Monday, February 27, 2012

Reading Someone Else's Mail

Violins serenade in the newly-redecorated coffee-shop, emanating from an invisible sound system behind dark mahogany woodwork and high metal tubing. A last cheese Danish from the back and hot coffee are perfect companions in my window seat. The snow outside is like white turf with pebbled pavement peeking through. 

Lord, in my time in Jeremiah I hear a prophet echoing your frustration, and I see a big God who’s fed up. I have read Israel and Judah’s history now through the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and seen their disobedience and offenses stacked high. I see my own failings written in their font and have often cried out confessions in the last four–five months of reading these prophets. 

But now, Lord, I want to see you. I want to delight you. Help me to learn you. I want to know your heart: what brings you joy and what saddens you. 

After several years of reading through the Old Testament, wanting to see it all with fresh eyes, I occasionally feel like I’m reading someone else’s mail. Peering into love letters between an on-again-off-again mistress and her Man, I see the Creator’s love and loyalty to his World, especially his Jewish people in the 600 and 500s B.C.  His love is patient and deep, offering second, third, fourth, tenth, and hundredth chances to his Beloveds. The Creator’s forgiveness and tenderness entrance me. 
Thanks to Microsoft clip art

Reading familiar promises in context, though, sometimes leaves me holding someone else’s mail, reading someone else’s love letters. Too often, I have held aloft verses meant for another, and claimed them as my own. Snatching another’s Valentines, I read the words and started counting daisies meant for another. 

So, that’s my own little study this year… seeing which of God’s promises are truly meant for me (us) in the 21st century, and which are more meant to show us the big picture of His love, and his work throughout history. In that process, I can read the Lover’s letters to others too, and see his heart, study his character, and learn what delights him. 

This doesn’t mean he hasn’t written of his love for us; it just leads me to word studies on “all nations,” and “that the world may know,” and “to those who come after” and more. We’re in there, loved and written about in his hand as well, but I’m still learning whose mail is whose. 

What about you? What have you thought or read about this? Any insight or verses for us to study on this? You ARE loved, though, my friends, and it’s written in his hand.

(The giveaway winner selected at random is Cabinart! Please email me your address so I can mail the coffee card to you. Enjoy!)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Swords and Dragon-Slayers (Plus a Giveaway!)

Tuareg warriors

“Jen, the dagger is coming out from under the bed,” he said nonchalantly yesterday. Grabbing the tiny engraved blade, he slid the dagger back into its coffee-colored holster, and pushed it further under the bed. 

Two swords lay nestled under our bed. Normally the curved green and brown sword that used to hang from a nomadic African warrior’s mount and the coffee-colored, multi-daggered sword combo are displayed on our bedroom wall.  With our house on the market though, we have hidden away all unique wall hangings – swords included. 

I snuggled into my pillow later, still grinning at the incongruity of blades below us.  Today it reminds me of the verse, Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18).

The last few months I have been digging into books on building strong marriages, partly for fun and partly as research for my recent MOPS talk on “The Seven Needs of a Husband.” Shaunti Feldham in her book For Women Only, along with Chuck Cowan, former chief of survey design for the U.S. Census Bureau, surveyed over 800 anonymous men. What she and others (including Dr. Emerson Eggerichs) found is that men have a deep need for respect. While we women need respect too, there is a deeper issue, a deeper hole, in men that asks the question, “Do I have what it takes? Am I man enough? Am I powerful? Until a man knows he’s a man he will forever be trying to prove he is one, while at the same time may shrink from anything that might reveal he is not. Most men live their lives haunted by the question, or crippled by the answer they’ve been given,” asserts author John Eldridge in his book Wild at Heart (62).   

While our men need to get that haunting question answered ultimately by God, and not from any humans, we as wives play a vital role too.  Sincere affirmation to our husbands, friends, brothers, dads and sons is powerful. A marriage counselor told author Felham, “Affirmation is everything. When a man is affirmed, he can conquer the world. When he’s not, he is sapped of his confidence and even his feelings of manhood. And believe me, he will consciously or unconsciously seek out places where he receives affirmation. If a man knows that his wife believes in him, he is empowered to do better in every area of his life. A man tends to think of life as a competition and a battle, and he can energetically go duke it out if he can come home to someone who supports him unconditionally, and who will tell him he can do it” (67 For Women Only). 

