Monday Morning Moment – the Story of a Girl and Friendship

[School Days, Cairo, Egypt – a couple of decades ago]

This delightful girl has a birthday today.

I want to celebrate her here. The girl and the understanding of friendship she has brought to her mom and to those who have best known her.

She was born on a windy March morning. Our first-born. I have brothers, and my Mom had all brothers. Having a daughter as our first was a complete joy and wonder to me, as my Mom tells me I was for her in the midst of all boys.

She would be my sidekick for many of our early adventures together. Welcoming two brothers during her preschool years. Enjoying the friendship of neighbors and church family. Homeschooling in East Tennessee.  

I will never forget the Spring when she came home from Jack and Barbara Lavender’s Sunday School class with two tiny cups of growing seedlings. We planted them in her daddy’s garden and they grew an enormous bed of Cushaw squash. From those two little seeds. Sweet memories of friends who invested in our girl’s life.

Then there was the terrible time when she got desperately ill with what we would, over too many days, finally discover to be a ruptured appendix. This girl has always had a high threshold of pain, and it took four trips to the pediatrician’s office before I was taken seriously. She ended up with big surgery and 10 days on IV nutrition. This image shows her having her first meal over a week after her surgery (pillowcase from our friend, Kay – she still has this pillowcase).

Then our travels outside East Tennessee began.

For this quiet girl, having her life, and childhood friendships, disrupted was hard. Despite the incredible experiences of many moves across four countries, she learned resilience the hard way.

In those days, before smartphones, we carried our memories of people and places in tangible ways. Photo albums. This girl would often go deeper with new people in her life by introducing them to her previous life…through these cherished photo albums.

Everywhere we went, everywhere we lived, we have the photo memories of the sweet parts of those years. They are a treasure.

Friendships were not always easy for this girl. Well, not being able to easily make friends, adjusting to all the changes imposed on her life by her parents’ work moves. She was not the life-of-the-party, center-of-attention, making things happen, people magnet sort of girl. She loved books and they were often her friend. In the reality of multiple moves and too many goodbyes.

She did have two constant friends who went through all those moves with her. Her two brothers. They are still close. Remembering all the good, all the tears, and all the big sister times with her [calling her “Auntie” when she observed and advised where they preferred to be left to their own devices].

As this girl grew up, she learned how to recognize mean girls and not to take them personally nor to become one…which can easily happen for any of us in strained situations. She learned to embrace the new and sift for where she belonged in the different. And could even make a difference.[Her tiny Senior class, 2005, Casablanca, Morocco]

[Noor, a dear friend from high school, knowing the experience and also understanding what it’s like to move places and countries with your family]

[Maria, a fellow student and enduring friend as they both tackled teaching together. Different schools but similar challenges.]

Besides her brothers, this girl had two men she knew she could count on. Her Dad…and in time, her beloved whom she would marry. I love to catch snippets of conversations she and her Dad have on visits home. For two introverts, their words pour out with each other…safe people, safe places.

[This girl and her boy who would capture her heart and parent two little ones by her side – no pics of the littles – this girl’s preference and I honor it]

In this season of making a home and family, she has grown into this beautiful woman (OK…if you’re still reading, you either love her or the idea of her or you have such a her in your own lives). I am in awe of this girl. Not because she is anything of celebrity but because of how she handles today’s bumps. Also how she has taken both the bad and the beautiful of her growing up years and turned them into her own story.

This Christmas  she gave me a book by Sarah, Sally, and Joy Clarkson. Girls’ Club – Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World.

This sweet girl has recommended Sally Clarkson to me often in the last year as a mom and mentor in life. In the book above, Sally’s daughter Sarah writes a chapter entitled Saturday Mornings: The Girls’ Club Prototype. In this chapter, she describes “five progressive actions…central to the powerful cultivation of friendship”. They are:

  • Invite – Reach out and bring in a new someone to an adventure and your life.
  • Plan – Work out the logistics of an event, a meetup, an outing. Make it a welcome ritual or routine.
  • Provide – Show love, Sarah says, by preparing the table, so to speak. Whether it is the physical space itself (your home, for instance) or your own “mind and heart” to wholly receive the new friend.
  • Stay – This is huge! Whether distance or circumstance separate you, be a continual presence in the life of a friend. Be there. Show up. This takes effort and intentionality, and it’s not easy. It requires both forgiveness and faithfulness…no matter what.
  • Pray – When we remember that every single person we meet is an image-bearer of God, we are reminded of the value there. Even those “mean girls” in our lives didn’t get mean in a vacuum. “Hurt people hurt people”. They have God’s imprint like every other imperfect person… When we recognize our own frailty and that of others, we are drawn to pray. For our own hearts to love like Jesus. For eyes to see how God sees people…and to reach out in love…as only He has made us to do so.

I’ve watched this girl executing all the above without having read the book. She has commented that making and nurturing friendships as adults has also been a challenge, maybe because of all the other pieces of life that need our attention. I think she is learning to juggle all this, and me with her.

