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.
In 1961, Thomas Van Beek was a respected, though quite young, businessman. He was in need of a personal secretary to help him spread his wings and fly. After many interviews, he found just the right mother hen to help him grow strong and soar.
Miss Neef was a miracle. She could type accurately, answer phones adeptly, and handle emergencies authoritatively. She kept the office running smoothly and professionally. She was always calm and her solutions were quick and direct. Thomas never had to worry with Miss Neef at the desk.
For twelve years, Miss Neef handled all of Thomas’s personal business. She was tireless, impeccable, and trustworthy. But finally, the day came that Thomas had been dreading. Miss Neef was ready to retire. Thomas mourned her loss knowing that he would never find another secretary like her.
Though distraught to lose his Girl Friday, Thomas Van Beek was a gentleman and he threw a retirement party for his devoted secretary. Everyone in the office building showed up to wish Miss Neef well, only they had to do it twice.
You see, Miss Neef was an identical twin, or I should say the Misses Neef were identical twins. For twelve years the sisters shared the job of personal secretary, one working the morning shift, then leaving for lunch. The other coming for the afternoon shift, fresh and ready to work.
The two sisters looked alike, sounded alike, and worked alike. To everyone who knew them, they were one and the same.
Who do you see when you look in the mirror? Who do others see when they look at you? When they listen to you? Spend time with you?
Made in His image, following his Son, and filled with His Spirit, we are more than capable to perform the duties God calls us to complete. Are you letting Him work in you and through you?
Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:11-14
7 By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News. NLT Ephesians 3:7
Oak and pine trees loomed over the ravaged young man. The wild mushrooms that had sustained him for a few days were now a distant memory in his savage, starving eyes. His desperate voice feebly called to what must have been a mirage, “Help me. Please! I am starving.”
Pierre, bearing an artist’s palette, turned to grab the crazed beggar just as he fell at the rich man’s feet. Pierre offered the beggar some bread and water and asked his name. Raoul was a journalist who had opposed the French government. Narrowly escaping the authorities in Paris, he had jumped from an apartment window and escaped by train to here, the Forest of Fontainebleau.
Pierre was sympathetic to Raoul’s plight and quickly secured an artist’s disguise from the local village. Raoul and Pierre were inseparable for weeks until safe harbor was secured outside of France for young Raoul.
Years passed and Pierre never heard again from Raoul.
In the spring of 1871, the air in Paris was heavy with accusation and acrimony. The Commune of Paris was beginning another revolution and everyone was tense. Pierre retreated to the banks of the Seine to ease his stress by painting.
Two guardsmen, watching Pierre intently, grabbed his landscape painting declaring Pierre a spy. He must be painting Paris’s vulnerable areas to share with Versailles, they accused. Pierre was apprehended and quickly dragged to the town hall where a full-time firing squad waited for such offenders.
An angry mob followed the terrified artist and his aggressive accusers. “Kill him! Kill him!” the incensed crowd chanted.
At the town hall the trial was little more than a nod from the captain of the guard. Pierre’s hands were bound behind him and he was led to the spot where he was to stand while the firing squad took aim. As Pierre turned to face the crowd and the raised rifles, he bravely lifted his chin.
Just then the Public Prosecutor, dressed in full uniform with a blazing three-colored sash, passed by the square. “Stop. Hold your fire,” he called to the guardsmen. Pierre could hardly breathe as he bit his lip in fear and confusion.
“Surely you remember me,” the Communard official smiled as he embraced the frightened Pierre.
It was none other than Raoul, the former political fugitive who had returned to his homeland after his escape from the Forest of Fontainebleau. At the sight of the two men’s embrace, the crowd changed their death chants to cheering. Pierre was released and given a pass to paint and travel wherever he wished.
