Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We press on

Simply thanking you                                                                                                                                                                

                                                                               

                                                       
                                            Love this photo! December around the world
                                                   (in case you missed it on Ann V's site)

                       for stopping by, for sharing your time and thoughts, and prayers. Whether through storm or sunshine, may we encourage one another to press on to "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge . . . "- Ephesians 3:19

Blessings abundant,
Marcia

Monday, December 30, 2013

Handing out tracts: When your blessing looks more like a cursing

                 
  “None of my failures in faithlessness proved terminal.”—                           Brennan Manning

I don’t know where you stand on the knocking on doors or handing out tracts at Walmart approach to evangelism. It’s not for everyone and it’s certainly not without personal hazards. 

Even those with the zeal or chutzpah to approach strangers need to be prepared for rebuffs and outright criticism, which like well-aimed arrows can home in on your Achilles heel and elicit an unexpected retort.

Actually this potential to set out to bless but be triggered to curse (of sorts) can happen anytime as James so clearly warns.  It’s very disheartening, even more so than say if you woke up in a peevish mood to begin with and weren’t at all surprised by the thoughtless word that fell out of your mouth. (Not that that is any less a sin.)

But when you’ve risen from prayer and set out to share the good news and end up wishing you had stuffed your tracts in your own mouth, well, that’s fodder for a self beating, as a friend recently told me.

She hadn’t wanted to go with the church group to hand out tracts, but woke in the middle of the night with the thought that she should. Since the same nudging was on her mind as soon as she woke the next morning, she decided to go for an hour.

Apart from a good discussion with one person, the time was uneventful. Just as she was leaving, my friend felt impressed to approach another woman and ask if she could give her a tract. The woman suddenly snapped at her, and before she could shut her mouth, my friend responded with a less-than-tactful-but probably-very-insightful question that triggered a volley of anger.

My friend knew the Holy Spirit was urging her to hush up and go, but she lobbed off one more retort before succumbing to wisdom. All of which led to an afternoon of self-recrimination, disgust, disappointment (and I suspect, some still smoldering embers).

In the midst of her crying to the Lord about what happened, she was stopped short by His response. “That woman was the one. She was your appointment. Pray for her.”

God’s reversal.

Condemnation redeemed with correction. Guilt covered with mercy. And lost opportunity regained with hope through the power of prayer.

 God’s grace over sinners and saints all.

Thank God we are not stuck in our own failures. Thank God He makes our ugly ashes into works of beauty. And thank God, as Manning says, “None of my failures in faithlessness proved terminal."

Hallelujah. 

Blessings friends on this cusp of one year's ending and another's beginning.

Marcia



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Someone's at the door

No one can show up at our door unannounced. Our dog will see to that. But when I was a kid, people came and went freely—milkmen, breadmen, men who worked for my father.

 People at the door often brought welcome news or company, but sometimes trouble came to the door in the form of a bill collector, and my mother would hide us kids and pretend no one was home.

Even if you don’t have an excitable dog, a knock at the door elicits curiosity, a sense of anticipation. Something happens at the door.

Among other things, doors, in the Bible, are metaphors for temptation (sin crouches at the door—Gen. 4:7), providence(God opens doors before Cyrus to fulfil His purpose) opportunity(Paul looks for doors to open to the Gospel), Christ (John 10) and the return of Christ :”. . . .When you see these things, you will know it( The Son of Man coming out of the sky on clouds in power and glory!) is right at the door.” (Matthew 24:33)

In rereading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth I thought about the people who came to Mary’s door. 

 There’s Gabriel, the same angel who introduced himself to Zechariah as one who stand[s} in the presence of God. Regardless of how careful you are to keep angels in their place and not entertain the idea of worshipping them, you have to admit, it’s pretty thrilling to think about a visible, tangible being who stands in the presence of God, now standing right in front of you.

And then there were the unexpected visitors at the door of her cave/stable. At least shepherds were indigenous to the surroundings, even if their visit and their account of heavenly host did cause Mary to ponder these things in her heart.

Still later, occupied with all that having a toddler entails, Mary must have been amazed to see magi from far-off lands, bearing lavish gifts of incense, gold and myrrh, standing at her door.
                                      ***
I don't know who will be standing before your door this holiday season, or before whose doors you will stand, but I pray that you will be the bearer and receiver of blessings of great joy (And remember you don't know if you might be entertaining angels!)

Merry Christmas, friends,

 Lift up your heads, O you gates;/ be lifted up you ancient doors,/ that the King of glory may come in./Who is this King of glory?/The LORD strong and mighty, . .  .the LORD Almighty—he is the King of glory. –Psalm 24: 8, 10

My personal Christmas “door” story was of a time I was in northern Minnesota with little money to get home to Vermont for Christmas. But the thought of my parents’ disappointment about not having their children with them haunted me.( In case you’d like to continue, I’ve included the story below, which although true, is written as fiction because I couldn’t remember all the exact details.)