I’ll close this “Happy Birthday” piece on this note: our girl has a fierce faith in God that brought her through the hard so far in her life. I’m confident that whatever lies ahead – joys and sorrows – she will lean into God to sustain her. She will be there for those whom God has placed in her life – family, friends, and friends-to-be.

Like her, I will leave you with a few last images of life we’ve enjoyed together. Hope your day is filled with joys familiar and joys anew. Happy Birthday, Sweet Girl.[Learning to make biscuits with Memaw – my Mom, the master cook]

Worship Wednesday – Set Free From the Lies about Ourselves and Each Other – Fear Is a Liar – Zach Williams

Photo Credit: Flickr, Lisa Hall-Wilson

[Adapted from the Archives]

Now this is what the LORD says–the one who created you, Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel–“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.”  Isaiah 43:1

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.  2 Timothy 1:7

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear.1 John 4:18a

“If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32

What happens when we believe lies? Oh, it’s not that we are gullible or naive. Lies sound true when spoken in the first-person pronoun. As in “I’m such a failure.” or “It’s all my fault.” Or by someone we care about. As in “You are impossible to please.” or “You will never change.”

When we, or people we love, come under an attack of some sort, we respond. Always. Two physiological responses may immediately come to mind. We fight or fear (literally fleeing or just in our head). That fight or flight response is much researched and well-documented. My default is flight…in fear. If I have to, especially for the sake of my children or others needing help, I would fight, but fear would be part of that battle. So, even in the fight response, it is mixed with fear. The threat is perceived as so real, we fear for our lives or our personhood, at some level, and we fight for it.

I too often go to fearful flight. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you go to fight. Either one can be used in ways by our enemy to keep us from a third response. That being collecting our thoughts around what is true and acting in a way that gives space for God to fight for us…and for the relationship that feels threatened. That does not mean we won’t be physically removed from a fight (to protect or for justice or mercy’s sake). Nor does it mean that we won’t be tempted to fear. We must learn to resist the lies…and the Liar.  To replace the lies with what is true. So that we are not defeated already – by believing fear’s lies or by unleashing fury that hurts in its own right and only escalates fear in the end.

When I heard Zach Williams’ song Fear Is a Liar, the lyrics drew me in immediately. I knew that experience. That experience of fear being a voice in my head, telling me things that simply were not true…but sounded true. Paralyzing me when God means for me to be free. I am free in Him. Not cowering. Not withdrawing. Fear picks us up to throw us down somewhere dark and outside of who we really are. Fear is a liar…and is generated by the “father of lies”. At first, I struggled with the personification of fear in this song…but more and more, it is like battling with Satan himself, or one of his minions. The truth is that “greater is he (God) in me, than he (the evil one) in this world”. Photo Credit: Flickr, Artem Popov

My Mom and I, through the years, would often quote 2 Timothy 1:7 to each other.God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. We both struggled with fear and needed to remind each other of the truth. My husband Dave has often helped me come back to my senses with just the two-word imperative: “Pull up”. When we struggle with fear, our thoughts can grow more and more terrifying and send us on a deep dive, spiraling out of control. Just the reminder to “pull up” would spark my returning to remember what is true.

Those of us who fear need people in our lives who remind of us of the truth and the God of truth. Not in a platitudinous way. But in a way that wraps around us, stays with us, loves us through it. Who are your people?

[Sidebar: For those of you who default to fight or fury…the wisdom is the same. Return to what is true, what is full of love, what is genuine power. Being “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” is not weakness; it is a right response that gives space for God to act. Also, another huge truth to remember: God forgives as we repent. When we shrink away in fear or strike out in fear, God does not leave us in a crumple of failed flesh. We are His. Warriors. Prophets. Priests. Children of the One God. He has flung our sin as far as the east is from the west. It does not define us or diminish us as His repentant own.]

Worship with me and cancel the fear with the truth of God. Extinguish its darkness with the light of the perfect love of Jesus. As you worship with this song, remember the lyric “he” isn’t the person in front of you – the “he” is the Evil One. Our fight is not with that person in front of us…it is a spiritual battle…and we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
That you’ll never be enough

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar

Let Your fire fall and cast out all my fears
Let Your fire fall Your love is all I feel

Fear he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
Cause fear he is a liar*

Fear does not die easily. It requires an act of will and an act of faith. Often I have to pray myself out of fear before sleep at night, and praise my way out of picking it back up in the morning. This is after a lifetime of battling with fear. However, there is nothing sweeter…nothing…than knowing that God’s got this. Whatever “this” is. We live in a world full of scary and confusing struggle. We can’t see yet how it will all come out or what is happening in the unseen. Trusting God with what frightens and acting accordingly is how we deal with the struggle. We don’t retreat…we don’t attack…but we also don’t go it alone. That gives me joy, and I will not to be afraid.

