Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sweat

I wore my favorite matchy matcherson yoga outfit all day yesterday, fully intending to work out, and I never even broke a sweat. I felt like such a fraud when I went to bed and found myself glaring at my yoga ball and mat, still laid out on my bedroom floor at midnight.

Today I was determined to sweat, so AFTER my shower and a tad bit of makeup (you can tell my determination was sky high) I put on yet another cutesy exercise outfit and proceeded to kill the next two hours NOT exercising. Took Grant to a birthday party and set out for an "aerobic walk." I was tempted to be grouchy that I couldn't run and had to walk, but I asked God to help me drop the attitude and meander with Him.

Oregonians have a saying, "If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will change." In my 50 minute walk, I experienced dark gray rain clouds, misting drizzle, fast moving white clouds, sunshine and blue skies, and I giggled every time the weather changed. I walked out of our neighborhood, up into the mountain and within minutes my desire to run was tempered by the beauty of the day. I had never noticed all the different types of farms before. There were tree farms, vineyards, horse stables, cow, sheep and llama farms and a few little hobby farms mixed in for good measure. I watched the clouds fly across the sky, turn from dark gray to light gray to white and then dissipate into blue skies that appeared as if by magic. I crunched fallen leaves and gravel beneath my trail shoes that were undoubtedly thrilled to be crunching trail and not carpet. Inhaled the scent of warm horse manure, rain on the wind, and apples from a tiny orchard. Blackberry bushes, once dripping with luscious berries, hung dead and limp with globs of petrified berries sagging the branches. Meadows that seemed colorless in the gray mist turned vibrant shades of green in the bright sun light. Dogs barked. Flocks of birds chattered. Cows mooed. Crows cawed. Oh, and I broke a sweat.

I missed my mountain and was thrilled to be back on it. I'm so glad to be healthy enough to meander with God through a beautiful autumn day. And to sweat in my girly exercise outfit.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bzzzz, Bzzzzz, Bzzzz, SPLAT!

Remember the nasal flies from yesterday's post? The ones who infest the sheep and drive them to the place of utter distraction? So bad that they beat their heads against the wall? Well God must really want me to learn how to practically apply what I'm learning because the last 48 hours have been filled with opportunities to practice this in my life.

Can you make a meal for a woman who is sick? Coordinate meals for a new mom? Coordinate meals for someone I've never met but technically am responsible for supporting? Schedule play dates times four since there is no school today? Clean my house, before and after, two large gatherings in this week alone. Fold clothes. Scrub the bathrooms. Feed my family. Follow up on new tires for the van. Go to physical therapy. Make the meal plan and the grocery list and somehow find 4 hours to go and shop for it all. Exercise? What's that. Haven't done that in several days. Maybe by the time I'm 40 my schedule will clear up enough to work regular exercise back into the routine. Bzzz... Bzzzz.... Bzzz...

I feel pulled in a million different directions and am being forced to say no to things, good things, because to say yes comes at the expense of my own family. And it bugs me that I can't do it all. Be everything to all people who need something from me. How like my enemy to take ministry moments and turn them into an annoyance. Bzzz.... Bzzz.... Bzzzz....

I tried to order the beautiful family photographs my friend took of our family and the photo processor kept cutting off chunks of the pictures. 30 minutes into the project, I had to abandon it and leave it for later. Bzzz.. Bzzz. Bzzz... Fed 8 hungry kids a meal. Answered the phone that normally never rings but has been ringing off the hook all day. Tried to have a conversation with my friend while being interrupted 18 times by the 8 kids I willingly invited into my home. Bzzz.... Bzzz.... Bzzz...

I caught someone in a lie and my annoyance level sky rocketed. Bzzz.... Bzzzz.... Bzzz.... Threw my hands up in frustration and was ready to join the sheep in beating my head against the wall. I called a wise woman of the Lord and she gave me a word from The Word. I Corinthians 13:4-8: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." My friend encouraged me to let the lie go and choose love. She reminded me that choosing love is also choosing forgiveness and in this case means I can't duck and dive when I see this person next. Even as I mulled this over, the flies of anger, self-righteousness and unforgiveness were swarming my mind. Bzzzz... Bzzzz... Bzzzz....

Wow is it difficult to set aside my agenda to take up the mind of Christ. But I knew I needed to stop the buzzing. I asked the Holy Spirit to pour into my depleted life more of Himself. To give me wisdom and discernment with the situation at hand. To replace my frustration with peace. My anger with love. My bitterness with forgiveness. I asked God to figuratively anoint my head with oil and SPLAT! My Good Shepherd smashed those flies.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

You Anoint My Head With Oil...

W. Phillip Keller, in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, begins chapter 10 by reminding his reader that the entire poem (Psalm 23) is a story about the cyclical life of a year as sheep in the flock of a good shepherd. At this point in the poem, the sheep are enjoying the mountain mesas, the tableland their shepherd has prepared for them. What should be the most blissful, peace-filled time of the year is threatened by three problems.

