Choose Life, it is Beautiful

“So if your pregnancy test is positive what are your plans?” She looks at me for a moment then answers “Get rid of it I guess.” It never fails to be a punch in my gut when I hear words like that. Calmly I pray for grace and the appropriate thing to say. Wondrously God always provides.

“May I tell you something?” She nods. I point at the couch she is sitting on and continue, “I’ve never had a girl sit there who has aborted but what she is so regretful. They tell you all about your rights but they don’t tell you about your emotions.” And I continue with more, just being honest. It is her choice, legally, but it is also her heart, forever.

The pain I see on women of all ages who have aborted sorrows me. The emotions live on. The guilt is tenacious, even though God’s forgiveness is available and can be utterly complete.

I came home last week after that conversation and shared with an elderly friend who faithfully prays for me. She looked at me and said “It’s true, you know, the part about how they carry it with them forever.” She went on to tell me about her older sister who grieves. Sixty years ago her parents loaded them into the car for a ‘weekend getaway’ which actually involved driving to New York for an abortion. She continued with her story telling me how all these decades later her sister still sorrows on the anniversary of the abortion, and still sorrows in the month of when the baby should have burst into the world full of life. Every single year she remembers. She never forgets. That is the stuff we never hear.

I am pro-life; I am not asking for an argument – but I am asking that people stop to think about the emotions of a woman who knows, choice, or rights, or not, it is abnormal to ‘get rid of it’. And sadly, from what I have seen, it is a choice that will stalk you forever. God heals, Satan reminds, and then God heals again. It is a cycle I wish I could protect every woman from experiencing. Choose life, it is beautiful. It is a gift from a Gracious God.

Hurt that Shimmers Gold

I have an idol in my heart that I often engage in battling – it is the idol of ease. I long for easy. The reality is that much of life is hard and not easy. Easy is waiting for us in Heaven.

I constantly have to remind myself that it is in the ‘hard stuff’ that the beautiful is spun out and woven in and the tapestry of our life made more exquisite. Would I ever choose hard? No. Can I see its beauty after the fact? Yes. Still, humanly, I would not choose it.

So I urge myself to trust the Master-Artist who is doing the spinning and the weaving. It is in the difficult that the shimmering golden threads are formed. It is in the agony that we have another layer of ‘us’ that can glorify Him. It is in the painful that we are far more able to sorrow with another, pray with another, bear burdens with another, and most importantly RUN straight to THE BURDEN BEARER.

I do not like the hard stuff. But I do love the Master-Weaver who so carefully spins and weaves and showcases His Work. He meticulously uses even the tiniest scrap of thread. He always has the greater picture in His Mind. Never, never, ever does He waste the golden strands. Nothing is wasted with God. What a beautiful truth. Hard? Yes. In Safe-Hands? Absolutely.

Let the words …..

I do not like to get behind big trucks when driving. I am almost too short to be driving as it is. They checked my vision, have they thought about my stature? And big trucks are just really irritating to follow. I especially hate to get behind a big truck filled with gravel that wants to share. Just as the thought of ‘hmmm maybe I should wisely distance myself more’ crosses my mind, the random rock-missile invariably launches, headed straight for my windshield. Too late. Loud whack. I, not having gained any recent stature, endanger all nearby vehicles carelessly craning my neck checking for the chip. I know if there is even the tiniest mark it will most likely be followed, soon, by a meandering crack. And then there will be an inspection failed and a new windshield ordered with unexpected money spent. Sigh.

Rocks on the windshield are like words flung. One comment tossed without thought can grow into cracking heartache. Why are the truck beds of our heart so piled high with chipping words, gossip, complaints, snide remarks, opinions, unofficial reports, and whining, reckless, and often angry missiles of soul discouragement? Do we even think about the zingers launched? Words pass out of our hearing in just a moment, but the heart-chip they cause can last, if the hearer lets it, a lifetime.

Jesus warned, in Matthew 12, of our future account giving for each idle word spoken. That cracks my heart with conviction. Idle word accounting? Will there be a whole section of eternity set aside just for my day (or years) in court – defending all the stupidity I have launched? Sobering thought. And what does my heart hold, anyway, that such words would be flung? It is out of that treasure-store I speak.

