Friday, February 28, 2014

TGIF: Goodbye February!

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
What we do with this hour, and with that one, is what we are doing.
- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

What I'm Trusting:
That little things add up to big things.  Showing up to pray, to learn a Bible story, to teach a Bible story.  Writing a note.  Listening to a friend.  Putting in my daily miles.  That the things I do faithfully add up to a valuable life.  I remember when the boys were little and they were saving up for something, they would go by every evening and snag the change Dennis emptied out of his pockets into a little tray on his desk.  Pretty soon they'd have a stash.  I trust that God is doing this with my days, if I live them wisely.

How I practice Gratitude:
This week I'm working on receiving.  As I make an effort to pay attention to all the good that God brings, all the grace, I just want to receive it joyfully and gratefully—in whatever form it comes.  This is a new practice for me, because I'm usually into controlling the form in which God's goodness arrives.  A reminder I keep on my bureau says, "Each day comes bearing its own gifts.  Untie the ribbons."

What Inspires me:
Service.  My friend Brenda is amazing at acts of service.  I've been caught up in her current project, which is furnishing several houses and apartments where our church will host missionaries who are staying in our area.  I love the way she looks at every detail—every corner of the room, every cabinet and drawer—and thinks with love about the person who will live there:  What will they need?  How will they know they are cared for and welcome?

What's Fun:
Honestly?  Sunshine!  It may have been 20 degrees this week, but it was sunny!  I'm soaking up all the sun I can get.  Rearranging furniture in my house so I can sit near a sunny window.  Hanging my head out the car window.  And happily putting in my daily miles in my neighborhood!  Thanks, cold gray February, for going out on a sunny 56!

What's your TGIF this week?  I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Love Story Week 7: unfaithful wife, unfailing husband

This week Dennis and I celebrated 35 years of marriage.  35 isn't particularly a landmark anniversary, but for us it felt significant.  A line of demarkation between life with kids at home and, very recent for us, life together, just the two of us again.

When you are newly married, love is romantic and adventurous, alternately awkward and breathtaking.  Then comes the long stretch of raising kids, putting down roots, slugging it out in the daily stuff—linked up, but less like lovers and more like Power Rangers.  After 35 years, love is deep as it is daily, faithful and knowing. And if you are very lucky, still romantic and adventurous.

Life with Dennis Worley has always been an adventure.  It still is.  An adventure I'm always willing to take, because he is the surest, steadiest, most faithful person I know.  At year 35, I celebrate the adventure of getting to be his partner in life and in ministry.  Of getting to link arms and slug it out in the daily stuff and the really big stuff.  I celebrate getting to dream with him and make dreams happen.  I celebrate that I am the one to cherish his dreams, and he is the one to cherish mine.  I celebrate the certainty that there is no one on this earth who loves me more or knows me better or believes in my best or works for my good.  No one who looks at me that way, when I feel I am worthy of it and when I know I am not.  And I celebrate that of all the people in the world who could, I get to be that person for him.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians about this kind of relationship between a husband and wife, he said, "It's a great mystery.  But I am really talking about Jesus and his church."  In the Great Love Story, marriage is a picture of God and his people.

I'm thinking about that word picture this week, because in our Wednesday Bible study, we're learning the story of Hosea's marriage to Gomer.  It is a heart-breaking love story and a powerful picture of God's love for his people.

The first time God spoke to Hosea he said, 
"Go and find a woman who will be unfaithful to you, and marry her.
Make this unfaithful woman the mother of your children.
And here's why:  My people, every one of them, have become unfaithful to me, their God."
- Hosea 1:2

Sure enough, Gomer was unfaithful to Hosea.  And God said, "My people are just like her.  They don't even realize that every good they have, it came from me.  They will set their hearts on anything and everything else."

I know this is true.  Last Sunday in church we sang my favorite hymn, Come Thou Fount, with the verse that is my confession:

Oh! to grace, how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be.
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord—I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart.  Oh!  Take a seal it.  Seal it for Thy courts above.
- Robert Robinson "Come Thou Fount"

How can I be so sure of God's love, yet be so prone to wander in search of other sources that offer to  validate or comfort me?  How can I be more faithful to my earthly husband than to the Lover of My Soul?

Here's the thing:  Hosea knew when he married Gomer that she would be unfaithful.  Just as God knew when he chose to love his people that they would be unfaithful.  He warned them—Be careful!— it would happen, as long as they left other options as rivals for his rightful place.  And we must be just as careful, because the land we live in is full of other options.

But even an unfaithful marriage is a picture of God's faithful love for his people.

God told Hosea, "Start all over.  Love your wife again, your cheating wife.
Love her the way I love my cheating, unfaithful people."

