A Tribute

A couple of weeks ago a dear friend passed away. As I read about and talked with her family about her last weeks, I would find myself weeping…sometimes for myself and that I would not see her again this side of eternity, sometimes for her and the quickness, but at the same time slowness, in which her illness was taking her away, and sometimes for her family who were daily watching her slow decent into forgetfulness.

The first time I saw Ms. Mary I wanted to know her. There was something in her manner, her countenance, that was so inviting. When I began to know her, I was not satisfied with just knowing her. I wanted to be her friend.

I loved sitting by her on the couch as she knitted, listening to stories of her life in Ireland. She would always say that she was talking too much, which I refuted because I just wanted her to keep telling me stories. As she spoke in her gentle, Irish voice about her deceased husband or son, her eyes would begin to shine with tears. She spoke of how much she missed them and how she longed for the day to be reunited with them. She spoke of how ready she was to see Jesus as well.

She spoke of humorous things, smiling and laughing gently as she did so. She drew me into her memories. And then she would turn around and ask me questions about my children, my marriage, my life, giving me counsel that only someone who has lived 90 years and seen the things she had seen can give.

On first sight, she seemed frail…and physically she was frail. But she was also as strong as iron with the gentlest and most loving heart…at least, that was always my impression of her and it will be my lasting memory.

I will never forget the evening we spent with her and her family before we left Winston-Salem to come to Italy. After dinner, she called me to her bedroom to speak to me privately. She held out a little box to me. Upon opening it, I found a golden necklace with a three leaf clover. She explained that the Irish don’t find four-leaf clovers lucky. It is the three leaf clover that has meaning because the three leaves symbolise the Trinity. She asked me to take the necklace and when I wore it to think of her and say a prayer for her. She pulled me close and held me there a while, neither of us wanting to let go. As I got into my car, I looked up at her window and saw her standing there, watching us leave. She stayed in that window, waving goodbye until we were out of sight.

I still wear the necklace she gave me…and while she was here I thought of her and prayed for her every single time I put it on. Now when I wear it, I still think of her…my wee, strong as iron, tender-hearted friend.

 

Advertisements

When you pass through the waters

To say the last several months have been difficult is almost an understatement. They have been a rollercoaster, complete with twists, turns, and steep drops. If you were to capture all the emotions and feelings that have gone on in our home since the Fall on canvas, you’d end up with a Picasso-like painting, a scramble of shapes and colours and contours.

I admit that it has been hard to remain positive and see the good in all of it…to understand how all of these things, some more than others, bring glory to God. But maybe it’s not the things themselves, but rather my response to them that should be glorifying to God. Instead of having a frustrated, sad, angry, and tired response when we take two steps forward and five steps back (which does not glorify God) what if I respond patiently, prayerfully, lovingly, with self-control and gentleness? I’m pretty sure that would glorify God.

Throughout these last few months, a text that keeps coming up is Isaiah 43:1-3. God is speaking to Israel, but this is one of those times when what He is saying holds true for all believers.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters,

I will be with you;

and through the rivers,

they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through the fire you shall

not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the LORD your God,

the Holy One of Israel, you’re Savior.”

These verses reminded me that I should expect suffering and hardship and trials and difficulty and sadness in this life. Just because I follow Jesus doesn’t mean I am immune to these things…neither are you. We all experience these things because we live in a broken world. That’s part of the curse. In the verse above God doesn’t say “IF you walk” or “IF you pass through”, but “WHEN you walk” and “WHEN you pass through”. But our focus should not be on the “hardships” that He lists…and I don’t think that’s God’s focus in these verses. Before He gives a list of “hardships”, God says ,”Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.” And after every “hardship” is named, hope is given…”I will be with you”, “they shall not overwhelm you”, “you shall not be burned”, “the flame shall not consume you”.

