Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sweet, Like Perfume

“For most of this century we have wrongly defined soul wounds as psychological disorders and delegated their treatment to trained specialists. Damaged psyches aren’t the problem. The problem is disconnected souls."

~Larry Crabb
Connecting: Healing Ourselves and Our Relationships

This is the quote we are examining for “In Other Words” today, which is hosted by Esthermay at The Heart of a Pastor’s Wife.

Two years ago my husband, John, and I were invited by our pastor to attend some training sessions on becoming marriage mentors through a state-funded program called “Marriage Matters.” Since our marriage has always been very precious to us, we decided it would be a privilege to encourage other couples in their marriages.

We were surprised at how little actual training was offered. “The best thing you can offer is yourselves,” the organizer told us. “You have experienced life and worked through things in your marriage. Just share with your couples how you went about that...what worked, and what didn’t work.”

To say that we felt inadequate is an understatement.

In our two years of working with couples experiencing marriage difficulties we have discovered some common threads.

    *Communication between these spouses is very difficult or non-existent.

    *None of the couples we have mentored have friends in common. Either they each have their own friends, or one has friends and the other does not. They do not hang out with other married couples.

    *Most of the couples have already tried counseling, have found it lacking, and are now ready to try mentoring as a “last resort.”

The last point came as such a surprise to us. John and I are totally inexperienced and lacking in professional knowledge and skills, and yet these couples are coming to us? It makes no sense. Or does it?

Perhaps an ordinary couple willing to share real struggles and successes is more beneficial to some couples than a professional offering book knowledge at a set cost per hour.

Perhaps it’s our availability. Sure, we have to set some limits to guard our own lives and marriage, but we are willing to take phone calls and answer e-mails from our couples or even schedule special meetings as needed (all at no cost to the couple).

Perhaps it’s the fact that we pray with the couple before and after each session, asking the Lord to work in our hearts as well as theirs, making each of us tender and receptive. This has often been an emotional experience for the couple and for us as well. We then assure them that we are praying for them regularly between sessions.

One of the couples we mentored is a couple we have known for many years, or at least we thought we knew them. It turns out that many of our assumptions, based on outward appearances, were false. They were on the verge of divorce, and dealing with some serious injuries and issues of distrust. We had some very direct and difficult conversations with them that I would have never imagined taking place. Although we would have considered this couple “friends” before we mentored them, we grew to love them through the time we spent together. Although the mentoring ended several months ago, we touch base with them often. We were recently invited to their home, which was a big step for them as a couple, and one of the issues we had addressed. What a blessing!
I truly believe we had a greater influence on this couple because we approached them as friends, which underscores this verse of Scripture:

“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man’s counsel is sweet to his firend.” Proverbs 27:9 (NAS)

I could say so much more about marriage mentoring. It has even strengthened our marriage as we pray together for our couples, decide which issues to address, and plan our approach. In the context of Larry Crabb’s quote, however, I would say that marriage mentoring has demonstrated to us the importance of connecting. Married couples need to connect with each other through good communication. They need to connect with other married couples to learn from them, gain support and accountability, and share common experiences. And in the midst of marriage difficulties, it seems that connecting with a mentor couple who is simply willing to share themselves is very beneficial, too.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that professional counselors aren’t necessary, and I don’t believe that is what Larry Crabb has in mind, either. I am convinced that in his years of professional counseling he has learned many of the same things we are learning through mentoring –that God has created within each of us a critical need for connection. Of course our primary need is for connection with God, Himself. From there our need extends outward to others, and it is truly sweet when that connection meets their needs as well as our own.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Gardener's Gift

For today's Fiction Friday I am sharing a childrens' story that seems appropriate for the season. This week's Fiction Friday is being hosted by Joshua Janoski at Just Joshin'. Visit his blog for links to more great fiction.

The Gardener’s Gift
by Sharlyn Guthrie

“Listen carefully, my children. Tonight I have witnessed a most wonderful, yet terrible thing.” The man had beckoned his children from their beds, so they sat swiping at their sleepy eyes.

“What is it, Papa?” Sarah asked, stroking his weathered hand.

“I have told you before about a man who often visits the garden. He usually enters at dusk, just as I am leaving, and goes to a secluded area to pray.”