Saved from death, Pierre lives to this day in the depths of shadow and light his oil paintings portray in museums around the world. He was none other than Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
Nearly two thousand years earlier, another famous artist was bound and falsely accused. Angry mobs chanted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” But there was no friend to rescue this artist from their terror and intent. Though he was killed, still he lives in each of his stunning creations.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Spring has arrived in full force, and the mowing has begun in earnest. With nearly three acres to keep trim and neat, we use a riding mower. I was mowing the border of our property next to the farmers’ field when I noticed a great disparity.
The Evans brothers had sprayed the farm field to kill off weeds before planting their crop. It gives the seedlings a head start, but it turns the field into a massive swathe of brown death. Our grass looked mighty healthy next to that dead field.
As I drove across my property I began to wonder: Am I living, like my green grass, but headed toward death; or am I dead already, headed toward life? I wasn’t sure where to go with this thought until I visited my parents this past weekend.
My father’s friend has just found out he has cancer that has progressed beyond treatment. He is waiting to die. Yet, even knowing that his time is short, he refuses to give his life to Christ. He has admitted that he knows that is exactly what he needs to do, but he just isn’t “ready”.
He is choosing to live in his death and to stay dead, forever. In the meantime, we keep praying that he will be the farmers’ field that is even now sprouting tiny plants of green life in the midst of the hard, cracked soil.
What about you? Are you living or dying?
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
It is nearly one year to the day that I did something many consider very foolish. I spent a boatload of money to take my family to the United Kingdom for a two week vacation. Honestly, it was a financially foolish thing to do. The house needed many repairs, we were preparing to send our first child off to college, and I needed a new car.
So why would we spend so much money on something so frivolous? Because it was time to celebrate. Last year was our 25th wedding anniversary, our older son graduated high school, and our younger son turned 16. It was a BIG year for the Stead household, and dinner out just didn’t seem to answer the enormity of it.
We spent fifteen days exploring castles, cathedrals, and coasts. We walked Hadrian’s wall. We meandered through the British Museum. We stood at Stonehenge and marveled. We tried new foods, new experiences, and a new side of the road!
Celebration can sometimes seem crazy. Yes, it was a big year, but did it really have to be such an extravagant event? I believe it did.
God put me and Matt together over 25 years ago to bless us and to glorify him. He gave us two fabulous children who have grown into respectable young men. God has blessed us with love, faithfulness, joy, and peace. That is worth celebrating, giving God all the glory.
Have I ever regretted the money spent? You would think I should have as we struggled financially at the end of last year. But no, not once have I regretted it. We gratefully accepted what God ordained and we celebrated like fools.
Have you ever blessed the Lord by celebrating something foolishly?
“As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart. . . (David told her) I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.” 2 Samuel 6:16, 22
April. Today is the last day of my least favorite month. Tomorrow brings the promise of flowers, spring’s new growth, and rest. Five years ago, on April 11, my older son fell from his bike and went into a grand mal seizure. He was unconscious for eternity, or ten minutes, depending whom you ask. April 11 has scarred me forever. I drive behind ambulances and remember the ride to the hospital. I watch kids riding bikes without helmets and cringe. I see the date on the calendar, and I relive the whole thing.
But April 2015 brought its own special miseries. April 10 I sat at my desk working on my newest book when the phone rang. “Mom, I think we need to call the police.”
It was my younger son telling me he had been mugged, beaten and robbed, in a local park while skateboarding. He was walking along with the three young men when they turned and attacked him. Two days later I left him at home while I went out of state to speak at a conference. My nerves were shot.
One week later that same son bought a car. I helped him navigate the process by checking the car out with a different mechanic, negotiating prices, and then filling out and signing all of the paperwork.
One week later, again the younger son, showed up on the porch holding his arm, unable to move it. He had wrecked while skateboarding and then driven his injured self home. We went straight to Urgent Care.
The month was filled with tragedies, court paperwork, legal documents, a house refinance, a Christian conference and a church retreat. Three rooms went through repairs and painting. Papers had to be graded, new business contacts made and information digested, not to mention the ordinary day-to-day laundry, meals, and cleaning. And of course, an ambulance to follow.
And that is why I go to church.
