digging ditches, dirty dishes, and discipleship: a reminder that God works wonders in the (seemingly) random, ridiculous, and repetitious things He calls us to

It was a parent-swap-taking-care-of-sick-kids/going-to-service kind of Sunday. Alan stayed home in the morning, and I in the evening. But that meant I got to hear Pastor Andrew Henderson (candidate for Discipleship Pastor) preach twice (SS and AM service) and get some refreshing fellowship before holding up the fort for the night. 

Bold-roast truths--of the necessity of the church being identified by love and a culture of discipleship--were fresh-ground, steeping in my soul. Rehearsing the sermons to Alan was something akin to rightly timed, slow, smooth French-press coffee pouring into our cups. 

"Discipleship is investing ourselves in others so that they come to know Christ and become more and more like Him."

"We're all in process!" 
And "we're all part of the process!" 

And those twin truths set at ease my bipolar dichotomy of feeling like "Here, let me help you!" and "Ah! I need help!" "We're all in process" and "We're all part of the process" unifies those "helper" vs. "hairy" moments. Because the reality is, there are those I need to be coming alongside and discipling; and I need others coming alongside me, discipling me.

After lunch and some family time, Alan left for the Q&A with Andy. And I set about to tackling dishes, setting up one child to listen to Andy's morning message already uploaded to sermonaudio.com, and stealing away for some quiet reading while the little two still slept. 

And I actually finished chapter 7, "The Means of Providence," in Dr. Layton Talbert's phenomenal Not by Chance: Learning to Trust a Sovereign God

One of the things I love about this book is how the Lord has already begun a work in my heart through so many of the passages that Dr. Talbert addresses. As if making homemade bread, God has stirred together the ingredients and kneaded truth into my life experience, then let it rest and rise for a certain amount of time before working it again. 

  • In chapter 2, Talbert did some extensive working through Psalm 104, which is the focus text for my second Bible study book No Matter What (the one with the upside-down turtle on the cover). 
  • And then, here, in chapter 7, he quotes Cowper's "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" (a precious balm God used specifically after our miscarriage); 
  • and several of the scenarios he covers are from the first part of 2 Kings, passages I worked through for my historical novel Voice of a Servant, which tells the story of Naaman and its surrounding passages through 3 VP characters (Cassia, the little maid from Israel; Marcus, Naaman's attendant; and, of course, Gehazi, servant to Elisha). I really can't wait to share this story with you, but...

All that to say, God's worked me over on these truths before. They're not necessarily new concepts. But ... they're needful, and so helpful, to rehearse (again). 

So that you can read what I read, here are two quotes (and the underlining is mine): 

2 Kings 3:9-20. "The kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom faced a severe situation. Having joined together to put down the rebellion of Moab, their forces faced an impending battle in the midst of a drought that threatened man and beast. Elisha was called on to inquire of the Lord for them. Through him, God directed them to dig ditches through the valley--a seemingly pointless task in the dry dirt. What a foolish thing to do, wasting their precious energies and resources on such an absurd exercise...of faith. But the next day 'there came water by the way of Edom,' apparently from the nearby mountains. Drought problem solved!"...He used those same ditches to solve their battle problem as well..." (Talbert, Not by Chance, 109).


2 Kings 3:21-25. "...The rays of the early morning sun reflecting on the groundwater in the ditches looked to the Moabites like blood. Thinking that the armies of the three kings had fallen to fighting among themselves, Moab flew heedlessly upon the spoil--so they thought. They didn't realize their error until it was too late, and their disarray was their downfall" (Talbert, Not by Chance, 112). [Victory for God's people.]
After finishing a chapter, I like to go back to what I've underlined, reflect, and apply. 

When I looked back at page 109, where it said, 
"God directed them to dig ditches through the valley--a seemingly pointless task...wasting their precious energies and resources on such an absurd exercise...of faith."
I had to ask:

"What has God asked me to do that seems pointless, a waste of energy and resources?"

And the Matchbox cars strewn around the room need picked up (again). 
And the laundry sometimes gets thrown back into the dirty clothes hamper it was just cleansed from, instead of going neatly into the designated drawers. 
And the dishes. 
And the diapers. 

And discipling. "It's hard," Andy said, "Really, really hard. Because it's an investment, and it takes so much energy and time." 

But it's what God's called me to do. 

