July 31, 2013

I Stopped Teaching the Bible and Started Living it

It really started last summer.

Jeff, Luke, and I planned a summer get-away to Minnesota. I never had given a thought about going to Minnesota. For me getting away means the mountains or the beach, and it doesn’t involve an airplane. We had some vouchers that we were going to lose if we didn’t make a reservation to somewhere so we bought Luke a ticket and booked a cabin on a island near a small town up close to the Canadian border. The cabin came with a small boat with a motor, a canoe, and an outhouse. (Yes, an outhouse.) There was a cedar-lined sauna in a little building near the cabin. Being Southerners, we weren’t sure how to use it, but at least there was a shower out there. (Thank you, Jesus.) 

The cabin was modern otherwise. Sparsely furnished, it was clean and had big windows on three sides overlooking a cold lake and trees that were unfamiliar. No cell service, no television, no landline. There was a radio that we tuned to the songs of the seventies. At night we shut it off, rolled open the windows and listened to the loons. 

Jeff and Luke took out in the v-hull boat most days without me. I pulled out my Bible and my study books trying to get discernment about the direction God had for me as a Bible study teacher in the fall. I had my yellow pads and I was writing some, praying a lot. During those days of solitude, every time I picked up the Bible Study book to study, I sensed a resistance. Finally, I gave up, read the novel I brought, wrote in my yellow pads, and played with some watercolors on the dock.

A month after I got home, I invited ladies who were my friends, some of whom had come to my classes, some who lived life with me, to speak into my life. I told them that I could go ask the questions, lead Bible study again in the fall, but I would do it in my own strength. It seemed to me that God had taken the wind. I could do it but couldn't discern the wind of the Spirit behind me.

I anticipated those who sat around my living room might tell me, “Dea, don’t turn back from this, you are just having a mid-life crisis!” But they didn’t. They heard my heart and each one of them said the time had come to let Bible Study go. 

They helped me accept letting go of something I had done for years and years. It was my time to let go of Bible Study as a leader. I was not giving up on the Bible or the One who inspired it. But my time at the front of the class had ended for the time being.

That experience last summer was hard and it was freeing---a paradox, an opportunity for the new to come. I feared I might have my identity tied up in leading. Maybe that fear was valid, maybe more than I wanted to admit.

Since then, God has continued to chip away at me. It has been a very humbling experience. And one that is hard to explain. I tried to do just that, explain the whittling away to a friend. I told her that if I had I known the chipping away would continue, I would have written all the ways that God has challenged me to trust him, to stand in who I am in Him, to believe I am worthy because He is worthy, and that my value is not in what in I do but in Whose I am. 

There have been times over the past year when God asked me to step back when I wanted to step forward, clear incidences when I knew His will and found obedience to be difficult at first. Peace came with obedience and I knew that what I perceived was true.

The discernment---the hearing and the knowing---has been humbling as well. I have asked and contemplated, sought understanding and clarity---the answer to why? 

I suppose it could be the most simple of answers: that I needed to be humbled. Of course, I know God gives grace to the humble. Though I haven't put it all together yet as to what this all means, I am certain understanding is not the point. 

I don't want use this time of surrender as an excuse to not do---an accusation the enemy throws my way at times. I really don't believe surrender is the whole of God’s plan for me. It is part of the plan He has for me, a part of my journey on this side of the kingdom. Only he knows the future and some day, I believe, I will have greater understanding and even more gratitude for having walked this path. 

On a cool cloudless night out there on Bear Island Lake, I slipped out the door to hike the steps to the outhouse. I looked across toward the water’s edge and it was if the stars were hanging from the tree branches. I turned my gaze to the sky above me. I had never seen such wonder. The vastness, the beauty caught my breath. Thousands of stars I had never seen before blanketed the the heavens.

Every day I open the Bible and find the inspired words of the One who named the stars, the ones I see with my eyes and those I don’t. And I am filled with wonder at the God whose very words live, breath, feed, instruct and give hope.

The Word of God is opening fresh in new place in my life. I stopped teaching the Bible and started living it.

When has God asked you to step back when you wanted to step forward? Have you experienced peace after obedience? Has change brought new wonders you hadn't expected?

July 24, 2013

Into the Broad Place: Reflections on a Life Unfolding

Photo by Jared Moore

He was sitting on the aluminum his hat cocked like he’d scratched head and forgot to set it straight. He and his Daddy sat on the bleachers in the shade of the announcer’s booth watching his little brother on the football field. 

He smiled down as I walked up. A momma never tires of seeing her babies.

His daily uniform, besides the farmer’s hat, is a PFG, a lightweight nylon shirt that dries quickly, jeans, and a pair of boots. His shirt was beige but usually he wears a color, yellow or blue. His tan is deep and his boots are dirty. The heels of his boots were clumped in Delta dirt he carried over from the rain-blessed fields he walked during the day.

One farmer over in farm country calls him a “factory-made” boy. He didn’t grow up straddling a tractor with his head turned watching a disc slice open the earth. He has never been responsible for helping get in the rice crop, to feed the world. 

He grew up in town and played in fields tall with sage grass. We lived on the city boundary line, tucked in a quiet neighborhood next to a lot overgrown with sumac. The boys and their friends slipped out of the house and disappeared through the sumac and into the field. I saw hide nor hair of them for hours. I knew they would come in eventually.

The road made a hard right at the house. For some reason they had made a big circle of pavement there, a semi cul-de-sac. Jared grew up in town, not far from the Country Club. The closest thing to farming he ever did was mowing the yard.

Now he lives in a rental house out in the country near the place I call home. He spends his afternoons throwing dummies for his retrievers, Drake and Echo.