A male friend told Shaunti, It’s all about whether my wife thinks I can do it. A husband can slay dragons, climb mountains, and win great victories if he believes his wife believes he can do it” (67 For Women Only).

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

Friends, our tongues can pierce like a sword or bring healing to the men and women in our lives. 

Even more powerful than constructive words in private are sincere compliments in public, researchers found. Look for ways to build up your spouse, your friends, and your children in front of others. To practice, leave a comment below with a compliment about someone in your life (husband, brother, sibling, friend, child). 

To spur us on in this great habit, I’ll throw in a $5 giveaway coffee card to a winner at random. Here's how to win:
1.) Post your answer in the comments below to get your name in the hat.
2.) Optional: Answer this question on your blog also with a link to my blog there for another chance to win.
3.) Optional: After commenting with your answer here, click Share to Facebook to post this site with your compliment on your facebook wall too.

Three ways to earn your name in the hat for the gift card. Let me know what you do in the comments section below so I can get your name listed as many times as possible. I'll post the winner on Monday.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Awake and Thirsty

Microsoft photos

"Thirsty hearts are those whose longings have been wakened by the touch of God within them."
           -A. W. Tozer

 I want to stand in your council, God, to see and hear your words... (Jeremiah 23:18).

Have any quotes grabbed your attention recently? Do you have any posted on your desk or fridge?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Blue and the Grey, and Ashes in the Teeth

Weary soldiers in blue and grey have traipsed through our living room and minds the last few weeks. For homeschooling history we have been delving into books about the American civil war. Through soldiers’ own words recorded from 1861-1865, we’ve learned about their struggles and battles. I especially recommend Delia Ray’s book “Behind the Blue and Gray: The Soldier’s Life in the Civil War.” 
After studying this time period, I wanted my kids to watch two films to make the era come alive –seeing their clothes, homes, plantations, reasons for the war and stories. While waiting for the phenomenal movie “Glory” to arrive from the library request program, I had my kids join me in watching the epic “Gone with the Wind.” 

Despite the sweeping saga of the South’s grandeur and gallantry, and Scarlet O’Hara’s stubborn perseverance, the film fills me with sadness. Scarlet held happiness in her hands so many times—especially when she was married to Rhett, who loved her madly. Yet each time, her pride and obsessions destroyed her. 

I am reminded of the verse in Isaiah 44:20 that says,
“He/She feeds on ashes,
a deluded heart misleads her;
she cannot save herself
or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’”

I fall into that trap too sometimes. Feeding on ashes with a deluded heart that misleads me… Contentment isn’t tethered on the house selling or the next thing. Peace isn’t waiting behind a certain season or stage. The grass is not greener. Life wouldn’t be better if…. 

With God speaking truth to me, I run to his word, open my journal, and get honest with God. And Joy is here. Peace is here beside us. Contentment isn't tethered!

Is God talking to you about lies you are holding onto this week? Or, what films have you watched recently?

Friday, February 10, 2012

From Shiny Bathroom Tiles

Floor tile in Karpas, northeastern Cyprus. 

tile and marble at Topkapi Palace Istanbul

Window Apartments of the Crown Prince in the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

 “Mooooooom! Mama? Maaaaaaama!”

Lusty-chested bellows ricocheted off the bathroom tiles. Bath-time splashes and naval battles had subsided.

“Mooooooom?   I done. Maaaaaaamaaa! I done.”

Even with only an inch or two of water in the tub and the door open, I had been monitoring my three year old very closely. I was nearby and knew he was safe, but I was on the phone.  Hurrying to wrap up the conversation, I edged to the bathroom.

“Mooooooom?! I done. I get OUT! Maaaaamaaa?”

Even as I was walking towards the door, he erupted into staccato mode. “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom.”

