Monday, December 5, 2016

Great Joy

I was reading my morning devotions.  The outside world was decorated by a layer of snow that had fallen in the night, and the birds were at the feeder just by the kitchen window.  I'd love to say that the inside of my house is also decorated, that the tree is up and the stockings are hung, that the rooms are adorned with green and red and all that's beautiful. But that part wouldn't be true, at least not yet.  I do have out all my Christmas books, though, and that's really how it begins for me. 

Back to my devotions.  I was reading a passage in the book of Acts, about the early church and the council at Jerusalem.  It wasn't part of a seasonal reading, or any sort of Advent narrative.  It was simply what came next in the schedule I've been following.  

Paul and Barnabas were dealing with a serious doctrinal dispute, concerning the very basis of salvation.  They were sent by the church to bring correction to the problem, and on their way, the Bible says, "They passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren."  

I am sure I have read this verse before.  In fact, given my past read-throughs, I have no doubt read it several times.  But there was no note, no underscore, no emphasis to indicate it had any prior impact.  I didn't recall reading it, there was no familiarity to the words.  This time, though, I was stopped by them. 

"They caused great joy to all the brethren."

So many do the opposite. So many people cause anguish, discouragement, and defeat wherever they go.  But not these two - they caused great joy.  And that's what I want to do - to bring great joy. 

That's a wonderful thought and a worthy objective, but it's quite a bit of pressure, too.   

But the next verse says, "And they reported all things that God had done with them."  That's a simple task I can understand - I'm to be a storyteller of God's work in my life, to relate God's wonders and His miracles, and His amazing grace to me.  And in that telling is my own "Joy to the world," my own caroling song.  "Let every heart prepare Him room," Watts writes, and because that has taken place, others can see another incarnation: Christ living in me. 

It's a sounding joy, to be repeated.  The decorations, the concerts, the parties, the books, the ornaments, the gifts under the tree, so many of these things are traditions - a repeat of the joy, an encore of the anthem.  I didn't expect to find Christmas in Acts 15.  Yet my very celebration of the Son of God taking on human flesh and beginning that thirty-three year journey to the cross is a testimony to the reverberating and replaying of joy, to the truth that the Lord is come.  

Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy - great joy, to all the brethren. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Mushrooms, Yard Signs, and the Election

I was in the library last night, picking up a book I had requested from another library.  It's a children's book on mushrooms, and I like the storyline and accompanying illustrations, and the way parts of the book look like a nature journal.  We take nature walks in our home each week and also with my grandchildren, so "The Mushroom Hunt" seemed like a good addition to autumn nature study. 

I didn't expect this library book to get me thinking about the election. 

To be fair, it's hard not to think about it.  It's all over Facebook, Twitter, the news, podcasts, and people's conversations.  It's been an election season like no other I can recall, with both candidates scoring high in one area:  "least liked" in recent history.  

But I was at the library, thinking about nature study, and in particular getting a book on mushrooms.  My mind, at least for awhile, was not on the choice before the nation. 

The librarian handed me the receipt.  "It's due on the 10th," he said. 

And then it hit me.  November 10th.  The election is the 8th.  

When I return my library book, the election will be all over. 

Well, of course, there's the possibility it won't be completely over. Anyone who lived through 2000 (and this year's youngest voters at least were born then, though they wouldn't remember) knows that elections aren't always decided that night.  Or for many nights. 

But likely, this fractious, troubling, momentous decision will be past, when I bring "The Mushroom Hunt" back to the public library.  And it all suddenly loomed very near.

I have read or listened to many wise and godly men and women speak about this election.  I can't recall a time when Christians, particularly Christians who share similar values on urgent priorities like life, religious liberty, national safety, the Supreme Court, and economic and personal freedom, have been this polarized. 

I have come - tentatively - to my likely voting decision for this election - and I am not going to write about it today. I don't know if I will at any point. 

But I have come to an even bigger decision.  It came to me when I was thinking about the election, and feeling frustrated and powerless and somewhat discouraged about it.  

I am going to pray.  

Now obviously, I've been praying already.  I can go back to a much earlier time in the primary cycle and find my prayer requests written out, prayer requests that were both specific and general - for a certain candidate, and for God to be glorified.  But lately, the barrage of news from and about both camps has nearly paralyzed my prayer life in that area.  And that's not a good thing. 

