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!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"It's my birthday!"

Yesterday I turned 28. And that's all I have to say about that.

My BFF never fails to make an event worthwhile, though. She sent me a package full of goodies, and, I confess, I woke up at 6:30 ready to see what was inside. Andy fetched it for me out of the living room, and I sat on my bed unwrapping gifts and sorting through tissue paper. Among several other wrapped gifts, there was a bag with instructions on the outside. It said to open the bag and throw the confetti while shouting "It's my birthday!" and then to tell Andy to pick up the confetti because that's his duty on my birthday. Ha!! Only Lacy. :)

So I did just that. After lunch, Andy and I worked on the puzzle my mom had given me for a birthday present. We finished the edge in about half an hour, so I decided it was appropriate to celebrate with the hand-cut construction paper confetti courtesy of BFF. Here you see the succession of events.

I did not have the best birthday. It was much my own fault, as I took my eyes off my greatest present- Jesus- and onto circumstances I don't understand. But my sweet Friend keeps giving, just like my best buddy does, and today I was reminded of His sweet love and provision for me.

All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful, for those who keep the commands of his covenant. Psalm 25:10

Keeping His covenant- that includes worshiping Him only, trusting Him above all others, loving Him with my heart, soul and mind. It's a conditional promise, but there's no expiration date. There's no three-strike policy that keeps me from His loving, faithful ways when I have had a bad day, a day where faith was small and worries were abundant.

So today is no longer my birthday. But I did wake up to new mercy, and that's a better reason to celebrate than turning 28.

"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness." Lamentations 3:22-23

All the way my Savior leads me.
Who have I to ask beside?
How could I doubt His tender mercies,
Who through life has been my guide.

All the way my Savior leads me.
Cheers each winding path I tread.
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.

You lead me, and keep me from falling.
You carry me close to your heart.
And surely your goodness and mercy
Will follow me.

All the way my Savior leads me
Oh, the fullness of His love!
Oh, the sureness of His promise
In the triumph of His blood.

When my spirit, clothed immortal
Wings its flight through realms of day
This my song through endless ages-
Jesus led me all the way!

You lead me and keep me from falling
You carry me close to your heart
And surely your goodness and mercy
Will follow me.

-King David, Fanny Crosby, Chris Tomlin

All the way my Savior leads me. All the way- through 28 more years, if that's the path He chooses. His goodness and mercy are sure to follow me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


A few years ago, I began to notice that when I had been gone from the house for long hours Gatsby would insist upon plopping on my lap or stretching his body full length, paws on my shoulders, in a Cocker Spaniel hug. He was more needy than usual after a long absence. He needed to be close to his mommy. So I would say, and I still do when he gets this way, that he has an "-itis," a sickness caused by time spent apart, and cured only by time spent together.

When I picked my mom up from the airport on Thursday, I think I might have had a little mommyitis of my own. I didn't plop down on her lap, but I did give her a hug, and the sickness caused by being far away from home got a little treatment when part of home came to me.

I was reading an Anne Graham Lotz book today, and I loved her description of her father (Billy Graham's) home in the North Carolina Blue Ridge. She writes, "For me, "home" is synonymous with love, acceptance, comfort and security. It is a place where my needs are met. It is a place where I can take my burdens and lay them down. It is a place not only where I can find answers but where my questions no longer seem to go home is to be refreshed in my spirit and refocused in my thoughts and renewed in my strength and restored in my heart." With each word, I thought, "me too, Anne, me too." We are privileged children, Anne Graham Lotz and I, to have, even in adulthood, a cornerstone of comfort in North Carolina. Since I can't drive home all the time, it's so sweet when home comes to me, and that's exactly what happened when my mom stepped off the plane. With her she brought that love, acceptance and security. I was noticed, significant, protected and appreciated with the special love only mothers can give for five days! I ate it up!