Swooping into the bathroom, I wrapped him in a sea-green towel and hugged him close.

“I was coming. I just had to finish on the phone,” I murmured as I kissed his fresh face.  Happy in my arms, he snuggled in, warming up in the towel’s layers. Soon, he was dressed and scampering off, wet swirls of dark hair still coiling up his head and cheek.

His attitude struck me. Never was Daniel afraid or worried that I wouldn’t come. In fact, the very presence of yells displayed the knowledge that I was there, that I would hear, that I would aid him.

He called to me because he knew I would hear.

There was no fear of my anger or displeasure. No thought of my not coming through. Only the insistent yells, convinced that when I heard him, I would come.

Where are you at with your Abba Daddy today? His love is so much richer than our human love for each other, for our kids.

From our tiled bathrooms, carpeted living rooms, dark bedrooms, or traveling cars, we can yell out, Abba!  “I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer” (Psalm 17:6).

From the hallway, from the dining room, from beside us, He will answer.
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).

What about you? What adds intimacy to your prayers? What are you praying for this week?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Weary? Worn Out?

With today’s frantic pace, a common answer to the question, “How are you?” is “Busy.” 

Even those who strive hard to slow the pace --stemming the tide of play-dates, carpool trips, kids’ activities and appointments--often find themselves weary. 

Laundry piles high in my car. (Yes, the car.) There was a house-showing request earlier this week, and we grabbed two baskets of clean unfolded laundry and hid them in our vehicle.  They need to be brought in and folded now. Toddler toys scatter across one corner of the living room, and the washer hums downstairs. 
Microsoft clipart. But this looks similar to my machine

Microsoft clip art. Ahh, don't those Italians just know how to do laundry?!

Tonight I stole a few hours of quiet in an empty house. Before and after studying my notes for tomorrow’s session with the fine ladies of Riverdale Church’s MOPS, I pulled my Bible close. “Lord, I come to you, let my heart be filled, renewed…” sang in my brain. Online radio played soothing nature sounds and piano trills, and an orange candle flickered beside my warm coffee. 

“…They will wear themselves out but gain nothing…” The words in Jeremiah sound like today’s world too, not just from two thousand years ago.  (Jer. 12: 13)

I followed along. Other verses came to mind too. 

“I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for a man to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).

When your words came, I ate them, they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty” (Jer. 15:16).

Another ancient prophet who heard God’s voice and told it to the people was Isaiah. He entreated everyone near him saying, 

“Why spend … your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare” (Isa. 55:2).

So, yes, I need to fold the laundry still, and I will. Meals, toys, and homeschooling duties still remain. But for now, for this moment, I am choosing calm and quiet with my God. 

Direct my steps, Lord. 

Fill me with a love for your words, your letters. Ancient letters on wispy paper saved for thousands of generations… They fill me with joy and stir me to action, to love, to praise, to delight. 

Are you wearing yourself out but gaining nothing? Pause, grab His book, and taste.

What helps you slow down and spend time with your Creator?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Acoustic Jam

Microsoft clip art
Guitar pick-work plucks melodies in dark twilight in my home today from the computer. Coffee gurgles and preschooler stacks orange slices.  Most of the household sleeps.

Last night, nine or ten guitars thrummed, picked, and throbbed live around us at an acoustic jam. A shiny red accordion swelled and folded along, adding a French flavor to the songs. Harmonicas were pulled out of pockets or deluxe tin cases and whaled on.  

My husband’s friend invited him to bring his djembe drum and join this weekly gathering in the city. We arrived around 6:15 to seven or eight men already jamming along to folk and rock tunes.  We chose a table close to the action, ordered some sweet potato fries with garlic mayo, and tapped in time to the music. My husband’s friend arrived as we were sitting down, carrying a snare drum and guitar. After talking some and munching on the addicting fries, they joined the music. My man pulled out his djembe drum and tilted it slightly for the best acoustics. After listening for a few lines, he jumped in, his broad shoulders keeping time.

