Thursday, November 7, 2013

Finding the Real Fruit

We just returned from a visit to my parent's house.  It was the Apple Festival at their "next door neighbors", where you can buy some of the best apples grown by God.  If you ever have reason to be in North Garden, look up Vintage Virginia Apples.  It is worth the trip.  The weekend weather was perfect for lying in the middle of their acreage and playing with my girls.  We were able to meet and re-meet many of the friends who have loved on them so well through the ups and downs of life.
I felt terribly thankful.  Almost painfully so if that makes any sense.
For the most part, parents are an under appreciated lot.  I don't think you can fully "get it" until you are one anyway, and each year deepens my respect for my own. 

Tonight I was walking in our yard, strolling past the neglected vegetable garden so overgrown with weeds you would think it had been way more than one season that we completely didn't try. 
None of us are gardeners. 
James, had he been born into another family, could have been.  He is the only one of us so far with the patience said endeavor takes.
I looked at all of the things my dad did in that garden.  The raised beds that once held weed free soil.  The blackberry bushes harvested, planted, pruned (though you can't tell now).  The water barrels placed next to the garden so that James would not have to cart water all the way from the house one bucket at a time.  The garlic and onions gone "to seed", or gone to the rodents, or just plain gone.  Tomato cages rusted.
I wish we had kept it up.  I feel terribly guilty about that. 
It occurred to me however, my father has never once, not ever, expressed disappointment in us over it.  That is just amazing.  And profoundly grace filled.
I guess at 78 you know that it isn't about whether or not the pegboard in the garage actually helped better organize your son-in-law.  It doesn't matter that the 15 pages you printed off of the internet about local fox trappers and snare designs didn't actually net any victories over James's nemesis to the poultry business.  Building Maggie's room in the basement was a relative success, but seems short-lived as she is already gone for good. 
What I think he must know is that it is the being there.  It's the being all there. 
The tasks themselves don't actually have to be successful. 

The fruit isn't in the garden.

It is housed in a weekend where all four grandchildren were equally delighted to spend time enjoying and helping them.

Honor your father and your mother, as the lord your God has commanded you ....
Deuteronomy 5:16

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Vox Musicorum

There is something about the ocean that relaxes me in a way no other place does.  Even with people around, my mind feels free, like the world might not be my responsibility after all, which is my usual modus operandi.

I do not know why this is so. 
We did not spend "summers at the seashore" growing up.  I do not have any spectacular memories of significant events that happened there.  In fact, I was thirteen before I even saw the ocean
I think, for whatever reason, it is on the beach that I am able to hear the background music of my life - that carefully chosen tune that the Lord is directing and the Heavenly Host is playing. 

The music is large and bold, deep and broad, and good. 
The score. 
It is what my heart wants, needs, to hear.  The music that makes the body want to lift up arms and dance with reckless abandon.  When I hear it, life some how all makes sense and the hard parts feel worth it.
It is the way I think, albeit even more deeply, that we are supposed to live everyday.  The way we were created to live.

I have always been impressed with music written for movies.  That a composer is able to write from the story and make the viewer's emotion match the storyteller's desire, is pretty amazing.  The music in a movie tells us how to feel before the action even takes place.  I think when Jesus says "abide in me" (John 15:9) and that "his sheep hear his voice" (John 10:3), it is because He wrote a musical score that we are meant to be listening to as we walk out our days.  While our feet are on this earth, our ears are supposed to be listening to the Word.  He tells us how we are to feel while our story unfolds.

It is turning down the volume of the rest of our lives in order to hear that song that is so, so difficult.

Psalm 89:15-16
Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!  They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance.  In Your name they rejoice all day long...

Monday, April 22, 2013


Parenting is difficult for a number of reasons, one of which is the number of gray areas not covered in "the books".  This thing, in this particular circumstance, from this child, on this day .... 

There really is not a formula.
One of the things that Ellie has trouble with is telling us that she has poop in her diaper.  She can just have been making that cute little 'I am pooping' face, staring right at you and then promptly deny that it produced anything.
You can say, "Ellie, do you have a poopoo?  Do you need a new diaper?"
She will look at you and say "no".
"Really, Ellie," I respond, "Are you sure?  Because if you did and you told mommy that you didn't that would not be honest.  You wouldn't want to lie to mommy."
"No poo poo, just pee" she says with great predictability.
"Ellie.  Here's the thing, somebody in the room pooped and as you are the only one with a diaper on I am really hoping it was you."

We go change the diaper and I debate on various days the extent to which I want to try to teach this lesson at this age.

Recently a family we knew came up in conversation.  Their schedules are full, they have more children than we do, their house is tidy, their kids are clean .... we were admiring that.  Someone remarked "They run a pretty tight ship over there."    Maggie and I had toddlers crawling over us dressed in their self-chosen cacophony while we sat on a rug that had not been vacuumed since I do not know when, toys strung about, a basket of unfolded laundry was probably on the couch.  I looked around and asked, "What kind of ship are we running here?"
"The Ship of Grace!  That's it",  we laughed.
And I do hope we are!  I hope when both of you read my blog or when my conversations are overheard that the thing most felt is grace.  Because I believe Jesus covered the sins of the murderer and the sins of the gossiper alike.  I believe that the cross satisfies for adultery, the struggle of homosexuality, the addictions of pornography or alcohol or whatever else.  I believe, if asked, Jesus is happy to cart every one of those (and the thousands in myself that I am blind to) away from the judgement seat of God. 
But we have to own them first.