And I ate up a lot of other things too! Eating is a highlight for me and my mom. My brother and dad are way less food-oriented, but mom and I love to find a new recipe or a new restaurant. Andy, who shares the same passion, was disappointed to be at drill for most of the weekend and miss out on the round of restaurants at which we dined (he did make it to some!). Favorites from the weekend's menu were- queso compuesto at Chuy's, steak and Gorgonzola salad at the Oasis, schnitzel and strudel in Fredericksburg, burgers and fries at Moonies, cappuccino and caramel latte at Cafe Medici, Italian soda from Big Top and, at Hudson's, an array of exotics- rattlesnake cake, duck, rabbit, elk, venison, and bison followed by Creme Brulee and a decadent chocolate-dipped Turtle pecan pie. And in the midst, we surveyed recipes in magazines for the upcoming holiday season and decided upon a few things for the Christmas menu! It's so exciting for us to plan meals and enjoy them together. :)

We also saw the sights. Mount Bonnell, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Oasis on Friday. A wonderful trip out to Fredericksburg for a day of shopping on Saturday. And Town Lake, Zilker Park, SoCo, Sixth Street and some favorite downtown shops on Monday.

But my favorite thing to share with my mom is always God's revelation. Anne Graham Lotz also writes that when her daughter comes home she knows that she will want to just sit and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk. On Saturday, my mom said to me, "Meredith, Andy is going to thank me for taking up your word quota." I knew what she meant. I am such a talker. To process or grieve or even rejoice, so many words seem necessary. But it's not just that my mom absorbs them, she shares so many of them. Words like "sovereignty," "shepherding," "discipline," "rebuking," words I don't need to or want to or even am able to share with anybody and everybody. But she understands them, appreciates them and speaks them back to me. I loved seeing her feverishly write down the truths Jeff spoke about El Shaddai, the Almighty One, at Sunday service at the Stone. And I was thrilled that she, like me, was strengthened and encouraged by Holly's leadership and lecture at BSF on Monday night. She is not just an on-looker, but a co-laborer and therefore appreciator of God's grace demonstrated through gifted teachers and leaders.

While she was here, I kept thinking about the upcoming Holiday season. We were searching for the perfect decorative turkey to go out in her yard (and we found him, too!) But while shopping and going around town, I felt so festive, like the Christmas season was already here. On the way home from the airport, I told Andy I felt like I had just had a holiday. I guess that I had in so many ways.

I just want to thank God for my mom today because she has so consistently chosen to be a blessing- to choose truth and love and forgiveness and trust in God in the face of trials and she so generously gives those things, plus her time and her gift-giving to me! I am so blessed and do not deserve such things. But I receive them as God's grace. I love you mom, thank you so much for coming to visit. We LOVED having you and want you and dad and Grant to visit again! We will see you at Christmas and will be in an even more festive mood. Fondue here we come! :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 14

Pardon me for this blog. I know it's terribly selfish to write about someone else's tragedy, but in my writer's mind, there's no way to fully process until nouns join adjectives and proceed together. It just is that way.

Andy and I went to Dallas today. His parents will be in Dallas for a conference this weekend, and we met them for breakfast at and IHOP. Last night, our friends from MC prayed over us- for safe travel & fruitful time together. I now sit at my computer in Austin knowing that many prayers were answered, and yet shaken up despite, and maybe even because of them.

On the way home, Andy and I were maybe 30-40 miles down the road when we came upon an accident. It had just occurred. No emergency vehicles had yet arrived, though there were a number of vehicles stopped along the roadside. Andy pulled off to the side instinctively, and we both exited the vehicle. Since the accident was on the opposite side of the road (North-bound side, and we were South-bound), I couldn't really see how much damage there had been from where we stopped our vehicle. Andy ran over to the scene, and I stood alone for a moment, until curiosity and a desire to pray drew me toward the wreckage. I could see that men with fire extinguishers were trying to put out flames from the smaller vehicle, but until I crossed the street and approached the cars themselves, I did not understand the extent of the damage.

