It Matters

I was driving to Jackson the other day to do some shopping and we passed through Henderson on the way.  There is a new restaurant called, “It Don’t Matter”.   I think that is funny; but, to be honest, I’m not sure I want to eat at a place where, “it don’t matter”.  I want it to matter  to someone about certain things when it comes to serving food.  Like taste, quality, cleanliness and nutrition.

I think it’s important for other certain things to matter also. For instance, I think it matters what we believe, how we live.  I love talking with my friends about the things we are passionate about.   I’m 55 now and there are times when I’m tempted not to be so passionate and settle down. I feel the call of comfort more than ever.  I’m tempted to think, “Well…. maybe that doesn’t matter so much now as it did…”  Of course that may be true.  We all can make mountains out of mole hills.   But the life I’ve been experiencing the last 20 years – living in the body of Christ and with His people on a close, daily basis keeps me aware of what matters.

I was talking with some young people the other day in a small class.   We were talking about the Christian martyrs we were reading about in Fox’s Book of Martyrs.  I told them that as we were listening to one of the students – Judah’s report –  about the death of Polycarp,  to note that  Polycarp  was commanded to deny Christ. It was a command he firmly refused and he embraced his death.  The account, by the way,  of his  martyrdom is way beyond remarkably inspiring and convicting.

In our class we have been kind of jumping around date wise to other stories of Christians that have been faithful even unto death.  It is sobering to read the accounts of what believers have been willing to suffer, counting it all joy, for Christ.  I was telling my young friends, and reminding myself,  that some of these martyrs were not directly asked to deny Christ.  Some were killed, not by the ruling government or military, but by the “official” church of their time who had intention of forcing them to comply with doctrines not taught by the Christ or His apostles.  Therefore, some gave their very lives over issues like infant baptism or the scripture being translated into the language of the common folk.  I believe these martyr’s faith is the same faith that has been handed down to me —  paid for and made even more  precious by their blood.  I asked these young people if they would be ready to embrace the stake or drowning over an issue such as infant baptism or if they would be willing to go along with the official stance even though it may be a breach of conscience towards God for them personally.  Or if things like that matter, after all, in the grand scheme of things.  I asked if in this day  young people took to heart matters like that or do they leave that to the adults.  Sobering questions…

I remember hearing of an account that has stayed with me through the years.  It was a story of persecution that took place in a small town in Europe sometime in the 14th century.  The details of place and year escapes me now.   In efforts to gain back control for the established state religion of the day, a group of young people, who were known in the area for being strong in their faith and love of Christ,  were asked to deny their common faith and embrace the liturgy of the proper church.  They collectively refused.  As they were being led off in wagons to an icy river to be drowned one by one by the officials, their parents and townspeople followed with great emotion.  One mother was begging they would spare her son since he was only 10 years old.  The child, on the other hand, was begging her to allow him to die with his friends, and not deny the faith.  I can hardly imagine the scene!  I cannot imagine the turmoil for that mother in particularly.  Finally, after parting tears and embraces, his parents allowed him to die with his friends, handing him back his place on the wagon to enter into martyrdom of those early Anabaptist believers. Such accounts take my breath away!

So has the true gospel been handed down to us through the centuries.  So has it been opposed.  So has it become so very rare and precious.  Yet, we would not have it at all if it were not for some small band of believing people who thought it was precious enough to die for.  To them it mattered.  And whether we realize it or not, it matters to us today.  There is huge consequence if we believe otherwise.  Does it matter enough to us to hold onto it?  Are we careless with our faith?  Could I be that mother?  Could I be one of those young people?  Their sacrifice still has a voice even in heaven according to the scriptures. There are still believers dying today.

“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.” Revelation 6:9-11

 

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An Odd Little Story

I have been thinking about a milepost in mine and my husband Gideon’s walk with God.  It happened about 30-32 years ago. Hard to believe it was that long ago.  It was one of the events that didn’t look like much at the time, but changed everything.

Both of us had been through quite a lot of upheaval in our lives as teenagers.  God led us to find each other through those years.  We were friends and knew we wanted to spend the rest of life together. We loved God, though I don’t think we knew much about Him really.  We were in church and trying to follow after Him as best as we knew how.