“I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” – JesusJohn 16:33

*Lyrics to Fear is a Liar – Songwriters: Zach Williams, Jason Ingram, Jonathan Lindley Smith

Zach Williams Music

Worship Wednesday – No Fear – Same Power – Jeremy Camp

YouTube Video – Casting Crowns – East to West (Official Lyric Video)

Fear Is a Liar – 91 Images on Pinterest

Monday Morning Moment – Conflict in Marriage – The Dance of Negative Escalation – with Esther Perel

Photo Credit: YouTube, Esther Perel

Do you have conflict in your marriage? Or even in roommate, friend, or family relationships? Maybe even at work with colleagues?
Of course, you do. Oh, there’s the rare situation where people can work out their differences amicably. My mom-in-law would always say she and our father-in-law never had a fight…well, once maybe. I’ve been around them in all sorts of situations, and I have to agree. Early in marriage, they worked out a system where they served each other and the family in complimentary ways. They genuinely loved and enjoyed each other.
Their oldest son, having grown up in this sweet and peaceful home, fell in love with a woman from a very different family…a home full of love but also where conflict and chaos sometimes reigned. That woman would be me.
Over the course of our 30+ years of marriage, we have matured. With age and experience, with resultant understanding, the fights are rare. The tears and silences are also pretty much absent.
We never ever considered divorce an option. Both of us have had too much experience with divorce (in my biological family and his in his extended family). We didn’t want it for ourselves or for our parents or children. So….we white-knuckled from time to time. In the end, I’m so thankful we hung in there with each other. It’s what I tell couples considering divorce…hang in there…it gets better.
OK…maybe not always, BUT the resources for helping us to do marriage and relationships are vast and easily accessible…if not in-person then online. If one or both of you are willing to inquire.
[Also, please, this is not meant to hammer anyone who’s experienced divorce. A betrayal is devastating and feels impossible to overcome.]
Dave and I had the opportunity just this weekend to hear couples therapist Esther Perel speak. She is Belgian and the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. She is married and has two sons. Her practice is international. She is a prolific writer and a life-long learner.
After hearing this brilliant, insightful, caring woman speak, I started looking for her online. So many YouTube videos, interviews, articles. Her podcasts, too. Among the topics was something she called a dance of negative escalation. What this entails is a process whereby two persons address an issue with one of maybe 3 or 4 responses.
  • Both listening and sharing, engaged, connected which would NOT be the dance of negative escalation.
  • Both withdrawing into their own thoughts – away from the perceived conflict or threat. Not outright escalation but no resolution either.
  • Both attacking, escalating into screaming and violence until…This wouldn’t even be considered a dance probably. I’m still learning.
  • One felt to be attacking, and the other felt to be withdrawing. This is where the dance takes place).

Perel defines this dance of negative escalation in this way: a “pattern occurs when one partner stonewalls and the other, in reaction to this refusal to engage, allows their emotions to escalate…For both partners the part of themselves they struggle with today is the very trait that saved them as a child. Sometimes what works as a survival strategy backfires when we are no longer under threat.”

“It takes two people to create a pattern, but only one to change it.”
Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence

All kinds of light bulbs went off for me in reading and listening to Perel talk about this phenomenon.
There are always two sides. Two views of a situation. With two different histories (all the way back to childhood potentially). Two different emotional meanings.
When a conflict builds, the combative one, the aggressor, is usually seen and experienced as “the bad guy”. However, we all know from the classroom, that a child can be drawn into a negative response through the badgering of or intentional exclusion by another child. Yet, when the teacher is late to notice the interaction, only one child, the responder, is disciplined, and the other seemingly “good child” is left unchecked in the altercation.
We all want to be heard, to be valued, and none of us want to carry the responsibility or blame of an escalation. Four things are mentioned by Perel as being devastating to a marriage or long-term relationship. This can also be true of work relationships. Any of these can mark a relationship in peril. They are:
  • Indifference
  • Neglect
  • Contempt
  • Violence

We don’t want to go there in our relationships. Or if one partner or the other is there, the other can still begin to make positive change.

If you are in a relationship with the pattern using the dance of negative escalation to deal with issues , there is such hope! The links below are incredibly helpful…and they are just a few of the many resources available by Esther Perel and others.

I just wanted to introduce this subject. For those of you who know you struggle with these negative cycles, start with the links and go on your own journey of healing and restoration.

In her talk the other night, Esther Perel described the experience of having more than one marriage, sometimes with the same person. In a way, I experienced that with my sweet husband. We have a thick cord of continuity through our marriage, but, in ways, our marriage has passed through such seasons that almost feel like we are in a different marriage. I’m so thankful we stuck it out with each other.

Remember, a negative cycle is the problem. It may have absolutely nothing to do with the character of either spouse. “Name the cycle” rather than blaming your explosive partner or feeling betrayed by the withdrawing one. Start there. Then take steps to slow down the conflict in a safe environment in order to see what is happening underneath. With grace, accountability (external and internal), and time, you can come out on the other side, stronger, healthier, and with love rekindled and restored.

_________________________________________________________________________

Where Should We Begin? Podcast – It’s Very Hard to Live with a Saint – Esther Perel – excellent example of the dance of negative escalation. The podcast is an actual marriage counseling session. If you prefer reading, the transcript is here.