Gifts—Even When There Is No Money

Two days before Christmas. With two hundred dollars in her pocket and twelve hundred miles ahead of her, she figured the chances of getting home weren’t good. Anna felt the disappointment masked as understanding travel through her mother’s voice over the phones lines when she told her.

 It would be her parents first Christmas without all their children, three grown and gone, two still there though. Well, they’d certainly miss her, mom said, but they hadn’t given up hope that her brother on leave from the service would make it in time.

Dad would be sad, but hey, that’s what happens in families. Kids grow and go.

Anna set the receiver down and stared at the wall. But she didn’t see the Monet poster tacked up with push pins or the calendar with the snowy Rocky Mountain peaks scene—a gift from the oil company.

What she saw was a Christmas tree lit with fat multi-colored lights that glowed through the heavy drippings of tinsel. Tinsel strands that shimmered and reached out to grab you when you got near. She saw mounds of presents that appeared every year even though her mom warned them not to expect much because they had no money.

And superimposed on Monet’s “Water Lilies” poster, she saw the smiles of parents who had sacrificed and squeezed out from somewhere enough to surprise, gladden, and celebrate their family.

She counted her money once again then dialed information. “Greyhound Bus Terminal, please.”

For the next twenty-four hours, wedged in the middle of the back bench of a Grey Hound bus, all Anna could think about was the surprise and delight on her parents’ faces when they opened the door on Christmas Eve and saw their gift—even though this year there wasn’t money for one.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Grace of Wonder

"Grant me the grace of wonder."--Brennan Manning

Beetee, one of the techie characters in Catching Fire tells Katniss she has to learn to see. In a critical moment, Katniss’s eyes are opened and she sees the construct of the world she’s trapped in for what it is. With this insight, she is able to use her special gift (weapon) and shatter the power of the oppressor.

That was my little take-away from the movie. A reminder to see beyond the things that appear to have the power over me and my circumstance.
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When I am despairing over a seemingly immovable situation, and act as though God isn’t, may I see through the eyes of my gift (faith) the evidence of things unseen, the confidence God is.

And when I see I have no control over health, wealth, or children, may I see the One who is in control, who holds all things together with his word.

I love the perspective John Piper gives in his advent readings, Good News of Great Joy (free download, by the way) for Dec. 2nd: Mary’s Magnificent God.

 He says God is about to change the course of human history and what is He occupying Himself with?—Two humble women, Mary and Elizabeth! 

He just doesn't doesn't do things the way we expect, does he! Oh to see through his eyes.

Both Mary and Elizabeth see the unfathomable marvel of the Magnificent among their lowly selves and are filled with wonder.

Such a simple reminder. Such a powerful gift (and weapon)—to see the overwhelming greatness of the One who is always aware of the least of us--even when he's about to turn the world on its heels, he is aware of two humble women, carrying about the ordinary tasks of their ordinary lives.


Ah Lord, grant me the grace of wonder afresh and anew to see through your eyes and offer my marvel along with Mary: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

Blessings,
Marcia

Friday, December 6, 2013

Giving away some of my favorite Christmas presents: books

Is the way you now celebrate Christmas influenced by how your family celebrated it when you were a child? 

My parents made a big deal of it. I was raised Catholic, so we went to midnight mass, then were allowed one present. But the next morning gifts flowed out from our tree in every direction. I remember the exquisite agony of anticipation and the pleasure of finding my name on yet one more gift.

When my husband and I celebrated our first Christmas, he asked me what I wanted for a gift. Frankly I was taken aback that he thought “gift” was singular! Now, I wasn’t expecting pearl necklaces or anything too fancy, but even as an adult I looked forward to gifts, with an s, if you please.

But one of my favorite memories of Christmases past was getting a book. Christmas afternoon, my sister and I would curl up on our twin bed, each with a new Nancy Drew book. Boxes of new clothes and games and sweet-smelling stuff were left stacked under the tree while we lost ourselves in yet another mystery.

That’s still one of my favorite things. As many books as I have on e-readers and review piles, I still love to get a Christmas book and curl up and read. All things murder, suspense and thriller (no horror) are especially fun when I want a “no-think” read.

 I want to pass my receiving-a-Christmas-book pleasure on to you. So I am giving away  reviewer copies (if you’re not opposed to re-giftings) of a few books I’ve recently acquired. The following (except for A Man Called Blessed which I’m reviewing for Booksneeze) are not official book reviews but impressions that some of my recent reads have had on me.

Share a comment between now and December 17 on how you are influenced by Christmases past or on one of your favorite memories and I will put you in the draw for
                                                 A Man Called Blessed 


                                                 A Million Little Ways


                                                    Preemptive Love 


Reviews:

A Million Little Ways—Emily Freeman Emily proposes that we make art with our lives—it’s what happens when you dare to be who you really are. I enjoyed her refreshing invitation to be open to the creative being you are meant to be and her candid exploration of the things that hinder us, of the critics and the idols and clamor that get in the way. The book exudes the beauty, the freedom and the joy of embracing the million little ways God comes out of us.