We married when we were 20 after dating for 5 years.  Within the first 4 years of marriage we had 2 precious babies, Beth and David.  Watching them was healing for us in so many ways. They had fresh perspectives which we needed.  They were in wonder of nature around them and they were innocent and had honest responses to not only the good things they encountered, but the painful ones.  We, as adults, had learned to shield ourselves and hide from some of the cruelty of life. We felt their vulnerability and wanted to protect them, but still wanted them to maintain their free spirits. Our desire was that they would love Jesus too.

One day we heard the scriptures from Exodus 34:6&7 when God made a declaration about Himself when He passed before Moses:

And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

7 “Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”

I can’t express to you how hard we took this to heart.  We had been raised in church yet going through the years of pain and being tossed about in life because of… well, sin.  Sin that our respective families had been living in and our own sin.  Not notoriously criminal, just ordinary people who had problems and falling into traps and strongholds of sin that inevitably caused great pain and division and broken families in the long run.  James referred to this cycle when he wrote: “14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” We had already experienced the painful accuracy of this truth and we knew that we were no better than our predecessors and were capable of causing the same repercussions in our children’s lives as had been in ours.  What were we to do?  Some of our distress was that much of the upheaval in our lives had been by professing Christians.  We were confused about finding a genuine belief. Really I can’t say that belief was what we were looking for.  We wanted to see the genuine God freely be Himself – and follow and obey Him.  We wanted to have a life that you could track His movements through.  We wanted to know He was real & alive.  We didn’t want a  asking-Jesus-into-your-heart-and-then-do-whatever-pleases-yourself-from-then-on-kind-of-life. If it was true that God visited the sins of the father on the third and fourth generation, then how could there be hope and is there anything to stop this vicious cycle?

Exodus 20:6 virtually said the same thing – the iniquity passed on to the 3rd & 4th generation – of those that hate God – but mercy to the thousands who love Him! There it was! God would have mercy on those that love Him – and it would begin planting the seeds of a different harvest to reap. We felt Christ leading us into a new life of adventure. But first we had to conclude the old life.

We took it to heart and requested that the deacons of our little Baptist church come to our house and pray for us.  They fumbled about because they had never been asked anything like this before to pray over someone.  We hadn’t either — and we felt just as awkward.  One man asked if we should use oil; another agreed that we should but no one knew what kind of oil — olive? corn? vegetable? Surely there’s something in the cupboard… someone joked that the only other kind would be motor… But when these older men came together and surrounded us with our two children on our laps, they soberly asked us to be clear what we were asking for.  Gideon told them that we were asking for God to have mercy on us and to stop the bent of generational  sin and to know that we’d be willing to change anything we were currently doing and would obey the things He brought us and repent of things we needed to throw off. We wanted Him to take us up and make us His own… that we loved Him and wanted to follow Him all our days.

I still remember the two little sets of eyes looking up into our’s as the men touched first our’s and then our children’s foreheads with oil and quietly and trustingly prayed for us that day, as Beth & David watched in wonder what was happening around them.  In spite of all our awkwardness, I felt we touched the heart of God and I knew that He truly claimed us as His own and would be with us every moment from then on guiding our steps. Was it the prayer or the oil or the men? None of it and all of it. It wasn’t a ritual but a heart cry.  I believe God drew near to us because He had been drawing us to Him all along – to that moment.

Why am I telling that story? I guess to cheer on anyone who is wondering how to be different, how to break out of the normal tendency to follow the crowd down the wide road that leads to the same disappointing end so many before us have gone. God still makes covenants – lifelong promises – with people through His Son and He is looking for those who are seeking Him to live an extraordinary life – the life of God’s own children.

Its been many years since that day and we have felt Him with us every moment since then – no matter what came our way.  We have known His love and His care all along through the hard and good times.  And when it seemed dark  still we knew He was close to us and had His hand on our lives and He gave us enough light to see the next step.  He had seen a couple stumbling through life, and He heard their cry and rescued them.

I have a favorite song that touches what I feel when I think of Jesus.  It starts out with:

My Jesus, my savior, Lord there is none like You! All of my days, I want to praise the wonder of Your mighty love. My comfort, my shelter, tower of refuge and strength, Let every breath and all that I am never cease to worship You!

But my favorite line is later in the chorus: Lord, there is none like You!

I feel those words to the bone! Who can compare to Him?! There is none like Jesus, none that permeates every fiber of our being and our lives like He does.  No one that loves like He does, no one that takes us up like He does.  None that selflessly deals with us like He does. Doesn’t it make you want to shout? How can we deny Him anything?

