Do You Believe in Something That You’ve Never Seen Before?

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I love wedding songs. An old Peter, Paul and Mary wedding song asks “Do you believe in something that you’ve never seen before?” Every time I hear that song, my thoughts catch on that line in particular. What is that “something that you’ve never seen before”? I believe it must be a faith-filled, hopeful, trusting, passionate, promising kind of love. That love convinces us to trust another person with our whole heart. It persuades us to loosen the ties that bound us to our childhood and hold tightly to the hands of our beloved.
We witnessed this kind of love on Friday. Under beautiful blue skies and in the midst of a lovely pecan orchard, I could not take my eyes from our son’s face as he worked to contain the joy, peace, and pure love while his radiant bride approached on her father’s arm.
I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving as our three sons stood before us, side by side, God’s greatest gifts to John and me.

There was no bitter – only sweet! Thank you for letting me share some sweet memories from the day.
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So Far As It Depends On You

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Tailgaters annoy me. Not the barbecuing-before-the-big-game tailgaters, but the ones who zoom up on my tail going 65 in a 50, because their business is so much more important than my business.
tailgater Then, because I have tendencies that I am most definitely not proud of, I am tempted to slow down, which becomes even more of a temptation when someone is driving the speed limit next to me and the tailgater can’t get around either of us. (Evil grin.) But then I think about Romans 12:18:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Practically speaking, this means I am not going to purposely antagonize the crazy-eyed guy behind me in the big 4-wheel drive pickup with the Pit Bull and the gun rack. Not because I’m afraid of him, but because I’m a Christian. (And – maybe a little because I’m afraid of him.) (Incidentally, I don’t have anything against big pickups and Pit Bulls and guns, so long as they are all controlled by sensible people.)

Seriously, though. In the middle of a chapter chock full of exhortation to actually do the opposite of what we feel like doing to people who aren’t nice to us – Paul makes sure we know that we bear responsibility to maintain peace.

This particular chapter has been on my mind a lot lately after recently finishing a study on Romans. “Live peaceably.” It’s easy to say, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t so easy to practice.

It means not speaking unkindly to the waiter who is slow, gets my order wrong, and forgets to refill my tea glass.

It means not taking out my frustration on the innocent sales clerk who tells me that the sweater I want is not, in fact, on sale – even though I found it on the clearance rack.

It means that I will assume that “I like your hair better when it’s long” really means “I like your hair better when it’s long” instead of “your new short haircut makes you look like a poodle.”

It means that I will extend grace to my husband when six pairs of dirty socks pile up next to his side of the bed.

It means that I will not use Facebook, or Twitter (or any of the other social media outlets that four-year-old children understand better than I) to bait, belittle, provoke, or hurt the reputation of any soul.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

What else does it mean?

• I will choose to stomp out irritation before it blooms into anger.
• I will respond with patience to someone who should know better.
• I will treat those with whom I disagree (religiously or otherwise) with dignity, respect and kindness.
• I will not seek revenge against someone who has hurt me.
• I will include and welcome newcomers and outcasts into my circle of friends.
• I will pray for and be kind to someone who has hurt my child.
• I will view an adversary as someone loved and treasured by God.
• I will remember the positives about an individual, and forget the negative in them.
• I will expend time and energy seeking to lighten the load and enrich the lives of others around me.
• I will respect those with different dietary habits than mine.
• It means that when I am young, I will respect my elders, and when I am older, I will value those who are younger.
• I will hold myself to the same standards I expect from others.
• I will not act or think haughtily toward anyone.
• I will hurry to make things right after a disagreement, and be the first to forgive, eager to make things right.
• I will recognize my own weaknesses.
• I will overflow with a spirit of humility and fight against self-promotion and self-importance.
• I will not pout when my opinions and ideas aren’t followed.
• I will look for and focus on the endearing qualities of an individual whose personality might not knit together with mine.

I’m sure you can think of many more examples, and I would love to hear them.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Even the crazy-eyed, truck driving tailgater.

Meet An Old Lady

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An old lady in the Costco parking lot got really mad at me yesterday.

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(By “old” – I mean that she appeared to be in her late sixties. My apologies to my friends who may be advanced in years – YOU aren’t old!)