The first problem is flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and the general flying bug population. You Oregonians don’t understand fly season because we live in paradise, but ask anyone who lives any place where it gets hot and humid in the summer about fly season and you’ll get an earful. When we lived in Illinois, we paid to have a lovely paver patio installed in our very private backyard, and every summer evening we sat inside at the kitchen table, looking at our beautiful patio and wondering why we spent money on something we could never use. Those stinkin bugs just plagued us. You couldn’t sit outside without getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes and horse flies or having pesky gnats fly up your nose or into your eye. Forget about wrestling in the grass with your kids, especially the tall grass, cause then you have to do a thorough check for ticks. The only respite from the bugs is to be in constant motion or retreat to the great indoors by turning off the lights and slamming the slider shut as fast as possible to prevent the swarms of bugs from flying inside. Keller described in graphic detail the sheep’s battle against bugs, primarily the nasal fly, and my heart resonated with the desperate measures they took to escape the nasal flies that tormented them. Their only hope for relief was an antidote of oil mixed with herbs that the shepherd would rub on their heads. The oil repelled the insects and protected the herd.

What bugs you? People who drive too slow in the fast lane? Or how about people in the fast food drive-thru who take ten minutes to contemplate heart attack A, B or C on a platter? Your friend who said she’d follow up on something and then dropped the ball? Your spouse who brought the garbage to the curb but left the cans inside full? Your kids who clamor for your attention and insist on having their needs met RIGHT NOW? It’s impossible to live in this world without dealing with annoyances and it seems that the smaller the annoyance, the peskier it becomes. “At times some tiny, tantalizing thing torments me to the point where I feel I am just beating my brains out. And so my behavior as a child of God degenerates to a most disgraceful sort of frustrated tirade.” I’m sure you can’t relate at all.

So what’s the antidote? “A continuous anointing of God’s gracious Spirit to counteract the ever-present aggravations of personality conflicts. The fresh application was the effective antidote.” CONTINUOUS. Just because I have victory at 8:31 a.m., does not guarantee continued victory until I turn 81. Every day, every hour, every second I feel my blood start to boil and my heart rate increase, I need to stop and ask the Holy Spirit to be gracious enough to anoint my head with His Healing Balm. When I ask Him to “apply the oil of His Spirit to my mind both at the conscious and subconscious levels of my thought-life, He enables me to act and react just as He would,” and the world is a calmer, quieter place because of it!

The second problem the shepherd deals with is scab, a contaminating disease, and I squirmed my way through the graphic description. In short, instead of shaking hands or welcoming friends with hugs, sheep rub heads. Get one sheep with scab saying hi to his neighbor and before you can say BOO, you have a pasture full of scabby sheep. Once the infection hits, the shepherd has to decontaminate the entire flock by dipping them fully in a vat of oil mixed with herbs. The heads are crucial and often have to be dipped more than once.

We may not spiritually cross contaminate each other by rubbing heads but what about when we interact with each other? “In the Christian life, most of our contamination by the world, by sin, by that which would defile and disease us spiritually comes through our mind. It is a case of mind meeting mind to transmit ideas, concepts and attitudes that may be damaging. Often it is when we get our heads together with someone else who may not necessarily have the mind of Christ that we come away imbued with concepts that are not Christian.” Maybe you don’t have a mind that soaks up every image and every word and then mews it over like a cow chewing its cud all day, but I sure do. We are surrounded by constant mental intake through internet, smart phones, newspapers, TV, magazines, and school. You can’t even watch a football game without being inundated by half-naked women selling beer, old men toting the benefits of Viagra, and commercials advertising the latest smut as the next TV series. It’s completely ridiculous, yet we’ve grown numb to the filth and to the influence it has on our children who are always watching, always listening, always observing, chronicling and filing away each piece of information they absorb.

Philippians 4:8-9 says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” How counter-cultural is this? One of my favorite verses is II Corinthians 10:5 and it says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” To eradicate scab in my life, I must take captive each wandering thought that would dare to set itself up against my Good Shepherd. But I can’t do that without consciously asking the Holy Spirit to dip me in the vat of His oil, force my head under the cleansing balm, and control my thought life. “Then, having done this, I simply proceed to live and act and think as He directs.” Is it really that simple?

By early autumn, the shepherd finds himself dealing with the season of rut. Ewes come into season and the rams engage in pretty heavy battling to win the right to mate. The fighting is intense and often rams and even ewes are left battered, bruised and exhausted from the bickering. A smart shepherd minimizes the infighting by slathering the rams’ horns with oil. When they smash heads, the salve prevents the horns from locking and their heads simply slide off each other. After a few frustrated, wimpy head butts, the rams give up in frustration and the destruction is limited.

Why is that the flock belonging to the Good Shepherd is so often marked by infighting and bickering? And why is that wounds from Christ’s family hurt more than ones issued by those outside the flock? Bickering, gossip, fighting, and the struggle to be top sheep leaves a wake of battered, bruised and exhausted lives. Some people never recover. What can we do to stop the bleeding and help the wounded?

“Our Shepherd loves to apply the precious ointment of the presence of His gracious Spirit to our lives.” When I allow the Holy Spirit to invade my life, the attributes of Christ begin to flow out of my life. I begin to see peace replace anxiety, gentleness replace harshness, patience replace anger, graciousness replace a spirit of judgment, and my interactions with fellow flockmates become less contentious. “This is to come to a place of great contentment in the Shepherd’s care. A quiet, restful contentment should be the hallmark of those who call Christ their Master.” My cup overflows with Christ’s goodness to me.