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The Impact of a Believing Child

^^I woke up early this morning  around 4:00, and, since I couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to catch up on reading the blogs my friends have written  since I’m very behind. I noticed that a tag on Shammah’s Christmas blog was “Bethlehem”.  As I read it a few thoughts raced through my head –  how many people must look up Bethlehem this time of year… my own impressions of the little town that Christ was born in … and ….my daughter. Her name is Bethlehem.

I feel funny writing about my daughter.  I know everyone who has a daughter loves their own probably much like I do.  But I do feel something else… and it’s not easy to put into words.  I think it’s that for all life threw at us, I had someone on my team with my daughter at my side.  The war never came between us, and I am grateful for that.   There’s a million ways it showed in everyday living.

My current favorite of Bethlehem and daughter Audrey Rose

I’m not going to go into all the details of Bethlehem’s life, cute little girl stories from her growing up years, or her achievements and challenges as an adult.  I’m aware she is not perfect and has struggles as we all do. But want to write down what I think about her now looking back over the past and currently.

Bethlehem was an ally for me for many years while I was raising her and her six siblings.  Besides having a wonderful father who helped her early in life to know God as her own,  Christ won her heart Himself.  She saw  our problems but she understood that her dad and I wanted to pursue Christ with everything we had.  In her child-likeness she did too.  It added power to us, wind to our sails. Looking into her eyes, as well as our other children’s, often gave us hope and reason to press on.

We were alone, and for many years searched for those who felt the same.  She held onto the faith as if it were her own posession, because it was.  It wasn’t propaganda or just words. It grew as God took us through real earthy trials as a family together.  Through times of financial strains and business losses, several moves, sicknesses and surgeries and deep hurts from loved ones.   It wasn’t always pretty or a feel good life.  but we always felt blessed. She watched us try to find and maneuver our way through much of the disinformation and unbelief contained in American Christianity and she followed us. She saw our pain, our bewilderment at times. She did not grow cynical or harbor any hurt feelings – and she had occasion to.  She believed, simply. She was still very young and impressionable… but she knew deep inside that Christ was real and worth seeking.

She took it seriously that we were in a spiritual war, and that there were many things in the world that would make shipwreck of  your faith if  you let go of Christ’s hand to follow after it.  She chose time and time again not to follow after the temporary things of this life, and, when we at last found it, to put all of her heart, her creativity, her energy – all her “eggs”, so to speak,  into one basket –  His Church and the building of His kingdom.

But it wasn’t her personal belief that helped me most.   What helped me most was her being a big sister that paved a way for her younger brothers and sisters in ways that only she could do. She often read to them stories that built their faith.  She emphasized the right and good things she saw, things that were life giving – not life sucking. As situations and circumstances came up, she took my explanations and instructions and help me gather all of them around it. She looked to her dad and I for the direction, and she followed reaching back for the others.  She protected them in many ways – and now adays we all sometimes chuckle at how she did that. But I would not trade it for anything… because she had a spiritual instinct to protect the weaker and the younger ones she loved.   And that made all the difference.

Of course, as she grew, her childlike faith had to grow also.  She had to face many hard questions and doubts on her own.  And she had to decide  for herself  as she grew older  all over again the things that seemingly came easy as a child.  She looked death in the face through the eyes of her dear best friend, Aubrey, who fought the battle of cystic fibrosis and won the good fight of life . She entered her reward at the young age of 14. Beth was by her bedside when Aubrey passed.  Beth witnessed Aubrey’s parents handing their daughter through the veil into the waiting hands of a loving Father.  All of this unseen, of course, but very real and tangible.   Beth was left behind to press on with renewed faith and courage, strengthened to live for what she could not see, to go on further than ever.  Meanwhile, her siblings looked on.  Maybe not noticeably.  But it was there, part of daily life.  I will be forever grateful for the timely help of the impressions made by the heart of Bethlehem.

She helped me when I lived in the dark – even though she was just a child. Or maybe, perhaps,  because she was one.

Now she has  children of her own that she is feeding them good things of God as a mother bird feeds her young.  Poking that fat, juicy worm straight down into those waiting open beaks/mouths  straight down the gullet- lol! “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” Psalms 81:10

Can children’s belief have an impact? You betcha!  Does it matter what you choose when you’re a child? Yes, yes! A million times, YES!

