Sunday, September 30, 2012


My mother is an only child, and we don't have family reunions--I don't think. My parents were divorced when I was little, so I also lack that sense that "these people are family," some kind of underlying certainty that doesn't change. For me, family shifted when I was small, so it's not a rock-solid certainty that I put much trust in.

However, in the last two days, I have spent a lot of time with family. One event was my husband's stepdad's kids and a grandson. The other was my mom's aunt's 90th birthday, which included all kinds of family that sprung around her. My daughter joined me in both events, and we had a great time. Family is such a different thing than friends. With friends, you spend time on the assumption that you value this connection. With family, you spend time together because the link is already there, and then you get to evaluate who you've met and what you think. The link remains whether you like them or not. I can tell that my daughter is like me, in that we simply enjoy being connected to people. The greater the variety, the greater the enjoyment. Being around family is always good: if you like them, you think, "Hey, I'm related to this great person. How cool!" If you don't, you think, "Wow, I'm doing better than that!" Either way, it feels good. (Okay, the second isn't particularly nice. Sorry for being a flawed person.) And I like putting together a cheese & cracker tray that looks artful--who wouldn't enjoy that?

I feel the same way about church. If you attend my church, you're family. You are "in" with me, no matter what I think about your personality or body odor or political opinions. We are connected by our Father, and I enjoy the connection. Despite having a somewhat broken emotional understanding of "family", that word is still redeemed with me. Family is good.

Friday, September 28, 2012


The presets in my car are Christian music and country, so when something rock-ish is playing, I almost always assume it's a Christian band. One day I pop into my car and the first song that comes on has a great beat that grabs my attention immediately. My assumption is that I am hearing a Christian song. If you don't have children with you, you may listen to it here (the video is pretty inspirational!). I apologize for the language--it was my first clue that maybe this wasn't a Christian song per se--but in truth, I appreciate the lyrics.

Give em h***
Turn their heads
Gonna live life till we're dead
Give me scars
Give me pain
And they'll say to me, "There goes a fighter."

The bridge says, "Till both your eyes start to swell/till the referee rings the bell/till the crowd goes home/what we gonna do, kid?"

I remember Lizzye laying on the couch crying because she knew she couldn't fail classes and stay in cosmetology and she just didn't know how to pull things together and be good enough. I said, "We will make it work, baby" and her reply was, "You always say that, but it never turns out." A semester of homeschool in 8th grade when Mom wasn't home enough to teach. Two years of failing grades in high school. No friends, no job, no church could she trust me?

But I knew what was inside of me: a strong determination that my child would be successful. Circumstances may look bad, but the God of the universe loves us, and we will battle our way through this. We may have a bad track record over the last few years, but that is not the end of our story. It's just a blip that makes the final outcome even better.

Maybe it's because I live in the capitol of the Bible belt, surrounded by preachers who preach wealth and happiness in this lifetime...but I resonate with the lines, "Give me scars/Give me pain" as a Christian. Not that I am eager for suffering, but we are called to suffer with Christ. I am challenged to give up my comfort to make a difference, not seek my own satisfaction in a hurting world. Would that we who call ourselves by the name "like Christ" be willing to sacrifice our own personal heaven in order to walk alongside those still who still hurt, still need. May we live life till we're dead.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Secret things, part 2

In the same chapter where Israel is judged and hauled off to Assyria, we see the transformation of the land of Samaria. In Jesus' times, we know the Samaritans were looked down on as half-breeds, who had a form of worshipping the Lord but weren't true worshippers like the Jews. This is the story of how Samaria got in that state.

The Assyrians brought in people from other conquered lands to occupy & farm the conquered land of Israel, whose capitol was Samaria (hence the new name). The land of Judah, with the capitol of Jerusalem, is still intact. When the people settle in, they begin to be harrassed by lions. They, being spiritually astute, immediately realize that they are not appeasing the god of the land. They send word to the King of Assyria, who sends them one of the captured priests to teach them about "the god of the land." Unfortunately, this priest teaches them what he knows: worshipping in the high places (see previous post). The new inhabitants added this to whatever religion they brought with them. Essentially, they did what they always did, but now also went to church on Sunday because that made their lives look better. In our day, it might be the equivalent of attending church to network for business connections. Verse 34 says, "They neither worship the LORD nor adhere to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that the LORD gave the descendents of Jacob, whom he named Israel."

Beware of a faith that imitates man. If all you know of God is what you have seen your parents do, or the smattering you get at church, you may be missing Him completely. The Samaritans were not taught the covenant relationship God established with Israel (which included any foreign-born people who wanted in). They did not know that by following His rules they would be His people, and He would be their God. They just sacrificed in His name on a high hill, and did what they wanted.

