Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Taste Test

1 Peter 2: 2-3 “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation. . . now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

As a picky eater, I am often dubious of dishes offered to me that contain components which I cannot readily identify. For instance, I won’t touch mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup or any dish containing those ingredients. And the list grows exponentially from there. I’ve always been  called “finicky”; I was the child whose lunchbox contained a PB & J, never a sandwich with lunch meat or tuna salad. As a result, the coaxing words, “Just taste it” seldom have their desired effect on me. Over the last handful of years, though, I have broadened my horizons from Tex-Mex and Italian dishes, cultivating a taste for Indian cuisine and Chinese food. And I’m more apt than ever before to at least sample a dish, as long it does not contain the aforementioned condiments, or seafood, or pork…

Like the cultivation of my palate, my spiritual walk is also a constant work in progress. Psalm 34:8 admonishes readers to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Yet, I’ve rarely had to be convinced of God’s goodness as I’ve enjoyed it all my life. I experienced His comfort when my parents died. I received His wisdom when I had to turn down a dream job. I treasured His mercy when I avoided neck surgery. Thankfully, I regularly experience His love and faithfulness and generosity, often through the kind words and acts of others. I would imagine for the friends who encourage me to try new culinary delights, sampling exotic food for them is easy. Likewise, it seems so easy for me to urge them to experience God’s grace for themselves. I want them to feast on His love and enjoy His presence. I hope one day that those who have yet to experience that pleasure will be counted among the ones who “have tasted that the Lord is good.” 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Are You Listening?

“I cry out and You answer.
Yes, I cry out and You answer.
Father, I know You listen when I pray
Father, would You hear these simple words I say?”  -- "Father" by Jadon Lavik

This Christmas I was very sick with a cough, congestion, and high fever. As is usually the case for me with this type of illness, I also struggled with my voice for a couple of weeks. So I texted one of my prayer partners to say I couldn’t really talk without coughing. I added a little playfully: “Do you think God’s trying to tell me something?” She responded, “Are you listening?” And I knew her good-natured question held both a dose of humor and truth. So, I tried to listen. And I revisited Jadon Lavik’s song “Father” which I discovered a few years ago. The lyrics to the chorus are a poignant reminder that God doesn’t merely hear us; rather, He actively listens when we speak to Him. Still, He may, for reasons often known only to Him, delay His response. Yet, the silence we perceive does not indicate He is unmindful of our requests. To reinforce this lesson, about a week after I received my friend’s text, God did speak to me and revealed some answers I’d been seeking for quite a while. Because He is a good and loving Father, He always listens. Because I am a stubborn, strong-willed daughter, sometimes I forget to. But I’m working on it, and thankfully, God is very patient with me during the process.

“. . .but God has surely listened
    and has heard my prayer.
    Praise be to God,
    who has not rejected my prayer
    or withheld His love from me!” – Psalm 66:19-20

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Roses in Winter

One afternoon last week I was surprised when I noticed two buds on a rose bush in my backyard. There haven’t been too many chilly days yet this season on the Gulf Coast, but the last time I observed my rosebushes, they were dry, brown, and covered in dead buds, having lost their bloom a couple of months ago. Yet, here they were blooming on a chilly January day and I smiled as I noted the flowers were on the red bush, not the nearby pink one. The color evoked the description of Jesus as the rose of Sharon and brought to mind the 15th century Advent hymn “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen,” or “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” The song lyrics refer to prophecies from the book of Isaiah which describe the coming Messiah as a rose. The writer pictures the Rose springing to life on a cold winter night:

“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung,
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came a flow’ret bright
Amid the cold of winter
When half-spent was the night.
Isaiah ‘twas foretold it,
This Rose that I have in mind.”

As is often His way, God used His own creation, in the form of two simple blood-red rosebuds, to evoke the truth of Jesus’ sacrificial life. Furthermore, He used the incident to also remind me that with Him, anything is possible. Even roses in winter.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Celebrating Joie de Jean

Lil Jeannie full of joy

 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
–John 15: 9-11

 One of my parents’ favorite phrases was joie de vivre or “joy of life” which usually refers to someone who has boundless joy and enthusiasm simply for the act of living. That was Mom. For her, every day was a jewel to be cherished and even minor occasions were to be celebrated with gusto. Maybe that was because she lived in the shadow of death for most of her adult life. Still, instead of allowing the many physical and emotional trials she faced to produce a root of bitterness in her, Mom turned to the Lord who cultivated within her a wellspring of joy. In turn, she watered the weary spirits of those around her with the river of life God gave her. In fact, most people who encountered Mom remarked that the overwhelming quality she possessed was joy.

Mom taught me the importance of  joy from a young age often quoting Nehemiah 8:10: “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The verse has served me well during life’s darkest hours, and God’s gift of joy even infused the last Memorial Day weekend I spent with Mom. She’d had a stroke just weeks before that left her right side paralyzed and she was stuck in a rehab hospital trying to get well enough to go home and die. One of my dearest friends spent that weekend with me and Mom and we had a ball together watching one of our favorite sitcoms and dyeing Mom’s hair blonde. Mom even mustered the energy to flirt with a cute doctor who woke her up in the wee hours to check on her. I would imagine few people can say they had a good time under such conditions, yet when my friend and I left we both felt rejuvenated from all the laughter and fun we had been blessed to share with Mom that weekend.
 The first half of the Nehemiah verse reads: “And do not be grieved.” The comfort of the verse combined with the memories of Mom’s legacy of joy often strengthen my spirit. And so with the assurance that Mom’s joy in Christ has indeed been made complete, I am reminded that there’s no better time to honor Mom’s joy-filled life than today on her birthday. 


