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"You sure have your hands full!" said the older woman in Target, watching me try to corral four independent-thinking and adventur...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

An Outpouring of Friendship

Today I experienced an outpouring of friendship. It was from an extravagant number of sources, which makes me wonder... God, why now? Why right now so many back to back, superfluous, extravagant, lavish, gifts of human kindness and friendship all in one day?

If we've ever talked at length, then you probably know that this whole idea of a "friend" is a big deal to me. It's because, of course, of the language of John 15:15, when Jesus is informing his disciples that they are so much closer, so much more intimately connected with him than they ever could have imagined. They aren't just servants of their God any longer, living for him. They are friends, brought into his presence, his counsel, his fellowship, companionship. They are living with him. Doing life together. That's how Jesus sees friendship. In this together.

There are lots of different ways in which the idea of being in this life together can be expressed. Not everyone can do all of those things. Maybe there are one or two really unique individuals in your life who hit the friendship thing on all cylinders, but I think that's rare. Most will strive to excel in two or three aspects of the full range of possibilities. A few might do more, a few less. All will do some, though.

Here are just a few of the examples I can think of, and all these are based just on interactions with people who have appeared on the scene for me and my most close beloved in the last two days or so, with much of it occurring today:

A friend is one who shows up, even if it's not the most convenient time, even if an out-of-town guest comes along (Charlie and Mary Ann).

A friend makes an effort to meet a need you can't do for yourself (Cathy), and seeks other help when that friend can't make it happen either. Another friend responds at that point (Terry)--maybe even responding FAR above any expectation to provide for the need.

A friend doesn't let formality legislate away the relationship, and even goes the extra mile (or 5K) to make sure that relationship still moves forward, despite formalized obstacles (Henry, Josey). His heart is too invested to let others take it away.

A friend takes time to grasp what you're thinking, even if the content seems hard to swallow, and then affirms the positive while gently helping you consider the side you might not have understood beforehand (Robin).

A friend thinks you're so interesting, he or she shares you with others (Melanie).

A friend seeks you out to give you the information you're dying to hear (Brendan).

A friend tells you it's OK to be a little bit on the crazy side, and loves you through it anyway (Dave).

A friend includes you and yours in his or her life events even when it would be easy and justifiable to let it slip away (Lerenda).

A friend takes the time and keystrokes to share a kind thought, rather than just let it pass away into nothingness (Whitney).

A friend is grateful, and says so (Lyn).

A friend asks you your name again, because he or she finds you significant enough to not be readily forgotten (Cindy, Martin).

A friend remembers the wonderful day she spent with your child, and memorializes it with a precious gift (Tracy).

A friend prays for you when you're hurting, and gives humble, kind words to balm the shattered soul (Miriam, Mary, Mary, Melissa, Matt, Sharon, Robin, Stephanie, Cathy, Jill, Reenie, Dave).

A friend offers presence (Donna).

A friend thinks of you when he or she finds something delightful to share (Sarah).

A friend finds you in the crowd when it could have been so easy just to keep going with the flow (Amanda).

A friend laughs at your silly jokes and welcomes your attempts to be playfully engaged with him or her (Ginger).

Surely, my cup runs over! This is what the kingdom will be like. So much love, poured out freely without hindrance.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Other Blog Contribution: Sermon Responses

Here is my response to last Sunday's sermon, for those who are interested:

Changed by Mercy: Sermon Reflection by Rebecca Cochrane

And in case you missed the earlier post, you can see a few further thoughts and reflections on the book of Romans here.

Thanks for reading! Be blessed!

Be Transformed because of the Promises

This summary of the promises God makes to his people was printed in the weekly resources supplement from my church this past Sunday.

The text for Sunday's sermon was Romans 12: 1-2, which appears AFTER this list of promises. (And that's because the verse has a "therefore" in it, and you know, when there's a "therefore," you're supposed to stop and ask what it's there for. These promises are the reason for the "therefore.")

Soak it in, adelphoi. These are for YOU.