The Bible says to 'pray for those in authority.'  Neither presidential candidate is in a position of authority over me - yet.  The vice presidential candidates actually have more authority at the moment, and though I don't live in either state where they govern, one of them at least has the capacity in the Senate to make decisions that impact me and my family.  But not one of these four people - Trump, Clinton, Pence, or Kaine - is right now specifically ruling over me.  

By the time "The Mushroom Hunt" is due, though, two of them will be.  

And in the meantime, they all are ruling in a sense - they are ruling the airwaves, the internet, the national conversation, and they are ruling the yards. 

Signs are cropping up.  I took a picture of each camp's sign today, which was interesting in itself.  My own street is remaining apolitical this year, it seems, so I drove around awhile and then had to pull over to get these stunning photos. (I envisioned taking some beautiful images, with the setting sun reflecting off of a few nearby fallen maple leaves.  That didn't happen, clearly.)

Those signs have become notices for me - notices that tell me to pray.  

It was an exhortation, a command, that "first of all" - before I give my opinion, before I engage in articulating my points, before I do anything else - "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks" (that's a lot right there...) "be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority."
(I Timothy 2:1)

These four people need my prayers.  

I can't just vote for my favorites, or my candidates, or my side.  A study of the time period for the Apostle Paul's writing of this letter to young Timothy reveals that Nero was the one 'in authority.'   That adds significant perspective. The rhetoric is pretty intense right now, from both the Republicans and the Democrats, but no one can accuse either candidate of lighting Christians on fire to illuminate their personal garden.  (Although, give it a day or so, and who knows what will be said next.  I'm kidding.  I hope.)

There's a reason to pray.  It's so that 'we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.'  Such a life is louder than the text indicates.  When a believer in Jesus Christ lives a life of godliness and honesty, that testimony speaks to an ever-growing circle of people.  And that observable testimony is a testimony to the life-changing power of God. 

That's because praying for those in authority, even - especially - when they are leaders that oppose our values or our convictions or (in the case of the early church) even our very existence, that's a strong witness. 

It's also the most important thing I can do right now. When I saw those political signs today, I gained what I had been missing:  a sense of purpose in this election.  I have a role to play, and it matters whether or not I carry out that role.  It matters because God hears and God answers. 

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Tim Kaine, Mike Pence - I am praying for you.  I am praying that if any of you don't know Jesus Christ as your Savior, that you turn to Him and accept what He did for you on the cross.  Truly, ultimately, that's your most important decision.  If you once knew and walked with Him but you've followed another path, I pray you return, fully and joyfully. And if you already know Him, I pray you stay closer than ever to the only One who can guide you, help you, and sustain you. God alone can help the country. That's the way it's always been, and that's the one thing - in this radically changing time - that hasn't changed at all.  

The election is soon.  Well, according to my library receipt, anyway.  (Library due dates always arrive with much haste.  I have a backlog of fines to prove it. Oops. That revelation would likely keep me out of public office.  But I digress.) 

And every yard sign, every news story, every debate, every tweet and post and podcast and conversation - they are reminders to pray for these four, their families, this election, and this country. And yes, for the rest of the world, too. Because as important as my vote is - and it is important - my prayers matter, my prayers reach the heart of God, and my prayers can make all the difference. 

Join me?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Gratefully Sing

I woke this morning with words tumbling around in my head.

I don't use the word cacophony on a regular basis, but this is where that word should be used.  My head was filled with a 'harsh, discordant mixture of sounds.'  The words mostly had to do with the election here in the U.S. (the debate and all the back-and-forth discussion during and after on social media), but such information overload happens other times as well.

The other day I wrote about my devotional plans and about Music Monday, the idea of adding hymn study to Monday's devotional time.  After reading and praying, and hearing God's words so clearly in a couple of matters, I opened a hymnal.

I got to thinking about my grandmother.  My grandmother Mimi was a character.  She had several responsibilities in church, as she was the pastor's wife, the nursery coordinator, and the head of what was called back then the "Beginners Department."  The Beginners were the '4's and 5's,' and the church was large enough that they had their own large room and several teachers.

