October 28, 2011

Under Cedar Wings

I sat under the wings of a cedar and I remembered the shelter of the Most High. Covered, I find the refuge I seek.

Rain, an unmetered percussion, played its muffled beat around me. The song composed of raindrops on leaves, on dirt, on branches was tender and sweet during the afternoon shower that washed the leaves, the ground, the earth around me.

Abiding in shadows of fading light, another day rolled quickly away. I sat under my cedar covering listening for the small Voice of the Big God. 

The leaves have turned---the sumac vermillion, the hickories ochre. I spot a sweet gum---it’s leaves like stars, each one choosing a color of its own. One was trying on purple.

I am turning too. I noticed my skin softening, the lines and spots of age appearing here and there upon my flesh. I have entered the autumn of my life.

The question before me: What is life going to look like for me in this season?

I go the yard to contemplate my question----a question heavy on my mind for too many months now.

I wait long for the answer.

Two of my babies no longer sleep under the roof of our house. My youngest will lay his head down here for a little while longer.

In just days, he’ll climb into the driver’s seat of a car. In a breath, Jeff and I will be back where we started, just the two of us----only wiser from living so many sunrises and sunsets.

Not long ago I was living the summer of my life. I had three that depended on me.

The baby tussled my hair sitting in his backpack. Having him there freed my hands. Those hands held on to his brother and sister. My baby's lives encircled mine. Together we ventured out to discover the world in spring of their lives.

Summer is over. My hands are free.

Under the cedar, I held empty hands out before my God.

I whispered a prayer in the rain, “Lord, what do you want to do with these hands? I don't know what to do with empty hands. I need you to show me."

Up in the kitchen, the pot of pintos I started in the pressure cooker earlier soaked in their muddy brown pot liquor awaiting a warm-up. Turnip greens simmered in bacon drippings. Sweet potatoes roasted in the oven. Only the cornbread needed my attention.

Light fading, I pulled away from the “small space.” I headed back to attend to my life. The rain shower was ending as I slipped back in the kitchen and picked up the stirring spoon.

Hands held out to God are meant to serve.

I served supper last night with holy hands.
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.  
 (Matthew 25:34-36 NLT)
I fed my man and my boy. And I fed Jesus.

I got the answer to my prayer---the one lifted to God in the shelter of cedar wings.


Counting Graces with Ann:

-bread pudding with chocolate sauce
-a daughter who is my friend
-remembering God's faithfulness with good friends
-the sure hope of heaven
-a text from the girl who loves her "mommas"
-the pain that comes with beauty

Real or Relevant

Real doesn’t always work in this world. Relevant is a good alternative. It reaches a wider audience---isn’t offensive. We pick and choose where relevance works. At least for me, surfing around the Christian blogging world, it isn’t that hard to find people who have something to say that is relevant to my life.

The problem that I struggle with is whether this relevance among those who are like me makes a difference in the world that God sent me to minister the gospel of grace.

As Christian bloggers, we are all “Amening” one another.

Yes, there are some that challenge, broach the topic of infidelity or abortion, but mostly we are talking about things that the world wouldn’t get---would probably scoff at if they were to read around the communities.

The truth is I choose relevance over real so I can fit in. What am I losing of myself when I do that?

Just trying to keep it real.

Writing on the Five Minute Word prompt: Relevant

October 24, 2011

Coloring as a Spiritual Discipline

I wrote last week about finding a "small space" in my yard.  I would go there daily to see what God might teach me outside shaded by the pines.

Lately, I seemed to be spinning my wheels, digging ruts. Fighting ambiguity about creating the "small space," I rocked out of my routine and moved my disciplined time with God out of the house and into the yard.

The first day I went out with my cup of coffee, a box of crayons, and a watercolor notebook. The crayons were going to be my attempt to bring out my “inner child.” The picture of cherise on the cup became my inspiration.

Was coloring a likeness of cherries onto watercolor paper going to change my life?
No, I didn’t think so.

Did I expect it to?
I did not.

Would I enjoy it?
I thought maybe I would.

Still I fought guilt. There was laundry to be folded, dishes to put away, and a grocery list to write. The guilt stirred my heart me to pray. Guilt became grace---a gift that moved me toward the Creator of colors.

Searching through the forty-eight choices before me, I started to talk to God as if we were sitting side by side, a conversation between two friends sharing a box of crayons and a cup of coffee.
It was such a sweet conversation.