God promised, "I'm buying my people back.  
I'll win your hearts, and you'll respond like a bride being courted.
In that day, you'll call me 'dear husband'.
And I will marry you.  And I will love you forever."
- Hosea 2:14-20, 3:1

"O come," Hosea pleads, "Let us return to the Lord."  

Oh!  I'm running to Your arms.  I'm running to Your arms.
The riches of Your love will always be enough.
Nothing compares to Your embrace.
Light of the World, forever reign!
-Jason Ingram/Ruben Morgan "Forever Reign"

I thought of Hosea and Gomer as we sang those words on Sunday.  I thought of them on Monday night as I celebrated my anniversary with the husband who daily shows me what the unfailing love of God is like.

Indeed, your husband is your Maker—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.
He is called the God of all the earth.
- Isaiah 54:5

Oh! Let Thy goodness, Lord, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Here is the story of God's unfailing love to his unfaithful wife.

Who will you tell this story to this week?

Thursday, February 20, 2014


This week I'm starting a new Friday blog post.  I will just up and confess that I adapted this idea from Brene Brown.  I don't think she will mind that I borrowed her practice, especially if you buy her genius books The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  Or sign up for her art journaling e-course based on The Gifts of Imperfection.  I'm loving it!  Trust me, it's a great gift to yourself.

So, here's my TGIF for this week:

What I'm Trusting:
That God never runs out of good.  That his mercies really are new every morning, as the book of Lamentations tells us.  In this strange new season of the empty nest, I'm trusting that good will come wrapped in different trimmings.  I'm leaning in to that so I don't miss it.

How I practice Gratitude:
Since I'm watching closely for the goodness of God in every day, I've taken up an old habit. When my kids were growing up, I used to keep a "day in the life" journal.  I took one polaroid picture every day, capturing just one beautiful moment - the sun on the window sill, the kids jumping in piles of leaves, a fresh stack of clean laundry.  I pasted that photograph in a big blank book and wrote a couple of sentences about it.  I'm going back to this practice, although now I'm doing it digitally, using an app for my journal.  This week I've started snapping pictures throughout the day.  At the end of the day, I gather them all into my Gifts of The Day digital journal and scribble a few notes on the edges.

What Inspires me:
Vulnerability.  Which, as Brene Brown teaches us, is not weakness, but the courage to show up and be authentic.  This week, Dennis made a mistake, and not one he could get out of without attention.  I so admired him because he said, "Well, this wasn't the right decision.  But I'm not going to make it worse by staying on this path."  Because he was willing to change course, it's been very evident this week that God has confirmed, "This was the way, walk in it."

What's Fun:
Friends!  We are normally terrible hermits, but this week we intentionally made plans to go out with friends.  Old friends.  The best thing about being in mid-life is having friends you've done life with for so long.  And speaking of making plans and having to change them, we were nuts enough to plan to meet friends for dinner out on Valentine's Day.  A sign of how hermit-y we are is that we had no comprehension of what restaurants are like on Valentine's Day.  Valentine's Day + Friday = Bedlam!  Even though we went early (I'm talking Senior Adult Hour), everywhere had two hour wait, and nobody took reservations.  And it was pouring down rain.  And we drove clear across town to try and find a different place.  We almost ended up eating soup at Panera Bread.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Unless you've been thinking about steak all day. And just drove across town to do it.) Anyway, rain + being nuts + accidental restaurant good fortune = a long evening of laughter with good friends.  And steak.

What's your TGIF?  I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Love Story Week 6: What happens when we forget

Time flies when you're loving life!
- Ben Worley, age 8

One day when Ben was eight years old, he was playing upstairs and I was writing at my computer downstairs.  The whole afternoon went by, until it was almost dark, and no one had turned on any lights.  Ben came downstairs.  "It's already night!" he said, and I agreed.

"Time flies when you're loving life!" he laughed, and ran back upstairs.

Yes, it does.

This month Ben Worley moved out.  He was my last boy.  At 21, it was time for him to move out.  We let him stay until now, supporting a starving musician while he got his feet under him.

It's absolutely right that he moved out.  And it's not like he moved to South Africa.  Matt did that, back in October.  I've experienced two Joys/Terrors in a short few months.  One, two: Pow.  And she's out.

I find myself knocked out by God's goodness as displayed in the amazing men who are my sons now—but also doubled over with grief, because there are no more little boys in the playroom and the back yard anymore.

I was never a clingy mom.  Please.  I had my boys enrolled in Mothers' Day Out before they were even born.  I danced in the driveway the day Ben Worley got on the bus for kindergarten.

Still, there was really only one thing I wanted to do with my life:  get married and have kids.  Everything else I have achieved in life has been, like gravy:  on the side.  There has always been a little part of me that has been greedy for the goodness that has come especially through my family.  Like the last day of vacation, when you are watching the sun set on the beach and wishing it would just last a little longer, because it will never be like this again.  When you come back, if you come back, they will never be this age.  It will never be like this.