1. We are called to belong to Christ Jesus and to be saints.
2. We have grace and peace from God our Father.
3. The Gospel is the power of God for our salvation.
4. The righteous live by faith.
5. We are justified by his grace as a gift.
6. Jesus is our atoning sacrifice who removes us from the wrath of God.
7. Happy are those whose sin doesn’t count against them!
8. We are credited with the righteousness of all the laws which Jesus
9. Christ bore the full wrath our sins deserved, that we might live under
the joy of God forever.
10. Christians were not meant to live under a cloud of divine irritability.
11. We have peace with God. He is not working against us or at war with
12. Grace means God passionately favors us, prefers us and is partial.
13. Grace is our standing and a planet we never step off. You can’t step
in and out of God’s favor like you do everyone else’s.
14. We have open and unhindered access to God.
15. God’s power is the driving force behind the past, present and future
of our salvation.
16. The Spirit helps us hope, remember who we are and enjoy it.
17. If Christ loved you through His death, how much more will He love you
now that He lives! (Schaeffer).
18. If He loved me when I was an enemy, how much more will He love
now that I’m His child (Schaeffer).
19. Christ has reconciled us. We are no longer enemies.
20. Grace now reigns, not sin and death.
21. We have eternal life and need not fear the final judgment.
22. The reign of death has been broken.
23. We stand and live on planet Grace.
24. We are not slaves to the law or to sin.
25. Christ has set us free from the full power of sin.
26. Because of Christ’s achievements, we are counted as good a son/
child as He is.
27. You don’t make yourself a child, so you don’t maintain it and can’t lose
28. For us to be lost again, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit would all have
to fail.
29. God’s purpose is not to increase our sense of condemnation but
relieve it.
30. The gospel is effective because Christ is not done working. His
benefits continue. He is interceding and on the job in the present.
31. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
32. Christ has accomplished what the law could never do.
33. You have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, Abba,
34. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
35. The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
36. The Spirit intercedes for us with groaning.
37. All things will work together for good for those who are called.
38. If God gave up his Son for us, he will graciously give us all things.
39. We are people of destiny: foreknown and chosen to be conformed to
the image of his Son.
40. We are justified and will be glorified.
41. Christ is living and interceding for us.
42. Nothing will separate us from his love.
43. We are more than conquerors.
44. God’s word has not failed.
45. God has chosen us not by works but mercy.
46. Righteousness is by faith.
47. Whoever believes will not be put to shame.
48. Righteousness is not based on law but comes by faith.
49. Those who call on the Lord will be saved.
50. God finds those who do not seek him.
51. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I had to respond to the sermon for the church blog. That response hasn't gone live yet, but maybe I will link to it when it does, if anyone is interested in reading it. (Update: it is live now and can be read here if you'd like.)

But in a nutshell, the sermon was about how merciful God is to make us all these promises and give his Spirit to work in us to renew our minds, to make us think like him, to show us the more excellent way. All we have to do is believe him and respond to him by not fearing the testing, which is really just walking in this life with him with us.

Oh, how he loves us so! That can never, never be lost. So go in grace, knowing that he is with you, bracing you as you lean against him, loving you even when you fall, showing you how his way really is the good and right and healthy way. Maturing you, making you less self-focused so you can love others as they have need and be loved as you have need. (OK, now I'm overlapping with what I wrote for the other blog.)

Today is a beautiful day. I feel a burden lifted. I can see beautiful things again today. I have God's favor, and he is blessing me with the sense of his presence in a way I haven't been able to cling to in a long time. It's been fleeting, here and then gone. Today it is fresh and sense-able and so satisfying. Hold those promises, my siblings. God cannot fail.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mothering Many: From Fatigue to Finding Joy

A friend posted a link to this woman's blog, recounting her experience as the mother of four-plus-one-on-the-way, being met by strangers in public places, aghast and amazed (and not often pleasantly) at the size of her family.

I know the experience. As a mom of four, I've had similar encounters. But lately, as my girls are older now, the baby being fully six and school age, the response from strangers seems to have changed. I am finding, or at least sensing, more acceptance, even delight in the amazement at so many children "all yours?" So, I responded to her link with the following, and thought it was worth sharing more broadly as well:

I haven't had that experience (negatively) in a long time, probably because I rarely go downtown any more, and that's where I ran into it most, even with just two or three children--the "intellectual, enlightened" ones who seemed to judge me for reproducing at all. Once, I was unfolding the double stroller to take a walk downtown with just my first two, and two women stopped to chide me for my choice to "not travel lightly" in this world. They didn't see children with me. They saw luggage, and consumers of resources, rather than unique, creative, purpose-filled individual souls.
But lately, I've found great positivity, though sometimes astonishment, yes, from strangers seeing my string of little ladies. Given, it's only four of them, and somehow that even, balanced number seems to have gained acceptance. Five, perhaps, would be "right out." An odd number, odd and obvious. But we've walked the corridors of Target and the mall, played at the park. and made our presence known at other typically suburban venues, with me more often lately keeping my cool when they got rambunctious and instead of stressing (which I have done on far too many occasions), calling out simply, happily, "Line up, ducks! Line up!" and as the girls giggle and fall in single-file behind me, bystanders and disgruntled shoppers have stopped to watch and even smile. 