Yes, that's what we had-----a conversation. Not that anyone could have eavesdropped. It was silent on both parts, a quiet knowing that slowed time to a holy moment.

My eyes, hands, brain worked mindlessly as I colored cherries. All the while my soul engaged to His Presence near. Soundless, I expressed what He already knew.

I have prayed a lot lately. Let me restate: I have talked to God a lot. I have witnessed prayers answered in incredible ways. But I have to admit I have been the one doing all the talking.

I was stilled by coloring.

And there my soul heard the small Voice from the Big God.

He was so patient with me as I told him how I was struggling to live in this relatively new season of life.

He understands----is not surprised.

I slipped the colors back to stand beside their companions. My cherry drawing complete, my thin soul deepened with his leading.

One thing. He gave me one thing---turned from his drawing to write on my heart one truth:
"Surrender to the grace-drenched life---learn to see grace everywhere. Truth will come in the smallest of things. Look for it."
My eyes are wide open.

The "small space" found me practicing coloring as a spiritual discipline-----a surprising encounter with "God in the yard."

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
 (Psalm 51:6 ESV)

Thanks to L.L. Barkat for her inspirational book,
God in the Yard: Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us, 2010, T.S. Poetry Press. Kindle Edition.


Counting the Graces with Ann:

-holding my sleeping granddaughter during church
-night rain followed by a grey day
-quiet Sunday afternoons
-orange leaves on the sassafras outside my bedroom window
-a husband worthy of respect
-Drake, the yellow dog, that makes him happy

October 21, 2011

Beyond our Means to our Dreams

When Jeff and I married just over twenty-five years ago it was beyond our means to have much of a honeymoon. We did get away to a cabin for a few days and went to an amusement park. We dressed up in old-fashioned wedding garb for a tin picture at the park. We came home because we ran out of money.

“Someday we’ll go on a big trip---maybe on our 25th anniversary,” my love promised.

So we did it! Twenty-five years later, we boarded an airplane and took off to Paris. We spent ten days in France and it was beyond what I could have ever imagined when I was twenty-three.

I went with low expectations because I thought that would be wise and came away thrilled.

In fact, my life has been more than I imagined---beyond what I could have ever dreamed.

October 20, 2011

Sowing without Knowing

I am not much of a gardener. I grow herbs and zinnias. There are a few perennials scattered among the hawthorne bushes and the Japanese maples. They rarely require any attention from me.

Zinnias are annual summer flowers that I remember my grandmothers growing in rows in their gardens alongside turnips, tomatoes, beans, and sweet corn. I think they were planted most likely for two purposes. One was to attract butterflies who would then carry pollen from bloom to bloom as they flittered among the plants. The other reason the flowers got a row (or two) was to steer aphids away from the garden vegetables. Aphids are tiny creatures I never really new much about except that my grandmothers made it known that they were a threat to the harvest. Apparently, aphids are very fond of zinnias so there was the hope they would find them more appetizing than the green beans.

The first two years we lived here I planted zinnias in the big bed out front. It had nothing to do with pollination or aphids. They filled the space, bloomed all summer, and made me happy.

The next year I noticed them coming up “volunteer." I didn’t think that was an option being they were annuals. I had let them stay in the bed long into the fall---to the first frost. When they were pulled up for the winter, their seed scattered from blooms dry from the summer heat.

I am not much into dead-heading.

Since then, every year I have let them volunteer. I stand at the kitchen window in the summer and look out on a colorful bed of zinnia blossoms and butterflies.

Winter blew in yesterday. The flannel sheets are on the bed. There is a pot of soup on the stove.

This morning I decided to gather the zinnias, scatter the seed.

The moist musty odor of interrupted soil triggered memories of my grandmother’s gardens. (I miss those gardens and their bounty.) Tugging at the stems with my gloved hands they gave away easily. Soon I had filled the wheelbarrow five times.

As I did this garden tending, the thought came to me that in God's kingdom, there are times I scatter seed when I don’t even know it. The Holy Spirit is working and creating---using all kinds of circumstances to accomplish His kingdom purposes. Sometimes I know what he is doing, sometimes I don't.

The Holy Spirit draws me into the world to tend to something. I might not see it as anything but cleaning up a mess. But from his perspective, I am scattering seed. Some will fall on fertile soil. Without any preparation or intentionality it happens--- may even seem to be the very opposite of sowing. Only the Master Gardner knows the potential of what has been sown when life has been uprooted.