Marital Destructive Styles of Communication – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Couples Negative Cycles – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Naming Your Negative Cycle – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Withdrawers  Desire Safety – Round Rock Couples Counseling

Negative Couples Cycle: Finding the Bad Guy – Kevin Leapley, Round Rock Couples Counseling

YouTube Video – Fight Smarter – Avoid the Most Common Argument Patterns – Esther Perel

Emotionally Focused Therapy – a Roadmap for Working with Couples (pdf) – Tanya Radecker

Series : Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse – Brad Hambrick – Dr. Hambrick is an excellent “counselor to the church”. He covers a lot of ground on this topic related to the different aspects of being self-centered in a marriage: the low emotional intelligence self-centered spouse, the lazy or apathetic self-centered spouse, the situationally explosive self-centered spouse, and the intentionally manipulative self-centered spouse. Fascinating. Great helps as well.

Growing in Negative Emotion Tolerance – Brad Hambrick

Worship Wednesday – the Small Virtue of Humility – the Grand Journey of Self-Forgetfulness

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:3-8

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”Jeremiah 9:23-24

I’m still making my way through a re-read of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Long over-due. Although the chapters are super short, each contains such a wealth of wisdom to think through and process.

In The Letters, a senior demon, Screwtape, is advising his nephew on how to draw away a young Englishman from his new-found faith in God, whom the demon calls The Enemy. The nephew is given strategies to muddle up “the patient’s” thinking on God and how one is to live, “loving our neighbors as ourselves”.

Chapter 14 (in just 3 pages) dissects the issues of humility, pride, and self-forgetfulness. We may think ourselves that humility is having and expressing a low regard of self, even self-deprecation. That is not humility. In the fullest sense, humility is a right understanding of God, other people and ourselves, in relation to all. God and others.

True humility is a growing awareness of how all things work together, including the hard things in life, and an appreciation of the good and glory in the world. Celebrating God, and His choosing to continue to display His goodness in all of life…in mine and yours, and throughout the natural world.

When we can pull our eyes off our own successes or, on the flip side, our challenges, perspective comes. Not puffing ourselves up or bringing yourselves down, but just seeing God everywhere. He purposefully and beautifully knit each of us together and His purposes are not thwarted.

Focused on God and others, we can live in a place of self-forgetfulness. Satan wants to destroy such peace by pressing us to ever compare, ever put ourselves down, or ever feel envy and longing regarding others’ good works. Or, if he can to even push us into pride, thinking more highly of ourselves, even though we operate out of the gifts and opportunities God gives us.

Here’s a bit of Screwtape’s instruction to Wormwood in the tempting of the young Christian:

“To anticipate the Enemy’s strategy, we must consider His aims. The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents – or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 14

Photo Credit: Brainy Quote

Let’s worship the God who frees us from self as we turn our eyes each day, and through the day, onto Him. Why this old song? It speaks to troubled hearts. If humility is not where we live, our hearts become troubled – either in some embattled state of self-loathing or self-obsessing. We can live free of all that.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Chorus:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conquerors we are!

Chorus

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

Chorus*

Why did I call humility “a small virtue”? Because it doesn’t draw attention to itself. It points to God and to others. However, it doesn’t leave us out. We also get to be on this grand journey. We are flesh, so when God gives us the opportunity to do something amazing, we naively may say, “Wow, I did that!” Pride rears its head, even for a moment. We can then either beat ourselves for the pride and make ourselves small in some sort of false humility or…we regain perspective. “Wow, I got to do that! Thank You, God!” If it was someone else who “got to do that”, we rejoice the same. It is the beautiful sphere of self-forgetfulness.

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness – Tim Keller

Room for everyone on the podium in a very real way…because God is at the foundation of every podium we will ever encounter. Actually, forget the podium. The ground is level at the foot of the Cross. We’ve all heard this. Humility is where we live it.

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself…True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”– Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

Hallelujah!

Photo Credit: 2 Chron 714 Network, Facebook

*Lyrics – Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – Songwriter: Helen Howarth Lemmel

Humble and Kind – Restless Pilgrim Blog & Podcast on The Screwtape Letters – Chapter 14

YouTube Video – Blessed Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller – Edited Synopsis – 7 Minutes

YouTube Video – Lyric Video – Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus – Hillsong Worship

Sunday Grace – A Valentine’s Day Reflection on the Deep, Deep Love of God

Photo Credit: Heartlight Gallery

[Adapted from Archives]

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 36:7

I love Valentine’s Day. Maybe, more than anything, it is a bright red, shiny day that punctures the darker gray ones of winter. Being married now for many years, the season of longing for love should be long forgotten. It is not. I remember.

The curious thing about the years of singleness – the many Valentine’s Days spent more with great girlfriends than with a guy – was the weathered joy in those years. The loneliness and seeming “not belonging to someone” brought keen awareness of the contrasting actual truth that I was NOT alone. Indeed, I was loved deeply, more deeply than ever possible by another human as needy as me.

On Valentine’s Day, I’m drawn back to an old hymn. One actually that only became familiar to me during our years in Egypt, worshiping with British expats. They brought their beloved hymns into our collective worship experience.

Englishman Samuel Trevor Francis penned,  in King James English, a beautiful hymn extolling the love of Christ. The lyrics are so powerful and life-giving. You can just hear the great church organ of the past pounding out the beat and breadth of the melody…and the message of love we find in Jesus.