Monday, August 31, 2015

Walnuts and orange juice

“Why should I feel discouraged…
When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me” 

“His Eye is on the Sparrow”— Civilla D. Martin

Over the course of my life, God has spoken to me in many varied ways. But the other day He sent me a message in a bag of walnuts given to me by my neighbor/ second mom. Usually neither she nor I even keep walnuts on hand and she had no idea that a couple of hours before, I had written them on my grocery list after reading that the omega three in them might help heal the damaged ankle ligaments that have plagued me nearly all summer. As I held the bag, I felt like Hagar who called the Lord “the God who sees me.” (Gen. 16:13)

It was an intimate moment with the Lord. He seemed to whisper that not only did He read my grocery list but He could bring to my door any item on it at any time He chose. And a God who is that interested in me surely sees and cares about the pain and frustration this ankle is causing me.

My friend’s gift reminded me of another friend who allowed God to use her seven years ago. While Mom was slipping away one agonizing day at a time, many friends and family members ministered to us through the gift of food. One morning, a longtime friend brought a feast of breakfast foods that included biscuits, pastries and orange juice. After she left I pulled the OJ carton from the fridge and tears filled my eyes. I went to Dad and whispered, “Daddy, who is the only person in our family who likes pulp in their orange juice?” A puzzled expression on his face, he looked up and answered, “Me.” With tears streaming down my face, I held out the carton and said, “Daddy, God just sent this orange juice as a message to you to remind you that He sees you. You are not alone in this.”

How grateful I am to friends who choose to act like God: who not only see our circumstances and needs, but who care and then involve themselves in our lives as the hands and feet of Jesus.  And how grateful I am that no matter how overwhelming life can become, God ultimately works all things for our good. (Romans 8:28)

Monday, August 17, 2015

It Is Well

Like me, Mom often sought comfort in music and one of her favorite sustaining hymns was “It Is Well” written by Horatio G. Spafford who penned the hymn in the aftermath of great personal loss. Maybe that’s why his words evoke such peace when I am in the midst of a trial. As the hymn has brought me great comfort through the years, I turned to it again tonight, two days after the seventh anniversary of Mom’s passing.

This year, her homegoing date, Aug. 15 brought more loss as dear friends moved three states away to Texas. These are friends who have become family to me as I cared for their son the last three years. We have shared many meals, many laughs, a few tears and more cups of tea than I can count. They have enriched my life in many ways and after seeing them nearly every day each week, their absence will leave a hole in my heart and in my life.

Just as God prepared me in advance for Mom’s passing, in His infinite grace, He began preparing me for this change long before it became reality. Still, as is the case with any great loss, every other loss compounds that grief and I do not know why the dates coincided this year, but God gave me the strength and the grace to handle both their leaving and the remembrance of Mom’s passing. He even led me to read a book author Cindy Woodsmall had given me when I met her at a writer’s conference in June. Her novel A Love Undone recounts the story of Jolene Keim who is grieving the loss of her parents and struggles to define herself without them. I identified with Jolene’s close relationship with her parents and how their loss upended her life. Still, the novel and Jolene’s life are imbued with great hope and peace given to her by the Lord; the same gifts He has given me.

Thanks to the constant reassuring presence of the Comforter, I know my friends and I will endure this change and will continue our friendship across the miles. And while each summer I will always think of Mom’s passing, I will remember the beauty of her life and rejoice in the new life she has now. So, even as new sorrow comes again this August, because of God’s goodness and grace, I can still sing with Mom and Horatio Spafford, “It is well with my soul.”

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Give Up the Fight

“He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.” –Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu

A couple of months ago I told God, “I’m tired of fighting.” For 15 years I fought for Mom’s health. Then I fought for Dad’s deliverance. And I battled for my healing. At times, grief has wrestled me to the ground and the enemy has tried to steal my faith. There have been many other battles and now I have found I am weary of fighting. So, when my exhausted spirit poured out its complaint to the Lord one night, He replied with Deuteronomy 3:22:  “. . . the LORD your God himself will fight for you.” The triple emphasis in the verse caught my attention: the Lord your God Himself. I need not rely on anyone else’s faith or relationship with the Lord, for He is my God. I can call on Him and He will be faithful. Using the reflexive pronoun “himself” underscores the importance that God has assured me He will intervene. He is not a distant deity who simply watches from heaven. He will insert Himself into my circumstances and will not only fight for me, on my behalf, but will engage the enemy and fight him in my place, instead of me.

The passage’s two nouns and one pronoun referring to God indicate His triune person so the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, His only Son, my atoning sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit, my comforter and counselor plan to do battle for me just as they did for the children of Israel. New challenges have arisen this summer and over the last two weeks, three times more the Lord has brought this verse to me: in a sermon, on a blog, and in a novel. So for now, I will rest and allow the Lord of hosts to wage war on my behalf until He decides I need to rejoin the battle.