Bread and Wine—Shauna Niequist Wow, come and dine and laugh and fellowship.  Even those of us who consider the kitchen a place of necessity more than enjoyment will find it hard to resist this celebration of hospitality and curry and open doors and enchiladas and all things made right as we gather around a table. A delight to read slowly, with food!

Kisses From Katie— Katie Davis I’m slow to the table with this one, but in case you haven’t read this remarkable young woman’s response to God’s heart—do. You don’t have to go to Uganda and adopt gazillion children to be willing to open your hand and heart right where you are, but Katie’s story certainly challenges us to remember faith without works is dead. After reading this, be ready to have her and all her children show up in your prayer time! An incredible testimony of the possibilities of a willing life in the hands of a mighty God. 

Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One heart at a Time—Jeremy Courtney  Another beautiful story of how God can change the direction of your life through a “chance” encounter, even when you feel totally unequipped for the direction it’s headed. Join this family in Iraq as love becomes their means to help thousands of Iraqi children get life-saving heart surgery.


A smattering of fiction ( I don’t gravitate toward Christian fiction because I often feel my well-meaning sisters and brothers try desperately hard to clean up and save everyone before they are murdered or mucked with, but the following are just a few of the fiction pieces (apart from my Harlan Coben and co.)that have landed on my bed stand recently.

A Man Called Blessed—Ted Dekker & Bill Bright
 Just what would the discovery of the Ark of the Covenant mean to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and how would it affect the prophetic rebuilding of the Temple? Dekker and Bright engage us in this fast-moving suspense involving assassins, politicians, monks and mystics on a quest for the Ark.
A Man Called Blessed not only brings unexpected twists to the tensions of the Middle East, but probes spiritual considerations such as what would happen if Christians really believed God is a present help in time of danger, and could a relic, even one as sacred as the Ark of the Covenant, still contain the presence of God?
Love and hate, villains and unlikely heroes, Arabs and Jews— tensions rooted in the heavens and played out in the desert all come together in this satisfying read.
I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.

Havah- Tosca Lee
I read this a while back, but the impression that still lingers is of the hope and love God reveals as he calls Eve into being the first time and then again, the last. My spirit leaped with the way Lee portrays God’s call to life. This book, this memoir of Eve, deeply impacted me with the terrible weight and cost of sin as Adam and Eve saw it spread through their children and children’s children.
I did want to get out from under it in places, and did suspect God still showed Himself more gracious to this first family during their lives than Lee reveals, but overall, her exquisite storytelling carried me through to the glorious end. Looking  forward to reading her Iscariot: A Novel of Judas.

Still Alice—Lisa Genova
This is one of those works that that transcends the lines between fiction and nonfiction. Beautifully written, expertly researched and poignantly delivered.  Explores the dynamics of family, friends, and coworkers when one of their own starts forgetting that she is the professor, not the student, forgetting where she lives, and forgetting the faces that she’s bathed, and kissed and held dear.
Early onset Alzheimer’s steals much of the brilliant Alice’s memory, but in the end she is Still Alice. Loved it.  

What Alice Forgot—Liane Moriarty
Seems the name Alice is a popular choice for memory issues. This Alice’s memory loss comes from a head trauma from a fall at the gym. When she regains consciousness, she discovers she has lost the past ten years. She has no memory of children, the present state of her relationship with her husband, or how she has changed in ten years.
Alice sees herself revealed from an outsider’s perspective (much is shown through her friends and family) and is perplexed by the person others describe.
Until the day she remembers. . . .and has to choose.
Liane Moriarty’s exploration of who you were and who you are is thought-provoking and entertaining. I did think the ending deflated a bit, but still enjoyed this read. (Not a “Christian” read—some language.)
  
No matter how you celebrate--may the real Gift and the Best Story be yours in fullness of grace and glory.


 Marcia

Monday, December 2, 2013

When your air mattress deflates


When I woke in the middle of the night bobbing on my mattress like a cork in high seas and saw that my feet were elevated above my head level I figured something was wrong. As I tried to get out of bed, my husband woke and asked why the mattress was so shaky.  Being heavier than I (thank goodness) he was in an even worse state—his upper body almost on the floor. He looked like the low end of a teeter-totter. 

“We’ve sprung a leak,” I said as I gathered up my pillow and headed for the little guest room with the twin bed.

I know it sounds ridiculous but for the past nine months we have been sleeping on an air mattress. Granted it is a heavy duty double-high one, nevertheless, it is an air mattress. On the floor.  

Thing is, we have an old house and the stairway to the upper rooms is too narrow to get anything bigger than a twin bed up and around the corner. So, since we gave my father-in-law our bed and bath downstairs, we have been in a semi-nomadic state as far as sleeping. For a while we slept on our new Pottery Barn pull-out couch in the office, but let’s face it, no matter how nice the couch, it isn’t a bed.

When that didn’t work we bought a good air mattress and moved upstairs to the recently-vacated-by-our-daughter room. Now, Pa is almost 94 and some days looks like there won’t be any more days, but I think he has Duracell batteries (or the Lord is graciously giving him extended time)in his pacemaker because he is going strong, causing us to rethink our sleeping arrangements.