“Yes, Papa, I remember.” Liam nodded, “Sometimes he shares his bread with you.”

“That’s right, Liam. But tonight was very different.” The gardener paused, gauging their attentiveness. “As you know, I returned to the garden after supper to sort fruit into baskets for the poor. I was sorting in the barn by candlelight, when the man came to the garden, accompanied by several other men.”

“Who were they, Papa?” Joel, the youngest, inquired.

“He called them his disciples. And tonight I learned the man’s name. His disciples called him Jesus.”

“Papa, I’ve heard about Jesus,” Sarah exclaimed, “He healed my friend Lydia’s father.”

Papa nodded with conviction. “I believe that is true, Sarah, although I might not have believed you if you had told me yesterday.”

“Tell us more, Papa.” It was Joel again, squirming with impatience.

“Jesus told his disciples to sit down by the garden gate and wait for him while he prayed. Three of the men continued to follow him. He was very upset and sad. Soon he told them to stop, but to stay alert and pray. Jesus went to his usual place, alone.”

“Did the men do what He said?” Liam interrupted.

“Yes, and no. They did stay behind. Meanwhile, Jesus fell to the ground, crying and pleading. ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me, yet not as I will, but as You will.’*” Papa’s voice resonated with emotion.

Sarah looked puzzled. “What does it mean, Papa?”

“I wasn’t sure either, Sarah. But I could feel his anguish. It cut to the very core of my being. When Jesus went back to find the men, guess what…all of them were sleeping! Jesus sobbed, rebuking them, ‘So you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?’** Then He went away to pray again, this time crying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’*** When he returned, he again found his disciples sleeping, so he went back to pray a third time. It was then that I took my cloak to where Jesus knelt, weeping. Without speaking, I draped it over his back, and turned to walk away. As I did, his hand clasped mine. Gazing into Jesus’ mournful eyes, I suddenly knew…”

Joel tried hard to understand. “Knew what, Papa?”

“I knew that this man, Jesus, is the Son of the living God…the Messiah…our Passover Lamb.”

“That IS wonderful, Papa!” Sara rose, holding her father’s hand in both of hers. “Will you introduce us to Him?”

“No, Sarah.” Papa lowered his eyes to meet hers. “Some soldiers came into the garden and arrested Jesus only a few minutes later. They want to put Him to death. That is why Jesus was so distraught, you see. He knew that He was about to die.”

“Can’t we stop them, Papa?” Liam stood now, tugging on his father’s other arm.

“No, Liam. Don’t you see? It is God’s will for His Son to die. Even Jesus’ own Father will not prevent His death. Do you remember the words of the prophet, Isaiah? ‘…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities...’**** It is happening now, this very night.”

“Papa, the cloak you put on Jesus…” Joel swallowed hard. “Is it the one that Mama made just before she died?”

“Yes, Joel. Apart from you children, it was my most prized possession.”

The following day the gardener watched as angry soldiers led Jesus past the Garden of Gethsemane, blood dripping from his thorn-crowned head onto the precious cloak –the gardener’s gift. Much later in the day a soldier returned carrying the cloak, boasting of his booty.

The gardener felt remorse, but only for his own sins that required the death of the blameless Lamb of God. Remembering Jesus’ tender touch and the compassion that glistened in His eyes, the gardener whispered, “It is I who received by far the greatest gift.”

* Matthew 26:39 NASV
** Matthew 26:40 NASV
*** Matthew 26:42 NASV
**** Isaiah 53:5 NASV

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Three Robust Robins

Three Robust Robins
by Sharlyn Guthrie

Three robust robins reveled in this morning’s warming sun.
They hopped about as Robins do, declaring Spring begun,
Excitedly discussing which strategies are best
For choosing the location of each families’ feathered nest.

The strong and sturdy ash tree was found last year to be
The very place the cats chose as preferred residency
So each fowl in turn examined its own potential perch…
Under the deck, in lilac bush, or high up in the birch.

I watched them from my window as they met out on the lawn
A sign as sure as any that life on earth goes on.
My musings turned to Father God, Creator of all things
Who treasures things like robin nests as well as sparrow wings.

He tends, regards and nurtures every child and bird and beast
Granting worth and favor to those deemed as the least.
His heart is filled with pity for each fallen little bird.
How it must break when humans deem His promises absurd!