Let me ask another question: what kind of a priest are you? Do you teach others to sacrifice in high places, but neglect the calling of God? Is "Come to church with me" a phrase equivalent to "Let's get a beer this Friday"? Are you sharing a person or a habit?

Everything comes back to this simple question: do you know Him? Have you listened to how He reveals Himself in His word for yourself? He longs to be pursued by you, and if you do so, you will find Him. Don't settle for something less.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Secret things

"The Israelites secretly did things against the LORD their God that were not right." - 2 Kings 17:9

This is one of those passages that sums up the sins of the nation of Israel. It goes on to detail their idol worship and God's resulting judgment. All the kings in this book have been evaluated in a verse or two, usually something like, "He did evil in the eyes of the Lord," or "He followed the Lord, but not wholeheartedly like his ancestor David," or "He followed the Lord but he did not remove the high places."

"He followed the Lord, but..." Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you are not committing great evil in the eyes of the Lord. Assuming that, how is your walk with Him? Is it, "I follow, but...?" Last night, Lizzye made a passing comment: "He's like most Americans. You know, prays when he's in trouble, maybe goes to church on Sunday, but lives however he wants."

In the book of Kings, Israel is divided. The temple is in the nation of Judah, and if the people want to worship the Lord, they should do so there. But when Israel split off from Judah, their king (Jeroboam) set up idols for them to worship so they didn't have to go so far. Obviously, he had political motives, but it was also much more convenient. And the Israelites had long had the practice of "high places," local shrines that allowed them to worship God without exactly doing what He said.

2 Kings 17 details the idolatry of Israel, ending with, "They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger" (verse 17). Anyone, if we start with that verse, would recognize that sin. But it begins with "secretly doing things that weren't right." How can you be secret before God? That is only an illusion, but we are good at deluding ourselves. Let His light shine in your life; you don't have to fabricate His conviction. If there is anything that you think He's winking at, or overlooking, beware. You cannot keep your secrets and live in His blessing with light and truth.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Huldah the prophet

If I had a biblical hero, someone I want to be like, it would be Huldah. 2 Chronicles 34 tells the story of The Book of the Law being found, during Josiah's reign. The king, his court, and the religious leaders were appalled to learn that they had not been following God's commands. When Josiah wanted to inquire of the Lord, to find out if this book was the real thing, he sent the priest and his men to "the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe" (v.22).

I picture Huldah spooning baby food to the littlest, sitting in the high chair, while two other children are playing. The tv is on some PBS channel, and the doorbell rings. "Huldah?" asks an official looking group of men on her doorstep. "Can we ask you a question?"

In the next three verses, she tells them what prophets throughout all of Israel's history have been saying: if you don't follow the Law, you will face God's wrath. Then she has a word for the king himself: because you were humble before the Lord, you won't see this happen in your lifetime. Verse 28 ends, "So they took her answer back to the king," and he begins a revival in Judah.

Huldah's husband was the keeper of the wardrobe. He was just a worker in the temple, serving the priests as they changed clothes for their holy duties. He punched a clock and provided for their household. Huldah didn't lead a bible study or a temple ministry. And yet when she was bumped, look what she knew. She knew truth when The Book of the Law had been lost; she knew Truth enough to hear His voice when the king came to inquire of her. And the leaders knew to find her, when the king wanted some godly insight.

I want to live like her, with a private depth in my ordinary life. I want to know the True King, in the midst of my humble, quiet life married to an ordinary (but wonderful) man. When I am bumped, I want Truth to spill out of me. If the Lord writes a few verses about me, I want them to reveal Him.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Learning the Bible

Growing closer to God is a three-legged stool that has your name on it in His throne room. After all, you are His child, and we all have our special privileges, being the King's kids. My stool is bright green with whimsical flowers painted on it...but I digress.

The three legs are the Bible, prayer, and fellowship with other believers. If you're reading this blog, it's likely that you know me, so as part of your group of believers, I want to share with you how I learned about the Bible.

I loved reading as a child, and in college I majored in English because it allowed me to read books instead of textbooks. I know how to approach a book and learn about it, and since the Bible is like 1300 pages, it is not the easiest text to grasp. When I was younger, I decided that instead of memorizing a bunch of verses, I would try to learn the Bible's structure; I learned what kind of book each one was, who wrote it, why and when(ish). I love history, so I tried to imagine what life was like for all the people in the time they lived in, how different the culture was in say Moses' day compared to King David compared to Jesus. I read the NIV Study Bible, which had commentary on verses giving cultural and historical details that made the text make more sense. I wanted the whole book in my head. If you want to study the Bible this way, find an edition that has introductions at the beginning of each book with background information. It's really helpful. My husband and I also read Jesus & His Times, a Reader's Digest book that discussed history, politics, religion, education, geography, etc. in Jesus' day. Anything that makes it come alive to you is good.

