Monday, February 28, 2011

The story of our lives

I'm reading the book they gave us for the writing class- A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I can't make much progress, because I stop every few minutes to laugh out loud, read aloud something I can't resist sharing with Andy or just contemplate my life dream of meeting Donald Miller. I have this feeling that if I ever met Donald Miller (and I would definitely call him "Donald" to begin with, not "Don" like the sweater-vest stalker guy from the last blog) I would be able to tell him the story of my life in just a few sentences because he would intrinsically understand its relevance and meaning. Actually, I'd probably write my story because I think that Donald would understand my inability to speak my thoughts clearly and our shared preference for making sense of life in the form of a Christian non-fiction essay. (Weirdos) In fact, it would probably be best if I met Donald over Gmail chat or something. But anyway, I have this feeling that Donald would understand me instantly. I began to feel that way when I read Blue Like Jazz and was stupefied as to how a guy in Portland got into my head and wrote some of my best thoughts down before I ever had a chance to. I was a little jealous that he got to them first, but that feeling was completely outweighed by the overwhelming sense of relief that I wasn't the only one thinking those thoughts.

In reality, a lot of people must think Don's thoughts, or at least relate to them really well. Or maybe they just like cartoons of rabbits and astronauts cleverly interspersed into the witty monologue. I think people just like that Don makes Jesus seem like he would actually like us- a thought that I had last night when I was sitting on my sofa fighting back tears. I thought, "Donald Miller says that he thinks that Jesus would like him. That he would be the kind of guy that you can sit down and talk to and really be heard out." And I thought about that for a while on the sofa in between the same thoughts that always have me hating myself for the same reasons. "Maybe Don is right. Maybe Jesus really would sit here and listen to me talk about how hurt I am and how much I hate myself. Maybe He'd really gently say, 'Well, I don't hate you.' and maybe I would actually believe him."

Anyway, that's why I think Donald Miller would understand me. Because you have to have had moments when you sit on sofas and really deal with the reality that you're a giant disappointment to yourself and other people to get to a place where you think, "But you know what? I think that Jesus would like me." I think that when you don't ever have to experience something that leaves you on the sofa contemplating whether or not Jesus would like you, chances are you don't really need Jesus to like you. I do. I need Jesus to like me. And I think that Donald Miller does too. And I think that would connect us in a very writery, self-conscious, Jesus-dependent kind of way.

Anyway, in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald is talking about how he got the chance to "edit" his life while writing a screenplay about his life. Sort of a weird and amazing task. This has gotten me to thinking about my life, which is the only reason that people can tolerate people's books about their lives, and hopefully the reason you might tolerate this blog- because when we read about another person analyzing their lives, it automatically makes us analyze ours. I haven't even gotten to the important parts about conflict and resolution and all of that in this book, but I'm already thinking about what I need to change about my life's story.

Donald says story is about a person who wants something and has to overcome conflict to get it. The first element alone is a huge dilemma for me, and probably for a lot of people. What in the world do I want? And, if you're a Christian, is what you want worth wanting in God's eyes? And, how do you know? I guess that's why you have to read your Bible so much. Because the only way to determine if what you want is what God wants is by asking Him and then reading His answer. It'd be cool if we could talk to God on Gmail chat, too and get a really precise answer, but it doesn't work like that yet.

So this has gotten me thinking about the parts of my story that I don't like. As I trudge through Snapshots, I realize more and more that I need to edit the slow spots, stream-lining them and making them purposeful and captivating. People get bored easily. And boredom doesn't lead to good things, you know what I mean?

So last night after I had been told again how loathsome I am by the people who think I am loathsome, and after I hated myself on the sofa, and after I thought about Jesus and Donald Miller, I got real, real sorry for myself. And I wasn't nice to Andy, who is always nice to me, even when I hate myself and whine about it. And this is the part of my life that I want to edit. This is the part that I get stuck in and it's not a good part of the story.

I have conflict in my life. Everyone does. It's an essential part of the story. A person wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. The essential editing that's going on in my life right now involves making sure that what I want is what God wants, and trusting Him to overcome the conflict on my behalf to get His result. Some people do not like that story. Some people is sometimes me. Sometimes I don't like this story and I wish that my story was one where I lived in a really cute cottage home, within driving distance of my mother, and my biggest conflict was weeding the garden with Andy on Saturdays. But that's not my story. God wants to write a different story with my life, and it involves risk and conflict and being really hurt and misunderstood. And you know, the crazy thing is, I know the ending. In the end, Jesus really will sit or stand or something with me and maybe I'll kneel or jump or dance or climb in His lap or give Him a kiss- I don't know, but it will be good. And He'll say, "Meredith, I didn't hate you then. And I'm so glad to see you now. Well done, good and faithful servant." That's the end of my story. And He'll explain to the people who didn't understand me what He was writing in me and how He was teaching me to edit out the parts He didn't like and that weren't good for me or them.

So, what's your story? What do you want and why? What conflict is in your life and who are you trusting to help you overcome it? You know you're already thinking about it... Live, edit, write life well.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

God, please help. I am a writer.

I went to my first class in "The Art of Storytelling" tonight. I was nearly in tears when I was leaving the apartment. Though I sit at my computer and type things most of the day, I somehow still have a hard time seeing myself as a legitimate writer. Andy is amazing about this. He is constantly encouraging me and telling me over and over again that God has given me a gift. I know he's talking about the writing, but I am thinking, "I know. My gift is insinuating that I have some other gift."

Anyway, I get to this class tonight and it's as I thought- lots of young people, lots of Toms, lots of beards and skinny jeans. "Artsy" types. I am in head to toe J.Crew. Not J.Crew from this season- J.Crew from ten years ago, because I can't afford new clothes, as I am a writer and cannot afford anything. This should make me feel more legitimate about my identity as "artist" but I just feel like a washed out sorority girl, though I was never in a sorority at all.