WHY? Because He is the LORD our God, the Holy One, our Savior. And if He says He will be with me, then I can trust that He will be with me because He says He will. And as I walk through these difficult days, prayerfully keeping my eyes focusing on Him*, the difficult days will not overwhelm or consume me. Instead, with the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, I can respond with the fruit of the Spirit, glorifying God.

*This doesn’t happen every time something difficult comes along. Often times my eyes are on the suffering and difficulty. What can I say? I am a work in progress and am thankful I live under grace.

A couple of questions

How do you know if you have made something into an idol instead of just being really passionate for/about it?

It’s a good question, and a friend asked it to me about a month ago.

I’d been thinking about idols in my life for about a month prior, which stemmed from another conversation with two other friends.

I was reminded in that conversation that God is a jealous God. I once heard Oprah say something along the lines that she didn’t want to serve a god who was jealous of her. That is decidedly not what God is saying to us. He is not jealous of us but for us. He wants all of our hearts, not half or three-quarters. All. of. it. He is to be our first love and our greatest affections are to be for Him. And if we ever give something else that love and affection that He only deserves, we should never doubt that He will remind us of it. (For an example, please see the entirety of  Israel’s history in the Old Testament.)

I go back to the first question…had I made this thing in my life an idol or was I just passionate about it, as Jesus was passionate over Jerusalem?

In all honesty (and as you can probably guess) I had made it an idol. But how did I know?  Well, first, people I loved and respected and who always, always, always point me to the gospel, spoke truth in love to me on the issue. They listened to me speak about said thing and then spoke wisdom into the situation, encouraging me to seek the Lord about it, which leads me to the second thing I did to discern whether or not the thing had become an idol. It perhaps sounds cliché, but I prayed about it. And in the end, I realized that the thing was receiving more affection than God.

But again, how did I know that? In this case, when I was asked to possibly give up the thing I said “No.” And not a calm, nice kinda “no”. It was a screaming, kicking kinda “no.” And it was really loud. I said “No” for months until my friends lovingly pointed out my sin to me.

I was so close-fisted that I wasn’t even open to God’s leading or instruction. I put my desires and wants above God but also above the welfare of my family. I was holding on really tightly and I refused, absolutely refused, to open my hand. We have a saying where I come from that says, “She’s as stubborn as a stick in the mud.”

Yes, that would be me…a stick…stuck in the nasty, smelly, yucky mud of sinfulness that was idol worship.

The point of this whole thing is two-fold:

  1. When we are close-fisted with things we better start asking if we have made them into idols.
  2. My repentance and confession and therefore better relationship with Jesus would not have happened had my friends not lovingly spoke truth and wisdom into the situation. The keys to this are LOVINGLY and TRUTH. Nobody will hear us if we speak truths unlovingly. At the same time if we say untruths lovingly we haven’t pointed them back to the true gospel.  In order to do both of these things we should look to the founder and perfecter of our faith, Christ Jesus, and follow his example, seeing confrontation as good and necessary. Loving, gospel-centered (and therefore, truthful) confrontation led me to see my close-fistedness with something in my life that is actually a very good thing, realizing I had elevated it to a status more important than God. As a result, after confession and repentance I was able to put it in its correct place.

I end not with the question with which I started but rather, “Who do you have in your life you lovingly point you back to gospel-centered truth?” I hope you have someone, and if you don’t, I hope you will find someone.

 

For our good

Due to an upcoming oral procedure, Gingernut had to have some blood work done a few days ago. To say it was not fun is an understatement. She screamed and cried as soon as she saw the rubber band that would go around her arm come out. From there it was downhill…and it was a long hill. I’ll save you all the horrific details but in all the commotion there was a lot of illogical thinking going on in her 9 year old brain, such as “Mommy, if I do it then I get to punch you in the face,” and “They’re taking all my blood!!!”. After many long, painful minutes and me and one nurse holding her down while another nurse drew the very small vial of blood (not the huge one that she would lead you to believe had been taken), the deed was over. But it came with some a lot of tears, anger, confusion, and complete meltdowns – both from Gingernut and myself.