I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the entire city of Austin decided to go to Costco yesterday, and there was an automobile slugfest in the parking lot. I was on the wrong side of the aisle when I spotted her pulling out, and as she was backing up, I pulled slightly forward and to the right to get out of her way.

What followed was a lot of arm waving and rude gesturing and angry eyes and words I couldn’t hear (thankfully.) As I sat there in disbelief, she laid on her horn and then gunned her fancy BMW SUV toward the hood of my car. The look in her eyes was memorable – as was the nervous look in the eyes of her passenger – a woman that looked old enough to be her mother.

Maybe she’d had a bad day. Maybe she’d just had someone shout at her. Maybe she was sick. Maybe she hadn’t started her Christmas shopping yet. Didn’t she know it’s the most wonderful time of the year??

But I couldn’t help thinking of something that my mother passed down to me (and has given to a lot of other women) – an essay called “Meet An Old Lady”. The author is unknown. It might take you a couple of minutes to read – but it’s sobering and well worth the time.

“You are going to meet an old lady someday. Down the road ahead, ten, twenty, thirty years; she’s waiting for you. You will be catching up with her. What kind of old lady are you going to meet? That is a rather significant question.

She may be a seasoned, soft and gracious lady. A lady who has grown old gracefully, surrounded by a host of friends – friends who call her ‘blessed’ because of what her life has meant to them.

She may be a bitter, disillusioned, dried-up, cynical old buzzard, without a good word for anyone or anything – soured, friendless, alone.

The kind of old lady you will meet will depend entirely upon you. She will be exactly what you make of her – nothing more, nothing less. It is up to you. You will have no one else to credit or blame.

Every day, in every way, you are becoming more and more like that old lady. Amazing, but true. You are getting to look more like her, think more like her, and talk more like her. You are becoming her.

If you live only in terms of what you are getting out of life, the old lady gets smaller, drier, harder, crabbier, more self-centered.

Open your life to others, think in terms of what you can give, your contribution to life, and the old lady grows larger, softer, kinder, greater.

The point to remember is that these things don’t always show up immediately. But they will – sooner than you think. These little things, seemingly so unimportant now – attitudes, goals, ambitions, desires – are adding up inside, where you cannot see them, crystallizing in your heart and mind. Some day they will harden into that old lady; nothing will be able to soften or change them then.

The time to take care of that old lady is right now, today. Examine your motives, attitudes, goals. Check up on her. Work her over now while she is still pliable, still in a formative condition. Day comes swiftly soon when it is too late. The hardness sets in, worse than paralysis. Character crystallizes, sets, gels. That’s the finish.

Any wise business person takes an inventory regularly. Merchandise is not half as important as the person. You had better take a bit of personal inventory, too. Then you will be much more likely to meet a lovely, gracious old lady at the proper time.”

I am thankful for that mean old lady yesterday – she reminded me of who I don’t want to become.  I’ve known a lot of gentle, kind, and beautiful “old” ladies in my time. My mother and my mother-in-law are at the very tip top of the list. Gwen Worthy. Ruth Locke. Inaleen Varner. And so many, many, many more! I’m going to meet an old lady sooner than I think – hopefully she will be soft and gentle and kind and admirable.

Mama Bear

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Here is a portrait of me last week. Big, fat, snarling, vicious, angry Mama Bear (who incidentally needs a dental cleaning.)  Mama Bear with three cubs…no matter that two of them hunt and fish in other areas of the country. I know that in this condition I am unattractive, and a teeny bit intimidating and certainly unreasonable. Because if someone messes with one of my “cubs”, the hair stands on the back of my neck and my teeth and fingernails grow into fangs and claws.

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However, it has caused me to do some soul-searching. I’ve looked back on some memories of my less-than-attractive “Mama Bear” moments. I’ll never forget a meeting with a teacher back in 1997, who told me that my highly intelligent, analytical, logical and reasonable Jordan was not qualified for the “Gifted and Talented” program. Apparently what they were looking for was an imaginative, free-spirited, creatively inclined child, not one with excellent behavior and grades. Silly me! I managed to maintain control of myself, but I had to keep my mouth closed lest the fangs become visible – and for the next 10 years I had a bad attitude about that teacher (who was, honestly, a very capable instructor.) (And by the way, he made it into the GT program…and excelled.) (I’m sorry, but Mama Bear has a long memory.)