The second "process" that I used to help learn the Bible was just curiosity. I remember sitting in a women's Bible study when I had been a Christian about 15 years. When in the course of the discussion, I would think of a different verse that seemed to shed light on what we were talking about, I would look it up. Not just think, "Oh, that says blah," but physically find it (which helped me learn where things are a little better) and read the context. Sometimes I didn't remember the verse accurately, and looking it up made the reference irrelevant--or even more interesting. This is still the primary way I grown in my knowledge of the Bible: connecting verses, strengthening my memory and familiarity with the Word, following my curiosity.

The third way to learn the Bible better is to do what it says. It is one thing to have knowledge, but you must also look up and ask, "In light of what I read, now what do I DO?" Trying to apply the Bible makes you curious about how God works in YOUR world, which makes you think of something you read in Ruth, which you look up, which further makes you curious about what you should do on Tuesday, which stirs you to ask the Father, and as you pray you think of a verse in Luke, etc. Obedience leads to growth as a Christian like nothing else. But you must know what God says in His revealed Word. He will not primarily approach you in personal revelation until your brain is saturated with the truth He has already given. It is through this truth that He chooses to speak to us. Know the Bible and you know Him better.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Iron relationships

I have known my best friend for longer than we've really been best friends. She was in school and worked with my husband before I "stole" her, about the time our firstborns arrived in the world. Our eldest are 18 and almost 18 now, so we have a few years invested in our relationship.

One thing I have learned is that she's just not good at everything. She is the first person I call in any crisis, and she is great at "Put on your big girl panties" speeches. She is a gale-force wind to help me choose the right thing when I don't feel like it. And she's not really good at emotional comfort when the bottom drops out of my world. I've learned to mitigate how much I seek her out in those times, and to minimally brace for her reaction.

Please note, she endures a lot of drama from me. When we first met, I was so sensitized to different issues, thanks to a lot of pain from graduate school, there were times she could barely converse with me. But that is my point: tolerating each other's weaknesses and working through them has given us a stronger relationship.

She has a no-nonsense approach to life, and I have seen her siblings in crisis through her perspective. Each one has something to contribute, and together they handle family trials, each playing a different role. In the midst of this uniqueness, there could be a lot of annoyance. It often seems like one of the siblings isn't doing the "right" thing, and yet my friend finds their strength and expects them to shine there, not putting them in a situation that she herself might be able to handle beautifully but would certainly put one of her sisters in failure mode.

Long set up to do you see your church? Are they family? Do you play the role God designed you to play and realize that everyone else has a different part? There were so many times over the course of our friendship that one of us could have walked away. Think about it: the Bible describes friends as "iron sharpening iron," which seems extremely abrasive and irritating and totally anti-Hallmark. God will put people in your life who will rub on you. Be willing to look for His hand in that relationship or situation that you would rather flee. Maybe He is sharpening you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Encourage younger moms

This entry is for older women. I don't know what qualifies you as an "older woman", but if it comforts you, I fit that category and I'm only 29. (Smile, look around the room, I think they believe me...)

One of our jobs is to encourage younger women. The book of the Bible written to Titus tells us to urge the younger women to do various things "so that no one will malign the word of God" (Titus 2:4). When I mentioned this topic to my best friend, she sighed, "But I don't want to do Valentine parties." And I immediately think of all those church programs that get a bunch of women together for "mentoring," pairing them off with commands to meet weekly, pray for each other daily, and study this book. One more item for our checklist--just what we need.

Whatever image you have in your head of "encourage the younger women," set it on the table and honestly look at it. Do you think you don't have time? That you're not knowledgable enough, good enough, wise enough, etc? You've been told to do it, so let's consider something other than that revolting mass of obligation you're staring at.

Do you ever see a woman in the store with children younger than yours? You think, "Oh, I remember my kids at that age." Say something nice to her. Stop in the hall at church and tell that young mom that she's doing a good job. You don't even have to know if it's true! Your words bless her, and encourage her on the best path before her.

That wasn't so hard, was it? Could you take one more step? Invite a younger mom for coffee or an afternoon soft drink. Meet her somewhere. Drop by her house with a cookie. Take 45 minutes to listen to her. Just talking out loud and knowing you care about her will make her entire week better. Give yourself the following freedoms: 1) it doesn't have to be a long visit; 2) you don't ever have to do it again. God is capable of bringing one encouraging voice after another into her life; you aren't committing to a 10-year relationship.

A quick word on the "I'm not (blank) enough." Of course you're not. God is. Ask Him for enough confidence to help someone else. You don't have to be a paramedic to give someone a hand when they've fallen down. You don't have to never have fallen yourself, or been trained as the Expert Get Upper. Maybe you need to learn a little grace for yourself so you can offer it to someone else...that is very important for your own walk, and I encourage you to look into that one.

