The Outsider

For 40 days a giant came out and challenged the army. 80 times they heard the taunt. 80 times their king failed to answer. Talk about a morale buster.

One. They’re in a valley. A low place, not the high ground I understand as being preferred in battle.

Two. There is a real giant with huge weapons ready to battle.

Three. The king has no answer. The king is not leading. The king sees no soldier volunteering and he is not choosing the option to volun-tell one to fight the battle. The king seems afraid, overwhelmed, and desperate.

Then comes the runt of a family. A shepherd boy on an errand.

As my pastor read through the passage in 1 Samuel, my mind slanted to a new realization.

David came into the battle as an observer. What must he expect to see as he got to the top of the hills surrounding the battle? Probably a battle!

But, there was no battle. I picture him walking through the camp, observing, confused, trying to figure out what in the world is going on. The men were waiting, afraid, demoralized. Its one thing for this to go on a day or two. But 40? That will do something to a soul.

David came in from the broad fields filled with sheep, daily trusting God to deliver him and the sheep. Daily seeing God do just that. He came in with a fresh perspective and it was not welcome.

There’s been times in my life where I’ve felt like David’s brothers. 40 days in the valley being taunted. Scared and stuck. Then, someone comes into my life, looks around and says something to the effect of don’t be discouraged by this, fight! God can win this one. 

Its startling. It usually grates a little. But, when I’ve let it sink in, its moved me out of the valley.

By the way, does anyone else think its pretty crazy that Saul let David go fight Goliath? I mean, he put the whole fate of the nation on the shoulders of a boy he didn’t know who couldn’t even wear his suit of armor.

Talk about desperation.

Or, God at work, rescuing His people through the most unlikely of heroes and working through the most unlikely of people.DSC_0002

Ah, that sounds like a familiar story line in the Bible.

My gut check in this story is looking at how I respond to events.

Am I in a valley and in need of an outside perspective, that of a warrior who sees the battle as winnable?

Or, am I acting like an older brother, neglecting the input of the younger because of age, rivalry, or jealousy? Yikes, I hope not, but I won’t rule it out. I know myself enough to know it wouldn’t be the first time.

Or, am I like the king in some way, not leading, allowing the troops to get beat down because I won’t believe God is capable of winning?

Or, what if there’s a time where I’m the outside perspective, seeing things differently, more clearly and needing to speak up even at the risk of annoying and provoking those that are understandably beat down?

A lot of food for thought in this story. The Bible is old, but it never really gets old, does it?

 

Pretty Weeds

We strolled through the neighborhood, he in his bike helmet, me not. Chattering away, he admired the signs of spring–green grass, flowers, trees leaving out, and a weed.

It stood high in the ditch at the end of our street, proud and purple and almost as tall as my 8-year-old son. The multiple buds bloomed right in front of him as he commented on its beauty.

It’s a weed, I said. I hated to tell him.

A weed! But it’s so pretty, how could it be a weed? He exclaimed with a stricken, surprised look washing over his face.

You can tell by the leaves, how fast it grows, and the strange spiky leaves. It will also come up out of the ground quickly when you pull it. It is tall, but not well rooted. 