The robins quickly scattered when the cat went out to play
But I glimpsed their tireless striving as I labored through the day.
One poked under the clothesline, hoarding feathers, twigs and string
One strained against a worm, and one commenced to sing.

Bird ballad buoyed my spirit, and I joined in heavenly praise.
In this our God was honored on this earliest of spring days.
Approvingly God smiled upon the toils of hands and beaks
This homely worship won His heart…for praise is what He seeks.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Of Blessings and Curses

I am participating for the first time this week in Fiction Friday, hosted by Dee Yoder and My Heart’s Dee-light. Please visit her blog to read more Fiction Friday offerings this week. Fiction isn’t my strength, but I do enjoy writing it now and then. Last week I had planned to enter the Faithwriter’s challenge for which the topic was Africa. I really wanted to enter that one because of my upcoming trip to Uganda. So I researched and worked on a story, finishing it just in time –or so I thought. When I went to submit it, the new week’s topic had already been posted.

I certainly didn’t regret learning new facts about Uganda in the process, however! You will find many of these woven into the story. The more I read, the more my burden increases for the people of Uganda, and the more excited I become about my upcoming trip this summer. Please enjoy the story.

Of Blessings and Curses
By Sharlyn Guthrie

“Come quickly, Mirembe!” The girl’s grandmother called from the doorway.

“What is it, Nyanya?” Mirembe climbed down from the tree, carefully cradling five golden delicious apples. Grandmother held a squalling bundle in her outstretched arms.

“Mirembe, you must take your newborn sister to the kitchen. Keep her warm. If she cries, that is good. She is breathing. Now go!”

Questions fluttered through Mirembe’s mind like untied hair ribbons blowing in the breeze, but Nyanya’s tone said, “Don’t ask,” so she did as she was told. She sat cross-legged on the dirt floor, intuitively singing and rocking the swaddled infant. Slowly, the crying ceased.

Nyanya found the sisters locked in each others’ gaze when she entered the kitchen an hour later. “It is a blessed and cursed day,” she said gravely. “Your mother has died giving birth to Bacia.” Mirembe said nothing, but large tears coursed down her cheeks as she clutched the baby to her chest.

If Mirembe thought her mother’s death was the worst that could happen, she was mistaken. Fearful neighbors summoned the witch doctor. He met Baba, Mirembe’s father, on the path, returning home from market. “Your wife has died giving birth. It is the apple tree,” proclaimed the witch doctor through narrowed eyes. “You must cut it down. It has brought death to your home and our village.”

“No!” shouted Baba, breaking into a run that brought him breathlessly bolting through the front door. One glance around the room confirmed the truth. Mirembe sat next to his wife’s still form, cradling a sleeping infant. Baba turned, facing the doorway from which the witch doctor glared. “We had nothing before we planted the apple tree. Now we sell the apples and have enough money for food. Go! Leave my family to grieve.”

“Those who gave you the tree say that they know the One True God. This has made the gods angry. The tree will only bring more death.” His words hung like morning mist in thin mountain air long after he was gone.

That night Mirembe slept little. When Bacia cried Ananya let her suck a piece of cloth soaked in sugar water. Mirembe knew they needed a wet nurse, but the witch doctor’s curse had scared the women away. Beating drums welled up from a distance, spreading news of impending doom along the mountainside.

“Wake up, Miremebe! I need your help.” Baba crouched over her in the dim morning light. “Come help me gather the apples.” Mirembe rose, wiping the sleep from her eyes, and followed her father outside. Their precious apple tree lay on the ground, a few apples still clinging to its branches, many more scattered around it.

Even as Baba and Mirembe filled five sacks with apples, they knew that selling the cursed fruit would be impossible. Ananya cooked some for breakfast. The three were eating in somber silence when there came a knock at the door.

“I hear you have some trouble here.” The man offered Baba a crooked smile. He was old, but dressed in fine clothes. “I have come with an offer. I will pay a fine price to make your daughter my wife. My first wife will nurse the infant. You will have enough money to start over, find yourself a new wife.” Mirembe’s eyes grew large and she trembled with fear.