I’ve met a few young people who don’t take being a big sister or brother seriously enough because they are unaware of their power. I wish they would take it more to heart that they are cutting a path for those who follow close behind. I have found as a mom that sometimes what  you won’t do for yourself you can find the strength to do for the little ones in your care.  I think it might be true for sisters and brothers too. How many times we’ve had to grapple with life and the curves we are thrown that we would otherwise just throw off, hide, or run from if it weren’t for those we are responsible for. Instead we have to face our giants, stand our ground and let God shine His Life and Light into every corner till we have laid ahold of His Truth.  If we don’t, we will fall. But not alone for other’s might also.  So, with Christ’s help, we press on, just as Paul did and spoke about in Phillipians  3:13-15 –

(NAS) “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in  Christ Jesus.  Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you…”

None of us can do this out of our own strength no matter how old you are or how motivated, but we can lend ourselves to it, leaning into the grace that God will give us if we choose to follow Him.

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Aslan – The Paradox

african_lion_king-wide

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head?  Of course you have… and sometimes it stays for days and days.  If you’re fortunate you might even like it!  Sometimes it can be annoying- especially if its a song you’re not particularly fond of.  Thankfully for me  the song I recently stumbled on was a delightful one.  It’s a song I could “camp out on”, so to speak. It captured my thoughts.  It’s called “Aslan” by Kendall Payne. You can hear it here on youtube.  I wrote down the lyrics at the bottom of this page.

Somehow I can’t let this one side by…I have to say something, somewhere.  And since this is my blog… I can freely do it here.

It’s rare to find a new song that includes all that ingredients which I find in following Christ that makes me want to sing, smile and dance.  The title  “Aslan” is referring to the lion character in the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis.  Aslan is a metaphor for Christ.  He is fierce and gentle, unpredictable and faithfully reliable.  He is the ultimate paradox.  And it makes me inwardly smile and laugh and shake my head when I think of it- how He bewilders me at times and how much I’ve grown to love Him.  It’s true He is bewildering at times yet the conclusion from those of us in His family is, “…but He is good, He is good !”  I don’t think anything contents the heart quite like when you’re with family and you have similar views of the One we follow.  You share common experiences, and you smile at even the toughest things because you are bound together in love.  Those common ingredients  I mentioned are what I want to underscore here.

There’s a popular… myth, I believe, of the approachable, gentle ever entreating Christ that is willing to overlook the things we don’t want to get rid of, things that bind us and keep us in captivity deeper than we realize.  He isn’t like that.  And so the song begins with one who sees Him and at first glance after hearing what He demands- our life for His- begins to cry with the fear of the magnitude.  (Did He growl?) We have to muster our courage and realize our own state without Him and reach beyond the fear and approach the lion. At the very least not bolt and run!

At one of our gatherings of late one woman shared that when she steps back and looks at the magnitude of the question of what life is all about, how vulnerable we are, and where do we go afterwards she starts to freak out.  It is a daunting question and the “lack” of scientific or tangible proof forces her into a realm that is unique and unfamiliar at first.  Her conclusion was that He wants us to give Him our lives, our everything and trust Him that there is more, much more both here and after life.  She said, through tears, “What other choice do we really have?  He is our only hope!” What a wonderful thing to witness!  God revealed that to her! No man can show you that in a way where it changes everything. (And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven…” Matthew 16:17)  And remember, the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. It comes when we realize the authority of our lives does not rest with ourselves.  He is, after all, King of Kings and we must bow our knee… He is even now establishing and populating His kingdom.

The Cost

The water is free, yes, surely it is and flows freely. Can you hear it?  Yet, it is not free at all, for it costs everything.  We can hold nothing back…we must give it all, a life for a life. I love this about Christ.  If we inadvertently cling to anything, He is faithful to show us as we follow after Him.  And we will go no further until we lay it down.  For nothing lesser is entering the kingdom.

The Comfort of His Justice

He is not safe, He is not fair.   His thoughts are so much higher than our own.  Things we would do to fix the problems would only dig us deeper in.  But if we follow Him out of the tangle of sin, He will spare nothing to lead us out. That may be painful at times and feel unsafe- but He is the ultimate of safety because He delivers like no other.  When I find myself at odds with a brother or sister and I start looking down from my “higher” ground, He’ll come in and hug the one I think He should punish or slight and show me my pride and what I missed seeing in my brother or sister in the first place.  And all the while He draws me deeper and closer to Him – He does not shame me.  He is not swayed by the things that cloud our judgements.  And though it is painful, it makes our hearts sing because we know He would do that for us also.  He is for us!