I remember Mimi telling me once about teaching the Beginners beyond what most, at the time, thought was appropriate little-kid Sunday School material.  She taught them often to "marry a Christian," which prompted her co-workers to chuckle.  She also set aside the usual little songs and taught the children hymns, especially "O Worship the King."

I think she was wise to do both.

So I looked up "O Worship the King."

I got out my notebook and began to write - verse after verse.  It took time, and it took focus, longer than if I'd just read the familiar hymn.

The words began to sing in my head, first in phrases, then in whole lines, then in the totality of the beauty of this song.  Other concerns, other thoughts and fears and burdens got crowded out by "Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days."

Later on my morning walk, I thought about how God's canopy is space.  I kept hearing that He has a path on the wings of the storm, that His care is bountiful. What calming truths.

Psalm 94:19 says,  "In the multitude of my thoughts within me Thy comforts delight my soul."

A hymn like O Worship the King is one of those comforts. It renews my mind, and brings a measure of peace.

"Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail, in Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail. Thy mercies, how tender, how firm to the end, our Maker, Defender, Redeemer and Friend."

Friday, October 7, 2016

Some Bits of Autumn

I've noticed that I write the season as Autumn; I say it as Fall.

No matter what I call it, I know that each day, in my part of the world, there is something new to see, to appreciate, to celebrate.  On my morning walk around the neighborhood today, I kept stopping to look, to notice, to marvel.

Whether it was the fallen birch leaves by my aunt's house,

the newly reddening maples in my front yard,

the magnificent sugar maple up the street,

a 'Silver Dust' with its yellow flowers,

an eastern white pine's yellowing needles,

the large pods on a trumpet creeper,

Queen Anne's Lace all curled up,

a first, perfect fallen red maple, 

the berries on a Canada Yew,

the detail on this evergreen that's turning brown (a cypress?),

keys (helicopters!) on a Japanese maple,

a neighbor's crepe myrtles, 

or the yellow mums on my front porch,  they each have a beauty of their own. 

I'm reading Edwin Way Teale's "Autumn Across America," a book that describes the trip taken by Edwin and his wife Nellie across the country and into the fall.  The caption below the title says, "A naturalist's record of a 20,000-mile journey through the North American Autumn, with photographs by the author." The four books in "The American Seasons" series were written after their only son David's death in World War II, and this volume, like the others, is "Dedicated to David, who traveled with us in our hearts."

(There needs to be a pause right there, to honor that sacrifice, and try to grasp that deep loss.  David traveled in the hearts of his grieving parents, as they went through time and place, seeing, learning, noticing, preserving. The legacy of that sorrow sits by my bedside, and fills my own heart with their words and descriptions.)

Early in chapter one, Teale writes, "There is a midsummer.  There is a midwinter. But there is no midspring or midautumn.  These are the seasons of constant change. Like dawn and dusk they are periods of transition. But like night and day and day and night they merge slowly, gradually."

I notice the changes - from the top of my street all the way to our house at the bottom, from my town over to the next, or from a nearby urban spot one way to the nearby northwest wooded mountains the other.  I know that it won't be long before the still-green Norway maple and pin oak and Bradford pears on my road will change into their fall colors.  I don't want to miss it, to waste seeing what is here.

Constant change, yet gradual transition. I see that in my daily vistas, and in my daily life.  There are changes there, too - changes that give me joy and hope and peace, and changes that cause concern and a sense of dread.  But - I have one who travels with me, too, through time and place, into this season and on into the next. The One who made the world, the order of the seasons, and the beauty within each small part on my little street - the One who thought this all up (imagine!) - that One who did all this is with me, and He is so very safe to trust. 

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Morning by Morning

"Morning by morning, new mercies I see."

There is an appointment I try to make each day.  I have missed it sometimes, and I will no doubt miss it again - but it's still important enough for me to do my best to keep it as my first priority. 

It's my time in the Word, reading the Bible and talking to its Author.  

The resources I use to do this are not unique only to me, but it may be useful for others to read about them. 

I start with Daily Light.   I knew this little book was attributed to someone named Bagster, but I didn't know it was a multi-generational family project.  The head of this influential English family would select a passage of Scripture, then other family members would suggest verses that illustrated the text further.  They compiled these verses and formatted them into daily morning and evening entries.  There is no commentary, just words from the Bible arranged thematically.  

