Is This Your Best or Worst of Times?

Is This Your Best or Worst of Times?

What crazy questions to ask a person with bipolar syndrome! Best or worst? I never know until I look back. When I do I always learn that God has had MY back all along.

This is the best of times.

We are retired. My husband was a salaried engineer and project manager and now he has a barn big enough to play in and big toys (tractors and 4-wheelers) to manage our 36-acre walnut tree farm. I can sew every blessed day  and write about our life on one of several blogs. I struggled with the inherent stress of three careers (paralegal, journalist, social worker) over a period of 40 years and now I am my own boss. Unfortunately, I’m pretty ruthless to my employee. However, our corporate day begins with prayer and Bible study. After that, me, myself and I get along fairly well. God is in control. We are grateful for our health, our relative wealth, our four children and seven grandchildren, our six-friend dinner group, fifty- member church and our larger community. There is love and concern and joy here. We are profoundly happy.

It is the worst of times.

I had to go on steroids for eye surgery four months ago and as of now I have not been able to come down from the mania caused by the medications. I am haggard, under-slept, mean-mouthed, emotionally cold, endlessly chatty, socially pushy and physically twitchy.

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Jerry, me and online Bible teacher Pam Gillaspie. Jerry and Pam are the only people who can really tolerate me at this point. Because, well, he’s stuffed and she doesn’t really know me. 

My husband and I are in our twentieth year of marriage and he hasn’t had to live with this girl for more than fourteen years. In 2003 I had my last breakdown and got myself into the extremely clean living and strict routines that keep me healthy.

That is, I’ve been healthy until I had to take steroids to be healthy, apparently.

BUT GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME. He is in the midst of this storm. I have been to the altar to confess, the pulpit to testify and I claim the mission field as well by virtue of publishing here. God will not let me fall, He will make this tough time a diamond in our  crowns; when we lay them at Jesus’ feet, we’ll do that together, too. I will survive, my marriage and friendships will survive. Satan doesn’t get to win this round using a simple chemical imbalance.

However and whenever I go home to God, it will not be by my own hand. And that, brothers and sisters, is victory in the worst of times.

Dear God, In Psalm 51:10 David asks that You create in him a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within him. This, too, is my prayer and that You will forgive me the hurt I cause to others in the high places and the hurt I cause myself in the low.  I ask not for straight paths but only that You will accompany me in all my paths. Because He walked in both, I ask it in Your son’s name, Jesus. Amen

Inductive Bible Study

Inductive Bible Study

I cannot recommend enough the experience of inductive Bible study. So simple!

  1. Observe the text,
  2. Interpret the text,
  3. Apply it to your life.

Nobody said it was easy (No. 3 is a doozy) but it is transformative.

I learned this method from the Precepts Upon Precepts Ministry   There are other popular sources for training but as a student and teacher I have found years worth of value here in my own Biblical journey.

The publishing arm of the ministry has books by many authors, including its founder, Kay Arthur. With all due respect to the Mrs. Arthur, my favorite by far has been Pam Gillaspie.

Just as I was getting ready to teach one of her courses for the second time, she came through with an online teaching series that is so AMAZING that I knew it answered all the requirements God had put on my heart to get this Bible study going.

So, if you need a written invitation, here it is:

Go to Pam Gillaspie’s site and sign up. She will send you the first lesson in a PDF form and get you registered. There is a workbook you will want to purchase but the course is free.

So far, local participation consists of Jerry, the deer my husband harvested a few years ago, and me. We’re pictured  doing our Bible study thang in the early morning hours today. If you are a local, I would really love to study this with you. Contact me for arrangements.

Because Jerry is really bad at selfies.

The Home Place, Finally, John 17:24

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Can’t wait to see the beautiful windows of my home church on Sunday. After two vacation weeks, we rolled into our driveway late Monday evening, exhausted but refreshed. My husband built our log home to welcome me as his new bride about 15 years ago and I have relished its rustic beauty. It has been my second home…but I never forget that heaven is my first.

So where does that leave those lovely stained glass windows? Some Sunday mornings I  enjoy the dappled colors lighting my husband’s face as he listens intently. On those mornings I’m reminded that we are not home yet and can only “…see through the glass darkly.” as the Apostle Paul said. When shall we see clearly? When we are in our first home.  Some weekday afternoons I seek those windows. I can pray in many places besides the church, as we all can, but the ancient walls mute outside sounds and those windows blur movement leaving an environment rich for meditation. I speak to Him in many places but I often hear His answer here. But still it isn’t home. A gathering place, yes, a worship place, oh, yes, but home? No.