I was comforted and challenged when I was handed a copy of Donald Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years after signing up and writing my name on a sticky name-tag. Comforted because I love Donald Miller and challenged because I know that people more artsy and creative than me love Donald Miller more than me and have probably read this particular book, and I have only read Blue Like Jazz and Searching for God Knows What. No sooner had I thought this than I sat at my assigned table, and the guy sitting next to me- in sweater vest and thick artsy glasses- leans over and introduces himself. Trying to be friendly, and maybe just a tiny bit smug, I ask, "Have you read Donald Miller?" "I've read this book about ten times," my neighbor says. "I kind of stalk Don. I've seen him speak all over the country."

"Don" As if I'm not already intimidated enough, the guy sitting next to me is calling one of my favorite authors "Don" like they are best of friends. I decided not to speak anymore to anyone. Only, that is not a possibility because I'm in a room full of creative people here to learn how to be more creative, and so, of course, we are given a creative assignment in the first five minutes of class.

Assignment: if you could be a super hero, what powers would you have? what would your name be? draw your costume.

Crayons were strewn across our round table and everyone started scribbling away. Because I am not actually creative, but just recount what I have seen and heard elsewhere, I drew a picture of an outfit I saw on a four year old one day at Zilker Park. A tu-tu with horizontal striped gray and white tights, a sweatshirt and tennis shoes. I drew this because when I saw that little girl, I thought to myself, "I'd wear that tu-tu and tights if I could get away with it." And I figure that a superhero can wear whatever she wants, since people are going to think she's super-cool instead of super-immature. Really, I just like tu-tus. My super power was also completely unoriginal. I'd like to be like Dr. Lightman on "Lie to Me." Andy and I have gotten into watching this show on Netflix and I'm completely convinced that there is nothing cooler than being able to discern people's true feelings from their body language. So that's my superhero- Tim Roth in a tu-tu. Other people were things like light beams and empathy spreaders. One girl said her magic power was to infuse color into the world. She was making a stand against beige- very convicting stuff, you know. I have never felt less original.

At one point in class, I thought I finally had something worth sharing when our instructor asked us to share with our group an experience we'd had that just took our breath away and made us revel in God's creativity. I thought, "I've got this one!" and told my story about the time I got to ride camels in Mongolia when a thunder storm was rolling in, and it was so incredibly beautiful, I thought I was hallucinating the whole thing. Within minutes, another girl told about how she swam with sea turtles as the sun rose on the Mediterranean when she was in Turkey. Another told about her incredible adventures in Kurdistan this past summer making a documentary film, and another about the Egyptian sunset after a day of pyramids and sphinxes. Really? Why did I set myself up for that? I should have held to my earlier conviction to not say anything after "Don's" stalker intimidated me so much that the fun sized skittles I was eating started melting in my sweaty palms.

But, here's the thing- as illegitimate as I feel most of the time as an "artist", this could be one of the truest things about my life, and it was written in the notebook we "artsy" folk were given tonight.

Repetition is key. If you aren't making mistakes in your art... you aren't trying new things. You are falling victim to your fear & approval of man and not pushing yourself creatively.

As corny as it sounds, I do realize that being an artist does not mean having the right vintage outfit (though I'm pretty sure that's part of it, and I will get something cool from a thrift store one of these days) or even traveling to foreign places and taking mental pictures that you can one-up people with. Being an artist is when you have to do what you do because, daggone it, you just can't stop yourself. Even when you're in ten year old J.Crew and everyone has a better story, and more creative project than yours. You're a creator because God created you to be a creator. And you can't argue with the Boss.

It's funny to me that, while I know deep down that I am a writer, I have the hardest time seeing myself that way. Probably because I don't think that others see me that way. I know people get tired of words and tired of hearing my dribble. But, the thing is, I never tire of writing it. And I guess that's what is real. I don't write it so other people can read it, though I want them to and I want them to like it and love God more because of it. I write because I have to. Because I was made to.

It's hard to be a writer. Hard to be creative, disciplined, confident and humble. Hard to not be completely terrified all of the time that you will be rejected and ignored. But- and this kicked me in my J.Crew corduroys tonight- being "creative" is a part of our identity- because we were created in the image of the ultimate Creator. I know that people sometimes won't see that. They won't care. They won't appreciate it. But to not embrace that, to not accept that I am a pot and He is the Potter, is really living a lie.

So, God, help me please. I am a writer. Let me be one in truth, word, and deed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The story of my hands

The time has come to tell the story of my hands.

In my younger, carefree days (ha!), I never paid any attention to the posture of my hands. But the past year or so, I have been made aware (mostly by my husband!) that my hands have been permanently clenched.

This reaction, I reason, is a product of nature and nurture. My heritage is German, Scottish, Irish and English. Not exactly a passive pedigree. My granddaddy apparently used to say of my grandmother that she was "more man than I am" -a reference to her toughness. I doubt anyone has ever "pushed over" one of my aunts and lived to tell. (Kidding) But, in reality, I come from a line of strong men & women. You might even call them a little bit feisty. I'm not voicing this as a complaint in any way. You know how girl's have baby names picked out right? Well, since everyone around me has babies now, I've been thinking about what I would name a baby, if I should ever have one. And, were I to have a baby and that baby were to be a boy, I like the name Aiden. I didn't know what this name meant, but I just liked it. Well, I was in the library a couple of days ago and happened upon the "Baby Name Bible" - (it was filed in the travel section on accident, no one panic please) So I looked up the name "Aiden." Guess what it means? Irish for "little and feisty." Now I like it even more.