And His Spirit brings to remembrance Titus 2 and what He has called me to in this phase of life--to loving my husband, loving my children, managing our home. And He underscores the significance to my obedience by pointing out that neglecting these things could make room for a reviling/blaspheming of the Word. 

They dug the ditches...by faith. And God shined and showed off His "infinite imagination and unlimited resources" (Talbert, Not by Chance, 112). They obeyed. And He worked. 

And how many children have turned to Christ because of a faithful mother? (Think Augustine.)

How many men have radically amputated an addiction to lust because of a forgiving, loving wife? (And I've witnessed this amazing grace in the lives of dear friends, the power of love to restore and heal and make all things new.)


How many husbands have been successful in the work God has called them to because of a supportive, encouraging wife? ("Her husband is known in the gates." Proverbs 31)

How many women have been encouraged to be faithful servants because of another woman doing well what God has given her too? (And I am so thankful for so many of you who have been this for me!)

Is it exhausting? Yes. 
Repetitive? Yes. Repetitive? Yes. Repetitive? ... ;) Yes.
Dirty? Often, yes. 
Absurd? (Um, I have three boys.) At times, Yes, quite absurd! 

But is it worth it? 
By Faith...YES!

Because in the morning, when God shines His light on it all--that glorious light that's getting progressively brighter (Proverbs 4)--"it will be worth it all!"

So let's not lose heart and be overwhelmed by the "sweeping up lost Cheerios that got away!"

Let's roll up our sleeves. 

To the work!

Cheerfully. :)

For "[our] labor is not in vain in the Lord." 

If it's what He's asked us to do, it's worth doing!

Because God works wonders in the random, ridiculous, and repetitious things He calls us to. 

Grace and peace, 
with love, 

michelle

day by day, finding grace

Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find ... 
And that strength, that grace, I find--sometimes it comes in unexpected or common places. Today, I'd just like to share a few recent remnants of grace. Little scraps that are patchwork pieces of recent days. I hope it gives you hope, hope you find grace through the words, hope it helps you reflect on the 1000 gifts God has given you recently too. 
GRACE.

Grace is infused strength. Enough to get out of bed, an answer to prayer. Enough love and energy to do the next thing. It is the ability to pack a lunch. And sometimes the wherewithal to say, "Go ahead an order hot lunch today, guys." It is the timing of the stop lights that allows you to drop off children at school on time, to say, "I love you" as they hop out of the car with their teeth actually brushed and their hair combed. It is the ability to resist the urge to swing through Starbucks. And sometimes it is the medium roast with cream and raw sugar from B&N-Starbucks at Furman and a walk around the lake with a friend, or just my own kiddos.

Grace is providence. It is coming upon an aunt whose car was out of gas while she was taking her nieces to their schools because their mother was watching someone else's baby and their step-dad didn't feel like it. It is the ability to recognize the face of the oldest niece as one of the girls that had come to my small group in our church's Inner-City Ministry. It is finding two schools in West Greenville, safely, dropping the younger kids off, and rehearsing the Gospel with the seventh grader one more time. Sometimes grace is thinking I know where her school is, only to confuse it with another one. It is humbly admitting my mistake and taking advantage of the extra few minutes to talk, to encourage her that she may be the one God would like to use to share with her friends the hope of eternity with Him. It is the school personnel kindly understanding their predicament. It is knowing God had me come across their path at just the right time and the opportunity to share a story of my days in the public school system when I shared Hope with a young man who had never before heard that Jesus loved him enough to pay for his sin. Grace is getting to repeat Truth one more time.


Grace is favor. It is that picture my ten-year-old tosses in the front seat with his backpack, the one that says, "I hope I've been a good son" and "I love you." The eight-year-old's MOTHERS DAY acrostic where E stands for "Evil? No, no, no. Only good" and the A is for "Ana-biotics [antibiotics] and medicine feeder" (because he is my one that needs allergy meds regularly and the two little ones were recently on an antibiotic for an ear infection). It's the "I love you, too, Mommy" of the three-year-old. And it's the beautiful smile on the pathetic sick baby girl's face, the murmured "Ma-ma-ma"s. It is the devotion of a husband who makes real on his forsaking-all-others vow and loves you no matter what.