On this snowy winter day, please worship with me. The Christian band Selah has prepared an updated version for us, retaining the feel of the old hymn. The lyrics and music to accompany are found here.

1 O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me,
is the current of Thy love;
leading onward, leading homeward
to my glorious rest above.

2 O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
changeth never, nevermore!
How He watcheth o’er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own;
how for them He intercedeth,
watcheth o’er them from the throne.

3 O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
love of ev’ry love the best;
’tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’tis heav’n of heav’ns to me;
and it lifts me up to glory,
for it lifts me up to Thee.*

The trappings of Valentine’s Day will leave you a little empty… unsatisfied, no matter your situation. Find in the great love of God the refuge and shelter He means to be for each of us.

He will cover you with His feathers; you will take refuge under His wings. His faithfulness will be a protective shield.Psalm 91:4

Photo Credit: Kensington Gardens

*Lyrics to O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus – S. Trevor Francis

Postscript: Another favorite hymn of mine is How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – below find Selah’s version of this one as well.

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – Selah – YouTube Lyric Video

Love Notes – Mom’s Birthday Just Ahead of Valentine’s Day

[Today is Mom’s birthday – 19 of them now in Heaven. This blog adapted from the Archives. ]

Our little family never lived close to the grandparents. This was not easy…for any of us. Before I married, I did live close to home, and Mom was my best friend. She died several years ago, and I often say to people who knew her that “when I grow up, I want to be just like her.” Still working on that.

Mom and I shared a weakness for words…they are probably excessively important to us, delivering both positive and (sometimes) negative weight. She was an amazing encourager. She rarely missed an opportunity to lift another’s spirit or to speak loving truth to someone desperate for God’s touch.

Mom pictures for website 012

When I moved away to take a teaching job, she and my dad helped me with the move. New Haven, Connecticut would be a 2-day drive from Georgia. It was the farthest I had ever wandered from home. She stayed a week to help me settle in.  While there, she was such great company. We explored the city together and laughed over a new culture and cried at the missing that was ahead for us.

She filled my freezer with her baking, and, while I was at work, she wrote notes. Then she hid them everywhere. After she flew home, I began finding them. In my coffee mug. Under my pillow. In the pocket of my coat. Among my reference books. Behind my music books on the piano. She was with me in the love notes she left, and it made the distance between us…less.IMAG2720 (2)

My mom and I also had a weakness for bits of paper. I have kept every one of her notes. These from that move over 30 years ago are fading…red ink on pink paper. There is a lifetime of notes between Mom and me. The tradition she started on that first move has become a life-long tradition for our family. Our visits back and forth, across the US and then the globe, have been papered by these little notes.

Our children, from the time they could write, entered into this tradition much to the joy of their grandparents. Before we would leave from visits with them, these three young ones would write of their affection for their grandparents and hide them all over their houses. I delighted in their cooperation in this conspiracy of love.

Mom always wrote notes…not just to us but to so many. She and her Sunday School Class ladies would send cards every week to the sick ones or the sad ones. She had a special burden for the elderly, for widows (including functional widows, deserted by husbands) and for fatherless children (again including those “orphaned” by still-living fathers). She inspired me by her humble ambition .

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – James 1:27

I am so thankful for my mom’s bits of paper…for her love…and for her perseverance in encouraging and serving others. Her generation is sadly almost gone, and it is for us to pick up these traditions, or traditions like them. Passing them on somehow to the next generations…Maybe there won’t be bits of paper or love notes like in the past. I do hope we still take the time to write. Definitely, the call to serve and to encourage is as current as ever. My life continues to be rich with those, young and old, who reach out with words of kindness and encouragement. Written or spoken, they are love notes to the heart.

Thanks, Mom. Thank God for you.

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.1 Thessalonians 5:11

The 59 “One Anothers” of the New Testament

Memory-of-Mildred Byrd McAdams

Worship Wednesday – On Compassion – Lead Me to the Cross – Brooke Fraser Ligertwood

Photo Credit: Music Notes World

When he saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Matthew 9:36-38

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”Matthew 16:24

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus, the night before He gave His life for us – John 13:34-35

Did you ever ask your child or grandchild, “Do you know how much I love you?” Then you stretched out both arms as far as you could reach, and, with stretch in your voice, exclaimed, “This much!!!!”

That’s the kind of love we experience from Jesus, and that’s the kind of love He calls from us for others.Photo Credit: Your Quote

After reading One Perfect Word, I prayerfully chose a word to saturate myself in and explore the breadth of it…across this year. The word is compassion. You can find the beginning of this journey here. A good friend, also a writer, emailed me last night, having read that blog on my taking on the word, and life of compassion. He asked for action steps toward the goal of being more compassionate – how does one get there?

I don’t have the steps…except for this: the journey to compassion starts at the foot of the cross. Throughout Jesus’ earthly life, He pointed His followers to the Father and to one another, a widening circle of “one anothers” which would encompass the whole world. We are staggered by such a calling. Yet, if we remember His word, He has already given us all we need for a Godly life, and He has promised always to be with us. Always.