Keller concludes the chapter with a powerful twist on “my cup overflows.” My life cup overflows with Christ’s goodness to me, but “there is in every life a cup of suffering.” Jesus invited us into His intimate time of suffering in Gesthemane and at Calvary. My eternal destiny hung in the balance as He chose to either drink the cup of suffering and take my sin as His own or take the path of least resistance and walk away. “Had His cup not overflowed with His life poured out for men, I would have perished.” His cup of suffering spills over into my life, splashing His love, forgiveness, strength and vitality into the deepest corners of my being.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You Prepare a Table Before Me...

W. Phillip Keller, in his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 starts off chapter 10 by defining the "table" David references as a mountain mesa or "the entire high summer range," not the kitchen table I always envisioned it to be. He then describes the massive amounts of time and effort the shepherd puts forth to prepare the mountain table for his sheep.

In the early spring, the shepherd goes ahead and makes preliminary scouting trips. In the weeks before the sheep are to travel through the valleys he returns to the mesas, preparing the table by searching for poisonous weeds. If he finds some he takes great pains to either alter his grazing program or eradicate the poison altogether. He knows his flock will feel entitled to test every morsel, even the ones they know to be dangerous, and one nibble of poison can cost a lamb its life. How much like sheep are we? We live our lives with a sense of entitlement. We just MUST try everything that comes our way, even if we know it to be dangerous. If we’re not careful, our rebellion can cost us our life. How comforting to know our Good Shepherd "is going before us in every situation, anticipating what danger we may encounter, and praying for us that in it we might not succumb."

The Good Shepherd keeps watch for predators. He stands with his flock, in “full view of possible enemies” ready to defend what he both owns and treasures. The predators he stands on guard against are deadly, clever and conniving. They leave carnage – dead ewes, mangled lambs, and a flock filled with fear – but are often never visible to the shepherd who is keeping watch. Satan, God’s archenemy and the father of lies, leaves carnage equal to a ferocious mountain lion. “We see lives torn and marred and seared by his assaults though we may never see him personally.” Satan writhes in pain to see me grazing on my Good Shepherd’s well-prepared tableland. He is always waiting, always watching, ready to attack me the second I stray from the Shepherd’s protection. How comforting to know that my Shepherd stakes His claim on my life and stands in full view of Satan the Predator, spreading His umbrella of protection over my life. “At all times we would be wise to walk a little closer to Christ. This is one sure place of safety.”

A final and crucial chore the shepherd completes to prepare the tableland is clearing the water holes. The shepherd knows where the water supplies are and he goes before his flock, seeking out and eliminating all that blocks access to this life-giving resource. My Good Shepherd is the ultimate example of a shepherd going before His flock. He “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) He has gone before me into every situation that I may encounter. His nail-pierced hands, spread wide, cleared the last obstacle from my eternal watering hole. The blood that flowed from his body brought life to my dead soul. The cost for my Shepherd to prepare the table for me is unfathomable. Who loves like that? The author draws a beautiful parallel from the mountain tableland to the Lord’s Table. He asks, “When I come to the Lord’s Table and partake of the communion service which is a feast of thanksgiving for His love and care, do I fully appreciate what it has cost Him to prepare this table for me?”

If your belly isn’t already full from the table that’s been prepared for you, consider these closing statements from the author. Our Good Shepherd “entered fully and completely and intimately into the life of men upon our planet. He has identified Himself with humanity and has a care and compassion for us beyond our ability to grasp. The Christian walk can thus become a tableland trip simply because we are in the care and control of Christ who has been over all this territory before us and prepared the table for us in plain view of our enemies who would demoralize and destroy us if they could. My Shepherd is immensely pleased when He sees me flourish on the tablelands of a noble, lofty life that He has made possible for me. To find this tableland is to have found something of my Shepherd’s love for me.”

It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to soak in my Shepherd’s love for me but I’m feasting this afternoon. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies and it is SO good.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Your Rod and Your Staff They Comfort Me


How can a rod and staff bring comfort? W. Phillip Keller in his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 brings some clarity to the issue. A rod and a staff are the universal instruments used by shepherds. 

 The rod serves four basic functions. First, the rod stands “as a symbol of the shepherd’s strength, his power, and his authority in any serious situation.” Second, it is the instrument the shepherd uses to discipline and correct wayward sheep that wandered off. “With it, the owner is able to carry out effective control of his flock in every situation.” Third, the shepherd uses his rod to examine and count the sheep. The Old Testament term was “passing under the rod and this meant not only coming under the owner’s control and authority, but also to be subject to his most careful, intimate, and firsthand examination.” Finally, the rod serves as an “instrument of protection for the shepherd and his sheep when they are in danger. It is used both as a defense and a deterrent against anything that would attack.

The spiritual parallel to the rod is God’s Word. It stands as absolute Truth and has full authority over our lives. It serves as an “extension of God’s mind, will and intentions to man.” The clarity of God’s Word “keeps our lives free from confusion and chaos.” His Word brings peace and “quiet serenity.”

When we make bad choices and sin, God uses His Word as a tool to discipline us. “It is the Word of God that comes swiftly to our hearts, that comes with surprising suddenness to correct and reprove us when we go astray.” What would we do without it?

