looking beyond our own needs to meeting the needs of others

They sat on the front steps, next door, each with a cup of coffee in hand, comforting one another. It was a Sunday afternoon, and I learned later that the girlies next door had been too sick for church. So a tuned-in friend had stopped by and brought Church to their mama. Precious. 



But it's not just young moms that need encouragement. And it's not just same-age peers that can (or should) offer it.

What about the art students who came to the hospital room to assist their professor in making one more piece of art as he neared the end of his battle with cancer



The very-pregnant-herself friend delivering a meal to her new-mama friend? Or the turn around of the still-recovering-new-mama dropping off some fast-n-easy grocery items when it was finally her friend's turn to welcome a baby, even if she didn't have enough strength to double-cook a meal yet? 

And still, it's not just the new moms or families of those with terminal illnesses that need a meal. (Though they do.)

Maybe it's the sister who ran a weekend conference for a mission organization and went right back to work on Monday morning. 

Maybe you're the one that's embracing the unique blessings and challenges of staying at home while the kids are little. Your budget may be tighter in this two-income economy, but you know how to make things stretch, and you get a pajama day on random occasions. Ever thought about doubling that pot of soup for the friend who has her own family too but teaches full-time?

Or maybe you're the executive whose budget's not whimsical but is enough to go out to eat (even if it is out of schedule necessity) once or twice a week. Could you pick up a gift card for the friend who's homeschooling?

Sharing a meal or a gift card or a cup of coffee doesn't always have to be prompted by a major life event. It can just be a result of listening to the Holy Spirit's prompting, of opening our eyes and looking at life from someone else's vantage point. 

We can get pretty overwhelmed with our own needs sometimes. 

Recently I was putting a voice to my inner desires, not encouraging my husband as I queried, "Why can't someone meet my needs? Why doesn't anyone ever ask me if they can ... ?"

And my husband challenged me with the same idea. "I don't think that's how you should think," he stated simply. 


I sulked on the couch, rebuked, and read some more of Nancy Guthrie's Hoping for Something Better. Before long I was at her expose' of Hebrews 10:24,25 with its heading "Persevere By ... Encouraging One Another." 


"The body of Christ is made up of needy imperfect people..." (115).


"Who needs a word of encouragement today that you could uniquely give--that would mean something special because it came from you? Persevere in / encouraging others, even when--and perhaps especially when--you wish someone would encourage you" (I115-116).

The truth is, I read that bit above about "encouraging others, even when--and perhaps especially when--you wish someone would encourage you" (116), and my spirit reared up like a rebellious horse. "But I want...." 

Thankfully the Spirit's got His bridle on me. And I hushed, thought back to how Nancy Leigh DeMoss ends each day of her A 30-Day Walk with God in the Psalms with confession, supplication, and finally intercession....


"Intercession: Use this passage as a basis to pray for someone whom God places on your heart." 

Yep, she copy-pasted that same exact phrase every single day of the study. Thirty days in a row, she challenges me to look beyond my own needs (supplication) and to look to the needs of others (intercession). 

And having done that study in the aftermath of a miscarriage, it's precious to me to look back and see the names of the ones God did bring to my mind, the ones I prayed for, the ones whose trials and challenges helped me not drown in my own. 

And Alan's right. Getting lost in my own needs isn't the way I'm supposed to think. It isn't how Jesus thought. 

Wasn't it my needs that got Jesus through the cross? "For the joy that was set before Him, He endured..." (Hebrews 12:2)? For the good He knew He was accomplishing to meet our greatest need, He served even in His time of greatest suffering.

And so we lift our eyes to consider Him. And we start looking beyond our own needs to meeting the needs of others. 

When we're tempted to wonder or moan, "I wish someone would ... for me," that's precisely the moment we should override that thought with, "I wonder who could use a ... from me."

As we change our thinking to His thinking we pass grace along. We teach our kids to see this way too. 


  • To wash a car or rake some leaves or type an email with a ridiculous number of emoticons. 

  • To bake an extra loaf of bread ... or meatloaf ... and maybe some mac-n-cheese or mashed potoates and green beans.

  • To watch some kids, or read to someone who can't get out any more. 

  • To pray for someone else. To text or message or email them to let them know you prayed.

  • To write an old-fashioned, snail-mail note card in your own handwriting and put a stamp on it and raise the red flag.

  • To change sheets or set out pills or coordinate an appointment for an aging parent.

  • To change a diaper or cuddle or read a book to a child.


You may be surprised how in giving grace, grace is multiplied. 

Your work and labor of love does not go unnoticed by the Author of grace.

And somehow, almost miraculously, your needs are met too.

Try it. I'm trying it. And I'm loving it. :) 

Grace and peace,
multiplied,

michelle





cling to Christ. hold fast, hang on.

