Friday, March 26, 2010

Like a child

I was sitting on the couch trying to soothe Corban to sleep when Isabelle crawled up next to us, laid down on her stomach, looked me in the eye and said, "I'm my meeting. I'm praying." Then she put her head down and said something that sounded like, "Dear God, you love you." Recently, she's been dancing around the house singing her version of a song that has the word "Hallelujah" in it. And just about every time we leave the house, she thinks we're going to church or Sunday school.

This humbles me. Having not been raised in this way, I'm continually amazed by her absorption of our faith practices, and I'm thankful that in some way, I must be doing something right. On those days when I don't feel like a very good Christian (whatever that's supposed to mean), the whispered prayers of a 2-year-old encourage me.

I thought about how Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me," and how He didn't have to coerce, bribe or in any way entice the children to come to Him. They were on their way. It was the adults who hesitated. It's still us adults who take our time coming to Jesus, whether it's for the first time for salvation or with our everyday troubles or for whatever reason. I see how easily Isabelle accepts Jesus as part of her life and I wonder, "Why is it so hard for me?"

"I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven," Jesus told a group of disciples when they wanted to know who was the greatest.

Some days, I ask the same question.

A friend recently shared that her 4-year-old daughter disappeared upstairs for a while, and when she came back down, told her mother that she'd been praying to Jesus.

The kingdom belongs to such as these. Amen and amen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Specks and logs

I'm mildly obsessive about my teeth, at least when it comes to food particles being stuck between them. Usually, I'll smile wide at Phil and ask him if there's anything between my teeth after a meal, especially if I know I'm going to be meeting new people or talking in a group or seeing anyone who isn't a family member. If he's not there to tell me, I make a beeline for a mirror. Sometimes he tells me when I don't ask, and while that's not always easy to take, I know he's telling me out of love.

Last week, while talking with a woman I didn't know well after a meal, I noticed some food remnants in her teeth. I quickly averted my eyes and pretended I hadn't seen them. When our conversation was over and she had left, I mentally kicked myself for not saying something. I imagined the embarrassment she might face if she was headed to class and talked to others with noticeable black spots between her teeth. Would it have been awkward to tell her? Yes, but I know I'd want someone to tell me.

We had a similar opportunity spiritually this week. Phil and I were confronted with someone who behaves according to the world's standards while proclaiming to be a Christian. Neither of us said anything in the moment, but we were both burdened by the situation afterwards. We have yet to come up with a loving way to broach the subject. For the benefit of this person, whom we love dearly, we know it's like the food-in-teeth issue -- it might be awkward, even perceived as offensive, at the time, but in the long run, it's for this person's benefit.

I think about Jesus' words -- "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:3) -- and I wonder if I'm seeing a speck without noticing a log in my own life. I know Scripture supports lovingly confronting people about sin, but I don't know how to do it, and most of the time, I even wonder if I should.

Any insights out there to help me along? I'd love to hear any experiences you've had with this issue.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What's inside

I'm a colossal failure at hard-boiled eggs. While I'm no gourmet chef, I'm certainly not worthy of being on "Worst Cooks in America," so admitting I'm so terrible at something seemingly so simple is not easy.

We had a potluck at church today. I hadn't been to the grocery store all week, so I was trying to pick something to make from ingredients I already had in the house. I came across a deviled egg recipe that sounded good, so I boiled my eggs. Knowing I have trouble with this task, I consulted a cookbook and followed the instructions for boiling eggs to a "T." After they cooled and I began the peeling process, I discovered the usual soft, runny white underneath the shell surrounding a cooked yoke. As I threw egg white after egg white into the trash, I became frustrated at the realization that deviled eggs was not going to be on the menu at church.

Later, I prepared another dish as my plan B, but the hard-boiled egg failures still irk me. I wish there was a way to tell before I start peeling them whether they're cooked well or not. It's an act of faith, in a way, not unlike our own spiritual development.

Do you ever wonder what you look like on the inside to God? Are we soft, runny and underdone, not worth much toward our intended purpose? Are we overdone, hard and tainted, still good for that which we're meant but not too appealing to look at? Or are we perfectly prepared for what God has in mind? God only knows.

Nobody likes to go through unpleasant circumstances, but like the eggs have to be boiled to be of use when I intend to serve them as deviled eggs, God uses the tough times, the "hot water" of life to prepare us for what's ahead. If we seek to get out of it too soon, we become useless. If we're in too long, sometimes we can become bitter.

James says this: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (verses 2-4)

Are you facing trials of many kinds? Know that God sees the growth happening inside and will bring you to maturity because of it.

