Monday, December 20, 2010

God and Gatsby playing ball

It's almost time... I've been counting down since my mom's visit in October. And finally, it's almost here- it's time to go home for Christmas! I've been singing my own personalized version of "Over the River and Through the Woods" which includes stanzas about the Cocker Spaniels and Christmas treats and friends and family that are waiting for us! I've got the presents wrapped and the budget tweaked and the refrigerator empty of anything perishable. It's almost time to go.

But since two people and two doggies will be traveling together for almost 21 hours in the car, I have some serious plans for my canines today. This is the first time Andy and I have done a long distance trip together with the doggies. The other trips we've made, we've been in separate vehicles, and we each take a Cocker for company. We're looking forward to getting to ride together, but the doggies are going to be a little less happy about not getting to ride shotgun the entire trip. Since they'll be cooped up in the backseat for two days, I decided to let Gatsby and Daisy get some good exercise this morning, so I took them out to the vacant lot adjacent to our apartment complex.

I take the dogs out to the vacant lot on a fairly regular basis. I cut back in the summer because I was afraid of rattle snakes. The lot is overgrown with all sorts of Texas grasses and scrubby plants- there are even cacti out there! But Gats loves to go out there and play ball. I'll throw his ball and he will bounce all around like he's jumping on invisible little trampolines hidden under the grass while he searches with his nose.

This morning, after playing ball for about five minutes, I chucked the ball rather absentmindedly- I was thinking about packing lists and laundry loads and road trip snacks- I didn't see where the ball landed exactly, and neither did Gatsby. I watched Gats bounce around looking and sniffing for several minutes to no avail. Then I decided I better get in on the search or we would be out in the field all morning. I started walking through the grass and brambles in the general vicinity where I thought the ball had landed. I saw nothing- not even a hint of red rubber. Gats wasn't having any luck either.

After several minutes, I decided it was time to ask Abba. I called Gats over and said, "Do you want to ask Abba about it?" I've done this with Gats before when I couldn't find a toy of his- brought Gats over and prayed, asking Abba to tell Gatsby where the ball is. Inevitably, he returns with the ball within minutes, even after he and I have searched fruitlessly for long periods of time. So I knelt down by Gatsby and held his collar and asked God to tell Gats where his ball went.

I was a little discouraged to see Gats run off in the complete opposite direction from where I knew the ball had been thrown. A minute passed and I started to walk through the grass again, feeling silly. I began to sing the words to the song, "God of Wonders" in my head- they say, "God of Wonders beyond our galaxy, You are Holy, Holy. The Universe declares your majesty. You are Holy, Holy." God speaks galaxies into existences. He knits human beings together inside of women's wombs. He makes snowflakes that never look like one another. And I was asking Him to tell my dog where his ball was.

I think about Gideon a lot in moments like those- how he asked God to perform some tricks on that fleece- and God didn't seem to mind. But I bet Gideon would have still gone out and fought all those Midianites- even if that fleece had been bone dry. In his heart, I think he was already a believer, I think it was interaction and confirmation that he craved. I was thinking about that as I was walking, my back turned to Gats beginning to think we'd lost the ball, about how it wouldn't really make much difference if that ball never showed up again, but that I just like to think about God interacting with me and Gatsby out in the vacant lot. It's just nice to think that He would want to play with us. Just then, I turned around and looked in a direction much farther than I thought the ball could have gone- to see Gatsy emerging from the thick grass with a red ball in his mouth.

I'm sure there are people out there who would argue that God has much better things to do than play ball with me and Gatsby in the vacant lot the day before our Christmas trip. But I know that God liked to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. And that Jesus died so that we could do that sort of thing again. There are battles with Midianites and there are moments when we have to choose between life or death for the sake of Jesus Christ. There are moments when our faith is all we have and God seems a million miles away. But those are places we visit as we run the race. The goal is fellowship with God Himself, and I think that there are some moments when we catch glimpses of what that will look like in Forever. Today, when Gats came prancing out of the weeds with that ball in his mouth, I was certain that we'd all been playing together- me, Gats and the God of Wonders- and that that is how it should be.

"Thank you, Abba." I said. And threw the ball again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baby Boy

I got to hold a baby boy in my arms today. Carter Starnes is the newest member of my Austin Stone family, and I got to hang out with him while his very tired mommy got some much needed rest this afternoon.

There's a lot that goes through your mind when you look down at someone brand new- how people can deny God exists while holding a newborn I cannot understand- I can't help myself from contemplating the miracle of creation, life, salvation, the whole nine yards when I see someone only a few days old. It blows my mind.

But Carter got me thinking about something that not only blows my mind but makes my heart want to completely burst. A few days ago, Andy and I got to bring dinner over to Carter's proud parents and hear the story of his birth. I love to hear birth stories- especially from new moms. It's thrilling to watch them tell the account of the miracle God allowed them to play the leading role in. I also think I'm partial to birth stories because my mom tells me mine every year. Even twenty-eight years after it happened, I sat on the curb of my apartment complex parking lot on October 20th this year and listened to a mother tell her miracle story- one that I got to play a role in too.

And it's the season for birth stories, isn't it? Carter's story fits right into this month's mood, so maybe that's why I was inspired to do something this year that I've never done before. I decided to tell Jesus His birth story. Not tell someone else His story, or read His story for myself out of the Bible. I told it back to Him, with Him as the primary audience, the way my mom tells me about my birth every year, the way Valerie will tell Carter about his one day. While riding in the car through the Texas hill country on Friday, I took some time and told my Savior about the night He was born, in Bethlehem, with a wiped out mom and no nurses and swaddling clothes and shepherds and a daddy who believed an angel who told him the craziest thing he'd ever heard. And, you know what? I think He liked it. I know I liked it. Jesus isn't a baby anymore, but what a precious moment it was talking to Him about when He was. Isn't that amazing? Isn't it incredible that one of the things that we have in common with GOD is a birth story? We all get to hear about the night that we were born. We get to hear about our moms pushing and our dads waiting and our lungs filling with air- you, me, Carter and Jesus Christ.

Carter looked up at me today with a hungry baby face, his tiny mouth opening and closing, desiring something I couldn't give him. Can you imagine Jesus that way? Looking up at the faces of men and women, soft and vulnerable, dependent on people so limited in heart, soul, mind and body- and seeking what He needed to survive? It blows my mind. And it reminds me of an incredible truth- He loved me then. As a baby, which I cannot understand but it doesn't matter, I believe and marvel. He loved me then. How is it that Someone so Pure and so Deserving should become something so humble for me? Because He loves me. And because He loves you.

Oh, sweet Baby Boy. You are so deserving of my adoration, my deep, devoted, heart-felt love- love that is only possible because you loved me first, with the love that saved the world. Love born in Bethlehem on a night when the angels shouted for joy and the shepherds left their flocks behind and your mom pushed and you screamed your way into a world that was dying without You.

If you're reading this, try it out- tell Jesus about His birthday. Make some time, just the two of you, and tell Him what you've been told about the day He came to save you. And may your heart be swollen with love. :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Balance Beam

Last week, Lauro shared a YouTube video with our small group. I can't get the video to link to this blog, and I don't know why, so if you're game- copy and paste this URL and watch Francis.

I never did gymnastics. I wasn't interested in it when I was little mainly because it scared me. I didn't like the idea of somersaults because that would mean that I would have to turn upside down. I didn't like upside down when I was a kid and I don't like upside down much as an adult either. But life has a tendency to go in that direction. No amount of spirituality or devotion can keep things even all of the time. Holly said this week something that I've been aching in my heart to hear confirmed- a thought that has been deep within me for months and months- "Peace is not the absence of conflict. It's seeking God through His Word through life's trials." But I could run away from conflict. I could "drop it" when people sin. I could ignore it when people are suffering. I could run away from what makes me uncomfortable. I could be like Francis on that balance beam.

But is He at all impressed when I cling to the comforts of life and do nothing in faith? Would He still love me? Absolutely. Would I still go to heaven? Sure. Would I suffer less? Probably. Would people like me more? I guarantee they would. But what about Him? What would He think? What would He think if I cowered in fear? If I continued in hatred? If I refused to forgive?

All I have is one chance on this balance beam of life. One chance to show Him that belief is bigger than what I can see and feel and hear. The belief that when I am despised and rejected, I am like Him. Belief that to die means that I really live. Belief that my treasure really is in heaven and that all of my tears really will be wiped away.

I don't think that good deeds earn anybody anything in God's eyes, but I know that faith impressed Jesus when He walked on the face of the Earth. The challenge of my life this year has been turning to Jesus, looking in His eye and walking, head up, heart aching, while life's judges criticize my performance. Do I want to kneel down and cling to the safe stuff? Sure. Am I going to stay there? No. I won't stay there. I only have one shot at this.