I had been holding out on buying a bed because the next bed I want is a king, (which I can’t get upstairs) but ending up in the middle of the night on the deflated end of our air mattress forced a decision.

The good news is that no one buys beds just before Christmas so the clerk was willing to negotiate with us(something like the Christmas tree salesman because we were the only people out in the torrential rain before Thanksgiving wanting a tree that day).

So, we bought another twin, moved the guest-room one in beside it, and finally, after nine months, slept in real beds that work as a king. (I almost bought champagne.)

Some things are just worth it. Even when they aren’t in the plan.

I am truly thanking God I have a real bed.

Meanwhile, I have done a lot of reading in November—aside from trying to write my first murder mystery—and have lots of my reader review books to pass along.  So, please come back on Friday because I am going to post a major book review(s) and offer lots of books for free. 

Who says recycled gifts are bad?

Wishing you, no, praying you, blessings of His grace,

Marcia

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Greatest Gift

I laughed when I was reminded of the translation of manna this week. I could just picture the Israelites, hungry, cranky, tired, watching this stuff as fine as snowflakes fall from the sky and ask each other—“What is it?”

God’s provision elicited the response, “What is it?”

Thing is, their response isn't so different from mine at times. After I've prayed and watched and then been handed something that didn't at all look like I expected God’s provision to look like, I too have asked, 

“What’s this, now?”

Not only do some of God’s provisions not look like our expectations, but sometimes God doesn't either. I wonder how often I model my idea of him after my own interests.

Imagine going back in time two thousand years. You’re standing in front of the Temple in the outer court, and can peer straight into the Holy Place with its lampstand and table of bread of the Presence. A massive curtain separates it from the Most Holy Place, shielding the Presence of God. This place so holy only one priest, one day a year could enter.

The whole massive structure, the careful placement of symbols, the idea of the Presence of God over the Mercy seat back there floods you with awe, and then, right before your eyes, the curtain rips in two and for a moment you can see straight through to the forbidden place.

What do you do? You shield your eyes; you fall on your face. And then, expecting to be struck dead, you lift up your head and peek.

There on a hill not far from where you bow, hangs a man, limp, bloodied. A crown of thorn hangs askew on his now dead body.

Your eyes travel back to the Temple. Could it really be?

He doesn't look like you expected.

My prayer is to see the Lord from unveiled eyes this year, to let any preconceived ideas and expectations fall away if they are not of Him, and be willing to let God unveil God in my life this year. 

Sometimes He uses books to help that process.

One of those books (which I went through much faster than you should because it was burning in my hands to be given to a certain friend) is The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas, by Ann Voskamp.

Everything about this book exudes beauty.  Exquisite cut paper illustrations by Paula Doherty frame each short section of devotional reading and reflection.

Quietly, carefully, thoughtfully, Ann recounts the Coming, the march of Grace from Adam to Jesus , through the messy ancestry, through the messy places , to the messy manger.

Each reading feels like a gift in itself because it opens your eyes to the Greatest gift of all—the One that didn't look like He was expected to look, the One who doesn’t always do as you expect Him to do.

The Greatest Gift--"God gives God."

Buy this for yourself and a friend before December 1st so you can enjoy the pageantry through the daily readings culminating in a rich celebration of Christmas. 



Blessings!
Marcia


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Mirror Maze

One of the things I'm learning about being a caregiver is that you have to be inventive about taking care of yourselves.

 In our Pre-Pa Days (before Bob’s 93-year-old dad moved in) we had that window of empty-nesting to do and go quite freely. Now our comings and goings have about a two or three hour window. So although we may not be able to go on a vacation, we are trying to change the way we look at what’s around us.

For example, how many of you live in a place that has some special sites or things to do, but you've never availed yourself of them? We realized that the town we live in attracts a lot of tourists because it has so much to offer and yet we were longing to go somewhere else. (Okay, a sidewalk café on a chilly fall evening in SC isn't quite the same as dinner on a Florida beach, but…)

So we decided to change our perspective and play tourists in our own downtown. We had tapas on a rooftop, a Malaysian meal at a sidewalk restaurant. We poked in boutiques and bumped shoulders with out-of-towners at crosswalks. 

Apparently our happy tourist façade was convincing because the owners of an arcade wooed us in to try out their Mirror Maze. We handed over our money (more than it was worth, I thought) donned our 3-D glasses and headed into a maze of me. 

Me reflected in front, me in back, me all around.

The object was to get away from yourself—and find the one way out of each corner. (And in case any of you decide to try a mirror maze, that is a clue.)

Get away from you.

I thought it was a great reminder. Maybe it was worth the bucks after all!

Friday I am going to discuss some of the books that have impressed me this past month. One of which is the BEAUTIFUL new book from Ann Voskamp—The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas.  I hope you’ll stop back.


A very blessed and joy full week to you,

Marcia

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A No CC Day: No Complaints. No Criticisms

I don’t know how many of you like this time change, but being a morning person I am all about Eastern Standard Time. The sunshine an hour earlier in the morning charges my cells faster than a venti dark roast. 