“Mirembe is not old enough to marry, and if she were, she would not be for sale. Be gone!” Baba returned to his mat, sinking down, and allowing his head to drop into his hands just as another knock was heard at the door. “Go away!” he shouted. “I told you. My daughter is not for sale!”

“I have come to buy apples, sir, not your daughter.”

Baba’s head snapped up as he returned to open the door. Mirembe recognized Brother Amos from the mission. He also wore fine clothes, but his smile was real. “I am so sorry for your loss. Here. I have brought formula for your baby, and some clothing, too.”

Ananya bowed, accepting the package of baby clothing, bottles, and formula.

“Would you be willing to sell us some apples? We will pay a fair price for them.”

“You are not afraid of apples from a cursed tree?” Baba asked.

“We fear only the God of Creation. What He has made He does not curse.”

“Then we just might have some apples for sale.”

Mirembe grinned, cupping in her extended hand a large, golden apple.

Swahili names
Mirembe: peace
Nyana: grandmother
Bacia: family deaths ruined the home
Baba: father

Polygamy is common in Uganda. So is the purchase of young girls as “wives,” who often end up living as slaves.

Planting apple trees is a new, prosperous venture for some Ugandans. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6549609.stm

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In Like a Lion...

“Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” Psalm 2:11 (NIV)

The old saying goes, “If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.” Each year I teach my preschool students this saying as a tool to learn about the weather and its changes throughout the month of March. We then make a paper plate lion face and a paper plate lamb face and glue them together for each student to take home to use as a weather gauge. If the day is windy and cold, the lion side faces out. If it is warm and sunny, they can flip it to the lamb side.

God also has two faces that we can very aptly call the lion and the lamb. It seems to me that much of the Old Testament is filled with lion-esque events...the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Egyptian plagues, the walls of Jericho... the list could go on and on. In the verses leading up to Psalm 2:11 the psalmist describes God’s wrath and terror toward the kings of the earth. Although God also shows his lamb face on occasion, we leave the Old Testament with a clear picture of God’s might, His power, and especially His righteousness.

When Jesus, the Lamb of God, is born in Bethlehem we have a God with skin on –One who can relate to us in every way...an infant who grows into a child that trips and skins his knees; an unattractive young man who experiences rejection among His peers, who heals the brokenhearted and befriends the friendless; an adult who is tempted by all the things the world has to offer, who was humbly led “as a lamb to the slaughter...” Jesus, the God of the New Testament, was mostly seen as a lamb –approachable, loving, full of grace and mercy. He offers those who would believe on Him the opportunity to become His children, and with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit a whole new level of familiarity with God is introduced.

“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Galatians 4: 6 (NIV)

In the English language, calling God “Abba” would be the same as calling Him “Daddy.” Old Testament believers most likely could have never imagined the day when a human being could speak so intimately with God.

Unfortunately, I think that many of us have become so enamored with God’s lamb-likeness that we have forgotten His lion-likeness. A great example of this might be found in my prayer life. At any given time I have quite a list of people on my prayer list with some pretty pressing needs. Many times I have needs and desires of my own. Therefore, it is often easy to approach God with, “Dear God, be with Kenny today, and please heal Jerry’s cancer. Help Teresa and Tom work out their marriage problems, give me a good day at work, help us make the house payment this month....”

You get the picture. It reminds me of the days when my teenagers approached me with, “Hey, Mom. How’s it going? Can I have the keys to the car? Oh, and I need ten dollars for gas. Can I have an extra five to get into the game?”

Although I have the liberty to approach God in that way, and He still loves me and graciously hears my petitions, my approach is that of a spiritual adolescent. Imagine how pleased He must be when I come to Him instead as a spiritual adult, preparing my heart beforehand, in much the same way as I might dress up for a date with my husband; and then bowing before Him, breathless with awe, worship and devotion!

God wants to know that I know Him. He desires for me to behold both His might and His mercy; His holiness and His humility; His lion face and His lamb face. If I truly see Him as He is, I will come to Him often in fear and trembling...fear, because I understand His righteous power, and trembling because the God of the universe desires a loving, intimate relationship with one as lowly as I.