Righteous Judge, grant me the courage to walk where You have chosen for me to walk, in the way that You demonstrated while You were here, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, for You alone.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Snapshot from Snapshots

I'm not planning on doing this often, but I wrote a part of the book today that was sort of fun, it being Christmas and all, and I wanted to share. So here is a snapshot from Snapshots of Who I Am. This is from Chapter 9, The Good Shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11

While shepherds watched their flocks at night

It's Christmas time. I've spent the past few days strategically placing decorations around my apartment. There are Santa Clauses and nutcrackers, snowmen and angels smiling at me from every nook and cranny. There are candles and evergreen wreaths giving off their seasonal scents. And there are dishes filled with chocolates and gum drops, which I have to keep my husband and dogs from emptying on a daily basis! I love all of these decorations because they are filled with meaning, not only from my childhood traditions but as centuries-old celebratory symbols. Evergreens are verdant reflections of the eternal life that Jesus came to bring. The traditional Christmas color, red, reminds us of the blood that Jesus shed so that we could have eternal life. Sparkling ornaments and twinkling lights dazzle our minds into remembering the beautiful star over Bethlehem that announced the Messiah's birth to a band of Eastern kings. And the gifts we give are a token to the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to the Christ child.

But it occurred to me earlier today that a particular group of characters from the Christmas story are absent from my seasonal decor. I've just been taking inventory and this is what I found: five Santas, four nutcrackers, three wreaths, a pair of angels, one snowman and a reindeer. I've got two mangers, one that's painted onto a plate, along with the words, “Unto us a child is born”, and a beautiful Buckley Moss print of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, surrounded by some very calm looking sheep. I confess that I don't have any kings on camel-back, but I do have gifts to wrap up for my loved ones and yesterday I seriously contemplated buying a bar of soap that was “frankincense and myrrh” scented. So St. Nick, Frosty, Rudolph, Mary, Joseph, the angels and the wise men all made the cut, so who is missing? Shepherds. I've got all this cute, sparkling, scented seasonal stuff and there's not a shepherd to be found.

I confess, I'm feeling a little guilty. Here I am about to write about Jesus as our Good Shepherd, and I haven't got a single shepherd in my apartment, even though they played a really significant role in the story of Jesus' birth. Here's an excerpt from their Biblical cameo.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” ... So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger...the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:8-12,16,20

I do find it amusing that though the Heavenly Host found shepherds to be a worthy audience of the biggest news in world history, Christmas decoration manufacturers don't seem to find them worthy of playing a major role in our holiday décor. It's a whole lot easier to go out and find a cute Santa or sparkly star than a shepherd to put up on the mantle or hang from the tree. But I'm sort of thankful for this because it's an indication that even today shepherds are viewed in much the same regard as they were in Jesus' time. Dirty and smelly, they're just not the guys you want to have hanging around, especially when there are so many other attractive options.

But that is part of the beauty and truth about Jesus. He's not interested in being what is most attractive to the world, He's interested in being what is most needed. Maybe this is the reason that the Heavenly Host appeared to those trustworthy shepherds upon that midnight clear. If you go back and fill in some of the blanks from the Luke story, you find that after seeing baby Jesus nestled into that manger, the shepherds immediately went out and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (Luke 2:17) It is the nature of the Good Shepherd to take every opportunity to gather His sheep together. Even while He was still wrapped in swaddling clothes, He was tending His flock by entrusting men whose lives were devoted to the care of other living things to spread the good news of great joy for all people. What a position of honor for those lowly shepherds. Maybe they aren't decking people's halls as Christmas decorations, but on that night they were donned with the Lord's favor. They might not have been the world's first-pick, but God considered them worthy. Perhaps because they were men after His own heart- men used to seeking and saving the lost. Men whose lives were devoted to tending to the weak and the wounded. Men who knew every one of their sheep- from the tiniest lamb to the oldest and most infirm ewe. Men who risked their own lives for the security of their sheep. .

It wasn't random coincidence that the angels appeared in that field that night. God planned perfectly every minute detail of Jesus' birth and recorded many of those details in prophecies written centuries before. He could have told someone with a lot more influence. Someone shinier, someone more attractive. But He chose the shepherds. He chose some of His own kind.

As I look around my apartment, I am maybe a little more embarrassed than I was when I started writing this. I'm not against Santa or Frosty or Rudolph. Angels are beautiful and evergreens are filled with fragrance and significance. But my identity depends on the Shepherd. Yours does too. And fortunately, it is He who will guide us. Like any good Shepherd, He will lead us as we explore this vantage point of our identity in Christ. And I'm confident that as He does so, we will discover good news that is sure to fill us with comfort and joy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I had a thought today while driving in the car. I thought about Jesus touching a leper. It's recorded in Matthew 8. The man in this story might have actually had Hansen's Disease, a bacterial infection that ravages skin and nerve tissue, or some other form of dermatitis. In any event, Jewish law forbade anyone with an "infectious skin disease" to live with healthy people. Check out Leviticus 13 for a very thorough overview on Biblical dermatology. God's law is always meant to protect spiritually, emotionally and physically. He is our Protector, our Gate and Good Shepherd, so it was for the benefit of many that He mandated those few with infectious diseases be sent "outside the camp." This kept diseases like Hansen's Disease from becoming epidemics. There was even provision in the law for how to determine if and when the disease was getting better, and how to reinstate someone who had been previously cast out when their skin infection cleared up. God is very detail-oriented, and I like that about Him.

But even knowing that God created regulations for skin infections to protect His people, it's still a little sad to read Leviticus 13:45, "The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, and cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp." On the one hand, this demonstrates how God knows everything and we humans are slow on the uptake. Leprosy (Hansens) is spread through the respiratory system, which means that the whole "I'm coming! Get out of the way" warning would have gotten people clear of their breath, and the covering of the mouth thing would have perhaps caught some of the moisture from their breath- no doubt keeping thousands of lives safe. But your heart sort of breaks for the person who had to go around in the leper costume, always announcing how "unclean" they are.

What's really amazing is that if you treated people like this in American society today, you would shock everyone. First of all, affirmative action has taught us not to discriminate- ever. Don't get me wrong, I am all for affirmative action. Or, at least, the idea behind it. I understand that it is abused in some cases, like all other good ideas. But how much more God-like can you be than to say, "We no longer count you inferior because of your gender or ethnicity or socio-economic status." Isn't that exactly what Paul was getting at when he said in Galatians 3:28, "There is no Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This is the good stuff in the Bible but it's really misunderstood a lot. So people look to the government or elsewhere to find "social justice" when really it's the God-followers who ought to be leading the campaign. Anyway, affirmative action, anti-discrimination, those things the Western church dropped the ball on got picked up by the government along the way and now we Americans are shocked when people are treated differently. So someone going around saying "unclean! unclean!" would be appalling to us!

I think that as believers it's imperative to understand who God is in that situation. First, He is the Protector of many, thus the reason for the law in the first place. But it doesn't stop there- He is the bender of His own rule. Or actually, a better way to say that is that He is the completer of His own rules. Jesus is the completion of the law, Matthew says. So when He touched that unclean man and healed him, it wasn't that He was contradicting what His Father had spoken into the legal system hundreds of years before, it's just that He was writing the final draft. This is the fabulous stuff in the Bible- and it's worth thinking about, talking about, and acting on. God told the lepers to go outside the camp. True. But God reached out and touched them and healed them. Amen! "But God..." a small phrase that carries the weight of eternity. People sinned and brought judgment on themselves, but God sent Jesus to be punished for that sin. People were unable to keep all the rules of the law, but God provided a new covenant, written in the blood of His own Precious Son. I was trapped in rebellion and sin, but God pursued me with love and set me free. Things are the way they are and that is oftentimes bad, but God makes all things new.

Lepers were not allowed to be touched, but Jesus touched them. And that's incredible. But this is what's really got me thinking. We're okay with Hansen's disease these days. We know it's caused by a bacterial infection, and that people don't really have any control over whether or not they contract it. But that's not what the Jewish people thought. And they weren't the only ones. For millenia, people have assumed that lepers were sinful, awful people and the disease was a consequence or manifestation of their sin. Only in the past few decades has it been understood that Hansen's is not a sexually transmitted disease. See, I think it's easy for us to look upon the sick and weak who are "victims" of circumstance, drought, war, famine, etc. and want to touch their lives. We all want to make an impact. It's popular. Yesterday World Vision had an all day thing going on the Christian radio station to raise money to support West Africa. The response was huge! This is great, and I'm not trying to belittle the work of World Vision in any way. Certainly they are acting out the Great Commission and I fully support that work. However, I am struck that people with diseases on other Continents are so much easier to take care of than the disease that pervades our own lives and/or the lives of those closest to us- sin. It's easy to call an 800 number and pledge to feed the hungry, sponsor the orphan, provide treatment for the infant infected with HIV. There's nothing wrong with that. We should do that. But that's easy. That costs hardly anything. A phone call? Thirty dollars? That's not really asking much. And a lot of people in America want to reach over to another Continent. But what about reaching over to your spouse? Or your sister or your bother? What about your son or daughter? What about that person at work who really annoys you? What about the people that hate you and make sure that you know it? What about those "sick" people? And what about you? Who's going to reach out when it becomes uncomfortable, painful, even shameful to touch that person who hurts you, frightens you, or might cost you your reputation?

