Don’t Fight Naked

I have so many failings and flaws of character, I told myself one miserable morning recently. I haven’t changed, I never will change, I never can change. I should just give up and throw myself in the trash.

I felt powerless, defeated, and alone before I even got out of bed.Feb-Nov 2015 1803

Do you ever feel that way?

Still Small Voice: You’re not alone, you know? I’m always with you.

“I know You live in my heart,” I said.  “But I’m such a poor representative.”

Maybe you’re looking at the wrong person?

As I lay on my pillow, I remembered a sweet Texas drawl from many years ago—it was my friend’s mother as she said: “Well of course you’re having trouble, darlin’–you’re goin’ into battle nekked!”

I realized I was doing it again.

Instead of submitting my worries to God and waiting on Him for direction, I’d fretted in the night. I’d dashed from one website to another trying to solve my problems by myself.Nov. 2015 221

And I was getting throttled.

My Texan sister was referring to Ephesians 6 and the full armor of God. That morning it seemed overwhelming to walk through the passage step-by-step. But I had to do something.  I looked around for a quick spiritual sword to whack at the enemy and push him back.

The sword I swung is from Phil. 1:6, which says, “He who began a good work in you will complete it…” 

Suddenly I realized I could put on all my armor with this one verse–one word or phrase at a time.Feb-Nov 2015 1880

HE–God–Creator, Majesty, lover of my soul. I remembered how God once granted my childish prayer to prevent an undeserved spanking from hurting. He has answered all such childish prayers since.  “He will never leave you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6).

With this remembrance I put on my breastplate of His righteousness to protect my heart from Satan’s jabs.

WHO BEGAN–One day, this former runaway teen heard how Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins and adopt me into His family. From that moment on, I had a future. “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for Me?” (Jer. 32:27)Feb-Nov 2015 1700

With this remembrance I donned my helmet of salvation to protect my mind from Satan’s trickery. 

A GOOD WORKwhen I bring my broken pieces and failed intentions to God, He exchanges my ashes for beauty, my mourning for the oil of joy, and my depression for a garment of praise.  He exchanges withered sticks for “trees of righteousness, a planting for the Lord.” (Is. 61:3)

I gird my loins with the truth that God makes me beautiful and fruitful for Himself. I cover my nakedness so none other has mastery over me. I am His alone–His beautiful bride.

IN ME–He knows me: I love fields, red clay, baby feet, basil pesto. Loud noise and activities stress me. I want to be braver.  He works with it all. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)Feb-Nov 2015 1894

The utter joy of being completely known and yet loved leads me to polish my shoes and shod my feet with the gospel of peace so I can tell everyone about this God who loves us to and for Himself.

WILL COMPLETE IT–completion of God’s good work doesn’t depend on me but on the completed work of Christ and promises of God. “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire…” (Is. 55:11)

I lift my shield and take up my sword. I remember that Jesus changed everything–my passage through time as well as my eternal destiny. I strike down the lies that discourage and derail me. I’m rescued from the trash, never to return.April 2015 014

I still have many flaws and failings of character but I rise, fully armored, in this promise:

“…He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil.1:6)

When the Enemy of your soul picks a fight with you, friends, put on your best Texas drawl and don’t go into battle nekked.

 

 

 

We Need a Raising, Lord

With much love for L and S

Where are You,  O God? Where are You for our friends? I plant my elbows on the navy-checked tablecloth. I stare at the corncob salt-and-peppers from the thNov. 2015 248rift shop–mere specks of dust in the universe, but they usually make me smile. Not today. My heart is heavy.

Outside, brilliant oranges and yellows proclaim the time of rest for trees. Winter approaches—the first snows dust the tops of the nearby foothills. The once-dry creek roars again. My mind roars, too. But I want to hope.The evidence of You is all around.

Are You wrapped around our friends today? Are You their refuge and strength? Are You holding them up? August 2015 212

Why are these friends continuously pummeled by storms with little rest—cancer, deaths of loved ones, dementia in both fathers, and the latest blow–arrest of a son for whom they’ve prayed, sacrificed, counseled, and laid down their lives in every arena?

Satan pounds them without abatement. The “Adam” bombs of mortality threaten to blast them to dust and grind them to spit.