The Knife

Since we know the fruit of sin is death, we want Jesus to cut away the fleshly things of our hearts… but we find the knife hard to approach.  A circumcised heart is what we desire but find it hard not to cringe. Yet He binds those wounds up and “never leaves a wounded one behind.”  He takes us with Him.  And we forget all the pain and fear in the light of His smile and delight in us.  He wasn’t cutting us- He was cutting away the sin and its affects.   If we draw back we can not enter in.

The Paradox – My Favorite Part (makes my feet dance)


“But He won’t say the words you wish that he would
Oh, he don’t do the deeds you know that He could
He won’t think the thoughts you think He should
But He is good, He is good!” 


Religion often made me feel we were supporting God.  That somehow He was dependent on us or our faith to make Him true; as if He was housed in what we could only strain to understand.  The reality is as C. S. Lewis said about Aslan,

“He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

Or, in scripture,

“But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Psalms 115:3

He is not bound by our little minds or our perspectives.  He is true to Himself, and HE IS GOOD!  How often I have felt that chorus!  Maybe I want Him just to say a particular thing or say something, and He doesn’t. Or He says something I wasn’t expecting.  Or I want Him to do something about a circumstance – change it or heal it- and He doesn’t  – but you know full well that He could! Or you wish He would not be so intense and calm down with His perspective before He alienates others – (what if they don’t understand?) because He should be nice and He doesn’t and, He isn’t.  But going through it you realize what a comfort His ways are, how much higher His thinking is… that He doesn’t think like a man. That He is not selfish, He is love.  He is limitless – not in my box.  He is good!

Isn’t He wonderful? He has captured my heart completely. Following the Lion of Judah through life leads to the most exciting adventure we could have ever dreamed of!  The tremendous vulnerability and the strength side by side is amazing. We live joined to the King.  Living in His favor is as C. S. Lewis described:


“Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing”


May His roar shake us, frighten us, endear us, and thrill us. 

The Lyrics to Aslan

Don’t stop your crying on my account
A frightening lion, no doubt
He’s not safe, no he’s not safe
Are you tempted now to run away?
The King above all Kings is coming down

But He won’t say the words you wish that he would
Oh, he don’t do the deeds you know that He could
He won’t think the thoughts you think He should
But He is good, He is good

I know you’re thirsty, the water is free
But I should warn you, it costs everything
Well, He’s not fair, no He’s not fair
When He fixes what’s beyond repair
And graces everyone that don’t deserve

But He won’t say the words you wish that he would
Oh, he don’t do the deeds you know that He could
He won’t think the thoughts you think He should
But He is good, He is good

No one knows Him whom eyes never seen
No, I don’t know Him but He knows me
He knows me, He knows me

Lay down your layers, shed off your skin
But without His incision, you can’t enter in
He cuts deep, yeah He cuts deep
When the risk is great and the talk is cheap
But never leaves a wounded one behind

But He won’t say the words you wish that he would
Oh, he don’t do the deeds you know that He could
He won’t think the thoughts you think He should
But He is good, He is good

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The View From the Swing

The swing in autumn.

Today is random day, I guess.  My thoughts have been visiting familiar sights.  I saw something today that struck me like stirring a sleeper awake.   There is an old wooden swing hanging beneath an arbor out in my front yard.  I love it so much that I’ve asked a young photographer friend of mine to capture it during the changing seasons.  It stands beside an old gray bus-made-into-an-rv that was once lived in by some dear friends (but that’s another story.)  The old swing is a precious place to me.  Though it has fallen into disrepair and the wisteria  threatens to cover it completely, I still go out and sit a spell.  I’ve often thought while sitting there, “from here….you can see forever!”

I think so not because the view is so spectacular, though it is beautiful.  Sitting there I can see my friend’s home across the street, the blueberry field beside a dusty gravel road that leads to other friend’s homes and the big garden.  From the swing you can see the playground and hear the children playing.  It is also  situated right beside a purple martin house and their comings and goings can entertain anyone even if they aren’t an amateur birder as I am.  And off in the distance you can see rolling hills.