And it's been OK lately. I don't know if anything other than my own perception has really changed. Maybe I've found more security in the size of my family. Maybe it is that I'm not as worn out as I was when one or more were in the infant stages. There does seem to be some truth in the statement that "Everybody loves a WANTED child," and perhaps I gave the impression, in the past, when I was so worn out and sleep-deprived and fearful of looking bad in public if one threw a temper tantrum or broke something or looked dirty, that I wished I didn't have so many. Perhaps I seemed burdened.

But like this author/mom, I say, no. That's not the truth at all. Every one of them is a wanted child and every one of them is so beloved that I can't imagine life without them, each and every one. Knowing one made me want another. And I hope that's what the astonished strangers can see now, instead of the exhaustion and people-pleasing fear which might have sent the wrong message, and prompted them, if I may give them the benefit of the doubt, out of misunderstanding and concern for me, to have wished to liberate me instead of congratulate me.

Too soon, however, time will keep moving and liberate me entirely from this stage of life, with little ones underfoot, consuming everything in sight or reach, creating chaos where I can only dream of order. But even that is right. It is right that they should grow up and out of the baby stages and into adulthood. So far, there has been a little grief at the letting go but more contentment in the progression of the stages than I had expected. I can only hope that a little of the true joy that underlies the fatigue and stress and guilt for failure is now beginning to show through, and perhaps that is what is being seen by those on the outside.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Quotes I Can't Leave Behind, part 1

Sometimes someone else says something so succinctly, or so eloquently, or so profoundly, or so (fill in your own adverb here) that I don't want to let it go. I want to turn it over and over and taste it in its fullness and employ it and plant it in the gray matter for always and forever. These are some of those quotes. I am going to collect them for awhile, and periodically make a blog entry of the ones that have accumulated.

I hope you savor them too. Feel free to add your own in the comments if you have some to share.

"Strange, how there’s no love without humility – no one can accept anything except on their knees. (Everything else is stealing.)"
                        -- A Holy Experience 

"God didn't give us a bunch of commandments because He wants to restrict us and make life miserable. He gave the commandments because He loves us and wants us to be safe and free. He says, 'Here, this is how you live in this place.'"
                        --Ken Downer

"People see the little story, but they miss the big story. The Bible isn't about the ascent of man into heaven. It's about the descent of God to earth."
                        --Dr. Michael Williams, CTS


"We are most Godlike not when we turn away from the world but when we engage it."
                       --Dr. Williams paraphrasing John Calvin

"As we watched waves last September, and all the other ones were gone,
You said you felt like you were losing it. I said I've been lost for so long."
                       --Grey Eye Glances

"I was the son of a beautiful, word-struck mother and I longed for her touch many years after she felt no obligation to touch me. But I will praise her for the rest of my life for teaching me to seek out the beauty of nature in all its shapes and fabulous designs. It was my mother who taught me to love the lanterns of night fishermen in the starry darkness and the flights of brown pelicans skimming the curling breakers at dawn. It was she who made me take notice of the perfect coinage of sand dollars, the shapes of flounders inlaid in sand like the silhouettes of ladies in cameos, the foundered wreck near the Colleton Bridge that pulsed with the commerce of otters. She saw the world through a dazzling prism of authentic imagination."
                      --Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

"If I could hurt the body, I would not notice the coming apart of the soul."
                      --Pat Conroy, The Prince of Tides

"Nature is, above all, profligate. Don't believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn't it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once. This is what the sign of the insects says. No form is too gruesome, no behavior too grotesque. If you're dealing with organic compounds, then let them combine. If it works, it if quickens, set it clacking in the grass; there's always room for one more; you ain't so handsome yourself. This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent."
                      --Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.
   Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
   O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?
   O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost come back again."
                      --Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel

"It's not time to worry yet, Scout."
                      --Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

"Worry died, as usual, at the hands of routine."
                     --Leif Enger, Peace Like a River

"From every stormy wind that blows, from every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat, 'Tis found beneath the mercy seat.
There is a place where Jesus sheds the oil of gladness on our heads.
A place than all besides more sweet. It is the blood-bought mercy seat.
There is a scene where spirits blend, where friend holds fellowship with friend,
Though sundered far, by faith they meet around one common mercy seat.
There, there, on angel's wings we soar, and earthly cares molest no more,
And heaven comes down our souls to greet, and glory crowns the mercy seat.
Ah! whither should we flee for aid, when tempted, desolate, dismayed?
Or how the hosts of sin defeat, had suffering saints no mercy seat?"
                      --Hugh Stowell, "From Every Stormy Wind That Blows"