March 30, 2012

Hope Gathering

It was Ann with no “e” that taught many who will link today on Five Minute Fridays to count the gifts, to practice the discipline of eucharisteo, to find graces, name them with thanks right where we are.

Ann had many of the gifts long before she put them in a journal, typed them by number on her blog. When she began to name the gifts, she found the grace of God in the ordinary. And in turn, her heart opened to the extraordinary love God has for her. The counting transformed her. From a defeated, scared person, God re-shaped the timid lyrical writer into a voice for gratitude and gifts. All this to challenge and bless a world that is looking for wonders, desperately needing hope. Her life, at least told in words and blog, testify to the redemptive beauty of living with gratitude “in the midst of it all.”

Sometimes I must really seek to find the gifts.

Sometimes they overwhelm. I lay aside the journal and just try to take them in.

“All this” is to remind me that God is there and Jesus is the real gift.

He gives good gifts to his children.

I watch in wonder.

Photo of painting by Tom Uttech, titled: "Enassimishhinjijweland"

(This painting is on exhibition at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. It's title is from a word from a Native American (Ojibwe) word meaning, "hope in the good things to come."

(a tighter shot of this incredible painting)

March 28, 2012

What if this is it?

“Will you live the life I ask you to live?”

This is a soul question asked by God not in thunderous voice, but imprinted silently upon the heart.

Of course, with such a question, the answer comes regardless of intent.

A Jonah response is always an option. But anyone who knows God knows that a negative response will take you places you never wanted to see        

and through experiences much different than you anticipated.

The answer required for obedience to the “Will you live the life I ask you to live?”  question is obvious. “Yes.”

“Yes,” but with what attitude?

Could I say, “yes,” mean it, with a pure heart?

Pride is insidious.  

The rebellious, discontented person inside me thinks, “Is there really a choice?”  

Oh, the victim mentality that comes from thinking that if I say yes, then God is obligated to at least make life bearable. All the while I conveniently forget there is no guarantee that anything will go according to any life plan that I could map out.

Sin is crouching at the door.

Faith, on the other hand, says, “Yes Lord, I will because no matter what, I trust you.” 

The apostle Paul says, “To live is Christ.” This truth implies there is no other life.
It’s true, there isn’t.

So what do you call what I am doing? 

Am I living?  

I worry about tomorrow.  

I regret the mistakes of the past.  

I feel paralyzed and unsure about what it means to live the life God asks me to live. 

I wonder if am I doing my thing, His thing, or anything of eternal value.

So many people would love to be stuck where I am: loved by a husband who has worked to care for our family for over twenty-five years; children who are in our lives, good children; a home, a car, and a grandbaby. (And I could go on....)

What price do I pay to follow Christ daily? What seeds I am planting?

What do I fear? 

Failure? Loss?

Or do I just not value all that is mine in the grace-life God has given me?

Do other people grapple with this or is it just me?

What if this is it? What if this good life is it? This life others may covet and I struggle to enjoy.  

Will I live the life He asks me to live?

If I never go on another mission trip, never lead another Bible Study, or never write another blog entry will I be content?  

Am I willing to believe God's love for me whose only sacrifice is the joy of raising a family and lying next to the man I love every night, dusting furniture, and making meatloaf?

My greatest challenge may be to live the most uncomplicated way. To live righteously content knowing He has this world held together without my help.

My heart's desire is to be satisfied each morning in the steadfast love of God.

I don’t have to figure out a story that has already been written. I just need to willing to live the life He asks me to live.

I say yes and close the door on the enemy crouching. This is enough.

Satisfy {me} in the morning with your steadfast love,
 that {I} may rejoice and be glad all {my} days.
Psalm 90:14 (ESV)

March 26, 2012

Art in the Middle of America

We drove four hours to see.

For years we had heard about the building of the Crystal Bridges Museum. The museum houses American art in the middle of the country in a small town in northwest Arkansas. It finally opened in the fall of 2011.

The art didn’t make it to the museum without controversy. At least that is what we read in the papers, heard on the news. The art lovers in the cities didn’t feel that such pieces should be displayed in city with no buildings scraping the sky.

Last year when I was in Paris, I didn’t see a city of skyscrapers but I did see the finest collection of art in the world. Most of it didn’t even come from the country of France.