And nurture, well, I've written about how I was raised among wolves- I mean, boys. :) I learned to tough it out early, and if I was ever going down, I was going down swinging.

But when you get older and you can't swing your way out of things anymore, the feisty can only form a fist. They'll likely never swing it. Still, I'm poised to defend myself, when the need arises.

During this time, God has walked with me- every single fist-clenched moment. Reassuring me with His love, calming me with His peace, instructing me with His Word. I will never leave you or forsake you. Fear me, not man. I alone can save you.

And then, this-

For I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you,
'Do not fear: I will help you.'

I imagine this verse as a personalized note:
Feisty Little Meredith. When your hand is clenched like that, I cannot hold it. You don't have to be so scared. Hold my hand. I will help you. I will defend you. Trust me.
Your Abba

Since getting my note from Abba, my hand is loose once again. First time in a looooong time. It dawned on me at first on a walk- I guess it was about a week ago. I had the dogs leashes in my right hand and shifted them to my left. I stretched out my fingers so Abba could hold my hand.

Andy still notices me curling my fingers now and then. He'll say something to me to check up on me or just to tease. But we both know that my hand is at peace, as well as my heart- because it is trusting in my Helper.

I will most likely always be feisty. I believe Abba made me that way. I think He likes me that way. But I know He wants me to trust Him first. No more fists.

This hand is bitterness.
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow.
The wise hand opens slowly to lilies of the valley and...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dancing in the Mine Fields

This is for my sweet love, Andrew Mark. Let's keep dancing.

We bear the Light of the Son of Man, so there's nothing left to fear.
So I'll walk with you in the shadow lands, until the shadows disappear....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Be Mine

Andy and I had a fun Valentine's weekend. My "love language" is quality time, and my husband is so generous with his time for me. He usually blocks off at least one whole day of his weekend just for "us" time. We mostly take our doggies out and about on 'ventures. Even the doggies know when it's Saturday, they're going to get to go out and play. Here's Daisy ready to get a move on!

We went to Barton Creek Greenbelt for the afternoon. It was in the upper 60's and not a cloud in the sky. Barton Creek has changed a lot since we kayaked there last spring. The creek bed is almost completely dry, but we hiked up to one of the permanent swimming holes, and Gatsby had a good swim. Unfortunately, we didn't take any pictures there, but here's one of Daisy and Daddy climbing trees.

We decided that we'd rather cook a special meal at home than go out, so we went to Central Market on the way home and picked up some gigantic New York Strips, some veggies, and, of course, dessert.

When we were in Fredericksburg celebrating our anniversary we watched Iron Chef in the hotel, and saw the Iron Chef pan-fry a steak in butter. It looked amazing, and Andy asked me to make him one. I'd never pan-fried steak before, so I called my dad for some tips. He's the steak guru. Here are some pictures of the cooking process.

Steaks rubbed down in a mixture of garlic salt, butter, olive oil, salt and pepper and left for about 20 minutes.

I added just a little bit more butter to the pan, and then put the steaks in. The rosemary on the top added just the right hint of herby flavor, without overpowering the steak.

Next I added some mushrooms and onions to the pan and sauteed them with the rosemary.

Andy set the table while I put together our salads. We had one of my favorite salads- spinach, strawberries, mushrooms thinly sliced, red onion, oven-cooked bacon, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese (feta is also really good, so is Mozzerella, but we only had the Parm in the fridge)with Brianna's poppyseed dressing. It could be its own meal. So delicious.

Everything got dished up and we ate! We even had candles, but Andy barely talked the whole meal. I guess that's not your typical idea of a "romantic" meal but I didn't mind because I knew the reason was because he was too busy savoring his steak!

We had Central Market's mousse cake for dessert with a Texas Port. Port and rich chocolate go great together- we learned that on our trip to the vineyards a few weeks ago.

And since today is actually Valentine's Day, Andy brought me my cereal and OJ in bed, made me coffee and gave me roses, chocolates and a card. He got a card and a giant Reese's heart from me.

I love you, my Valentine. Thanks for being such a sweetheart!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Proverbs 31- call her blessed

I'm in that stage of life when so many friends are trying to or are about to or are have just had- babies. Last night at community group, I got to see some of the newest little ones, and this morning I woke up thinking about how I need to make sure that I buy a card for one that's on the way.

I am not at all a "baby person."I don't feel the itch to hold a newborn. In fact, when I get hold of them, I mostly make them cry. Maybe it's me that makes them itch. We could be allergic to one another. But with so many precious women around me taking part in God's plan to "be fruitful and multiply" I confess that I am just a little bit in awe of what God can do in a new mom.

From a Biologist's vantage point, new life is another miracle of cell division. I'm not belittling birth by saying that, I'm elevating God's incredible handiwork. Science is God's handwriting, and how much more elegant does His Signature get than putting together a person inside of another person. It's weird and gross and beautiful and amazing all at the same time. Only God can accomplish something like that.

But, even apart from the awesomeness of creation, I am amazed at the heart-change in these women. And I mean heart in the symbolic form, not the cardiac chamber. I can't really explain it because I don't think it can be explained, but you've certainly seen it- we all have. It's that look a new mom gives to her newborn, a look for which we lack an adequate word in the English language. I saw it last night. My friend Valerie held her baby boy in her arms and just talked about the most normal things. She wasn't trying to draw attention to herself, but I couldn't help but think to myself how incredibly beautiful she looked. I think that might sound sort of weird, but if you're going to write the truth, sometimes you might end up writing things that sound weird. So I'll risk it to make this point. It's not that Valerie wasn't beautiful before she had Carter. She is a lovely person, but there is something more beautiful about her now, when she holds her son in her arms. I noticed the same beauty when I looked at a picture of another friend with her niece. This friend, not yet a mom, is also starting to glow with that unfamiliar beauty. And another picture of a friend holding her daughter in her arms while she looks at her husband.