The passing under the rod was particularly interesting to me because it speaks of the shepherd peeling back the wool and revealing problems that lurk beneath. The Good Shepherd wants to do this in my life. He wants to "examine me with care to see that all is well… for only in this way can my hidden problems be laid bare before the Shepherd.” We are so good at hiding things. Presenting a perfect front but inside we’re filled with hurt, pain, disease. How can our Good Shepherd heal us without examining our hearts? As David said in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Who doesn’t want to be protected? As a follower of Jesus, I can count on His Rod, the Bible, to counter the attacks and assaults of Satan with truth. “In every situation and under every circumstance there is comfort in the knowledge that God’s Word can meet and master the difficulty if we will rely on it.

The staff was used solely as a source of comfort for the sheep and “speaks of all that is longsuffering and kind.” When I read this, I laughed. How can a curved stick be a source of comfort? The author elaborates with three uses for the staff. 

First, the shepherd uses it to draw sheep together into intimate relationship. If a newborn lamb is separated from his mother, the shepherd uses the crook of the staff to lift the lamb and reunite it with the ewe. 

Second, the shepherd uses the staff to draw the sheep “close to himself for intimate examination.” He can, for the purpose of establishing relationship, use his staff to pull in timid sheep that would typically keep their from the shepherd. 

The third purpose of the staff is to guide the sheep. The shepherd will reach out his staff and tenderly lay it on a sheep. The sheep is comforted by his touch and with some gentle pressure, the shepherd guides the sheep in the direction he desires.

The spiritual parallel to the staff is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s job is to provide comfort to believers - to be the still, small voice that stirs our soul to desire intimacy with God and intimacy with other people.  Jesus promised that God would send the Holy Spirit and that “the Spirit of Truth will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13).

The author beautifully says, “It is He who gently, tenderly, but persistently says to us, ‘This is the way – walk in it.’ And as we comply and cooperate with His gentle promptings, a sense of safety, comfort and well-being envelops us.” 

No matter how big or small the issue is, if I take the time to ask God for guidance and direction, the Holy Spirit “conveys the mind of Christ in the matter to my mind.” It brings me great comfort knowing “there is a calm, quiet repose in the knowledge that He is there to direct even in the most minute details of daily living.”

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Amen.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Even Though I Walk Through the Valley...

In this chapter, the author, W. Phillip Keller, starts by pointing out a shift in the way Psalm 23 is written. The first three verses are written from the perspective of a sheep boasting to a less-fortunate herd of sheep about how great his shepherd is. In verse four, the sheep stops talking to his buddies, addresses the Good Shepherd and we get to eavesdrop on their intimate conversation. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for YOU (my Good Shepherd) are with me."

The author explains that a good shepherd moves his flock in the summer months. He leads them through the valleys to hidden mountain meadows filled with lush, nutrient-rich feed. The journey to reach the meadows is not for the faint-hearted and is loaded with potential danger. But in spite of the tough climbs and hidden dangers, the sheep trust their shepherd to lead them safely to higher ground. The trip through the valley both deepens their trust in the faithful shepherd and brings them to a great reward.

Walking with Christ is a beautiful parallel to mountaintop traveling sheep. Who, when they've tasted the beauty and goodness of knowing Christ, doesn't want to spend the rest of their life grazing in the mountaintop meadow? But Christ is clear that following Him is not the easiest or safest route and to be His sheep we must be willing to follow His lead through the valleys, even if it means taking on pain, risk, inconvenience and danger.

Why the valley? The author tells us it's the gentlest grade to the top. The journey may seem rough, but a good shepherd will never take his flock where he has not already been before. He leads his flock THROUGH the valley. He doesn't leave them there to die. As followers of Jesus, we can take great comfort in the fact that "the disappointments, the frustrations, the discouragements, the dilemmas, the dark difficult days, though they be shadowed valleys, need not be disasters. They can be the road to higher ground in our walk with God." The author reminds us to thank God for the difficulties in our lives. He says, "When I thank Him for the difficult things, I discover that He is there with me in my distress. At that point, my panic, my fear, my misgivings give way to calm and quiet confidence in His care." God, help me to be thankful when life gets difficult.

The valley is also the well-watered route. I drink at least a gallon of water a day, if not more, and water brings me refreshment. In the valleys of our lives, we find refreshment from God Himself. "It is not until we have walked with Him through some very deep troubles that we discover He can lead us to find our refreshment in Him right there in the midst of our difficulty." The author also points out that "only those who have walked through a valley with God can console others who are in a similar situation." I have seen this to be true so often in my own life. God has used every heavy burden and deep pain as an outlet to reach out and comfort others who are walking through similar valleys. And every time God uses me to encourage someone, I confidently quote Romans 8:28, "And I know that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." I look at my valleys and marvel that God could turn such ugliness into healing salve.

The final reason God chooses to walk us through the valley is it's the route to where the richest food is to be found. Our Good Shepherd knows "where we can find strength and sustenance and gentle grazing, despite every threat of disaster about us." In my life, I have seen the Lord lift me from a pit and give me just what I need for each moment, each hour, each day. As long as I keep my eyes on Him, He faithfully leads me. And before I can comprehend just how or why, I realize that I'm in the mountaintop meadow and that strength from God got me there.

The author sums it up so poignantly. I'll let him minister to your heart as he did mine. "It is a most reassuring and reinforcing experience to the child of God to discover that there is, even in the dark valley, a source of strength and courage to be found in God. It is when he can look back over life and see how the Shepherd's hand has guided and sustained him in the darkest hours that renewed faith is engendered. I know of nothing which so stimulates my faith in my Heavenly Father as to look back and reflect on His faithfulness to me in every crisis and every chilling circumstance of life....All of this multiplies my confidence in Christ... Because He has led me through without fear before, he can do it again, and again, and again. In this knowledge fear fades and tranquility of heart and mind takes its place."