By the time March comes around, I, like my students, look forward most to the lamb days. It is with much joy that we turn the lion face to the wall and peer into the cotton-ball face of the lamb. In much the same way, I am grateful that I can turn from the lion-like God found in the pages of the Old Testament to the lamb-like God found in the New Testament. But I must remember that God doesn’t change like the weather. He is and always has been both a lion and a lamb. And so I will joyfully regard and serve Him with both a spirit of fear and with fond familiarity.

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Revelation 5:12 (NIV)

This is my post for this week's Monday Manna. Please visit Joanne at An Open Door for more views on this passage.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Better Than Average

Today I am participating in the meme, In "other" Words, hosted by Deborah at Chocolate and Coffee. She has selected a quote from A. W. Tozer as this Tuesday’s topic.

"Refuse to be average. Let your heart soar as high as it will." Aiden Wilson Tozer

Six years ago the Lord put on my heart a “calling” to write. I began writing for my own discipline and pleasure, in obedience to what I felt God was asking me to do. It was what consumed my private hours, but I had no intention of sharing my writing with anyone.

Only a few months into my writing, through an unusual set of circumstances, I began leading a Women’s Sunday School class. Again, this was not something I set out to do, but I did feel compelled to do it. I found that preparing for the Sunday school class inspired me to write even more. It was another way for me to interact with the Scripture lessons I was teaching. Still, I was very reluctant to share any of my writing. That would be like allowing others to peer directly into my heart and soul. I was uncomfortable sharing so much of myself. Besides that, I didn’t want to seem boastful about the gift and ministry God had given me.

Slowly, apologetically even, I did begin to share some of my poems and essays as they matched the day’s topic. Instead of boasting or opening myself up to contempt, as I had feared, I found that through my writing I was better understood -respected, even, for my transparency. Better yet, other women began to open up and share their gifts with me.

Before long I discovered Faithwriters, a wonderful online organization where my writing skills could be practiced and honed. Through the weekly writing challenge I became accustomed to receiving constructive feedback on my writing, and grew in confidence as a writer. I quickly moved up the ranks from beginner, to intermediate, on to advanced, and finally to master’s level. This year, after only two and a half years of participating, one of my poems placed second in the “Best of the Best” annual contest.

“Refuse to be average,” Tozer says. When I consider my writing journey, how could I have ever believed that the God of greatness would call me to do something “average”? Sure, I may never write a best-seller or win a Pulitzer Prize, but then again, why not? Who knows where this godly adventure will take me, and what His pleasure will be?

My favorite part of Tozer’s quote, however, is the last part, “Let your heart soar as high as it will.” This speaks to me of the freedom and joy God allows me to experience when I am acting in obedience to His calling on my life, and the resulting praise that wells up within me.

“I will praise you, O lord, with all my heart.”* Psalm 138:1 (NIV)

My Sunday school class once spent some time considering this verse from Matthew:
“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”** Matthew 5:16 (NIV)

This was during my early writing days, and I wrote the following poem to illustrate its meaning. No, it isn’t my best poetic specimen, but I do like its message, and I think it fits with the rest of what I have shared here, so I will leave you to ponder it.
Let Me Shine

What if I refused to let God’s glory shine;
hid it under a bushel basket, denying it was mine?
Would Jesus smile upon me and say I’m doing fine;
a withered leaf just barely clinging to the vine?

What if Daniel thought it odd, interpreting a dream?
What if John the Baptist feared wading in a stream?
Would Jesus smile upon them and say they did just fine;
two withered leaves just barely clinging to the vine?

What if David had refused to write his poetry?
What if Noah said, “I’m not too good at carpentry”?
Would Jesus smile upon them and say they did just fine;
two withered leaves just barely clinging to the vine?

What if Saul declared, “You can’t possibly use me”?
What if Lydia hid her gift of hospitality?
Would Jesus smile upon them and say they did just fine;
two withered leaves just barely clinging to the vine?

God, like those saints, help me reflect your glory day and night,
shining like the stars you flung into the darkest night.
I want to be a beacon of the glory that is mine;
a healthy, vibrant leaf, drinking deeply from the vine.

--Sharlyn Guthrie

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Matter of Life and Bears

“Up an’ at ‘em!” my husband, John, called in his wide-awake morning voice. Moans and groans filled the camper as our three sons and I struggled to open our eyes. “We gotta get goin’ to beat the heat.”