I’ve been so energized that I had walked the dog her mile, showered and gotten half-way out the door for an appointment before I realized it wasn’t until tomorrow. I even rejoined the gym. (Let’s see how long the enthusiasm for that lasts.)

The other decision birthed from this fall quickening was that I signed up for National Novel Writing Month—a commitment to write a 50,000-word novel between now and the end of November. Since I have never written more than two-hundred words of fiction in my life this presents a major challenge. But I am giving myself permission to play with that murder? Psychological thriller? Suspense? that lurks around in my mind, but that I never feel justified spending the time to let out.

This giving myself permission to play with creativity, even if it doesn’t produce some meaningful fruit has been very freeing. I don’t know about you, but I think sometimes—a lot of times—I am too hard on myself. In Isaiah, God says, “Comfort my people … Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for.

Speak tenderly. A good word for those of us who live in the shadow of a hard taskmaster. And I suspect in speaking tenderly to ourselves, we will find it easier to speak tenderly to others. So I’m proclaiming today No Complaints or Criticism Day. No negative muttering about myself or anyone else and no hard taskmaster.

As G.K. Chesterton says, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” So that’s what I am going to practice today (although coming up with a murder isn’t exactly a “light” thing!)

Meanwhile I have a couple of posts in other places today if you want to hop on over to My Christian Writers Conferences and take a look at When a writer falls into her reader’s story or stop by Life to the Fullest for Hope: when you can’t pray your way out of an open box.

And for those of you who’ve heard these stories before, I echo Groucho Marx: “If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.”

Meanwhile I pray that today you give your permission to enjoy—the day—the gifts you have—the desires of your heart and above all to Enjoy God!

Blessings abundant,
Marcia


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

When you think you have little to offer . . . offer it!





“When I grow up, I mean way, way up, I hope to be a wise old woman of God.” So says Carolyn Weber in Holy Is the Day: Living In the Gift of the Present.


She says a lot of beautiful wise things as she examines what it is to live Carpe Deum—seizing God by living the gift of the present. This is a beautiful book of poetry and pondering, gently crafted but deep-rooted in its challenge to live “in difference because we serve an extraordinary God.”  And I am pretty sure Carolyn Weber is well on her to becoming a wise (not yet old) woman of God.

I, myself am closing in on growing “way, way up,” and pray that being a wise woman of God accompanies the old part. Having started midlife with the Lord, I’ve had to dive deep and swim strong.

This past weekend, I attended Allume, a conference with about four hundred other women, most young enough to be my daughters: bloggers, mom entrepreneurs, ministry and mission minders, storytellers—all daughters of the King looking for ways to encourage one another in both craft and community.

There was a lot of wisdom being passed around and I gleaned several valuable insights. One thing that impressed me was the reminder that everyone—no matter how small—no matter how tied down with kidlings, or elderly parents, or a seeming lack of resources or skills, has something—some loaf or fish to offer to the Lord for his use. Yet how often we let competition or comparison or lack of confidence cripple us from even beginning.

Recently I saw a terrific quote (which I can’t track down and will do no justice to in my paraphrase) about thinking since we can only do a little, we don’t do anything at all. Isn’t that the truth—or rather the lie.

It was a lie that Asher Collie, a young woman I met at the conference, didn’t buy into. While watching  YouTube, she came across a video about the crippling effects of jiggers on children in Africa. The fleas burrow into the bare feet, suck the host’s blood, and form debilitating blisters and sores that cause infections, paralysis and even death.

Asher could have said, “How horrible,” and left it at that. But she didn’t. This “self-proclaimed shoe addict” enlisted a designer friend and together came up with a way to make shoes for kids an ocean away.

It’s an ingenuous idea: SOLE HOPE. Make the shoe uppers from recycled material such as jeans anywhere in the world, then ship the kits to Africa where they can be assembled by impoverished women and a shoemaker who attaches the rubber bottoms.


Love it! Kids get shoes; community gets employment. God gets glory.

You can have a shoemaking party anytime with the kits from Sole Hope. Check them out www.solehope.com

One other story that will cheer on any of you who have participated in or who think about participating in Operation Christmas Child with shoe boxgifts, involved a young man from Rwanda. He watched as his family was murdered in front of him. Sent to an orphanage, it was there he received a shoe box gift. He said he kept his comb for three years! And didn’t know what to do with a candy cane but was thrilled to find out.

Later, as a Christian (forgot how he came to the States) not only does he have an opportunity to go back to the same orphanage and deliver shoe box gifts, but he goes to the prison and extends forgiveness to the man who murdered his family. Wow.

His story goes full circle. But it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if someone hadn’t given a small box of gifts. If someone hadn’t packaged and paid to have them sent.


If someone had thought they had so little to offer that they didn’t offer anything at all.

Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.--1 Peter 4:10


Blessings friends as we journey on into that month of giving thanks--for Veterans, for bounty, for gifts graciously given.

Marcia

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Groundhog With Scoliosis: Compassion Is a Good Thing

A groundhog with scoliosis. Yep. That’s what the man was cradling in his arms like the family pooch or a chunky baby. 