“In Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17) They’ve hidden their lives in You, Lord. Please hold them together.Nov. 2015 313

We’re not supposed to ask why. But Moses did. David did. May I ask for them, Lord? May I beg a respite for them from the storms? How much more? Will You hide them in the shelter of Your wings?

Can they find refuge in sleep? They bury their faces in wet pillows. A God who makes autumn and constellations and babies to grow inside us–the conclusion will be perfect, yes, but it looks a mess now. Where is the ray of hope?Nov. 2015 037

The sister of Lazarus said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21 NASB) Jesus asked Martha if she believed He could raise the dead. She did, she said, yes, certainly, sometime in the future.  But Jesus raised Lazarus that very day.

We need a raising, Lord.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

Nov. 2015 018Open our eyes, Lord. “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jer. 32:27)

When Job lost his animals, servants, buildings, children, and health, he asked why. You answered him with Your beauty and majesty, Your authority over the store houses of snow and every created thing. Job fell on his face and retracted his questions as piffle.

We want to retract our questions but, right now, none of what’s happening feels like piffle.It feels like our hearts can’t continue beating against the flood–that they’re ripped out, strewn on the rocks, and bleeding underfoot.Nov. 2015 223

But Your heart is breaking too, isn’t it, Lord? When we weep and cry out to You, and rail against the evil in the world that devastates us and kills the ones we love, You know how we feel, don’t You? You know because You were here once.

After You listened to Martha and Mary, You stood outside Lazarus’ tomb and wept.

You wept.

That’s our ray ofNov. 2015 104 hope.

You wept over our reality. You accepted the whole pain of it on the Cross. You said to Your disciples–all the ones then and all the ones now–“In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Help us take courage today, Lord. Help us remember You standing outside that tomb looking at the wages of sin and weeping for us. Give our friends the courage of hope in You and Your finished work. Give us faith in things not seen.

We are creatures of dust. You’ve put it in our hearts to love and sacrifice for other creatures of dust, to find pleasure and beauty even in inanimate things that will all pass awayNov. 2015 216. Therefore, hide us in the shelter of Your wings, that we would find hope in You, despite what we see.

Please, Lord–only You can give life.

 

 

The Grumble Box

When our children were in elementary school, they began to drag down to breakfast with sour faces, complained aOctober 2015 015t scrambled instead of fried eggs, and whined they didn’t get the biggest cookie in their lunches.

They wanted striped shirts, not plain ones, and plain socks, not striped ones. They didn’t want to take the dog outside (the one they’d begged for and promised to take care of), and the toys were much too big a mess to clean up.

I prayed about what to do.

When the rescued people of Israel complained in the desert about manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, and manna for dinner, God was angry and sent them poultry to eat–so much poultry it piled up and spoiled, causing people to sicken and die.

If God considered complaining so serious an offense, I neeAugust 2015 111ded to take notice and teach my kids to be thankful for what they had and to do their work without complaint.

Then I came across Psalm 142:1-2,  which says: “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before Him my complaint; before Him I tell my trouble.”

So then, there were at least two kinds of complaint to consider—the legitimate need to share feelings and the self-centered whine. I had been working hard on the first–practicing the art of looking in my childrens’ faces and really listening to them.

It was the second that concerned me. That’s when I instituted the Grumble Box. October 2015 014

A Grumble Box can be made from anything. It can be a cardboard box with a colorful design and a slot cut in the top, or a decorated spice can. I wrote a little ditty for ours and taped it to the top of the box. It read like this:

When gratitude doth tumble and resulteth in a grumble, please deposit thou a coin, thy mouth for to humble.

“What’s this?” the kids asked when they came in the kitchen.

“This is the Grumble Box,” I said. “We all need to be more thankful and complain less. WAugust 2015 008hen you whine about doing chores or taking care of the dog or whatever, you’ll have to put a coin in the box.”

“What kind of coin?”

“It might be a penny, a nickel, a dime, or a quarter depending on the whine.”

“What about you?”

This took me aback.  “Um,” I said, “yes, of course–me too. If I grumble I’ve got to pay.”

The kids were suddenly more interested. “What will you do with all that money, Mom?”August 2015 090

“We’ll give it to kids who need it. We’ll put it in the globe bank for Children of the Nations.”

