgotten but not long ago night at the supermarket.

Wait, God!  I’m supposed to be the one blessing others!  No!  This doesn’t make sense!  Really?  You’re gonna give me 20 bucks after I failed to give the last time?  This is crazy!

I expected a slap on the wrist, not this.  But oh, how He loves to do this to me!  Mercy instead of punishment.  And to that, a dash, no a full helping, of grace.  Mercy erased the consequences, grace added a blessing.

And there it is again.  It always comes back to this:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

In my mistakes, in my mishaps, in my down-right rebellion, He loves me.  Wouldn’t matter if I gave him the time of day or not.  He’d still love me.  I could curse Him, hate Him-  He’d still choose to go to the cross for me. 

And when I ignore His voice, when I hoard what He’s given me, when I’m too busy, too frazzled, too frustrated to remember, He sends a little old lady to remind me:

“Here, I want you to have this.”

His mercy.  His grace.  His love.  His great faithfulness.  Oh Lord, you are so good.

This I recall to my mind,
      Therefore I have hope. 
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
      Because His compassions fail not. 
They are new every morning;
      Great is Your faithfulness.

                                                      Lamentations 3:  21-23

Lessons Learned at the Supermarket Checkout

I went grocery shopping at 9 p.m. last night.  Call me crazy but since the schools have released their young inhabitants, I do not wish to go accompanied by “helpers.”  This is especially the case when I need to be on my game.  Armed with $60 worth of coupons that I intended to use, I needed my full capacity.  The stakes were just too high.

I meandered around the store, taking time to stop and smell the doughnuts.  This time when I forgot something a couple rows back, I didn’t mind so much.  I easily made my way back and forth between the aisles without a Strawberry attempting to bungee jump from her seat in the cart or a Sour Patch Kid taking every sweet treat off the shelves and asking me, “Can we get this?”  Heavenly for a bags-under-the-eyes-tired mom.

It was around 10:30 by the time I strolled my heavy-laden cart up to the checkout.  A cashier was swiping and bagging groceries with no customer in sight.  I gave it not much of a thought and began to load my goods on the conveyor.  I barely noticed the customer, a middle-aged woman, come back to where I was busily organizing my bounty into like-groups:  meats over here;  produce over there; a section for boxed goods, frozen foods and chemical-ly products.  And then, out of the corner of my eye I saw her rifling through her purse and out came the words,

I forgot my wallet.

The four dreaded words that I myself have spoken in the past.  First comes the dread, then the panic, then the embarrassment and finally the sheer defeat.  So much work for nothing or maybe an unplanned run home to retrieve the missing culprit. 

My heart felt for this poor woman, no doubt getting groceries at such a late hour because her life, like mine, necessitated it.  But then I heard Him whisper,

Pay the bill.

I looked at the total.  $115 and change.  Oh, Lord.  Not a small chunk of change for a family of 5 and living on a teacher’s salary.  And with this very day’s  impending doom of Honeybun losing his summer work and the several thousand dollars we counted on.   Oh, Lord.  More than I normally spend in a week and not to mention the work I put into carefully planning my trip, clipping coupons and attempting to save every last penny.  Oh, Lord.

And in an instant she was gone.  Back home to fetch the misplaced wallet. 

How many times did I play this very scenario in my head, swearing I’d do the right thing.  But when the opportunity found me, it found me wavering.  Oh, Lord.

The cashier rung up my order, swiped my coupons and bagged my paid-for groceries.  I had saved myself $118.12 when every last sale price was tabulated and every last coupon scanned.  My work had more than made up for her bill.

My heart hurt as I loaded my crinkling plastic bags into the back of the van.  I knew I had disobeyed.  My head started rattling off excuses again but then I stopped and asked myself that oft-mocked question,

What would Jesus do?

And then I knew for sure.  He would have paid.  Oh, how He would have.  And not only would He have paid but He’d have thrown a few checkout lane candy bars on the belt for good measure.

Was He ever stingy?  No.  He gave time.  Just ask the multitudes that vied for His attention, who followed Him across countryside and seas.  He was tired, but He gave.  He gave compassion and forgiveness.  Just ask the woman ready to be stoned for her improprieties.  It was Him who turned the accusers away by simply saying, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.”  He gave love.  It was love that healed the lepers;  raised the dead;  spoke parable after parable, prayer after prayer, blessing after blessing . 

He gave His very life. 