I also remember an incident where Jacob was required to complete a project creatively recreating DNA. We…I mean HE…spent hours on the project, painstakingly using guitar picks and strings to make his DNA model. He turned it in on time, but lo and behold – his grade was barely passing! The claws made their appearance and we immediately telephoned the teacher for a conference. “How can my genius child, who labored intensively over this masterpiece model of DNA, only receive a 70? It MUST be your failure to recognize his geniousness!” (Okay, that isn’t what we said, but it was certainly what I was thinking.) Hmmm. Come to find out, his teacher explained that yes ma’am, it was quite creative, but he failed to make it a double helix. Oh. Claws retracted.

And then there was the couple who thought it was funny to call my child “Chunky Monkey” whenever they saw him. To them, I think it was a term of endearment. I’m not sure how anyone could consider it a term of endearment for any child over the age of 2 years, but apparently they did. Was it wrong for me to want to pull out a fully loaded Super Soaker 3000 Watergun and aim it right between their eyes? Maybe. And it might have been hard to manipulate with my claws.

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I know every mother has memories of her own “Mama Bear” moments. It seems like our society makes it worse, when in Little League games there are no winners or losers, everyone gets a trophy and we all want our kids to go home happy and satisfied. We may not have as many opportunities to teach our kids how to lose, or how to respond to failure, or the implications of being told “No”.

I had to step back last week and think about why we become so angry in our Mama Bear moments. Why do we lash out, want our kids to “get even,” or hold long-standing, painful grudges?  I think most of it is due to HURT. When our children hurt, we hurt tremendously, and we want to lash out at whatever or whoever is causing the hurt. But I think that isn’t the only reason we turn vicious. I think sometimes our pride is hurt, when someone fails to see how precious and perfect our babies are.  Sometimes we have difficulty accepting that our child is wrong about something, or that they “forgot” to tell us – as Paul Harvey said – “the rest of the story.”

I would imagine that the vast majority of things that anger us are earth-bound. Things that have no heavenly significance.  Paul said to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God…put to death therefore what is earthly in you,” and he goes on to list such character flaws (sins) as covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk (Colossians 3:1-8).

But he didn’t leave it there. He went on to say that we should “put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…forgiving each other…and above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful,” (Colossians 3:12-15).

Here is the bottom line: pain isn’t always a bad thing for our children. Pain often leads to growth. When handled properly, it leads to great strength of character. Why not teach them to suffer a wrong (1 Cor. 6:7)? Why not help them to see that true greatness isn’t found in being first, but in serving (Matt. 20:26)? If we guide them correctly (and don’t slash the offender with our claws) pain and struggle help them to develop meekness and unselfishness and fairness – what this world needs a whole lot more of.

(Yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition. Focus.)

Here’s something else to think about: Jesus was insulted, lied to, lied about, hated, physically abused, mocked, tortured and murdered, all by evil men who professed to love the Father. The Father was witness to all of it. Yet His arm was outstretched to those very same people, and Jesus said “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34). I am ashamed of my silly fits of anger when I think of His humility and sacrifice!

What is the most important thing in life? Is it being valedictorian? Having the nicest car or the most money? Winning Olympic gold? Being the fastest kid in 4th grade? I hope not! All of those things are nice, but they are temporary and they aren’t necessary. The only crown I truly want my sons to win is the crown of life that is given to them by their Heavenly Father. May I always keep this in the forefront of my mind!

I’m sending Mama Bear back where she belongs! Anyone need a nice bear rug?

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Caleb

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Twenty some-odd years ago, John and I met an energetic, mischievous, fun-loving, God-fearing, smiling young man named Clay, and a beautiful, serene, generous, kind and gentle young woman named Joanna. In 1998, the Lord merged those two personalities and Caleb was born, followed by Faith, Jenna, and Audrey.

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Our lives have crossed and intersected and merged now and again and we occasionally were blessed to hug their necks and laugh about things that happened when they were in college (like the fact that Clay taught Jordan and Jacob – when they were toddlers – to say “hey, chicky baby” when girls walked by.) We loved seeing their growing family.

