In this blog section, Traci writes about her daily walk and lessons learned as together we work to change caged gerbils into dogs at the Master’s knee. Come back often to enjoy her latest article.
One of my dad’s favorite stories to tell is about the day he asked my older cousin if there would be any Nazarenes in Heaven. Kenny and my dad were fixing fence on the farm, chatting and joking like always. Dad has a love of arguing with people: politics, religion, nothing is safe. So, not being a Nazarene himself, Dad asked Kenny, “Do you think there will be any Nazarenes in Heaven?”
Dad expected, probably even hoped, for an argument. Not a heated exchange, but some banter to fill the morning’s work would be nice. Kenny paused for several minutes, perhaps trying to figure out a way to escape my father’s motives, when he offered, “I don’t know, but there’ll be a lot of Christians.”
There was nothing Dad could do with that. They finished up the morning’s task in simple, familial friendship.
After sharing a light lunch in the house, they headed out to do some more work. Kenny was on the tractor when he suffered a fatal heart attack. It was as if God had heard Kenny’s answer and agreed that he had gotten it right. A Christian went home that day.
Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with one of my best friends at church. We disagreed on women’s roles in the church, on communion, about children’s roles in worship, and probably seventeen other religious issues. But we were and are great friends. If I need something, I know she is there for me, and vice versa. We teach Sunday School together, lead retreats together, and feed the hungry together. No one looking from the outside would ever know we have such gaping disparities in beliefs.
No one would ever know, because the truth is, those things aren’t important in the greater scheme of things. Christianity is not about whether we get doctrine right, or about being members of the “right” church. Christianity is not about whether we fight for justice, feed the hungry, or memorize Scripture. The only required mark of a Christian is “LOVE”.
Christ only gave one new command, that we love one another as he loved us: wholeheartedly, in spite of differences, mistakes, preferences, backgrounds, or anything else. Jesus showed us how to love, he commanded us to love, and he develops in us the ability to love. So, does the world know you are a Christian?
“This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples- when they see the love you have for each other.” John 13:35 The Message
“You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts – limbs, organs, cells – but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain – his Spirit – where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves – labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free – are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.” 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13 The Message
It occurs to me that though I pray for my husband’s preaching ministry, I don’t regularly pray for others’ ministries. I know a lot of preachers, God, and I know they need your blessings.
I know ministers in my tribe of the Kingdom right here in my town. Please watch over Stuart, Tim, Winfred, Jim, Skipper, and DJ. But, Father, we aren’t your only children, please bless the preachers in the other tribes that make up your Kingdom. Please watch over Chuck, Blake, Branson, Jason, Lennie, Aaron, Tim, and Alan.
Father, some preachers have many helpers. For them the main responsibility is just that, to preach. But Lord, they are responsible for the way thousands understand you. Please guard the tongues and lives of Max, Mike, Mark, Jonathan, Scott, Rick and Rick, TD, Joel, Jeff, Billy, Patrick, Beth, Richard, Anne, and Joyce.
A preaching minister has many responsibilities that weigh heavy on his shoulders. I see many of your preachers stoop-shouldered and weary. I know they spend countless nights awake, praying and wondering and begging for your intervention in the lives of their flock. They pray for the single mothers and fathers, for their wisdom, patience, finances, ability to discipline, their energy levels and their commitment to raising their children in your family. They pray for the sick ones, for surgeries, cancers, defects and diseases. They pray for wandering souls and ask for wisdom and insight to reach them and bring them back. They spend years trying to speak to the eight year old and the eighty year old while not offending all of the others in between. And they ask you to forgive their weaknesses, to give them strength to carry on with your work. Many struggle with insecurities, lack of friendships, and leaders who disappoint them.
Many of those preachers, Father, work in small, unfamiliar locales. For them the work involves preparing sermons and lessons as well as treating for ants, scrubbing baptisteries, setting up chairs, tables, and equipment. They call plumbers, fix doorknobs, reset mailboxes, visit hospitals and prisons. They work second and even third jobs to make ends meet, and they are at every service, every event, every potluck and every meeting.
Please encourage and bless Matt and Matt, Don, Sam, Jason, Larry, Tim, Will, Terry, Karl, and Mark. Help them to know that what they are doing is Kingdom work, even when it looks like it’s just clearing brush or painting a sign.