True confessions: I hadn't done my lesson for Bible study. Not that I feel any guilt. With an infant and a toddler in toe, having already packed lunches for two older kiddos and my husband, and (let's face it) everyone having appropriate attire on their beings--just sitting down at the round table for discussion at Ladies' Bible Study was a feeling of accomplishment. Baby steps. We'll get there. 

Thankfully, Hebrews is one of the books I enjoyed with my high school Bible Quiz team, so it's precious and familiar. 

We're studying Hebrews with Nancy Guthrie's Hoping for Something Better, which we're all loving!

Nancy Guthrie. Photo courtesy www.nancyguthrie.com.
  
Love the cover photo.
Who hasn't been guilty of biting into a chocolate and
"hoping for [caramel] something better
[than some strange goopy fruity filling]"? 

Hebrews is at once fascinating and challenging, awesome and eye-opening with all of its Old Testament allusions and quotations and types.

Nancy's last question for the study section on chapter 5 is, "What specific promise of God do you need to cling to this week? Where is this found in the Bible?"

My mind immediately shot to "a hope and a future ... I know the plans I have for you, saith the Lord." 

So, I was searching through Jeremiah. (My mommy brain remembered that much at least.) 

And I guess I was actually looking for Jeremiah 29:11, but ...

You know how sometimes a verse you've underlined previously just pops off the page?

Well, that's what Jeremiah 13:11 did that day. (And, no, I don't deserve any credit that they both happen to be verse 11. I just was fairly certain 29:11 was underlined or highlighted or something.) 

But it was providence. And I haven't been able to get 13:11 off my mind since.

"...so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory..."

One of the Bible study strategies I learned (with Bible Quiz, actually) was to take a passage and simply ask some basic comprehension questions. 

Who's talking? God. Well, okay, Jeremiah's quoting the LORD, Jehovah, God.

Who's He talking about? His chosen people, though divided into two kingdoms by this time: Israel, in the North; Judah, in the South. In fact, at this time in history, these nations were spiraling toward captivity because of their sinful choices. We get a glimpse at this in the end of the verse where He says, "but they would not listen."

What was His purpose? "that they might be for Me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory!" Wow! Awesome, right!?

And this is what was so interesting to me...

What was His means, or what was the way He chose to go about accomplishing that purpose? "so I made [them] cling to Me." 


This is the portion that really got me thinking:
"I made [them] cling to Me ... that they might be for Me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory." 

God wants to accomplish something so amazing in and through each of us. He's calling out a people for Himself. He's gathering a kingdom full of worshipers who will be called by His name to bring Him the praise and glory He deserves. He desires that not just for Israel and Judah but for all of us.

But so often the way He chooses to get us there is to take us down a path that makes us cling to Him. It's often the very thing that simultaneously is tempting you to high-tail it and run for the hills, to wash your hands of the whole matter and go your own way. It's often the hard things that make you wonder if He loves you, if He knows, if He cares, why He didn't intervene.

What is it that God is doing in your life right now that's making you cling to Him? It's just like our God to intertwine human choice with His sovereign purposes. You have a choice to make right now. Will you allow what's darkest in your life right now to be the impetus for you to cling tighter? 

Borgianni's Christ in the Garden

Like Borgianni's Christ in the Garden, will you allow the dark parts to be intricate and complex and important but also and most importantly to stand in stark contrast and draw attention to Christ and what He's done and doing for us? For Borgianni's piece to be effective, it had to be largely a dark piece. But notice how the dark is obscured by the main point, what the light is shining on. Are you willing to allow God to paint a masterpiece with your life, even if He chooses to draw attention to Himself by allowing the composition to have large amounts of dark paint in it? Thoughts worth pondering. Questions worth asking. 

And in all of it, no matter what,   

Cling to Christ. 

Hold fast, hang on. 

As it says in Hebrews 10, 
"Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith ... 
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
"And let us consider one another how to stir up one another to love and good works ... meet[ing] together ... encouraging one another ... all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
Cling to Christ, dear sister. Do not drift away, but draw closer. "Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer..."

Hold fast. Hope. He is faithful. 

Remember what God desires for you: "a future and a hope" ... "a people, a name, a praise, and a glory."

And let's encourage one another more and more. That Day is coming.

Hold fast. Hang on. 

Believe. 

Love. 

And let that faith and hope and love turn into action steps--good works. They certainly don't earn us salvation, but they unarguably flow out the good work He is doing in us. 

I love you, dear sister. And I most definitely need your encouragements along the way. So today, allow me to encourage you:

Cling to Christ. Hold fast, hang on. 

"And may this journey bring a blessing."

Grace and peace, 
with love, 

michelle

"i'm gonna [write] when the Spirit says [write]..."

"Sometimes I just don't know what I'm supposed to do. Am I supposed to get involved? Am I supposed to talk to that person? Am I supposed to just pray?" I poured out the questions as a sister-in-Christ and I shared burdens. 

"I know." She had recently asked the same questions of her husband, a deacon, who gave her this counsel: 

"All I know is we need to be listening for the Spirit, and when He speaks, we need to obey. Immediately."