Last summer we spent a weekend with them and their church family at a retreat in New Mexico. On our way there, we met them for a bite to eat and from the moment he bounced over to us, it was evident that Caleb was someone special. He peppered me with questions about Micah and talked about basketball.  He affectionately rubbed his baby sister’s head and smiled all the way through eating his sandwich. I teased him all weekend as he suddenly grew tongue-tied around some pretty girls. I noticed how he was comfortable with all ages and consistently wore a smile. He made such an impression on me!

Last Saturday, August 24, 2013, Caleb left Clay and Joanna, and went home to his Heavenly Father.

Several times today I’ve watched the slide show from his memorial service and as his baby pictures flashed by, I wondered – what if Clay and Joanna had known that they would only have him for fifteen short years? As a parent, I can’t imagine the dread that would create; the panic to hold on tightly as the time approached.

Caleb’s death and Clay and Joanna’s pain have made me think even more about the kind of love that God has for us. Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare and we would do anything – give anything – to prevent it from happening. But then I remember that oft-repeated verse that I might not really pay enough attention to, because He knew all along what would happen to His Son – “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

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I’m thankful for precious Caleb’s life. I’m thankful for my Father’s sacrificial love. And I’m thankful that one sweet day there will be a joyful reunion.

 

 

“Help Me To Be”

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We are blessed to have sweet Nancy as a member of the church here in Dripping Springs. She is from Fort Worth, and, as a matter of fact, she and my mother knew each other as children, because Nancy’s mother and my Grandma were friends. Nancy has been blind since birth, and she has some other impairments as well. Her father and mother have both passed from this life.  Nancy now lives at Hill Country Care, the same healthcare facility where Grandma (who will be 102 on August 3) resides.

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Nancy is not bitter in the least about her condition. If you ask her how she’s doing, without fail she will reply “Hap-PY!” with decisive emphasis. She loves Lawrence Welk, and she LOVES to sing. She sings her heart out. Bless her heart (and you know, when a southern girl says “bless her heart”, something uncomplimentary might follow, but I mean this sincerely) she sings with gusto – the kind of gusto that makes small children turn around and stare.

We sat in front of Nancy yesterday, and as we sang the song “Purer in Heart” I couldn’t help thinking to myself that there might not have been a purer heart than hers in that assembly. As she warbled her way through the song, with some squeaks that might not have been pleasing to human ears – I thought that God’s heavenly ears must have been pleased with her pure, heartfelt worship.

In fact, there are probably other aspects of worship that aren’t pleasing to us that are pleasing to God. Looking back to Old Testament worship – sacrifice in particular, I wonder what it was like to be present as animals were slaughtered. It’s hard to imagine a pleasant scene – but numerous times it is described as a “sweet savour” or a “pleasing aroma” to God (Exodus 29:18,  Leviticus 1:17, 8:21 and many other places). I’m thankful it’s different today.

But who am I to have a different opinion than God? My opinion is unimportant. He is seeking people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). Nancy’s voice may not win any singing competitions, but she is not competing for any reward except for God’s favor. Shouldn’t that be the goal of every Christian?

One of Nancy’s favorite songs is “Amazing Grace”.  “I once was lost, but now am found – was blind, but now, I see.” I wonder if perhaps Nancy doesn’t see better than any of us.

Camp

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When Micah was little bitty, he and I stayed home while John took Jordan and Jake with him to camp. Not being much of the outdoorsy, adventurous type, I preferred to stay in the relatively bug-free air-conditioned comfort of home. I never quite “got” why John and the big boys seemed to be so changed – on a higher plane, if you will – when they returned home.  But I get it now.

By the time Micah was about five years old, John and the big boys were begging us to come along and make it a family experience. My choices seemed to be (1) have another baby in order to stay home from camp, or (2) go to camp. Since the first option seemed a bit extreme, I decided to bite the bullet and spend a week at Camp Hensel.

Hensel, for those of you who haven’t experienced it, is not quite a five-star resort. It isn’t the Marriott. It’s not the Holiday Inn Express. It’s not even Motel 6. It’s more along the lines of the Bates Motel. Let’s just say Hensel has been around for a long time – so long, in fact, that I think some of the bugs stuck between the windows and rusty screens of Cabin 2 have been there since before I went as a child in the 70’s. The shower house for the boys is something straight out of the House of Torment: rusty nails, scary spiders and all. The Road House has a raccoon family in residence.  So I am firmly convinced, every year that our group returns relatively unscathed from a week at Hensel, that God has kept His protective hand over us.