Throughout the evening, more men and women arrived, opening guitar cases and moving in close to each other and the circle of players. Maracas, tambourines, and percussion eggs were laid on tables to encourage use, and musicians comfortably swapped instruments for several songs. A cherry mandolin traded for a snare drum with metal brush roads. 

Twelve strings, bass, acoustic, electric, banjos, and ukuleles alternated in front as lead. Graciously allowing all to have turns on stage to lead, musicians would politely defer to each other. “Sunny, after you?” or “Bill, do you want to follow Kevin?”  The lead would choose a song, bringing up their music, and then either clothes-pin the chord progression on a paper hung over the back of the music stand, or simply talk out the song outline. The group would quickly pick out the harmony or melody and join in. 

“Do you play guitar?” I was asked. “Oh no, I’m useless at guitar,” I laughed. Keeping time with bouncing legs, or a nodding head, I danced and sang along when I could. 

Words were my music, and I found them stirring and crafting in me as I watched. How could I describe the evening and the camaraderie I was seeing? Silver pony-tailed gentleman in green flannel smiled broadly and rocked out, pulling us in. His slight hippy feel was nostalgic of my parents and reminded me of the numerous house concerts we hosted while growing up. Guitar player in white khaki in the front right who pulled out the harmonica – you added a nice harp feel! Three brave women joined the mostly male group, strumming and singing along. One of them, blonde ponytail and gutsy voice, led several songs up front, all original material. Everyone sang along for the catchy chorus. “I have most of that song memorized already and I’ve only heard it twice,” one percussionist said appreciatively. “Thanks! I was channeling my inner punk,” she laughed.  

For about three hours we bobbed and drummed. Tiny narrow-hipped waitress with bouncy curly hair wove expertly through the swaying guitar players. Knit skull-capped biker grandpa a few rows down in blue denim pants and shirt with grey Santa beard impressed me with his I-touch screen phone prowess – the blue screen lighting up his face as he swiped and navigated. 

At nine, our friend left, and we took our leave too.  Stowing the djembe in the trunk, we drove home on dark highways through bright city lights to dimmer suburban streets, melodies still ringing in our ears.  Tapping my feet, I hummed “Brown Eyed Girl.” 

What have you been listening to lately? How do you like to create art or express yourself? 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hoar Frost and Learning Guy-Speak

Tall hoar frost climbs high off every branch and twig. The crystallized world took us all by surprise this morning.  Dazzling white bristles everything. 

Inside, our water pipes gurgled air or gushed black water. Puddled water downstairs yesterday alerted us to a leak. With the stores all closed at ten last night, husband simply cranked the water main to off. Since six this morning, he and the toddler have been plumbers. After letting me sleep in for part of the morning, they let me join them for the next trip to the store. 

We drove through white wonderlands. Why is it that extreme beauty makes us wonder if it’s fake? On white trees after white trees, inch-long spiked frost pointed towards the sky. 

Inside the store, we traipsed through unfamiliar aisles, talked copper piping and connectors with the salesclerk, and worried that the job would suddenly become much larger. After weeks of studying material for my upcoming “Seven Needs of a Husband” message at MOPS next week, I tried out some of it. 

Husband snorted and laughed. Okay, that one didn’t work. I was sincerely proud of him though, and wanted to learn better guy-speak. Tweaking my words some, and telling him what I was trying to do, I tried again. He grinned at me wryly.  

I have been learning that respect is one of males’ greatest needs, and that they love to tackle hard jobs for the sake of seeing if they can conquer it. According to the experts though, we females very often show disrespect to our men by our words, actions or attitudes – often without even meaning to. So I am working on this and learning.  Husband listened to my notes and information, highlighting parts of it, explaining parts of it to me, and lined them up in order of his experiences too. 

In the car-ride home, and in the laundry room as we cut copper, wiped up water, and twisted on connector rods, we laughed, talked, and savored married life. In the pipes, blackened water gurgled and then gushed out clean. 

What about you? What has your weekend been like? If you are a women, what would you say are some of the needs of a husband? If you are a male, what are some of the needs of a husband -- in your opinion?