No, the “forever view” is from within encompassing not only what you can see with your eyes, but with your heart.   It was one of the first things built and it use to be the #1 gathering spot in the evening when we were first living on this piece of property.  I have lived here with several families now for about 15 years.  There were no houses at first, just an old abandoned cow pasture.  We all were living in buses made into RVs, or tents and rustic lean-tos.  That swing became our “living room”, and a place to see friends and sit and chat for a while. We usually spent the day making a home out of our meager beginnings, feeding our families and were ready for a little relaxing by evening.  Before long we figured out that to make our collective living room work, all we needed was a water bottle and a blanket or lawn chair.  That is, if you weren’t fortunate enough to get there early and procure a seat on the swing.   Everyone knew it was the best seat in the – er.. I mean out of… the house/tent/bus.   If someone got up to go do something else, their seat was quickly filled.  Nearby the children rode their bikes or played tag or danced. And what grand dancing we saw there!  There were lots of laughter and talking about the day’s events and news,  and occasionally as the sun went down, a campfire.  Especially as the evenings got cooler.  More times than not those that could brought their guitars and we sang about the Lord we love and the life He gave us together.  Older and young alike. We passed babies around, shared stories and memories and laid on blankets watching the sunset as if it were a fascinating movie while trying to be the first one to see the evening star.  All the while we learned who each other were and friendships grew.

I remember one year, as July 4th drew near, that some of the men & boys had bought fireworks on one of their trips to town.  After years of observation and having a husband and 4 sons of my own, I’ve noticed that fireworks, like Christmas presents, are awfully difficult to wait on.  The anticipation is a killer.  So a few bottle rockets were shot off to the enjoyment of all those sitting in or around the swing that early summer evening.  We tracked the trails of smoke and everyone gave their 2 cents on what would enable the best bang for the buck.  The funny thing was it wasn’t dark yet! The martins were busy getting their last bit of food before settling down for the night. They were darting in and out just above our heads chasing mosquitos and flying bugs while fussing and diving at the human disturbers of their peace and space.  There was much laughter & chatter. Then someone suggested a grand finale as they have at traditional shows… and an eager someone got a Roman candle and shot it off from across the gravel street.  As fate would have it, it did not fly straight upward as planned.  Instead it fell sideways just as the rocket exploded shooting straight as an arrow and coming to rest under the swing – where I and a couple of others happened to be sitting.  In my mind I can still hear the boom and see the beautiful blue starburst that surrounded the swing.  There was an eerie silence broken by a few gasps while we looked to access the damage.  No one was hurt– only startled! Well, that was that for fireworks – at least for the night – and we all aloud thanked God for keeping us safe.  And we giggled and laughed and relived the moment, talking until the moon was up and the dew had fallen… then most of us went to bed.  Fussy babes had already been escorted off to baths and bed before then.  Contentment.  A very rare thing.  Less you think it was or I remember it as being simply idyllic I remember there were bee stings in the clover, bike accidents, children’s arguments to settle and, at times, things to work out between the adults as we grew and stretched and blended into each other’s lives.  We did not have much in possessions, but we knew that we had each other and we knew that we loved our God who had brought us all together. We knew there would be battles tomorrow, but tonight we were ok.  Better than ok.

It wasn’t only in the evenings that the swing saw action. Many mornings a few friends would gather early after the men left for work but before breakfast and starting home schooling our children.  We learned who had which personal coffee cups and who preferred tea.  We caught up on the happenings.  But some mornings our dear Abba, for he lived in the gray bus with his wife, would come out and teach us from his heart and the scriptures.  Things he had learned along the way.  Those mornings built something deep inside of us… and helped knit our hearts to each other.  That was at a time in my life when my heart had to really stretch to make room for others.  These were my dearest friends, my forever friends, and I hardly knew how to really love and enjoy them.  But listening to what God had for us those early mornings and living out my days with these friends brought me incredible experiences and joy these many years.  Through hard, rough and good times we are learning to hold onto each other and Christ tightly, as He holds onto us – depending always on His love & mercy.

I wonder what that swing could tell us if  it could talk.  It isn’t unusual to see it occupied for various purposes be it working out disagreements, or friends having coffee in the a.m., or young courting couples stopping to swing and talk as they explore God, life and the universe through each other’s views and hearts.  Lately it’s been somewhat of a phone booth with it’s hilltop advantage when wireless service is hard to pin down.

As I look from the swing today many things have changed.  There are houses now, and some of those children that danced around have grown and gone as have some of my friends. There are some new faces interspersed with the familiar.  But the lessons at the swing are not wasted on us…but kneaded deeply into our hearts.  So much so that I was reminded of it the other morning walking up the hill from one of those early morning gatherings.   This time it was not by the swing but in a dear younger sisters living room with a few friends – some whom I gathered into my heart on those earlier mornings.  As I passed by the swing my mind went to those mornings with Abba… but though the swing was empty I knew where I had just been.  And I thought, “Oh! We should have met outside and enjoyed the morning!”   I sat for a few minutes, coffee cup in hand.  I stepped out to take a pic of my lonely cup on the swing.

