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  • Cicada Song

    If you live in Tennessee, the Carolinas, Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, or Illinois you have something in common—cicadas that have been underground for 13 years are now trying to fly inside your mouth or get caught in your hair. In comparison to the annual “dog day cicadas,” the green and brown ones that tenderly serenade us every summer and mostly stay out of our way, these periodical cicadas are generally regarded as a creepy nuisance with their bulging red eyes and the bzzzz-ttt sound they make when you try to kick them away from your door before going inside. I like to go for walks in the morning, and there’s no ignoring their presence when I’m trekking down the sidewalk. This emergence, which some people have dubbed “cicadapocalypse,” includes millions of these bugs just droning away. The male cicadas make the noisiest sounds as they call out, looking for females cicadas willing to mate. The males are designed with a hollow abdomen where the sound can bounce around, ramping up the volume so that their combined “wolf-whistle” can be as loud as a motorcycle engine. Then the single-and-ready-to-mingle females respond with a clicking sound made with their wings. On a recent walk as I listened to the pulsing whine of the cicadas, I thought about the verses that describe nature singing praises to God. Read through Psalm 96 and you’ll be rewarded with poetry such as: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord.” Thinking of the cicadas’ sound as a song meant for God beautifies their noisy vibrations, upgrading it from an annoyance to an echoing hymn of praise for a Creator who kept them safe 8-feet underground for more than a decade. And just like those male cicadas who are crying out for someone (in their case, a red-eyed lady friend with a talent for wing-clicking), we can also call out for (capital-L) Love. Deep inside our hollowness, where fear and loneliness and sorrow can threaten to drown us, we can begin to rejoice with a single word or thought centered on God’s goodness. We can let even that small contribution of praise echo inside us until it grows into a symphony of worship.

  • Character Shoes

    blochworld.com In college, my older sister was cast in the role of Cinderella’s Stepmother in the musical Into the Woods. She was told to buy a pair of character shoes which she would wear during the performance. I remember going with her to a store which sat above a dance studio that specialized in theater and dance apparel. If memory serves, these shoes were tan-colored, had a bit of a heel and an adjustable strap across the ankle. I’m no expert on the rules and practices of theater, but apparently these character shoes were meant to help her with dancing, balance, and generally just being on her feet during multiple rehearsals and performances. Some performers claim that just strapping on these shoes gets them “into character,” making them stand straighter and walk more gracefully. It’s often surprising how the things we wear can change not only the parts of us that people see on the outside but also affect the inside, too. This phenomenon is why we say things like: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” and “Clothes make the man.” (Or as Mark Twain famously finished the thought, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”) We see this exhibited in superheroes drastically changing their identities when they change clothes (think Superman in a phone booth). Since ancient times, it’s not only clothes that change a person’s attitude and confidence, but also armor. When the shepherd boy David volunteers to fight against Goliath—the giant with the bronze helmet, a coat of bronze armor weighing in over 100 pounds, and a pair of bronze greaves—King Saul’s prep session includes a fitting for Giant-resistant armor which was too big and altogether unnecessary for David. David sets the armor aside and claims a victory which was only possible because of God’s help. Heading to the Book of Ephesians, we read about a different kind of armor—a spiritual defense. In Ephesians 6:10-11, the author Paul says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Paul lists the components of this armor: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the “gospel of peace” shoes, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. Each part has its own specific function, but they’re meant to protect and help the wearer to “stand firm,” to remain on our feet when times get tough and faith gets tested. Five of the six parts are defensive, with one piece—"the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”—listed as the only weapon. Unless you’re in a Sunday school class and you’re learning the parts of the Armor of God with plastic costume pieces, these aren’t physical items to hold in your hands. We can’t wake up each morning and strap on our gospel sneakers, though that would be nice (if they have good arch support). I did a little digging into what this might have meant—"your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”—and it’s surprising. Just like Goliath and his bronze greaves (for you soccer moms, picture metal shin guards), these “shoes” may have actually been coverings to protect the soldiers’ legs from hidden traps and sharp sticks which would be strategically placed in the way of a marching army. These soldiers weren’t always able to avoid these dangers, so they had to prepare for them. And if we’re talking about the "gospel of peace," then what we’re preparing for is peace-making. This is my new way of thinking of character shoes: Whatever I put on my feet, I should pretend that they are my gospel sneakers. Sharp words and precarious pitfalls are just waiting to trip me up so that I’ll speak and act and think in a way that doesn’t promote peace or the gospel. So I have to be ready. Hopefully, if I know I’m sporting this spiritual footwear, I won’t just stand straighter and walk more gracefully. I’ll stand firmer and talk with more grace.

  • What's in a name?