The look on his face saddened me. He’d been showing me something beautiful. Maybe he felt foolish for admiring a weed. Maybe he was just surprised, but I struggled wondering if I needed to point out that the flower was not a weed.

~~~

Days passed since this encounter with the flower that was really a weed. I remembered it this week as I ambled back from a morning walk and discovered three tall weeds about to bloom in our flower beds.

Grabbing the gloves, I went to pull them and they came out so easily I was surprised. Their blooms were set to burst numerous flowers while my roses, the real flowers, are struggling.

What makes a weed a weed? I thought. By definition, it is a plant that is unwanted or one that is invasive, blocking out cultivated plants. Usually fast growing.

So, it’s just an unwanted, fast growing plant? Makes me feel a little sad for the weed to be so judged! The purple weed was kind of pretty, except when I remember the spiky, ugly leaves and how they overtake a flower bed or lawn. Being untrained, I often don’t recognize them until they are obviously not what I want growing in my lawn.

Its much the same with spiritual weeds in my own life. At first its hard to tell what they are, especially if I am not reading my Bible or practicing confession in my daily life. Something unwanted starts growing and I don’t notice until its big and really needing to be pulled!

The weeds can look pretty, I can even feel sorry for them because they don’t measure up. I can nurse them in pity, but they choke out the good things, the cultivated garden I want my life to be spiritually.img_6459

The weeds were mowed down a few weeks later by the neighborhood lawn care crew. They are not gone, just mowed down for a while until the time it takes them to grow back.

The struggle is real and constant. Growing a cultivated garden takes more work.

But, I think I’m going to enjoy my roses a bit more than the weeds that try to choke them out.

Do You Confess?

One of my kids has “reactive airways”, doc talk for asthma. Not all the time and not that sudden type but the type that whenever he gets sick, it goes straight to the chest.

Then he starts this distinctive cough that lets me know my next few days will be spent hauling out nebulizers, inhalers, Vick’s, netipots, and on and on. The cough’s purpose was to force out trapped air so when the airways relax, the cough goes away.

Breathing is a pretty essential activity to human life so asthma attacks are stressful. We’ve always been able to turn the tide and get out of danger. In the middle of it, though, you don’t know the end.

Spiritually, the concept of breathing has been on my mind. I talk often in ministry about spiritual breathing- a cycle of confession (exhale) and filling (inhale). A few tough situations over this past season, namely the August Smackdown, brought me close to exhaustion…and my own need to breathe.

That tightness in my chest would come, that prompt to take a deep breath. A sigh. Like an old lady lament. I was feeling it, the old lady weariness.

So I sighed. Then, with each sigh, I reminded myself of the need to breathe spiritually as well as physically.

Exhaling. Recognizing I was trying to take control of the humanly uncontrollable. Fearing that God was not in control. Releasing the toxic build up of the thoughts and emotions and very real sin so I could take in more life-giving breath. This is confessing.

Breathing in. Each time asking God for more of His resources, His oxygen to extend farther into my soul and strengthen me for the situation. To have mercy and help me. Filling.

So what about asthma? Asthma, if left alone and not treated, slowly suffocates the victim as I understand it. With no room in the lungs to take in more oxygen, and CO2 trapped inside the lungs, the body is deprived of the oxygen that keeps it alive.IMG_0587-0.JPG

All the while the body is trying to breathe in unsuccessfully.

The body begins using almost every muscle it can in the torso to bring air into the lungs. Retractions, where the skin sucks in at the collar bones and around the ribs, notify us that our son is really, really struggling to breathe. The lungs work overtime trying to cough out trapped air. Lips begin turning pale. It’s terrifying and it would be time to go to urgent care.

In the physical world, there is albuterol and steroids to resolve the problems of asthma. Steroids control the tendency to flare up. Albuterol treats a flare up.

Spiritually, there is ordering our lives to God and His revealed truth in the Bible, the fellowship with the community of believers, the Spirit of God convicting and directing us…and regular confession. These all serve as the anti-inflammatory control to prevent serious flare ups of spiritual asthma.

But asthma strikes still. When spiritual asthma comes and we struggle to breathe because we know we are not right with God. Or we are working overtime to win favor and status with God by doing, doing, doing…there is, again, confession.

Exhaling by agreeing with God about our sin or our human efforts to earn forgiveness. Inhaling by receiving the resources He gives through His Spirit to live a life pleasing to Him. Sometimes over and over about the same old things.