Now that we've crossed the three month mark with baby, I feel like I'm beginning to re-approach humanhood. A little more sleep, a little longer stretches between feedings ... And one of the ways I know I'm doing a little better is when I start singing. If it's been a long time since I burst into spontaneous song ... 

and I don't mean our rendition of Richard Simmon's Sweatin' to the Oldies: "It's my [diaper] and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to. You would cry, too, if it happened to you." Though I sing that one frequently to get us through the part of parenting that literally stinks. It puts a smile on me and my kids' faces. 

But I mean really singing. Songs of prayer and petition. Songs of praise and thanksgiving. Communion with God from my heart. 

Today, following the above mentioned song, a spiritual came to mind ... and we had fun with it. 

"I'm gonna sing when the Spirit says, 'Sing!' ... and obey the Spirit of the LORD."

Well, "I'm gonna sing" progressed to 

"I'm gonna pray ... 

to

"I'm gonna write when the Spirit says, 'Write.'"

And recently, I've been hearing that whisper more and more. 

So, the hiatus didn't last as long as I thought it might. 

And I'm still not promising more than this, 

"I'm gonna write when the Spirit says, 'Write!' ... and obey the Spirit of the LORD!"

Sometimes that writing will be here. Sometimes elsewhere. 

Sometimes it'll published with the click of a button. 

Other times, it may be a while ... or never.

But this much I resolve, 

To obey the Spirit of the LORD.

I appreciate your prayers for grace and obedience. 

Grace and peace with love to you, 

michelle


What has the Spirit been telling you recently? Are you obeying?

a personal hiatus



Sometimes it's just as my mind is fully engaged in conjuring up more business (perhaps better busy-ness) for myself, figuring out more ways to do and create and supplement, something almost ironic happens: either by His Spirit or one of His servants (often both), God says, "Slow down. Focus on Me." 

My last post was the beginning of this. Since then, God has reiterated His message to me, His work of pruning for this season. And I am in the midst of simplifying, decluttering. Not stuff so much this time, but activities. Not because these things are bad, but because I am sensing very clearly by His Spirit (and having it confirmed by my "multitude of counselors") that right now this is what God wants for me. This is what is good for this time. 

I've just had a baby. We have three growing boys. And my husband is working on his dissertation for a PhD in New Testament Interpretation. Pause. Wouldn't those three sentences giving most thinking women pause? Maybe, if they're not type A over-goalers. 

Now, for some of you, the season is to create--to write, to paint, to compose. This is not a do-as-I-do. This is not something I think everyone must do to be spiritual, even if your life circumstances were to mirror mine stated above. This is a personal decision between me and God and my family. 

I do still plan to write. But it's going to take the voice and hand of God to speak and move for those things to be published. For now, my writing will be in journals and the margins of books. And I do still plan to tutor/substitute for those that I'm currently contracted with, for as long as the Lord allows. 

I do not know how long this hiatus will last. Tentatively, until Alan finishes his dissertation. That seems like a reasonable expectation. But I don't know what God will do during this time, and yet I am sincerely looking forward to this time of investing in my relationship with Him and with my family in a more intentional and focused way. 

All that to say, I don't plan to be blogging during this personal hiatus. 

At the same time, I still love those of you who read and care about what I write. And I want you to know that I am still available to you on a personal level. You can reach me by email. (Not everything can be eliminated. I am not going monk on you.) 

So feel free to drop a line or send a question to me at this address: michelle AT vineandshoots.com.

Until we meet again, keep growing and know that I wish you 
grace and peace,
with so much love, 

michelle

pruning to increase fruitfulness

I was gripped by the thought from John 15 in Sunday school this morning that God's pruning to expand fruitfulness is often not merely a cutting off of dead branches, wicked deeds, sinful stuff in our lives; 

but it also includes a pruning of good branches that are just too many or growing in a way that would inhibit more growth other places or overall

And the take-away question for me: 

What has God pruned from my life or does He want to prune to increase fruitfulness for His kingdom? What (even good) thing is getting in the way of greater growth? 

Hm. 

Just what I'm meditating on today. 

Feel free to join the conversation with comments below. 

Grace and peace, 
michelle

kassia and a farewell kiss to summer

It's hard to believe nearly a month of summer has evaporated since last I wrote. 

That tall glass of sweet tea we call summer is nearly empty; just a few more swallows and the only thing remaining will be the condensation on the outside of the proverbial glass. 

This summer was like none before it. We name our summers around here. And we've had the summer of the grasshoppers, the summer of the okra, etc. This summer was the summer of the baby.

We got in a few swims, but as the temps rose and my belly stretched, I just didn't have that confidence that I could really rescue one of the boys if the need arose. And though I swam up into the seventh month of pregnancy, the laps decreased from my regular mile swim down to a handful of laps and a few stretches in the shallow end. Then finally, I sipped flavor infused ice water in the shade while the three boys played slip and slide in the backyard. 

