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,

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."


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


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.
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."


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 


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.


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,