Like I said, I don't know what to call it, so I'm going to borrow some of Lemuel's words.

Her children arise and call her blessed.
Provers 31:28

Blessed. I like this definition of the word blessed- "held in veneration, revered." That resonates with me. It accurately describes how I feel when I behold my friends with their newborns or nieces- reverence.

But in Proverbs 31 it's not the random bystander friend who is calling the mother "blessed," it's her own children. They "arise" and call her "blessed." What an incredible honor. So how does one accomplish this? Will Carter rise one day and call Valerie blessed? Will your son or daughter say the same of you? Can we hope for that, and what can we do to achieve it?

Another definition for the word "blessed" is "holy." Holy means set apart, different, and for a believer in Jesus Christ, it's a call to be like the God we worship. "Be holy as I am holy." The Proverbs woman who desires for children- her own, her nieces and nephews, her students or whichever children God has given to her- to call her "blessed" must become holy as He is holy.

Holiness for us doesn't mean that we live perfect lives. Only God is perfect, but it does mean that we are becoming perfect, which sounds really high stakes- and it is. But I can't think of anything holier than living out the process of becoming more like Christ before your children. Letting them see your weaknesses as a showcase for the Lord's strength, holding to the truth about God and man, even when it seems like you're the only one who believes.

But what could be more like Christ, more holy, than loving? Mothers demonstrate Christlike love when they sacrifice their own desires and needs for their children. When they listen to the troubles in their life. When they hold them in their arms. When they encourage them with words. When they make an effort to find out how they are doing. When they take interest in the things that interest them. When they correct them gently and fairly when they are wrong. These are all things that Jesus did when He walked on Earth. They are things that God the Father wanted represented to us through human relationship. And they're things that every good mother that I know does well.

It's likely that if you represent Christ consistently to your children that they will one day rise and call you blessed. But you might (and probably will) have to walk through fire to get there. I know that my mom did. While you commit to become a mother of Light, your children will be tempted to walk in darkness. And some of them might choose that darkness over the Light. I did. When that happens, the reaction is like oil and water. Rather than calling mother "blessed" her children will call her "cursed." But in those moments, they are the ones that are deceived. 2 Corinthians 6 warns that light has nothing in common with darkness. They cannot appreciate or understand one another. They repel and react- sometimes causing great division and enormous pain. If you find yourself in that position as a mother today or one day in the future- persevere. Light is stronger. Keep shining, keep loving, keep listening, keep praying. My mom did, and today, I most certainly consider her "blessed" for trusting the Lord with my life. And loving me enough to pursue me and correct me. He brought me back into His Light so that I can see and understand His love demonstrated through her.

Don't let your children not have a reason to call you blessed. What is sadder than a child, either a small one or a grown-up one, who does not know what it feels like to be loved, believed, encouraged, noticed, cared for? You cannot control what your children will grow up and believe about you, but your mothering can give them reason to "arise" and call you blessed. Don't give in to apathy. You've been given a high calling, and the reward is great.

Also, consider all of the children that God might be calling you to "mother." You might not yet have children of your own, but God might have placed other people's children in your life so that you can demonstrate His love and care to them.

A challenge to all my mom friends out there- commit yourselves to the Light. He is working out His beauty in you in the most wonderful way, and has given you such a precious opportunity to represent Him to these brand new people! I cannot think of anything sadder than to have the opportunity to show the love of the Lord to a human being before anyone else, and to let that opportunity just pass you by. Be diligent in learning about Jesus, who He is, how He lived, how He treated people. And not only teach, but demonstrate His life to your children, in humility and truth. And, by His grace, maybe one day, your children will arise and call you blessed.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Proverbs 31- the days to come

I took a break from the Proverbs 31 woman to celebrate what God has given through our one-year-old marriage. But I'm not finished with her just yet. She's still teaching me, and maybe she's teaching you too.

Today, verse 25b is the focus:

She is clothed with dignity and strength,
she can laugh at the days to come.

Confession: When I used to read that verse, I would get really discouraged. I thought that you could only laugh at the days to come if you had gotten your ducks lined up in the same row this lady has, because by the time you read that she's laughing about the future, you know that she's taken care of the present extremely well. And I knew that I wasn't taking care of my present with that much excellence.

Another confession: I spent some time with my calendar this morning. I've gotten to the point in life where I forget things, and have started using a planner and calendar to facilitate. By the time I was at the month of April, my hands were literally shaking. Anxiety? Too many cups of coffee? I can't be quite sure which one was more responsible. I just know that while I was looking at the days to come, I was not laughing.

Like every other woman, I have things on my calendar that I look forward to and those that I'm not looking forward to. Even for the ones that I'm excited about it's easy to fall into worry, "Will there enough money for that?" "How much progress will I have made on that project by then?" "Will I even have time to sit down that day?" And that's what I think about the good stuff!

I think that my old view of verse 25b had me thinking- work harder, with more diligence, with more excellence, and you will be able to enjoy the good things and endure the bad things and come out on top! But I am abandoning that kind of thinking because it's me-focused, and I don't know about you, but I'm tired of me. ;)

Our church has been doing a series on Heaven and Hell. (Gulp!) It's been really excellent. At the same time, I've been focusing on Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life in Snapshots. Put it all together, and I am thinking very differently about the "days to come." What I mean is, who says those days are even on a calendar? What if thinking about the eternal good times that the Bible promises is the key to laughing our way through the hectic days we are living now.