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Just then, a friend stopped me and we chatted. When I turned to go it was a different scene on the swing.

This is what I saw…

Collins at the swing

Faith & Hope (Collins)
sitting on swing

See? I was right!  From Abba’s swing you can see forever!

                                                           Love, Faith

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Faith & Gideon
4-ever

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More Than a Fox Hole

We just had our anual Ingathering celebration here in the village where I live. It’s a grand time together and we love it more than Christmas.   I won’t go into all the details, but one of the emphasis is camping together.  We live in a temporary dwelling for a couple days to remind us, as the Hebrews celebrated the Feast of Booths, that we are only here on earth a short while.

At the same time this year, two other things occured in my life .  My husband lost his job and with it came a heightened awareness of our expenses; and my son Joel and his wife Rushie purchased their first house.  So, I’ve been thinking about that subject – housing.

I was really glad when Joel bought the house – still am.  It is a nice home and roomy – which will come in handy as their desire was for a place where folks who want to follow Christ together there in Memphis could  come together.  So, I have no qualms about buying a house if God so leads.  But, the fact is, He hasn’t led my husband and I to purchase one in the 35 years we’ve been married.  He’s had other plans for us through the years.  But  the realization that I, who am now 55 years old, might never own a home hit me.  That was not in my initial plans for my life.  So I had to think about that…

I was like anyone else in America when I was younger.  I had lots of dreams and thoughts about how life would be etc.  Of course we would one day own a home… my parents owned theirs for over 40 years till my father died and my mother moved in with us.  Everyone knows that renting is a waste of money!  Isn’t it?

There was one other funny little memory that surfaced.  Gideon and I had decided that neither of us were interested in the military because – get this – we did not want a life of moving around a lot.  That is funny to me now – because I have moved almost as many times in my married life as the years I’ve been married, though a couple of times I lived in a rental house for several years.

We rented the first few years of our marriage, but we were trying to get to the place of purchasing a home.  In fact, we had some friends who had just “made the leap” and were helping us figure out the steps when something happened that changed everything.  We met the Church.  We walked away from our dreams and plans – and we have never regretted it.  Why no regrets?  Because we walked away from one thing and into another. From death into Life and the Great Adventure!

Eventually, we all decided we needed to live closer to each other.  You can’t just suddenly move twenty-plus families to one location instantly.  Circumstances, however, gave us a boost and we found ourselves settling on a cow pasture in Selmer, TN.

Since finding God’s people, some of my “housing” has been, well, unusual.  I’ve lived in a 26 foot RV for a couple of years;  an army tent for several months – including through winter here in TN; a converted school bus with another parked close by for the children- we affectionately called the “East Wing”; I also lived in another RV;  but the one that gets voted the most unusual by my friends was the few months we lived on a playground under a canopy.  That’s right.  A playground station.  We used the monkey bars for a closet and my husband and I slept on the platform with the kids bunks underneath complete with mosquito netting.  It was really quite nice.  You’d have to see it.

Before you chalk me up as being totally whacko, I really am pretty normal. I like having a living room, telephone, hotwater, and a front door & doorbell  as much as the next guy.  I wasn’t looking for any kind of unusual housing portfolio.  The “norm” was just fine with me! With each change I had to find God in it all over again; this wasn’t a game.    I would only do something like that if compelled to for a really good cause.  After all, I had 7 children and my husband and I to care for.  That makes for some really creative cooking/cleaning/bathing and just daily living techniques. Oh, and I homeschooled.  Honestly, do you know what would compell me to do that?  A deep desire to live together with God’s people.  Love.  Love compelled me.

This year while I was thinking all of this over and helping to get my camping gear out of mothballs -(for now I live in a remodeled single wide trailer that has been turned into an eight bedroom, 4 bath rustic mansion which my family shares with some others) – I realized how really good I have had it through the years.  I have always had more than my needs met.  Why, even when we lived in the army tent my husband made it so wonderful – including setting it up on carpet covered shipping pallets complete with a kingsize bed and stereo and wood burning stove- that we referred to it as “Bedouin Homes and Garden”.  When I lived on the play structure we had handsome house plants and my kitchen was an outdoor grill.  We were as comfortable in that bed as I have been since then staying in the nicest and luxurious accomodations.  And my children thrived.