That's what I was left thinking about in the car today. Because I'll send money. I'll sponsor and give. But when Jesus asks me, no commands me- to touch the one that I consider unclean, what am I going to do? We've been conditioned by our churches and non-profits to see the needy as acceptable. We need to help them. Besides, that's what makes us better than everyone else, doesn't it? Otherwise, we'd be just like all those other selfish worldly people, wouldn't we? So we respond to that need. But when the need is close, when it costs us personally, our reaction is much, much different. Humility is expensive. It costs time and money and it means letting other people see you for who you really are. Shoot, it means seeing yourself for who you really are- the way that the Holy One sees us. And that stuff is dirty. It's messy. It takes time to work that out. And we don't want to deal with that. We want to sweep it under a rug, or focus on other people's problems or the government and what a bad job it's doing or the people with cancer or AIDS or whatever. But that's a poor man's version of Christianity. You want treasure in heaven? You want to know the elaborate riches awaiting you in Christ Jesus? You have to touch the person you do not in any way shape or form want to touch. That's what Jesus was doing. NO ONE wanted to touch a leper. It was FORBIDDEN. It simply was. not. done. But He did it. And that's the reason that I'm writing this. Because until the day I die, I will be amazed that that is who HE IS. And humbled because it costs me everything to be like Him, and I kick and moan and whine all the way to the cross.

You and I are infected. We are diseased. Our families are diseased. Our parents. Our children. Our friends at church. We were born that way, we will die that way. Paul said that we will struggle with the desire of our flesh until the end. But He touches us. And His touch heals us! "In that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." No one has made it to holiness. Not a single one ever will. No one is righteous, we're just blood-covered- and that makes us righteous in Father's sight. And while that blood covers us, we are slaves to the righteousness it produces which means one thing- you must touch the leper in your life. I have to touch the leper in mine. Don't fool yourself and think that you're going to want to. Even Jesus was honest enough to admit that He DID NOT want to go to the cross. But He went to obey. And that's where I'm at, folks. Obey. Go where He went. Die like He died. Because He touches lepers. I don't want to. You won't want to either, but God- He wants us to. So let's do it. Let's touch the untouchable. Love the unlovable. Teach the unteachable. If you and I do- then maybe, just maybe- someone may be healed.

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man...Immediately he was cured. Matthew 8:3

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


My husband is gone for a couple of days on National Guard duty. He's off in a helicopter or shooting something. And I'm at home realizing, not only how much I miss him, but how much I really, really like him.

I read Love and Respect like all Christian newlywed girls do these days. And there was a lot in there about how men often feel loved but not "liked," not appreciated or noticed. I probably don't tell Andy often enough that I do respect him, like him and appreciate him. But when he's gone, I certainly do have time to think about it!

I woke up in the middle of the night doing that reach over to the other side of the bed thing you see in movies- no Andy, just a Gatsby leg hanging off a pillow. (Gats is enjoying the extra bed space while Andy is out of town!) I guess when someone is absent, you become aware of how content you are in their presence. Contentment. Is there a better place to live? I don't think so.

When Andy was in the course, I wrote him some encouraging notes for his last phase of training. One of the notes was about the meaning of his name. Andrew means "strong" and his middle name, Mark, is derived from the name "Mars" the war god. It means "warrior." They're both Biblical names, and I don't know why specifically they were chosen for him, but I love that Andy, my soldier, is so appropriately named for who God has called him to be. A strong warrior. He is indeed that. :)

It's funny that someone with a name like "strong warrior" would get this kind of rep though- when my friends first met Andy and I was after their seal of approval, Rosemary said, "He's a teddy bear." Probably not Andy's favorite title, but one that won my heart. Andy is not only a "strong warrior," he is the kind of man that Stu Weber calls a "Tender Warrior."Why? Because Andy is learning to refuse the temptation to look strong in his own eyes or the eyes of man, and completely accept the Lord's strength- no matter the cost. That's the sort of thing that makes a girl's heart go pitter-pat. ;)

Real strength comes in weakness alone- when we see who we have been and reject it because God has given us a better identity. Real love comes when we die to ourselves. Real freedom comes when we pursue truth, no matter how scary that seems. And real men are made when they pour contempt on all their pride and humbly lift their eyes to the cross. I'm married to a man who is becoming all of those things. And, oh my, do I ever adore him!

My sweet husband, my tender warrior, I love you. And I like you. You are my friend and my hero. I love seeing you grow in wisdom, freedom, truth and devotion to our King. See you soon, sweet friend.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Joyful, Joyful

So, if spiritual food had calories, I would be obese. Check out these gigantic portions that got tossed my way today from friends who spoke encouraging words into my life today- talk about "feeding" the lambs. I am one fatty lamb with the friends I've got.

"God of grace, grant us the strength, the wisdom, and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will."

"One thing is for sure, only the Holy Spirit can bring about the transformation needed"

"I am not the sum of my failures, nor the sum of my accomplishments. I am who I am, a conqueror, regardless of how many times I've won or lost."

And that was just from today's email. There were conversations with friends filled with honesty, confession, encouragement, accountability. There was Oswald Chambers and his forever challenging, if not frustrating exhortations. And there was time reading the book of John, always good to hear Jesus say, "What are you worried about that other person for? You follow me." John 21.

But even with all of that fatitude, I managed to get bummed out mid-afternoon. "O soul are you weary and troubled?" Well, yes, as a matter of fact I am some of the time. But, I took a moment of prayer before BSF and asked the Lord for help. He said, "the joy of the Lord will be your strength." Nehemiah 8:10 With that in mind, I decided to sing a hymn about joy. I wanted "Joy to the World" (I am getting into the Christmas spirit already anyway) but before I could get to it, my hymnal picked another one for me- "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" Every stanza was perfect. When I finished the song, I thought, "I wish that Holly (my BSF teaching leader) would pick this hymn to sing at BSF tonight. But that will never happen. It's a Christmas song."

So off I went to BSF, still battling the blues a little bit, hungry for what God would do tonight. Small group was amazing- a whole other story unto itself. But then, when we went to the sanctuary for lecture, what song do you think appeared on the projector? None other than "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee." I laughed out loud and shook my head, "You're funny," I said to Him. I hope He gets pleasure out of things like that. I don't know exactly how He does it- whether He plants the desire, or meets it before we know we want it- I don't know, but I hope it tickles Him. It tickles me. I LOVE moments like that with Him- pure enjoyment of each other. It is bliss.

So, I practically rolled out of there after lecture. It was the spiritual equivalent of a Thanksgiving feast. Then I got to come home and chat with my love (who is out of town for the week) and tell him all about it. It's so fun to compare the day's stories of God's faithfulness with each other. How much He has changed us, blessed us and nurtured us! To Him be the glory! Our cup overflows- with joy, of course! :)

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I have decided to follow Jesus

When I was a Freshman in college, I didn't like Jesus. "But, Meredith, you didn't like Him because you didn't know Him," you might be thinking. I assure you, I knew Him. Knew of Him anyway. I grew up hearing songs with words like this, "Love so amazing, love so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all." And when I was 19 years old, I fully and completely realized that Jesus wanted my life. And I hated Him for it.

I guess some people first hear about Jesus in light of His mercy and grace. That was not ever absent in the Gospel that was presented to me as a child and adolescent. I sang "Jesus loves the little children" and "Yes, Jesus loves me" a thousand times. But I am what you might call "strong-willed" and by the time I was old enough to realize that being like Jesus would mean forfeiting some of the things that Meredith would want to do- I was decidedly opposed. What kind of a God asks you to give up what you really want? A Holy God. That's Who.

But I was 19 and I wanted what I wanted- whatever that even was back then. My way. That's what it was. I didn't want to listen to my parents, who spoke on Christ's behalf. I didn't want to listen to Christian friends. And I didn't want to listen to any pastor who had more than a feel-good story to tell. That was that. God had other plans.

God's grace has sometimes come to me in the form of complete loss. Relationships ripped apart, ambitions flushed down the toilet, dreams in pieces, heart shattered. But I can't lie to you and say that once my life was crushed, I looked up to the cross, where the Savior gave his life for my nasty soul and welcomed Him. No. I screamed at Him. I spat. I scorned Him. I hated Him. Why would you do this to me? You are supposed to love me! You are supposed to be the One who loves unconditionally. But You have ruined everything! You and your nosy people and your demands that no one could ever meet! I knew Jesus. Ignorance of Him is something I can never claim. I rejected Him.

Maybe because I can remember feeling hatred and contempt for Him (it was only 9 years ago) I feel such adoration for Him today. Because one day, a Tuesday, while I sat on my bed I read the book of John. Everyone else (it seemed) had abandoned me. Heartbroken and desperate, I read about Him. And I realized, for the first time, that the Man of Sorrows, who had borne my contempt for all these years still, amazingly, miraculously loved me. I can't describe that revelation accurately. The best that I can express is that I looked at Him and though I had seen Him a thousand times before, I saw and felt and believed that despite my hatred, despite my abuse and contempt and false accusations, that He was desperate for me. And in my heart, I left my unbelief behind and I ran to Him on that cross and felt His love...finally. Oh! The relief I found that day! When the hands I'd nailed to the cross first held my ruined heart- life came to me.