Even though I walk through the valley, I will fear no evil. Amen and thank you Jesus.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Home Sweet Glorious Home






This past Thursday I kissed my sweet family goodbye and boarded a plane for Denver, Colorado. After weeks of recovering from knee surgery and then our entire family getting the flu I was tired, a little crabby and ready for a break from real life.

My roommate from college and maid of honor at my wedding, Heather, drove an hour each way with her five kids (ages 8 to 15 months) to pick me up and take me to dinner. I hadn't met her baby yet and don't think I've seen her husband since they got married almost 10 years ago! Mike joined us at Gunther Tooty's (it's gotta be fun with a name like that), a 50's style cafe, and we crammed as much catch-up into two hours as we could. Their children behaved perfectly and it was a wonderful way to start off a long-weekend.

We parted from Mike and the kids and Heather drove me the remainder of the distance to Sonja and Venu's house where I spent the rest of my time in Colorado. They live at 8,000 feet above sea level and their home is nestled into the summit of a Rocky Mountain foothill with panoramic, breath-taking mountain views. Sonja is technically my husband's cousin, but from the first time we met we had an unexplainable connection. She is the sister I always wanted and the exact one I would have chosen.

If it was relaxing, luxurious or girly, we did it. Sonja worked on Friday, so I spent the day with Venu and their adorable twin boys, Clark and Everest. We walked to the playground and my head was on a swivel as I drank in the beauty of the mountains, the blue skies and sunshine, and the deer and elk that roam freely through their neighborhood. I spent the better part of Friday afternoon snuggled under a blanket in a red leather chair alternately dozing off, reading and watching the sun move across the mountains. Friday evening we went to a movie at the movie theater complete with movie popcorn and lemonade and then prolonged our evening by stopping for some yummy comfort food afterward.

Saturday, Venu manned the home front and Sony and I relished in girl time. We went for a walk, got a massage, shopped, went for coffee, and got mani/pedi's. We came home to relax a bit more then went out to a lovely dinner with one of Sony's close friends. We took so long over our meal that we closed the place down. Sunday was a lounging day filled with yummy food, great conversation, and more reading and napping in the leather chair. It was a delightful and decadent way to spend the weekend.

When I boarded the plane to fly home, I was rested, refreshed, relaxed and rejuvenated. I almost finished a novel on the plane and after gathering my luggage, went outside to look for our van. My heart skipped a beat as I saw it approaching and when the door opened and my precious children started piling out, screaming "Mommy!" and running with outstretched arms and huge smiles, I think I stopped breathing. My eyes welled with tears and I could barely swallow around the lump in my throat. I couldn't embrace them quickly enough and I thought my heart would explode with love. Then my handsome husband emerged and I was certain I would melt right on the sidewalk. My Sweet Love, who willingly let me escape for a weekend and so capably held down the fort at home. How could one woman be so blessed?

The ride home was filled with constant chatter and exclamations of all the ways they had helped while I was gone. Alli and Katie folded laundry and put all the piles away. Grant made dinner for the family "all by himself" (with a little guidance from Curt) and Paige helped put away clean clothes. Under Curt's tutelage, they vacuumed the entire house, swept and mopped all the hard wood floors and picked up every last toy because they know how much I like to come home to a clean house.

I woke this morning and the wonder and joy of my role as mother and wife was so fresh in my spirit. You know the euphoria you feel when you hold your child for the first time? It was that awe and wonder only magnified exponentially because now when I look in their four precious faces we have years of memories and love between us. Thank you God for refreshing my spirit and bringing me safely home sweet glorious home.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

He Restores My Soul

I had great intentions of posting a short blog about each chapter in this book club, and maybe I'll work backward and catch up on Chapters 2, 3 and 4. But life gets in the way, so here I am with Chapter 5 (from A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller) fresh on my mind.

"He restores my soul." This has always been one of my favorite lines of Psalm 23. Who doesn't like to be refreshed in spirit? To enter a day down-cast, depressed or gloomy and watch the Lord fill up your spirit and restore your soul? To see Him give you a sense of purpose and joy and peace to face a day that hasn't changed circumstantially but suddenly looks so much brighter?

The author starts off the chapter by reminding his readers that Psalm 23 is written from the perspective of a sheep (follower of Jesus Christ) in the Good Shepherd's (Jesus) care. He asks the question, "If Jesus is a Good shepherd, why would a sheep in His care need to be restored?"
The answer? The sheep get themselves in trouble and need help. The technical term is "cast down" and the author defines it as "a sheep that has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself." Without the shepherd's help a cast sheep will die, sometimes in a matter of hours. He has to physically pick the sheep up, put it back on its feet and massage its legs until they are strong enough to bear the sheep's weight. "When the sheep started to walk again she often just stumbled, staggered and collapsed in a heap once more." I have so often felt like this. I work myself into a cast position and even when my Savior comes to rescue me, I still find myself stumbling, staggering and collapsing through life. I don't immediately jump up from a pit and start running, but I think God designed it that way so I would more intensely appreciate the depth of what He rescues me from.