We awoke to a picturesque morning in the Smoky Mountains, delicate ribbons of haze wisping around us as we made our way to and from the shower house. Once breakfast was over and the camper secured we launched into our planned hike up the mountain to the Appalachian Trail.

Our trek was well underway when my husband casually inquired, “Did you see the bear in the creek next to the shower house this morning?”

“Stop it!” I chided, “That’s not funny.”

“No, really! There was a bear…musta been thirty feet from the building.”

As we trudged on, my asthma kicked in, the altitude inhibiting my breathing, and I fell behind. The boys were seemingly unaffected by mountain air, and John was unwilling to let them show him up. Soon all four were out of sight.

A branch crackled behind me, then another. The bear! She’s coming up the trail! My steps quickened at the thought. Ahead of me the brush rustled. Must be her cub. Am I between them? I was nearly jogging now, my sons’ chatter no longer audible.

Soon my legs felt as heavy as the logs that lined the path. Side aching, chest burning, I puckered my lips, faintly emitting our family whistle-call. No reply! Knees trembling, heart pounding, I rounded the next bend, the bear’s breath hot on my neck.

My family stood along a fence rail, silently observing the beauty they had stumbled upon, oblivious to the approaching…

Oh, whew! What a relief! A quick glance behind me revealed that the only thing pursuing me was my imagination. I collapsed, gasping for breath.

My family found this incident hilarious. I found it mostly embarrassing. It did, however, confirm how much I value life. During those terrifying minutes (Or was it an hour?) I prayed, I pleaded, I bargained.

Remembering this experience brings the following verse to mind:

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” *

This verse is not speaking of physical death, of course, but of spiritually dying to self. The struggle, however, is the same. It matters not whether we are speaking of physical life or spiritual life. I am bent on self-preservation. But Jesus says that in order to live I must die! How does one so set on living choose to die?

God often reveals the parts of my being that are still clinging to life by putting a cross in my path. I may struggle, cry, plead, and finally, at the point of collapse, die to whatever it is I am selfishly holding onto. What He asks of me, though, is something different. He asks me to daily, voluntarily give up my life so that I can really live!

Dying to self isn’t a very popular concept, especially in the time and culture in which we live. We are constantly encouraged to protect, pamper, and take pride in ourselves. Many saints of old embraced this concept, however. The following was written by Fenelon, a seventeenth century French archbishop who knew firsthand, as well as through the experiences of those he counseled, what it meant to suffer for the cause of Christ.

“The death of self must be voluntary, and it can only be accomplished as far as you allow. Anyone who resists death and repels its advances shows that he is not willing to die. You must be willing to yield to the will of God whenever He decides to remove from you all of the props on which you have leaned. Sometimes you must give up even your most spiritual friends, if they are props. “What fearest thou, oh thou of little faith?”

Do you fear that He may not be able to supply to you from Himself that help which He may have taken away on the human level? And why does He take human help away, except to supply you from Himself, and to purify you by the painful lesson?”

Fenelon goes straight to the heart of the issue. When I resist dying to self I am actually exhibiting fear –fear that God is insufficient. When I voluntarily die to self I allow Him to supply my every need and recognize His sufficiency to do so.

This is a discipline I am trying to learn. It isn’t easy. It goes against my natural instincts. It could be compared to lying down on a mountain path when convinced a bear is in hot pursuit. The daily practice of dying, however, is what purifies me and allows me to experience Christ living in me. Will it ever be easier and less painful to take up my cross? Not as long as any part of my SELF is still living! Death will always be death, just like a bear will always be a bear, at least as far as my perceptions are concerned.

Read on.

The following year our family traveled to Yellowstone National Park. As we drove through the park we were inundated with posters and fliers warning of bears. Campers were urged to make excessive noise to keep bears away or to “play dead” if a bear was encountered.

It seemed that soft-sided campers like ours were especially vulnerable because of the food cooked and stored inside. With that in mind, we took many precautions as we prepared our campsite. Our middle son, Tristan, frightened by all of the bear talk, begged to sleep in the van. We conceded, and soon we were sleeping soundly.

