Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Even as we look back with longing at summer, we find autumn has its own joys. I love fall for many reasons, and browsing through church bazaars is one of them. We live across the street from a church, so it's a September tradition to walk over and look for treasures.

This past Saturday the girls and I found nearly new jeans for $2, "Little Women" and "Swiss Family Robinson" videos for $1, and Liana got a big, bright, fluffy, yellow duck for only $1. (Family members know the significance of the duck.) Excited about our finds, we headed over to the junk room. Everything from toys, bedding, lamps, dishes, to old phonograph records, typewriters and food processors were crammed into a small room. The girls began sorting through a table jumbled high with rejected old toys in no particular order and without prices.

Arielle pulled a doll from the heap. In wonderment she asked, "Is this an American Girl doll?" The doll was filthy, her hair tangled and scissored carelessly and her vinyl body marked up. But the big round eyes and the cute smile revealing two little teeth were unmistakable. It was an American Girl doll. I saw Arielle's hesitation. Even if it was, did she want it? She was thoughtful as she looked into the brown eyes of the doll. I told her we could clean it up. Arielle looked doubtful as she studied the doll. "Do you want to take her home?" Finally deciding, she firmly answered yes.

We did need to check the price. New dolls like this sell for $87, but I wasn't prepared to pay too much for this old thing. The woman said, "All dolls are one dollar." As I paid, I reminded her that this was a great bargain. She shrugged. "It's all beat up."

We took the doll home and washed and trimmed her hair. We scrubbed her body with a soapy toothbrush. As she was drying, I sewed her new clothes. Arielle was thrilled with the result. "I just love her!" she proclaimed.

As we worked, I told Arielle that some people are like this doll. Maybe they don't look so good. Maybe just living has beat them up. Maybe no one notices them and no one thinks they are worth much. But to God, each person is precious and valuable. He rescues us and redeems us and adopts us into his family where we are forever loved. See the picture at the top? They are Arielle's two "daughters." Which is which? No one cares. They are both home, cozy and safe, snuggling under great-Grandma's quilt.

After thumbing through a baby name book, Arielle chose the name Francesca for her new doll. It means "free." Free from the past, free to have a new life.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" II Corinthians 5:17.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A mom's work

In the last post we saw that Jesus brought glory to his father by completing the work God gave him to do. We're all working hard, but are we doing the work God wants us to do?

My role and my work became more clear to me the other day as I was reading through II Timothy. Glorious summer passed by in a flash and now the girls and I descend the stairs to our classroom at 9:00 sharp. At first we were excited about our new school year, but it's five weeks in and they are balking. "It's too hard." "I don't want to." "Why do we have to?" Or they are fighting. "She's looking at me." "She touched me." And then it gets me going too, and the joy of homeschooling seeps out like the air from a stale balloon.

I was reading through II Timothy after a particularly difficult week. This is the last letter Paul wrote before his death. He is reminding Timothy of what is truly important. I had just begun reading and took notice of 1:11. "And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher." Yes, I'm a teacher--of reading, math, science, and history, but God has also called me to teach the gospel. I am a herald of the good news! (Aren't we all?) Does the importance of this task sustain us in our daily frustrations? In 2:2 it says we are to entrust this gospel to reliable men (women and children) who will teach others. "God's solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: The Lord knows those who are his." 2:19. My daughters came into this family by no accident. They belong to God. They have also been appointed heralds and teachers of the gospel. I have the privilege and obligation to pass the baton to them before I'm gone. It should be my primary concern.

In verses 2:3-7 we're told this job is like a war--it's hard and we need to listen to orders from our commanding officer. It's like a race--it takes training. It's like farming--we'll reap a harvest. "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." 2:10. Endure everything. In light of the early church Paul was speaking to, my problems seem miniscule. I think about how lost I would be without the comfort, the peace, and the security I have in Jesus to face life in this world. I want that for my daughters. Without the hope of the gospel, the alternative is also a possibility: "People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power." 3:2-5.

But what does that have to do with our day-to-day plodding along? Teaching, laundry, cooking, cleaning, over and over again, no time for much of anything else. (Even this blog!) Do you collapse into bed at the end of the day wondering if anyone appreciates anything you do? Do my children and husband care that I give every hour of my day to them? As I was feeling sorry for myself I was reminded I'm to be "an instrument for noble purposes, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work." 2:21. Am I useful to God?

The rest of the book has instructions for mothers. We are to teach and practice these things: "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead she must be kind to everyone, able to teach, NOT RESENTFUL. Those who oppose her (and they do) she must GENTLY instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth..." 2:22-25. (Emphasis mine.)

As Paul told Timothy, I say to my daughters, "Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." 3:14, 15.

A final word: "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction." 4:2. Great patience! Careful instruction! My example and my attitude says so much more than my words. Is this hard? Yes! If only I can say with Paul, "I am already being poured out like a drink offering..." 4:6. That's the way its supposed to be.

A friend of mine said she wanted to be running when she passes the baton, not having her children look around in the dirt for it after she's dead. Keep running--finish the race! But remember it's a RELAY.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

For Dominic

Disturb us, Lord when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

--Sir Francis Drake, 1577

I thought of my son Dominic when I heard this. He has big, bold dreams and he's never sailed close to shore. The picture at the top is the view from his doorstep of his home (for now) in Wales. How fitting!

May God disturb us all and never let us be complacent when there is so much to be done in this world. In John 17:4 Jesus prayed to his father, "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." What did God give you to do?

Dominic, my prayers are with you as you ventures on ever wider seas.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Reflections at the shore

I'll continue our topic next time, but first a few thoughts about our family trip last week.

We have a yearly ritual that would devastate the girls if we discontinued it. We go to the Jersey shore every September. Maybe Fred and I look forward to it as much as they do. But why? We do exactly the same things every single time we go.

