Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tears Set Free

"I'm a cryer," she offered, as took out a prophylactic tissue at the beginning of our first weekly Bible study, knowing she'd need it.

She was right.

What is it that has the power to bring us to tears? Why is it that some have eyes that fill with tears with the least mention of tenderness, patriotism, or even a G.E. light bulb commercial I remember years ago? Marketing professionals spend millions to move us with their messages. They have to find that sweet spot in our psyche in a 30 second spot.

Seasons of life affect the length of the fuse that sparks our tears as well. And transitions, as we move from something known to something unknown, usually put us in a place of emotional vulnerability. My sister, Kathryn, created a little piece of stitchery for me decades ago: "A new beginning often starts with a small tear."

She was right too.
"...Let him cry whoever feels like crying...the shedding of a tear, whether of forgiveness or of pity or of sheer delight at beauty, will do him a lot of good." Lin Yutang
We are made to respond to life's joys and sorrowful moments in various ways. Consider that the response of crying can be a form of singing - a song in your soul that just wants to emerge. I am unashamed of my tears; they are nothing to hide. They remind me that we are made to feel compassion, to identify with those who are suffering, to be fully present in moments of great joy and celebration and deep loss alike. And sometimes they remind us of how fully human we are, when we are at the end of our rope and feel nothing but exhaustion.

Some of you are there at this moment. Don't hold on to your tears as though they can never be replenished. Set them free. And ask the Father of all mercies to breathe into your spirit a bit of refreshment, enough grace sufficient to get through the demands of this day. And, like manna in the wilderness, you may find strength for your soul in God's provision daily - Grace enough for the day.
And I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. Ephesians 3:16

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Common Currency

This is straight out of Dave Ramsey’s budget training: You can either tell your money where to go each month, or you can wonder where it went.

That’s all a budget is: a tool for directing where your money goes. It doesn’t just get lost; we choose to lose track of it by not directing it.

Budget is not a four-letter word, yet many find it the source of conflict in homes, perhaps because it holds us to a level of accountability we would rather not have. Our time is similar. We can be intentional about our use of the 24 hours we have as a gift each day - with no promise or guarantee of another - or we can let it slip away without acknowledging that we have just spent something of value on a worthless thing.

I squandered some hours last night on worthless tv news programs and wish I had that time back. It was easy background information, I told myself, but actually it was mind-numbingly argumentative noise. I wish I had played music instead.

"Do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of." Benjamin Franklin

I am seeking to be intentional in writing about things on my mind as they come to me and to be responsible with the opportunity I have in writing for my children and sharing with others. But there are also delightfully refreshing and light-hearted things on my mind! I'll share them too.... I promise!

Stormy Weather

I am an optimist. I look for a bright side to most anything. But I think there is some truth to the idea I heard in conversation recently that we are all either in the midst of a storm, on our way into a storm, or on our way out of a storm.

If you’re in the midst of a storm, you know who you are. You can’t think of anything else. You’re learning to do whatever it takes to hang on and get through it. Two things we can do if we're in the midst of a storm:

1. Lighten our load.

Get rid of non-essentials. Jettison excess baggage that only weighs us down and keeps us tethered to things from which we may need to be released. Even worthwhile things and noble tasks may have to go for a season so we can concentrate on the task at hand: saving ourselves or others, in a manner of speaking. Salvaging something more important may help us be able to throw overboard something we have held onto.

Max Lucado’s Traveling Light is an excellent little guide to letting go of our baggage that weighs us down. It is hard to practice ‘let it go’ when we cling tightly to our stuff. The stuff that weighs us down might be unhealthy relationships, unnecessary busy-ness that keeps us living at a frantic pace, or trying too hard to live into someone else’s expectation of us, among other things.

So, let something go. Start with the worry: “Do not fret; it only causes harm.” Psalm 37:8 Worry causes more emotional and physical damage, and never enhances our ability to act wisely. Worry is counterproductive. Ask – consistently ask – God to help you release your hold on worry as a default setting.

Hold fast to what you know. “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on,” is a familiar word picture for me.