Children of the Nations is a non-profit that provides food, homes, schools and medical care to children  whose lives have been ravaged by war, poverty, disease, and death in the Dominican Republic and several African countries. For more info see www.cotni.org

For a while, the Grumble Box filled up quickly. When the kids tumbled down to breakfast, I’d ask if they’d all made their beds.August 2015 100

“But Mom,” one argued, “we’re just going to sleep in them again tonight!”

“Oh dear,” I’d say. “Grab a penny for the Grumble Box.”

“What? ” they’d holler. “All I said was…”

“Oh my—I guess you’d better make it a nickel.”

“Mo-om!”

“You drive a hard bargain–how about a quarter?”

One time I informed the kids we’d be cleaning the garage on Saturday.  “Okay,” said one of the boys, shoulders slumped, “I guess you’d better give me my allowance in small change.”IMG_2367

The Grumble Box proved to be the reminder we all needed to complain less. It became a light-hearted way to remember to think before we spoke, retrain our mouths, and practice self-control.

We also learned to be more thankful for what we had.

Every time we emptied the box into the bank and took the bank to Children of the Nations, we looked outside ourselves to see some hungry child get a full belly, or go to school for the first time, or find a place to belong in one of the small family-style orphanages.

And that was the best lesson of all.

 

 

 

 

By His Grace, To Be His Lenses

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” Ps. 19:1, 2, 411087717_10153205131874214_4981049671247812487_o

I’m a Psalm 19 woman–one of those for whom God makes truth palpably clear, a doubting Thomasina who must press my fingers in His handprints to believe.

And His handprints are everywhere. I remember the first shock–the first obvious evidence of this great and awesome God we cannot imagine Who bends down to eyeless worms to give us glimpses of His beauty and majesty.

I was in high school Biology, a staunch and self-righteous Catholic, dropped off at Mass weekly by embattled parents who agreed that children should attend church, though they August 2015 038themselves came only during truces, when they played Chinese checkers by night.

I remember following them across the parking lot at those times, eyeing the hand-holding hopefully, wondering how long it would last. But it was never long.  I became religious, but I didn’t yet know the saving power of grace and forgiveness. I didn’t know Jesus.

In high school Biology, I bent over the eye of a microscope, fiddling the little mirror into place until it should reflect enough light to illuminate whatever mystery hid in the elodea leaf on the glass.

At last, angled light penetrated the leaf, the lens magnified the mystery to giant-sized, and I gasped at the glory of God evident in the tiny cells.Sept 2015 004

There I saw chloroplasts– glowing green factories that turn light energy into sugar to feed every part of plant and tree. They bustled about like stained-glass nannies in the cry ward.

I remember the vision yet, though I never saw it again. It hooked me on the reality, omnipotence, and incomprehensibility of God–in awe that He allowed me to glimpse such things about Him.

For why should He show me?August 2015 233 In those teen years, I drank, I swore, I feared my mother, and was ashamed of my father. I practiced the sacraments, but my heart boiled with evil, like one of the white-washed sepulchric Pharisees Jesus condemned to their faces.

But He had mercy on me and showed me not only chloroplasts but what they meant.

Later, I saw His handprints in the births of our four children, though I nearly died with the first. I slipped along towards Him and He sent me back, so I might see His handprints again through the lenses of children and parenting.

In them He revealed how His fatherhood of me could inform my ignorant parenting of themAugust 2015 195

and how depression, self-loathing, and paralyzing fear had no power against love, laughter, and the light in children’s eyes when they presented me with tender words I didn’t deserve, written in childish scrawls on handmade Mother’s Day cards.

Through the lens of His word I learned that time doesn’t heal all wounds save by the glare of Holy Spirit truth, the shedding of tears, the embrace of thanksgiving, the blood of forgiveness, the balm of kindness, the steel of humility, and the ferocity of abiding love.

I see His handprints through the lens of the Perseids meteor shower, when Big Bang rocks crash through the atmosphere–red, green, and blue–and my blink of tiny dust bows to Him in the vastness, beauty, and testimony of His creation.

I see Him through the lens of rest in SabbathOct 2015 004 sheep fields, the cares of the week floating away with the tumble of clouds and the quiet certainty that just as no one could mistake the artist in my pottery, so I cannot mistake my Creator in the gifts of peace and changing sky.

And I want to be a lens–that others might see Jesus, too.