The author points out that it's not just the shepherd who understands how vulnerable cast sheep are. Both the shepherd and predators watch carefully for cast sheep, and who arrives first dramatically changes the final plight of the sheep. I was so comforted by the reminder that my Shepherd watches over me continually and when He comes, "He comes quietly, gently, reassuringly to me no matter when or where or how I may be cast down."

The author hits on three major ways we can become cast down in our spiritual journey. We get too comfortable, too wooly and/or too fat. Let me elaborate.

When we opt for comfort and coziness, we take away the element of clinging to Jesus and start to feel like any comfort we have is from our own efforts. The author says it beautifully when he says, "In the Christian life there is great danger in always looking for the ....cozy corner...where there is no hardship, no need for endurance, no demand upon self discipline. ...Sometimes if, through self-indulgence, I am unwilling to forfeit... the cozy corner, then the Good Shepherd may well move me to a pasture where things aren't quite so comfortable - not only for my own good but also His benefit as well." This really made me ask myself, "What am I doing to stay uncomfortable spiritually?" Because when do we most cling to God? When times are tough and we KNOW we would never weather the storm of life without His help. Comfort can bring complacency and I've seen that first-hand in my life.

Too wooly? The author defined wool as "the old self-life in the Christian." He said in Old Testament times, priests were not allowed to wear wool in the Holy of Holies because it "spoke of self, of pride, of personal preference - and God could not tolerate it." So what does a shepherd do when they have a sheep being cast down by the weight of its wool? "I would shear it clean and so forestall the danger of having the ewe lose her life." I've seen sheep going through sheering and they don't like it. They bleat and wail. Kick and flail. And boy do they look goofy when the unenjoyable process is finished. But when all is said and done, the sheep are free from the burden of excess wool and the shepherd doesn't have to worry about them being cast down anymore. Listen to how beautifully the author summarizes this point: "...there will come a day when the Master must take us in hand and apply the keen cutting edge of his Word to our lives. It may be an unpleasant business for a time. No doubt we'll struggle and kick about it. We may get a few cuts and wounds. But what a relief when it is all over. Oh, the pleasure of being set free from ourselves." God, what do you want to cut out of my life? And will I be belligerent in the process or docile and willing to submit to Your leadership?

The third way we become cast down is by being too fat. A fat sheep is an unhealthy sheep and a good shepherd won't be successful with a flock full of sickly sheep. When he notices his sheep are getting fat, he restricts their portions and imposes limits on them that keep the flock more under his watchful eye. In our spiritual life, the author points out that "often when we are most sure of ourselves is when we are the most prone to fall flat." He makes the comparison of material wealth and possessions to the fat on the sheep. What we have or don't have is no indication of the level of our spirituality or the depth of our relationship with Christ. Only the Good Shepherd sees through the fluff of my exterior and into heart. Only He can measure the level of fat in my devotion to Him. And when He sees fat growing, "He may well impose on us some sort of diet or discipline which we may find a bit rough and unpalatable at first." Sounds inviting eh? The redeeming factor of intentionally enduring discipline is that the Good Shepherd's discipline in my life is a reflection of His love for me.

The author sums the chapter up by saying, "The toughness it takes to face life... can come only through the discipline of endurance and hardship. In His mercy and love our Master makes this a part of our program. It is part of the price of belonging to Him. We may rest assured that He will never expect us or ask us to face more than we can stand, but what He does expose us to will strengthen and fortify our faith and confidence in His control." I don't know about you, but following the Good Shepherd is a price I'm willing to pay. I am confident in His ability to control my life and to restore my soul.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On the Mend?

I broke down and called the doctor yesterday to try to get some idea of how long this virus will last. When they heard how long Paige's fever was lasting, they wanted me to bring her in. And of course because I finally scheduled an appointment for my very sick little girl, her fever broke hours before the appointment and she smiled coyly behind her protective mask at the doctor, appearing completely healthy the entire appointment (SIGH). They took chest x-rays and were pleased to see that no pneumonia is growing in her lungs. She appears to be on the mend with no secondary infections, praise the Lord!

Alli's cough appears to be settling in her chest and I've been worried about the crud moving in and growing some pneumonia. I drug her with me to Paige's appointment in hopes that the doc would listen to her chest and calm my fears, but apparently he's in such high demand that since we didn't have an appointment or pay a $25 co-pay, he didn't have an extra five seconds to listen to her breathe. I found myself counting slowly to ten and thinking, "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto." Oh Dr. B do we miss you...

There is a lot of confusion, even in the medical community, about what is and is not H1N1 and the conflicting messages to parents with sick kids is a source of frustration to me. I don't need a label for my kids. They're sick, and eventually they'll get better. I find it interesting that last week the nurse gave me a concrete but unofficial "swine flu" diagnosis, but last night it was, "It's most likely H1N1, but the full DNA of the virus is still not entirely known, so it could be something else and we still recommend that you get the vaccine when it becomes available." So which is it?

I went to bed just a little bit irritated, but fortunately everyone slept good last night and we woke this morning to two of the four kids with no fevers and the other two kids with very low-grade fevers. We're all more rested and it appears that the Lord is answering our prayers and we're finally on the mend. Thanks God!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Unrelentless




Well, the H1N1 flu is unrelenting in its hold on my poor babies. Paige, who was the first to get sick last Tuesday is on day seven of battling a fever, horrid cough, and sore throat and she woke this morning with a temp of 101.3 F. Grant, Katie and Alli are also holding strong with persistent fever, cough, and sore throat. None of them seem anywhere close to being able to sustain a 24-hour time period fever-free without fever-reducing medication which is required for them to go back to school. We have blocks of time when the fever goes down and the kids are back to their normal, perky selves, but over time the sunken eyes come back and they start dropping like flies shivering under blankets. As their mom, my heart breaks. If I could take this for them I would in a heartbeat. But in spite of my over-exposure, I seem to have escaped with just a mild fever that lasted 36 hours instead of days on end.