My copy is one with a foreword by Anne Graham Lotz, who received her copy from her mother, Ruth Bell Graham (who got hers from her mother, when she was a young child in China).  Anne writes, "To this day, one of the sweetest blessings for me is to know each morning and evening when I read Daily Light, that my parents and children, wherever they might be, are reading the same thing."  

I know that blessing.  My daughters both read Daily Light, and my mother often texts me to say "Make sure you read Daily Light today!"

I also use a prayer journal.  In the past I got prayer journals from a Christian bookstore, or I made my own, out of a regular store-bought journal. For the past few years, I've bought Youth With A Mission's "Personal Prayer Diary And Daily Planner."   I draw a vertical line through each day's entry, and that gives me a place to record and date answers to prayer beside that prayer request. Those answers occasionally take years, they are sometimes given that day, they are often what I've prayed for, and sometimes they're not at all what I envisioned - but they are always God's answers.  To look back over the years and see God's hand, to see specific dates and recorded answers - well, these journals are altars of testimony to God's love and faithfulness. 

In the inside cover of my prayer journal, I have an assortment of brochures, pictures, newsletters, bulletins, business cards, even two notices from funerals.  They remind me to pray for my church, Christian organizations, missionaries, family members, friends, leaders, people in other parts of the world, and families that are grieving.  It's not a highly organized method, but it works for me, to see these images and to have these reminders.

Of course, then there is my Bible.  It's worn, written in, and starting to fall apart.  I'd love to say it's due to what Charles Spurgeon said, "A Bible that's falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn't."  I'm not sure that's the case, though, I think it's more that I've stuffed it in tote bags with other things, or stuffed other things into it, or just taken it with me to lots of places.  

My grandmother Mimi read through the Bible every year.  I remember she once told my Dad that she'd read it through at least sixty times, and that was long before she died.  

I've done the same, but nowhere near as many times.  I used to read it straight through, starting on New Year's Day.  I'd get through Genesis OK, then Exodus, but then by the time I reached Leviticus, it got harder to keep up.  I believe every word is inspired, but unless I was doing an actual study (which is an important thing to do), it didn't seem like the best idea to have my daily Bible reading center entirely on Old Testament law.  

Then I found Rose Publishing's Bible Reading Plan.  There are several plans, in fact, in this pamphlet, but the one that works for me is the one that includes a passage from the Old Testament, a passage from the New Testament, something from Psalms, and a few verses from Proverbs, for each day.  The days are numbered but not dated, which is an improvement upon a similar format I used another year.  I don't need to start in January for this plan, and if I miss a day,  I don't try to double-up the next day, I just go on from where I am.

Reading prayerfully is so important.  It's a bit like listening to someone I love. I can stay in their presence, nod, even comment appropriately, and still have my mind other places.  Or I can give that person my full attention, with my eyes focused, ears open, heart ready to respond to their words. It's the same with Bible reading.  I want to do more than check off a little box - I want to hear the words of God, and be fully present with Him.  

There are other things I do for my Bible and prayer time, but those aren't every single day.  There were a few weeks in the summer when I could do 'all the things,' but once fall and homeschool started up again, those leisurely, lengthy sessions shortened considerably.  I'm thinking now of connecting favorite extras with a day of the week - like Music Monday (copying a hymn in my own handwriting - it slows me down, prompts me to think on the words, and gives me a song that lingers in my mind throughout the day), or French Friday (copying a Bible verse or passage in French - it's intriguing to read even a familiar Scripture in another language and consider how it's phrased).  I also started to copy a verse in Koine (New Testament) Greek, going through I John.  It was a quieting thing to attempt my best hand at the language the Gospels and Epistles were written in originally, and to do simple word studies on words or phrases I didn't remember from Bible College long ago. I don't know what day of the week is catchy with that, though.  (Any suggestions?)