For me, I think that is the answer. Here's why. After spending that time with my calendar, I came to my computer and, shaking hands and all, typed the Lord a letter. I do that sometimes as a form of prayer- because I'm a writer and I don't really know how to think clearly without pushing buttons on a keyboard, a terrible vice, but I think He gets the heart behind it.

The result was that I was reminded that Jesus is King. And Jesus is Truth. And Jesus is Love. And Jesus already knows all of the things that I'm worried about and He's told me that I can trade Him my worries for His yoke- His work for me, and that's going to feel lighter, though it still hurts the heart a good bit. But mostly, my heart leaps at knowing that in "the days to come," I will be with Him and He will know me and accept me completely. I won't be in a constant frenzy about what I'm accomplishing and how productive I am. I won't have to worry about being misunderstood ever again (Hallelujah!) Every lie that's been told about me will be corrected, every hurt healed, every tear wiped away. And I will be with Jesus, and my heart will finally be whole. Those are my "days to come."

So the question is- where are your days to come going to be spent? Do you have assurance that they will be spent in the Kingdom where peace and righteousness and truth reign? How do you know?

I challenge you- if you don't know where you are going to spend your eternal days, or if your answer is anything other than "Because Jesus invited me into the eternal Kingdom, and I accepted His invitation"- talk to someone about that. Email me. Talk to a Christian friend, a pastor or read 1 Corinthians 15. Don't spend another day thinking that your calendar is the sum of the days to come, and becoming overwhelmed, frustrated or despairing because of it.

Take hope and heart- because the days to come will be spent with Jesus Christ, the King and Righteous Judge. He will lift you up, restore you, repair your heart, speak the truth about you, and reward you for your faithful service to Him during these days. And that, friends, is a good reason to laugh- for joy!

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Last March Austin got a dusting of snow after we'd only lived here together for a few weeks. And here it is, less than a year later, snowing again. I'm told that snow is a really rare event in Austin- even more rare than in Fayetteville (though you couldn't tell that lately...) Whatever the reason, I'm thankful to see white falling from the sky whenever there's a chance.

We didn't spend too much time out in the snow because we were both feeling a little under the weather. But, of course we had to let our doggies get a little play-time in.

Snapshots of who He is

My mom sent a special package this week. It contained the top of our wedding cake (which she kept in her freezer for us. It thawed out during the journey and tastes delicious!) and a very special anniversary gift to us- a scrapbook of our first year together. She asked me to send her some pictures via email a few weeks ago, so I had an idea of what she was up to, but I was so delighted to get the gift in the mail on Thursday.

I cannot think of a more perfect gift for this first year than a book filled with photos, as the idea of "snapshots" has been my heartbeat this year. Snapshots of Who I Am isn't finished yet, but I am more convinced than ever that this work the Lord called me to is the very thing that He knew I needed to do to become a better worshiper. And He knew exactly the circumstances through which I would have to walk in order to authentically write what I've written. Snapshots is about identity, and you'll have to read the book to get the full scoop, but the basic idea is as simple as the title of this blog- my identity is wrapped up in who He is, and who He says that I am.

Never could I have predicted the journey He has taken me on this year so that I would be able to authentically write this message that He has laid on my heart. And it is one I never would have chosen for myself. Again, I think of my friend's wise words, "I don't trust myself. I only trust His goodness to me." He knew where to take me, though I have so many times not wanted to go.

This year I have walked through valleys of the flesh lower than I thought I could possibly go. I have encountered unbelief that I did not know existed. I've heard the harshest words ever spoken to me or about me, and have had to choose to believe what the Lord says instead of those insults. Essentially, this year, I have lived what I have written.

And, in the end- He triumphs, as He always has. As He always will. He is my King, the Glorious Hero of my life, and yours. So, though I'm thankful for those sweet snapshots my mom put together for me and my love, we want to bless the Lord by telling you who He has been to us this year. So I asked Andy a few days ago who the Lord has been to him this year. Together we talked about Him- which is the joy of my life. So, to all those who have walked with us this year- those who have seen the inside and those who have watched from the outskirts. Here are the snapshots of who He is- the way that we have come to know Him better this year, our first year as one.

Snapshots of who He is:

Family- The very first thing that came to our minds was that God has been our family this year. Marriage is sort of weird in that you gain family and "lose" family the day that you wed. You gain because you're united by law and (if God provides it) love into another family than the one you were born into. But you also sort of "lose" a little bit of the identity you had in your family prior to the marriage. That does not have to be a bad thing, but I confess this really threw me off guard a bit. For example, last Valentine's Day was the day Andy and I packed up the Uhaul and began our three-day journey from North Carolina to Texas. I awoke like I do every Valentine's Day- looking for my chocolates from my Dad. I did not know a world existed in which my Dad would not give me at least one box of chocolates for V-Day. Since we were staying with my parents just a couple of days after the honeymoon to pack up and prepare to leave, I thought that my box of chocolates would surely await me at the breakfast table. But there were no chocolates to be found. Dumbfounded, I asked my Dad," Where are my chocolates?" "You have a husband now. It's his job to buy you chocolates," was his reply.(He didn't mean this to be cruel or neglectful in any way, but to begin to respect Andy in a new way. Thank you, Mom and Dad for doingso much to support and respect our marriage.)

That's a humorous anecdote about what has been a serious truth for us this year. We've learned to trust God as our Father and family in our new stage of life. For me, this meant trusting God when my family was far away in my sweet Carolina, and learning to rely on Him first and then my husband to meet my needs. For Andy, it's been a most precious and painful journey to Abba's lap.