Maybe it's because I remember hating Him that I am determined to agape. Nine years later, and a hundred turning points when "I have decided to follow Jesus" and now my Sweet Savior has called me to suffer with Him. He was so faithful to warn us- "in this world you will have trouble..." "no servant is greater than his master. If they hated me, they will hate you." I used to think that when the Psalmist wrote, "the insults of those who insult you fall on me" he meant that I wasn't going to hurt. That somehow the Holy Spirit was going to absorb the pain and I would walk on some sort of emotional cloud nine while the fiery words of those who oppose His way would dissolve in mid-air. But that's not what He said at all. It's not that those insults aren't going to hurt you. It's that they are going to afford you the opportunity to know Him in a way you cannot when you are comfortable. It means that you are going to share them with Him.

All those years that I stood at the base of the cross and hurled insults at Him, He was Holy, and He never ceased to love. He won't. Not until the end- when the trumpet sounds and the time of grace is up, and grace is replaced by wrath. Until that day, His love is poured out to anyone who will receive it- regardless of their hatred. It's impossible to know Him in His fullness and not be drawn to the cross to suffer alongside Him. We can choose to sit it out. We don't have to hurl insults at Him anymore. We can stop doing that and say, "Oh, I choose Jesus Christ as my Savior" and then go about our merry way and do what feels good. We can ignore the hurt. We can keep secrets and tell lies. We can become proud. We can accumulate stuff. There's tons of options out there other than suffering. But how will we ever really know Jesus if we don't stay there at the cross? How will we ever be like Him if we don't experience the brutality of man's selfish, hate-filled heart and love him anyway?

Francis Chan, who I am just beginning to listen to, has much to say about this. And Katy and Anthony (God bless those two!) saw fit to share with Andy and me a sermon Francis taught on suffering. Andy and I listened and related. Suffering has come our way in recent days- false accusation, insult, reproach. We've been shocked, we've been hurt, and, by grace alone, we've been obedient. "Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse." Romans 12:14. Why? Why would you ever do that? Why would you love someone who has expressed contempt for you? Why?

There is ONE answer, one answer only. Because He does. Because I hurled insults at Him and hated Him and rejected Him for years. And His mercy stayed the same. His grace came to me in waves. He chased after me like fire through a drought-stricken forest. He consumed me with His love. And to know Him, to really know Him, I have to do the very same thing. Agape- the love that expects nothing in return. The love that is poured out for its own sake- not because it's deserved, not because something good is going to happen in its wake, not because it's going to win me brownie points in the hereafter. Because it is HIM. God IS love. He IS agape. And, if I want to know Him, if I want to really know Him, then I have to stare in His eyes while the words beat me into a pulp, while my heart and soul are crushed and know His love, His never failing love for the very ones who are hurting me.

Like Paul said, I have not attained this. But I press on. That's all I have. And that's really all I want. To be able to love someone who hates me the way that I hated Him- will I ever attain this in this life? I don't know. But He's worthy of the effort. Because it's that love that turned my hatred into devotion. Love that amazing, that divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Light has Dawned

Jesus is the Light of the world. A few weeks ago, when we studied Isaiah 9- "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." Some wise woman in leader's meeting said, "Light dispels darkness. There's not a thing that darkness can do about light." So true. Light cannot get "put out" by the dark. Dark is the absence of light. When light is present, darkness ceases to exist.

I read my friend Elizabeth's blog today- a tribute to her friend Charis- a girl I've never met but have only heard of. I know her by reputation- a reputation of fearless love for the Lord, unhindered devotion to Him, trust refined by trial. Elizabeth's words about her caused my heart to burn with truth and conviction- light has dawned. Darkness flees when we shine before one another the way that Charis does, the way Elizabeth does- they're not perfect people, they're just bright, that's all. Full of the Light that came down from heaven.

So it dawns on me again- why am I afraid of darkness? Darkness has NO effect on light. Light is still light, regardless of the dark corners of the world. That darkness cannot put the light out. The light can put out the darkness. And why do I fear lies? What lie has power over the truth? Truth sets free. Truth is love in action. Truth is the fruit of the Light. So why do I fear lies? Why am I terrified of what does not exist?

God said through Isaiah in chapter 51, "Where is the wrath of the oppressor?" Where is this scary force of evil that has any power over the Light? What defines my life, really? Dark or light? Truth or lies? By grace alone, Truth and Light came to me- by His choice, out of His love, His mercy, His passion for that which was sick and lost and dying. I'm not afraid. Not of the dark. Not of the lies. I have more than that, and though the gates of hell may wage war against me, they've already lost. They can have my body, my life, my reputation- they may win many battles, but the war is won already. Light wins. Love triumphs. Lies are replaced by truth. Light has dawned.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Do the Jesus Dance

I sent my brother this card for his birthday that had the words "How to Dance Properly" written on the front. Just beneath the inscription was a hologram. When you tilted the card forward and back, the image- a youngish looking guy- would swing his arms and hips in this silly looking dance. It reminded me of Grant because he's got pretty good moves for a white guy. He took social dance class at Wake Forest and learned to swing and waltz and all of that good stuff, but he also has rhythm, and can legitimately dance when he wants to.

Maybe it was that card or the increasing Word coming to me to rejoice and be glad, or a combination of those things, but for whatever reason when I read 2 Samuel 6 a few days ago, I laughed out loud at the fun of it.

Here's the story: King David has just started reaching his prime. After years of running for his life from a jealous, enraged and crazed King Saul, the Lord finally removed Saul from the Earth and David was, for the first time since he was a boy-shepherd, free. Can you imagine what that felt like? Having a yoke of fear and oppression you've known since you were a boy lifted finally? And not only that, David was now free to inherit the kingdom of Israel, to become its chosen king, a job for which he had been anointed years before.

It must have been a really exciting time for David. God was handing over the land He wanted him to have- and an especially special piece of that land was the city of Jerusalem, which had previously belonged to the Jebusites, but from that time on would be called the City of David. David was setting up house, getting married (a lot) and having kids. God was blessing David, to be sure, but there was one blessing that was lacking- David had not yet brought the ark of the covenant (see Exodus 25) into the city walls.

So 2 Samuel 6 starts out with David and 30,000 of Israel's most upstanding citizens determined to move the ark. I'm assuming that the original plan was to move it from out in the hills down into the city, but along the way, something really incredible happened. One of the men (His name was Uzzah) walking alongside the cart that was holding the ark, reached out and grabbed the ark (assumably to keep it from falling) when the oxen stumbled. The guy should have chosen to fear God rather than gravity, because when he touched the ark, God was angry and he struck him dead. When you read this at face-value, that seems really harsh of God. But, this crew of happy transporters, though they were well-meaning and excited at the prospect of giving the ark an honorable place in the city, had completely neglected God's explicit commands for how to handle the ark. It's recorded in Numbers 4 that when the ark was to be transported, only the sons of Aaron could prepare the ark, and even they could not touch it or they would die (Numbers 4:15). Furthermore, the ark was never to be placed in a cart, but carried on the shoulders of a specific clan- the Kohathites. Uzzah was a Levite, not a descendent of Aaron, so his touch was even more of a disgrace in the eyes of the Lord. And so the Lord killed him right then and there.

David was amazed and terrified! This is something I really like about David. He is credited as a man after God's own heart, but, especially in circumstances like these, we're reminded of how much of a man he was. Far from the super-hero confidence he displayed when he slayed the giant Philistine years before, David was so spooked by Uzzah's death that he decided to send the ark elsewhere- outside of the city. He was scared to have it in his house! This is so David, and so all of us- one moment we're confident and completely sure of God's plan for our lives and His deliverance, the next we're terrified and need a minute to re-group in the familiar comforts of home. I remember being like this when I was just getting to know the Lord. I would go to church or BSF and learn something so terrifying and amazing about Him that I would want to go home and watch Golden Girls reruns to calm my mind! Ha!! But, like David, I finally tossed that false reality aside, probably because I discovered the same sort of thing that he did after he sent the ark away...

After Uzzah's death, David decided to stash the ark at a guy name Obed-Edom's house. But, I guess after going back to his palace and recovering from the shock of Uzzah's death, David realized that there was still something missing in the City of David- the glory of the Lord. So when he checked up on Obed-Edom, he found that God had blessed everything the guy had! David was having none of that! Miss out on the Lord's blessing!? No way! This kind of thing is how David earns the "after God's own heart" part of his title. He resolved to finish moving the ark into the city. But this time he got things right- 2 Samuel 6:13 says that the ark was being "carried" and not only that, but after only six steps, David made a sacrifice to the Lord! David was completely determined to give glory to God- by following His rules, and by giving up something of value. But that's not my favorite part...

The best line ever is 2 Samuel 6:14 "David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might." I LOVE this!! Another reminder of my brother, who sometimes says, "you can never be overdressed," ;) Not in this case, brother! David, on this occasion, thought that his royal garments would inhibit him from doing what he was determined to do- dance before the Lord!! And not just dance, dance with all his might! I can only imagine David, whose heart had been enchanted by the Holy One, dancing around like a mad-man before the Lord, genuinely expressing His JOY over His presence manifested in the ark!

But not everyone was pleased with David's dancing. One of his wives- Saul's daughter, in fact, Michal, told him that his dance was common and vulgar- not befitting of a king. Sound familiar, folks? Have you ever been determined to worship the Lord- through song, or praise, or dancing, or writing, or prayer, or speaking the truth in love- and someone has come along and said, "Ummm, You need to tone that down a notch. It's not reverent." Reverence- sometimes very real and very necessary. Sometimes a code word excuse for a luke-warm heart toward the Lord. He knows the difference. And so does the worshiper. David knew that his heart was pure before the Lord, but that it was also full of JOY that needed to be expressed! So his response to Michal was perfect- "It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over Isreal- I will celebrate before the Lord." Go David!!