I immediately flashed back to my only other association with woodchucks (Punxsutawney Phil excluded)—Sunday drives on the back roads of Vermont with my father (an avid hunter) who in spite of needing glasses, could spot a chuck from a 50 mph moving car even though the critter was no more than a distant dot in a rocky field to the rest of us. I don’t ever recall my father shooting one in front of us, although I could tell by the stillness of his head and the narrowing of his eyes that he was mentally lining up his shot.

But I managed to restrain myself from blurting out this information to the man holding the woodchuck, who I discerned, was a sensitive soul because he volunteered for wildlife rescue.  The rodent readjusted itself in the man’s arms as he pointed out the crooked spine which impaired its mobility.  I pushed back the refrain we kids always sang in response to our father’s observation: “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” and asked instead how come it didn’t bite him.
 The man said it was because they had been together for the past four years.

As I watched them snuggle with each other, I doubted if it was solely a matter of time together that cemented the relationship between man and beast. From furry to feathery, animals have secured their spot in the heart of man. And loyalties are fierce. Did you ever notice how a movie villain can terrorize a whole family, but don’t let him touch the pooch or you’ll get really upset.

Pet supply trends suggest that Baby Boomers, once tagged as helicopter parents, have shifted their hovering from children to animals now that the nest is empty. This bodes well for this generation of animals, domestic or wild.

While the kids were growing up, my husband and I resisted getting too involved in the pet thing, mostly because we wanted to be free to go places easily. But ever since our adult daughter began coming home with puppies and leaving without them, we too have succumbed to the doleful eyes wanting up on the bed and the eager ears hoping that rattle of car keys included them.

I, champion of highway over rare spider (Endangered Spider Discovery Stops $ 15 Million Texas Highway Construction) and mocker of over-zealous PETA persons have been so softened by the family pooch that I know by the tone of the dog’s bark whether there’s a cat out back or someone walking their dog up on the track. And my discernment is extending to the wildlife. The other day I told my husband there was a predator outside.

“How do you know?” He asked.

“I understand bird talk,” I said. “They’re sounding an alarm.”Sure enough, there was a huge hawk sitting in the tree.

I am pleased with the increasing sensitivity to the animal kingdom that having a pet has given rise to, nevertheless, I do discriminate. My husband will carefully scoop up the prehistoric stink bug and release it outside, while I guilt-freely flush it down the drain. 

When we offered to do some work for our friends while they weren't home, and they called to say that in the interest of “full disclosure” they had to warn us one of their snakes had escaped, I asked how bad they’d feel if I stabbed it with a fork.  

And while I look at a woodchuck and see a rodent (with scoliosis or not), I am glad there are people who see a creature in need and are willing to help. 

Cultivating compassion in an increasingly desensitized society can only be a good thing, don't you think?

Blessings friends,

Marcia



Monday, September 30, 2013

September Psalm

O where is a blue butterfly when you want one!
I hate to have it leave, this month of round yellow light that settles lazily over my body, of blue butterflies lingering on lantana and birds calling each other for October journeys.

September. Its departure is as decked out in splendor as was its arrival here in South Carolina.  I pause to soak in the beauty, but the paucity of words to burst through the glory and touch the Creator frustrates me. I identify with that “agony of prayerlessness,” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer says drove the disciples to ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

In his little book, Psalms: the Prayer Book of the Bible, Bonhoeffer makes his case for praying God’s words back to him because, “The words which come from God become  . . .  the steps on which we find our way to God.”  And: “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”

And so I let the laundry wait. Dinner will emerge in some form or other, and life will carry on into the October morning.  But today, this last glorious day of September, I offer the words of what Bonhoeffer classifies as the creation psalms back to the One who first spoke them.

Care to join me in a meditation of Psalms 8, 19? (Bonhoeffer also includes  Psalms 29, and 104, which you might consider on your own.)

Psalm 8
O LORD, our Lord, / how majestic is your name in all the earth! O Jehovah Lord, I acknowledge you as Creator God. I praise your name and proclaim your glory. Glory that is above the heavens, uncontainable, unfathomable. (v.1, 2)

How can it be that when I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, /the moon and the stars, which you/have set in place, that you are mindful of me and that you care for me! (v.3,4) I bow down and thank you. I thank you that you have made a way for me know you and that you have crowned me with glory and honor. (v. 3)

O LORD, our Lord, / how majestic is your name in all the earth! (v.9)
Hallowed be your name.

************

1980. I am flying in to NYC, a new Christian about to embark on a new journey. The sunrise explodes above the clouds and I turn in my spanking new Bible to Psalm 19. Your profound declaration of how you have revealed yourself through your creation fills me with awe, and your spoken Word of revelation leaves me no excuse.

The heavens declare the glory of God, / And the sky above proclaims his handiwork. / Day to day pours forth speech/ And night to night reveals knowledge. (v.1, 2) O Father, try as we will to make sense of all the mysteries that surround us, try as we will to inform and contain, there is no way to explain the undeniable grandeur that is revealed both night and day. –even the stars “sing” (as scientists have seen). I praise you for the mystery, the beauty, the grandeur of your creation.