What are the steps to a compassionate life? Maybe in a few weeks or months into this year, I might have a different answer to that question. For now, it is small and, at the same time, tall. Love God and love others. Not on my terms…but His. Whew! I am not sure exactly how to make that work, given the conviction that I was a compassionate person, and yet now I think not so much. It has been a fantasy of mine…but in real life terms, in the will or heart…not on the daily.

With COVID and few routine outlets as a person at risk and retired, I can easily pull a blanket over my life…and feel almost justified in it. How about you? Has this been a struggle?

Praise God, I’ve wakened out of that dull slumber, with compassion lying dormant. Where this “wokeness” leads me, only God knows. He, in His kindness and mercy, will shake us out of our sleepiness; then we see where He takes us.

I don’t have the steps of my own making, but He has already given us a few to start just in the Scripture above.

  • Pray.
  • Give up our own way.
  • Follow Him – which would include that taking up His cross and not one of our own making or choosing.
  • Love others as He has loved us – which takes us back to the cross.

Like with New Year’s resolutions, if we make goals and put steps in place toward meeting those goals…those steps and goals just lie in our imagination, our fantasy life, UNTIL we take action. Every day, take action. As I deal in the real with letting go of personal preferences and sacrifice, then the wonder of Romans 5:3-5 happens:

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Tuning our heart toward the leading of the Holy Spirit and following Jesus can move us to lives where compassion becomes habit, through perseverance, and then character follows, bathed in the love of God.
Hallelujah!
Now, did Jesus have moments of counting the cost? Being God yet human, for an instant, He did, and we learned from Him. In the garden that night before He died, He asked the Father if it was possible not to have to die…but without hesitation He spoke His resolve, “Not My will, but Yours be done”.
This is where the work of building a life of compassion begins…and continues. Prayer and obedience. Prayer and obedience.
[Wall plaques by the door I take to get out of my house – my comfort zone]
So this is where I am today, with this new journey, exploring the word compassion, both in word and deed. Lead me to the Cross, Lord.

Photo Credit: IMB Photos

Worship with me to Brooke Fraser Ligertwood‘s “Lead Me to the Cross” – where life truly began for us…and the place where we learn how to truly love others.

Savior I come
Quiet my soul remember
Redemption’s hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as loss

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

You were as I
Tempted and trialed
Human
The word became flesh
Bore my sin and death
Now you’re risen

Everything I once held dear
I count it all as loss

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

To your heart
To your heart
Lead me to your heart
Lead me to your heart

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Oh, lead me
Lead me to the cross*

Photo Credit: IMB Photos

Postscript: Below you will find several other worship songs that may prove a blessing to you as they were to me in seeking God’s face to see with His eyes, to love with His heart, and to follow Him in the daily and the real.

*Lyrics to “Lead Me to the Cross” – Songwriter: Brooke Fraser

YouTube Video – Lead You to the Cross – No Other Name

YouTube Video – Give Us Your Heart – The Emerging Sound of People & Songs (feat. Melanie Tierce)

YouTube Video – Give Me Your Eyes – Brandon Heath

YouTube Video – Follow Me – Casting Crowns

YouTube Video – I Will Follow – Chris Tomlin

Monday Morning Moment – One Shocking Revelation After Another – Shaking Off Our Fantasies and Grounding Ourselves in the Real – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – Worshipping Together and By Ourselves – God Draws Near – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – One Shocking Revelation After Another – Shaking Off Our Fantasies and Grounding Ourselves in the Real

A dear old friend gave me a book shortly before Christmas of 2020. Just starting to read it in January, and once in, I realized I was way behind. Debbie Macomber‘s One Perfect Word gives a strong case for choosing a word for the year. A word to dissect, and meditate on, and to make real in both our thoughts and walks of life. One Perfect Word. For the year.

[Thanks, Kay, for this book.]

Here, a bit into this year, the word compassion has become my word for 2021. For clarity: It is best defined as: to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help. Compassion embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering.

For those who know or think they know me, compassionate is a word that might seem already descriptive of who I am. “Seem” is the operative word.

10 Ways to Show Compassion – Katie Krawczyk

You see I have always thought of myself as compassionate. Being there for friend and family. A cancer nurse for many years. Hospice, as well. Living overseas for love’s sake. Volunteering in my community and beyond. Love God. Love neighbor. Love even my enemies. This is life…the life Jesus lived; the life I’ve ascribed to live.

So I chose a word compassion to examine and flesh out in my life.

As fate would have it, some friends and I decide to tackle an old and brilliant book: C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (1942). In affectionately abbreviated TSL, Lewis presents a series of fantastical letters from a master demon (Screwtape) to his nephew, Wormwood. The nephew is on assignment to mess in the affairs of a certain young Englishman. In the letters, God is referred to as The Enemy.

[I recommend this book to everyone, whatever your worldview or belief system – the wisdom captured on the pages of this small book is phenomenal. Our human nature and struggles or challenges in life are exposed. Fortunately, we are also given a way forward; oddly by looking at the schemes set in place to trip us up or cause us to fail.  This book is both fascinating and heady. It requires a deep read, for sure.]