Grace is joy. The laughter of a three-year-old dripping strawberry juice all down his chin and shirt, sucking up the sweetness, giggling happy. It is the restoration of a strained relationship. It is the communication from a distant land, that email from a friend who has safely arrived to her destination for Arabic language school and is just so thrilled to be there, to see her Father orchestrating so many details to give her joy and to open windows of opportunities for her to share that joy with others who have never heard of its possibility.

Grace is the right word at the right time. "Good morning, Mommy!" "I love you." "Thank you." It is a message of gratitude or encouragement: a Mother's Day text from a kind friend, a phone conversation with my own mom, a facebook message reviewing my short story post and encouraging me to keep writing. It is The Word, and a few quiet moments to let the psalm sink in. And this one.

Grace is GOD. Who keeps me going. Whose breath sustains my very existence. Whose joy is my strength. Whose lovingkindness is my life. Who sees before and orchestrates each moment. Whose Word gives direction and peace, correction and hope. Whose favor is undeserved and too little recognized but so, so much appreciated.

GRACE
and peace multiplied,
with love,

michelle

scribblings of sorrow and the search for purpose: a short story inspired in ecclesiastes

Carol lay across her bed staring at her Bible, drifting, staring at the blue-painted, Amish-crafted vanity. She had fancied it a fashionable writing desk. But she rarely even sat down at it, even more rarely wrote there. No, like now, she would lie on her stomach, feet hanging off the end of her bed, scribbling fragments into her journal, if she even wrote. Mostly, the fragments just cluttered in her brain. But she knew some day she'd have to sort through the jumble. And after a long "day off" spent in contemplative gardening, Carol dropped down to rest and refocus her thoughts. And she couldn't help but write ... finally. 

The words of the preacher. Did he like being called that? Was he mocking his own reputation for telling people how it was, how it should be? He certainly didn't preach from an elevated platform like some. Solomon knew what flat-out-like-a-lizard-at-a-waterhold felt like. He knew how stupid and self-centered we all--like sheep--tend to be, how ugly and frustrating our own way tends toward.

The son of David, the king in Jerusalem. Yep, just like so many other purpose-seekers, not that his dad was perfect, but he was skilled, successful, well-stationed. A hard act to follow. Too large (sandals?) to step into. Did kings wear sandals or ??? What does it matter--

Vanity of vanities--vapors, noxious fumes, fictitious dreams, mist rising and vanishing--nothing left to show for the volume of wet he had touched with his own hands, had swung over in the tire swing, had dropped into, whole body submerged. Substance dissolved to nothingness. Vanity of vanities! All. Vanity.

She needed a shower. She too knew the stickiness of sweat, the stench of hard labor. She was a labor and delivery nurse. And sometimes she sweat as much as all those laboring mamas trying desperately to bring new life into this desperate, trying-to-die world.

A generation goes and a generation comes. And after thirty years in L&D, Carol had seen the babies all grown up (or too often only half growed up) giving birth to babies of their own. Daughter becomes mother becomes grandmother becomes photo-prop-for-multi-generational-FB-post. Vanity of vanities!

But the earth remains forever. Today's sweat came not from holding another woman's hand, swabbing her sweating brow, wiping blood from a new-to-this-world infant, making sure mama was satisfied with Sprite mingled with fruit juice after too-long on just ice chips, swaddling the pink flesh, making sure the baby got skin-to-skin. Today's sweat came from digging in that red dirt, dumping in compost and peat moss, wrenching out grass roots networked more firmly than a seeded politician. Man's work. At least he'd always done it...before.

The sun rises and sets...and returns panting to the place where it rises...like contractions on the monitor, rising, falling, rising. With panting pangs, the woman breathing, screaming, gripping tight...And "the whole earth groans with labor pains...groans to be delivered of this..." (Romans 8). "We hope for what we do not see...." ("By faith, not sight.") "The Spirit itself...groans TOO DEEP FOR WORDS...for us...for good...according to His purpose...." Purpose. What is the point!?

Carol flipped from Romans 8 back to Ecclesiastes 1. 

The wind blows to the South and goes around to the North; around and around...like a woman with a man, wanting him to see her point, to concede her rightness... 

And the wind returns. And "we keep coming back to the same arguments, the same words." Hadn't he said that so many times?

All streams run to the sea. A smile plays at the corner of her mouth. "All drains lead to the ocean." Did Nemo's screenwriter read this too? Maybe. Maybe not. Are there really any novel thoughts? Anything fresh? There is nothing new under the sun....

All things are full of weariness. Long labor. Marriage. Life.