Everyday I volunteer to do what he sets before me. In turn, he gives me the privilege to sow seed in the most unlikely ways. It is the most freeing way to live---to give Christ my life, submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and let the seeds fall where they may.

All I have to do is put my hand to the plow---or the wheelbarrow. I won’t look back. I don't want to.

Reading from Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts before I began the work out in the zinnia bed this morning, she reminded me of this stunning truth. Today "I get to live."

I get to live in this kingdom, work it, smell it, see it. All of it-----a gift. And yes, I am grateful.

God, He is faithful.

There'll be zinnias next year.
Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. (1 Thess. 5:24) 

October 17, 2011

Lessons in the Yard?

Is God in my yard?

The following are answers to journal prompts from a book I am reading entitled God in the Yard by L.L. Barkat. I wrote my responses in the car as we drove the I-40 corridor across hundreds of miles of America.

The author is writing about a commitment she made to create a small space to go to daily. It happened to be in her yard. I haven’t read past these prompts so I don’t know what happened, but I am intrigued since obviously she wrote a book about it.

I am considering finding my own “small space.” These are my thoughts based on the author’s prompts:

“If I commit to going to some kind of ‘small space’, I’m afraid that…”  I will find out that I am not a creative that I only have the creativity of others to admire, or worse to envy. I am afraid that it would be a colossal waste of time that is self-indulgent rather than soul building. I am afraid my soul would suffer rather than find something new, beautiful, and life giving."

“I shouldn’t bother with 12 weeks of this, because...” if I take the natural time to do it I will likely be hearing framer’s with their power hammers, the beeping of construction vehicles, and smell the odor of plastic burning. The house-building next door will drown out the sounds of birds singing, deer tip-toeing through dry leaves, the sound of an airplane flying over my “small place” headed to the place I dream about in my imagination.

“I believe (or do not believe) my soul is bigger and wiser than I, because...”

Which is it? What do I believe about my soul? Is it not my soul that sees beauty and signals my stomach to tighten in a knot, knowing beauty is often fleeting? Was it not my soul that as I prayed Scripture over a bride, caught her eye, made me swallow hard to hold back the emotion of a moment? Is it not the soul that turns my gut to a gnarled mess, stealing my appetite when I at a loss for what to do next?

The soul must be harnessed when love overwhelms, bridled with a bit, held back, so as not to overcome self or others.

But what if I trusted the One to whom I have given my soul, in a "small space"----- a place where no one else is-----in the place where things are not as they should be? Things are never as they should be. Never.

What if I let go of the idea of a perfect place to sit and ponder at the bidding of my God? Might it be worth taking the risk to go to the backyard even with the house being built next door?

My fear says that what is being built over there will at the same time be tearing me down, making me want run to find another place---a place I knew long ago when time was slow and I wasn’t responsible.

Could I go to the yard as I did as a child for an hour to play?

When time was slow and I wasn’t responsible, things creeping into the yard from next door would not have fazed me. I would have gone about my day and fed my soul the way a child does finding wonder outside without prerequisites having to be met.

When I was a child, I might have caught a terrapin, if I happened to wonder upon one, fed it a carrot. I might have gathered acorns for the squirrels so they didn’t have work so hard to put away their winter supply. I might have picked weeds for a bouquet, a little violet bouquet or maybe, stinkweed with their bright glossy yellow petals. Or if the yard wasn’t mowed, I might have split stems on clover flowers, pulled the stems through the slit until the bloom caught to make long strands of clover necklaces.

I could do this, go into my yard, but will I or should I? Is it a crazy experiment that will leave me with a feeling of foolishness at the end? Could it be that God wants to put me in the yard to grow something in me that I have been looking for and haven’t found in the house?

If I have trusted my soul to God, what do I believe about it? Is it bigger and wiser than I? It probably is. I wouldn’t know. I live in my mind.

But I am wondering what God might teach me out in the yard?

Counting the graces with Ann:

- finally seeing Anna as the bride, beautiful in her green eye shadow
- finding a country church on the back roads of northern Georgia
- seeing a friendship quilt hung in the church
- witnessing dreams come true
- finding our way home to the ones we love

October 13, 2011

Jesus loves Me this I Know

I was sitting four or five rows back on the left of the pulpit. I know I was close to the aisle because I felt a strong desire to step out at the end of the service, to run to the pastor. I didn’t.

On that day in my little country church I remember a troubled heart, an anxious need for God that I had never experienced before.

After church, we went to my Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner like we did every Sunday. I played with my cousins. We ate banana pudding. I was eight.