Maybe you’re a Psalm 19 believer, too? Do you see His handprints through the lens of His creation? Do you want to be His lens to others?Sept 2015 055

Lord, thank You for this amazing creation that speaks of Your majesty. By Your grace, teach us how to be Your lenses that we might reflect, magnify, and illuminate the mystery of You to others.

No Limits

Recently I began cleaning out boxes of old photos, cards, and papers. There is such a painful sweetness about looking at little faces all grown up, the penciled “I luv u momy” scrawls and handmade birthday cards offering bike shows for a gift or “brekfast in bed.”Sept 2015 002

Moms are especially blessed in that our lives “pass before our eyes” every time we clean the house. The process sparks not only memories but evaluation–a chance to think, to confess, to address, to rejoice.

We sift through books, report cards, term papers, chore charts, prayer lists, and letters. We unfold a paper found on the floor and quietly tuck it into our son’s bookshelf when we see it’s a heartfelt letter to his girlfriend, not meant for our eyes.Sept 2015 118

We find beer bottles from an unauthorized party that occurred when we went on an anniversary trip and we discover how to pray more specifically for that child.

We sweep leaves off the trampoline after the Perseids meteor shower with our nature-minded son and order a new closet door after the skateboard went through it with our more impulsive son.

August 2015 115We file receipts from Easter shoes that prompted tears because they were black and shiny like our dog that died; and receipts from volleyball uniforms and slippery fabric for another daughter to wrestle on the sewing machine for her first boy-girl banquet.

The procession of mundane tasks in a mother’s life also fosters a closer look –who is this child? How is she made? What are his strengths? What is he afraid of? What are her weaknesses? How do we listen better to this one? How can we best pray for that one?August 2015 056

But this recent cleaning was different—a time travel back through decades—and I was privileged to find this poem written by one of our precious daughters many years ago as she stood at a crossroads wrestling with how much control to give God over her life.

It comes at a perfect time.

I like it because it’s honest and wise and cuts me to the quick. It highlights the stakes. It forces us ask ourselves how small a box we’re offering God in which to put our futures, when He has no such boundaries.

I can’t figure out how to format the poem properly but here it is, for the crossroads in all of our lives:14932_10151349341009214_1835112752_n

No Limits

I invited an artist to come to my house–“Paint me a picture,” I said. “Make it a field with flowers–Yellow, blue, and violet.” So he painted a field, just as I’d asked. And it was pretty.

I invited a chef to come to my house–“Cook me a dinner,” I said. “Make it a pasta with herbs–Parsley, basil, and thyme. So he cooked me a dinner, just as I’d asked. And it tasted good.

I invited God to come into my life–“Give me a future,” I said. “Make it a house with a family–husband, two kids, and a dog.” So he gave me a future, just as I’d asked. And it was nice.

My next-door-neighbor invited the artist to come to hiSept. 2015 076s house. “Paint me a picture,” he said. “Make it whatever you want–You are the master–I’ll just watch.”  So he painted a picture, as he saw fit. And it was breathtaking.

My next-door-neighbor invited the chef to come to his house. “Cook me a dinner,” he said. “Make it whatever you want–You are the master–I’ll just watch.” So he cooked a dinner, as he saw fit. And it was delicious.

My next-door-neighbor invited God to come into his life. “Give me a future,” he said. “Make it whatever you want–You are the master–I’ll just submit.” So he gave him a future, as He saw fit. And it was amazing.

OldCompBackup 038One day my neighbor invited me over for dinner. I looked at his painting. I ate his dinner. I evaluated his life. “I don’t get it,” I said. “I had the same artist, the same chef, the same God. Why is everything you have so much better?” 

And my neighbor just smiled and nodded his head. “The secret,” he said, “is no limits.”

 

And the Cattle on a Thousand Hills

What I know is I’m not good at waiting. What I know is when the cookies are baking, or the inning retires, or the little one sleeps, or the beans soak, I’m looking up houses online.

What I know is I’ve developed a sudden interest in geography—in streets I’ve never been down, in areas I pass when I drop off or pick up for school. And for each possibility I sit on the street or pull into the driveway if no one’s home and I say, Lord, is this the one?Aug 2015 EOS 027

Lord, is this the house that represents our fourth move in eight years, and do You think we can stay here longer this time?