Brennan Manning writes in 19 Mercies:

A rabbi invited me to a bar mitzvah at his synagogue. During dinner I watched as the rabbi's four year old son finished what he had to eat, got bored, and wandered away from the table. But he hadn't gone far before the little boy suddenly seemed to lose his bearings. Turning around in panic, he searched until he spotted his father at the head of the table. Then he ran as fast as his little legs could carry him. Two feet from the table, he flung himself into his father's lap shouting, "Ab..Ab..Abba!"

That's what my love has learned to do this year. And it is the most precious and beautiful thing that anyone could ever learn- to cry out, "Daddy!" to the Lord Almighty. And Andy, Abba's precious son, has seen Father for who He really is- His loving, tender Daddy who knows and cares about every detail, and who can give him the attention and strength he has so desperately needed.

"Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me." Psalm 27:10

Truth-I'm not yet there in Snapshots, but I am chomping at the bit to get to "I am the Truth" because God has blown me away with His truth this year. When I was a little girl, my dad used to always say to me, "Meredith, if you will just tell me the truth, then I will be gentle with you, but if you lie, you will make me very angry." Before the Holy Spirit gave me complete victory (PRAISE JESUS!!) over deceit several years ago, I used to give my dad plenty of opportunities to say this to me. What I did not realize then is that my dad was portraying exactly how God is toward deception. God is quick to forgive and slow to anger, like my dad was then, but He hates deception and stops at nothing to expose it. But we are so afraid of being exposed that we would rather blame-shift, lie or completely shut down than to face or be known in truth.

But praise to God- He is the truth! There is nothing false in Him. There's no skeleton in His closet, and nothing that He has withheld from us!! It's not just that He will not lie, but that He cannot lie.

He also works to expose darkness and reveal truth, and we've seen Him do that in miraculous ways this year. But one of the most amazing things for me has certainly been the absolute-truth of Scripture. This really hit home for me a week or so ago. We were studying God's revelation of His incomparable power and person in BSF through Isaiah 40, but I was really struggling. The description of God's majesty and power was very impressive, but I felt ignored by Him. There are things in my life for which I am still waiting, and I was completely giving in to the false belief that God has better things to do than come to my rescue. I was thinking particularly about Isaiah 40:11, "He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers his lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart.." I found myself thinking, "But I don't feel tenderly cared for. I feel ignored." The Holy Spirit rebuked me by reminding me that I am tenderly cared for, not because I deserve it or because other people do or do not make me feel that way. I am tenderly cared for because of one reason alone- HE HAS SAID IT!!! Andy is a wonderful help to me in this- He has become a wonderful rebuker in the Word, constantly reminding me of what is true and real, and praying for me to believe the Word of the Lord, in which we have both found refuge this year.

Teacher- Seeing God as our teacher is only natural after realizing that His truth is the only way, no matter the cost. We are incredibly blessed with the provision God has made for us to be taught by servants of God who are gifted by the Lord with skill & passion. The Austin Stone & Bible Study Fellowship continue to be amazing sources of wisdom and truth, and we are always completely amazed at the way that God uses those resources to touch the very parts of our lives that are aching.

Friend- I love Isaiah 41:8, "But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend." I love how God calls Abraham His friend. Paul says that the descendants of Abraham are not just blood relatives, they share a faith-heritage. So I feel really comfortable calling God my Friend. And He is such a good Friend. Of the many friendships He has provided for us this year, I can say that He is present in each in a very unique way. I get to see aspects of His personality brought out through the variety of people He has allowed us to meet this year. But most of all, I am thankful that I can go to the Lord in prayer and claim our friendship- "Lord, we are friends." And trust that because He has offered me friendship that I am valued and cared for by Him.

Jehovah-Shalom- I cannot end without giving the Lord credit for being our peace. This year I've learned more about the Hebrew language than ever before, and was delighted to learn the true meaning of the word "Shalom." Loosely translated into English, "shalom" means peace, but the truth about shalom is deeper than what I have seen people try to pass as "peace" this past year. "Shalom" means wholeness. Wholeness in relationship with God, and in relationship with others. As Holly has said, "Peace is not merely the absence of conflict" it is to be known by God and one another in truth, purity, and righteousness.

How Andy and I have learned to completely rely on the Lord to maintain Shalom in our marriage and home. He is so faithful. He convicts us, revealing the "sin beneath the sin" so that we are not just modifying our behavior toward one another but truly seeking to understand and believe the truth about God and each other. This inevitably puts us back on one another's team, so that we encourage one another, love and care for each other, rather than pushing apart.

I could go on and on about who the Lord has been to us, and these snapshots are not sufficient. But, to Him be the glory for the things He has done. Thank you, Lord, for your presence with us this first year. And thank you for your promise to be with us in years to come. We thankfully accept that we are yours. Our marriage is your work, and we depend on you to defend it and provide for us in all the years that are to come.

So they are no longer two but one flesh, what God has joined together, let no one separate. Matthew 19:6

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gratefulness of Grace!

Today, I've already departed once from Proverbs 31, so why not twice? I've received a word from my Good God that is so strong and full of life I cannot help but share.

My sweet friend Elizabeth posted something on her blog a few days ago that I've mulled over since reading it. The post is titled "living sent." She writes:

I had no 'life plan,' no real direction... no hope. It is obvious to you, my dear readers, that I was totally lost in the world of "no."

But then--gratefulness of Grace!--I realized it had taken the stripping away of everything to get to the something of God's heart and mind. During this chiseling process, I went back to the Beginning and read Genesis. Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Rachel and Joseph all play significant roles in the unfolding drama of God's love affair with women and men--all in light of the yawning chasm created by sin.

I've heard many sermons preached about or referencing Joseph; most of them trumpet the 'forgiveness' scene at the end of the book: when Jacob dies and Joseph's brothers are afraid that Joseph will now feel free to kill them, Joseph reassures them by saying, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (50:20). The moral of the story/sermon is that God uses even evil situations to bring about good.