It took slow seconds to take it in. A large silver SUV was on its side, people were using some sort of metal object to smash through the windows, I think. The smaller black vehicle was crumpled like a used tissue. Smoke came from the front end of the vehicle. I was confused, standing there, looking at the people around, scouting for Andy, and in that confusion, it didn't immediately register that the man laying down in the grass beside the black vehicle was not moving at all. I saw him, and my mind and everything else around me, it seemed, was very, very slow. "Why isn't anyone helping him?" I thought. Like I said, I had walked over to the accident with the intent to pray for anyone who might be hurt and would be receptive to that sort of thing. While I stared at the motionless figure in blue jeans and white t-shirt, I thought, "Maybe he needs prayer." Was it seconds? Minutes? I don't know. I can't really tell you. I watched his chest for what seemed like a really long time. It never moved. No one went over to him, everyone was focusing their effort on the flames at the front of the vehicle and/or the driver of the over-turned SUV. I don't know if there was ever a moment when I thought, "That man is dead." Oddly, my mind immediately thought of eternal things. "Where is he?" I thought, almost panicked. "Did he know Jesus?"

It's odd. This man was probably around my age and probably less than fifteen minutes before I saw him, he was alive. Had I seen him at a gas station or a book store or at IHOP, I wouldn't have done anything other than smile politely the way you do at nice, bearded young-looking people. I would have walked right past him, thinking nothing of any consequence. But, there, in that context, I was distraught over his soul.

There was a second victim, the driver of the black car. I did not see him, but Andy did. His body was wedged in the driver's seat. Truckers with extinguishers fought the flames that wanted to devour his gray-colored flesh. Did he know Jesus? Where is he now?

Like I said, I'm sorry for writing this. This is the worst day of someone's life- some mother or wife or father or brother. Someone realized too long after I did, that the guy in the jeans wasn't going to make it home.

I haven't got any way to wrap this up nicely. I'm writing it because I have to, because someone's life ended abruptly on I-35 today, and, by some mystery, I witnessed the moments after he parted with this world.

When we got back in the car, I cried, and said, "Jesus, I hope that they knew you!" I don't have anything other than that, really. I keep seeing that man's motionless chest and lips that were starting to turn blue. And I want to know that he is in paradise with Jesus. I hope. I hope.

Strange to realize when you get back to your desk that you have been "protected." This week I am writing about Jesus as the Gate- a passage very much about His ability to protect us and give us life to the full. I knew it would be hard to write- in light of the world and humanity and tragedy and sin- it's not simple to understand life and what happens in it. The simpler thing is death and what happens after. That is a matter of belief. Jesus=life. That is that simple. In every chapter of Snapshots of Who I Am, I could say that the identity of a believer in Jesus Christ is that they are alive because of who He is. Life is a major thing with Jesus. He talks about it all the time. I just hope that the people who lost their lives today had listened to Him at some point, and that a glorious eternal inheritance awaits them- wherever they are right now.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Andy and his boss had a business meeting in Houston yesterday, and I got to tag along. It was all sort of divinely timed. I suppose that everything is, isn't it? But we don't tend to think of things like business trips as something that God would bore Himself with. However, I'm convinced that He was at work with this one. Andy originally alerted me of the trip last week, and thought that he and Eric would head down south then, but their business contact needed more time, for whatever reason, and so the trip was pushed ahead. I think it was the same day that I found out about the possibility of a trip that I received an email from my friend, the recently hyphenated, Elizabeth Korver-Glenn. She and her new hubby have just moved to Houston, and my mind leaped at the possibility of hitching a ride to Houston and catching lunch with my friend.

I contacted Elizabeth with the idea, and she let me know what days would be available on her schedule. At the last moment on Monday evening, Andy alerted me that the meeting would take place on Tuesday. I confirmed that this day was open on Elizabeth's schedule, and so it was that Andy and I were Houston-bound on Tuesday morning.