Our friends have rallied around us, bringing meals, advil, movies for the kids, and offering to do grocery runs. It's hard to believe we've only lived here for a little over a year. Thank you for all your notes, emails and prayers on behalf of our family. The outpouring of love has ministered to us profoundly and been a blanket of emotional warmth. Wrapped in your love and the love of our Daddy God, we wait. For Jesus, the Great Physician, to reach down from heaven and lift the effects of this unrelentless virus in His timing, and bring healing to our kiddos.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Who Needs the Flu Vaccine?

I've had "get flu vaccines" on my To Do list for the past several weeks. As with most time-consuming things on my list, it kept getting transferred week after week. Who has time to bring four kids to the pediatrician's office, listen to them cry, scream, whimper or bite their lip to avoid crying, screaming and whimper, then sit in the waiting room full of real-live-germs for 20 minutes to make sure no one has an allergic reaction? As luck would have it, we decided to contract the swine flu and pass it around our family in lieu of getting vaccines (insert sarcastic tone HERE).

Last Friday, Curt left for a man's weekend in Wisconsin and Minnesota to do all the things that refresh and invigorate him. He spent time with his best friend BJ, duck hunted with his brothers, Dad, and uncles in beautiful Wisconsin, and spent time with his whole family of origin in Minnesota at the home he grew up in. He even got to go to the Packers/Vikings game at the Dome. Talk about packing as much fun as possible into four days.

While he was gone, we muddled through daily life. If it could go wrong, it did. We survived bad attitudes and behavior (from both Mommy and kiddos), puncture wounds from our fence, spilled water that warped my wood floors, temper tantrums at bed time, homework for hours on end, etc. etc. We were THRILLED to pick up Curt from the airport on Tuesday afternoon. By Tuesday evening, little Poogie had a fever.

Wednesday morning her fever was 102.5 and in twenty minutes increased to 103.4F before I could give her Advil. I called the doctor just to ask what precautions we should take since the over-hyped swine flu is going around. I was surprised at how my conversation with the nurse went. She told me the seasonal flu is not circulating yet and that really high fever, sore throat and cough matched up with swine flu symptoms. They weren't swabbing any non-hospitalized patients but since Paige had matching swine flu symptoms, they were giving her an unofficial diagnosis of swine flu. Nothing you can do to prevent it spreading. We cleared our entire weekend, which was packed with fun activities, reshuffled appointments, cancelled book club and play dates much to the protest of our kids, and got a lot of people praying. Poor Paigey - her temperature on Wednesday night hit 105.8F! I've never had a kid with a fever that high. It was pretty scary as a parent to see your child so miserable, but she pulled through and improved dramatically from that point.

I thought yesterday that the rest of us may escape the plague, but by last night Grant was down with a fever and sore throat and Curt was feeling cruddy. By 5 a.m. this morning, Curt had the fever and body aches. By 6:30 a.m., Katie had the fever, cough and sore throat. Alli woke up with a cough and her fever started by 8:30, exactly thirty minutes before I predicted. Which leaves me as the sole family member still standing. My throat started hurting yesterday and the body aches are coming on right now, but maybe that I can ward it off with positive thinking... (more sarcasm)

I've actually never had my entire family out sick simultaneously. We have a chart going with each person's name, temperature and medication dose to keep it all straight, and Curt and I, who can laugh about anything, have been forecasting how long it will be before I spike a fever. I think I'll go cross "Get Flu Vaccine" off my list while I still feel like doing it!

Monday, October 5, 2009

God Has a Sense of Humor!

I've been in a funk lately. Living with constant pain makes functioning well in life more difficult. I've been hard on myself, especially in how I'm parenting. I've been hard on my kids. I've slacked on my commitment to make my husband the foremost priority in my life, aside from the Lord. And even though God has blessed me with massive encouragement when I've needed it, overall these past few months I have felt like a completely scaled-back and not very fun version of me.

Yesterday was an emotional but productive day and I woke up this morning determined to start chipping away at the areas in my life that God called me to focus on. I checked email and found a forward from my friend Juli who lives in Chicago. Her message was, "Hey - you're famous." I scrolled down and saw this message: "Hi ladies... I thought this Blog was inspiring and thought you might too! Much love and hugs to all of you!" And further down, after scrolling through bazillions of email addresses and a couple rounds of forwards, I found a link to one of the first blogs I ever posted and it was called "28 Things I've Learned as a Mom." I have no idea who the woman is that started the original forward, which made it that much more rewarding knowing people are actually reading my blog and finding encouragement in it.

On a whim, I re-read the post and found myself being motivated by words I wrote when I was finding victory more consistently in my life. It was such a fresh reminder of what God wants for me and I love the creativity He used to bring me full circle. Thanks God, for having a great sense of humor!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cleaning the Fish Bowl

Have you ever noticed that a fish bowl can appear clean until you stick a net in it and snag something at the bottom of the bowl? Stir up a few rocks and the next thing you know all the garbage camouflaged at the bottom begins to float to the surface. Within minutes the facade of a clean environment is corroded by all the filth. In that moment of clarity, you can choose to take the time to clean the bowl or ignore it and hope the garbage will eventually hide again on the bottom.