Yesterday I talked about singing. Today, dancing. Because a word recently came to me- "Not rejoicing is as much a sin as not repenting." If you are in Christ Jesus, then you have reason to dance for JOY. He has made a clear path between you and the Almighty, and, friend, you feel free to dance right along it.

But know that other people won't appreciate it. In fact, they'll question you. They'll accuse you. They'll attack you. They'll put you down. And when they do? Just dance. Dance with all your might. Celebrate before the Lord. Because He is worthy.

I love my Lord. I love His freedom and His truth. I love Light and Deliverance, Restoration and Healing. I am for those things because I am for Him. And, if I have to dance around in my underoos like David to show Him just how much I love Him, then I will- with all my might!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Love Lifted Me

Our BSF lesson this week ended with a great question- "After studying the first twelve chapters of Isaiah, what song would you like to sing to God?" The question kind of came from Isaiah 12, which is a beautiful song of praise to the Prince of Peace.

Listen to some of these beautiful words of assurance.

"Your anger has turned away and you have comforted me."

"Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid."

"With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."

There are songs to sing to a God who does those things. And Andy and I have been singing them! I love the story of Paul and Silas from Acts 16. They were thrown in prison for doing something right, but instead of growing bitter and angry and complaining, they sang songs and prayed. Andy and I have been working this out in our marriage the past couple of weeks. When we've become discouraged or hurt, we've sat down on our sofa, opened up one of our song books, and sung hymns! We have felt the Lord bless our hearts with strength, courage, hope and deep fellowship with each other in these times.

Some of our favorites are- "What a Friend we Have in Jesus" "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" "How Firm a Foundation" "My Goal is God Himself" "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" and today, I sang (by myself) "Love Lifted Me"

It's a blessing to sing- neither of us (sorry, love!) have the gift of beautiful voice, but we do love to sing to the Lord. And as we lift our voices, He lifts our hearts with His steadfast love.

One of the hymnals we have is a book my mom gave me a couple of Christmases ago. It's called, "Then Sings my Soul" by Robert J. Morgan and it is really beautiful. Not only is it full of hymns, but includes a little background story for each one, with biographical info about the song writers. Today, as I sang "Love Lifted Me" my eyes were drawn over to another verse written by this song writer, Howard E. Smith. It's from a lesser known hymn of his called "God Holds the Future in His Hands."

Dread not the things that are ahead,
The burdens great, the sinking sands,
The thorns that o'er the path are spread,
God holds the future in His hands.

God holds the future in His hands
And every heart He understands.
On Him depend, He is your Friend,
He holds the future in His hands.

I know this. I love Jesus Christ with my entire heart and my life is completely dependent on Him and His future-holding hands. And I also know this- I am passionate that everyone I know come to the same realization- albeit it painful and frightening at times, what with the sinking sands and the thorns. But I hope we all learn to depend on Him, He is our Friend, and he holds the future in His hands.

May His love lift you today! What song will you sing to Him when it does?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Movin' right along...

Ok, I just read something hilarious in the Bible. It's in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel, the prophet, has the funniest conversation with God.

Samuel seems like a really sweet man, but a hardcore God-follower at that. God called him to do some really rough stuff. For example, he had to tell Saul that he was no longer God's anointed choice for the Israelites. I do not envy him that job in the least. It's rough enough confronting a person when they've offended God and/or you- but going on behalf of an entire nation to a king who was slightly crazy and mostly bad-tempered and saying, "You're fired" ? Something tells me Samuel enjoyed those words a little less than "the Donald."

The reason I say that is because Samuel had a hard time getting over Saul's disappointing choices. Samuel knew that Saul's rejection of the Lord and His Word had caused the Lord to reject Saul, so there was only one action to take- tell Saul that the kingdom was being given over the one "better than you." Whoa. Who wants to say those words to someone? And who wants to hear them? How devastating to know that God has seen your poor stewardship of the gift He gave you and decided that you are no longer chosen to receive the blessing! But God's mind was made up! Saul had rejected God's Word. Despite being given every evidence and provision from the Holy One, he continued in his sin- and did not repent- not until Samuel caught up with him and called him out. But by then, as Samuel said, "He who is the Glory of Isreal does not lie or change his mind; for he is not man, that he should change his mind." I find that a frightening and fascinating thought! First frightening because I know that I have embarked on sinful escapades that have lasted days, weeks, months, years longer than I would have ever even thought possible. Struggling with a pattern of sin is so serious, grievous, and requires a lot of faith and endurance to overcome. How amazing that the Holy One knows hearts- Isaiah 11 says that He does not judge us by what he sees or hears. In other words, it's not our actions, those are too easy to fake, it's our heart's attitude that He is paying attention to. And, He alone is able to know where we are with those things while we struggle with sin. And that's where the fascinating part comes in. God knows when someone is given over to the sin they've chosen. And there's no faking it with Him. I love this about Him. Because people can say one thing and then turn and do the exact opposite, but God is not fooled!!! He knows the hearts of man. And, in this case, He knew that Saul's was not going to change.

But Samuel was bummed out. The Bible says He mourned Saul for a long time. And God was grieved too. Another sweet thought- it's possible to grieve together with God over the same disappointment. However, God, because He is completely Other, knew when it was time to move on. And when it was time for Samuel to get movin' on with Him. So He said to Samuel,

"How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel ? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way!"

I love this. God telling Samuel to move on, buddy, it's over. I don't say that lightly. I say that with awe. God is so sovereign. Only He knows when something is over. All we can do is follow His word, obey and wait. But sometimes, things end. Sometimes it's time to start brand new. And that was the case here.

But Samuel was freaked out! God commanded Samuel to fill his horn with oil so that he could go anoint the new king- one of Jesse's sons. But all that Samuel could think about was how Saul was going to be ticked off that he was going behind his back and anointing a new king.

Poor Samuel- he tried to be straightforward. He told Saul exactly what God had told him to say. But he knew that Saul was filled with rage, and he was afraid he would come after him! Oh, how I can relate! Even after being obedient to the Lord, I sometimes fear the wrath of man. Samuel was so freaked out he said, "How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me!"

Now here's the part that I find funny- after Samuel freaks out to God, His response is- "Take a heifer with you and say..." I think this is funny because God completely ignores Samuel's freak out moment. I don't think it's that God didn't care about Samuel's fear and I KNOW it wasn't because God didn't hear Him (he knew the word before it was on his tongue! Psalm 139) But, I think that Saul was such a non-threat in the eyes of the Lord that He didn't waste a breath even acknowledging Samuel's fear- it wasn't worth His time.

This is great to me. I love it. God is just like, ok, Samuel you have to move on from Saul. His time is over. I'm sad over it too. But a new blessing is waiting over at Jesse's and if you're ever going to get to it, you gotta get going.

Thank you, Glory of Isreal. You are so right. Always right.

Andy said yesterday, "we don't need to dwell on anything that isn't pleasing to God" to include our hurt or past sin, or the sin of other people. So true. And what a great help from my sweet help-mate! There is a time of repentance and grief over our sin, and the sins of others, but eventually God says "move on." God wasn't ignoring Saul's sin- that's important. We can't ignore sin because God never does. But Samuel had to trust God to take care of Saul in the end. He knew that Saul had spoiled his blessing. He felt bad for him. But there were new blessings on the horizon, and Samuel had to get over his fear of man and get going to get to them.

And from that son of Jesse, David, came my Hero- Jesus Christ. He was his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson (I think that's right) So I'm glad God got Samuel up and off with that heifer that day. The world was blessed and Samuel was not harmed.

But, for those faint-hearted Samuels out there (like me!) here's a word of encouragement, one that He has used to strengthen my heart.

"Hear me, you who know what is right,
you people who have my law in your hearts:
Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults."

Jehovah knows. He cannot lie. He cannot be lied to. It's ok. Just move right along. And if He tells you, take the heifer, chances are He wants to bless a lot of other folks too. :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The "Agony" of Defeat

Defeat is only agonizing when winning is the goal.

I talked to my Mom and Dad tonight, after the election results were in. He lost the race. My mother said, "We cannot say that we are disappointed because that would mean that we are disappointed in God." My father said, "I am not discouraged. I receive God's answer." and then proceeded to bless me and tell me to communicate to my husband how much he appreciates him.

I got off the phone and said to Andy, "I am rich." Rich in blessings. Rich in spiritual inheritance. Months of work, hope, prayer ended tonight, and in the echo of "defeat" my parents bless the Lord and my marriage. No complaints. No pity parties. No slander.

It's not because they are better than anyone else. My parents have become more and more completely aware of their poverty before the Lord in the past years of disappointment and trial. It's not that they are better, it's that they have chosen another goal, a better goal.

Defeat is only agonizing when winning is the goal.

But that is not their goal. So defeat is an opportunity to say, "To God be the glory for the things He has done." And to bless the Lord and others.