Father all of these preachers have spouses who lay beside them at night hearing the fervent prayers and the creaking floorboards soon after. They know the secrets that plague the troubled mind. They feel helpless and inept. They hear the complaints about and criticisms of the ones they love the dearest. They need you. Guard and guide Arletta, Kelly, Karla, Kami, Kara, Christy, Stacy, Stephanie, Teff, Sandy, Cindy, Carol, Danielle, Denise, Lora, Laura, Julie, Jennie, and Judy.
So many children, Lord, never understand why their daddies are stressed, weary, and worried. So many secrets are kept in order to protect others and to ensure that these little ones only know your family as bonds of love. Other children fight you because they see the difficulties of shepherding the flock, and they scatter to the winds. Protect those precious souls so innocently injured. Allow them to see what their fathers see and to love you the way their fathers do.
Father, many of your preachers have moved on, but they still bear the scars and the successes of their ministry in your service. Bless them now where they find themselves and let them never give up on you. Watch over Mark, Jeff, Harold, Jake, Jack, Don, Doug, and Steven.
Lord, I know I am missing people here. Already I am thinking of Ben, Chris, Don, Richard, Jack, John, Linda, Father H., Bob, Tommy, and Yale. You, however, do not forget them, even knowing the names that I do not know. Bless them with your presence, your wisdom, your anointed guidance. Help them as they sculpt their hearts to look like your hands. Amen
Habits. We all have them, good and bad. Some habits are innocuous, at least to the one who isn’t bothered by them. I turn the steering wheel sharply to enter the parking area of our drive. I park the car and get out. I never knew there was an underlying bad habit, until my younger son started driving.
“Why do you leave the wheel turned!?” he exclaims, exasperated. “Just straighten it back out before you turn off the van.”
Hmm. I never noticed that I do that. I never knew it mattered anyway. Obviously it matters to Amos, so I am trying to remember to straighten out the wheel. It’s a lot to remember; I have ten years of “bad” habit forming practice behind me.
This year one of my goals was to read 26 books, one every two weeks. I used to love to read, absolutely loved it, but I broke the habit. Since kids, homeschooling, work, and just plain exhaustion entered my life I have not been a voracious reader. Some, including myself, would say I was not a reader.
It is only September and I have nearly met my year-end goal already. In fact, this weekend I felt like I was craving something, after a bit I realized I needed a book to read. Yesterday morning I couldn’t take it any longer and picked up a book between classes. The habit is back.
All of us have unintentional habits: the way we park, the order we put on our shoes, the time of day we brush our teeth, even when we call our loved ones. We don’t recognize them as habits; they are just the things we do.
But those around us, like a son learning to drive, notice the habits and decide whether they want to form the habits as well.
Jesus had a habit. He prayed. He left everyone, went out at dark, early morning, even in the middle of the day, in order to be alone and pray. But even in his solitude, people noticed.
“Teach us to pray.” They watched and observed and followed. It was a good habit.
Father, my mind wanders like a goat on the hillside. It strays to this bush and that weed, but always it returns to you. It sees in your son a habit worth developing. Guide me, discipline my mind, form within me a habit that cannot be broken. Make me a person of prayer. Amen.
“So how do you tell if something is a coincidence or is God telling you something?” I confronted Matt this morning as I worked through my daily devotions.
“Why?” he laughed.
And so I told him the story. . .
Tuesday I received an email from my publisher informing me how my book has done on the market so far. It was less than satisfactory, in fact it was embarrassing. I sold 52 copies through the commercial markets making about $28. Just so you know, $28 won’t pay even one day of my mortgage.
I worked through all of it as faithfully as I could. I am not in this to make lots of money, but not even one DAY of my mortgage? My story is to tell people that God wants a relationship with them. Yeah, well not many people are finding that out. It is up to God to bless this ministry. What ministry is that, exactly?!
No matter what I told myself, a little voice on my should whispered disparaging remarks. I began to fall into a cavernous crevasse of doubt and despair.
Then, yesterday afternoon, I received an email from the OVU Lectureship Chairman asking if I would be willing to have a book signing in April. Of course I would, thank you. Then in the evening, I received another message on Facebook from an unknown source that they want me to join in a local authors’ book signing in October. Hmm, I began to regain my balance on the edge of that cliff.
Finally, this morning my devotional was. . . “Who wants to write a bestseller? Everybody, if today’s popular writers’ conferences are evidence. . . .Everybody, it seems, longs to be the next literary star. . .But what if we created for God? With God? Just to worship God? But on his terms? Chew hard with me on these questions today. As a published author, I confess to writing many things I hoped would sell- and never anything I hoped wouldn’t sell. All artists hope for acceptance. Don’t we? But the Word of God teaches us such surprising truths about this God-given impulse to cocreate with God.” God’s Great Blessings
The author goes on to describe the response God had to building the ark, the tabernacle, and the temple. He says he gave the ability, the gift, to create the wonders these people were creating. How many times I have sat down to write on my current project, and I have no idea where the words, the plots, the events come from. They obviously come from a deeper source, from the Spirit.