What a great image you have given us to delight in . . . The sun,/ which comes out like a bridegroom/ leaving his chamber/ and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. (v.5)

And in case we miss it—the face of you in this creation—you have left us your Law which is perfect and revives our souls (v.7), your sure testimony which makes the simple wise, your right precepts which rejoice the heart, and your pure commandments which enlighten the eyes . . .(v.7,8)

O God, may I not exchange your glory for my man-made idols. (Romans 1:23) May I not chase after emptiness and become empty. (Jer.2:5)

But let the words of my mouth and the /meditation of my heart/be acceptable in your sight, /O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (v. 14)


Blessings friends, as we leave September behind and face fall-ward,
Marcia


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tickets to Alcatraz

My father didn’t think he should bother God with little everyday problems and requests. Said he’d wait until he needed something important. I wasn’t sure if he was worried God would think he was a nuisance and ignore him when it really mattered, or if God was just too busy answering prayers about starving children and warring countries to be concerned with our growing grocery tab at the neighborhood market.

And so I outsourced most of my childhood concerns. Various saints were delegated the task of helping me find missing items and being safe in the car. Santa Claus got the big-item-once-a-year wish list while crossed fingers and first stars of the night got my lesser daily desires. I did pray to God every day, but I kept to things I was certain He was interested in—like forgiving my misbehavior and helping me to be better.

Years later, when “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight,” Santa Claus, and crossed fingers were as distant a memory as my teddy bear, I floundered about seeking something on which to pin my daily concerns.


That’s when God stepped in and showed me nothing was too insignificant for Him to handle. The same God of the universe and all things incomprehensibly infinite was also the God of my minutia. (Care to tweet this?)

                                                           Tickets to Alcatraz


Alcatraz Island

I had moved across the country to try out life In San Francisco, but nothing was working out as I hoped. Plus, the strain of having to stay alone in an apartment in a strange city while I pieced together enough temp jobs to feed us was taking its toll on my young son. So one sunny afternoon we decided to have fun and take in the city sights.

Making our way to the bay, we joined a group of tourists in line for the ferry tour around Alcatraz. I stood at the edge of the crowd and debated whether or not to spend my last few dollars on something so irresponsible.

 I agonized. It seemed too insignificant a request to warrant the attention of heaven.

It would have been easier if my son had whined and begged. Then I could have felt justified in squelching a tantrum. But the silent hope in his eyes as he looked from me to the diminishing line melted my resolve.

“Lord, please forgive me if I'm being frivolous. It’s been a tough time for him, and he needs to have some fun.” With that, we took our place at the end of the line.

As the last person reached the booth, I faltered. My son looked at me with a desperate glance of hope.

“Psst. Psst.”

Standing at the side of the ticket booth, two little ladies, each with a head full of bluish curls, were gesturing to get my attention. I eyed them warily as they held something out to me.

“Here,” one said, her face awash in delight. “We have two tickets we don’t need. Go ahead. Take them.”

I can’t say for sure, but I suspect, no two people ever felt so gifted by God for a trip to Alcatraz.


The final whistle blew as we hurried up the gangplank. 

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him.--Psalm 34:8


Blessings Friends,
Marcia


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Something to Consider this glorious September day

From frivolous (Talk Like a Pirate Day, 9/19) to serious (National POW/MIA Recognition Day, 9/21) the calendar is full of things to celebrate or consider.  

 I enjoy the silliness and humor of some of these designated days (although my family would probably be astounded to see humor and silliness in the same sentence as my name). But as anyone who has poked around here knows, I have a heart for missions.

Previously I told the story about the time I followed up on a Google alert of my book, Call of a Coward, and was led to a blog post of a woman who had just finished reading it. The long and short is—it ministered to her because she was going through the breaking away period, the counting the cost time, to pack up her family and move to Hogar de Vida in Costa Rica to team up with the same people we had been involved with in my story!

I’ve since followed her journey as she and her family untied from all things familiar and made the move to Costa Rica. If their arrival is any indication of things to come, this family can rest assured in the mighty hand of God.

 Imagine the bustle at the airport as you settle your family into the transport, stash your bags and your kids, and then just as you start to relax twenty minutes down the road, you realize you’ve left the backpacks containing all your most valuable paperwork, cash, cameras, and computers on the sidewalk at the airport!


Which brings me back to the calendar days. This month is also Blog Month for Compassion International. Their goal is to get sponsors for 3, 160 children. My friend, Susan Stilwell, a blogger over at I Hope 4 Him invites us to find the story behind this picture:


And so my offering to you, this so-beautiful-I-want-absorb-it day in September is this—please consider the abused and abandoned children here, there, or anywhere and the people who sacrifice to help them. The opportunities to impact lives are plentiful—without even leaving your homes. 

Blessings in the joy of the Lord,
Marcia

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sharing September Sunshine with Spiders


Some Septembers days are so delicious my mind fills with silly celebrations, “O frabjous day ! Callooh! Callay!” 