We sing this hymn in BSF from time to time. It is so true of my dad, who, as I wrote before, will judge one day- in the eternal Kingdom, where all things will be made new and disappointment and failure, defeat and falsehood will no longer exist. But until then, this is his goal, together with my mom- and mine and Andy's with them. This is our treasure, our win- tonight and always.

My goal is God himself,
Not joy or peace nor even blessing, but Himself, my God;
Tis His to lead me there, not mine, but His-
At any cost, dear Lord, by any road.

-Fanny Crosby

Come thirsty

"Come all you who are thirsty,
come, come to the waters."
Isaiah 55:1

In the book of John there is a story about a woman who had been sinful. I assume that she also had been very hurt. She'd been married several times, and divorced several times and was living with a man who was not her husband.

Usually, when you hear about this woman, she is used as an example of a great sinner. We can have a sort of "that would never happen to me" attitude, "all those marriages, all those men." But this was a society where men were permitted to divorce their wives if they were displeased with them in any way. Perhaps her heart had been broken just as many times as it had hoped for love and commitment. Perhaps it was jaded after so many years of disappointment and sin. Perhaps she was a great sinner who brought all of it on herself. I don't know. But I know not to pass judgment. How forgetful I can be that I am a great sinner. She was no different than myself.

It made no difference to Jesus. He came to her one day at a well and asked her for a drink. His reason? To help her recognize her own thirst. Then He told her that she could have asked Him for living water. Perplexed, she said this- one of my favorite Bible quotes, "Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?"

The well is deep. She was talking about a hole in the ground, Jesus was directing her toward the depth of need and hurt in her heart- they were both right. The well is so, so deep.

But we cannot know Him in His fullness and deny that He has called us to come drink when we are thirsty. He doesn't deny that the well of our heart is deep; He promises to be able to fill the depths with Himself.

Lord Jesus, today, I am so thirsty. Fill my cup, Lord.

The Lord is the One who fills our cup to overflowing. He meets the depth of our soul with something alive, something that I cannot even comprehend. It manifests itself in peace and love and joy and gentleness.

But people and circumstances, they can cause the cup to spill. Out of their anger or hurt or cruelty, they knock into us- the joy, the peace spilling out. Our cup is empty. Our hearts are filled with grief. This has happened to me in the past few days. Harsh words slammed into me like a freight train, and my cup was empty all of a sudden.

But the response is this- turn to the Well, to the Fount of Living Water- ask Him to fill my cup again. Fill it, Lord, to overflowing.

It's not ever a person's job to fill another person's cup. We are just conduits of His living water for one another, so though it may appear that someone else fills our cup with gladness from time to time, it's really just that the person has opened themselves up to become faucet for His grace. The water's source is Him alone. I say this because it matters when the cup is suddenly empty. Anger and hurt will come, but the person who caused the emptiness cannot fill the cup back up. It is my own responsibility to go to Him when I am so thirsty and ask to be filled again.

May our cups be filled to overflowing from the Fount of Blessing Himself. Grace and peace to all who read this.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Look at the Stars

Andy and I got a chance to go out to Eric's ranch this weekend. It was such a great retreat, and perfectly timed by God. Unfortunately, I left my camera card in my computer at home so I am without pictures!

But, I want to write down a very precious moment from this weekend now, because dwelling on the goodness of the Lord doesn't need to wait. (Although, Andy is waiting on me- so that we can watch our latest Netflix, so I will be brief).

The ranch is 100 miles outside of Austin, away from any large cities, which means the sky is dark at night- no artificial lights- only stars. Andy and I had a pretty busy day Saturday, so we passed out on the sofa after the World Series game ended. We had planned on sitting out underneath the stars, but exhaustion carried us up the stairs and into bed instead.

But a little before 5 AM, I woke up to check on the dogs, who were crying in their pin. But after a little mommy and daddy consolation time, I could not go back to sleep. I saw the moonlight bright outside the bedroom window, and felt the Lord urging me to go outside. I went.

When I got outside, I was dazzled at the brightness of the pre-dawn sky. The half-moon produced so much light that I could walk around the front of the house to a rock that was perfect for sitting. I leaned back and stared up at the bejeweled sky.

"Papa, that is beautiful!" I said. I thought about how massive those sparkling dots actually are, and then thought that the Holy Spirit inspired a most amazing thought- He knows every atom of every star, all those light-years away!

I sat there a few minutes, staring into the sky, contemplating the beauty that my Father is capable of creating, and also His tenderness that He would want to share that with me. I could hear coyotes howling out in the hills and a rooster announcing the morning, before it bothered to show up. I was in awe of Him, and thankful that He had gone to the trouble to beckon me out there.

Energized by His beauty, I went inside and spent some time reading Psalms. He had a few things in mind, I think, when I asked Him to help me find the passages He wanted me to read- the main themes were: He is on His throne. And, He knows hearts and minds. We had a great conversation, while I sat in a leather arm chair in the corner of the ranch house's great room. He disciplined me a little bit, letting me know a specific sin I needed to seek forgiveness for (and did!) once the morning broke. And then affirmed me with words of assurance.

I cannot tell you how much those words have meant to me today. He is so faithful! He knew what I would face as the dawn broke, the sun running its course aligned by Him, and finally setting in the West. He knew that I would need every word He chose for me this morning. And I am still treasuring them in my heart. My God is on His throne. He knows hearts. He knows minds. And He is my shield.

I'm writing this because I am amazed at my Papa's tender mercy- to wake up His child because He knew He had something that I would want to see, that we could enjoy together, and also, that He had words that He wanted to say, words that would strengthen me as the day unfolded. What a Dad, my Papa. Jehovah. Creator, but Abba too.

It reminded me of when I was a little girl and snow was in the forecast. My mom would stay awake, vigilantly watching the sky. When the first flakes began to fall, she would come to my bed and wake me, "Meredith, it's snowing!" She knew I would sacrifice sleep for the wonder of falling snow. We would stand together and watch it in the kitchen, watching it in the soft glow of our porch light. My Heavenly Father did the same last night. "Meredith, come, look at the stars! Remember how majestic I am! Look at the Creation, I want to enjoy it with you."

We did enjoy it. And I am enjoying Him. When people and circumstances increase in complexity and disappointment, He shines brilliantly in His steadiness, and His incredible care.

I'm writing this because I love my Papa. And I want to thank Him for His sweet invitation to look at the stars with Him this morning. Papa, you are on your throne. And you know this heart- that you have had to severely chasten, but that adores You.

Stars looking at our planet,
Watching entropy and pain,
And maybe start to wonder how the chaos in our lives could pass as sane.
I've been thinking of the meaning of resistance,
Of a hope beyond my own.
And suddenly the infinite and penitent begin to look like home.

I've been looking at everyone, everyone, you look so empty,
But when I look at the stars, when I look at the stars, I see Someone Else.
When I look at the stars, when I look at the stars, I feel like myself.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Have a little faith

I read this Psalm yesterday.

"How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
Is is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing
even life forevermore."
Psalm 133

In church and BSF, there's been a lot of discussion about faith and trust. I think that everybody wants to put their trust in something- either in their spouse or their best friends or their family. Or their church or their eduction, the amount of time they spend studying the Bible or reading books. Or their political party or their ability to be a watch-dog on their party's behalf. Or their traditions and heritage. Or their job or their ability to be creative or their talent or wit or intelligence. Or the person who promised them something or the money that they have so diligently saved or the plans they have so carefully made.

Apparently none of that impresses God. With Him, faith and trust are relatively simple- trust in Him alone. Meaning that, everything- money, emotions, plans, frustrations, relationships, work, self-esteem, opinions, exhaustion, children, education, vacation, rest, and political affiliations are left up to Him. He says that faith is "being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you do not see." (Hebrews 11:1)

We had a discussion last night at small group about what exactly that hope could be in. We agreed that it couldn't be for the job that you want. And it can't be for the physical healing that you desire. It's also no good for the hope to be in your family members or your ability to be a good mom or dad or daughter or sister or husband or wife. You shouldn't hope for more money or the ability to save it better or have more opportunities to give it away. And it's no good to hope for happier days or more stable emotions or for everyone to slap you on the back and tell you, "hey, you're really awesome, did you know that?" But those are the kinds of things we're waiting for, aren't we? I know that I am. Some days I feel like I literally cannot go on without affirmation, recognition, provision.

But that's not what God wants. That's not the kind of faith that Hebrews 11 is talking about. So what is that faith- what does God want from us when He says that without faith it's impossible to please Him? (Hebrews 11:6) It's faith in what we do not see. And what don't we see? Him. We don't see Jehovah. Because if we did, we would die. He's invisible which drives some of us to doubt and some of us to wonder and some of us almost completely bonkers. But that's what He wants- He wants us to put our faith in the Lord our God- the Mighty One, who we cannot see.

This is NOT easy. I think that we think it's easy sometimes, because we're used to putting our faith into the good things that He has provided for us or the moral superiority we feel because we have "believed in Him" but when you really dig into what the guys and gals in Hebrews 11 were doing you realize that blessings and feelings of moral superiority have nothing to do with real faith. They were all, "looking for a country of their own," and, news flash, the country was NOT America. Nor was it Israel. Nor was it somewhere in Africa where they could build wells and feed hungry children and feel really darn good about themselves. They were looking for the heavenly city. They never felt satisfied here.. not with the blessings God provided and not with themselves and their good works. That's what it means to live by faith. It means to realize that this is NOT my home, these are NOT my people, this place is NOT operating under the rules that will be in place in the eternal kingdom. And somehow enduring this experience while giving glory to GOD because there is more to come- much, much, much more to come.