Since the details of the trip were never fine tuned, Andy and I rode down together in our car, while Eric drove in his, so I suppose I didn't get to actually "hitch" a ride on Opsci's dime, but it was lovely to get to ride with Andy, and spend a weekday with him. And, wouldn't you know, God provided that gas money anyhow. We ended up getting an unexpected 60 dollars from the Army just today, which covered the gas we spent going to Houston- another reason I think God was behind the timing of this unexpected little trip.

Andy unloaded at a gas station just within the Houston limits and joined Eric to go and do business things, while I scooted along by myself to City Centre, where I was to meet Elizabeth for lunch. We dined at Ruggles Green, Houston's first "green" restaurant. I confess I'm put-off that there isn't one in Austin (I checked the internet today and Houston is hogging all that yumminess to themselves, so far). I know that Austin has its own assemblage of organic eateries, but I'm intimidated by such places. I feel like I need to be wearing Tom's or at least have doused myself with Patchouli to venture to any restaurant with the word "green" in the name (unless it's Winston-Salem's Village Green or Tavern on the Green in New York, for which I would wear something expensive-looking and say, "bon apetite!" without another thought) So I appreciate that Elizabeth so bravely scouted out this place for us. I'd rather just keep on with a known entity than risk wasting valuable dining out cash on something that might not be pumped with hormones but ends up tasting like the organic dirt it was grown in. Just saying.

Ruggles Green proved to be completely delicious, though. I was a little early, so I spent a while sitting outside until Elizabeth got there. It was a perfect day. Elizabeth, also a North Carolina girl, and I both think we've been duped by this tame summer and crisp fall. We're fairly certain that Texas is lying to us at the moment, but we're not complaining. Anyway, I sat in the shade, wearing a three-quarter length tee and a favorite scarf, jeans and sunglasses. There was a really beautiful fountain nearby, and the sound of business men and women dining on healthy eats. The smells were delicious! I'm okay with a green restaurant boasting its freshness when you can smell the arugula at the table next to you! I was practically lusting after what appeared to be a fine tomato bisque when my friend arrived, looking as lovely as I have ever seen her.

Ruggles Green offers inside and outside seating areas, but you must order at the counter. Imagine Jason's Deli, but ten times more delicious. And, I'm pretty sure that at Jason's, the employees don't wear t-shirts with the imprint of a little marijuana leaf and the words, "We love hemp. (Brownies)" Apparently, Ruggles Green makes a famous "high protein" brownie with hemp seed. Still, a seven-pointed leaf and reference to brownies takes the mind in a certain direction. But I was too focused on a word that I spotted on the menu to care too much. Andy's been tossing this word around for weeks and weeks- hydroponic. We saw a news report one evening on a restaurant owner/urban farmer who has finely tuned his hydroponic garden on the rooftop of his New York restaurant. We were both interested, but Andy was particularly entranced by this soil-less method of agriculture. Ever since then, he's tossed out random comments about how he wants to start a hydroponic garden. If we had the space I wouldn't be opposed. It's pretty fascinating science- but actually isn't new to me at all. The first time I was introduced to soil-less farming was on a tour of Epcot center when I was probably about ten years old. Anyway, Ruggles Green boasted a "hydroponic butter lettuce salad" and I was sold immediately. I barely looked at the rest of the ingredients before I ordered it. I was just so thrilled to report to Andy that I was going to feast on hydroponic lettuce for lunch. Fortunately, the rest of the salad was filled with other favorite- tomatoes, avocadoes, bacon and blue cheese crumbles, all doused with Ranch dressing. Pretty green-tastic.

Elizabeth and I caught up on life. It's always lovely to meet up with her. We share some uncommon things in common. For example, we were born the same day, two years apart. We have both been to Mongolia (confession, here, I have only been to Mongolia because Elizabeth has been to Mongolia. She introduced me to VetNet back in 2005, but she spent two years there teaching English, while I was back in the 'Ville teaching Biology) We both ran the Chicago marathon, together. We both got accepted to Dallas Theological Seminary and both turned down the offer. We both think that the religious right, isn't always right. We both asked, both waited, and both received the man that God chose to be our husbands. And now we have both been transplanted to Texas. But, most importantly, we both love Jesus. And He and His mission for us is what we love to talk about.