Gingernut could not see how having blood drawn is ultimately for her good. All she could see was the immediate pain it caused her. In the thick of it all, we are like that…we only see the immediate. But when we can’t see how suffering or disappointment or pain is for our good, what is our response?

I admittedly fail to respond in a way that reflects what I believe about God. “Life” happens and suddenly I forget that God is faithful and good and trustworthy. I forget He is near and present, instead ignoring Him as though He were something familiar that I pass by on the street everyday, like a lamppost or a mailbox. I forget in the midst of all that life throws at me that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light” and I try to carry heavy loads on my very weak shoulders. I become illogical believing lies about myself and God.

But what should our response be when life says, “I’m gonna draw some blood for an unknown reason that won’t be made known to you for a the unforeseeable future…or ever?” When everything is turned upside down how should we respond to God and then to our situation?

When God tells Abraham take everything he owns, pack it up, and head out to a land that He would show him later, I wonder what he thought. All we are given in Genesis 12 is, [s]o Abram went….” We are not privy to his thoughts here or even when God tells him to take his son (the son that would be his heir and make him a great nation) to the top of a mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. Thoughts, no, but words and actions, yes. His response when Isaac questions him about where the lamb is for the sacrifice is, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

Faith.

Abraham responded to God in faith. In Hebrews we learn that by faith Abraham obediently left his father’s house to go to a place that was to be his inheritance, not knowing where. By faith Abraham offered up Isaac considering “that God was able even to raise him from the dead.”

Abraham perhaps couldn’t see how going to an unknown place or sacrificing his son was for his good (and God’s glory) but he did it. He did it trusting that God is God and although his circumstances were perhaps unclear to him, God was not.

When we can’t see how something is for our good and God’s glory, it’s ok. Guess what? We don’t have to know. We aren’t even owed that knowledge. But we can rest easy. We can relax. We can breath deeply. Because the One who holds all things together…He knows and He wasn’t even surprised it happened.

The Summer of Deer

2015 – The summer of no car

2016 – The summer of Daniela and Chelsea (our first two summer interns and two women I hope I am always connected with)

2017 – The summer of ‘Merica and Disneyworld

2018 – The summer of Deer

I named our summer months ago, pretty much right after our friend, Emily Deer, booked her ticket to Salerno.

We met Deer….wait, it could be weird that I refer to her by her last name if you don’t know why. First, Deer is dear to us (that’s corny, but it’s true). Second, that’s how she was introduced to me. I didn’t even know her first name for months after meeting her. In fact, someone once referenced Emily, and I think my response was, “Emily who?”.

We met Deer at REVO church in Winston-Salem. She was part of our framily (and still is). She was a member of the Sunday lunch bunch, a group of our friends who came to Sunday lunch every day for I am pretty sure over 2 years. She played with our kids, laughed with us, introduced us to VHS Clue, ate with us, cried with us, and was there at the end holding hands with some of the other members of our Winston family as we prayed one last time all together before they sent us off on our current adventure.

Deer has been here 3 glorious weeks and has another 2 to go. She “gave up” her summer to come help the kids with English, American history (of which they know zip), and math.

While I know she came to help the kids, she has also been a help to me. For a myriad of reasons, her presence was much needed for me. Yes, she’s helped with the kids and washed more than her fair share of dishes, but her presence – having a dear (no pun intended) friend, who understands every look and nuance of who you are – has been life giving and refreshing.

Relationship is one the great gifts of God to us. We aren’t meant to live alone, isolated from others. We also weren’t created to live lives without God in them. The great tragedy of sin is that it separated mankind from its Creator, severing the relationship we were created to have with Him. Since the Fall we have looked to other things and people to complete us when only God can do it.

Friendships are great and God-given but they cannot replace the relationship that we were meant to have with God. As great as having Deer here is, she will leave soon. Even if she never left, she (nor anyone else) can fill the God-sized hole that exists in my soul. Only He can do that. The thing is, I can am so quick to forget that fact and I search for it elsewhere, always coming up empty.