How does that tie into Psalm 133? Because those living by faith find themselves living on this planet as aliens, with hearts knitted together with God's Spirit, struggling, begging, hoping, expecting what will only come completely in an age without time. Because God has written eternity into our hearts, and we cannot help but long for the unity, the peace, the righteousness that He wrote there. And that's where I find myself today. Not in a peace-filled kingdom, but a world riddled with strife and division.

Unity is not something we acquire for ourselves. Nor is it something that we can attain by volunteering more or attending more Bible studies or saving more pennies so that we can sponsor and adopt and feed more orphans. Listen, I am not against those things, I am very much for those things. I am for healing, helping, restoring- but not because of me- because it's what He does. And we cannot really do what He does unless He is the one that pours the oil upon us. Everything else is fake.
Do you see that in Psalm 133? The oil is poured out. It is an anointing that comes from His Hand alone, not our will or our desire to do good or help people who need help. It's HIS. HIS ALONE and NO ONE deserves glory other than Him.

I'm writing this because I'm frustrated. Because I'm an alien living on the grace He gives, waiting for the peaceful reign to come, waiting for the scoffers to be humbled, waiting for the truth to be told, waiting for repentance, waiting for every knee to bow and every tongue to stop singing their own praises or their political parties praises or their native country's praises or their family's praises or their hard work's praises or their children's praises or their achievement's praises or their stuff's praises but to sing His praises.

But I have no right to be frustrated. Why should I? It's not my plan. It's not my timing. I am just along for the ride. I'm on His team, a miniscule mark amongst the great cloud of witnesses waiting for Him to avenge their blood. I am learning to bide time. I am learning to trust in a time frame that is not of this world. Should I expect protection, vindication, unity, purity and peace in this life? Not necessarily. He is able. But He is not forcing Himself upon anyone. He gives us the option out- though that option leads to separation, division and ultimately death. But faith means believing that everything in this life is moving along the course that leads us to the next one. There- and only there- I can have expectations for perfection- for unity, for sinlessness for vindication for fellowship for peace for joy for justice.

Until then, frustration needs to subside, faith and prayer need to increase and I need to stop looking to anything or anyone else for help.

We trust in the name of the Lord our God. Our faith is in You all day long.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Win some, lose some

When things don't go as you want them to, Grant says, "Win some, lose some." This is the attitude I've been forced to take with some of my cooking exploits over the past couple of weeks.

I mentioned before that I love fall, but Texas and I have very different ideas of how these autumnal months ought to be spent. I think crispy air and changing leaves are necessary, while Texas seems perfectly content with 90 degree days and leaves that turn brown and fall off. I refuse to let Texas have a total win, so I've been bringing fall into the apartment for weeks now- pumpkin spice candles, hot cider, jack-o-lanterns, and, to top it all off, I've been trying some fall-inspired cuisine. I've been cooking with things like pumpkin and sage and even butternut squash. It's been an adventure- some of it delightful as those crisp fall breezes I miss so much and some of it the edible equivalent of those brown leaves that fall without even bothering with beauty.

Win Some:
My first try was inspired by a short story I read. The story was set in Tunisia and there were several references to couscous. I don't normally cook with couscous, but the story had my mouth watering for it. So I went online and found a recipe that perfectly combined my literary-inspired craving with my autumn experiments- pumpkin couscous.

I've never cooked with an actual pumpkin. If I've ever cooked with pumpkin at all (and I'm not really sure that I have) then it's been with canned pumpkin, to be sure. But the pumpkin couscous required a fresh cooking pumpkin. First thing was to take the seeds out, which I reserved for Andy so that he could bake them later on. (The pictures are above... pumpkin couscous is the top three pictures)

I cut the pumpkin into 1 inch cubes, doused them in olive oil, cinnamon, nutmeg and a little salt, and then baked them for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I sautéed some onion in olive oil on the stove top. After the pumpkin finished baking, I added it into the onion mixture. During this time, I was preparing the couscous. The recipe I found online called for Israeli couscous, which is much larger than regular couscous, but when I was at the store, I found a box of Near East couscous that was already flavored and had pine nuts (which I love!) so I went with that, rather than the Israeli couscous, which I would have had to season myself. However, I did cook the box mix with chicken broth, rather than water, which made it tastier, I think.

When the couscous was light and fluffy, I poured it into the pan with the pumpkin and onions, mixing everything together. Then I dished it up. I served the couscous with a store-bought mesquite flavored rotisserie chicken, steamed green beans and naan (Middle Eastern flat bread, similar to a pita) which I coated with olive oil and heated in the oven. This meal was a delicious creation! I was really thrilled with the way it turned out. The pumpkin by itself was not particularly good. (I tasted it when it came out of the oven) But mixed in with the couscous, onions and pine nuts, it was delectable!

Lose Some:
My second creation came from Better Homes and Gardens October edition. There was a featured cook who gave a menu for an autumn dinner party. There was a picture of what looked like a delicious pasta- pappardelle with butternut squash and blue cheese. Fortunately, my mom has always told me never to try a new recipe on guests- so I cooked this dish for only Andy and myself and good thing too, because this was definitely a low point in my recipe repertoire.

First of all, I've never cooked a butternut squash. Like the pumpkin, it had to be seeded, skinned and cut into one inch cubes. After the squash was prepared, I cut up an onion and sautéed it with some olive oil and three tablespoons of Marsala wine. Then I added the squash cubes, covered and let it simmer for at least ten minutes.

Meanwhile, I cooked the pappardelle, a thick ribbon-like pasta, in a giant pot. I also toasted 2/3 cup of pine nuts in a pan. But everything about this meal was just off- starting with the pine nuts, which I let get too hot. They turned black on one side and I had to throw them away! I sent Andy off to the store to get some replacements, which I was not at all happy about because pine nuts are NOT cheap!!

While he was out, I drained the pasta and added it into the squash/Marsala mixture, and tasted as I went along. Everything was really bland to me, so I salted and added oil as I saw fit. Then I added the blue cheese. Now, I generally like blue cheese, but I know that Andy is not a big fan, so when I went to the HEB, I asked the lady behind the deli counter which blue cheese would be mildest. She recommended Saint Agur, which, consequently, was the blue cheese recommended in the recipe in BHG. She said that it was milder than the other imported cheeses, so I went for it. Well, Saint Agur might be mild for an import, but it is NOT mild. It was very strong, too strong even for me, and I didn't even feel like I used very much of it. I mixed in the equivalent of two to three spoonfuls into my heap of pasta and squash and it melted and congealed with the sauce the way it was supposed to.

Andy returned with the pine nuts, which I toasted more carefully and added to the pasta. But, even my love for pine nuts could not salvage this dish. When all was said and done, this recipe was a dud. The Saint Agur was overpowering, and the squash was bland with an unpleasant texture. Though, I must say that pappardelle (which I had never even heard of before) is a delightful pasta with whom I will become better acquainted. (I imagine pappardelle in a very cheesy, but not too heavy home-made Alfredo would be wonderful!) I think the recipe would have been better if I had used another cheese- something milder like Gorgonzola, but even then, the squash was nothing special. So I give this recipe two thumbs down!

At least I have a husband who is a great sport about these sorts of things! He was really too nice about it, saying "it's not that bad." And good thing, too, because we have to eat it for at least another day! It made six servings, and we can't just waste it. But, I figure I will make up for it by cooking beef curry (his favorite!) a couple of times in the next few weeks. Oh well. Win some, lose some.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's a matter of time

Something has dawned on me this week. Pardon the pun, but consider Isaiah 9:2 for a moment:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned.

I spent a while on my way home from BSF this evening praying about that very thing.

"I just feel like I'm in a shadow," I said to Abba.

This verse from Isaiah came immediately to my mind. The light has already dawned.

This feels confusing at times. It has felt confusing to me for a while. Jesus is the Light of the world, and yet, there is no denying that I've walked through darkness- the valley of the shadow of death. It sounds really creepy, and it is creepy, but that shadow is everywhere because it's sin that brings death- physical death, spiritual death, emotional and relational death. So the shadow of death is everywhere. Everywhere that people sin and don't repent. Everywhere that people prefer lies to truth. Everywhere that people worship some idol, regardless of how good it is, instead of Jehovah. But it doesn't make sense, does it? The light has dawned Past tense.

Jesus is the Light. He said so in John 8:12 "I am the light of the world." So why have I been walking through shadows? Why do I still feel the presence of darkness, thick, sticky with evil so long buried, so precisely disguised that it sometimes literally turns my stomach?

We like to talk about how light dispels darkness, that Christ's light can illuminate sin and drive it away. But that's not always what happens, is it? Isn't there someone you're worried about who doesn't ever change? Isn't there some situation that you've been inviting God into that seems glued shut with supernatural super-glue. Why doesn't the Light shine and get rid of all of that? That's been my question, one that cuts my heart like a razor every time it passes through.