That afternoon when we made our way home, I decided I had to tell my Momma about my heart, about my fear that something was not right.

While I was in church that morning God called me into his kingdom. I had always known Him. For the first time in my life, I recognized He knew me.

I have a glimmer of memory of me and my sister, tiny girls with folded hands, reciting this prayer in harmony:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I never once thought He wouldn’t---take my soul should I die--- until that Sunday at church. I felt the weight of my sin. In the mystery of God, I had child-like understanding that God was calling me.

I remember no words, nothing of what Momma said to me. But I do remember other tactile details of the day I entered the kingdom of God.

Skinny little eight-year old knees dropped to the sculptured blood red carpet beside my parent’s bed. My hands caressed the knotted snow white bedspread that covered it. There I prayed and received the kingdom like a little child. That’s it---all I remember of that day, that glorious day!

Time has stolen the details, but some days later, I put on the white robe, stepped into the warm water of the baptistry. The air caught the robe as I stepped down causing it to billow around me. It seemed that I was floating. The witness of what Christ had done in me was proclaimed before those who loved me. I was raised to newness of life.

Forty years later, I realize what a gift to have received the call as a child. Over the span of my life, I surely have acted like a child too many times to count. But my Father, he has always found me when I was lost, always brought me back to the fold.

Never could I have imagined the blessings that would come to me when I received grace so many years ago. Nor could I have imagined how I would grow to love the One who gave me so great a salvation. Even now I see in the mirror dimly---someday, face to face.

Today I worship the One who calls me His very own possession:

“Jesus loves me this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little Ones to Him belong.
They are weak but He is strong.”

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  
(1 John 3:1a)

October 12, 2011

I Pray through Pine Trees

Everything happens for a reason. And when things don’t happen the way you hope, then begins the battle.

Yesterday I backed out of the garage and in the mirror I saw the towering pines that have stood there for forty years or more. Pines are here because someone planted them. Then they had babies. The babies like to swing. I like to lie in the hammock and watch them swing back and forth at the slightest breeze, tall skinny metronomes.

This is a land of hardwoods but not old growth. Our house sits on an old home place. The trees gave up the clues in the their population on the property. A huge white oak just a stones throw away pulled its last nutrients from the soil a few years ago. Its skeleton a craggy reminder of all it has witnessed up on this hill.

We took down a big dogwood to build our house. We had to. And it killed me. The dogwood blooms with the remembrance of Christ’s suffering in rust stained blooms in the spring. It feeds birds with red berry fruit. Its leaves turn red in the fall.

The sassafras had to go as well. I didn’t feel as much regret as I had the dogwood. Since then, sassafras seedlings have grown up under the pines out back. The first of October their leaves began changing crimson to gold outside my bedroom window. We prune them and hope for more baby sassafras under those pines.

The trees that bordered the house on the east hugged our property line--- just on the other side. If anyone ever built over there, there wouldn’t be reason to pull them down. Why would they take out the shade of the sun beating down from the west during the hot summers in the South? We hoped against hope.

The pines are gone. All day yesterday I heard the hum of the track hoe. The scoop was bent under like a knuckle and the trees groaned and cracked as they fell. I could not watch what I was hearing.

I etched in my mind the tree covered swale that was yesterday before noon. The tiny pond where bullfrogs croaked in the summer and deer stopped for a drink making their way through neighborhoods to woods and pastures in the valley is gone.

I am going to miss their white flag tails signaling there presence when I walk out to enjoy the dusk of evening falling.

There will be a house there, a family. But today I grieve over lost hope, and I struggle to remember that all is temporary. The hum of the track hoe drones. The knuckle splits trees asunder and I wonder why it affects me so.

A reminder that change is part of life is all I can make of this. It is a lesson I need to learn. There are more important things that deserve my attention, that merit the affections of my heart.

Today I am sad. I grieve sitting on the French sofa, deep and soft in pillows. I thought I might not be able to hear the war on the trees next door on this side of the house. I haven’t escaped it. The floor-to-ceiling windows frame tall pines out back. I am grateful---they are safe from the knuckle cracking over to their east .

These trees out back I pray through--- on the days when I cry out to God. I stand below them on the porch with hands stretched upward. The trees witness what no human ever will. Those trees know my pain, my intercession for the hurting, my disappointments, my need. I won’t tell them today.

They and God will hear all about it when the track hoe leaves. My hearts grieves and I wait to pray through pine trees.