In my mind I walk inside and say, Is this where we’ll sit on the couch during another Madeline movie and eat popcorn, or cuddle in the morning when the kids first wake up and don’t want to talk—just be wrapped in the sheep blanket with little woolies running over the brown hills?

I imagine which room might display the puppet jars, and paper shelves, anIMG_2195d the  Quartermaster’s Cabinet from WWI with all the drawers. Lord, is this where we’ll sit with the cousins, crayons, and cotton rag paper for a day of coloring and paint spills and fruit snacks?

Will we play on this lawn, Father God, and have squirt-gun fights, pick raspberries, and make ice-cream from heaven? Will we put chicken, onions, peaches, and beans in foil and throw it in the coals for a night of campfire stew?

Is this where Tim will make wine again, running up and down the basement stairs or into the garage with his little notebook to record specific gravity or add water to the mix?

IMG_2367Is this where we’ll drink wine, watch the sunset, open the blinds to the moonlight, and touch our bare feet together under the sheets?

Father God, I would love to have room for enough couches for Care Group to meet—the trill of guitar hymns sounding through the house and out the windows near the table or island or counter where the cookies, coffee, and tea are laid out.

Lord, do you think I could have chickens again?

And out of all the clamor and questions and changes of my mind, comes God’s still, small voice. It’s so gentle and patient, like a brush of His hand on my cheek, a lifting of my chin, a whisper to me to look in His eyes.IMG_2146

He reminds me that He is enough, that He knows all my needs and wants, that wherever He is, is home, whether or not it has couches, cupboards, raspberry bushes, or longevity, that He has far better gifts for me than I can imagine, that His grace is sufficient for me, even for waiting.

He reminds me that the foxes have holes but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head, and He didn’t spend a moment worrying about where to cuddle a little one to watch Madeline.

He reminds me that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, as well as the moonlight and AuOldCompBackup 3015rora Borealis that shine on them. He reminds me He owns all whom I love, and that He is mine and I am His, forever and ever and always.

Then I remember all He has promised me is also His desire for refugees fleeing homelands today with nothing but the clothes on their backs, waiting for boats or trains that never come, getting turned away from port after port, and having their children wash up dead on the waves.

And maybe my eyes need to see and my heart needs to grow.

He reminds me He is the One who gives His children peace that passes understanding, sleep without fear, and a future that is guaranteed.Sept. 2015 003

All we need to do is REST IN HIM.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart; and you shall find rest for your souls, for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28).

 

 

When You Need the Ear of God in the Fast Water

An elk bugled under a night sky spilled with stars like grains of sugar. My heart lifted. The next morning, I bowed my head under the firs by the creek to listen to the Lord, marveling at King David’s request in Psalm 31:

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed; Deliver me in Your righteousness. Bow down Your ear to me. Deliver me speedily; Be my rock of refuge…” (verses 1,2).Sept. 2015 016

Did you see that? “Bow down Your ear to me.”

What gave David the courage to make so daring a request?

I searched the creek for empty caddis fly casings for a mosaic wall. These marvels of engineering—tubular accretions of sand—protect the nymph in its larval stage when it crawls the creek bottom like a snail in a shell.

Discarded tubes were hard to find. The drought-depleted creek runs so slowly this year a thick layer of scum covers most of the creek bed.

Lord, flood me with the water of Your grace and joy. Wash away the scum of worry. Help me trust You for what I cannot see. Sept. 2015 045

Under a rough stone seven large caddis fly casings clustered—cemented to their rock of refuge to await next spring. Safe from enemies, they bathe in life-giving water in the deepest part of the creek where no scum grows, to survive summer’s drought.

The fast water.

I wedged the rock down again. The winter creek will run several feet above it, crashing and deadly, but the caddis flies will be safe. I can see the perfect analogy. But I’m afraid of the fast water.

Maybe you are, too?

I once had a ewe named Dolly who was scared of the fast water. Every spring, wSept. 2015 035hen her water bag broke and her lambs squeezed towards the outside world, she came to the barn and fell in the straw, faint with terror.

The other ewes dug holes for nests, murmured sweetly to their unborn lambs, and lay down to push, their bellies inflated like balloons. They licked and talked to their newborns, nudging them towards life-giving udders.