In our crazy American culture, we could all use a little casual. A little unscheduled friendliness. A little low-pressure community. Be willing, and let God be in charge of the rest.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ooze a little

The Lord doesn't need your goodness. He didn't save you so that you would be a cleaned-up version of yourself. Christianity isn't just being smug and "better" than everyone else.

The Lord is...the Lord. Our culture doesn't have that concept much. To be Lord is to be everything: the provider, the decision-maker, the planner, the rewarder. Our job, as Christians, is to surrender to Who He Is.

I don't think people were struck by Jesus because He was just so good. Goodness as a stand-alone isn't really appealing. I think they were startled in His presence because there was something MORE in the atmosphere around Him. Being around Jesus had the lingering smell of the throne room of heaven. He was just this ordinary person, and there was something BIG in His presence.

That is what we are called to, to be vessels of the Spirit of God, so that when people are around us, they touch something greater than us. There are keys to revealing Him, things like repentance, humility, choosing righteousness, remaining silent, speaking up when it's hard. No matter where you are in your journey with Him, you can reveal who He is by your choices. Laying your will down is so opposed to this culture--trust me, you can make much of Him in something as simple as a quiet choice.

Magnify the Lord today. You don't really want to put yourself on display anyway, and He is worth making much of.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ovarian Cancer

September is ovarian cancer awareness month. Ovarian cancer is fairly rare and is often called "the silent killer." My mom was diagnosed with this disease four years ago. She has one of the healthiest lifestyles that I know of, and yet cancer still took over her body. God, in His mercy, allowed us to catch the disease in stage one, because one of the tumors burst and filled Mom's abdominal cavity with fluid. She looked four months pregnant. However, she had been having some odd symptoms for six months, and we never knew to even think "ovarian cancer."

Cervical cancer is the number one killer of women world-wide, but it is easily detectable by a pap smear. Thanks to the push for annual pelvic exams and pap smears, women in the US are much more likely to detect cervical cancer early and receive treatment. Breast cancer research and awareness is supported by the powerful Susan Komen foundation, so women know to conduct monthly self-examinations. Women over the age of 40 are encouraged to have regular mammograms to look for cancer in their breasts.

Ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in over 22,000 women this year. Over 15,000 of those women will die from the disease, because it is often not detected until stage 3 or 4. Ovarian cancer is not silent; it whispers. Be alert to these symptoms:

*Changes in bladder or bowel habits
*Increased waist size or feeling full quickly
*Abnormal vaginal bleeding
*Unusual fatigue or sudden change in weight (up or down)

The key to these symptoms is that they don't come and go, but are rather consistent over a period of months. If you are concerned, ask your physician. A pelvic ultrasound can detect tumors growing around the ovaries or in the uterus (endometrial cancer). A blood test for CA-125 can also sometimes be helpful.

Tell your friends. Tell women that you love. Cancer sucks, and a little education never hurt anyone.

My sister-in-law, my mom (cancer survivor!), and me in teal, the color of ovarian cancer awareness.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Our culture's standard

The other day I was browsing through a Home Economics book from the 1940's. The author had a chart on how often to clean the house. Totally clean the kitchen and bathrooms daily. Clean hallways, bedrooms, and living room twice a week. Etc. I bemoaned to my best friend that we don't have standards any more. I didn't want to clean that much; I don't really value an incredibly clean house. Something in me just wanted the peer pressure towards margin and order.

My best friend remarked that we do have cultural standards: we don't clean, we don't have time for relationships, we eat out too much, we bond with others over our schedule horror stories. Egads, I think she's right.

And being the intrinsic rebel, I begin to look for an opportunity to move against the culture. I've been mulling it over for a few days, and I don't have any huge answers. I have a couple of observations.

If we willingly choose to participate in our culture (and we all have choices), let's do so with purpose. When I was working, I would sometimes put in 50-hour weeks. My husband and kids were very committed to what I was doing. We didn't do a lot of upkeep on the house. We didn't socialize with friends much. The house wasn't always clean. But we knew why we kept the pace we did; we had a strong sense of purpose. Crazy and purposeful isn't necessarily terrible, do you think? But crazy for the sake of crazy, without any thought...that seems a little dangerous.

The other observation: it's okay to say no. I was supposed to get together with a friend on Monday to do some cooking. It was an opportunity to get some work done and be together. A very good idea. But I'm too tired, and my days have been snowballing lately. I needed a break, so I called her and offered coffee instead. The other gift I gave my friend was not being guilty for needing to change our plans. I'm going to be a rebel against our culture; I'm going to make it okay to choose something less, instead of always more more more.

Since my culture offers me no pressure towards margin and order, I'll make a little of my own. Or at least live thoughtfully. How about you?