In Chapter 6 of TSL, the demon uncle advises his younger on how to trouble the human assigned to him. In the particular area of worrying about the future. This is where fantasy can overtake the real, and, fortunately vice versa: the real can prevail, if we pay attention. Remember my word, compassion.

Screwtape gives much “good counsel” to Wormwood on how to trouble the human by keeping his thoughts on the fears of and hopes for the future rather than on what is right in front of him. For those who do believe in God’s providential care of people, Lewis wholly satisfies us readers as well.

The main message of Screwtape is to keep the human off balance and focused on himself, thinking that he cares for people and outcomes and that he is a good person. The reality is that the human is actually overcome by cares of the world yet does little about them.

How do we shake off our fantasies and ground ourselves in the real?

Screwtape instructs Wormwood to deal with the human as one made up of concentric circles of will, intellect, and fantasies or imagination. Our will, or our heart in spiritual terms, is the deepest part of who we are. It is where we make our choices on how to act and then, in turn, take action. Different than intellect, or what we know about life (intellect) or what we imagine or fantasize about life…or about doing life.

YouTube Video – Screwtape Letter 6 – Providence eLearning – Dr. Arthur Hippler – a clear and excellent resource

Photo Credit: Providence eLearning, YouTube, Screwtape Letters

So I can think I am a compassionate person. In fact, one can choose to be compassionate. However, we can also simply apply our intellect to the whole idea of compassion and then only fantasize or imagine ourselves doing acts of compassion… This is NOT what we think it is. Compassion, in its truest most real sense, happens in the will…and in the moment. Oh, we can plan on acts of compassion and put in place steps toward compassionate outcomes… but, until we act, compassion itself lies in the realm of imagination or fantasy.

Sobering and extremely helpful.

A huge and relevant example in modern culture right now is the statement, and call to action, “Black Lives Matter”. Do black lives matter? Absolutely. Do all lives matter? Of course. Do lives “womb to tomb” matter? Not to everyone…but that’s for another day.

We can say and lean into powerful messaging. Yet, until we grapple with the realities of that messaging, and sort out what truly communicates the truth of that message…not just in word but also in deed…then, in fact, the messaging is just so many words.

Screwtape has wreaked his havoc in our culture and in us as fellow humans, as we struggle with how to respond to messaging. Both in our news and social media platforms, and conversations with neighbors and friends. What is fantasy and what is reality and how shall we then act?

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your [human’s] soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.Screwtape to Wormwood, Chapter 6, The Screwtape Letters

Related to compassion, my word for 2021, I no longer want to stay locked in debate over whose lives matter or what hasn’t been done than needs to be done. I would love to settle in my will to act…with compassion. Not thinking I am showing some sacrificial compassion out there among those I don’t even know…but in fact, acting in compassion, toward my housemates, my extended family and friends, this neighborhood and beyond. Leaving off the malice of disagreeing or tweaking each others messages out there in the world somewhere.

This is the goal: shaking off my fantasies about compassion and the idea of my being a compassionate person and grounding myself, my very will, in the real…acting in compassion, in the moment and moving toward making it habit.

Restless Pilgrim – Pints With Jack – The Screwtape Letters 6 – “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”the most fun to be had in diving deep into C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

YouTube Channel – C. S. Lewis Doodle

Worship Wednesday – When All I See Is the Battle, You See the Victory (Battle Belongs) – Phil Wickham

Photo Credit: Pinterest, Toby Mac

Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord...Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”2 Chronicles 20:3-4, 15-17

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:8-9

When the song Battle Belongs first came to my hearing just this past week, it stirred so much thought and prayer…not so many words, but they are in the song…and my hands go up, and I want to dance!

Praying this prayer:

“Oh, God, give me eyes to see how You see things…and people. Free my thoughts from the bondage of the ‘but’s’ and the ‘what if’s’. Empty my mind of worry and fear…and even ridiculous dread. Forgive me when I am consumed by thoughts that are simply not true…when I believe lies over what You have already told us…already promised. Remind me that You mean nothing but good for Your children.  Fill my heart with love for a good and loving God. Guide my steps to walk in Your confidence and Your compassion. You are God. There is nothing to fear. You are God…and we are Yours. You light our paths. You steady our gait. You hold us close. We are Yours…and we will rest our hearts and minds in Your keeping.”

Worship with me to this emboldened hymn of praise by Phil Wickham and Brian Johnson

“Battle Belongs”