Hold it.  When I started writing this down,  I didn’t want to focus on what I’ve done… but rather on what Christ has done.  He has made me at home in many places.  He has taught me that home is not a structure.  He has taught my children the same.  He has taught us that HE IS OUR HOME!

What a marvelous treasure! And in an age and in a country where material things have gathered so much attention. Many have compromised their hearts and spirits to live under the pressure of it.

Who could teach us such a thing?  Only a homeless man.  And that is what I saw this year at the Ingathering.  I saw the reality of what His life on earth was like.  In all my housing through the years – I always had a place to call home – a place to lay my head!  Even camping at the Ingathering, I had a tent, a space to call my own. He did not!  Can you imagine?  He never knew where He was going to sleep at night. Still,  it never became His focus.  It is so hard to comprehend!  Especially knowing what He left behind!  How can that be?  Because of only one reason –  He had a good Father who always cared for Him.  And now, because He came, so do I.

So, in some circles here in America,  I may be labeled irresponsible or not finacially savvy for never having my name on the title of a house.  But, I will always have a home.

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Worthless or Worthy?

Shammah, my friend, brother and teacher here in the Church at Rose Creek Village was teaching the other night to a few of us gathered in the Town Hall.  He was talking about the effort it takes to be a faithful believer – the work it takes to study and how he hates it when we come to gatherings unprepared to share or without having done the work.  He mentioned the money changers in the temple and Christ’s anger toward them and how He swept and whipped them out of the temple.   While listening to Shammah that night and the context of what he was teaching about, something fell in place for me and I saw that story  from a different angle.

Several questions came to mind – like a mental checklist.  What were the money changers and merchants selling?  Sacrifices.  Why sacrifices? Because up until then God commanded His people to offer them.  Then, why if God commanded that they offer up sacrifices did He sweep the provision for the sacrifice away?  What about it so angered Him?   He was specific about what He would accept… He taught us through the law not to be casual about sin, not to think lightly of it – because it kept us from Him.  But when the Messiah finally came… there He was in the temple scattering cages and tipping over tables and swinging a whip!

I love analogies, and this one came to mind. I’ve been learning the last few years about wholesome foods…the main thing being the processed foods are not healthy – whole and especially raw is.  But it takes more effort and more money to  prepare and serve tasty, nourishing foods.  Especially if you grow your own.  Processed foods are much easier but they lack nutrition and flavor and cannot meet the body’s needs – missing the basic design for food.  In fact, processed foods are harmful.  Likewise,  so is “processed” sacrifices -sacrifices without the effort of a brokenheart and with no intent to give something back to God in gratefulness. –  they are unhealthy for us and unacceptable to God and alienate us further from Him.

But, of course, it isn’t about whether the sacrifices were homegrown  or temple bought. Do I think that God wouldn’t like it if the Hebrew people purchased a sacrifice  rather than catch or raise their own? No, I don’t think that, though I could see how the effort would help someone realize the cost.  But I do think that in purchasing a sacrifice He never meant it to become a business with the emphasis of making money or making the “best deal”.  Nor do I think He wanted them to lose sight of  sin and their desperate need of the sacrifice by casually purchasing a sin offering  because “that’s what we do” or because it was easily afforded.  He wanted us mindful of the cost.   I think that’s what angered Christ. He knew what it was costing Him to become that sacrifice… and the sight of the exchange of money and the merchants made Him furious!  Poured out blood, loss of life and breath is not cheap. To become separated from His father was unspeakable.

This makes me think about us here in the body – how we handle the precious things Christ has given us, and how casually we can be with our treasures.  Do we not know what it cost?  Did we loose sight of the cross?  Our sin? Do we enter His gates casually without a thought?

I had nothing when I came to Christ… there was nothing in my life at all that held up to the light.  Nothing I wanted to hang  on to, nothing that seemed worth anything compared to Him and the life He was then and is now giving me.   He is precious to me.   I read the scriptures and can see why His disciples and believers were so distraught when they thought He was gone forever, why they handled His body as they did when they took Him off the cross and buried Him.  I understand how they felt facing life without Him.  I’ve faced life without Him.  But when He rose from the dead, when He spoke to them, touched them, breathed on them… He changed everything –  for even me.

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