The inside is weary, hurting, and confused.
At church I am met by brothers and sisters who have also struggled this month with children breaking feet, having shoulder surgery, getting braces, breaking laws, breaking relationships and marriages, losing their grandchildren, losing a home. Together we remind ourselves that April’s showers bring May’s flowers and even if our April lasts the rest of our lives, May is just around the corner.
Do you have a church family to help you through the Aprils of life?
“Therefore, we do not lose heart, though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
I was feeling a bit too attached to my life here in the old farmhouse, so I made a list of forty spaces that needed reoriented in my life and set to them at the beginning of the Lenten season. My plan was to clear out one a day. I managed to accomplish all but three. I discovered that even what you think won’t take much time to fix will take a lot of effort to get organized and fully functional.
I made the list with large and small spaces in need of attention so that I could complete the tasks according to how busy my days were. A less hectic 9-5 day could accommodate a larger area to clean, and a crazy-busy 5-9 day could still involve a bit of dust bunny butchery.
It didn’t work. Yes, I managed to clean out most of the items I wanted to by the end of Lent, and there will be a large yard sale in a couple of weeks, but I didn’t stick to the daily task. Often I spent a couple days a week focusing on several spots and then left the other days to recover the messes that got made in the meantime. I was trying to prepare myself to be ready to go wherever and whenever the Lord called, but He kept calling me back to the same old mess.
And therein lies my Lesson of Lent: Whatever I think I need to learn will always be one-upped by the One who knows what I really need to learn.
It seems I needed a lesson on dirt and clutter. The house appeared clean on the surface, but like some white-washed sepulchers, the Febreze was barely hiding the stink. I needed to clear out the pantry, but milk was dripping onto the refrigerator shelf from an unsealed jug. As soon as I emptied out a dresser drawer, the missing other sock was found in the laundry. The linen closet in the bathroom was finally clean, but the daily use of sink and toilet was still in need of attention.
It seemed no matter how much I cleaned, there was always something else to clean. The sin in my life
was is never ending.
Some then question why bother trying to do better if you pass anyway. I turn back to cleaning for the answer. My house was “clean” but there was a lot of hidden dirt and clutter that wore me down, overwhelmed me, glared at me through the deepening shadows of evening while I tried to focus my attention elsewhere. I was tied down and strangling, now I am unbound and breathing deeply of pure, fresh air. Why would I want to go back to the old way of life?
Romans 6:8-14 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master,because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Captain has turned three now. We aren’t exactly sure when he was born, except that it was March, 2012. He came to us as a nine month old pup who had been taught a few tricks. The trick I especially like is if I say, “Crate”, he will go get in his crate and wait for me to shut the door and lock him in it. He expects a treat for doing it, but still he willingly gets into the crate.
The crate is a safe place for Captain to be. We don’t trust Captain to behave himself when we aren’t around. He isn’t allowed on the furniture, he isn’t supposed to eat food off the table or counters, and he is NEVER allowed in our bed. These are all things Captain will do if he isn’t being monitored. So when we leave, I say, “Crate.”
The crate has been in the corner of the hallway tucked behind the door for a couple of years, but in February we refinished the floors, and I moved the crate into the sun room. I moved a table into the space that used to house the crate and added a small lamp to light the hallway.
Now when I tell Captain to get into the crate, he goes under the table and into the corner protected by the door. He will patiently sit there fully expecting his treat, even though he could walk right back out from under the table.
Sometimes I, too, sit in a cage with invisible bars. I react to a situation in the same way I always have. I give way to anger because that has always been the response I turned to. I eat too much because I don’t want to admit that something is gnawing on me from the inside. Pride, vanity, selfishness, lying, cheating, lack of love, frustration, evil thoughts. . . Each of us has our own cage. Perhaps, like me, you have many cages.
I return to the cage because I can’t behave outside of it, but the truth is . . . God moved the cage and I am sitting in the open, fully free to move about on my own. On Easter morning over 2,000 years ago, Jesus opened the door to the cage and walked out. Ever since the cage has been empty.