The boys biked while Alan ran along the Swamp Rabbit Trail. They're growing up, going farther, giving Alan a pretty good workout. And they worked alongside him--even Mark--as Alan became my backyard hero, conquered the honeysuckle and pokeweed and who-knows-what-else vines in the backyard, then transformed his 99 Dodge caravan into the pick-up it should've been, loaded up more-than-he-cared-to-count trips of mulch from the Schneider tree people's free-to-the-community pile, and let me dream up the rest of what we'll plant come fall (or next spring, or the following fall). And then he took on the paint project--a shed and the cinder block building that's trying desperately to turn into a study space. For me, it was the summer of the baby; for the guys, they may well have dubbed it the summer of sweat.

Then late July we welcomed that sweet fragrance of a newborn--this time a girl. Kassia Jane (beautiful fragrance, beloved). And we do love her ... so much!

Praise the Lord for a safe delivery, albeit three weeks early by planned C-section, thanks to the uterine rupture of my last delivery. But all is well. The boys adore their little sister. I can't say I mind hearing, "Mommy, I washed my hands; can I hold her?" umpteen times a day. And my recovery has gone very smoothly, much helped by the generous labors of my mom and other family and friends who have chipped in with meals ... and even laundry. 

Yep, even laundry. The bearings on our washing machine went out just as we were arriving home with baby. That was just one of the many "series of unfortunate events" that took place over the first three weeks of being home. Very thankful we had decided (for the first time ever) for him to take some paternity leave. But so much for snuggling with baby while I slept and he wrote his dissertation. (A pregnant woman obviously dreamed that crazy utopia up.) Still he was a good sport. We all learned a few handy things. And I love my new Whirlpool washer and dryer.

In the midst of all this, I have seen God's providential faithfulness and great kindness. During this same time period, I have wept with those who have had much more consequential loss than household amenities--friends who have lost family members in a tragic bus crash; I read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, opening up the reality of life in war-torn Afghanistan over the last three decades, the life of many women trapped in the cultural/religious bondage of Islam. And I think, my problems are not really problems, not in the grand scheme of things. And I meditate on how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just for times of peace and prosperity, how it meets the need in every culture, in every time of tribulation, for every single one of us ... if we will but yield to His truth and love. 

His truth/faithfulness and love/mercy have kissed one another. And it's a good marriage. In every season. 

And then it was the last weekend before school started. That last sip of sweet tea before the ice cubes clank in the bottom of the glass. And I'll write about that later--this last weekend. For now, I need to go enjoy it ... and that baby girl. :) 

Hope you enjoy your last sip of summer too.

Grace and peace, 
with love,

michelle



a true missionary spirit, a need for stirring up one another ... from anne judson, in The Three Mrs. Judsons

Before we were married, Alan gave me a recommended and now beloved biography of The Three Mrs. Judsons, by Arabella Stuart. 

As I was preparing for the last Women for Missions that I will serve as President for, in which our speaker was a dear friend who is moving back from China for her husband to train as the director of their mission agency here in the States, this passage was recalled to mind, and I shared it as part of my introduction of our speaker. 

"The person and manners of Mrs. Judson at this time, were, according to the testimony of some who well recollect her, engaging and attractive in no common degree. Her sweet and ready smile, her dark expressive eye, the animation and sprightliness of her conversation, and her refined taste and manners, made her a favorite in all circles...."

My friend has this charismatic, engaging personality that endears her to all she meets, and I pray God will use her as He used Anne during her time in the States, even though their circumstantial reasons for being in the States are very different. (Anne was home on furlough without Adoniram for some rest and restoration of her own health.) 

"After a stay of six weeks with her parents ... [Anne] had a pleasant journey to [Baltimore], stopping one day with friends in New York.... From her letters written about this time we proceed to give some extracts.

"'My journey to this place was pleasant, though fatiguing.  I passed one night in New York, and spent a most pleasant evening in the society of a large party of good people who were collected for the purpose of prayer. Many fervent petitions were presented in behalf of the perishing Burmans, and the little church established in that country. It was an evening to me full of interest...."

I encouraged our ladies with the ministry of encouragement we can have as we gather together to listen to and to pray for our missionaries and the works God has given them. Though I am transitioning out of the role of President for this season, I am so thankful to be able to continue on as our WFM Communications Coordinator. 

Anne went on to write, "How much of heaven might Christians enjoy even here on earth if they would keep in view what ought to be their great object in life. If they would but make the enjoyment of God their main pursuit, how much more consistent their profession would be with their conduct, how much more useful their lives and how much more rapidly they would ripen for eternal glory.

Anne felt that "Christians do not sufficiently assist one another in their spiritual walk. They are not enough in the habit of conversing familiarly and affectionately on the state of each others' souls, and kindly encouraging each other to persevere and get near to heaven. One degree of grace attained in this world, is worth more than every earthly enjoyment."

And I am so thankful for the emphasis my own pastors have placed on this particular need among believers in our own local church.