Later, a loud r-r-r-r-r-i-p sat me upright as John’s feet hit the floor. Grabbing a pan from the stove, I frantically banged on it with the lid (I certainly made excessive noise!). Meanwhile, John struggled to shove the bear’s paw out of the camper and re-close the opening it had made.

Somehow, above all the commotion, a small voice was heard. “Mom...Dad...it’s me! I just want back in the camper!” The rip had been the sound of Velcro separating as our son reached inside to unlock the door. After calming all three boys, now traumatized by our frenzy, my husband and I fell into each others' arms breathless, hearts pounding. I’m not sure we slept at all the remainder of that night.

I have yet to encounter a real bear. If I do I will most likely die as I run, clamor, and plead for my life, because pleading for life is as natural as breathing. Although my bear illustrations are humorous, the matter of dying to self is not. It is a daily struggle, a test of my true devotion to the one who gave up His life for me. This, then, is my prayer:

Father, please use my foolishness and my fear to remind me how much I desire to live, so that each and every day I will remember to die!

*Luke 9:23-34 New American Standard Version
**Fenelon, Let Go, (Whitaker House, 1973), p.7.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Passing On Some Blog Love

A couple of weeks ago my wonderful, sweet, exuberant friend, Joanne Sher, at An Open Book, surprised and blessed me with the above blog award. I was so new at blogging I had to ask her what to do with it...I didn't even know how to put it on my page! She was kind enough to walk me through that, too. If you've never visited Joanne's blog be sure to stop in and say hello. She is a gifted writer whose joy just bubbles over, and her enthusiasm is contagious!

Two rules accompany this award:
1. Confess 5 things you are addicted to
2. Pass the award on to 5 deserving bloggers

I've chosen to exclude people from the 5 things I'm addicted to, since technically people aren't things. So here goes:

1. My computer. Surprised? I don't think my hubby had any idea how much time I would spend on my laptop when he gave it to me for Christmas four years ago. I take it everywhere I go.

2. Books. The Bible tops the list, then missionary biographies and books on Christian spirituality, next are childrens' books -especially alpahabet books.

3. Ice cream. This I blame on my parents, who owned a Dairy Sweet drive-in when I was young.

4. Music. I love to sing, play piano, and listen to contemporary Christian music.

5. Sudoku. This is a fairly recent addiction that I share with my husband.

Now the fun stuff...DRUM ROLL PLEASE..........................

The Blog Award is being passed to:

Betsy Markman at Just Another Clay Pot does a beautiful job of crafting thoughtful devotionals and in-depth studies of scripture passages.

Cheri and Wayne Hardaway at Glass House Ministries specialize in offering hope to hurting families. While candidly sharing their own struggles, God's love and compassion come through loud and clear.

Andrea at All God's Creatures writes one of the most unique blogs I've read. Her posts are written from her pets' perspective, and they are delightful to read!

I had the privilege of knowing Rachel at Finding Wonder in the Mundane from the time of her birth! Now she has a husband and a beautiful family of her own. Her life has taken many twists and turns with miscarriages and a little girl with special needs. Rachel writes with transparency, plenty of humor, and much raw feeling.

Because of my upcoming trip to Uganda a friend directed me to Katie's blog at The Journey. It's doubtful that Katie has time to read others' blogs, but once you pay her blog a visit you will be hooked! She is living the life of a modern day Amy Carmichael in Uganda. Her stories are amazing!

Congratulations, friends, and may you continue to spread the love of Jesus through your excellent writing!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Once Upon A Time, In the Beginning...


Nearly every fairy tale begins with “Once Upon a Time.”

“Once upon a time in a little cottage in the middle of the deep woods there were three bears…”

“Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom lived a princess…”

I used to think my story began with “Once upon a time in a small town in Kansas lived a little girl with long blonde braids.” But my story began long before that.

The setting for the story in which I am living starts out, “In the beginning,” which is very much like “Once upon a time,” since both phrases refer to a nondescript time and place that marks the beginning of the story.

“In the beginning” actually occurs twice in the Bible –once in Genesis, and again in John.

Genesis 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."
John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

These verses point to a time even before the world was created. They depict Jesus, the Word, God’s son, in loving fellowship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Their fellowship, the fellowship of the triune God with Himself, was perfect and complete.

And yet God had something more in mind. I love how Ephesians 1:4-6 phrases that ‘something’ in The Message:

“Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.”