Why do we think God is going to run out of good?

These are anxious and fearful times, both of which breed scarcity.  We're afraid to lose what we love the most, and we hate that there are no guarantees.  There is one guarantee:  If we're not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.
-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Keeping a gratitude journal is a really good practice.  I keep what is kind of a spin on a gratitude journal.  It's more like a Joy/Terror journal.  On one side of the journal, I started making a list of the circumstances in my life (and the lives of people I love) and my feelings about them.  This is happening, and I feel this about it.  Flip the journal over and upside down, and I keep a different list there.  I list all the good, all the gifts, all the grace, all the joys, all the daily evidence of God for which I am so grateful.  One journal:  two sides of the same picture.  I'm working my way toward the middle, and my goal is that the Joy list will be much thicker and longer than the Terrors list.

The children of Israel could've used a journal like this, as they stood on the edge of the Promised Land and decided whether to go in or not.

You'd think a bunch of people who'd seen God work for them in ways like the plagues that delivered them out of Egypt, who'd actually walked through the Red Sea, been fed manna every day in the wilderness and seen water and quail appear from out of nowhere—people who actually had a pillar of fire living in the middle of their camp—would have a long enough list of Joys, so that the Terrors rumored over the border wouldn't faze them.

Caleb, one of the spies, said, “Let’s go up and take the land—now. We can do it.”
But the others said, “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are.” They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. 
They said, “We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it’s a land that swallows people whole. The people are giants. Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And that's how they looked at us.”
- Numbers 13:30-33

But no.

The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long. 
All the people complained. “Why didn’t we die in Egypt? Or in this wilderness? 
Why has God brought us to this country to die—to have our children stolen?  
Why don’t we just head back to Egypt? And right now!”
- Numbers 14:1-3

They flipped to the wrong side of the journal.  They just reviewed the list of Terrors and forgot the list of Joys.

They forgot what he had done—
marvels he’d done right before their eyes.
- Psalm 78:11

For 40 years I was disgusted with that generation; 
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray; 
they do not know My ways.”
- Psalm 95:10

The story of the children of Israel wandering in the desert for 40 years is a true story, but it is also a powerful word picture.  When we forget who God is and what he has done, we do not recognize his ways.  He can be raining down quail and manna all around us and we can't see it, because we don't recognize him.  We aren't aligned with him;  we're lined up under a column of Terrors.  

This is the weapon of Satan:  to get us to forget.  And this is the weapon of worship:  to help us remember.

When we forget, we think God has run out of goodness.  When we worship, we remember that he can't.  

I remember my affliction and my wandering, 
the bitterness and the gall. 
I well remember them, 
and my soul is downcast within me. 
Yet this I call to mind 
and therefore I have hope: 
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, 
for his compassions never fail. 
They are new every morning; 
great is your faithfulness. 

- Lamentations 3:19-23

Lamentations, which is journal of Terrors, also gives us this great truth.  In church, we sing it like this:

We will remember.
We will remember.
We will remember the works of Your hands.
And we will stop and give You praise,
for great is Your faithfulness.
- Tommy Walker, We Will Remember

At church we are talking about "Next"—laying out the vision for the challenge God has put before us in the next part of our life together.  To prepare for that, we are remembering where we came from and how we got there.  Because in remembering, we will find confidence in the God who calls us onward.

Why didn't the Israelites take the Promised Land?  Why did they wander in the wilderness for 40 years?  They didn't believe.  (Hebrews 3:19)  They didn't believe God had any good left.

The writer of Hebrews says, "Let's be careful this doesn't happen to us."  Because it can.  That's why I show up at choir rehearsal every Wednesday night and put my robe on every Sunday morning.  It's why I tell Bible stories and teach people to tell them.  It's why I get up every morning and read the Psalms. And many days, I don't feel like it.  And that's especially when I need to remember.  And make a list of Joys.

When this house feels empty and the giants of Loneliness and Midlife threaten to swallow me whole, I need to remember that all the goodness God has for me hasn't finished happening here yet. It is new every morning.

We must remember in order to go forward.

Here's the story of what happened when the Israelites forgot.  

Let's not let it happen to us.

Who will you tell this story to?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love Story: A love story set in a war

We live in a great love story, set in the midst of a war.
- John Eldridge, Waking the Dead

It was a snow day here.  Schools cancelled.  So Wednesday Bible study didn't meet.  I was disappointed!

But Monday I was working on our story for this week, and I started thinking, hey, we could use a little break.  It would be good to review the stories we've learned so far and soak in the truth that they are telling us.  Apparently God thought so, too, so we got our break this week, courtesy of Snow.

So let's review the Love Story we've been learning, starting with the lens that Paul gives us in his letter to the Ephesians.