But He is faithful even when I am not and He has a way of reminding me of that faithfulness and that He created me for relationship with Him first and foremost. And this time the reminder came in the form of a dear friend (pun intended).

 

Surrogates

Sunday night Gingernut and one of our teammates daughters had their first dance recital. It was spectacularly wonderful. Gingernut radiantly beamed as she performed the moves she had spent months rehearsing. I was filled with emotion and pride as I watched her every move across the brightly lit stage.

It is things like dance recitals and soccer games that make you miss having family around. I saw grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins…all for the other dancers. As we stood in line outside the auditorium, waiting to run like we were in Pamplona about to be trampled by bulls all in efforts to get good seats, I saw one-by-one different people from our community arrive to see two little girls dance.

And I was overwhelmed. These weren’t just teammates and friends but my community – my extended family.

I just read an article on The Gospel Coalition that addressed the number one why missionaries leave the field. In a nutshell, it’s the people they work with – their team.

I’ve seen how not having a team is not beneficial – we weren’t meant to work in silos. After all, no man is an island. Our biblical example is that we work with others. From the beginning God saw that it was not good for man to be alone.

However, being on a team does not automatically mean that you have community and will work together to achieve the same goals. Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen a sports team NOT work together? I spent an entire year watching Lil’ Paul play soccer on a team in which every kid played individualistically. They all wanted to win but they all wanted to be the one who scored, going so far as to steal the ball from their own players during games. Yes, it was sometimes quite painful to watch.

I’ve also seen and been a part of teams that not only work well together but have community, and it is a wonderfully, beautiful thing. There is the sharing of burdens and cares, laughter and fun, tears and hugs, conflict and resolution. What emerges from it all is a surrogate family.

I saw this play itself out Sunday night, as surrogate aunts and uncles gave up an evening of rest after a long day to cheer on two little ballerinas as they danced across the brightly lit stage.

Truth and Love

Truth.

Love.

Two very good things, that are very often separated.

A while back – like well over a year ago – my good friends/mentors/truth-tellers/pointers-back-to-the-Gospel, etc. Vince and Sharon clued me in on the fact that I am a glass half empty kinda gal. I was shocked and appalled. Nope. No way. I have always seen myself the other way – with the glass being half full. What they meant was that I am more of a realist than my glass-half-full-hopeful husband. I finally accepted the truth about it, acknowledging that once again Vince and Sharon were 100% correct.

What does any of this have to do with truth and love? Wait for it…I’m getting there.

Fast forward to a few months ago….After a somewhat painful conversation, I realized and truly understood for the first time that I am blunt. Shocker, I know. I am quite straightforward. But in my defense, so are all my close family members so I come by it quite honestly. To-the-pointedness, bluntness, straightforwardness – whatever you want to call it – is all fine and good unless it is done so with no kindness or love or understanding or any combination thereof.

One guess as to whether I was communicating things lovingly….

Keep fast forwarding to a few weeks ago….As I worked my way through Abide: A Study of 1, 2, & 3 John by Jen Wilkin, I was once again hit with the truth and love thing. There it was…glaring at me from the page…daring me to skip over it without reflection and prayer.

And this is what the reflection and prayer has awoken me to: because I live in a half-glass-empty realist world I can tend to communicate things in manner that does not consider the person sitting across from me. Depending on who that is, my communication can be seen as unloving and uncaring…even if it isn’t meant that way.

It’s all fine and good for me (or you) to be a truth-teller and to be to the point in that truth-telling. HOWEVER….it MUST be accompanied with LOVE. We must not only know ourselves and how we communicate but how the person across from us receives communication so that truth can be communicated clearly and LOVINGLY.

Does that mean holding my tongue sometimes? YES! Does that mean I have to think before I open my mouth all the time? YES! Does it mean that I have to have a filter? A resounding YES! Does it mean that I must actually think about the other person above myself? YES! YES! and YES!