For those who may doubt God’s intentions toward us, who might believe, among other things, that He set us up for the fall, you can bury those doubts for good.

Quite simply, God created me because he desired to share His love with me.


Nearly every fairy tale has as its main character, one who is lost...invisible... clueless. Snow White was oblivious to her mother’s obsessive envy, nor did Sleeping Beauty expect any harm from a spindle. Little Red Riding Hood was unaware that danger lurked in the woods.

When I woke up as a little girl in Kansas I was lost, too…totally clueless. In fact, we all enter this world lost.

Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were placed in Paradise and lavishly given every good thing. They couldn’t even conceive of pain. In His love, God gave them a freedom of will, knowing that love could not be forced upon them and still be love. Love is a voluntary yielding of the will. If God merely wanted obedient creatures, He could have made robots. If He had desired to be entertained, we might have been smiling marionettes. But no. He designed us to enjoy a loving relationship with Him.

Adam and Eve chose to distrust the heart of God. That choice sent them from the garden and sealed our fate. Consequently, we each come into this world lost, sinful, in dire need of a Savior…and we haven’t a clue.


A familiar theme in many fairy tales is Evil disguised as good…the poison apple, the wolf in Grandma’s nightgown and glasses, the witch’s candy house, to name a few.

Adam and Eve’s fateful choice came about when they were fooled by the beautiful serpent who was really Lucifer, the angel who had been kicked out of heaven for trying to usurp God’s authority. It would be easy to point the finger at Adam and Eve, accusing them for what we’ve become, but the truth is they are representatives of our race. Any one of us would have made the same choice.

Earlier I identified myself as “the lost” character in God’s fairy tale, but I could have also played the role of evil disguised as good. When I entered the world in a sinful, lost condition, I was nevertheless created in God’s image. There was a hint of goodness, something of what I was created to be, in the midst of my depravity. If, in my sin, I attempted to buff and polish my sinful self, put it out there for all to see, and try to pass it goodness, Isaiah 64:6 says that without the saving power of Christ, “…all our righteous acts are as filthy rags,”


Every fairy tale has a hero. Often, but not always, the hero of the fairy tale is good, disguised … a frog who is really a prince, a Beast who will save the Beauty, the woodsman with the scary axe who rescues Grandma, or simply a non-descript little pig that does in the big bad wolf.

I tend to think of God as the author of my fairy tale, and of course He is. But if God is the author, then His son Jesus Christ, who was there with Him in the beginning when the story began, is the hero.

Jesus was a disguised hero, too. The Jews were looking for a powerful ruler to deliver them, but Jesus came as a helpless infant. And Isaiah 53 says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.”

With all the beauty that surrounds Christmas and the lovely pictures of an older Jesus in flowing hair and beard, light streaming from His face, we tend to forget that Jesus wasn’t physically attractive at all.


The hero in every fairy tale performs a legendary deed. He awakens the sleeping princess, defeats the foe, captures the wolf, or rescues Rapunzel from the tower.

My hero’s legendary deed can be found in Romans 5:6-8.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The heroes in classic fairy tales might risk life and limb for a damsel in distress, but my hero willingly gave up His reputation, completely humbled Himself, and suffered the worst death imaginable for me, a lousy sinner!


The Classic fairy tale ending…And they lived happily ever after…brings a smile to my face and a pitter patter to my heart. It’s the ending we all hope for -to marry Prince Charming and spend the rest of our days in the castle. The wolf is finished off, and we skip blissfully off to Grandma’s house, never again fearing for our safety.

Unlike the main character in most fairy tales, I know now how my story ends. My hero will return on a white horse and take me to a far-off land where beautiful mansions have been prepared. And there I will live happily ever after with the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, because His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. (Psalm 145:13)

And the most amazing part of my fairy tale is this. Unlike the hero in most fairy tales, my hero has always been and will always be. “I am the Alpha and the omega, the first and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 22:13) Once upon a time, in the beginning, with me in mind, Jesus planned and secured my happily ever after.

All Scripture quotes are from the NIV Bible unless otherwise stated.

Please visit Joanne at An Open Book by clicking on the Monday Manna box on my sidebar, to find others who participated in today's Monday Manna.