"I ought to mention," Anne continues, "that I found much of the true missionary spirit existing in New York.

"I began this letter some days ago, but a violent cold has prevented my finishing it. I am very thankful that I am no farther north than Baltimore, for I feel confident the cold would soon destroy me. I have not been out of the house since I arrived, and hardly out of my chamber. My health is certainly better than when I left Boston, though I have a heavy cold and some cough."
And I appreciate her transparency.

"What can be done," she asks in her conclusion, "to excite a missionary spirit in this country?" 

Still a good question.


"I dare not engage in the subject till I am better. It would take up my whole soul, and [slow] my recovery. A little while, and we are in eternity; before we find ourselves there, let us do much for Christ."

And, oh, how I pray that God will give us strength to reignite the missionary spirit in our own hearts, in our local assemblies, in this country. And that we would "do much for Christ" in this present hour.

Grace,

michelle


Your turn: 

What inspires you toward missions activity? What helps you to pray for those who are engaged in a full-time while with international missions? I'd love to hear... 


falafel: Israel's national snack ... and one of our family's favorite suppers

A few pix of our recent falafel dinner--my current favorite thing to do with chickpeas/garbanzo beans. 

Some meals are hard to wait for until everyone gets to the table.



Falafel on a whole wheat wrap with lettuce and homemade tzatziki
(tzatziki: plain yogurt with dill, garlic, and salt-awakened cucumber)
Brotherly lovin' this meal
Fresh from the back yard--forever bloom hydrangeas--
the perfect arrangement for this fresh summer meal.

I found this article very informative regarding tzatziki-type sauces: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/26/health/nutrition/26recipehealth.html?_r=1&

And, here's a recipe with several variations for falafel: http://theshiksa.com/2011/01/05/falafel/

My recipe was on the back of a postcard my husband brought back from his study tour in Israel. 


It was a fairly simple mix of chickpeas, coriander, garlic, cumin, and cayenne, with salt and flour. Some recipes call for eggs, lemon juice, and/or extra exotic spices. So know that it's like hamburgers here in the States: you can do just about anything as long as the basics are there. 




pregnant brain, grateful heart

When my husband accidentally put on the pastor's suit jacket and walked all the way to the other side of the church campus to pick up our youngest son from nursery only to return and realize his error, another friend teased that it sounded like "pregnant brain." That hit fairly close to home for Alan because these days he knows just exactly how pathetic that can be. 

I'm honestly convinced that pregnant brain as well as several other common pregnancy symptoms are corollaries of sleep deprivation. We need so much extra sleep with a  little person growing inside of our womb, but so often we don't get it.  

I say all that to say, at thirty four weeks, I haven't written much recently beyond a handful of fb posts. It's not that I haven't had ideas of things I really want to write about, but more that I can't seem to follow those ideas through to a coherent post. 

But I thought it would be good to at least share a few grace notes, things that have accented the symphony of this pregnancy with sweetness that I savor, ideas that may be helpful as you seek to give grace to those in your circle that are expecting or young moms.


  • Lunch with other ladies at the same life stage. This past week I enjoyed sharing lunch at Atlanta Bread Company with four other ladies in our local church that are expecting in July/August. Three toddlers joined us around our belly-crowded tables, and my two older boys sat in the comfy chairs over by the silent fireplace, gobbling up their soup and sandwich while devouring their recent purchases from Mr. K's Used Books. That was a treat for them--because they're usually not allowed to have books anywhere near food. And it was a grace for us--because we could talk openly about mommy stuff without any worries. It also apparently gave some of the ladies a bit of a glimpse into their own futures as they look beyond the infant and toddler years. Of course, with all five of us being pregnant, no one thought to snap a picture. Guess we'll just have to do that again! We are all seriously looking forward to our time together in the mothers' room at church, caring for our babies and caring for one another's souls. 


  • How does KFC sound for supper? Honestly, it didn't sound all that great to me, except that I knew the man and three little men would by taken care of without any effort from me, and that sounded great. I just have too many aversions to food during pregnancy (vs. cravings). But looking forward to not cooking supper, I accepted, and was grateful it actually tasted really good to me too. The dear woman who dropped off this meal for us chose the boneless chicken--definitely my favorite of all the KFC I've had--and I've had some--over the years. Except maybe the chicken pot pie. True confession: I love chicken pot pie. 

 


  • Could I pick up the boys for dinner and a movie? Are you serious!? Just the older two, right? Well, I was thinking all three, so you could rest. They enjoyed a recent release of Pilgrim's Progress and a special supper. And I put my feet up ... and then enjoyed an impromptu date night at Pita Pit. The falafal pita with all those veggie toppings and an extra cupful of tzatziki was phenomenal. It also inspired some homemade falafal, which I'll share in a subsequent post. Mmm. So maybe I have had a few crazy cravings this pregnancy. 