Empty of the guilt, empty of the disgrace, empty of the punishment.
Stretch your arms out. Walk forward. There is no more cage.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:3-4
He was late. I paced up and down the stairs while my employers looked on.
“Are you sure you should go out with him?” Charlie asked me.
The time ticked by and my anger was growing. Perhaps I was a diva, but you didn’t keep me waiting. It showed a lack of respect, an indifference to the importance of my time and feelings. A few minutes was understandable, reasonable. But he was nearly an hour late at this point.
Just as I made up my mind to slam the door in his face if he ever showed it around here again, he trotted up the walkway with yellow roses in hand.
“Sorry I’m late. There was a funeral and the florist was running behind. I had to wait for the flowers until they could get it all straightened out,” he said with an apologetic smile. “You said yellow is your favorite.”
That was our second official date, followed by many, many more.
Today I cleaned out the trunk made by Matt’s grandfather so long ago. The baby blanket that wrapped me up as a child lay near the bottom surrounded by own children’s baby blankets. Pictures of vacations, friends’ announcements, and Cub Scout paraphernalia were scattered among thick albums of picture and scrap books. In a folder, gently placed between two sheets of paper, lay a yellow rose, dried, withered, and brown.
The card was still intact telling me that he was looking forward to the next year. He added a scripture at the signature. Philippians 3:13-14. I searched through the tabletop Bible until I found the passage: “I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Taking a deep breath, I sighed. I am so glad I forgot his tardiness and instead looked forward. If I hadn’t, the red rose that lay beneath the yellow might never have been. There under the first rose my husband ever gave me was the rose he brought when he asked me to marry him.
What do you need to forget and leave behind so that you can press forward, always toward the goal?
I spent Sunday looking at tiny little straps that tangled and twisted leaving me with no idea how or where you were to wear the item. I was attending a lingerie shower for a young lady from our church.
Sex is a great form of exercise and performed properly it burns off a lot of calories, but that is only the honeymoon sex. Let me tell you about twenty-five years of sex.
Twenty-five years of sex means comforting the loss of a job, a grandparent, an opportunity. Sex can be a funeral procession: slow, sad and somber. It wipes tears, holds close, offers protection.
Twenty-five years of sex means passionate exultation over the completion of a degree, the purchase of a home, the publication of a book. Sex can be fireworks, birthday cake, and Christmas. It’s exciting, fun enjoyment.
Twenty-five years of sex means easiness in each other’s company. Sex can be boring, habit, rote. It doesn’t care when your body makes noises after giving birth, it understands that you don’t look like you did, it loves you to your very core even though you said mean things yesterday.
Twenty-five years of sex means surprises, yes, still surprises. Sex can be laughter, adventure, anticipation. It means wearing something special or nothing at all, sending love letters, passionate kisses before leaving for work, and special phone calls.
Twenty-five years of sex is picnics, long walks in the woods, holding hands on the shore, and watching the stars come out at night. Twenty-five years of sex is wondering how bills will be paid, if having this baby is going to hurt as much as I think, and if that baby is really ready to fly the nest.
Twenty-five years of sex is the beginning of understanding God. It is relationship that lasts beyond looks, remains even when secrets are known, and still delights in growing closer.
Twenty-five years of sex is a gift that gets opened a little at a time.
“I remember the first time we met,” Greg was saying. “There was a terrible snow storm and Mom was home from work. I must have been four ‘cause it was right after we moved here. Anyway, she bundled me up like an Eskimo and shoved me out the door for some fresh air. I think she was tired of all my horsing around,” he chuckled.
The hot steam circled slowly above the ceramic mug he had wrapped his long, slender fingers around. He held the cup near his face breathing in the sweet aroma of chocolate and marshmallow. His eyes closed gently as a smile played at the corner of his mouth.