France has gotten away with “looting” the world of ancient treasures. And I suppose Alice Walton (daughter of Sam, founder of Wal-Mart) with her deep pockets, has gotten away with bringing a few masterpieces to Arkansas, whose population is less than most small cities in Texas.

The collection at Crystal Bridges is held in modern building cradled in a ravine. It sits tucked into the hills only a couple of miles from the town square.

Driving up to the building the first thing you see is the tree sculpture rising like lighting in front of the building. 

The building itself is a piece of art. The outside is landscaped with biking and walking trails in the shade of a mature forest. This place is to be enjoyed from outside and in.

Admission to learn, to grow, to be inspired: Free.

I stood beside my eight-year-old niece looking at a painting by Andrew Wyeth.

“Avery, do you like this painting?”

“Yes, very much.”

“What do you see?”

“I see a lake and a house.”

“What do you like most about this painting?”

“The feathers!”

“The title of the painting is “Airborne.”

Her reply, “Perfect.”

Taking the Joy Dare with Ann:

- "cabinning" with my forever friend, a Spring Break treat
- laughing again that redbuds actually bloom purple
- hobo dinners
-an art museum that I don't have to fly to get to
-for the Most Creative, the inspiration for all things beautiful
-green, coloring the world against a blue sky
-for cardinals that sing, "pretty"

March 19, 2012

Crossing the Jabbok

I have been wrestling lately.

I’ve wrestled before but over different things.

Back then you could have called me Jacob. 

I was a deceiver. I deceived myself and it took a wounding to change me.

I still limp from that wounding, that touch of God that came in the darkest of places.

That limp is a gift. It reminds of just how loved I am.

Out of the darkness and into the Light, I crossed over to new life.

In the Bible, Jacob got up after his blessing and limped across the Jabbok. He faced his greatest fear, his brother Esau.

The Jabbok rolled over pebbles, emptied into the Jordan. 

Jabbok, in Hebrew means “emptying.”

I waded across the stream and to meet my greatest fear head on.

I picked my way across the Jabbok, knowing my Esau waited.

Fear didn’t kill me. 

Esau ran over to me and embraced me. And by some miracle I threw my arms up and around him and hugged him back.

It is unsettling to receive grace---to grab hold of fear.

Fear loses it power when you embrace it tight. 

It is like when you were a child and you were crying out of control, scared to death from a dream in the night, but someone who loves you wraps you up tight, squeezes you firm in the midst of your crying. 

The longer they hold, fear ebbs away in gentle sobs that melt into the love that holds.

Love holds.

Love overcame fear. 

Love overcomes fear.

“There is no fear in love.”

You can believe that when you have wrestled with God in the dark of the night.

There are more streams to cross on this journey.

In the morning, I will be crossing the Jabbok.

(Read Jacob and Esau's story in Genesis 32-33)

March 17, 2012

We make Him Happy

I have been young, and now I am old. 
Yet I have never seen the man who is right with God left alone, 
or his children begging for bread. 
All day long he is kind and lets others use what he has. 
And his children make him happy.
(Psalm 37:25-26)

I hope you can see the dimple.
Thank you Jesus is for this little girl--
 A Gift of Joy

March 10, 2012

No Number Needed

  The Lord is right and good in all His ways, and kind in all His works. 
The Lord is near to all who call on Him, 
to all who call on Him in truth. He will fill the desire of those who fear Him. He will also hear their cry and will save them. 
(Ps. 145:17-19)

March 8, 2012

The Sower's Life

The spring of my life holds most of my memories. 

They are really just snapshots but are vivid in my mind. These pictures are as clear to me as the day when my twin sister and I stood facing straight into the sun while our Grandma peered down through the viewfinder of her box camera and saw our squinting eyes looking back at her. She was recording the moment before we would leave her world to go to school.

Between the ages of three and six, my twin and I spent our days in the care of our grandmother in the place affectionately known as the “sticks.” I don’t know if she would have ever caught me if I had known how my halcyon days were coming to an end. I walked out of paradise the day I pulled myself up the steps of that yellow bus.

I remember sunny days and snow days. I don’t ever remember it ever raining.