It is in these moments that I sit in wonder and awe and gratitude for the Gospel and the grace and forgiveness I find there. I rest in the knowledge that the Holy Spirit reveals my sin in order to lead me to acknowledgement and repentance of that sin. His work does not stop there but continues to draw me closer to Him so that I look more like my Creator, in whose image I was created in and am to reflect…and I’m pretty sure He speaks in truth and love.

2 John 1:3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

 

Home

Home…

That word has become relative to me in some ways.

As a child, my home was with my parents and sisters and brother in McAdams, MS. It was a picturesque home from my point of view. The house was and still is surrounded by green fields that once housed cows and horses and the occasional goat that thought it was a cow. The house itself was filled with everything most houses with four children are filled with…laughs, yelling, games…and probably lots of clutter to my mother’s chagrin.

Even when I left home to go to college and then graduate school, the red brick house on a hill remained home. And to a degree is always will be.

After I married, home also became Ruston, Louisiana. My in-laws welcomed me into their family with open arms, as did the rest of Paul’s family. Their easy ways, huge and lingering hugs, and incredibly sweet dachshund, Abbey, endeared Paul’s parents to me from the time I first stepped into their house.

We spent the early years of our marriage bouncing around. We lived in so many different places (TX, VA, Italy), sometimes for a few weeks and sometimes for a few years. But it wasn’t until we settled in Winston-Salem, NC that I felt like we had found a place that we could make a home together and not worry about moving for a long time. We bought a three bedroom house with green siding and black shutters. There was large yard for the kids to play in and blueberry bushes lining the driveway. We opened our home and really learned what it means to live life with people. We shared meals, sipped coffee, cried and laughed with people who transitioned from people I barely knew to friends to family. And though we had put down roots and were settled in Winston, God had other plans. We were to move yet again. It almost goes without saying that leaving this home was one of the most difficult goodbyes we have made thus far in our lives.

We now live in Salerno, Italy. We have returned to the place that has held our hearts for so many years.  Over the last two years our two bedroom apartment, with its covered terrace and broken tile in the dining room and kitchen, has become home. We find ourselves living life much the same way we did in Winston – with many people coming in and out of our house, sharing meals, coffee or tea, and their lives with us.

We have spent the summer traveling to all our different homes, enjoying every single minute of it. But it isn’t the houses or towns/cities that we have been in that have made it home. It’s people. The relationships that we have with people from Texas to North Carolina will make each of those places home as long as we know them.

However, my heart longs for my home in Salerno. It longs for those people that I share my life with there. And when I am there, though I am “at home”, I will long for the people I once shared my life with on this side of the world.

He’s Still Working on Me

I spoke, when I should have been silent. It was a situation in which I had the opportunity to extend grace and understanding but instead allowed my pride and hurt to win and thus overshadow the gospel being lived out in the situation. I did not heed the Holy Spirit’s leading. I followed my own path and in doing so caused hurt to others. I paid no attention to the verses I had recently memorized…

Psalm 141:3-4 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil…”

Proverbs 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

After reflected on the words I had spoken, guilt set in. I realized I had spoken words that should not have been uttered. I showed no grace, no forgiveness. And worse of all, I had memorized words but had not allowed them to penetrate my heart and transform me.

I had to examine my heart, which can be an incredibly painful process when we are honest with what we find there. What I found was ugly and dark.

One of two things could have happened at this point: 1) I could have wallowed in the guilt allowing it to eat away at my soul OR 2) I could ask God to forgive me, ask those offended and hurt to forgive me, and walk in the freedom that forgiveness and grace bring.

Honestly, I sat in the guilt for a few minutes before I cried out for forgiveness from God. And an extraordinary thing happened when I did…peace began to enter my heart and take the place of the ugliness and darkness of sin. Once I had asked forgiveness from those I hurt, peace reigned fully and relationships were restored but not to the previous status. I believe to an even higher one…one that is more grace-filled, understanding, and mindful of each other.