2. Tie yourself to the mast.

When life's 'stormy seas' are threatening and you’re being tossed about, there may come a time when you cannot hang on any longer. You need something stronger than your own grip to secure your safety. You need to position yourself somewhere that can remain upright and withstand the turbulent water surrounding you. Tie yourself to the mast, and choose to connect yourself to One ineffably stronger than you or I will ever be alone. Abide in Christ.

Tie yourself to the mast with cords of love that cannot be broken. One day we will come to the limit of our ability to hold on and maintain the illusion of control. We are held in the grip of God’s grace, and He will not let us go. What a promise! That means that whatever happens, God is with us. God will never leave us nor forsake us. I love the truth of this thought expressed in a myriad of scriptures. I'll probably reflect on it frequently, because I think on it often.

I am reminded of a favorite hymn from childhood, "Love Lifted Me".

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.

Very deeply stained with sin, sinking to rise no more.

But the master of the seas heard my despairing cry,

From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.

Love lifted me……when nothing else could help,

Admittedly, all those years in the 1960's I enjoyed the lilting melody and my daddy's voice in the bass line. But today I remember the hymn and affirm the power of love.

So, what if something devastating happens and we are not rescued as we'd hoped? Go ahead and face that question. It is foreseeable that we will face heartache and gut-wrenching loss. Loss is a part of life, and we do not draw a 'pass' because we are professing faith in Christ. God is with us. And if the worst case we envision actually happens? God is with us through it all. He will never leave us. We have the promise of God’s enduring love. And - I am staking my life it - one day we will learn that it is enough.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


"Be gentle when you touch bread." Sister Schubert

Gathered around the kitchen island of my aunt Mary Lou on a picturesque fall ballgame weekend, and perusing the tantalizing cookbook by Sister Schubert (yes, she is real), my eyes fell on the inscription in the author's handwriting. Sister offers her actual recipes for rolls without which few southern holidays would be complete, including step by step photos intended to make this operation a tasty success with rank amateurs. I have yet to give it a whirl, but that will be for another day. I kept thinking back to the message inside the cover: "Be gentle when you touch bread", as it lingered in my mind.

The care and feeding of sourdough starter has been one of my favorite baking experiences. There is something primal... earthy... even soul-satisfying about handling smooth wooden bowls and olive wood spoons, and kneading, then shaping bread loaves. I stopped four years ago when the starter died and am convicted to grow some more. Hold me to it.

Getting the hang of kneading without punching out the necessary air pockets was an important step. My hands learned what to do in response to the touch of the dough as though some unknown vestigial organ remembered from generations of women who had baked their bread cakes on hot stones. I found it warmly therapeutic - a healing touch in a busy day.

My mother still says, "use a light touch" when baking. She - decades ago - showed us how to fold gently when combining ingredients - not to stir furiously. "That makes muffins or biscuits tough." And so I pass kitchen wisdom along to my daughters.

Here's the trifecta for wisdom from the kitchen today, another related admonition:
"A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1

The power of gentle words to shape a heart and spirit cannot be overstated. Are not hearts of children and relationships with people of infinitely more value than a loaf of bread? A harsh tone of voice and the use of sarcasm and criticism are means of delivering mortal blows to a developing self in a child. Saying hurtful things but laughing while doing so sends mixed signals. Humor can be a selfish attempt by the speaker to weaken the sting of damaging words, yet hiding behind that 'just kidding' excuse is still a school yard bully of any age seeking to be let off the hook.

A gentle touch is the way of wisdom. I am committed to cast off old habits which might toughen our response to others. I long to have a tender heart that senses what kind of touch is needed and a willing, yielded spirit to help direct my words. O, Lord, make the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart acceptable in Your sight, for You are my Strength and my Redeemer. for Sister Schubert's new Addy award winning book.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Nancy Drew beats the midnight deadline with the correct attribution for the previous post:
Bishop Thomas Ken (1637-1711), inscribed on the door of St. Stephen's Wallbrook, London.

Quick-witted chums and a little help from Google save the day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wide Doors

O God, make the door of this house wide enough
to receive all who need human love and fellowship,
narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife.
Make its threshold smooth enough
to be no stumbling block to children or to straying feet,
but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter's power.
God make the door of this house the gateway to Thine eternal kingdom.