“Three things seems like more than a coincidence,” Matt said.
I have to agree. I am not paying the mortgage, or even buying dinner tonight, but I am writing for God. What are you doing for God? Are you being faithful to his call, even when it seems “obvious” that you should be doing something else? Stay faithful. He will bless.
“I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded.” Exodus 31:6
I dropped my son off at a college he never visited, a place where he knew absolutely no one, a day’s drive away from me. What was I thinking!?
The first week was tense with text messages and phone calls flying between us: he needed his books, his schedule wasn’t working out right, he had nothing in common with anyone, he was anxious, nervous, upset.
Finally, the calm phone call came about another week into it.
“So, do you hang out with Max?”
Max (pronounced “Machs” in the German way) was the young man we met on move-in day. The two of them seemed to have a lot in common, and I had consoled myself that God was providing a friend.
“No, we don’t get along too well.”
“Really? Why not? You seemed to have so much in common that first day.”
“All he wants to talk about is girls.”
I couldn’t help laughing. My son has been in love with the female population since the day he was born. Honestly, as a newborn I took him with me to school each morning for the first twenty minutes. Then his father, getting off the night shift, would stop by the school and pick him up. During those twenty minutes, my son cooed and gurgled as the kids came over to talk to him in his car seat. But if several kids came at once, he ALWAYS turned to the girls’ faces and completely ignored the boys’ faces.
So now I found it humorous that he was complaining about a guy talking about girls.
“I mean, I can talk about girls for a few minutes, but then I need to talk about something else. There’s only so much to say about them.”
“What do you mean?” I barely hid my mirth.
“Max would ask me what I thought of a girl. I would say I know she likes this kind of music, she reads these books, and she wants to study this. But he would say ‘No’ and ask me what I would rank them on a scale of 1-10. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with that. That’s not a good way to talk about girls.”
“Good for you,” I crowed.
I felt successful. All of those years asking what do you like IN a girl, saying choose a girl who loves Jesus and respects her parents, a girl you can have fun with and talk to. . . Finally I knew it paid off.
As the week following that conversation passed, I began to wonder how often I might be guilty of objectifying people, too. Unlike Max, I don’t rate people based on their looks, but maybe I assign a value to them based on their usefulness to me. This person has experiences that will help me, I give her a 7. This person has material possessions I can borrow, 8.5. WooHoo! This guy knows people I want to be connected with, Perfect 10!
Or perhaps, even worse, I assign them a negative value based on what they take out of me or require of me. You need a ride to the store? -3 She needs me to spend an afternoon finding resources to help her? -6 He wants money and obviously doesn’t want to work for it? -10
Worse yet, what if I do this to my children?
“Yes, my son could multiply his sixes at age two.” I give that a 6.
“My daughter? Well she won first place at the science fair for her exhibit on the bioengineering of a mushroom virus. She’s planning on attending Stamford once she finishes sixth grade.” Definitely a 9.3.
“You did what?! If the police find out you hung a porta-potty with a chain over the bridge, your picture will be in the paper. The neighbors will know!” Negative 7 and don’t tell anyone who your mother is.
“Get that picture off of Facebook this instant. People will think I raised a wild child. And wash that make-up off!” – 4
And then fear creeps in. What if God rates people too? What if he hears my crying and cringes? What if he becomes bored with my begging? What if he sees the sin that so easily entangles me and says, “Enough. I don’t wish to be your friend any longer.”?
Then I sweep that fear aside, because I know the truth; God does rate me, even judges me, but through the lens of his Son. At last, I am a Perfect 10!
11 That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That’s why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God. God alone knows how well we do this, but I hope you realize how much and deeply we care. 12 We’re not saying this to make ourselves look good to you. We just thought it would make you feel good, proud even, that we’re on your side and not just nice to your face as so many people are. 13 If I acted crazy, I did it for God; if I acted overly serious, I did it for you. 14 Christ’s love has moved me to such extremes. His love has the first and last word in everything we do. 15He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own. 16 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. 17 Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! 18 All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. 19 God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. 20 We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. 21 How? you say. In Christ. God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 The Message
I had no idea Lent could be so long. I mean, I knew people give up things for Lent and then usually don’t follow through or succeed in maintaining their goal, but really, it is ONLY 40 days. Then I tried it.