A childhood song came to mind during these two days and I kept singing it over and over to myself…

“He’s still working on me
To make me what I need to be
It took him just a week to make the moon and stars
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars
How loving and patient He must be
‘Cause He’s still workin’ on me”

Praise God that He didn’t create us and leave us alone. Instead, “when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:4-6)

 If my sanctification is a result of my efforts I will come up short every.single.time. I will fail. I will never look more like Jesus. But God, in his loving kindness sent Jesus to die for me and the Holy Spirit to renew me. Not only that, but we have the hope that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

That’s good news.

Like a Tree Planted By Water

monkey-bread-tree-by-the-river-scott-and-rebecca-rothney

 

It was movie night. The kids were engrossed in the action on the TV, while devouring a huge bowl popcorn. Paul went to the bathroom, soon afterwards calling for me to come help him. Sitting down, he said he was having extreme pain in his side and felt like he was going to pass out.

I helped him to the couch, where he laid, curled in a ball of pain. The kids sat…still engrossed in the movie, devouring a now half-eaten bowl of popcorn.

I somehow knew immediately it was either an appendicitis or a kidney stone, which his father has and which I, honestly, have been waiting 10 years for him to develop. Either way, it was clear after less than five minutes he was going to need to go to the hospital.

I called Justin, our teammate. After apologizing for calling so late on a Friday night, I explained the situation. We decided it would be better for Justin to take him to the hospital and for me to stay at home with the kids, who are still glued to the TV but done with the popcorn.

I packed a bag just in case he had to stay overnight. Justin and Santei (an intern) came as quickly as they could, and after helping Paul down the stairs, I put him in the van and sent him to the hospital…without me.

I promptly returned upstairs to put the kids to bed. The movie had ended and they finally noticed Daddy wasn’t there. I calmly explained Justin was taking him to the hospital because Daddy was in a lot of pain and we weren’t sure why.

I crocheted and watched a movie and prayed. I waited to hear something.

Because that was all I could do.

And while I wanted to be at the hospital, I knew that even there, I would be doing the same thing and not even in the same room with my husband.

During this whole process, I remained calm. I did not once panic or cry or freak out. I don’t know that my reaction would have been the same a few years ago. I’m prone to dramatics, so needless to say, remaining calm during high stress situations is not my forte. My dad has always said there is something to be said about being steady, even during difficult times. He is the epitome of steadiness though. I’ve seen him break bad news several times, and the words that would always comes to my mind as I watched him were calmness and steadiness.

I have been reflecting on how it is I was able to stay calm. The one thing that keep coming back to my  mind is something I read several days before the kidney stone attack, which we learned it was about an hour after he got to the hospital. It was Jeremiah 17:8,”He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” The preceding verse tells us whom “He” is referring. “He” is “the man who trusts in the the Lord.” Who is speaking? God. God is telling Jeremiah the man who trusts in the Lord will be blessed, though trials come, he will remain steadfast, strong, and bear fruit because he is rooted in the Lord. Back up a few verses and he tells us what happens when we put our trust in “man and makes flesh his strength.” Basically, nothing good.

It is not by my strength that I am able to do anything. My weaknesses are made clear to me on a daily basis. Like Paul, I want to be content with “weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because “when I am weak, that I am strong.” I want to be steady and calm when the hard things come not out of vanity but because I believe it points to the power of Christ in me.

My strength would have failed me that Friday night. I would have been crying, worried, anxious in my own strength. I believe the Holy Spirit began doing something in me long before that night: showing me my weaknesses and finding strength in Him, giving me a thirst for Him so that I spend time with Him not just in the morning but throughout the day, and learning to allow Him to be the roots that hold me fast, steady, calm, bearing fruit. Because of these things that He was doing in me (and that I was allowing Him to do) I was steady and calm in a moment when I normally would have been anything but.