 I Pray through Pine Trees

I pray through pine trees
Up into the tent spread out
I am under it
Sheltered beneath wings
Of birds singing
Sparrows cared for
Flowers blooming, wilting
All of it known
By Sovereignty
Who spoke
And it was
Who listens
And accepts the sacrifice
A fragrance before Him
Everlasting, evergreen prayers.

October 10, 2011

River Sonnet

We pulled onto the gravel bar way past noon. I can’t recall ever getting on the river that late in the day but it had been a last minute decision.

One outfitter was still working even though the water level was rated extremely low. He hand-picked a red canoe for us and that made us happy.

Even before we reached the water’s edge, my sister bent to pick up a skipping stone. Trailing along behind, I couldn't see her face. As she stepped forward and slung her arm to send the rock skirting across the water, I saw it in my mind, her tongue clinging to her upper lip. She always does that when she skips rocks.

The two of us have sent so many stones across this river. These rocks know us.

Leanne commented that we reserved the river for the day and it certainly felt as if we had. As teens, we were first introduced to this place. Most times we've shared the river with every color of canoe or kayak, but not this day.

Pushing off mid-afternoon, we wouldn’t see another boat.

We passed a lone man casting his line from the bank, a young woman fishing in her waders, her little one splashing in the shallows behind her, and an older couple relaxing in folding chairs waiting for a tug on the line.

We greet them because that is what you do, but we are quiet, seemed like saying too much might interrupt what they had come to the river to find.

“Low and slow,” she says. We have been on this river when the only reason you really needed a paddle was to use it as a rudder.

Today we plan for five miles and only a few rows of the paddles. We surrender life to the pace of the river. We are taken captive by peace.

We try to write poetry for Leanne’s college class assignment. With no paper, we decide to type it as a text message on my phone. The words just weren’t coming.

Leanne gets one line. "I am going to miss this shadow," while drifting along towering bluffs, the sun slipping toward the horizon. That one line makes me emotional. We won't get another.

The rhythm of poetry is stifled by the overwhelming beauty all around us. (Can there be too much inspiration?)

The bluffs are poems and the leaves golden on the mountain, the sky reflections of beauty against beauty, the water so clear we could see the oranges and yellows glinting from the scales of sunfish, the polka dots on a goggle eye, the spiked nose of the alligator gar.

We won’t interrupt the Creator’s poem to write our own.

The breadth of the river is deeper and wider at our destination. We sit in the red canoe suspended on a flowing river. Inhaling deep the beauty, the poem etches upon our hearts, this stanza a river sonnet.


Counting graces with Ann:
  • seasons
  • red canoes
  • skipping stones
  • a twin, a friend for a lifetime
  • crystal clear water reflecting the glory of the Creator
  • poems written on hearts

October 6, 2011

It is Enough

The called ones were asked to pray, yet lids collapsed over eyes, and instead of mouths speaking prayer, their minds drifted into dreams. Two times Jesus asked and they slept.

"And He came the third time, and said to them, 'Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough; the hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners.'"

He had taught them for three years, and this night, they had followed him to the garden. This God-Man who ran counter to the world would someday sit on a throne. Wasn’t this a Passover excursion to pray in the night with the Teacher? Tomorrow would there not be more multitudes to feed by the sea?

But Jesus' words splintered the night, “It is enough---” enough miracles, enough parables, enough teaching these Learners what they only would understand when they witnessed "things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him."

They had heard him say it with their ears, but reality had not entered their hearts as to what God had prepared for His Son. Jesus would die. He would give His life away.

The eternal clock's hand moved to the time at hand---the appointed time. The betrayer kissed, the sleepers scattered. 

Just hours before, worshipers called “Come now!” They fanned shouts of adoration with their fronds, giving Him a king's welcome.

Now withered leaves line the path, out to the hill He stumbled. The Lamb of God, burdened with a  splintered cross, fell under its weight. The time had come for the thorn-crowned King to take His appointed place, to die the appointed death. "It is finished," the final words from lips that had laid aside their glory.

And it was enough. 

Enough pure blood for stains of sin,
Enough that we might live again.
Enough took the Father's wrath,
Enough our healing stripped from His back.
Enough to overcome our pain, our sinful nature and our shame.
Enough to cast aside lawlessness,
Enough for unbelief, unrighteousness.
Enough to rip the veil in two
To be The Way for the few
Who call His Name, recite their guilt 
Call out for Love to come and fill.

( Scripture from NASB---Mark 14:41; I Corin. 2:9; John 19:30)