When all I see is the battle
You see my victory
When all I see is the mountain
You see a mountain moved
And as I walk through the shadow
Your love surrounds me
There’s nothing to fear now
For I am safe with You
So when I fight I’ll fight on my knees
With my hands lifted high
Oh God the battle belongs to You
And every fear I lay at Your feet
I’ll sing through the night
Oh God the battle belongs to You
And if You are for me
Who can be against me (yeah)
For Jesus there’s nothing
Impossible for You
When all I see are the ashes
You see the beauty (thank You God)
When all I see is a cross
God You see the empty tomb
So when I fight I’ll fight on my knees
With my hands lifted high
Oh God the battle belongs to You
And every fear I lay at Your feet
I’ll sing through the night
Oh God the battle belongs to You
Almighty Fortress You go before us
Nothing can stand against
The power of our God
You shine in the shadow
You win every battle
Nothing can stand against
The power of our GodAlmighty Fortress You go before us
Nothing can stand against
The power of our God
You shine in the shadow
You win every battle
Nothing can stand against
The power of our GodAlmighty Fortress You go before us
Nothing can stand against
The power of our God
You shine in the shadows
You win every battle
Nothing can stand against
The power of our GodSo when I fight I’ll fight on my knees
With my hands lifted high
Oh God the battle belongs to You
And every fear I lay at Your feet
I’ll sing through the night
Oh God the battle belongs to YouOh God the battle belongs to You*

*Lyrics to “Battle Belongs” – Songwriters: Brian Johnson, Phil Wickham

[Phil Wickham explained the following in a story behind “Battle Belongs”, “One of my favourite stories in all of scripture comes from ‘2 Chronicles 20’. It’s a story of this huge army that is amassed to come against the people of God. And when the people of God and their king, Jehoshaphat, hear of this horde coming their way, they freak out. They literally come to God and say, ‘We are powerless against this army, but our eyes are on you, God. Show us what to do.’ And God responds to them. His Spirit comes upon this Levite man and through the Levite man God says, ‘Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the battle is not yours, but it is God’s. You will not have to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position and see the Salvation of the Lord on your behalf.'”]

Monday Morning Moment – Poet Langston Hughes on Life and America

Photo Credit: The Wisdom Daily

American poet Langston Hughes was born in 1902. His life as a black man in such a time as this gave voice to that of many in America. Especially blacks, but to others as well who also found themselves marginalized by the powerful and influential of their day. He died much too young at 65.

I discovered his poetry in 2020…very late to the party or revolution.

Raised by a loving, Godly mom, I was taught to be color-blind regarding races of people. It turns out that didn’t prove to be healing to black friends, neighbors, and strangers on the street. Blacks whose lives had been deeply and darkly affected by a racism I simply had not learned or experienced. How could that be? Yet, it is true.

[My mom had a pure heart; I’m sure of this. She wanted to believe that there was only one race, the human race. She grew up poor, worked hard all her life, mostly making minimum wage, held her family together, and kept her faith. Much like the black women who lived in that distant, unknown part of town. She just didn’t know what was happening in government and the private sector that divided us…and diminished some. All of us, by degrees.]

Racism is wrong and must be exposed and wrestled down. I don’t believe that what has happened in the US over 2020 will move us in that direction.  I could be wrong. For sure.

Still…I’m so thankful for people who, despite the wrongs done to them or around them, have flourished. Like the rising tide, raising all boats in its wake. My desire is to recognize and support those who resist street-level thuggery and use platforms that don’t divide but draw us all in.

Langston Hughes is an example of that sort of person. [Now, he died during a pivotal time in the Civil Rights Movement, a year before Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed. Had he lived longer, I don’t know how his thinking or poetry would have changed.]

I’d like to let just a few of Langston Hughes’ words speak for him:

“Looks like what drives me crazy
Don’t have no effect on you–
But I’m gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.”
“I swear to the Lord,I still can’t see,Why Democracy means,Everybody but me. ”

“I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.”
Langston Hughes

On this day, commemorating Hughes’ birthday, a friend of mine posted on Facebook the two following poems (one by Walt Whitman followed by a poem of response by Langston Hughes):

I Hear America Singing – Walt Whitman – 1819-1892

*I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,

Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”*

I, Too – Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

“I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.”*

Hughes wrote about America and life as a black person in America. Especially as it related to freedom of expression:

“This is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America — this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible...Then there are the low-down folks, the so-called common element, and they are the majority — may the Lord be praised!…These common people are not afraid of spirituals, as for a long time their more intellectual brethren were, and jazz is their child. They furnish a wealth of colorful, distinctive material for any artist because they still hold their own individuality in the face of American standardization. And perhaps these common people will give to the world its truly great Negro artist, the one who is not afraid to be himself.” – Langston Hughes, The Weary Blues

Here, on the first day of Black History Month, in a more somber America 2021, I salute the great poet Langston Hughes. May we learn from him and from each other.

[May we also beware of those who “seem to be influential” in our culture today – those who would divide and diminish us – when we have the capacity and capability to help each other flourish…all of us. – This warning coming of all places from my reading in the Bible this early snowy morning, Galatians 2.]

I’d like to close with just an excerpt of the powerful Hughes poem “Let America Be America Again” (recited in full in the YouTube video above):

“O, let America be America again– The land that never has been yet– And yet must be–the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME– Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again. Sure, call me any ugly name you choose– The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath– America will be! Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain– All, all the stretch of these great green states– And make America again! “

I Dream a World – Langston Hughes

*Poets – Lesson plan, which features poems by Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes and Elizabeth Alexander

10 of Langston Hughes’ Most Popular Poems – Rachel Chang

The Bold Wisdom Within Langston Hughes’ Poems – Ellen Levitt

Black Lives Mattered to Langston Hughes – Robin Bates