The screen door would slam shut on spring mornings as my sister and I went out to play. My grandma was often already outside having left us chewing on biscuits perched up on yellow Naugahyde stools. The canned biscuits were always burned on the bottom and were cold. They had come out of the oven hours before sunrise. Strawberry freezer jam, thawed and stored in the icebox, made them even colder.

By mid-March, Grandma had rolled up the quilt that hung in the living room during the winter and turned her attention to the gardens.

The onion plants went in early and the turnips.

Grandpa tilled the garden plots and Grandma hoed out the rows. We walked behind her in the furrow just far enough behind to miss the swing of the hoe as she swung it back in forth, a rhythm we knew well.

The earth aroma wet and cool filled our noses. Four little identical feet padded down dirt that yesterday had been turned over with the cut of the plow, smoothed with the harrow, called forth from darkness into light. 

The sun overhead, the dirt underfoot, the earthy fragrance unleashed announced the earth’s readiness to take in seed---soil made ready so that life could grow.

Forty-five years later, I see boys gathering seed on the rocky paths of Canaan. The trees that shaded the path had let go of seedpods after a windy night.

Each pod had four or five seeds folded its womb. They collected the seeds in a rusted #3 tin can---filled it two-thirds full. It must have taken them all morning.

“What ch’all doing,” I ask as I walk past, see them picking ‘round in the rocks.

“These seeds here---they will grow a million trees!” Sanders looks up at me from his squatted position, his feet slid into tennis shoes, scuffed and well-worn. He wore no socks.

The December air is dry. The faint smell of fire tinges the air above the ocean. White powder dusts the beautiful brown fingers gray as they pick through the stones. 

They hand me the can (slash) bucket. I dip my hand in, swirl it 'round in the seeds. They slide slippery, waxy through my fingers.

The seed collectors, they are eight or ten years old. They know what miracles those seeds hold.

Do I? 

Do I remember the power of the seed? 

I know seeds don’t grow in buckets---not unsown seed, without soil to root in.

I have gathered Seed for years. My journals, my Bible, and now my blog chronicle in scribbles and fonts the history of life of gathering Word seeds.

After Grandma swung that furrow long and straight, she put down her hoe and began to swing her arm. 

The brown paper bag crinkled as she reached in for the seed. Her eyes down, her feet took her forward along that narrow way. Her fingers released seed on the downstroke of the steady swing of her arm. Crows tottering perilously high in the maples cawed a warning into the cool blue morning.

And trailing behind her, four identical hands scooped the dirt back over the seeds. Lea and I gave the soil a gentle pat like we were putting those seeds to bed.

The seeds would sleep, and then they would rise.
….”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
It falls….into darkness, alone…dies. But if it submits to death, which really is a rebirth…it bears much fruit.

I am seed-gather like my little Haitian friends but I want to be a seed-sower like my Grandma.

The fruit of her labor filled the old kitchen turned pantry at the back of the house. She put some of the bounty in jars and some in the freezer. The old milk barn’s dark musty room in the back was carpeted in potatoes.

She sowed more than garden seeds. She tilled my heart, readied it to receive “the word implanted,”---the Word that saved my soul. (James 1:21)

She sowed into my future….the promise of eternal life.

I have gathered all morning. It’s time to sow.
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, 
Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.  (Ps. 126:5-6)

March 2, 2012

The Boy in the Red Shirt

He sits alone resting against the blue wall; his gaze falling over the concrete soccer field. Soon he will be a man.

Does he have parents that he knows? Is he a foster child or an orphan? He is one or the other.

Sometimes it is easier to look the other way---to not gaze upon the pain of others, to look away to the blue ocean beyond.

But this is what God brought me to Haiti to see--a boy who sits on a rock wall on a beautiful December day, light falling upon his shoulder.

I want to know him. But I cannot. I want to wrap him in my arms put my head on his chest, whisper up into his ear, “You are loved.”

Too many people pass through his life spending a week mending screens on windows, playing card games, throwing parties. They come and go while he sits under the green canopy on the hill above the blue, blue ocean.

Resignation to the reality of life has set in for the boy in the red shirt.

I walk back up the rocky path. I take my heartache with me. I ask the one who holds me to wrap the boy tightly in Everlasting Arms, to whisper, “You are loved.”

I am and he is.


Writing with Lisa-Jo on the Five Minute Friday writing prompt: Ache...