    I have a friend who adopted her son after several years of fostering him. She said that when the official court date drew closer, she told him it was time for him to call her mom. It was difficult at first. His associations and connections with the idea of motherhood were fraught with complicated memories and preconceptions, but she knew that calling her mom was just another step toward the familial bonds becoming more real. That’s the thing about names. They stand for more than just a word to hear your mom call out the back door to say that supper is ready. They carry a weight all their own, and we see this in Scripture. From Adam giving names to all of the animals in Eden to Jesus calling out “Lazarus” in front of an open tomb to John prophesying in Revelations about our names being written in the Book of Life, names play an important role in the history of humankind. Because the names that we assign others are so important, we also see a variety of names for God. Elohim (a generic name for God first seen in Genesis 1:1 which means “Mighty One”), Adonai (“Lord”), El Roi (“the God who sees me”), El Shaddai (“God Almighty”), Jehovah Jireh (“Provider”), Jehovah Rapha (“Healer”), Jehovah Shalom (“Peace”), and Yahweh (the personal name for I AM, the Sovereign Lord), just to name a few. And then there’s Abba, Ancient of Days, and the Alpha and Omega. Why so many names? That’s just how awe-inspiring, unfathomable and yet accessible our Heavenly Father is. (Heavenly Father…That’s another one!) These names give us insight into who He is while also revealing how He relates to us. Reading the story of Samson recently, it was pointed out to me that you can predict the ups and downs of this has-really-bad-judgement Judge from the Old Testament by the names he uses for God. All through his story, super-strong Samson is careless with this unearned gift that God gave him. He could’ve led the people to follow God and be free of their enemies, but instead he starts a bunch of fights and lights foxes on fire. Such a waste! When he talks about God he calls him Elohim—not what you would use if you had an intimate relationship with Him. By the end of his life, when he was a blind prisoner trotted out before the Philistines for their amusement, he finally realized Who he had been dealing with all along—Yahweh. Once they had placed Samson’s hands on the pillars holding up the pagan temple, he prayed, “Sovereign Lord (Yahweh), remember me.” He had to be brought so low to find a place where he could get personal with God. Maybe he thought he could continue to satisfy every sinful whim and desire as long as he kept a safe distance between him and God. Silly Samson! His story is a great reminder for me to seek out God, not hide from Him. I can approach the Mighty One who sees me, provides for me, and offers healing. I can receive peace from my Yahweh. Then, if I ever get bold enough, I will do what Moses did in Exodus 33 when he asked God to show Moses His glory. That’s when God replied, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord (Yahweh), in your presence.” I don’t think I could stand all that glory on this side of heaven, but oh, can you imagine the fireworks display we’ll see just from Him proclaiming His name? I can hardly wait!

  • Apples to Oranges

    The other day, I asked my husband Brent and our younger son Ezra to list some phrases that they like and some that they don’t like. (I’m a real word-nerd, so these are the kinds of conversations they are frequently subjected to.) A few of the ones we liked were: “Can’t account for taste.” “Wouldn’t be happy even with a ham under each arm.” (That was my contribution for this category.) “Consider the source.” And Ezra’s favorite: “Let him cook.” Phrases that we didn’t much care for were: “Stay in your own lane” and “Getting out of my comfort zone.” I also added: “To know her is to like her.” (After the publication of my first book, I had an article written about me and the journalist wrote, “To know her is to like her,” instead of the actual phrase “to know her is to love her.” I’m just a girl standing here, asking you to love me!) Another phrase I added to our DON’T LIKE list was: “It’s like comparing apples to oranges.” According to the wizards of the internet, the phrase “comparing apples to oranges” comes from a collection of proverbs written by John Ray in the 1600’s. Strangely enough, he originally compared apples and oysters, which is a completely different situation. Other languages have similar idioms used for supposedly disproportionate comparisons. In French, they compare apples to pears or cabbages to carrots. In Spanish, they compare potatoes to sweet potatoes, which are barely distinguishable. In Serbian, they compare grandmothers to toads, and in Romanian they compare grandmothers to machine guns and cows to long-johns. (Now we’re talking! Those are actually different!) My favorite is the Polish phrase which translates: “What does the gingerbread have to do with the windmill?” Which, you have to admit, is a valid question! I wish I could say that making ridiculous comparisons is all in fun and only fruit-related, but we all know how problematic life and living with others can get when we spend too much time comparing ourselves to the people around us. If I only made decisions based on what others were doing, I would be in a world of trouble. It’s the lifestyle equivalent of ignoring the speed limit and instead deciding how fast to drive based solely on the speed of the strangers driving the cars around me. Absolute bedlam (and probably what I encounter most of the times that I drive on I-24)! In Galatians 1:10, the Apostle Paul asks, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In other words, who are we trying to impress here...other people who seem to be better than us in various ways? If that's the case, then we're giving those other "better" people too much influence over the way that we see ourselves, the blessings that God has given us, and the paths that He’s provided for us in our suffering. All too often, we mistakenly look to people to learn more about God—about His generosity, His justice, His mercy—but what we should really be doing is looking to God to learn where to aim our shot. Then we can be Christ to the people around us. No apples vs. oranges or carrots vs. cabbages. Just an eternal soul covered in a human shell trying to reflect Jesus to another eternal soul covered in a human shell, a fellow servant of Christ.

