Sunday, March 31, 2013

Words Fitly Spoken

The dressing room is private, but not sound proof. The bantering between clothes changers and those who waited for them added an element of recreation to my dress hunting mission. A young and playful voice spoke from the room next to me, ping-ponging questions and comments to "Grammy" and, I'm guessing, a younger cousin seated on a bench close by.  Grammy sounded fun and her opinions sought and  valued. Without seeing the voice of my fitting room neighbor, her tone and topics conjured up an older teen, positive and teasing, and I smiled at her kind and clever sense of humor.

A few stalls farther away from me another voice caught my attention. This I surmised to be an older woman.  She was quick to judge appearances, too this, or not enough that and this makes me look like___fill in the blank. She gave commands to whoever was outside her door to fetch another size or to make sure not to get another one of those.

How our words give us away, I reflected, as I quietly left my changing session. If I would have given a running account of my thoughts as I tugged on tight bodices and wiggled through unzipped crevices, what would you have surmised about me?

Deep inside the little book of Ephesians, there's a verse that arrests my attention.

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Eph. 4:29.

Avoiding unwholesome, I might have under control most of the time, but what about helpful for building up, tailor made to their needs and giving them a gift with my delivery of words? It happens most when I listen mostly, hearing their needs and caring, wanting to extend kindness. 

Reading the gospels and concentrating just on the words Jesus spoke and how and when he said them, would be a speech course worth signing up. As I read the story of Christ's death and resurrection this weekend, I was impressed by the kindness in his words to his mother and to John as he hung in agony on the cross. He tells a dear friend to care for his widowed mother. My mother heart feels the tenderness Mary must have experienced as she heard those words. In the throes of grief, Jesus' words would have been a priceless gift to her.

Simon Peter knew the depths of regret and self loathing as he cursed and renounced, Jesus, the Master and Friend, he loved dearly.  Fear had gripped him in the moment. We sorrow with him.  There are no words of rebuke from Jesus, yet there must have been a wondering, and awkwardness in Peter 's heart as he sees Jesus after his resurrection. He understood forgiveness or he would not have stayed with the group of believers. His sin could have driven him to despair and hopelessness. But Peter grieves, yet counts on grace for himself and from the other disciples. 

Later, on the shore, the risen Lord asks three times for Peter to respond to him with a declaration of love, each time assuring Peter of how he is needed and the place where he belongs in Christ's kingdom. Peter's wound of failure is still tender, and Peter is upset that Jesus pushes against the hurt. Maybe Peter wanted to forget the past. He knew he loved Jesus; why did Jesus keep asking? Perhaps Jesus was insulating Peter from future doubt about how things stood between them.  Or doubt that he was good enough to serve in the Kingdom. Peter's repeated confession of love brought things to the open. Resolutions that bring our hearts to restoration and peace are harder to question later on, if they have been spoken aloud and others have heard. I don't know for sure what Jesus was accomplishing in that encounter, but that he singled Peter out and spoke so personally of their relationship and spoke prophetically to him the same number of  times as Peter had denied him, affirms again that Jesus cares deeply and speaks what is necessary and beneficial for us to hear.

Do you need to know Jesus cares about how things are between you? He freely forgives your sins, sees your longing to be fully restored and wants to clear the air with you, so you don't need to wonder if he loves you less or if you love him less. Confess your love for him, openly. His love never ends and his good purposes for you won't be thwarted. That's how complete his forgiveness is. 

Father, teach me more about your love. May my speech reflect our love for each other. Teach me what to say and how to say it. Let me build others up and give gifts of tenderness and kindness from my tongue. When I grieve you, help me to recognize and confess my sin. I will declare my love for you, and I pray you let nothing stand between us.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Storeroom Treasures

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
Matthew 13:51-53

Old meets new, or old alongside new, or old and new together could have been a title to my week. The chat with my elderly aunt on the phone, who was convalescing from a broken pelvis, was followed up with a text message I sent to her sister, another older aunt, to see how she was doing. These two precious relatives remind me of my mother who is no longer living. A while later I talk to my dad who is remarried, giving me a new status of stepdaughter.

A hankering for an ice cream dessert I learned to make in college, had me buying pistachio pudding and vanilla ice cream. Anyone else remember this 70s recipe? After mixing the dry pudding mix with the softened ice cream and a half a cup of milk, this soft serve consistency is swiggled over ritz cracker crumbs enriched with nuts and butter, then a few reserved crumbs sprinkled over the top. The clerk at Krogers remembered this oldie, but goodie, as we discussed ways to use pistachio pudding.

Kevin and I are still learning new dance steps; had a chance to try them out at our first ball recently. Test driving the Civic I mentioned before in another post, led to a new vehicle occupying our driveway. But another glimpse of life in our house would show us wiping and drying dishes by the kitchen sink while the dishwasher sits idle close by. The 30s something refrigerator hums faithfully from across the room.