Time to slow down and welcome an assessment. Time to insure the goods of my heart and mind and tongue are true. And holy. And just and pure and necessary. Edifying. Uplifting and encouraging and nurturing. Grace-filled just in case something spills out and over onto the highway of another’s life and heart.

How Great Thou Art

Worshiping God this morning in our little village of Geigertown my heart was pierced with the truth of the song lyrics. Palms out, whispered prayer, I am stunned. How great is my God that he would choose to love me?

We sing …. “I come broken to be mended, I come wounded to be healed…” and I sigh because I am such a sinner. I was born a sinner. I know myself well enough to be quite certain I will choose to sin again and again. I am a mess. But oh how great and faithful my Redeemer!

Today my body is weak with jet-lag; my mind foggy, and my energy is taunting me with ebb and flow. Could it be that just a week ago I worshiped in Africa? As I sang there in Kenya, surrounded by dozens of orphans singing from the bottom of their hearts I was amazed. How great is our Rescuing God!

In fondness I think of our team of eleven standing to sing a hymn I have known my entire life. I was in a different spot on the globe, a different culture, but the same God. Winnie and Meshack, the Pastor and his wife, joined us as we sang. I will admit to pure giddiness in my heart – we were singing to our God in a hot dusty spot of Kenya that I love. We were singing with a Kenyan couple I dearly love. And oh how they sing! In my imagination we Americans even sounded a little bit African and that made me immensely happy. Winnie soared with counter-parts and harmony so beautiful. Joy and faith echoing through the church building. My smile was big, my heart full, my mind shouted I love this! And then this verse happened:

“And when I think that God, his son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.”

I couldn’t sing. The cross. The thought of that horrible beautiful cross made me choke on the words. My sin. His love. My Savior. My willing substitute. With tears I somehow sputtered:

“Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”

He loves the world. Souls in Geigertown. Souls in Kenya. Me.
There is no realization like the truth of God’s perfect love. For the world. For me. And so, yes, I bowed in my heart in humble adoration. And I did and do proclaim, my God how great Thou art!

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Broken

I remember a day when I lived in (what I thought was) a pristine and tidy castle. I was checking boxes and working so hard with all my ‘to-do’ lists that I failed to realize I was just twirling in fairly useless circles. But oh, thankfully God was faithful to not give up on my silliness. He gently prodded me with Scripture and his Spirit, poking and whispering and pursuing my distracted soul until I listened. What a shock to find out what really mattered! And then joy and tears and hard and easy and relief and burden and the flood that followed. Now I am neck-deep in following Jesus and loving every splash of it.

I never knew how broken our world was until I stepped out of my own. I never knew how simple the gospel was until I found what it really meant. I never knew how easy/hard it was to obey until the shackles came off my heart. Until God won.

Last Saturday I was babysitting for a crew of my grandchildren. There was pizza and cookies and a movie and laughs and fun. It came time to go to bed. They thought it would be fun for them all to sleep on the floor in one of their rooms. Seemed like a fairly stupid idea so of course I said yes. We shut the lights off and turned the stars on. I told them a story about their daddy when he was little. We prayed and I warned them and shut the door. Chatter, giggles, tattling followed.

One of them just wouldn’t obey. Nothing disastrous, but definitely foolish. Warnings came and eyes popped because ‘Candy Nana’ just seems like a 24/7 push-over. I did get his attention. And the frivolity came to a screeching halt. Of course I said I loved him as well. Because I do! And I patiently won.

This boy is broken as we all are. I often wonder what goes through his brain and what are the mind movies he has stored there? I cringe to ponder because he was birthed into our family as a size 3T. Does he push at times for security? Does he push because he is broken? Does he push because he has the same sin nature I have? Yes and yes and yes. I sat that night and prayed for him, his heart, his soul, his mind. I prayed for his parents who have obediently taken on such a difficult task. Obeying the gospel. And I thought of how we could never win if it wasn’t for our Abba Father. No way! But he picks up the pieces and mends our lives. He loves and rebukes and reminds and encourages and is so gently patient with my lack of security, my brokenness, my sin nature right alongside this broken boy. He will help our cause! He is long-suffering enough to help us both find our footing. He will lead and walk beside us, even carrying our burdens as we journey together. Abba Father, I love you! Jehovah Shammah. My Savior. My Rescuer. I come broken but you are in the repair business! And I am grateful.