Writing daily notes of gratitude or chronicling the deeper, bigger mountains of praise in my life - those are important, too, and I'd like to give them their place in my special daily time. And memorizing Scripture - that's something I did a lot when I was young, but an exercise I need to restore in my life now.  My grandmother Mormor would write out Scriptures to aid in memorization, and she was in her seventies and into her early eighties at the time. Her daughters found those scraps of paper after she died.  My mom kept some of those papers, and painted a border around one and framed it for me.  In my Mormor's familiar hand, it reads:

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer."  (Psalm 19:14)  I think the best way for me to do that is to make sure there are lots of mornings spent with the Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. 

There's one extra daily assignment I've relished, and it's new for me this year.  I got a five-year calendar book, one accentuated with daily quotes of Jane Austen (a delight all by itself), and each day I write down something special from nature.  It might be a 'first' - especially wonderful to do in the spring, to note the arrival of a wildflower, or in the fall, to mark the first changing red maple leaf.  I have entries that say "Bear in the backyard!" or "Full Hunter Moon" or "Identified Black-Eyed Susan Vine at the library."  I've noted "Drove through the Catskills," "Watched the sunrise over Lake Ontario,""Saw first bluebird - in Texas!," and "Beautiful cloud formations this afternoon." Today my daily entry included the magnificent rainbow Niko and I saw as we drove over a reservoir.  I don't use this journal for regular appointments and such, but if there is a significant event (a birthday, or wedding, or special anniversary, or even a world event), I add that, too.  Keeping such a calendar book prompts me to remember more, and to want to notice and celebrate (and identify) more of what I see.  

At this stage of my life, I wonder a bit about the five-year part of it.  If I actually carry this out and complete all five years, there will be some hard things in there, no doubt.  There will be some glad things as well.  I've often wondered at the mystery of tomorrow, and at God's mercy in keeping it from us.  If we knew what was ahead, we could not bear all of it.  He gives us what we need for each day, and with that comes the promise that He will provide, guide, help, comfort, strengthen, encourage, and give joy for all the days to come.  

He is, surely, safe to trust. And it's a good thing, to start the day with that in mind.

Saturday, October 1, 2016


It's been awhile. 

That sounds like it should be a great movie line, it is so full of understatement.

But - perhaps it's time, time to re-enter the blogging world that once brought me a lot of joy.  Other writing projects demand my focus and energy, but this - this is a good place to write the things that touch my heart and make my soul sing.  There is always a need for a soul to sing.

It's the first day of October.  Our little town (lest that sound more rustic than it really is, full disclosure requires I mention that we're on the edge of New York City's massive suburbia, deep in the heart of North Jersey) has Octoberfest today, and I can hear the sounds of music out my front door.

I can hear these sounds so well because it's a cloudy, drizzly, at turns rainy day.  It's not the day the planners envisioned, no doubt - but life goes on, and as long as sound systems can stay dry, the crooners and guitarists will be singing and strumming.

This month makes me think of my mother.  I'm glad to say (so very, very, very glad to say) that I don't need to just think of her - I can text her, call her, and see her in church tomorrow.  Her birthday is two weeks from tomorrow ( new Jan Karon book out this month, which has so often conveniently happened, so I'll need to think of something else.  Odds are Mom will find this blog, she's good like that, so my other ideas will have to stay very quiet), and October has always been Her Month.

October - the month of opals, leaves turning, temperatures lowering, days shortening.  It's a month of beauty, the kind that takes your breath away if you live where I live and drive where I drive.

My Mom introduced me to the writing of Gladys Taber, many years ago.  The Stillmeadow books line my mother's bookcase, and I am blessed to have a few myself. Somewhere in one of them, Gladys refers to this line from a poem called "Autumn" by William Watson,  in which the poet tells Autumn, "Be less beautiful or be less brief."

So - even though there is no bright blue sky as backdrop to these words, even though the day is on the dreary side, it's still the first day of October, and that alone is a reason to rejoice.

Helen Hunt Jackson wrote a wonderful poem about September.  It's my favorite September poem, I read it to my children (and still do) every year, and it always makes me smile (I am a summer girl, and September is a kind of bittersweet thing to me, but apples make it all OK).  This line is the best:  "Summer's best of weather, autumn's best of cheer."

So for my Mom, for my mom-in-law (now in heaven, who shared this month with her), for all who love this special time of year, here is Jackson's October poem.

October's Bright Blue Weather

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather;

When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When Gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October's bright blue weather.

O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October's bright blue weather.