We pray, "God, if you are willing..." like the leper in Matthew 8. Sometimes it's all we can do to get that phrase out, when really in our hearts we're questioning, "God, if you are able..." Or, if not that, then, "God, if you actually really do care about me at all, then... will you please heal the cancer, convict the sinner, save the family member, correct the mistake, heal the broken heart or the broken hand or the broken family..."

The Light has already dawned... so why are there still shadows?

God used a situation close to me to illuminate the answer. My dad is running for judge. God's honest truth: he ought to win. If life operated under any sort of code of reaping and sowing that was limited by the time frame of one's life, then there is NO DOUBT- he should win. He has sown marvelously. Decades of hard work. Dedication to the law, to family, to community. Worship of the One True God. Advocacy for the oppressed. Forgiveness in light of wrongs so grievous I literally cannot bear to talk about them (keep in mind I am one of the ones who wronged him) What should he reap? A seat on a judge's bench. So why have I prayed, with tears, over the past couple of days that God's favor would rest upon Him, win or lose. Did you get that? Win OR lose.

Because sowing and reaping, light and darkness, truth and lies- they're a matter of time. And that time is not the time that we are used to. I have poised my prayers to the Lord regarding my dad's campaign in this way, "Lord, I know that you are able, if you are willing, let him win. He would make a great judge."

"If you are willing..." sounds awfully spiritual, doesn't it? Also sounds doubt-infused in light of how certain I am that his sowing merits a harvest. That's right, merits. Why? Because he has done such great works that he deserves a pay off? No. Not based on what he has done, based on what God has said. And that is the light that has dawned, and it shines brilliantly this moment.

Will my dad be a judge? Yes. Not only because he has sown well, and God's promise is that if we sow well, we reap well, but also because 1 Corinthians 6:3 promises that he will be... check it out:

Do you not know that we will judge angels?

He will be a judge in a heavenly courtroom one day. He might lose this election, but he will reap well. It's just a matter of time.

And that's why I can still feel the chill of the shadows I have to walk through. Because the light has dawned, and darkness will be completely
gone, but it's a matter of time. Not time until the next election or the next Sunday service or the next Christian conference or Bible study. Those are ways to pass time. But time is not in our control. But there is One who is keeping perfect time.

Sometimes honest people who work hard and help others win elections. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes the calloused heart of the one for whom we pray becomes soft and new. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the lie that is told about us is corrected and fellowship is restored. Sometimes it isn't. But it's all a matter of time.

The light has dawned and He will not be mocked. He promises to uphold His people and to elevate those who have chosen a posture of humility. He promises to free all of us with His Truth, which no man or woman or child will be able to ignore. He promises to make our hearts whole and our bodies new and to give us a song of praise to sing forever. He promises to shine- so brightly that our eternal city won't need a sun or moon or any other light.

What's dawned on me tonight is that none of those promises fall underneath the "if you are willing..." category. They are definite. Those who trust in Him will NOT be put to shame. Truth will be the law of the land- total, complete, brilliant Truth- not our own personal version of it, like we try to pass off to one another here. Darkness will flee. Evil will die. Justice and righteousness will reign. And peace, shalom- the wholeness that can come only from oneness with God- will rule our hearts. Nothing will be broken. No one will be disappointed. And there will e nothing at all to fear. It's not His "willingness" that will bring about these things. It's His zeal (Isaiah 9:7)- His overpowering passion that will accomplish these things. It's just a matter of time...

The Vinyl Life

For any disappointment I experienced on my actual birthday, this weekend made up for it and then some.

Friday night was a girl's night at Cafe Medici. Cappuccino and some of my favorite Austin girls is a great way to spend an evening. We chatted about husbands and babies and recipes and who knows what else until someone finally looked at their watch and saw that it was past 10! Time to go home to our hubbies.

Saturday I got up early to have some quiet time. Afterwards, I wanted to spend a little bit of time researching something for my book. I'm working on The Gate, so I had an idea to look up the security gates at the White House as an example of a type of gate the offers pretty intense protection. But website captured me. Andy woke up and joined me just when I was beginning to get into the bios of the first ladies. We had coffee and I forced him to listen to a review of all of our Presidents, some of their wives and their most noted achievements. It's amazing how much fun I had doing that- evidence that I am indeed turning into my father, which is not a bad thing. :)

After the Presidents, it was time to get out for a while, so we packed up the bike and the doggies and headed out to my new favorite mountain biking trail- Muleshoe Bend Park. Here you can see the doggies waiting patiently in the car while Andy and I got our last minute odds and ends together for the 'venture.

The day was perfect for a ride- breezy and in the 80's. Andy hung out with the doggies while I biked the 6.5 mile loop. I had a blast, as always. Mountain biking is like riding your own roller coaster.

On the way home, we stopped for grape soda and candy, our standard snack after we go out weekend warrioring. But we usually come home and shower, crash on the sofa, eat junk and watch football for the rest of the afternoon. But Saturday we had another mission to accomplish...

For my birthday, Andy gave me a card with a stack of cash. Before anybody criticizes my sweet hubby for not being romantic, I'll fill you in on why. For a the past few months, I've been letting Andy know my wish list for birthday and Christmas. Two major things have been at the top- clip-in pedals and shoes for my mountain bike and a turntable. We've been doing a little research concerning these items. There's been a trip to REI to look at pedal prices and, on a separate afternoon, we visited a list of stores that sold turntables, starting with Best Buy and ending with two super eccentric local Austin stereo stores. Andy had saved up enough to get me started with either gift and, in the card, told me I had to choose! That was tough, but I decided that Andy and I would both enjoy the turntable together, and that was top priority. So, Saturday we got back from the park around 3, and saw that Austin Stereo, one of the eccentric shops mentioned before, closed at 4. We plopped our stuff down and headed back out and down to Burnet, where the shop is located.

Austin Stereo, like so many local Austin businesses, is like something you'd see in a movie. It's a tiny hole in a wall, filled from bottom to top with refurbished stereo equipment from the 60's and 70's. Andy talked in some electronic language that I don't understand to the shop's owner, an extremely knowledgeable man who typically emerges from the back of his shop, specialized eyewear propped up onto his brow- he looks like he has a microscope strapped to his forehead. But he got us all set to go with a Sony from the late 70's, something about quartz inside and calibrating and all that stuff, who knows, I just wanted to give the man my envelope of cash and take my prize home. Eventually, after he gave us lots of appropriate and useful information about our new toy, I did just that.

With turntable in tow, we decided it necessary to go immediately to Waterloo Records and find some music to play! Waterloo is another quirky local Austin vendor, and it's usually packed out on the weekend. Andy and I puttered about the vinyl section, trying to figure out what to select. We went with two favorites- "The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place" by Explosions in the Sky for me, and "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Simon and Garfunkel for Andy. We also got a random Christmas record and a strange Japanese techno version of Stranvinsky and Debussy from the 99 cent bins! (By the way, if you have any suggestions for records, please let me know! I am so ignorant about good music!!)

Finally, after all that running around, we made it home to relax. I took some pictures of my fall decor, finally. We enjoyed our pumpkin spice candles and some pumpkin ale while we listened to records and worked on our puzzle. I wrapped myself up on the sofa in the quilt my grandmother made and took a two hour nap while Andy watched TV, my feet in his lap and the dogs curled around me. It was divine.

Sunday was equally delightful. We took it easy in the morning. I made us fried egg and sausage sandwiches, which we enjoyed with coffee before working on our puzzle just a little more before getting ready for church. At the Stone, Matt talked about having faith that God is able to do the impossible. Infused with hope, we headed over to Central Market in good moods to procure some ingredients for some recipes I'm going to try this week. I love Central Market- even more than Whole Foods. We tasted different samples, and I kept wandering from this display to that display, until finally Andy had to steer me toward the things I actually came for- sage and pappardelle pasta. We made it out with a few other things, though- a butternut squash, two figs, "holiday" grapes, Near East wild rice, plus the sage and pasta- all for under $20 which is a good day at Central Market.

We went home for lunch and football, and, after watching the Browns solidly beat the Saints (no affiliation with either team, but it was a good game) we decided it was time to complete our last weekend project- pumpkin carving. We had already done a little pumpkin price checking before coming home, but ended up realizing, after visiting a youth group pumpkin patch and a nursery that the best deal on pumpkins was back down at Central Market. So we headed downtown again, and purchased two good specimens. Such a journey required some sustenance, though, so we stopped at Amy's ice cream on the way home, where we feasted on an "Elvis" (Mexican vanilla ice cream, Reese's peanut butter cups, bananas and hot fudge) and a "Deathstar" (Mexican vanilla, peanut M&M's, Kit-Kats, and hot fudge).

We had a few things we needed to take care of- phone calls and emails- when we got home, but we eventually got to our carving. Andy did two bats- a tribute to the Austin bat colony, perhaps, OR he could have been inspired by a terrible low-budget horror movie about deranged bats we watched for a few minutes after the Browns and Saints. I chose an owl. I'm into owls right now. We put them in our fire place and lit the candles inside and enjoyed the "spooky" glow for a little while.

So, that was our weekend! Lots of fun. I'll take a bad birthday again next year if the following weekend is this much fun. :) Thanks hubby for being such a fun friend. I love you!