I agree with this completely; however, between Joseph's hardships in slavery and his grandiose pronouncement at the end of the book, I noticed something revolutionary that bridges the gap between living out a prison sentence and reigning over Egypt.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. (45:4-8)

Joseph was sent to slavery and prison; he was directed into the dungeon and into the palace. And he knew it. No matter where he was or what he was doing: Joseph lived sent.

Who am I--and who are you--to do otherwise?

God sends. God calls. God has purpose, even when we don't. Even when we feel lost, when we have been abandoned. When we have been slandered and abused. Hear Jonathan Edwards on the same issue.

Love to God disposes men to see his hand in everything; to own him as the governor of the world, and the director of providence; and to acknowledge his disposal in everything that takes place. And the fact that the hand of God is a great deal more concerned in all that happens to us than the treatment of men is, should lead us, in a great measure , not to think of things as from men, but to have respect to them chiefly as from God- as ordered by his love and wisdom, even when their immediate source may be the malice or heedlessness of a fellow-man. And if we indeed consider and feel that they are from the hand of God, then we shall be disposed meekly to receive and quietly submit to them, and to town that the greatest injuries received from men are justly and even kindly ordered of God, and so be far from any ruffle or tumult of mind on account of them.

Another friend said not long ago, "I don't trust myself. I only trust His goodness to me." Only He is pure. Only He can be trusted.

I am moved by what Elizabeth calls "the gratefulness of Grace" that my Lord is Sovereign because He has said so. And that challenges us to "live sent" even while our dreams lie in pieces, the harsh words still echo and the pain still throbs in our hearts.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. Genesis 50:20

Hill Country Anniversary

Today is a day that Winnie the Pooh would categorize as "blustery." I know we're not bearing the brunt of this winter storm, but it's still a good morning for a slow start- a cup of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal, and a moment to look back on some of our warmer-weather adventures from this past weekend.

Our anniversary is not until this Sunday, but Andy and I went out to my favorite hill country locations- Fredericksburg and Muleshoe Bend Park- for an early celebration. (Andy has drill this coming weekend, so no time to celebrate).

The road on the way out to F'burg is called "Wine Road 290" and boasts that it is the nation's "#2 Wine Destination." Andy and I aren't really what I would call "into" wine, but we've watched a couple of episodes of a PBS show about becoming a wine vintner and it's pretty fascinating.

"Wine Road 290" has more than ten vineyards where you can stop in for a wine tasting. Along the way, you'll pass peach orchards and longhorn cows- true signs that you're in Texas hill country. We stopped in at two places, but our favorite by far was Becker Vineyards. Becker is both a vineyard and lavender farm, and also boasts a Bed & Breakfast. Their wine tasting room was housed in a beautiful stone building with this impressive fire place. I think Andy was taking measurements so that we can have one like it in the future...

Ten dollars let's you taste six wines (out of over 20). We had a really helpful guy who poured the wines and told us all about the vineyard.

Even though it was a little overcast, we picked a great weekend to go out to the hill country. One of the employees said that they are usually four times as busy in warmer weather- though the highs for the day for us were in the low 70's. We walked around the property a little bit and listened to some enchanting live music on their "verandah".

Check out this beautiful potted succulent. The purple from the plant was really brought out by this wine-colored paint on the window sills.

One of my favorite things about my husband is that he is so easy-going and fun. Here he is being a little silly over one of the barrels of French Oak (Notice the pinky finger) The guy who poured for us told us that each barrel can cost $1100!!

And here he is being even sillier once we got to Fredericksburg. We didn't get there until mid-afternoon, so there was not time to take many pictures. I wanted to take Andy to some of my favorite stores that I've discovered on trips to F'burg with my mom or by myself. His favorites were Rustlin' Robs- a store that sells Texas foods like jellies, dips, salsas & jalepeno everything! You can sample everything in the store- and a jewelry store that has a "man cave" in the back where Andy discovered helmets, battle axes, knives, swords and this very attractive suit of chain mail.

We had dinner Saturday evening at a restaurant that boasted "German and Texclectic food." I don't know if I'll ever be able to try Texclectic food in F'urg, because the town's German influences leave me craving one thing only- Jager Schnitzel, and that's exactly what we had! It was delicious! We ate outside and listened to some more live music. To top it all off, the band played "Going to Carolina in My Mind".

Sunday morning we stopped in at another favorite F'burg location - the Fredericksburg Bakery. If I lived any closer to F'burg, I'd never fit into my pants again because their strudel is so incredible I cannot stop myself from devouring it! Andy got a German pretzel and I got my strudel and we headed on down to the road to my favorite place to mountain bike- Muleshoe Bend Park.

Andy had not yet been mountain biking with me, and Muleshoe Bend is a great place to start. Half the track is more beginner/intermediate and the other half is intermediate/expert. Andy was a champ! He's been doing P90X and I can tell he's really getting back into shape. I'm so proud of him! :)

I don't tell my husband this often enough- but I am so thankful for him. He is truly God's precious gift to me. I am so proud of him for who he is and what he does. Andy, you are so much more than I deserve. Thanks for being my sweet husband! I love you!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Proverbs 31- clothing

Right now, a storm is howling outside. I've been watching the weather, and it's going to sweep across the Mid-West and bury some major cities in snow. In Austin, we're expecting some wind and rain, and some pretty frigid temps, but nothing frostier than that.