I love the words updating an old song:

Autumn Fire

I am blessed.
I know it. And I do not take it for granted. At least I try to not. Last evening as I sat around an impromptu hot-dog roast, s’more festival, complete with a glowing fire wrapped in the evening’s autumn chill I was grateful. Four generations gathered around that blazing fire. The first great grand-child next to the latest. Both boys. Both born into an awesome heritage to be valued and treasured. My first grandchild playing with her cousin twice removed or something like that. Heritage spanning decades and families. Random conversations, questions, laughter — I could not help but silently praise God. Thank you, God that my parents can visit. Thank you, God that we want to be with our parents. Thank you that our children want to be with us. Thank you that we want to be with them! Thank you that my siblings love each other and their children love us and each other. This is such a broken world where sin abounds I know that multitudes of families are fractured and hurting – so destroyed that no one wants to be with anybody. In gratitude I can not but help remember that where sin abounds grace abounds so much more. Layers and layers of grace! Rich, undeserved, unearned, freely given grace! There were family members missing distanced by time zones, continents, caring for sick children, ministry obligations. But every single one of them …. If they could be ….would happily sit by the fire as well. That is all grace. That is all a gift from God. And I am grateful.

I Need You

I admit rolling my eyes as I sat on the sled. I had just said I wanted to watch something funny on Netflix. He thought it would be fun to first take a quick sled-ride down the hill. I agreed, reluctantly, not wanting to be the boring-not-fun-wife.

I insisted on sitting in the back. He thought I should go on the front. Maybe I should have. We pushed off and were laughing like a couple of grade school kids. It was fast, fun, and the night was clear with a beautiful moon. Sweet! Until we hit the patch of unbelievable ice. Suddenly everything was in a different time zone. Spinning in circles. Where did the sled go? My head hitting the ice – seeing stars that were not part of the sky. And a screeching painful halt. Paul standing over me asking if I was all right and saying he had lost a shoe.

An innocent (although obviously really stupid) sled ride down our hill completely changed the early part of our 2015 calendar.

I knew right away I was not okay. Such pain! I could not get up. I could not walk. I was just thankful when I wiggled my toes and fingers I could.

A ride to the hospital. Searing pain every time I was shifted from one spot to the next. I have memories of that night. The ER doctor getting a chuckle out of the fact these two idiots had been sledding. “And no alcohol involved”, I assured him. David and Laura in the ER enjoying the doctor’s reaction. Paul’s utter embarrassment. Laura’s insistence that he tell the truth – we were SLEDDING. The doctor agreeing with Laura – “yes, good to know as there is a difference between taking a fall and hitting a snow wall at like 25 miles per hour…..” I remember all this.

But what stands out most in my mind when I think of Wednesday evening, February 11, 2015 is God. And oh how I needed him. I remember muttering silently and out loud – over and over, “God please.” “God, I need you.” God, please help me.”

I was scared. I knew the pain meant something. Before that night the delivery of three children had been my badge of pain. No epidurals either – not for our generation. We were the naturalists (silly us!). This pain was so much worse.

I am so thankful I have a faithful God who welcomes our prayers. Prayers when I am in pain, prayers when I get bad news. Prayers for healing. Prayers for patience. Prayers for comfort. Prayers to be brave. Prayers of thankfulness at all there is to learn. Prayers for provision. Prayers for peace. Prayers of humble gratitude for the love surrounding us, encouraging us.

Psalm 5 is the chapter of Scripture I am reading every day this month. Each morning reading the first verses I cannot help but smile, and remember, and be thankful:
“O LORD, hear me as I pray;
pay attention to my groaning.
2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for I pray to no one but you.”

And that is exactly how I felt that night. There was no one but God. Oh there were nurses and doctors and technicians and family. But for me – it was only God. He was who I was thinking about, who I was crying out to. He was who I was trusting in for help. And he was there. I knew he was. Because he is faithful. Always. When I am wise he is there, and even when I am silly. When I am sinful he is there to love me and pardon me and help me. When I am holy it is only because he is there.