The sea is never full. The eye is not satisfied, nor the ear. And I am not satisfied. There, I said it, wrote it for any to see. I am not satisfied. But it's nothing new. I've confessed it a hundred times already. I'm not satisfied.

Still, there is no rememberance of former things--the baby is placed on the chest and the pain is largely forgotten. Even the fuming mother of the teen takes her grandchild in her arms and the nine-month rant of how-could-you-get-yourself-into-this-fix dissipates into affection for this oh-so-precious grandchild-I've-always-wanted, look-how-perfect.

Nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after. And I can't even remember all of why I was so upset. If he were still around, I'm sure there would be other same-old-arguments that I wouldn't remember later. If only he were still...

I the Preacher have been king...He filled the role, played the part. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, turned it into a rag for cleaning filth off tires, paint off brush, changing mower oil. Of all people, Solomon. Hadn't they said it of us, too. Of all people, Carol and Dave. But even that wasn't enough. Vanities of vanities. There was still a void. 

Even if---I would still struggle. 
Even though---I am like that bore bee by the shed today, seeking out a place to bore a hold, to fit myself into. I swatted it away, stunned it, maybe killed it. Guess I didn't check, didn't care that much. And every time I get close to finding a fit, I fall to the ground, crushed by yet another insensitive human.

And I applied my heart--poured out my life--to seek and to search out meaning in this world--what it's all about, how it works, and doesn't.... And...

It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. Maybe if we hadn't been so busy we would've had less to fight about, less to be unhappy with....

I have seen everything under the sun. At 58, I think I may just have seen it all too. But hadn't I seen it all by 28? Nothing shocked after that. College sweathearts, married in May. Three years of him and his start-up company, three years supporting him working triage in the ER. And then four years at home with the twins--Jess and Jo--still supporting his dream. 

And then the nightmare. 

And I chose L&D just to pinch myself into believing I was still alive, to hang on to some semblance of the beauty that can come from pain, to hold (even if just for mere moments) something that was totally innocent and pure and worth living for.

What is crooked cannot be made straight--the soccer-ball-wrenched nose, the hairpin curves on the mountain, the sinning thief on the cross--EXCEPT FOR GRACE--

EXCEPT for CHRIST.

What is lacking cannot be counted.
"There's nothing left," he'd admitted, his head in his hands, no tears left to cry, no funds left to live on.
"I'll go back to nursing."
"No. It's my job to provide for this family. I'll--"
But he couldn't come up with a viable solution. Everything he'd worked for was gone--
a striving after the wind.

It didn't matter that he'd graduated with honors, that he'd gotten backing from Fortune 500 CEOs, that he'd made an initial boom in the market...

Madness and folly...I was busy with Jo and Jess, had started working weekends here and there, not sure what was going on with Dave, what games he was playing. But watching his sleep habits, seeing the cycles of stress, anger, righteousness, depression.

For in much wisdom is much vexation. The more I found out, the less I wanted to know. The twisting in my stomach, like no nausea any pregnant woman has EVER suffered.

And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Bless the specialist doctors. The more they know, the harder the cases assigned to them. Dr. Phillips knows more about prenatal than anyone else in the region, but oh! how much sorrow he's privy to, how many I'm-so-sorry-there's-nothing-more-we-can-do concessions come from his lips. The more schooling, the more sorrow. And the greater the likelihood of worst case scenarios to tear their souls apart. Do any of us know what we're signing up for in the name of learning?

So I sought out pleasure--tried it on like a new bride's cache of lingerie. "Just try it out. Enjoy yourself. Laugh a little. Loosen up. You deserve it, especially after..."

I didn't have to try it to know what too much wine would do--not after my time in triage. Wine's a mocker, and I've seen the court jester it's made out of too many a should've-been-smarter-than-that mocked-one. But I had "a little...for the stomach's sake."

Mostly I sought out escapes for me and the kids. National parks, Carowinds, Charleston, Edisto Island... We rode horses on the beach, ate at fancy restaurants where they placed black or white napkins on your lap depending on whether you wore light or dark slacks. We rode the log down the roller coaster too many times to count, watched fireworks at Cowpens. And when we'd exhausted our own state, we went further...and further. Prince Edward Island for Jo. Seattle for Jess. Australia. And eventually the Swiss Alps. We laughed until we cried...and then they grew up. And because I'd really done it all for me, they don't even visit on holidays, though they certainly love to travel. 