The wind has been throwing rain drops at my window the past few hours, begging my attention. Ok, wind, I'm awake- you win. But it's the perfect time to write about the next verses in Proverbs 31. Verses 21 and 22:

When it snows, she has no fear for her household:
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

I've been praying about these verses, and what God would have us learn from them. I find it really interesting that clothing is a part of the Proverbs woman's M.O. I mean, we joke all the time about women loving to shop- loving clothes and shoes and that sort of thing, but I honestly wouldn't have ever thought that God would be in on that joke. I don't think it is that God is in on a joke. What I think is going on here is really interesting, though. God is describing this woman as a woman who pay attention to the way she and her family are covered.

What I see going on here is that the Proverbs woman is demonstrating her care for her family by making sure that they are clothed well. "Scarlet" in the Bible typically refers to very valuable fabrics and yarns that were dyed with crushed insects to make them a brilliant red. The main purpose of that clothing, it seems from the verse, is to keep out the cold. When it's snowing, she's not worried, because her little ones are bundled in high quality scarlet fabric.

But she also adorns her house in fine fabrics. Her bed is covered in fabric that she has made, and she herself is covered in other rich fabrics of the ancient world (and today!) - purple and linen.

So what's the message for us Proverbs women today? What are we supposed to learn from this? Do I need to abandon my blog and start online shopping? What is the Lord saying?

I think a look ahead at verse 25 gives a hint:

She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.

Again, the woman's reliance on God shines through. Her confidence is in her Lord, not her outfit. Her real "clothing" is the strength, dignity and beauty of a woman relying completely on the Lord, a woman who fears Him more than she does Stacy London from "What's Not to Wear."

But I do think it's significant that the Proverbs woman is also clothing herself and her family well. I think yet another Godly balance is demonstrated here as a challenge to today's Proverbs women.

Clothing is such an easy idol to bow down to. I've spent plenty of my time worshiping at the altar of my closet. It's easy to think that we "need" to wear certain labels of clothing because we think that they will give us value, worth, show the world a certain "status" or make us look thinner or cuter. Clothiers depend on this kind of "snob effect" to drive their profits- I remember studying the "snob effect" in economics when I was in college. Thinking that we have to have clothes from a certain store, or even thinking that we always have to have the newest trend doesn't lead to the real clothing that the Proverbs woman wears- dignity and strength. There's nothing dignifying about despising what we have that is of good quality simply because we want the newest, the latest, the most expensive because we think it will add to our worth.

However, the polar opposite of that scenario is also void of dignity. It's easy to fall into a mindset that we will never spend any money on clothing. We're after the cheapest deals at the cheapest stores- if we ever shop for clothing for ourselves. We complain when children want something new, and can become harsh and demeaning, crushing their joy, making them question their worth. We boast about how frugal we are, and take pride in how much we can "do without." We can even go on in clothing that is dirty, tattered, worn out simply because we are too stubborn to purchase something of better quality.

I realize that resources are scarce for a lot of people. And I'm not writing this to get you or me to buy anything. But what I think the Lord is most interested in is our hearts. I think it's precious that the Lord desires His dignity-clad girls to demonstrate their love for their family members by dressing them appropriately for the weather. I don't think He's calling us to give in to every child's whim, but I do think that He is asking us to demonstrate His love and care by providing family members with clothing of good quality- not necessarily just what we happened to find on the clearance rack. I'm not dogging clearance, I'm a big fan, actually, but if it's so cheaply made that it won't last, really, what are we saying about ourselves and others? Are we not demonstrating that we see ourselves and others as only ever worth the cheapest and most cheaply made? And, also, what's the point? We'll need to replace it soon anyway.

The issue is not with what we are wearing, it's with our hearts. God is much more interested in what you have stored up in your heart, than what is stored up in your closet. Having an "I have to have the latest trend" or "I only wear clothes from such and such a store" attitude demonstrates that you don't trust Him to clothe you with what is truly of value. In contrast, becoming stubborn to the point that you refuse to buy something new, ridicule and judge others for wearing expensive clothing, complain to your family about the cost of their clothing and/or boast about how you never purchase anything for yourself indicates that you see yourself very differently than God sees you. What I mean is this, we can easily make frugality sound super-pious and disguise it as "good stewardship" but sometimes what's really going on is a belief that we are not "worth" the cost of a new dress, a new coat. And sometimes, at an even deeper level, deep-seated resentment is dressed up in "frugality" but what is really going on is that we are bitter toward God and others for what we do or do not have. We look down on others with an air of moral superiority for the nice things that the may have and console ourselves with prideful thoughts about how humble we are because we don't have such things. Proverbs 31 should be a quick call out of that kind of thinking. We should never worship nice things, but we don't have to shun them either. When we do so, we reveal the prideful attitude of our hearts.

One of my favorite stories about this sort of thing comes from Wetherell Johnson's autobiography. After serving as a missionary in China for many years, four of them spent in a Japanese prison camp, she returned to Europe with just the clothes on her back. At a Salvation Army camp on her way home, she was given a beautiful coat, of fine quality, a simple dress and a pair of shoes. She said that many other refugees tried to trade her for the coat, but she hung on to it and wore it for many years. What I love about this story is that Wetherell Johnson, a woman richly robed in strength and dignity, did not believe that the coat gave her value, but she believed that she was valuable enough for the coat. She didn't shun the gift in mock-humility, saying "I already have everything that I need." She received the high-quality gift with thanksgiving- it was a gift to her from God.

And that's really the point. We don't have to clothe ourselves in designer this and that, because God wants to adorn us with the things that last. But, He does provide for needs- to keep out cold, to remain clean and go about our daily business in modesty and propriety. He would never tell you that you are not worth scarlet, linen or a beautiful coat. You shouldn't believe that you aren't worth it, and you should be careful not to make other people feel that way either.

Practically, I think that we are called to select coverings for ourselves and our families that meet our needs, are of good quality and will last, while trusting the Lord to clothe us with what is most important.