I wanted to celebrate the Lenten Season this year in a special way, so I started looking for ideas of what my “sacrifice” should be. From what should I fast? My friend Amy posted a link to some ideas on Teen Life and one intrigued me: clothes. My husband was intrigued, too! Giving up clothes sounded like a great idea to him.
Actually, what I gave up was access to my extensive wardrobe. I would be allowed four outfits, the amount suggested by Teen Life. I started wondering, though, what does four outfits actually mean. I talked with a few friends, who all had differing opinions, and finally decided on what I thought it meant. Two pair of slacks, a pair of jeans, and a skirt with three tops and a sweater= four bottoms and four tops. I also gave myself access to one cardigan type sweater since the weather was cool. I limited myself to one heavy jacket/coat and two scarves.
The weather seemed to be my biggest enemy. Forty days before a mid-April Easter in Eastern Carolina usually means warm, balmy days and cool nights. After a couple of days I amended my decision and added a “Cuddle Duds” pair of pants and long-sleeved shirt to wear under the outfits. I get cold very easily.
So did I succeed? Mostly. After about five weeks I added in a pair of sweat pants for my walks, and the last couple of days I needed a light jacket, not a sweater or coat, so I threw that in the mix, too.
Did I miss my regular wardrobe? Actually, not until over halfway through; I think it was week 4 or 5 that I told Matt I was ready to be done. I found myself looking in my closet and wishing I could pick something different out. I think it would be safe to say I was coveting my own wardrobe.
Did I learn anything? Yes, quite a lot. I learned that I am materialistic. I wanted more clothes, not because I needed them, though something warmer would have been nice, but mostly because I just wanted something else.
I learned that I am judgmental. I look at what other people wear and I make judgments based on that. When I only had a few things to choose from there really wasn’t any choice in the matter, and I hated to think I was being judged on what I had no control over. Many people live every day that way.
I also learned that most people don’t notice what I wear. It isn’t as important as I might think. Looking clean and well-kempt is, of course, important, but the actual clothes not so much. No one- that is right- NO ONE said anything to me about my wardrobe. It seemed as if no one even noticed what I was wearing. No one noticed enough to say I looked nice either, so I’m not sure if they did notice but didn’t want to tell the absent-minded, forgetful woman that she had already worn that recently. But truly, I don’t think people noticed.
And finally, I learned that Lent is a long time. It is actually a little longer than Jesus’ time of temptation, since Sundays are in there but not counted in the total; still 40 days was a long time, too, especially if you are fasting from food! But for me, I knew where the end was. Jesus did not have that luxury as far as we know. He was in the desert thirsting and hungering, being tempted, and no jellybean basket and new Easter outfit waited at the end of it.
The last several days have found me wearing bright colors, thinking about outfits to pack for an upcoming trip, and enjoying comments on what I am wearing. I did learn things, important things, during my Lent experiment, but I’m not ready to fast from clothing all the time. Sorry, Honey.
When Matt and I met, I wore green contacts. My eyes are a light blue, so the green shone like emerald. He was mesmerized. Really, he had no choice but to fall in love with me as soon as he looked in my eyes. I feel sorry for him, actually.
Anyway, later, he discovered that my eyes are not an irridescent green. He’s happy enough with the blue, since I really think he married me for my cooking skills. But it was my eyes that first attracted him to me.
Eyes are fairly important. I know of a little boy born blind who gets along really well, so I’m not saying that you can’t live without your eyesight, but it sure does help.
With my eyes I see the beauty of the world around me. I watch the expressions of the people I interact with. I read and learn. I perform tasks: mending, cooking, driving, writing. I understand the world and its ways by what I see with my eyes.
In Ephesians 1, Paul mentions the “eyes of your heart” and says they help us “to understand the hope to which he has called you”. The eyes of my heart, not green or blue, not looking at colors and intricacies, not helping me perform tasks, but eyes that give me understanding. Eyes that see who God is and who he wants me to be. Eyes that know what they see today doesn’t have to be what they see tomorrow. Eyes that actually dilate in light, taking in the glory of the Lord and shining more clearly with understanding.
15-19 That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! Ephesians 1 The Message
Look closely at the world today. Use the eyes of your heart. What is God showing you?
I have given up something for Lent this year. I’m not saying what until Lent is over; it’s a little bit of an experiment on my part. When I taught at an Episcopalian school, I was introduced to the Christian calendar. I found it helpful to follow the stories in Advent and Lent. I liked the celebrations and the times of discipline.