We have to admit that we didn't make it to the potty.

Jealousy? "No, not me." 
Control? "I don't think so." 
Discontent? "No, Lord, that's not my diaper - must be someone else's that you smell."

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Moving On

Yesterday morning the cats moved out. 
As most of our animal departures occur via death, this one was, relatively speaking, good.  I had not held out much hope of finding them a new home.  I mean cats seem pretty ubiquitous and people have these conflicted relationships with the ones they own.  So when the first person Maggie mentioned it to, actually wanted them? 
Well, it was a God thing.
The family who took them seemed genuinely thrilled to have them.  Who would have thought?
So ... that's good, really good. 

Except for this one thing. 

It would not be happening if Maggie was not also moving out. 

Everyone who knows me knows I will find it hard.  Some people laugh when they find out that her moving out is not even leaving the town we are in.  Some people say they understand.  Others remind me that it is the appropriate next step.  They tell me that she will be home often.  They tell me how miles don't change your relationship.  They scold me into thinking of how the alternative - her never leaving - could be a really sad thing.

I know all of that!

It is good!

Her leaving, her ability to leave, and to be excited about it, is indicative of a great deal of healing in our family.  For that I am so, so thankful. 
These past four years with all of their drama, also contained great gifts one of which was this amazingly precious relationship with her.  When she showed up, no matter what the state of things, she made it better.    When people would say "dumb" things to us about our situation, we would smile at one another knowing they meant well.  With one look across a room we could communicate a whole paragraph of response.  She is the only one who breathed the same air that I did and thus the only one who fully understood the depth, the scope, the far flung consequences of certain things.  There were trials in her life going on too, ones in which a mother is a very good thing to have. 
So it is nice for her not to need me so much anymore.

Well, sort of.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench: 
Isaiah 42:3 
This third point that I wanted to make has been more difficult. I mean how do you "describe" God, even the tiniest slice of who He is? I nearly gave up on the idea, letting it fall by the wayside like the vast majority of my blog ideas.
But, it is such an indescribably precious lesson to me. I don't want to forget it. I need to stop here and erect twelve stones.
I can not remember exactly which beach trip we were on, but it was not long ago.  I had gone for a walk by myself (which might be why this is memorable). 
I was lamenting as I walked, complaining mostly but lamenting sounds more biblical.  Either way it was not grateful conversation.  I turned into our cul-de-sac and over the sound was a huge flash of lightning and a loud boom.  At that moment it occured to me.  God could strike me down right now.  In fact, for all of my moaning, He should.  If I had been him, I would definately have considered it.   
He didn't.
When you are tired, tiny, discouraged - God's response is not frustration or disappointment, it is tenderness.

In 1st Kings the prophet Elijah  has been fed by ravens (17:6-7), he resided with the widow of Zarephth where indeed the oil did not run out (17:16). He prayed for the healing of her son who was dead and his life was restored (17:21-22).  He had been party to God's proving himself before the prophets of baal by igniting fire on the wet altar that he had built (18:38-39).  God had been ridiculously, obviously present in Elijah's life for some time.
Even so, after all of those events, when he hears that Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, plans to kill him he is afraid and runs away.  He tells the Lord, essentially, "I have had it. I am done. I am tired."  Now, instead of getting frustrated with Elijah, he gives him a really long nap.  He has an angel awaken him and feed him - "and he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water." 
It is such a compassionate gesture. 
This response of God to his pitiful, fearful, grumpy little prophet is like that of a mother (on a good day) putting her toddler down for a nap.  HE does not reach down and slap him and shout "Elijah, you who have borne witness to my mighty power, actually think that Jezebel is going to take your life one moment before my ordained time for you?!"
If I were God, that's what I would have said, only with uglier words I am sure.
And, if I were God that day that I was on the beach I think I might have been tempted to have that lightning strike at least close enough for me to feel the electricity. 
HE could have and probably should have.
The Lord has blessed us and kept us these years, He has surrounded us with people to help us at every corner. And, when I complain, He puts me to bed like a tired toddler (or sends me to the beach) and feeds me, and waits for me to see again.
This tenderness? This is our God.
He who is the great I AM.

Friday, March 15, 2013

i am

For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.
Romans 7:16
February 8th marked one year since Serge's first seizure.  February  15th was Julia's third birthday. February 27th, one year since Ellie found Serge and James in China and March 8th when I first met her. A lot of significant events to remember!  All of those anniversaries have caused me to reflect more than usual, as though I needed a reason. 