My brother came by for a visit last week. I had to make him our favorite childhood meal and we kept true to family tradition by playing a game of Scrabble.  I hauled old heirloom photos out of the storeroom so we could cut up a few poses to glue on a handmade card to send to the invalid aunt. Before you gasp in horror at destroying such old treasures, I will tell you they have been scanned and digitized, making it much easier to store and manage them. However, I have not succumbed to trashing them. They only sit in an upstairs wastebasket waiting for that fateful day when my minimalist resolve will take effect.  The day is hastening closer every time I hear my mother-in-law express anxiety about what to do with her old photos. No offspring want them, they take up space in the villa my parents-in-law have downsized to, and have become a bane to their owner who lacks the energy to tackle organizing them.

The Scrabble game board spreads across the well -worn oak, Daddy-made, dining room table again. This time my son has brought his new girlfriend home for the first time and wants to introduce her to one of the things we do best, fiercely compete to win! He counts on her college English major to qualify her for the brutal combat. Their new love is counted among the recent treasures in the storeroom.

Bible study every week reminds me of the timelessness of God's Word.  As we handle these treasures, inspecting, appraising and touching them with our minds and hearts we marvel at their relevancy to our lives now, today.  Whether the insights we receive are brand new, or gems we're again admiring, the storeroom holds an endless supply of wisdom, righteousness and truth. 

Whether your storeroom has a long history or you've just recently started filling it, let's bring those treasures out and give them away---the stories of God's faithfulness, the answers to prayer, the way his Word accomplishes good in our lives and defeats our enemies, or the wisdom we gain by obeying his Word that makes life enjoyable and rewarding. 

Thank you, Father, for your Word.  What an anchor for our lives! How shallow we are if we're not grounded in its truth! How vulnerable we'd be to the swaying winds of doctrine, or to shifting positions according to popular voices around us. Your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

How Will They Know Us?

Cozied inside the silver Civic, my husband and I removed the For Sale signs from the window and maneuvered out of the parking lot for a test drive. We slid buttons, turned knobs, opened compartments and flipped visors. Would this become our next 'new' used car?

I pushed all the preselected radio set buttons and found myself trying to analyze the owner's interests by the stations he had selected. It appeared he liked public radio, pop music, and classical symphonies. I found myself wanting to judge his spiritual condition by what his fingertips weren't choosing as preferred stations. Like the numerous Christian listening choices we have available in our area.  How unfair of me and definitely not conclusive!

Several occasions recently have made me wonder, though, about how we can identify other believers. While I can't determine someone's salvation by the radio he listens to, it might be a clue that a person is interested or familiar with Christianity if Casting Crowns or Third Day boomed forth after a button tap.

In Bible study this week, the question came up as to what we look for as clues that someone is a believer. One lady said kindness, or the light shining from their faces.  Another thought speech gave it away. "Wouldn't it be great if there was some sign only believers could see and communicate to each other?", the women on my left voiced. It happened in the Left Behind book series, when the end time mark of the beast meant believers had to know who was on the same side in order to keep from death or persecution.

Christian traditions says that early believers used the sign of the fish to secretly identify each other.

"Greeks, Romans, and many other pagans used the fish symbol before Christians. Hence the fish, unlike, say, the cross, attracted little suspicion, making it a perfect secret symbol for persecuted believers. When threatened by Romans in the first centuries after Christ, Christians used the fish to mark meeting places and tombs, or to distinguish friends from foes. According to one ancient story, when a Christian met a stranger in the road, the Christian sometimes drew one arc of the simple fish outline in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, both believers knew they were in good company. Current bumper-sticker and business-card uses of the fish hearken back to this practice."

What about me?  How long would it take for a stranger who knew and loved Jesus to know that I loved him to? Depending on the day, it might be covered up pretty good. Instead of a serene face, I might look worried or more often distracted. My words might be sharp rather than graceful when someone overcharges me, is rude or refuses to give me proper customer service. I might be exhausted and just not feel like being available to the people I encounter in public. I know someone (in fact I know her well)  who was in such a hurry the other day that she ducked into a different store isle when she saw a friend in the distance just so she could avoid any conversation.

In the bank yesterday, a few people were throwing speech back and forth to each other as we waited in line. An elderly gentleman who we had no difficulty hearing, was sharing freely about how he suspected the unwelcome weather was a test from God to help us learn patience. He went on to proclaim God's work with him and true things about who God was..kind of generally to no one in particular, but not obnoxiously, just boldly.  Several nodded their heads his direction and because he was directly behind me, I added some amens and affirmed his words to let him know I agreed and was listening.  It wasn't long before his positive statements became personal expressions of hope as he told me his longing to see his wayward son come back to the faith.  This father's heart was heavy and his voice broke and his eyes teared as he shared. But he was praying and believing God to intervene. Our turns were next at the counter, and when I was done I passed him, gently patted his arm and encouraged him not to give up.  I knew he wouldn't, and I added a prayer for the son as I headed to my car.