Slowly, surely the toxic is released so the pure and fresh can roll in and bring life again.

 

 

 

Taking a Look Back

A month of parties, concerts, gift lists, shopping, special food and I feel the overwhelming need to tame the frenzy. Get life back into order and move on to something more sustainable.

Maybe that’s why my desk suddenly needs clearing out, along with the craft cabinet. My bookshelves simply need editing and walls need a new coat of paint. The ugly chairs need recovering and the list goes on.

A combo of life running at top speed combined with a desire for order and a cup and a half of coffee sends my New Year’s resolve into high gear. My coffee infused to do lists are extensive at the beginning of the week. The beginning of the year? Well, I know myself better now than in years past.

Time for a year in review. This morning I scribbled some answers to seven questions from Michael Hyatt’s site. I highly recommend this exercise.

I found these questions many years ago when we lived in East Asia. Sitting in our cold living room on January 1st, I reflected on the past year. It was monumental for me at the time.

There are years since that I haven’t engaged in answering these questions, but this year I did again. The need to organize, redo, and clean out is subsiding perhaps because they were symptoms of disorder in my soul that needed the light of a reflection. It was a full year emotionally and physically.

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking back helped me acknowledge that and keep going. Like a break on a hike where you look back and see how far you came, how long and steady the incline. It was hard work, but look where it led? Look at the view now!

Did I make resolutions? It’s more like the desires that resolutions spring from rose to the surface. One was a continuation from last year. Another was to write more, also a desire from this past year that I didn’t make time to accomplish.

The third was just to have more fun with my husband and kids. He bought a fixer upper sailboat the other day which helps.  I can’t wait to get it on the water with him when it’s not freezing like it is right now!

Maybe that is what a yearly review does, helps us take look back and acknowledge the trail behind with all its hardships and joys so we can move forward with renewed resolve to reach the end.

Waste not…

DSC_0141Buried in my blog drafts from our life in East Asia 4 years ago…

Our family is reading Farmer Boy right now as our bedtime story.  It makes me feel a lot better about the minimal chores I expect my children to accomplish.  They understand their charmed life and gain vision on all they really can do!

We all listen with rapt attention to the descriptions of life before electricity, refrigeration, and machinery.  Clothes are precious because the yarn comes from sheep shorn on your own farm, wool spun by diligent hands, made into fabric and sewn by expert fingers.  A rip in clothing is no excuse to throw it away, mending is a crucial skill.

The food is fascinating too.  My kids salivate when Laura Ingalls tells of donuts, oatmeal, and apple pie for breakfast…all in one day!  Life on the farm seems like an adventure especially when you get your own oxen.  Little do they know, they observe daily a life similar to the one described in Farmer Boy.

We are city folk who live in the midst of an agrarian society.  We see strange things that are only strange because we are 2 generations removed from the farm.

Yellow millet sometimes covers the medians of roads right up to the solid white line. One time we drove over some crops laid on the road. The cars driving over beat out the grain.

Vegetables like the one pictured lay out to dry in odd places along fence posts, on house roofs, anywhere there is sun really.  Pickled vegetables make up an important part of the diet. I ate a wonderful dish of dried green beans the other day.

Many homes still don’t own refrigerators in the countryside or if they do they are unplugged when someone deems it frivolous to be on.  Lamps turned on inside a house in the daytime is an anomaly and deemed quite wasteful. A neighbor was seriously perplexed one day to see our whole family playing outside and our lights on in our apartment.

Cars rarely carry only one person and most people ride bikes or use electric bikes. They, too, often hold multiple people. Frankly, bikes are generally easier to use to get around the neighborhood than cars.

The average household trash can is the size of one normally found in an American bathroom.  It is emptied once a day and mostly contains vegetable peels. Ironically, while hosting many of the world’s worst polluted cities, the average citizen produces very little waste.

A few days before Thanksgiving, my friends began inquiring if anyone was going to use the turkey carcass after our meal. She, of course, was the lucky winner. As our friends divided up the leftovers from Thanksgiving including the turkey carcass (for porridge), the broth from the turkey (for noodles), and the side dishes (to eat the next day), I admired their skill in frugality.

I often choose convenience over limiting waste. I don’t fall far from my American heritage even after more than a decade overseas.