Attributed to the Door of St. Stephen's, London

I tried to find which St. Stephens, London, but there are many. Perhaps the point is not the geography, but the philosophy. What kind of love does it take to 'receive all who need human love and fellowship'? That would take more time and energy than most of us are willing to commit. And the next line: envy, pride, and conflict are able to slip through the tiniest crack we leave unattended. We not only let these unsavory characters through the doors of our hearts and homes, but also we often feed them - like cats - so that they keep coming back to take up residence with us daily. We nurture our pet sins with our own justifications for why we do what we do and wonder why we cannot seem to change. Next, I picture a worn threshold with no impediment to the young, the unsure, or the unbeliever - a welcoming, inviting place.

I am still looking for this St. Stephens. I want to know the place with such a door! And one day I expect to be worn thin in places myself. I want to be used up, stretched wide, and, at the end, spent in the business of loving others.

We had a word for that in Monticello: plumb give-out.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The difference is only one letter but...

When entering the address of this blog in my toolbar yesterday, I mistakenly struck the wrong key: 'no such address'. I cocked my head, then looked closer. Medications in the night watch is what I had entered! Funny - what a cool twist, I thought. Both ends of a spectrum, perhaps! Both are ways of living through life's challenges, means that help us cope. Which is our default setting, meditation or medication?

Where do we turn first when difficulties arise that tap our resources and cause us to turn somewhere else for help? What practices do we have in place daily for reviving our lagging selves - mind, body and spirit? How do we live day to day so that when hard times intersect our lives with each new blow, we have a pattern - a rhythm of sorts - in place for walking through it?

There is a place for the stuff the pharmacies stock, but there is so much more we can do as well to be healthy and vibrant by tending our spirits. Prayer and meditation are not empty 'sweet' past times for those who have time on their hands; rather, they can be the lifeblood of strong, courageous, faithful living. Deepening our understanding through practicing prayer - not by waiting until we know enough to do it well - is the only way I know to start and to stay in that place where prayerfully following Christ is not just a habit we do, but becomes part of who we are.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Night Watch

Sometimes our best thoughts and most creative ideas come in the wee hours.

When we commit the day and the night to experiencing the Presence of God, we need not be surprised that we have breakthrough moments of spiritual inspiration when we least expect it. God is not bound by time or space nor limited by our clock. Psalm 63:6 has been a favorite: "On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watching of the night."

I have been awakened with a gentle breath and eased into a thought of some new way to approach an issue I had been praying about. Such an episode years ago prompted me to keep a pen handy bedside so that when awakened with something on my mind, I could write it down and not fight sleep trying to remember. This process has brought peaceful sleep and helps whether the thoughts that come to mind appear as 'to do' reminders or offer a more striking brush with the Spirit.

When we diligently seek wisdom and discernment, we should not be surprised to find answers along the way. Allow the Spirit to teach us throughout the day and into the night. Writing reminds me of God's faithfulness in ways big and small. Thank you for joining me on the journey!

"In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety." Psalm 4:8


September is a month of beginnings and endings, of the old and new. Caught somewhere between summer and not-yet-autumn, September is God's pause for reflection, a half-rest in the annual score. It is a time when being pensive is not only permissible but so healthy for our journey into the approaching days of fall and winter. Perhaps you, too, share a wistful acceptance of September, understanding that 'new beginnings often start with a small tear'.

The annual excitement over each school year, new school supplies, and Friday Night Lights in Mississippi used to make September vibrate in my memory. Now in September's wake I see hollow backpacks, forlorn bicycles, and empty beds in our home. As an eleven year old Russell said, "It's all about moving on in life." And so I move on with joy and thanksgiving for the day that is today! No time for wasted thinking or whining about aging - seize this day and pack it full with gratitude! There is yet so much for which to be thankful. I am surrounded by new beginnings each day!

The newest undertaking is this stab of writing for reflection as I find creative ways to express love and thanks for the gift of each day. I will write out of inspiration and out of obedience as I continue to grow up gracefully.