  • "Every child deserves to be celebrated," Jenny said over a cup of Starbucks as she convinced me to let her shower baby girl with pink. I've never gone to second showers. But my sweet friend really wanted to show love to our family this way as we welcome a little girl after three boys, so I agreed. "As long as it's small." And I jotted down a list of names from our church of ladies who have shown an express interest in me and my family, and Jenny went to work. We had such a sweet time together, enjoying cupcakes and coffee, white chocolate m&m's, nuts, and a perfect pink sherbet punch. I loved the time around the living room and all the thoughtful items these dear ladies showered us with pink--from wipes to clothes to cute little hairbows. This little girl is all set. And I think I have changed my mind on second showers, "as long as it's small." 

  • Nesting has set in. The shower was Friday night, and on Saturday, I sorted the clothes into sizes and set to organizing. I am so thankful for my boys' cheerful work on my long nesting day. They were thrilled with the Lego set and TV/computer time points they received as a reward. (Yes, we have our kids earn their TV/computer time through exercise and various chores.)




  • And then my sister came over ... Such a sweet blessing to sit and talk and sort and look forward to this baby together. She helped shove furniture items around, getting the kids' rooms situated as boys' room and girl's room.


  • ... and when she left, she took laundry with her. The first two stacks of NB and 0-3 along with a baby laundry detergent bottle went home with my sister to wash. What a huge blessing!



  • And he said "thank you." Throughout this time, the Lord has helped me to really focus on being a keeper at  home. This is my last week of tutoring until after baby--honestly, a bitter-sweet time, as I'm really enjoying my students, though I'm thankful that I'll get to work with most of them again in the fall. One of my clients trades for cleaning. While her daughter and I get excited about conquering math, she conquers my windows or bathroom or dishes. Her help has been such a sweet encouragement to me to stay on top of my housework for the glory of God. And it really has motivated me to get as much of the regular stuff done as possible so she can do the stuff I can't do so easily right now--or (frankly) the stuff I don't so much care to do but would like to get done. And as the juggling gets better and better--even though I still frequently drop a few balls here and there--the family has noticed. My husband has noticed. And his "thank you because while I've been focusing on spending time with the kids and with you and working and working on this dissertation, I haven't been able to help as much, but you've done a great job, and I really appreciate it" means the world to me.

Falls Park Study Break. (c) 2013. 
These are a few of my grace notes. 

And as I look forward to holding baby girl in my arms in just a couple more weeks (they're making sure she comes early), I also look back over this pregnancy and am thankful for the beautiful symphony and its various movements and the chord progressions --and I'm waxing metaphoric and need to quit. 

And I am thankful. 

Continued grace and peace, 
with love, 

michelle


embracing those who struggle ... and a recommendation for Marcia Webb's "Toward a Theology of Mental Illness"


Yesterday at a funeral for a former student, who for time--temporarily--lost the battle with cancer but who for eternity--forever--embraced the welcome of Jesus, Pastor Dan Brooks of Heritage Bible Church spoke on the death of Lazarus. He pointed out Jesus' great love and intentional working to bring mourners to belief. 
One of the outstanding pieces of truth Pastor Brooks shared was this: 
We so often ask Jesus to write a story of healing and happily ever after, like the disciples and sisters of Lazarus. But sometimes He doesn't write it the way we had hoped. That's only because He is writing a way more amazing story than we can ever dream of. The crises are greater than we wanted to deal with. And the climaxes don't come at the expected times--sometimes they come way earlier and hit way harder; other times, they seem delayed. Yet He writes. And His story, in the end, is worth the struggle of reading ... of living through ... because He is God. He is the Author, and we can trust where He's going. 

Certain struggles are fought together, the Body of Christ embracing the sufferer. Others, though, in our conservative Christian culture, are too often ignored, misunderstood, shut out, or even demonized. 

I just finished reading "Toward a Theology of Mental Illness" by Marcia Webb, and I am convinced that we as Christians--and perhaps especially as conservative Christians--need to read and digest this information, making necessary changes to our conceptualization and response to those of our brothers and sisters "in Christ" who are legitimately struggling--and I use that word intentionally, not lightly, because it is an ongoing struggle--with mental illness.
Dr. Marcia Webb,
photo courtesy of SPU

Seattle Pacific University's Marcia Webb (MDiv & PhD) brings together a personal relationship with Jesus (our suffering Savior), a professional background in psychotherapy, and an amazing amount of research in both history and the Word, to present HOPE to those in our Christian communities who are truly suffering through the agonizing journey of mental illness. 


If mentally ill persons find themselves estranged--abandoned by the community around them, distressed, and struggling with their God--perhaps the Scriptural testimony is that in this estrangement they are, paradoxically, not alone. In the person of Christ, God has taken a seat with the estranged. Christ is, for the mentally ill person, and for all of humanity, truly Immanuel, "God with us" (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). (page 65)

Please take the time to read Marcia's lecture. It is just under 70 pages, so it will take a bit of time. But it is worth our time and consideration. Pray through the passages and determine to understand with an earnest desire toward exercising grace one to another within the Church. 