I created two restless souls because I refused to "quiet my own heart like a weaned child' (Psalm 131). And "our hearts are restless until we rest in Him" (Augustine?)...

And I really do need to get some rest. So much to think about, more to write...later. But first, that shower. There are new mamas who don't even know yet that tomorrow is their day to meet their baby, and I'd better be fresh for them. 

Carol bookmarked 2:12 in her Bible and glanced across the page. "A Time for Everything." She smiled. Tomorrow. And closing the pen inside her journal, she headed toward the tub.

She had some soaking to do--garden soil cleansing, and Word-meditating. "Too long, O Lord. I've wasted so much of my life." Tears welled.

But the Spirit whispered comfort, "I know, child. You were dead. But I make alive. I am giving you new life. Be patient. And rest. Those whom I wash are clean indeed."

And she breathed steamed air deep into her lungs, like a newborn babe's first gasp and cry. And the renewed desire for the sincere milk of the Word was overwhelming.

"This poor [wo]man cried, and the Lord heard [her] and delivered [her] from all [her] fears" (Psalm 34). 

And Carol darted back to the bedroom, grabbed the Book. She slipped into the tub, soaked in the rest of "the words of the Preacher" while the 3-in-1 cleanser, conditioner, detangler worked their magic.

A time for everything. Fear God.

Cast your bread on the waters. Fear God.

Remember... Fear God.

And the caution. Beware. Of making many books there is no end. She smiled, relieved. Maybe she wouldn't even worry about finishing her journal entry. It was okay if it never turned into a book. It didn't have to. God had written His story on her heart instead.

The end of the matter...

Maybe she needed to just move on...let it be over.

The whole duty of man:

Fear God.

And Follow Him.

Let God be the Judge.

Fear Him.

And she was glad she didn't go to bed at 2:11. Very glad. 12:14 was much, much better. 

She closed the Book, closed her eyes. And she prayed that God would bring her children to a place of quiet rest in Him, that He would be their God, in His time and way. She prayed again that He would forgive her husband, that when the Judgment came, his punishment would be swallowed up in the finished work of Jesus.

Hers too.

And it was, already.



Grace and peace, with love, 
michelle





A DISCLAIMER:

While all writing probably has some measure of autobiography, please note that the subtitle identifies this as a short story, which is a subcategory of fiction. Those notes at the beginnings of other works of published fiction, the ones that say how anything in here doesn't really reflect a real person, it's just coincidence, etc., I know why they put that in there. 
As one author put it (a guy by the name of P. Roth, whom I know nothing about, so don't look him up b/c I just found this on a quote site): "I write fiction and I'm told it's autobiography, I write autobiography and I'm told it's fiction...." If you'd really like an annotation, I could give it to you, but that really wasn't the point of this piece, and I doubt seriously you have time for my ramblings....

Still, I will answer a few questions: 

  • Has this year been difficult? I won't lie, yes. I've had a closely watched pregnancy, a c-section, followed by a failed Essure procedure and a subsequent BTL. My vitamin D was low for too long. I have four children and a husband who is at the dissertation phase of his PhD while still holding down a FT job... But God. His grace is sufficient. 
  • Do I have a business husband, am I a nurse, do I have twins, um, am I 58? No. 
  • Are there things I'm working through, things that Alan and I are working through? (Are we human, are we married?) Yes, of course. 
  • Are we okay? By His grace, yes, we are. More than okay, we're great. Alan enthusiastically cheered this post, cheered the amazing grace God is working in my soul and through my pen. We still make dating a priority. Had a really nice time this morning, in fact, just picking up a Subway breakfast sandwich and then walking/talking at a local park. And, honestly, I could not ask for a more stable, faithful, kind, forgiving, truly loving husband. He's mine, by the way. And I am his. Till Death Do Us Part. Anything negative in the male character does not reflect on him. At all. 
  • Did I need to write this to work through issues in my own soul? Yes. Is Ecclesiastes a phenomenal place to turn when you're searching for answers re: purpose and meaning of life? YES! 
  • Did I actually get a hot bath while reading the rest of the book? No, that was my imagination. 
  • Does 2:11 and 12:14 mean time or verse in Ecclesiastes? Yes, both. 
  • Do I need to get to bed? Ya, actually, I do. G'nite. Love, michelle