There is nothing about my life the past year, or the several before it for that matter, that has been tragic.  It has, however, been a trying season.  The problem in finding words to express the trials is that the difficulty of it all only makes sense if you see the totality, the confluence of events, my life intersecting with the lives of those I love.  I can't describe that as a narrative.  I need a Venn diagram to capture it, the action in this messy barn of mine.

Instead of God giving me words to recount a bunch of events and hope that I don't come across too whiny, or melodramatic - which I would - I feel like that what He is saying is more along the lines of; Stewart, the things worth sharing, the things worth remembering and recording are the lessons learned. The circumstances are incidental. Circumstances are just tools in My workshop anyway.

I have found three themes so far.  They build on each other.  The first was the previous post on keeping faith when things did not turn out the way you expected them to.  The second is on having an accurate view of myself which is what today's thoughts are on.  The third one is on having a true view of God which I will address later.

At one time I would have been able to describe myself in a number of ways; Christian, wife of Serge, mother of two, friend to many, only child of precious parents, homeschooler, chicken farmer, goat raiser, bread baker, ambitious cook, occasional gardener, avid reader and writer ...  my life felt full and good.  I liked it.

I no longer have that same list. There have been several additions and quite a few subtractions.  Most of the adjectives that were removed were not really my choice. Losses like that stink. They go unnoticed by friends and family. There is no funeral for the changing of the seasons in one's life, but there is grief! It hasn't been pretty, not one little bit of it. I did not let anything go gracefully, and in some areas I am still clinging. But it has brought me closer to God, who subsequently has asked me to consider who I am without all of those descriptive terms.
When the wheat grinder collects dust and the chicken pen sits rotting in the field from lack of use, who am I?
When there is no longer time or emotional strength to home school my children, who am I then?
How does that "sweet, submissive wife" thing in all of those Christian marriage books work when the Lord pulls the rug out from under my husband in multiple areas and he doesn't know how or can't lead right then - who am I?
When you have spent the past 10 years "preaching" to the young women who bounced in and out of your life that 'children are a blessing from the Lord' and you should have as many as He will give you ... who am I when He gives me one at 45 and the pregnancy isn't as easy as the other two and people do not embrace it with me and not everyone supports us in it and she doesn't even sleep through the night for 16 months(really!) ... just who am I then?
When you answer what you think (but sometimes wonder) was God's call to adopt, and instead of uniting your family it seems to rip it at every seam, who am I then?

When the idols fall, when it is just you and the Lord left to walk it all out and you realize that your contribution is about 0% ... that's when you find out who you really are.

It is then that you figure out:

Rhetoric is easier than reality.

I am "...wretched, pitiable, poor, and blind ...  (Rev 3:17)

That is who i am.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Lamb for the Barn

Sometime I am going to write about why I quit writing, but I am still looking for the right combination of words.

The thing I have been wrestling with the past couple of weeks is probably, more or less, a broad summary anyway.

Mathew 11:2-6
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"  And Jesus answered them,"Go and tell John what you hear and see:The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."  (ESV)

I remember someone saying in passing, maybe a sermon, that what was meant by offended was that people's expectation of Jesus (Messiah) coming was likely so different than how He did show up that they were suprised by, confused by, or disappointed in it.
I think this is where I have been for awhile - confused by and a little disappointed in the way some things have unfolded.  (I am not sure you can get to middle-age with half a thought and not feel that way, honestly).  The "why?" place. 

So what would "not being offended" look like?  That has been my question to myself. 
I think it would look like trusting in His goodness with faith that His working it out is going to be "more than I can ask or imagine" (Ephes. 3:20).  It would look like, even in those places where no healing has yet appeared to have begun, the places I am imprisoned myself, knowing that He will in His perfect time and way redeem those too.
This is hard.  There are places that are dry, places that feel like no rain has touched in years, places where I have prayed for it, but no healing has come.

I think THIS might be, however, the truest test of faith: 
Can you believe?  Believe I am good.  Believe I am for you.  Believe I am in control while you are confused and disappointed, while things do not look good?
Can you experience the "not yet" of this life, the delay, the clouds and rain, without becoming bittter?
Can you be John the Baptist in prison?
Can you be Paul with the unhealed thorn in the flesh? (2 Cor 12:1-12)

Because if you can,
you can be called the "greatest born to a woman" (Matt 11:11)
and you can have a ministry and words that reach people for nearly 2000 years (Paul's epistles)

If you trust ME, stone walls fall (Joshua 6:20)
If you trust and obey ME, your family survives although the flood waters rise all around you (Gen 6:13-22)
If you trust ME, you will be able to participate in conceiving things as far reaching in number of generations as stars in the Heavens (Gen 17:19)
If you trust ME, there will be a lamb in the thicket - a lamb you did not have to raise, or purchase, or even carry up the hill to the altar.  (Gen 22:13)

But to do so is no easy task. 
Life brings plenty of reasons to think that He didn't show up.  Sometimes those reasons come one after another, as relentless as the waves in the ocean.

But I think my heart is beginning to hear the voice of God.
I think He is saying:
Look for the Lamb.

John 1:29
" ... Behold the the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

Rev 5:12
"Worthy is the Lamb ..."