Not Dolly. As the wracking tremors crossed her belly, she’d head straight  into shock, eyes closed, ears growing cold, silent except for the grinding of her teeth, setting mine on edge. Every year it was the same story.OldCompBackup 1291

Bow down your ear to me. Deliver me speedily.

Often I had to pull her lambs out quickly, rip suffocating sacs away, rub the lambs
down, and swing them to clear their lungs of fluid, while Dolly’s eyes slowly glazed over.

A Vitamin B shot changed all that. In seconds, Dolly would lift her head. She’d stare at her babies, wobbly on their legs, hungry. She’d lick them excitedly, head to tail. She’d bawl loudly, announcing her victory as though she’d won Olympic Gold in the Birthing Event.

But after several years of emergency lambings, I had to give up on Dolly. And that’s the biting edge of my fear when I struggle with the same things over and over–that God will give up on me. Do you ever worry that way?

But God says, “I wAugust 2015 206ill never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

My shepherding was limited by resources, genetics, and stamina. But Jesus is the omnipotent Good Shepherd Who cares for us forever. It was David’s intimate knowledge of the character of God that gave him the courage to ask Him to bow down His ear.

“In You, O Lord, I put my trust.”

Spending time with God in His word and prayer builds that same intimacy and knowledge. With it, we defeat the enemy of our souls who knows how to tweak truth just enough to turn it into a lie, keeping our focus on our limiting weakness instead of God’s limitless power.

O Lord Who made the Milky Way, the bugling elk, and caddis fly, bow down Your ear to us. Be our Rock of Refuge where the water runs deep and fast, our Vitamin B to stand firm in trials. Lift our heads that we might focus on Your sufficiency, instead of our weaknesses.Sept. 2015 041

“Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord” (Psalm 31:24).

 

How to Make a Celebration Branch

Nehemiah had guts. As cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes during the Babylonian exile of the Jews, he was the king’s last defense between a poisoned drink and death. Every day Nehemiah’s life was at stake.August 2015 163 (2)

Every day required supernatural courage to perform his duties. And Nehemiah knew where to find it.

So when he went to Jerusalem and finished rebuilding the wall with the returned captives, he could hardly wait to share the book of the Law of Moses with the people. But when they heard it, they wept.

Nehemiah said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

It’s tempting to focus on weaknesses and dangers. But that’s like focusing the beam of a lighthouse so narrowly on the shoals, we can’t see the safe harbor just ahead.

Nehemiah reminds us to open our eyes to enjoy God, to share His gifts with others, and to rejoice because He has accomplished all His purposes. Our joy is in His sufficiency, and in that joy is our strength.April 2015 049

In keeping with Nehemiah’s instruction, here are info and directions for the Celebration Branch, as promised. The idea of a branch comes from Leviticus.

Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches, and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days.” (Leviticus 23:,40)

The people of Israel gathered branches to make shelters for the Feast of Booths,   a week-long Thanksgiving celebration after the harvest.

Our Celebration Branch is a little different. We hang a branch above our kitchen table, and decorate it to reflect times of thanksgiving and joy in our family year-around.August 2015 399

Examples:

To celebrate the arrival of a newborn, foster, or adopted child, hang photos, shoes, rattles, toys, words of welcome, etc. For an exchange student,  add welcomes in English and their native language, and brochures about places to share.

In Autumn, use artificial leaves, pencils, crayons, grades and photos of each school child and phrases about their hopes and dreams for the year.

At Thanksgiving, hang photos, drawings, or lists of things you’re grateful for, along with hand print or pine cone turkeys, strings of candy corn, etc.

The Celebration Branch is a perfect place for Jesse Tree,  Advent, or other traditional Christmas ornaments including candy canes, stars, evergreen sprigs, snowflakes, Nativity figures, or gold ribbon.Nov-Dec 2014 023 (2)

Small cards with Easter promises can dangle amongst fresh or artificial flowers such as forsythia and lilies, along with other symbols of new life such as eggs and chicks.

Birthday or baptism celebrations might include the photo of a child, interests, strengths, testimony, favorite things,  and other clues of how God has made them, such as small toys and books.

For summer vacation with the cousins, we hung crayon resist watercolors of flowers, frogs, and butterflies (See my post, “How to Make a Luscious Crayon Resist).