(I will note that I would like to see a clearer stand on creationism, and a passing reference to Muslim/imams seems like it broadens the scope to religious beyond Christian at a couple of brief points. But, though important, for this topic, they are perhaps more like the couple of pieces of coffee grounds that can be left at the bottom of a cup of coffee that you have to admit is phenomenal.)

Then let us embrace our brothers and sisters along their purposeful journey through which they are agonizing. 

I have no doubt that we have much to learn from those who are struggling. After all, there is a link between those who are highly gifted and those who struggle with mental illness. 
And, after all, we are as the Body of Christ to be intricately connecting, growing together, sharing in one another's burdens, for His glory. 



I would love to hear your feedback on Marcia's lecture once you've read through it. 

Grace and peace, 
with love, 


michelle

pen-dropping providence: seeing God in the small things

It was one of those times when I was so tempted just to leave the shopping cart out in the parking lot to be blown by the wind into someone else's car. And I just might have ... except that the toddler was crying, "Boo pen, boo pen." 

I had given him a blue pen to draw on the Hepatitis A Vaccine Info Sheet we'd gotten at the doctor's office the other day, that vaccine that he accepted without even crying ... and then gave the nurse a hug. And he had just entertained himself quite nicely writing his name or some chicken scratch that he claimed was his name while I finished shopping and checked out. 

So I unloaded the cart, locked the van, and went back to return the cart and retrieve the "boo pen." 

Just as I got to the entrance of the store and picked up the blue pen, I turned around to see a dear grieving sister in Christ who has just recently lost her brother through a traumatic turn of events. She and her mom were headed in to find a suitable black dress for the funeral this weekend. I hadn't seen her in ages. I'd heard of her family's heartache though, and I've been praying. But that greeting, those hugs--they were providential. 

I turned to pick the toddler up out of the cart, and looked in his glad-to-have-his-pen-back eyes, and said, "You know, buddy, sometimes when you drop your pen, it's because of God."

So often, we think of little things as just that, little things. Or worse, we see a dropped pen as an inconvenience or even an evil. We do well to remind ourselves that even those little things are part of God's plan. 

And we do well to keep our eyes open throughout our day, to see which sister needs a hug, which toddler needs his nose wiped, which middle schooler needs math explained, which unbeliever needs the love of Jesus .... 

We do well to give credit where credit is due. God is not just the God of the big things. He's big enough to be God of the small things too. 

What small thing have you seen God providentially work through recently?

Grace and peace, 
with love, 

michelle

life touching life: not fast, but deep


Mint and chamomile infused water
and homemade whole wheat bread
with rosemary and garlic
(c) vineandshoots

Earlier this week, a dear friend brought me two beautiful plants of mint. She uses the leaves to flavor her drinking water, admitting that she rarely takes the time to make hot tea with it. And it got me thinking. 

You know the old tea bag illustration: be careful what's inside because when the temp gets turned up, what's inside will come out. 

Well, it's not just hot water that draws out the contents of a tea bag. Sometimes it's time. 

Try it. Stick an herbal tea bag in your drinking water. Or throw in a piece of mint. The flavor infusion won't be immediate, but it will happen in time. 

This morning I was privileged to attend a "Celebrate Moms" event at Hampton Park Baptist Church. Our speaker for the occassion was business professional and pastor's wife Vicki Peek of Grace Baptist Fellowship (a sister church here in the Upstate). God opened our hearts to hear His message of life touching life as Vicki spoke about the importance of reaching beyond ourselves into others life in an intentional and relational manner. 

"Life on life impacts is sourced in the Holy Spirit."

We have to remember where the power and effectiveness comes from. This worthy walk that Jesus called us to is not one that we can fake or make up on our own. No, effective Christian living, just like true salvation, is a gift from God that we embrace.

Vicki challenged us to look outside ourselves, into our communities.

"Broaden your circle. Don't close your circle; keep it open."

Look across the generational lines--both directions. We almost naturally think of ministering to those younger than ourselves, but we shouldn't negate the possibility that God could use us to encourage someone older than us too. 

"And it's not just the big things." 

We must be "intentional" about living the Christian life, but we must also realize that "much of the impact is indirect, rather than direct." It comes when we're just serving Jesus and others see and are encouraged to glorify God. Sounds like Matthew 5:16, right? 

"Let your light so shine among men so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which in Heaven."

Her final point, and the one that links in with the infused tea in even cold water illustration above, is that this kind of living is "relational." 

"Not fast, but deep."

It takes place over time, sometimes over a very long period of time.

"One life at a time."

Who's life is your walk with God impacting today? Who lives with you? What are you infusing into their lives? 

This is a challenge that steeps strong. God's been working its intense flavor into my heart this week. 