We stay at the same hotel, usually on the exact same floor. Every morning with Dad, the girls run down the hall in their pajamas to get coffee to bring back to the room. After breakfast we rent a surrey and ride up and down the boardwalk for an hour. We always go past the place where the sign says "No Surreys Past This Point", but we go anyway because we were told it's okay after Labor Day. Then some bossy person always feels the need to reprimand us. But that's part of the fun. We have to go to this forbidden spot to get the homemade doughnuts. The rest of the day is filled with endless walking up and down the boards and endless hours in the sand collecting shells and splashing in the waves until the sun spreads its golden evening light over our faces. Dad always helps construct a sand castle and the girls are fascinated to watch it slowly flood and wash away with the incoming tide, like some ancient civilization. In the evenings after dinner, the amusement park awaits. The girls pile into the wagon, the wheels clackety-clacking across the boards as we pull them for miles. We always buy caramel corn, uncovered and overflowing, of course, to eat while we journey back to the hotel.

Every trip really is a bit different though. On one of our first trips Liana was a baby and some adjustments had to be made for her. She slept on the beach in the wagon, a huge striped towel wrapped around her. As she grew, she first ventured into the sea in the safety of my arms, her legs velcroed to my waist. Then in no time it seems, she learned to jump the waves with me holding both her hands until my arms ached. This year, she refused to hold my hand at all, jumping all on her own with her sister. Arielle used to enjoy special time with Dad playing miniature golf while the baby napped, but those days are gone now that Liana is older and wants to join them.

What will change next year? We figure this is the last year for the wagon. Surely Arielle won't ride in it when she is nearly 10! I probably won't ride the carousel again. Next year Liana will be tall enough to go alone. I think now of my first ride at this shore, holding tightly to a tiny Arielle high on the painted horse. A rush of memories had filled my mind and I was once again riding with my own baby sister in Balboa Park in San Diego, my grandmother carefully keeping her eye on us. Oh, what wonderful times...

When the girls are teenagers, will they still walk the boardwalk with us, their old parents? A day will come when our daughters can't come to the shore at all. They will be in college, or married, or living far away. Then Fred and I will be one of the elderly couples on the benches, watching the young families stroll by, lost in our memories. But it's really all about the girls' memories.

Will they one day hear a snippet of the song, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and remember their dad doing a little dance in front of their favorite golf place that continuously played that song on a loud speaker? Will the smell of burnt sugar make them think of that caramel corn they ate in the wagon, shivering in the chill night air? When they sit on a bench, teaching their own children how to eat an ice cream cone, will they remember how patient Dad was when their ice cream dripped all over their hands? Maybe they won't remember details, but hopefully they will remember how very much they were LOVED. That's really why we continue our family rituals, isn't it?

Each trip I thank God for one more year we're all together, because these times really aren't endless at all. For generations the waves have deposited their treasures on the sand and children have delighted in them. But our time here on earth is short. "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." James 4:14.

On our last night on the boards, instead of my arms aching from holding my babies, my heart was aching for my little girls growing up too quickly. I looked out over the ocean and noticed a full moon, the surface of the water shimmering in its light. Beautiful, powerful, mysterious. It's a gift, a sign of God's presence and his endless love for us. I'm reminded to put my hope in him, who "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." I Timothy 6:17. Just like we do with our children.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Encounters with God

After lifting their faces to the sun all summer, my sunflowers are now bowing their heads. I searched the internet for pictures of people prostrate before God and found only a few--and they were all pictures of Muslims. It was Liana who reminded me of the flowers bowing down.

What happens when people are aware they are in the presence of God? I've been looking back through scripture and found some interesting encounters. See how they compare with your own.

In the very beginning, after Adam and Eve chose to please themselves rather than God, they heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden. Their reaction? "They hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden." Genesis 3:8. Why was that? Adam answered, "I was afraid..." vs. 10. Then, when confronted with sin, he blamed his wife. (Some things never change.) Have you ever hidden from God out of fear or shame?

Jacob hadn't seen his brother, Esau, in years. He'd deceived Esau and cheated him out of his inheritance and Esau held a grudge and wanted to kill him. Years later, Jacob found out Esau was on his way for a reunion and Jacob was terrified. All through the night before their meeting, Jacob wrestled with God and was even injured in the struggle. At daybreak Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." Genesis 32:26. Can we relate to wrestling with God in prayer? Are we as persistent? Maybe, like Jacob, we'll never be the same after this kind of encounter. By the way, Jacob and Esau were reconciled. God answered.

Moses' dramatic meeting with God is famous, thanks to the movie, "The Ten Commandments." From a flaming shrub, God called out to Moses and Moses listened. " 'Do not come any closer,' God said. 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.' " Exodus 3:5. Removing shoes was a sign of reverence and humility, and we assume Moses did as God said. Then Moses "hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God." vs. 6. God commissioned him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and Moses was obedient to fulfill God purpose. Later on, after Moses was given the Ten Commandments for the second time and descended from Mount Sinai, we read that, "he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord." Exodus 34:29. He was so changed that he scared people. Have our encounters with God changed us? Do people notice?

When Samuel was just a boy, the Lord called his name, and once he recognized that voice, he lay still and said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." I Samuel 3:10. Do we find the time to quiet our hearts and listen?

Isaiah had a vision and saw the Lord seated on a throne in heaven in all his glory. This is what Isaiah said, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." Isaiah 6:5. God's righteousness next to ours is a frightening thing to behold. But Isaiah was assured that his guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for. Then when the Lord asked him, "Whom shall I send?" he answered, "Here I am. Send me!" Isaiah 6:7, 8.

Everything changes when we know we're redeemed, loved, his. Next time we will see how people responded to meeting up with Jesus. What happened when you first encountered him?