Isn't it refreshing to hear someone unabashedly, shamelessly letting his Christianity show? It was almost uncomfortable for me at first; what will everyone around us think? Is this guy off his rocker? Is what he's saying the truth? Isn't he worried about everyone knowing about his private life? I'm so glad I listened and showed him sympathy. For those few minutes I jumped in the ring with him,  witnessed his fighting tactics and tenacity and was able to cheer him on, and hopefully  pull a few punches to our common enemy myself.

Jesus said the world will know we love him when we love each other. We belong to a great big family of much diversity and often no outward resemblance. Yet, we have our Daddy's heart and his eyes of love and his accent that should give us away as his children. We were born into this family and we share the same inheritance.

Whether, then, I'm buying a car, shopping or banking or whatever I do, I want to act and speak like my Daddy's child. Even in the times when self squelches Spirit, I can ask forgiveness not just from the Father, but from those I've wronged. That's a birthmark that stands out!

I am so grateful that you have accepted me into your family, Father. Help me love all my brothers and sisters as you love us.  Help us to boldly bare your insignia so the world may see and  want to belong to you, too.

This song will take you back, but it's words never grow old.
They'll Know We are Christians by Our Love

Sunday, March 3, 2013

What's in Your Suitcase?

I wonder if the airport's stern-faced security scanner guards picked up any clues from my luggage as to where I was headed. Did they see the slither-down-the-wall globs hiding among the underwear? Or the coloring book tucked between my sweatpants and pajama bottoms? Maybe the two different sized ziplok bags were a hint. Oh, surely they would have known if they would have read the directions for making water bottle lava lamps. And that new box of Uno cards would have been a dead give-away.

All packed up and loaded with love, I jumbo jetted my way to two precious boys who call me Nana. I arrived after their tousled heads were slumbering for the night, but I couldn't wait for morning to see them; I had to peek in on their angelic sleep poses and kiss their dreamy faces.

Ian shared his bedroom with me. I on his bed and he camping out on the floor during my stay. His younger brother Dominic woke up too early in the morning to be a good roommate choice and I thanked my daughter for her wisdom in deciding my lodging arrangements. The following three days flew by as I soaked up Nana time.

We colored and stenciled. Then drove trucks and cars on imaginary highways where no road rules applied and traveling between the library and post office were only a foot apart on the colorful rug village. Dominic and I hid in closets or behind doors while Ian counted haphazardly to the right number and then came to find us. Some how monster truck apps popped up among the word games and weather apps on my tablet. My exercise walk stepped up a notch as I pulled the wagon carrying Dominic behind me. Ian sailed by us on his bike, knowing only one speed-FAST.

The ziplok bags aided our ice-cream making and the lava lamps were definitely a hit. (See here for the recipes.) Ian caught on to Uno quickly and I lost track of how many games I endur...,or rather we played.:) Win or lose he was set to play again.

We bundled up one day in sweatshirts and hats and drove to the beach so Nana could breathe in the salty air, feel the white sand between her toes and relish the sound of surf.  Although the water was too cold to even wade in, we welcomed the sun's cheeriness and sought it's warmth with upturned faces. I prayed that someday I could live close to a place where sand meets ocean. It's beauty will always allure me.

                                                                 Mommy and Dominic

Bedtime ritual included stories, songs and a family hug. Dad was on his second time around of reading the Bible story book and Ian knew what the story would be about, listening with interest. The stories are being passed down again, the same ones I heard in the rocking chair with my dad and the same adventures I read to Ian and Dominic's mom and her siblings. His-story, where faith starts and hearts are imprinted with the unchanging Truth. Where the God of creation makes himself known to the ones he created, so they can see his faithfulness, grace and love from the very beginning and believe in him and his gift of salvation.

I'm so thankful God created family. How hard the enemy works to destroy this precious unit. Family is the embodiment of intimate relationships, beginning with husband and wife, and becomes the container for training his children in the way they should go. But none need be left out, even if this intended haven failed, was torn apart or in dysfunction. God redeems, restores, adopts, makes up for and heals so there are no homeless in his spiritual family. In fact scars are marks of valor and weaknesses are badges that boast of the Father's grace and mercy to make good out of what was maimed or discarded as hopeless.

I left my grandsons with a lighter suitcase, but a fuller heart of thanksgiving, joy and memories. Those airport guards saw only dirty underwear, sandy flip flops and emptier ounces of toiletries this time through the scanner.  But if they were paying attention they would have noticed the addition of a foam picture frame decorated with hearts and bows that held two handsome faces of grandsons snuggled flat for safe keeping inside my tablet case and the date balls my daughter created and stuck in a baggie for my journey home.

Yes, indeed, what's in a suitcase holds stories coming or going.  May any packing you do be filled with everything good.