That night the words of this song went through my mind over and over:

“Lord, I Need You”

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

You’re my one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
(Matt Maher)

And not lost on me the words:
“ And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay”.

So true. When I cannot stand he is there. When I am scared he is there. When I have excruciating pain he is there. When I am sad he is there. Always, always, my God is there. And how desperately I need him to be.

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You.
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You.

If you would like to take a listen….

Worship ‘Round the Christmas Tree

It was time to take the tree down. A job I always do with a bit of a sigh. Let’s be honest a Christmas tree is so much more fun to put up! Anticipating Christmas and all the fun to come. After the holidays, after all the fun has folded and gone home . . . it is just a dreary task.

Determined, I go to the garage, retrieve the cold storage container, grab the package of tissue and start. Plucking the first bit of whimsy off the tree and wrapping it in the crisp white paper I remember, fondly, picking it up at a craft show in Florida. The next ornament? A gift from my sister-in-law, Rachel. Then the little black taxi-cab from London, the hand- blown ball from Germany and the memory of standing, amazed, watching crafts-men work as if it were 1537 and not centuries later. A beautiful wooden egg from Budapest, and the most recent foreign acquisition? A ‘waddle-waddle’, more commonly known as a penguin, from South Africa.

Unexpectedly my heart is flooded with praise. I am teary and humbled as I thank God, out-loud, with hands busily removing various bits of our life, our travels, our ministry, our children’s lives – all intertwined on a tree. How GOOD God has been to me. How can I help but praise Him? To remember when I came to points in my life where I wondered what was next – He always directed our path. When I wondered how we would ever make ends meet – He always provided. When I was weary raising children and exhausted – God already knew exactly how He was going to grow them and use them for Himself. Off the ornaments come — Baby’s first ornaments, the mandatory Green Bay Packer ornament, tacky ornaments, gorgeous ornaments all blended together to shout Merry Christmas into our lives.

This has been an interesting holiday season. God has gripped my heart over and over with the reality of the meaning of Emmanuel. God with us. The very thought that our great God would humble Himself to be entrapped in a young girl’s womb stuns me. So often I have looked at girls as we read their pregnancy test at Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center and say tenderly “God is knitting your baby, right now, inside of you.” Taking that opportunity to share the truth of Psalm 139. What was it like to knit His only Son as a wee baby inside Mary’s womb? God with us. God in the hard stuff, the sad stuff, the fun stuff, the tender, the confusing, the incredible. God with us every day, every moment.

That is what fills my heart as I put Christmas away this year. Worship and praise for an incredible Savior. God with us. God on each branch, each memory, wrapped in the tissue of my heart – stored, and savored. God with us who one day stretched out His arms and willingly surrendered to be nailed to the cross in my place, for my selfishness, angst, anger, dishonesty, hatred, meanness … that is my God with us. Emmanuel. And so I worship Him. His Calvary Tree intertwines with my tree, my ornaments, my memories. My heart. My life. God with us.

A New View

Thursday mornings find me scrambling up the steps of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center in Reading, Pennsylvania. Awkwardly dragging in bags of donations I always make sure to wave at Alex, the barber, down just a few doors. He smiles his encouragement and offers to help. I need that smile. I need the help. Some mornings it is all I can do to get through the door. Yesterday was one of those days. Physically depleted. Mentally distracted with the holidays screaming for my attention. Spiritually fighting a battle as well. Life was just wearing me down.

I take off my coat and set out to meet with the first client. God must smile and enjoy my reaction. In an instant I know my burdens are laughable. Here is a young mom who suffers a disability  slowly sorting through bins of donated clothing.  Her tiny baby girl is growing and she needs to clothe her. She is distracted this morning and for good reason. In just a couple hours, she tells me, she will learn whether she gets to keep her baby. There is a real chance, she quietly murmurs, that the baby will be removed and placed in foster-care. She is honest. She tells me of her injury and the limits it brings. She tells me of her past.  She tells me of the heartache she has already experienced.  She tells me how much she wants this baby.  When I look into her eyes she is so young and so old. Worn down by life. A shiver whispers through my soul. I scoff at the weight I thought I had been carrying earlier. What weight? So foolish of me.