I feel like parenting is the net God is using in my fish bowl. From the outside my life looks clean and sterile. My bowl has two fishy parents, a little plastic house and a few palm fronds for my four baby fishes to hide in. And I like it like that. But man, this weekend God has been hammering me with the net of parenting. He has been stirring up the rocks with random poor behavior from the kids and instead of rising to the challenge, I have been falling flat on my face. Nothing like watching your kids make public spectacles of themselves and then adding yourself to the Nincompoop List by acting like an idiot instead of responding with grace and love.

I don't typically classify myself as a Cryer, but I found myself locked in my bathroom, sobbing in desperation and crying out to God for wisdom. I heard myself asking God, "Why can I be a great wife, a great friend and a great daughter but I can't seem to find my niche as a successful mom?" My kids' poor choices were the tool that God chose to use to dredge up the garbage in my life and it was hard to admit that my sterile life is filled with hidden filth.

Over the course of this weekend, Jesus has lovingly shown me that I am rich in love, but lacking in self control. Quick to encourage, but equally quick to get angry. My pride is causing me to attach a part of my identity to the choices my kids do or don't make and when it contradicts my preference, I get embarrassed and my prideful knee-jerk reaction certainly isn't filled with love.

Thank God for fresh starts. For new days. For teachable moments. For forgiveness, restoration, healing and love. Today I faced the garbage and cleaned out my fish bowl. God and I tackled the hard stuff head on and it feels good to have a purged life. A renewed purpose. A fresh perspective and a goal. With Jesus' help, I am determined to keep my fish bowl free of pride and anger by daily cleaning it with God's love, forgiveness, patience and grace. Hopefully the overflow of a purer life will bless my kids and husband as well.

Who is My Shepherd?

I recently began hosting a book club/Bible study for our church at my house. There are 28 of these book clubs running simultaneously around the city of Portland and surrounding suburbs with over 560 women participating! It's really cool to be a small part of a very large whole with a unified purpose of falling more in love with Jesus.

The book we're studying is W. Phillip Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 and we're using the book as a springboard to dive into God's Word and really try to grasp hold of His heart and love for us. The first chapter focused on "the Lord is my Shepherd." The author raises the point that our view of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is too human and because we try to put Jesus in a human-sized box, we don't come close to grasping the enormity of who He really is. We hoard our lives and refuse to release control to what feels like an undefined entity.

But who is Jesus? Listen to how the author describes Him (CAPS emphasis mine). "An unbiased look at His life quickly reveals an individual of enormous compassion and incredible integrity. He was the most balanced and perhaps the most beloved being ever to enter the society of men. Because of Him, millions of people across almost twenty centuries of time have come into a life of decency and honor and noble conduct. Not only was He gentle and tender and true but also righteous, stern as steel, and terribly tough on phony people. He came to set men free from their own sins, their own selves, their own fears. THOSE SO LIBERATED LOVED HIM WITH FIERCE LOYALTY." The author sums the chapter up by saying, "A person exchanges the fickle fortunes of living life by sheer whimsy FOR THE MORE PRODUCTIVE AND SATISFYING ADVENTURE OF BEING GUIDED GOD."

It's tempting to believe that my plans are the best. I mean who could know better than me what I want and need? Oh. Oh yeah. How about The One who created me? Who loves me? Who gave His life for mine even though my life is ugly and stained with sin? Who daily intercedes for me before the Throne of God to pour over my life grace I don't deserve? That's my Jesus, my Shepherd. I humbly but loudly proclaim, "The Lord is MY Shepherd, and I love Him fiercely."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Slowing Down to Meander

I took my first walk post-surgery yesterday. It was a beautiful fall day with huge gray rain clouds meandering between white, puffy clouds, hints of blue skies and parcels of sunshine. The air was chilly and it felt good to don a sweatshirt and pants again.

I took Dusty (our dog) and limped down the super steep hill that our cul-de-sac extends from and set out to walk the main loop in our neighborhood. Our house is at the front of our subdivision and because of our close proximity to the entrance and exit, I rarely walk through the rest of our neighborhood. And boy am I missing out.

When you can't run and are forced to walk, there's time to soak in the scenery. My head was on a swivel as I noticed freshly painted homes, hills with houses somehow nestled safely on the steep slopes, and more preserved old trees and green space than I remembered before. Every step brought a fresh view of rolling foothills dotted with vineyards and trees just starting to turn the colors of fall. The pristine golf course was covered with golfers and old growth trees adding challenge and beauty to the course. It was the last day of September and I giggled as I saw not one, not two, but THREE moving crews on the same street, moving family treasures into just-finished houses. I inhaled the scent of freshly spread mulch, enjoyed getting sprinkled by a wayward rain cloud, and stopped to gawk at a pristine flower garden brimming over with flowers in all shapes and colors.

The Lord reminded me of my conversation this summer with my sister-in-law about slowing down to meander. As I limped up the hill to head home, I thanked God for His extravagant provision of such a lovely neighborhood. I thanked Him for the slow healing work He's doing in my knee. And I thanked Him for the chance to meander with Him on a fresh, fall day.