And if anyone knows how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg, I'm all ears.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The only thing to fear

I quit watching horror movies sometime in the last 10-15 years. I'm not sure of the exact reason. I once thought it was because I became a Christian, but I think it had more to do with growing up and realizing that I have enough realistic fears that I don't need to add fictitious ones to the mix.

Some of the things I fear:

getting pregnant again too soon

discovering a major health issue when I don't have medical insurance

stifling my daughter's outgoing personality and wild, creative behavior because I'm tired or impatient or more reserved, myself

obeying God's call on my life

This last one is the one that has been most on my mind lately. God's specific call for my life includes writing. I have lots of ideas, some information, and hardly anything actually written, yet I can't deny that God wants me to write. I can't NOT write, even if I'm just making a grocery list or jotting a note to a friend. It lifts my spirits, gives me hope and spurs me on. My heart races when I do it, and I feel full when I've let my thoughts flow on paper or screen.

And I find myself jealous (usually), critical (sometimes) and challenged (always) when I hear about someone else's writing success. Mostly I just want the time and motivation to do what I know needs to be done.

So I ask myself how much I want it. Because if I really wanted it, I'd do it.

I think I'm afraid. Not of rejection because I know it will happen; it happens to all writers, even good ones. I think I'm afraid that if I write, I'll discover that God didn't call me to that after all, and then I won't know what my calling is.

Wow. That seems a little silly when I see it written before my eyes. Still ...

I read this in Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest" today. Speaks to me where I'm at. He says, "tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire. Tenacity is more than hanging on, which may be but the weakness of being too afraid to fall off. ... Then comes the call to spiritual tenacity, not to hang on and do nothing, but to work deliberately on the certainty that God is not going to be worsted."

Then I read these words from the psalmist's pen: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear ..." (Psalm 46:1-2a, NIV)

God is my strength, whether in trouble or not. Therefore, I have nothing to fear. "Tenacious" is not a word I would use to describe myself, and I haven't always thought of it as a good thing, but after today, I think it's a necessary attribute for the Christian life.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." From the Christian standpoint, the only person we have to fear is God Himself, not because he's horror-movie scary but because of something else I read today: "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." (Psalm 24:1)

Everything is His. Everyone is His. If that's true, then I don't have to live in fear of any of the above-mentioned circumstances because God is in control. I don't have to acknowledge that He is for that to be true. I don't even have to FEEL like He's in control for it to be true. Because He is in control, all I have to fear is how I live my life in relation to Him -- in obedience or disobedience. One brings life; the other death. I can tenaciously pursue obedience to God and trust Him whatever the outcome or I can live disobediently and find myself merely hanging on, afraid to fall.

The first step is always the hardest.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Out of the tube

Isabelle, our almost-2-year-old, has been saying "Dang it" occasionally. I don't know what bothers me more -- that she uses the phrase in appropriate situations so she already knows what it means or that I know she learned it by listening to my husband and me.

When she says it, we tell her not to use those words, and sometimes she'll say "Oopsie" right after it because we've tried to substitute that phrase for the other one in our own speech. Still, the "dang" cat is out of the bag, and I'm reminded, convicted really, how much harm we do with our words and how permanent their place once they are voiced.

I remember a children's sermon about this, using a tube of toothpaste as an illustration. The teacher squeezed all the toothpaste out and offered $5 to any child who could put the toothpaste back in the tube. Try as they might, not one of those kids could put an ounce of toothpaste back in the tube. The teacher went on to tell the children that this is what it's like with our words. Once they're out, they can never go back in.

One time while working for the college newspaper, I had an issue with one of the editors and said some things about her to other staffers. Of course, those comments got back to her and she confronted me about it. I was embarrassed that she heard what I'd said about her, and I'd like to say it's a lesson I learned, but I know far too often I still speak without thinking or considering whether I'd want the person I'm talking about to hear what I've said.

Recently I've been reading through Proverbs, and the Lord has convicted me through a string of verses that I must be more discerning about what I say. Consider these thoughts:

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked. (10:11)

Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning ... the mouth of a fool invites ruin. (10:13, 14)

Whoever spreads slander is a fool. (10:18)

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. (10:19)

The tongue of the righteous is choice silver ... the lips of the righteous nourish many. (10:20, 21)

"Loose lips sink ships" is how the old military saying goes. The same is true of the Church. Our "casual" commentary on each other will slowly destroy any chance we have at unity and witness to the world.

And, it starts with me.

"Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips." (Psalm 141:3)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I broke a sweat Swiffering the kitchen floor last week. Maybe I wouldn't have had to work so hard if the last time the floor was swept and mopped wasn't three months ago. (Gross, I know, but no one will ever mistake me for Mrs. Clean.)

Days later, as my husband prepared our Valentine's Day dinner, he said, Sorry, you're probably going to have to sweep again.