How could I forget that.  Why does $115 seem so much to me when my very life was bought with a life.  A perfect life.  He can ask me to pay a bill because He already paid the most expensive one.

It’s not about the money.  Hasn’t He always provided?  It’s about the heart.  My heart proved unfaithful this time, but I’m a work in progress.  I’m praying I’ll be able to prove that very soon.  Maybe at the next supermarket checkout.

The Better Thing

I spotted it on the way to Nutty Buddy’s soccer game- a “Trash-to-Treasure” sale.  Glory! We had arrived a bit early and the prospect of convincing the Strawberry to stay in her stroller for an hour didn’t suit. An hour’s a long time to sit still in 2-year-old-land and I only came armed with a fruit strip and a Dum-Dum to keep her busy.  She’d be whining away after 5.2 minutes.  I batted away the voice that said stay and assured myself that I’d be back before too long.  Even if I miss a few minutes of the game, it’s not like I haven’t been to dozens before, I reasoned.  And just because my Buddy made the proclamation of, “For the very first time, I’m going to TRY to make a goal,” surely, he’s no prophet.

I helped Honeybun get all the gear out of the car- huge-honking stroller, 2 chairs, 2 soccer balls, snacks, purse, diaper bag and, oh yeah, 3 children. Then I made my move.

“I think I’ll walk next door to that sale while you wait for the game to start.”

With a nod and wave, Honeybun chased after the boys towards the fields and I, grinning from ear to ear, trotted off with the Strawberry Shortcake.

Oh, the prospects of a “Trash–to-Treasure” sale!  The cheapskate in me just couldn’t pass such an opportunity up.  And sure enough, there it was- a goldmine.  Boxes of books by authors such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Jim Elliot, Elton Trueblood, Anne Ortland, Oswald Chambers and Dietrich Bonhoeffer lined the hallways.  Better yet, I arrived just in time for the $3 Bag Sale.

I scoured each box, read each binding.  Time ticked by but I couldn’t tear myself away.  Just a few more boxes.  The OCD was really coming out.  Can’t…pass…over.  Oh, it was bad.  This obsessive-compulsive, penny-pinching, book-hoarding, lover of great spiritual writing couldn’t let go until every box was searched.  I carefully loaded my brown paper bag to overflow and made my way to the checkout- $3 in one hand, dragging my treasure with the other hand and pushing the stroller with my love handles.

I was late, I knew.  I paid for and left my 30 lb. weight with the nice ladies at the desk who agreed to hold it for me, and started hoofing it back up the hill to the soccer fields.  15 minutes.  20 minutes late.  By now I was running…and panicking.

After what seemed like eternity (but really, what doesn’t seem like eternity when you’re running), I found our chairs and watched as my husband jogged over.

“You missed it.”

Those three little words sunk like lead into the pit of my stomach.  My little prophet had indeed, made his very first goal.  Excitement, guilt, shame and sadness all passed over me in an instant, stuck in my throat and welled in my eyes.  I caught Nutty Buddy’s gaze from across the field and gave him my biggest smile and 2-thumbs-up.  He grinned from the sidelines, then went about his usual business of throwing grass at his teammates and rolling around in the mud until he was once again called in to “try” to get his team some points.

I felt the heat of all the stares of the good parents, or maybe it was just the sun.  But it felt hot and scrutinizing and I felt ashamed.  I smiled weakly and cheered my boy on for the remainder of the game but my insides churned.   I missed it.   His very first goal.   All the fit parents witnessed it but I, the unfit one, I,

 Chose the lesser thing.

It came out of the blue.  The way it rang true to my heart, I knew it was Him.

I thought of the story of Mary and Martha from Luke chapter 10.  As Martha hustled and bustled in the kitchen, preparing for all the guests she was entertaining, her sister, Mary, sat in the other room, at the feet of Jesus, and soaked-in a holy moment.

Martha, having none of it, complained to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work?  Tell her to help me.”

I must admit, I’ve often sided with Martha.  Her logic seems valid.  All this work, so many people to take care of- surely, God would be better served by do-ing rather than be-ing.  But no, Jesus’ answer to Martha is, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.  Only one thing is important.  Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

The better thing.  It’s elusive when you haven’t set your heart straight or when you get caught up in Martha Stewart-ing or scrounging for great deals on a treasure trove of volumes written by some of the most powerful men and women of our day.  I could argue that the wisdom gleaned from such books could impact tens, hundreds, thousands even, and that a missed soccer goal is just that, one missed goal, which over the course of time, will be a drop in a bucket full of them.  But He whispers,

Sometimes the holiest of moments is found at a soccer field.