I am the grandmother of seven. Only one lives at home. Consider this last paragraph as the caption to this picture taken on the only day he visited us here in our second home.
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“Hello, Baby Wyatt. I’m Mamaw Tracy and I’ve been waiting so long to hold you. But you already knew that because you have been fighting so hard to get here. Mommy felt you kicking all the time. We are so proud of you. Between you and me, darling, that’s why I’m smiling. I am so proud of you. I’m so happy to welcome you to this place. Look at all these people: Mamaws, Papaws, aunts, uncles, friends and cousins, neighbors and even your pastor! We want you feel our love and our gratitude for coming to let us hold you. And I’m smiling because I know if you don’t stay here you are going home.  Jesus asked his Father to let him have his own (that’s you and me, sweetheart!) to be with Him where he is so we could see His glory. Glory! Wyatt, you may see that glory before I even see the sun today. I’m smiling because you are so close to that glory. You would never see anything like it here.

Oh, Wyatt, one reason we are all waiting to go there because it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be down here. It’s hard Like now, I know your temperature isn’t getting up where your nurse wants it to be…well, it’s like that here on earth. Sometimes it’s just awfully, awfully cold, even when people who love you hold you close. Even when you have a sister who made you your own very handsome quilt. Even when you have a Mommy and Daddy and Sissy who love you enough to make every day of your life here as good as it could be. Knowing they might lose you, knowing this minute that you may not see the light of day, they love you so much. They rejoiced over every sonogram picture, watching you develop. They framed those pictures because you were, are and always will be a part of our family. They gave your life the joy, music and laughter they know as a family. They allowed us to be your family here.

So, sweetest one, I’m giving you back to Mommy now. I have a feeling you will always be my perfect, favorite grandchild. I am still smiling because I know she has done everything right by you and that she would never let you go from your family here unless she knew you were going to your heavenly family. We will miss you every day. We will live our lives in such as way as to see you again, in your new home place, finally.”

LOL with Sarah and Abraham

LOL with Sarah and Abraham

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Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Gen. 21:1   Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who heard about this will laugh with me.” Gen. 21:6

Remember that Sarah laughed when she heard God’s promise that she would bear Isaac. (Gen. 18:12) Why did Sarah laugh when God told her she would have a child?

More to the point, why do we continue to believe our lives are bound by earthly things when the King of Heaven promises He will bless us?

At the time of God’s promise to Abraham, God had already:

  • given Abraham a wife of legendary beauty.(Gen. 11-16)
  • called them out of their homeland and promised them that all peoples on earth would be blessed through them. (Gen. 12:2-3)
  • allowed them to escape a powerful Egyptian ruler’s wrath although Abraham had been deceitful in his dealings with Pharoah.(Gen. 12:20)
  • acquired great wealth. (Gen. 13:2)
  • given Abraham the men and means to rescue Lot when he was kidnapped. (Gen. 14;14-16)
  • appeared to Abraham in visions. (Gen. 12: 1-3;15:1-23; 17:1-22)

What has God done for you so far? If He promises you more, dare you laugh? Or will you laugh with joy as Sarah did when Isaac was born?

The Bible is filled with God’s promises to us. From his promise to Noah that He would never again destroy all earthly life in Gen. 9:8-17 to his promise in 1 John 2:25 that He will give His children eternal life, God is promising unbelievable, inexplicable, unfathomable things. Laugh at that!

Ash Wednesday, A Glimpse of Spring

Today’s bright sky is just a tease.  On the East Coast, people are digging out of a deep snow storm. Here, the temps will only reach freezing today and tomorrow’s high will be in the forties. To  my thin southern California blood, that has never felt warm.  More to the point, there are going to be many more cold winter days before new growth begins. Around Easter, that’s when I’ll be taking a clear sky and a windless day as a promise of spring.

So it is with Ash Wednesday. Our church sanctuary will be cozy for the 7 PM service, thanks to a new furnace, but we will know the truth of the cold, cold season when we step back outside. We can enter that place to celebrate the promise of Easter Sunday. But as Christ experienced the bitter chill of desertion and betrayal as well as the heady smell of triumph, we will surely experience days of bitter chill as well as warm perfumed breezes before spring rises triumphant.

One flame burns truer than our new heating unit: Our Risen Savior, once cheating death and once again to cheat time when He returns forever. Allelulia now, in winter, and again in spring. Allelulia!

Humility or Hype

If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

When we were married my husband and I chose silver wedding bands with a slightly stylized cross as our symbols of our love for one another and our determination that Christ would be at the center of our marriage. When we built our house, one of our children gave us a plaque featuring the  Serenity Prayer,  another gave us a copy of the 23rd Psalm engraved on a mirror and one has given us a sculpted cross. My husband took a chainsaw to a tree stump one fall afternoon and at the end of the day a rough-hewn 5-foot cross stood on a gentle slope overlooking our backyard.