Not a big deal when we're only talking about a day or two's worth of kitchen crumbs. That's a quick job. When it has accumulated over time, then we're talking scrub-worthy effort.

I feel the same way about my spiritual life. It doesn't take much for God to get the gunk out of my life when I come to Him daily with it. But when it's been days, weeks, months or years, the process requires more effort, more sweat and most likely some tears.

1 John 1:9 says "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (NIV)

I admit, I'm not too faithful at confessing my sins. Sometimes, I delude myself into thinking I don't have any. Then, I get a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder from God, and for a time, I'm humbled. Until I become comfortable enough with my life to stop confessing my sins.

What would my life look like if I daily came to God and asked Him to not only forgive me of the sins I could remember but to show me the sins I didn't even know I was committing?

We're entering the season of Lent today, and I haven't given much thought to how I can intentionally honor the Lord during this time and set apart something for Him. This may be the place to start: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

My heart longs to sing this truth each day: "Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow, now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."

He's always going to be starting with dirt when He begins the washing process. How much dirt is up to me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The sigh moment

Raising two kids wouldn't be so hard if one of them wasn't a toddler who was constantly demanding her own way. Her first-born nature and mine seem always to be wrestling for control. She loves to help with dishes, and some days, I feel like we're elbowing each other for a better position at the sink -- her goal, to play in the water and mine, to actually clean some dishes! She's also in the bossy stage. I feel like her pet sometimes. "Sit." "C'mere." Will I soon be asked to "roll over" or "shake"?

No matter how crazy the day has been, though, there's this moment at the end of the day that makes it all worthwhile. It starts with kisses and hugs at bedtime, followed by an "I wuv you" as one of us puts her in her crib. As soon as the door to the bedroom closes, my husband and I look at each other and almost audibly let our breath out. He calls it "the sigh moment." The work part of the day is over and it's time to relax. Even if our son is still awake, it's still a more calm time in our household.

Thinking about the sigh moment helps me get through those everyone's-tired-and-cranky-and-there's-too-much-to-do days. That's my reward.

So, too, in the Christian life. Walking with the Lord, working for Him, serving in His name can be exhausting and seemingly unrewarding, at times. But we have confidence that when our time is done, we'll have a sigh moment with Him. Not just a "well done, good and faithful servant," although coming from God Himself, that would be enough, but eternity to live with Him.

"Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:3-4

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Tone deaf

I started re-reading C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" this week because I need a reminder of the subtle ways we, Christians, can tear each other apart, almost without knowing it.

I've been thinking heavily about this passage lately:

In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you ... must see to it that each ... has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention.

Sometimes I forget how easily a tone can change a conversation, and I wonder if the way I say something often makes it difficult for the other person to actually hear what I'm saying. And vice versa.

One afternoon this week, I walked into the house with an armload of groceries. Everyone else in the house was napping. Until I walked in. The first words out of my husband's mouth were "I need to teach you how to enter a house." His tone wasn't cruel, but I sensed some annoyance, because the door slammed behind me and everyone woke up. My reaction was less than cordial and for a few minutes, until I realized how childish I was being, I sulked around the house and began compiling my mental list of grievances against my husband. All because of how I interpreted his tone. All he was really saying was that I could have entered the house more quietly, and he was willing to demonstrate. I blew it out of proportion.

Maybe this is why Scripture tells us: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

And: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)

I'm hoping to be a better listener, tuning out a person's tone to get to the heart of what they're saying. I'm not sure it's easy, but I'm willing to try.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Grace in the common place

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." -- 2 Corinthians 12:9

I've been learning, recently, through the book our women's Bible study is reading, "Lies Women Believe," that God's grace is sufficient for me. Since becoming a Christian, I think I've known this about the big things of life, but I'm learning that it applies to the everyday, common things as well. In the book, the author describes several circumstances and then writes after those descriptions, "His grace is sufficient for me." Here are some of mine:

When dinner was supposed to be ready 10 minutes ago and I haven't started it yet, His grace is sufficient for me.

When the toddler is screaming, "Mommy, mommy, mommy" from the top of her lungs and I'm sitting right next to her, His grace is sufficient for me.

When the baby is crying and won't go to sleep while the toddler just filled her diaper with poop, His grace is sufficient for me.

When the house is a disaster and I've spent my last bit of energy, His grace is sufficient for me.

When I just want to scream because the stress level's high, His grace is sufficient for me.

When I'm tired and hungry and trying to get dinner on the table and the water boils over and the baby needs attention and the toddler is patting my butt saying, "Mommy, mommy, mommy" and I'm ready to throw in the towel, His grace is sufficient for me.