So this year, I decided it was time to take on Lent once again. I have added another devotional meditation to my morning quiet time routine. I made a paper chain of things to do during Lent, and each morning I tear off the next link in the chain and see what I should do that day. And I have given up something.
I was fine until about halfway through, and then I felt like I was done. Nothing major happened. It just seemed like I should be done.
But the paper chain, the meditation book, and the calendar all say I am not done. I am only a little over half way there. And so Lent lingers on.
I have always felt like I could handle anything if I just knew how long it was going to last. Childbirth was the one that scared me the most. What if this dragged on for a couple days like some female friends’ labors? If you could just tell me how long I had to endure it, I could work myself up to it. But that isn’t the way childbirth works.
It isn’t the way any suffering works.
Jesus didn’t have the luxury of a Christian calendar telling him how many more days he should fast in the wilderness. He didn’t have a book listing the days until his suffering and sacrifice would end. And his chain was not made of paper stapled shut, but was weighed down by Satan’s iron grasp.
So often my suffering silence is broken by sobs. “How long, O God?!”
And then the silence continues. It isn’t that God isn’t answering me. He is just waiting. Waiting for me. God waits to give me his grace until I am in a position to receive it.
“How long, O God!?!”
“Whenever you are ready,” he answers.
When a man has quietly made up his mind that there is nothing that he cannot endure, his fears leave him. Grove Patterson
In the town where I grew up there is a curve known as “Dead Man’s Curve.” I suppose I can figure out why it is called that, but honestly most curves near my homestead should be called that. One in particular, the schoolbus driver would lay on his horn all the way through because you can’t see a thing around that curve, and the road is really only wide enough for one on the side of the mountain. It’s a wonder there is anyone left to name curves, let alone drive around them.
The trick, I told my children as I drove through it one day, is to see through the curve, to look beyond it. Don’t focus on the road. Don’t look at the hood of the car. Don’t look over the side of the hill, and don’t cling too closely to the inside of the curve.
Go slowly, you don’t need to be careless or reckless, but look past the curve, into the future. And then hope for the best.
God sees in the darkness when we can’t. God sees the road ahead when we are in a blind curve. Hope lets us see God, and faith alows us to let God do the seeing as we turn the wheel, press the accelerator, and drive on into the unknown.
Job 11:18 “Having hope will give you courage. You will be protected and rest in safety.”
The harness was tightened around her thighs and waist. Tight gloves protected her hands from rope burns as she clung desperately to the taut lifeline.
She sidled a little closer to the edge and tried to lean into the open air of the chasm, but fear and distrust tightened her back into a stiff board of refusal. Leah could hear the cheers of her parents far below.
“You can do it, Baby! Come on, just lean a little more!”
“I can’t,” she moaned. “What if the rope breaks or I swing too hard into the rock? It’s too scary!” And with that the little girl walked back to the instructor and refused to repel the overhang.
Her parents, waiting six feet below, couldn’t believe their child had ignored their pleas of encouragement. How could she not trust them? Exasperated, they walked back up the trail to the beginners’ classes to gather their daughter before lunch.
Hanging tightly to the frayed rope, Christian wearily watched as his grip began to loosen. Fear and bile filled his nose and throat. “I want out of here!” he screamed.
“You’re doing fine,” his father whispered in his ear. “I’ve done this before. You just have to loosen your grip a bit. Hanging on too tightly makes you stick in one place. Bounce your feet a little. You can do it.”
Christian closed his eyes and meekly flexed his feet, repelling a couple of feet down the cliff.
“Good,” his dad smiled. “You’re getting the hang of it!”
Christian leaned his head back against his father’s shoulder, glad that Papa was in the safety harness with him still.
Like the little girl repelling into the vast, unknown canyon, we have a choice. Trust those who have gone before, those who offer advice and informed experience. Listen to those who love us and encourage us. Trust those who can see how this is going, where it might lead. Or we can walk back to safety and never know what thrills await us.
But the truth is, we aren’t like little Leah, hanging over an enormous cliff about to wet our pants. We are Christian, strapped into the safety harness with our Father, the most experienced repeller in the universe. He knows all the footholds, all the dangerous crevasses, all of the slippery spots. He lets us lean back into his shoulder. If only we will trust him.
“I pulled you in from all over the world,
called you in from every dark corner of the earth,
Telling you, ‘You’re my servant, serving on my side.
I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you.’
Don’t panic. I’m with you.
There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” Isaiah 41:9-10 The Message
Go ahead. Flex your feet. Bounce. Swing into the unknown with the one who knows all.