Ephesus was the home of the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Like Nashville is Music City, Ephesus was Artemis City.  Every tradesman in town was making their livelihood by making Artemis trinkets.  Artemis keychains, Artemis t-shirts, little silver Artemis statues.  So when believers in Ephesus gave up the goddess Artemis, they worried who would secure their identity and their destiny?  Paul wrote these words to assure them:

      How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

                    Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need,letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth. 

                      It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

               It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

           That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

                All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

- Ephesians 1:33-23, The Message

Here is the truth I hope you soak in this week:

You are deeply, deeply loved.
The hero of the Love Story in the Bible is God.  Like all heroes, he has something he wants, and he is willing to overcome any obstacle to get it.  That something he wants, he loves, he is pursuing: is you.  He had you in mind as he created the world.

God is bringing you a life that is far better than anything you could ever go out and get for yourself.
We Americans, we value achievement, and we like to get attention for our achievements.  And I suspect we are a little bit disappointed with the truth of the Gospel, which is God loves us, not because of anything we've done or not done, but because he chose to.  It's okay with us that he offers this freely to everyone else, but we would like to think that there's a special door we enter through because we did something to earn it.  We are so driven to feel special that even the astounding truth that the Creator of the Universe completely loves us is not special enough.

But here is the truth:  God created everything, including you.  Out of sheer delight and love.  You were made for a relationship with him, and he offers that life of love at the hand of his Son.  Take his offer, and you have a new way of life,  empowered by the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live out our identity and destiny.  That is what God promised you, and every day he is working to make good on that promise.

It doesn't always feel that way.
Every story has a villain.  The villain in the Love Story of the Bible is Satan.  Not you.  That's important to remember:  the war is not God vs. you, it's God's vs. Satan.  Because every villain has something he wants, and he is willing to overcome anything to get it.  Satan wants God's place.  So he will compete for your heart and mind.  The enemy will not see you vanish into God's company without an effort to reclaim you. (C.S. Lewis)

Every story has a third set of characters.  There's the hero, the protagonist.  The villain, the antagonist.  And there are the agonists. That's us. Caught up in the struggle between the hero and the villain.  And doesn't it feel like agony sometimes?

Yeah, don't trust your feelings.  Feelings never tell you the Love Story, the story of God.  They tell you the story of You.

So this is our challenge: to believe the story of God, and to know how to tell it. And to know that we are part of it;  our daily lives are a great love story set in a war.

So far we've learned five parts of the Love Story.  Take this week to go back and listen to each of them again.  Practice telling them.  Tell them to your friends, your spouse, your children and grandchildren.  Watch and pray for the moment when you're having a conversation with somebody, and God says, "Tell them this story."

You can find all five stories on this blog under the posts "Love Story."  At the end of each post, click on the link to listen to the story and download a little study material to help you understand it and tell it well.

Who will you tell a story to this week?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Love Story Week 5: FOMO

The enemy steals joy by saying, "Look at what so and so is doing!" 
The Spirit breathes life by saying, "Look, at what I'm doing."
- Louie Giglio

Do you ever wrestle with FOMO? If you are female and breathing, it's likely you do.  (Have I made you paranoid?  Take this quiz to see if you have it.)

Fear of Missing Out is the enemy of contentment.  It's the enemy's primary strategy to get between me and God.  

I could write a lot about this, but Shauna Neiquist has said it so well.  Listen to what she says in this Bible study from Willow Creek.  And contemplate Psalm 16.

My whole life has been spent longing.  Longing for a boy.  Longing for that boy to notice me.  Longing for a dress or a sofa or a house or an opportunity or a cupcake—whatever's in the window.  Once a year, at Christmas, I let myself look at all the catalogs so I can do my Christmas shopping.  The rest of the year, I make Dennis throw them away when he sorts the mail.  Because they are full of things I don't even know exist, but once I discover them, I will neeeeeed them.

I've been thinking a lot about FOMO this week because I've been learning the story of Sarah's scheme to get a son.  

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” 

- Genesis 16:1-2

There is something more dangerous than pressing your nose against the glass and wishing for what you do not have.  We were made to long.  And God delights in giving us goodness.  But when you try to control the form and timing in which His goodness comes to you, that's sin.  And it brings trouble. It brings heartache.  And a whole mess of complication.

"Why do you worry about these things?" Jesus asks in the Sermon on the Mount.  

People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, 
but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. 
- Matthew 6:32-33

Do I trust God to bring my life to me, or do I feel I need to go out and get goodness for myself?  That's the question at the heart of all these Bible stories we're learning this winter.  I worry about missing out when I forget that I am loved by the God who is bringing me the life He has always had in mind for me.

What if...she let herself be loved whatever way her Lord deemed best? 

- Ann Voskamp

Sarah didn't.  

Here's the story of Sarah's scheme and God's goodness.

Who will you tell this story to?