I'm sure there're are many more, but those are what rise to the top tonight. Feel free to add your own.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Life In Progress

A place for everything and everything in its place. Our motto these days is more like "no place for anything and nothing in its place."

Thanks to Christmas, the addition of a new baby and traveling, our house is far from orderly. We still have suitcases (empty) in the bedroom, mounds of laundry that seem to multiply overnight, toys in every room of the house and piles of papers and other miscellaneous objects that seem to have no home.

This bugs me. I like order. I enjoy putting things where they go. I want to be able to walk through the house without worrying about tripping over a stray toy or cup.

I'm thinking that's not going to happen until Phil and I are empty-nesters. Realistically, it's probably possible sooner than that, but when I look around the house, I wonder if it's always going to be like this. When we lived in our first apartment, our stuff was packed into it in an out-of-control, embarrassing sort of way. Then, our daughter was born and the disorder was more like chaos. When we moved to the house we now live in, we couldn't believe all the room we had. We've learned, though, that when you upgrade, you find a way to fill the space you have. Add to that the birth of our son and we're back to feeling a little like sardines.

Maybe that means we have too much stuff. Thanks to ample storage space in the attic, we have a few boxes of things we haven't used since we've been married. They're mostly decorative things, I think, like picture frames and wall hangings, although there's also a box of music boxes I've collected since I was a girl that haven't seen the light of day in close to 10 years. I've never been much of a decorator, but I want to be able to display these things and create a homey atmosphere. Right now, the atmosphere is modern toddler, at best; messy family, at worst. I fear that our kids will be 16 before we're able to show off their baby pictures or that Phil and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary before I get around to putting up our wedding pictures.

We're definitely a work in progress when it comes to our home, and I know this happens to most families with young children. It's just hard for me to accept because I'm not a work-in-progress type of girl. I like to finish what I start. This was the hardest time management lesson to learn as a reporter. Most of the time, I had to have three or four stories "in progress" while I waited for phone calls to be returned or interviews to be scheduled. If I had waited until one story was finished before I started the next one, I would never have made deadline and probably would have been quickly out of a job.

Most of the time my life feels like a work in progress, too. Some days, I wish I was a lot closer to complete than I am. I'm often reminded of how much work is left to do, especially when I say something I don't really mean, become overwhelmed by the little things, or ignore a need when I could help meet it.

I'm grateful for other work-in-progress people in my life, who even if they're a little closer to complete than I am, remind me that nobody's perfect and nobody will be this side of Heaven. I'm drawn to those kind of people, who easily admit their faults and acknowledge they don't have it all together.

Maybe that's why I've always loved Philippians 1:6: "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Someday I'll be complete. Until then, I can rest in the truth that every day is bringing me a little closer to that end.

Friday, January 8, 2010


It's been too long. Those of you who know our family well or follow us on Facebook know that on December 2 we were blessed with a son, Corban Ranard, who weighed in at 9 lbs. 10 oz. and was 21 inches long. After the weeks and months of anxiety and waiting, he arrived just a few hours after his due date, via C-section, which was a fearful prospect before it happened but actually turned out to be not so bad. The last month has been full of family visits, holiday celebrations and adjusting to life as a family of four.

Even though we live 700 miles from family and most of our friends, we were truly blessed to have our parents present before and after Corban's birth to help with household chores and even to give Phil and me a week without a toddler before we traveled home for the holidays. I don't know how we would have done it without them. We delayed reality for a while, but it was a great help to have so much support during my recovery.

I've had lots of time to think, even if I don't have lots of time to publish those thoughts. One thought I wanted to share came to me while I watched my dad try to fix our strands of Christmas lights as we decorated our tree. Of the two strands, only half of one worked, which would have made for a dimly lit tree. While Phil was out running errands, and picking up two new boxes of lights, my dad set out on a search for the lights that were causing the problem. After a diligent search of both strands, he found the problem on one strand and fixed it so that all the lights worked. The nonworking half of the second strand was beyond repair, so he cut it off and wrapped the exposed wire on the working strand.

The second strand reminds me of the church or what the Bible calls the body of Christ. The purpose of a strand of lights is to shine, as is the purpose of the body. "You are the light of the world," Jesus tells his disciples. And like the strand of lights, we're all connected. So, if one member experiences a problem, it affects the rest. Yet, I wonder, how many of us are like the half strand that was working, happily shining our lights, not knowing that the rest of the strand was dark, affecting the overall brightness of our light?

"For the body is not one member, but many. ... And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it." -- 1 Corinthians 12:14, 26-27

The body of Christ, His church, is only as bright as the weakest member. I can't effectively show the light of Jesus if other members of the church are struggling to even light in the first place. I'm praying for open eyes to see the unlit lights around me and for wisdom to help them shine again.