If Christian decoration were the way to heaven we’d be good to go.

But we know we are the people called by his name and that God didn’t call us to advertise or promote a multi-level marketing plan based on our faith. He didn’t call us to shop and seek more Christian stores and turn from here to there in search of new ways to advertise our relationship with Jesus.

No, he called us to humble ourselves, to pray and seek His face. The promise that follows that command is too wonderful to imagine. Even if He had not promised to heal our land, would we not be blessed beyond measure just to lay our egos and our agendas and our wants and desires before Him? How like our God to ask us to do these things that might be difficult initially, but, when completed, bring us such joy and peace.

I love the wedding band my husband never takes off. He replaced mine as an anniversary gift with a jeweled band but I wear the cross, too. Not as hype but as a private reminder to me of who I am and who we are. Humbly, His.

(Thanks to our adult Christian Education class who kicked this issue around for an session a few Sundays ago and gave me the idea to write this.)

If You Love Me, Obey Me

To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Sam. 15:22b (NIV)

I can tell you what the old me thought of that bit of dialogue between the prophet Samuel and King Saul. You’ve got to be kidding, Sam. God prefers simple obedience? Wait till He hears what I’m gonna do for Him!

I of course took the immediate meaning of the phrase out of context. To me, to obey anyone meant to give in, give up or give out, none of which I have ever been prone to do gracefully.  So what does it mean to say obedience is better than sacrifice?  In my winner-take-all playbook, “to obey” was already a huge sacrifice. How, therefore could it be better than a well-prepared, juicy, choice cut of … oh, wait a minute. Maybe I do have an idea why God would prefer the obedience of our actions to anything we can cook up to distract Him.

My parents had gotten a well-deserved weekend away from their kids. I was about eight, my sister five and my brother a newborn and I honestly don’t remember who they suckered into coming to our house to care for us that weekend. It wasn’t our regular babysitter; I couldn’t have gotten away with it if he’d been there.

Whoever it was, they didn’t know that the most of the trees in our Florida subdivision lot were soft woods. Many were fruit trees. My father, a transplant himself from the majestic forests of Oregon, called the laurels overgrown bushes.  And he also called them absolutely off limits for climbing. He maintained that we had a swing set, a sturdy elm and each other to climb on.  Sixty pounds of trunk shimmying tomboy did not bode well for the health of the kumquat tree. He had made that clear to me but it was never mentioned to the babysitter. Certainly not by me.

Not only did I climb the kumquat tree, the orange trees, the grapefruit trees and the laurels repeatedly throughout the two days our parents were gone, I attempted to build a fort in the limbs of the almost-majestic cedar in the front yard. A painful experience since the needles were sharp and the bark rough and also my carpentry skills weren’t up to the task. And I fell. Hard enough to hurt but not hard enough to tell the babysitter.

Back to obedience. Samuel told Saul obedience was better. Better for whom? It would have been better for Saul. God doesn’t ask us to do things just to make Himself feel good. Does he ask for a tithe because He needs your money? No, he wants your heart and your heart in the hand of God is better for you. Did he want Saul’s complete obedience in the matter before him because he wanted a bunch of  His enemies to die? No, God will accomplish his purposes–here it was to purge the land of a people committing heinous crimes–He wanted Saul to be obedient for the sake of Saul’s own good.

Here’s what happened in our house in 1963, and how I learned that obedience would have been much more acceptable that any sacrifice.  Mom and Dad came home to a good report from the babysitter, who still had no clue that my tree climbing was a full frontal school girl rebellion carried out under her nose for two days. After the sitter left, we settled in for the ritual Walt Disney Theater Sunday night show, and, after a rapt half hour in front of the television, all my little muscles, tendons and ligaments refused to move. I was so sore I could barely move. As Mom massaged my thighs, calves and biceps, I could not tell a lie.  No, I had not chopped down the cherry tree, but I had surely climbed the kumquat tree, as well as all its citrus cousins. As I experienced my first post-workout soreness Daddy told me the real reason he hadn’t wanted us in those trees. Their limbs couldn’t safely support us; Mom couldn’t climb up after us to help us for the same reason; the dumb laurels could have actually toppled over from our weight, throwing us into the street. And yes, the trees themselves were property that should be respected, but that was secondary.

As was God’s desire to rid the earth of the Amalekites. Without Saul’s compliance to the letter of God’s command to him, their contemptible practices went on for centuries after Saul’s reign. But that was secondary. God loved Saul and wanted his obedience. More than the sweetest fragrance of sacrifice, more than his explanations and excuses for why he didn’t do God’s will, God just wanted Saul’s obedience. And ours. For our own good.