With Mother's Day tomorrow, it's gotten me thinking about the impact of a mom on her kids. There are times when I am very aware that that particular thought or opinion or way of doing something came from my mom. In the end, I'm sure her life has impacted mine way more than I even realize. 

The question then is raised: How am I impacting my kids? What's their cup of life being flavored with? Mint and chamomile--calming and refreshing? Or ... ?  

But it doesn't stop there. Going back to the cross-generational idea, I know my kids have impacted my life too. I think tomorrow, instead of just letting them pamper me, I'm going to figure out how to tell them what a joy it is to be their mom, how much they teach me, how much I love them back.

Still further, it's not just familial in a biological sense. Who else does my life intersect? Whose life do I touch? Who touches my life? How are we impacting one another for mutual growth in the grace and knowledge of God? Who are we encouraging to glorify God?

Thoughts to think on, I know. Believe me, I know. But even more importantly, these are thoughts to act on. I'm glad we're in this together. Let's keep stiving to live our lives reaching out to others for the glory of God, remembering that the starting point is a real and growing relationship with God Himself. Thank you for impacting my life, too, as you make comments and stay in touch in a variety of ways. I love hearing from you.

Happy Mother's Day! 


Grace and peace, 
with love, 

michelle

the parable of the talents ... and a book review: unleash the writer within, by cec murphey

Don't you love it when God orchestrates the timing of multiple messages and/or songs and/or conversations toward a synchronized theme? 

This week my heart was prepping for the SS lesson for our 2nd grade class on "The Parable of the Talents" in Matthew 25:14-30. Then Saturday afternoon, I picked up where I'd left off in Unleash the Writer Withinand--wouldn't you know it--Cec used that parable to make a point about overcoming fear and the cessation of excuse making in our writing careers. He lists a bunch of excuses or fears and admits they're illogical. But "fear doesn't recognize logic ... doesn't know how to listen to reason." That's certainly true of the third steward in the parable: I've always thought, his excuse for burying the talent doesn't really make sense. After talking through the passage with our second grade class and making application for them, it was my turn (again) to hear it preached back to me. In our morning service for the InnerCity Ministry at HP, the Gospel series we've been working through came to "The Gospel and Stewardship," and this morning's speaker ended up highlighting that same parable, his points being (1) to acknowledge the Giver of all gifts as God, (2) to identify the gifts He's given, and (3) to then use those gifts passionately for His glory.




As I've thought through my review of Cecil Murphey's Unleash the Writer Within, I have come to apply this parable. God gives to each of us gifts in varying degrees. To some five talents, to some two, to others one. It's really not ours to compare what we've been given, just to faithfully fulfill our God-given purpose with passion. I think Cec does this. 



I picked Unleash the Writer Within up at a recent writer's conference where Cec was the keynote. He was wonderful. So humble, and so full of so many stories. And it was recommended by a trusted friend.  

Honestly, there are other books on writing that I've connected with to a greater degree, such as Roger Rosenblatt's Unless It Moves the Human Heart. But Cec puts himself out there on the page and is honest; I appreciate that. His experience is vast. His perspective valid. Mine may not be the same--experience or perspective. But he's someone I can learn from.

Here are some of the BIG THINGS that I really appreciated about Cec's book: 


  • The encouragement to be authentic and transparent, to enjoy being who God made you to be.
  • The advice to ignore the inner critic until everything's out on the page, and then to let him go at it as you edit, to "write creatively" first, and then to "edit analytically." 
  • The importance of training and hard work at developing the gift of writing. 
  • The idea of clear writing: "For excellence in writing, your words on paper need to sound as if you're having a simple, direct conversation with the reader."
  • The practical suggestion to use exercise as a means of clearing your mind and prepping to write. Cec is a runner. I swim. 
  • The importance of prayer throughout the journey. 
  • The conviction of knowing what you're supposed to write and being committed to writing what God wants you to ... and not writing "until you're assured of what you're supposed to do."
  • The humility of an author who's written, co-authored, or collaborated on over a hundred books and even more articles ... who is able to say "I'm still learning." 
  • The suggestion that when he finds an author he enjoys, he makes it a point to "search for everything that person has written" and then to "start with the earliest-written book. It amazes me," he says, " to observe the growth of the writer from book to book, especially after the first."

Were there things that I disagreed with or did not find helpful? Sure. But, taking Cecil's advice, I've chosen to give what he calls an "appreciative evaluation" because as I think you'll agree, the list of pro's above far surpasses any con's. And I'm willing to admit that I'm still learning too. 

Dear Mr. Murphey, if you ever read this, thank you for writing your book and for passing on your insights and passions to the next generation of writers. I love your heart and am so glad I got to hear you speak at Write2Ignite 2013.

For each of us, let's be diligent to THIS WEEK use the talents God has given us ... with PASSION.

Grace, 

michelle

If you've read a great book on writing, I'd love to know the title and one reason why the book connected with you. For example, the friend who recommended Unleash the Writer Within said that this book freed her to take a hiatus from writing until it was the right time for her to write again.