We get together about once a year, usually over food or coffee and talk about who He is to us, and what He's telling us to do. Elizabeth is a person filled with unique beauty. Very strong. Very God-dependent. And also very independent of other people. Though she is brilliant, a linguist, budding anthropologist, and one of the most globally-minded people I know, she is easily amazed by Abba's provision and character, I've seen her so filled with the Holy Spirit that, I kid you not, her already luminous blue eyes once actually glowed as she spoke some word that He had given to her over a lunch at Ruby Tuesday's a few years ago. I've never seen anything quite like it. Someone like that might be intimidating if they weren't humble. When I think of the false witnesses who intimidate, manipulate and boast, I know that the Elizabeths of the world are their FOIL.

The only problem with meeting with Elizabeth is that time is always too short. She and her husband had a date night planned, and Andy's meeting finished in the mid-afternoon, so we hugged and parted ways, confident that the Lord has been, is and will continue to care and lead one another.

Nothing is sweeter than waiting on Andy and seeing him arrive. It is the best part of every day. At home, I often sit on the porch with the dogs reading around the time that I expect him home. He always smiles when his truck turns the corner. That smile is the most precious thing ever, it is literally impossible not to smile back. So it was yesterday afternoon, when Eric dropped Andy off at City Centre, so that he could meet up with me after their meeting. That smile flashed in the passenger's seat, and though I'd had to say good-bye to my friend, I was excited at the idea of having a weekday afternoon to spend with my favorite person in the world.

We decided to go downtown, but we were unsure of the directions. We stopped off at a gas station, where I went in for a bathroom break. I returned with a Cherry Coke, and no sooner had I taken a swig before Andy said, "Do you want to go to the beach?" This is one of my favorite things about Andy- actually, maybe it's a favorite thing about our marriage- we are always having "'ventures." We go somewhere new almost every weekend, to a new park or restaurant or something. But an unplanned 'venture in the middle of the week!? What could be more fun than that?

Andy Google mapped the way on his Droid, and we set out toward Galveston. From what I've heard, Galveston is nothing special when it comes to beaches. And I'm quoting Texans here, not even those of us who grew up smelling salt breezes all summer long. But, I must confess, a sunny October afternoon on a nearly empty beach is priceless- no matter where you are. Even Galveston.
We strolled up and down the beach, picking up pieces of Sand Dollars and sea glass. I was bare-foot, jeans rolled up mid-calf. My navy-blue jacket absorbed the fading sun's golden rays, and I felt warm and comfortable inside it. Andy chased down sand crabs and tried to dig up sand-fiddlers in the saturated sand nearest the waning tide. We walked East, casting a long shadow, one side of it short, the other tall, a blur in the middle- the shadow of some lopsided two-headed monster, or people holding on to one another's waists.

I am not a romantic. You know that famous kissing scene in "From Here to Eternity"? The one where the waves come rushing up on the shore and the people are sucking face in bathing suits that at the time were probably scandalous but now would be considered modest (though that guy's shorts were really short) Anyway, that sort of thing just makes me uncomfortable. Which is why I say I'm not romantic. I'd trade intertwined fingers and crab-chasing for rolling around in the surf any day. It's still love, though. Yesterday wasn't just a lovely day at the beach with my sweet husband, it was a love-filled day. Love as safe as childhood. Love that knows no fear.

We grabbed a $5 Little Caesar's on the way off the island and spent the ride home reading (me, not Andy) chatting about books, and missions and plans for the next couple of weeks. And that was that. A sweet day. With sweet friends. And so sweet of God to arrange all of that in the midst of life, which crashes and subsides like those waves we witnessed yesterday.