Did not Jesus himself push His teaching aside and rebuke the disciples saying, “Let the little children come to me because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people who are like these children” (Matt. 19:14)?  Logic told the disciples that teaching and healing the multitudes was better.  Jesus told them otherwise.

A holy moment.  I found one the very next day.  This time it was in a parking lot.  Same boy but this time, instead of a soccer ball, he had a bicycle, one without training wheels.

A Rake and a Brush and a Bowl Full of Cherries

I spent the afternoon raking up the refuse the snowblower threw into the yard over this long, particularly white winter.  Gray-  inches deep.  Billions of bits of gravel and stone and I raked the grass raw.  Back hunched and dust swirled.  The red teeth of rake combed through the new shoots and withery dead and brought the stragglers home. 

It’s a terrible job, but somebody’s got to do it.  And that somebody was me today.  Tomorrow I’ll wake up 87 years old, muscles stiff and complaining.  And then I’ll have to do the other side of the driveway.

As I raked, and I raked, and I raked, I thought,

I never want to do this again.

And then reality hit upside the head and I sulked in the realization that in roughly a year from now, I’ll be doing it again.  And the year after that.  And the year after that.

With each brush of dirt, “there is nothing new under the sun,” swept through my brain. 

Ecclesiastes 1:4-11

4 Generations come and generations go,
   but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets,
   and hurries back to where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
   and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
   ever returning on its course.
7 All streams flow into the sea,
   yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
   there they return again.
8 All things are wearisome,
   more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
   nor the ear its fill of hearing.
9 What has been will be again,
   what has been done will be done again;
   there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
   “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
   it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
   and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
   by those who follow them.

A little gray and depressing like my gravel-y yard.  King Solomon saw what I’m seeing now.  Monotony.  Days that come and go like those pebble-studded snow drifts.  Wearisome work.   And for what?

For hunger.

For a taste for something more.  For a divine emptiness that needs filling.  A starving ache that needs to be satisfied, and not just with temporary sustenance.  Because tomorrow might find that my bowl-full-of-cherries life isn’t so sweet. 

I’ve tasted the sweet.  Family.  Marriage.  Births.  Comfort.  Pleasures.  And though they satisfy my sweet tooth, they can’t and won’t sustain me because sometimes life is sour.  I’ve, thankfully, tasted little of it.  Sickness.  Death.  Loss.  Pain.

But when life offers that sour cherry, will I, like so many billions under the same sun, shake my fist and curse the sky?  I hope not.  I’m working on not. 

I’m coming to understand that the growlings- the raking chores, life’s annoyances, these light and momentary troubles- are for a reason. 

 I’m hungry.  For more than a bowl full of cherries.  I’m hungry for something that fills me so that I’m never hungry again. 

If all of life is sweet then I never want more.  If I can get my fix off of career successes, pockets full, and fairy-tale love stories, then why would I need Him?  Why would I want Him?  I can be my very own god, thank-you-very-much, and fill my own hunger. 

Until those things lose some of their sweetness.  Until this world gives me a piece of humble pie.  Until something so sour rocks me to the core and I’m left with only sweet memories and a gnawing hunger for more time, more health, more love. 

Then Jesus said, “I am the bread that gives life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever  believes in me will never be thirsty.”        John 6:35

What I’m really hungering for is the life He intended.  He intended Eden and what we settled for was anything but.  He intended life without pain or death or sadness.  He intended life where He and I would walk and talk in the cool of the day through His garden.  He intended that I’d be so full of Him that I’d never look for a bite of anything else.  No gnaw.  No hunger.

I don’t have that life.  Sin changes things that way.

But I have a hope.

Of things only glimpsed.

Like the other night when I smoothed the hair of two babies who cried for me in the pitch black.  Two babies, living in the nightmare-world, who heard the sound of their parent’s voice through the veil.  Two babies who never woke up into reality, but caught a glimpse.  A glimpse of a mother’s hug, a hand to hold, a way through the scary.  And they held on tight.

And I have a way- Him who fills my longing, my hunger, my thirst.

And so, my Father, I pray that I would grab hold of your outstretched hand and not let go ’til I’m walking and talking with you, as You first intended, in your garden.  I pray that I’d stuff myself with You.  Full.  Don’t let me pretend that anything else satisfies quite like You.  Because I know it doesn’t.  I know. 

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”   Psalm 34:8