There is much to admire in the resourcefulness needed to live a life of such little waste and such thankfulness for what is provided from God.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Teaching My Boy to Read

It is dyslexia awareness month. I wrote this about 4 years before we figured out our boy is dyslexic. The struggle he has and that I was starting to grasp in this piece are very real. If you are reading this and it resonates with your experience of teaching your child to read at 6 or 7, please consider evaluating them for possible dyslexia.

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I’m teaching my boy to read these days.  Reading is a passion of mine.  If I was not so responsible I’d be up late with the light on to finish a book.  Who am I kidding? I’m not very responsible.

Luxury these days would be reading as long as I wanted rather than only as long as I could manage to put off other things.  I dream of the day when I will be the one at the pool with a book instead of the one with the bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But my boy, he seems oblivious to reading. He’s compliant so he sits and participates in the lessons and he’s learning.  He’s also the one who told me quite clearly from the beginning that “some people read and some people build things.  I am the kind that builds things.” He thought that would get me…

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The August Smackdown

Texas in the summer is hot. People know this about Texas. Along with the Texas reputation for independence and friendliness is its summer climate. Its hot here.

So, when you’re air conditioning goes out, it’s a deal. Ours went out August 1st. It was a deal. It’s a deal that you get fixed and people pat you on the shoulder as you complain even when you know you need to trust God. 

August 2nd we went and bought ice cream among many other things at the store. Then, a man who looked like scary Santa rear ended our van with the ice cream in the trunk. It was a minor parking lot thing, but it still meant our van needed a 3 week-long repair job. It got a rear end lift at the dealer. IMG-5851

The grocery store was kind and we went home with three times the Rocky Road than we planned. Only one of us still likes Rocky Road anymore.

It’s kind of ironic or prophetic. Rocky Road. Get it?

The air conditioning and the van are pretty minor things in the scheme of life. Transactions take care of these things. They are painful but temporary. 

During this time, my mom was sick. She kept being sick and kept being sick and then sicker and sicker. Assorted antibiotics didn’t make a dent and so I drove the nice rental car our insurance gave us up to be with her. 

So, if you’re an accountant, the spring is a big time for you. If you are in college ministry, this is a big time for you. It’s like tax time in August and September. Busy. It was stressful to make the decision to pull away.

But sickness. Sickness is a different sort of trial. It takes over sometimes suddenly but sometimes slowly and then all of a sudden its a crisis that can’t be ignored. Things must stop or slow down so that proper care can be given. Sickness doesn’t check the calendar for an appropriate day or season. You don’t ask your boss ahead of time for sick leave like you do for a vacation.

It just invades and takes over.

I am so used to modern medicine that I am having a hard time figuring out how it can’t just be smacked down with a few pills. Just find the right ones and, boom, gone. We’re on the 5th kind of medicine and there was no boom.

We were all waiting for the boom.

Because I didn’t want to eat jello and cottage cheese for dinner, I went to a local restaurant to get carry out for myself. I debriefed with my husband, cried a little.

Things that felt important must take a back seat. Jobs that I planned to do myself get passed to others. Events I wanted to attend, I wasn’t at. I missed my dad. Absence of a family member in times like this brings up the grief in a fresh way.

Sickness brings life back down to the basics and that is painful to my strong desire to direct my own life. It makes me cognizant in a needful way to the order of my place in God’s creation and the impact of the evil invader. We are brilliantly made and pretty sturdy but surprisingly weak too. A microscopic thing can take over and cause horrible consequences, upending life and what we thought was important.

Sickness sorts priorities. We were sorted and its painful but freeing too. God was and is in charge of this mess down here. 

And, seriously, who but God can deal with it the way it needs to be dealt with? The show goes on without me, kind of humbling, but it does.

He gives grace too. Compassionate doctors, kind nurses, prayerful friends, understanding teammates, encouraging family. The next 5 days we spent I. The hospital were trying and the recovery is long for my mom. But, she is recovering and I’m so thankful! 

The August smack down was currently underway when I wrote this. At that point, Hurricane Harvey was forming in the Atlantic. 

Though the sufferings flow, I am assured that so does the comfort of Christ. II Corinthians 1:5