As you can see, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Here’s how to make your Celebration Branch:

  1. Take a walk in the wSept 2015 026oods and look for an interesting branch with lots of smaller twigs. Mine is a fir branch about five feet long, but yours can be longer or shorter as you desire.
  2. Remove leaves or needles from the branch and trim the side twigs until your branch is a pleasing shape.
  3. Hang the branch from your ceiling with several large eye hooks and strong string, making certain you screw at least some of the hooks through drywall into wood at each end so the branch can’t fall and hurt someone.
  4. Jazz up your branch with ribbon, bias-cut fabric, vines, lights, or glitter glue before you decorate it.
  5. Poke tiny holes in your decorations and hang them from your branch with light string or thread.
  6. Finally, friends, when you look at the branch, remember to rejoice in the God who gives you courage for each day, as He gave Nehemiah.

“Rejoice in all you11147035_10153285429579214_4948497860104946008_nr doings in which the Lord Your God has blessed you.” (Deuteronomy 12:7, The Fifth Book of the Law of Moses)

Getting Out of Broken Places

I tried to cry it all out the first day, Lord—the big decision, the pain of it hitting me harder than it ought, confused with other losses, making me feel small and broken and alone. I sat on the stairs in my barn boots and flannel shirt in the early morning stillness before the thermostat started the furnace. I didn’t even wake the dogs.August 2015 081

In the mirror I looked so like and so unlike myself.

Child woman, shivering.

I asked You why there’s this stabbing longing in my heart, this feeling there’s a person inside me who cannot get out, a woman there’s no room for? And You said, “Now we see in a mirror dimly; but then face to face.”

I repeated this to myself as the household wakened and the girls arrived–someday I’ll know why.

I wish now I’d gone right back to the Source to see what You were really saying in the dim of the stairwell. But I didn’t. Not then.

Instead, I berated myself for self-indulgence when there’s so much need in the world—families who don’t have stairs or boots or mirrors—families who would be grateful for just one sandwich to split up amongst themselves. This self-beating seemed deserved, but it wasn’t from You.Aug 2015 EOS 006

The second day I forgot to look for Your words again. I put on my big girl panties to get back to work. But self-talk and grinding away alone, all the while telling myself someday I’ll know why couldn’t lift me out of my brokenness.

So that day rolled over and squashed me, too. This wasn’t You, either.

On the third day, the sky hung gloomy, dark, and NOTHING—no rain or sun or wind or bird calls—just the feeling of waiting  so heavy over me. By then, I’d forgot all about seeing dimly in a mirror and understanding someday. I cried like I was falling, falling, and never going to fly again.

But I desperately wanted to be lifted up. So I did something I rarely do. And this was from You.

Though I was raised in a “don’t need nobody” home, I emailed a few folks about how I felt. Then I took the girls for a last-day-of-summer outing to the Children’s Museum where, away from the worry, we played, laughed, and wondered at Your amazing world.

When I checked my Aug 2015 EOS 040email later, people had sent love, encouragement, sympathy, empathy, sweet offers of help, and “ginourmous hugs.” Thank you to all of you. Though I felt embarrassed at sharing, you made me feel better. And this was God’s doing, too.

Then I searched the Bible for the mirror reference. You know what? It’s in the Love Chapter. 

I Corinthians 13 is about world-changing face-to-face love—one truthful confidence, one selfless kindness, one generous offer, one “ginormous hug” at a time. It’s about growing up to discern what lasts. It’s about the inclusive we instead of the self-sufficient me. It’s about how “Love never fails” even when we’re embarrassed.

Did you hear that? Love NEVER fails. That’s a 100% success rate.

And the promise isn’t about someday we’ll know the why of things–it’s about someday knowing the Who—this God who IS love, fully.Aug 2015 EOS 016

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 

(I Corinthians 13:12 NIV)

God already knows you and me fully because He created us. And if He made us, He also has made room for us. It may be we just have to learn to ask for help.

Someday we’ll see God face to face—our faces together with His. We’ll see Him in all His beauty, glory, and essence without vaporizing to particles. Like Job, we’ll realize our questions are profound as the color of toilet paper, our sorrows fleeting as grass.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4,5)

Lord,  You know me. You made the squeezing pump of my hearAug 2015 EOS 062t and the function of my tiniest cells.  You know my secret longings and prayers. Help me with my brokenness. Forgive me when I try to overcome the hard things alone.