He rises early, crawls in his big red truck, and drives just over an hour to his summer job in the fields. He is there when the sun rises on the soy beans sprouting late because of the spring rains, the corn twice his height that steals the air from his lungs as he walks between the stalks, and the serpentined rice fields green as Ireland, growing seeds and snakes.

Back in the spring, when his high school friends were turning their tassels and reaching out for their bachelor degrees, Jared felt the pangs of regret. He had only hit his stride the past two semesters, walked through a couple of valleys before life leveled out to walk in the broad place under the open sky of the Delta.

Sometimes he goes to fields alone but there is One who walks those fields with him. He led him there to work as intern this summer. Jared knows it. Every day he is grateful.

Jared is a loyal man. Those who find him a friend or co-worker know this. He will walk the extra mile for you. If I had a thousand acres planted on some of the richest farmland in America, I would want that man walking my fields looking for bugs and fungus and checking on test plots. He is going to do what you ask him and maybe more, especially if you give him a pat on the back. And he’s going to come in grinning because no matter how hard it is, he has found joy and he can see the light shining on the future. 

I don’t know if Jared could sit down and speak with any theological authority on the subject of grace but he knows it. He knows what is like to be given what you don’t deserve, to walk in a kingdom that isn’t his kingdom---at least it wasn’t. Someone opened that door for him. That Someone looked like a man, but really it was God.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:5-13, ESV)

I wobbled, bulging and weary, in the heat of late July waiting on him to breath earth’s air. My water broke early in the morning. We didn’t rush to the hospital. I needed to wash his sister’s hair so she’d be cute in the pictures. He took his time and entered the world late in the evening.

Tomorrow marks the day on the calendar when the boy who grew up being called Bear came wailing into this world.

Now that he’s a man, he goes by Jared. I can’t help it. I always call him Bear.

Luke, Jeff and Jared---A Few Good Men

If you didn’t read Ann Voskamp’s, “A Prayer for Sons” on {in} courage.me this week, you can read it here. It beats with the heartbeat of the prayers I pray for both my boys—for Jared and Luke, and all our sons. Yes, Ann, “let there still be a few good men…”

Linking with Emily and Jennifer:


July 22, 2013

You make Him so Happy.

She’s two and already she asks to spend the night.

But when it gets time for the actual sleep part, she grimaces and gives a little shoulder shrug when I mention going to read a book on the antique iron bed that we pulled, rusted and ignored, from a shed beside my great-grandmother’s house just months before we got married. It’s dressed up waiting on her across the house.

“I want to sleep in Dandy’s bed.”

Her grandfather is an old-fashioned pediatrician. He instructs moms all the time on sleeping. He believes the first act of independence is putting oneself to sleep. Little ones, who are given the opportunity to do that, sleep all night and have rested parents.

She wanted to sleep in the middle and we let her do it (again). We told on ourselves to our friends and they teased and laughed about how the doc would have never done that with our kids.

His reply, “She is not our kid.”

She smiled with clenched teeth as I scrubbed them with the chubby pink toothbrush. We pulled the stool over from the vanity and up to the sink so she could spit. Spitting is a practiced skill that she hasn’t quite gotten down. It is more of a sputter but she gives it a lot of effort. I handed her a spoon and turned the faucet handle to a tiny stream of water. She plays and sips little spoonfuls of water as I finish my own bedtime routine.

Doo-dah had shut down the house and was waiting for us when we crawled in beside him and with Golden Book in tow, The Three Little Pigs. We read and sang the “Whose afraid of the big bad wolf…” parts and were once again relieved that the three brothers made it through their traumatic day of being chased by a huffing and puffing wolf who has an appetite for pigs that build houses.

Lights out. We say our “thank you God for…” prayers. The list was short but she didn’t forget Maggie, the dog curled up in the chair next to the bed.

She squirmed until she found her place in the middle, arranging herself on the orange pillow with her blanket and the tiny stuffed puppy she calls Drake, her sleeping buddy. 

The room fell quiet and still for a few minutes. I thought she’d shut it down for the night when a tiny right arm fell across my chest. Her hand searched the covers until she found my face. Then the sweetest words interrupted the stillness. Words tumble out with unbridled confidence through lips smiling at the corners, “I make you so happy.”

“Yes, you do.” 

Oh, if she only knew how much her declaration rings true. Joy.

I think about that night and those words, Naomi’s desire to be present with us. And I have thought how sweet it would be to say these words when I am in the presence of my Father who never leaves me, who keeps the night watches for me, who gives me the blessings of presence and rest---who loves me no matter if I have made a thousand messes all day long and sputtered while learning to grow up in Him.

So often I come to him with heaviness, with prayers of petition for myself, for others. I heave onto Him my burdens. I know He said to give them to Him and I do. But what if I changed it up now and again, said my “thank you-s” instead of my “I need you to fix these…?” What if I laid back and remembered his presence and his great joy towards me?

What if I said these words and believed without a doubt that they are true?

“I make you so happy.”

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, (Matthew 18:4-5, ESV)  --Jesus

You make Him so happy. 

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
(Psalm 16:11, ESV)  --David

I had an unusually heavy weak last week with burdens that weighed on my heart. But I have been reminded that heaviness and joy can share the same space. It is a holy mystery that I don’t understand but want to embrace.

Do you have the unbridled confidence that you make your Father happy?  Join me today and slip into mindfulness of his Presence near and say with joy, “I make you so happy.” I think you’ll hear in the stillness, “Oh, yes, you do.”

Linking today with Laura. So thankful for her encouragement to tell our stories.