He exhaled and started again, “I met Sarah that day, too. All of the neighbor kids were out playing; I suppose all the moms on the street were ready for a break. Sarah offered to let me ride down the hill on her sled. She showed me how to steer by pushing on the front bar with my feet. We flew down the hill twenty times at least. Sarah was bigger, of course, so she pulled the sled up the hill. She always was a trooper.”
Greg rearranged his feet on the stool and wrapped the blanket a little more snugly around his legs. “Do you need more chocolate?” he asked the man in the overstuffed armchair.
“No, I’m fine, thanks; mine’s still full. I remember that day too. Your mom invited all of the kids in for hot chocolate.”
“Yes, she did,” Greg agreed thoughtfully. “It was the first time I had met any of the kids and I think she was trying to help me fit in. You were there, too, sitting across from Jim Harvey.”
A quiet knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. Greg turned in the chair and saw Sarah peeking in, “I need to come in for a bit, sorry.”
“No, no, come on in,” Greg motioned for her to join them.
Sarah walked noiselessly into the dim room. “I smell chocolate,” she sniffed.
“Marshmallows, too,” Greg nodded. “They smell better than the flowers her office sent.”
“They’re pretty though,” Sarah said as she rearranged the long stems of pink carnations and baby’s breath. “They remind me of school dances,” she smiled.
“Hmm, my first school dance was a winter formal,” Greg reminisced. “It started snowing during the dance and really poked it down! Mom hadn’t taught me how to drive in snow yet, so when I went out to the car I was scared.” Greg sipped his cocoa and then licked marshmallow crème off his upper lip.
“I used the pay phone in the gym to call Mom so she could come get me, but she told me I had to learn sometime and no time like the present. Mrs. Harvey was driving Jim home, he wasn’t old enough yet to drive, so she told me to follow her and stay in her tracks.”
“And we had hot chocolate when you got home that time, too,” the man nodded.
“Yes, you’re right,” Greg agreed.
“Hmm?” Sarah raised her head to look at Greg.
“Hot chocolate,” he repeated. “I had hot chocolate when I got back home. Mom had it all laid out on the table. I guess she was nervous about me driving home, too.”
“You have no idea,” Sarah sighed. “She was always nervous about you driving, and then you took off for college in the mountains. She and I shared a lot of hot cocoa that first year.”
“Of college?” Greg asked.
“No,” Sarah shook her head, “the first year of this; the last year of college.”
“Right,” Greg said as he looked at the small woman wrapped in quilts lying on the metal bed by the windows. “It was good of you to watch over her while I was away. She always liked you. She’s always had a knack for knowing who the good people are.”
The room grew quiet again. Frost bit at the window panes trying to eat its way into the darkening house. The two men sipped their mugs of chocolate and watched the bony form of the woman shift under the weight of the quilts.
“I’ll stay as long as you like,” the older man said.
“I know,” Greg said looking away from the bed.
Sarah glanced at Greg and walked over to the hot pot on the sideboard. “I think I will join you for some after all,” she said as she poured a steaming mug and added three large marshmallows.
“You really load it on, huh?” Greg grinned as she sat down on the piano bench that had been pulled in for extra visitors.
“I love a good mug. Your mom taught me how to do it perfectly,” Sarah added as she inhaled the pleasant aroma. “It warms you from the heart, she always said. She was right, too,” Sarah smiled at Greg. “It’s nearly time, you know.”
“Yes, I know. I just need one more mug,” Greg whispered.
Sarah took his favorite cup and refreshed it from the pot. “Here,” she said, “One more.”
They slowly sipped the richness until every last drop was drained. The man was standing by her bedside now and he scooped her slender frame up in his arms. She barely stirred.
“I’ll join you for some more chocolate whenever you like,” the gentleman said tenderly as he turned to walk out the door.
“She’s gone,” Sarah’s voice cracked as she put the cup tenderly on the table.
“I know,” Greg said to both of them, as he began pouring another cup.
Let my prayer be accepted as sweet-smelling incense in your presence. Let the lifting up of my hands in prayer be accepted as an evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2