I will not easily forget my next clients. A day later I still cannot get them off my mind. Up the stairs walks a tall husky young man and his mother. He is one of the kindest young men I have ever met. I ask him if he has a school delay because of the falling snow. No, rather he is a ninth grader missing school to translate for his mother. I am in awe of how beautifully patient he is with his mother, and so polite. They have two appointments back to back he tells me. Two appointments translating for her and then he would hurry back to school. His mom cannot read and just recently learned to print her name. I talk to him about his English – how well he translates and beg him to study hard to be truly bi-lingual. “It is a gift you have!” I encourage. “Stay in school, please study hard in Spanish and English.” I hear these phrases tumbling out of my mouth. I can not help myself. Here is such potential. Everything is against him. A whole city culture ready to devour him. I want him to be okay. I want him to succeed.

On a snowy morning he is wearing only a sweatshirt. “Let’s see if we can find you a coat.” He beams, “I would like that.” Looking for sizing on the first coat off the rack I blink in amazement. No size listed – just a label with a man’s name. A man from our church! “God”, I silently pray, “You wanted to encourage me today didn’t you? You care about us as individuals. You know us, every one of us, by name. Thank you for reminding me.”  Excitedly the boy tries on the coat. A bit small. We try another and then another. Finally one fits! And a hat. And gloves. He holds out the gloves covering his massive hands. “This will help when I shovel snow!” He grins. Again I find my mouth tumbling out encouragement, “Good that you do that! Keep working hard!” He wants a real job. He wants to carry a man’s load in our broken world and he already willingly carries so much more than many. His attitude and gratitude were contagious. Suddenly it does not matter to me that I have an undo-ably long ‘to-do’ list for the holidays. It does not matter that I am exhausted. It just does not matter. I feel tears in my eyes and quickly bend down to retrieve bags for their items. Oblivious to my emotions they are busily looking over used clothing they are happy to receive. I wipe tears from my face. I have so much. Am I joyous over every little thing? Appreciative? Do I say thank you like I should?

Yesterday I thought about all I have. Today I have been thinking about it too. I have been provided for. I have had the privilege of education. Work. Family. Church. So much. I have had opportunity again and again and again. Security. Sweet security that is so easily taken for granted. Most of all I have a Savior. A redeeming Rescuer.

More than anything I want this young man to be rescued by my Savior.  As I think of him today I pray. Isn’t it funny how easily our vision can be blurred with a self-focus? But God is so faithful to wipe the debris of a frantic life from our eyes and show us what really matters. I love Psalm 37 verses 18 and 19 where David says: “Day by day the LORD takes care of the innocent, and they will receive an inheritance that lasts forever. They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough.”  God.  God who is so much more than enough. That is what I am asking for for this family. That is my request for this boy behaving like a real man. And God is able. Our gracious Savior knows them by name. After all he died for them. What a wonderful thought. What an important reminder. What a beautiful new view.

I Love to Write!

I always hated science but loved words.  One cranky old teacher whom will remain unnamed almost spoiled the love of writing for me.  But I pulled through and in retrospect even admit she helped me.  Up and down the aisles of the English classroom she walked; a long pointing stick restless in her hand.  Swish, smack, swish, smack as she whacked the stick across the palm of her hand.  And to the beat of that sound?  Students frantically wrestling to put words to paper.  I always cringed when she walked past me.  Did she secretly want to strike us?  I  wondered.  She never did.  And she did teach us to write.

There are a gazillion, no double that please, blogs in ‘blogoworld’, so why add one more to the glut?  I hesitate.  But then I think about God and how he is the giver of gifts and the sparker of fires and the ultimate creative one.  Words are his.  For some reason he wired me to love to put words to paper.  Often a thought stirs within me and I am just not settled until I sit down and write.  He gave me that love.  It really is not even mine to decide on.

And, yes, I do have dangling participles.  And at times I write in incomplete sentences.   On purpose.  But I love every minute of it.

Thanks for bearing with me as I … gasp….launch a blog.

areallifeoutloud.com

The name was important to me because transparency in life is important to me.  My walk with Christ will be lived out loud before you.  It will be real.  Perhaps sometimes too real, but you will survive.  And I have a zany sense of humor.  It is how God made me – so life out loud also reminds me of lol=laugh out loud.  Which I do a lot.   And it helps me survive.  Often.