I love to linger in the hazy light or walk the dog in the brisk morning breeze. It seems I share my fondness for this season with another creature, one for which I have great admiration but don’t want to come anywhere near.

Exhibiting marvelous feats of engineering—bridge lines that span twelve-foot gaps, invisible orbs strong enough to trap large insects (to say nothing of triggering a frantic frenzy when you walk full-face into them), spiders, large, small, furry, striped, and spotted are everywhere. 

I'm not sure whether they are mating, moving, or out on holiday, but they've got their anchor lines and hammocks slung and strung between every upright blade of grass and porch post on my half-acre.

Now, I'm not an arachnophobe, but let’s admit it, unless you are of that rare breed, like my friend Matt, who thinks his fist-size tarantula is a real beauty, it’s downright difficult to warm up to a spider.


Imagine—public speaking and spiders neck and neck on the phobia chart! Which makes me wonder how I would rate my phobias. Free-falling in a elevator and driving off a cliff are biggies. Having a spider walk around my head or face rates pretty high too. (Care to share yours?)

I'm not sure why spiders trigger such violent reactions, (although I suspect it has something to do with having eight legs and a head full of eyes) because for the most part they are quite amazing. For me, learning about them helps me to spare the population. (And they do eat a terrific amount of insects.)

For example the harmless, yet fearsome writing spider who took up housekeeping on my porch was spared because I learned she is harmless, spins a story web, which she takes down every night and puts up again the next day.  See my previous post, The writing spider spins a psalm.

And I was humored by the messy spider strung out on the fence line next to a tidy one. Lessons from a filament-flinging spider.

And I delighted in seeing and learning about ballooning spiders, What response do ballooning spiders and Women of Faith elicit?

But I have to admit, clever as she was to drop a fishing line in the pool skimmer, the black widow with her belly full of progeny crossed my tolerance line. Bob admired her ingenuity so much he was reluctant to get rid of her, but I would have none of it. She was a goner.


Yes, education can certainly help gain a healthy respect for these creeping  creatures, but for the true arachnophobe for whom even the spoken word, spider, elicits a scream, there ‘s help of a different sort. 

How about this virtual reality program that has spiders crawl all over your desk:


And if that’s not your forte, well, I hope you still can delight in these balmy September days; may they not be spider filled, but full of marvel!

Blessings abundant,
Marcia

Friday, September 6, 2013

One Word September Check-up

At the beginning of every year there is a lot of hoopla about choosing One Word, a one-word theme that resonates with your particular stage of life, and that you determine to focus on. Many Christians seek that word from the Lord, but plenty of non-believers choose to reduce their ambitious New Year’s resolution list to one word also. 

It’s easier to remember one word and therefore easier to do. Or is it? I'm wondering how it’s going for those of you who chose/received a word this year.

Are you still praising? Resting? Seeking? Serving? Chilling? Are you still experiencing beauty? Faith? Freedom? Joy? Loveliness? Silliness? Serenity? Serendipity?

For the thirty or so years I have been a Christian, I have sought the Lord on New Year’s Day for a key scripture. I still did that this year, but I also asked the Lord for a one-word lesson or theme He wanted me to be attentive to.

 I immediately knew what it was, and I didn't particularly like it. In fact, I was kind of envious of the people who had fun words like adventure and light, or mysterious words like hidden and key, or just downright peaceable words like tranquil and secure.

My word was anathema to the “me-generation” of which I was such a part.  

It conjured up images of the recalcitrant kid sitting in the corner but standing in his heart.

Like cans tied to a newly-weds  car, misconceived ideas of legalism, suffering, submission, and resignation rattled after it, distracting and deterring a pursuit of it.

And yet I knew that it was only through the practice of this that I would draw closer to the heart of the Father.

Obedience.

“From Paradise lost to Paradise gained, it is obedience that gives access to God.”—Andrew Murray

Obedience acknowledges a higher authority, and if that authority is God, I would like to think sheer love for him would make me willing. And often it has.

But there have been times when although I've done what I knew should, my attitude stunk. The Lord didn't have to wither up a shade-plant in order for me to see that my Jonah heart needed a dose of grace.

And that’s what I am learning about obedience this year—I'm getting the form down but the Lord wants the heart.

I know He is sticking close with me on this because just when I start patting myself on the back about how well I am learning servanthood, I am confronted with an even more demanding situation.

But obedience is not about resignation. Resignation “lies down quietly in the dust of a universe from which God seems to have fled”—Catherine Marshall.  As someone told me this week, her hopes and dreams were like shattered glass. Her attitude was: “It is what it is.”

No. Obedience doesn't resign, it relinquishes, open handedly those dreams to a good, loving, gracious God, confident that He can pick up those shattered stained glass pieces and form a masterpiece.
I would love to hear how you are doing with your theme for the year. And if yours was “happy” or “joyful” do tell! But if you are walking through a trial of a time, may grace tie you securely to the hope you have in the One who relinquished his will, knowing resurrection triumphs over crucifixion.