Yes, there is heat. Oppressive, humid, sweaty heat. And bugs. And dirt – lots of dirt.  Shower shoes are a must. People tend to smell a little musty during their week at Hensel. We may occasionally get a teensy bit irritable. And maybe it’s because we only get about four hours of sleep each night.

BUT! There are the absolute best people in the world. A week spent away from the cares of the world and focusing on what is truly important. Lessons rich from the word of God, from men who have a gift for imparting His message. Meals eaten side by side with some of our best friends in the world. God’s beautiful creation evident all around us.

There are little boys (most likely wearing the same clothes for three days straight) whose ratty bed-head is absolutely adorable . Little girls who run around hand in hand, like these two:

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There is time to bond with young men and women – away from their telephones and iPads and any other electronic device. I  find it fascinating that they often come into the cabin on Sunday afternoon with a reserved demeanor (and sometimes downright distrust,) but by the end of the week they run to you with open arms, because the powerful word of God has entered into their hearts, and because we have been given the opportunity to show them that we truly care about them. These were most of mine and Denise’s girls this week – how I love each of these young women!

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There are times to pray, alone and together. Times to catch a glimpse into the sweet relationships between mothers and daughters; fathers and sons. Time to reflect on how blessed we are to be able to minister to others and for them to minister to us.

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And the singing! Can you imagine nearly 250 (dirty, sweaty) people crowded into a medium sized (un-air-conditioned) dining hall, windows and doors closed (because the acoustics are better) and singing for an hour? Andy Baker always encourages and reminds us to concentrate on the words of the songs and remember to Whom we are singing. This must be what heaven sounds like.

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The most beautiful sight was to see the compassion and care from so many when an individual had the courage to step forward and ask for prayers. They were immediately surrounded by so many – and not just their closest friends, but people they may not have known so well. What an amazing group of tender-hearted young people we spent the week with! I saw God in their compassionate, sympathetic tears.

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If you haven’t been, it’s hard to explain, and I hope someday you’ll know. I know we aren’t alone with our experience at Hensel – other camps provide the same experiences as well. I only wish that everyone could spend a week away, digging deep into God’s truths and retreating from the world.

Some of my favorite quotes from the week:

“When God uses you as His instrument, it doesn’t matter if you’re outnumbered.” Todd Crayton

“The Bible never gives us something to subtract from our lives without giving us something to add in its place.” Andy Baker

“If you’re against God, who can be FOR you?…Going to heaven is not easy, y’all, but going to heaven is worth it.” Mike Bonner

After a young lady had responded, Wayne Jones said that “her tears are a reflection of her heart.” What a beautiful statement.

When we arrived at Hensel, a dead feral hog was discovered in a stand of trees near the creek. Each time we walked to the creek for a baptism, the odor was overpowering. But John pointed out, in yet another teachable moment, that it was the “smell of death – and we don’t bury living people. In baptism, we die to our sins, are buried, and raised to walk in newness of life.” 2013-06-12 002 2013-06-12 011

I overheard Michaela Bonner comforting a fellow camper (whose grandmother is near death,) saying “You’ll see her again someday, and you’ll be even happier than you are now!”

We laughed a lot, too. A LOT.  Gretchen said “If you tried to stop some girls from talking, their heads would explode!” There are too many funny things that our girls said this week for me to record – and anyway, they’re just between us girls. 🙂

Coming home from camp is so bittersweet. I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed. Not have to stand in the sun with 250 people before I eat. Not have to wait in a line of 100 people to eat lunch. Sit with my elbows on the table. Have the bathroom to myself.

But I’m going to miss my brothers and sisters. Back to living in the world – a world that needs Christian light. And hopefully we have all better prepared ourselves, and those with whom we spent the week, to reflect the light of Jesus to a lost and dying world. I’m praying for those young people who have to face reality again. I’m praying that they’ll remember the strength and encouragement they received at camp when they’re faced with inevitable temptation.

I’m glad my boys all encouraged me to experience camp with them. It’s been life changing. I hope you’ll someday have your life changed, as well.