  • Not enough

    Every six months or so, depending on what’s going on in my life, I have a Knock-Down. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s kind of like a melt-down. Though it may involve a grown-up version of a temper tantrum, it mostly looks like me trying to carry too many things—burdens that are both my own and others’—and I finally get knocked down to the floor, pinned under the figurative weight. In this particular case, the “floor” was the backseat of my car which was not running but parked in the garage with all the lights off. I just needed a few minutes. The problem with me is that I forget that I can’t do everything. I take on the troubles and tribulations of my kids and friends and whatever other hot mess is brewing around me, forgetting that I’m not equipped to fix it all. When I fail to repair what’s broken, I beat myself up. I tell myself, “You are not enough,” and that’s actually true. My issue is that I don’t like that reality—the reality of being inadequate. When I had my most recent Knock-Down, I received a word there on the floor of that dark backseat. It was the same thing the Apostle Paul heard from the Lord when he asked God three times to take away his “thorn in the flesh,” some sickness or temptation or persecution which plagued him. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” When those words cropped up in my mind, I was frustrated and bereft, so I questioned them. “Sufficient?” I asked God. “What kind of word is that? That sounds like it’s barely enough…just adequate. Where’s the abundance?” Then I heard the word that scared me—enough. Maybe it was God saying, “That’s enough of your whining, young lady.” Or maybe He was saying “Daughter, you can never do enough. You can never be perfect enough for your kids or be perfect enough as a Christ-follower. You are not enough, which is why I sent my Son. This is about My grace, not your competency.” It’s a popular notion to say “I’m enough,” but what about when you’re feeling 100 miles shy of the mark. When I say that I’m enough, then it’s all about me. It implies that I can almost make it there on my own. So all I have to do is just admit the slight discrepancy in reaching my goal this time and learn how to fake my aptitude the other 364 days of the year. But the problem with this plan is that I’ll forget how much I need Him. At least I’ll forget until I’m forced to remember. Until the walls of my own self-reliance come crashing down around me, broken bricks and debris hitting my arms as I shield my face and run out of the wreckage. And I’ll wonder where I’ve gone wrong. How did someone so efficient and capable allow these cracks to develop? That’s when I realize that it’s way past time to run up the white flag. I surrender. It’s time to say that I don’t just need God to plug up the holes in the dam I’ve built. I need Him to part the waters. I don’t just need God to clean the smudges on my glasses. I need Him to heal me of my blindness. I don’t just need God to cut up my meat into bite-sized pieces and butter my bread for me. I need Him to make manna rain from the sky. I’m not enough. It’s true. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) Or as the old hymn says it: “I need Thee every hour, Most gracious Lord; No tender voice like Thine can peace afford. I need Thee, oh, I need Thee; Every hour I need Thee. Oh, bless me now, My Savior! I come to Thee.”

  • Too broken

    I broke the bracelet my husband gave me for Christmas. It survived about 35 days before the slender gold chain got hung on the corner of a filing cabinet and snapped. Once I realized what had happened, I crumpled onto the floor and cried. I told myself, “This is why we can’t have nice things, Abby.” I tried to see if I could fix it, but the links are too small for me to open, hook together, and bend back. It was just too broken. I slipped the ruined bracelet with the initials of our four kids into my purse. Even though I felt defeated, I couldn’t just toss it. So a few days later, when I spied the thin line of jewelry in the zipper pocket of my bag, I thought about a song that’s been playing on the radio a lot lately. It’s called “Never,” and it’s by Tasha Layton. The chorus goes like this: Never forgotten Never forsaken Never abandoned Not for a second I am safe in Your hands Always and forever You’re never not working My heart is the proof There’s not a broken too broken for You Will there ever come a day when You’re not holding me together? You say “never” I thought about that line—There’s not a broken too broken for You—and what that means for those of us who follow Christ. Colossians 1 says it better than I ever could: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” When I break something other than jewelry—whether it’s a promise to a friend or a rule I’ve ignored or a perfect moment I’ve ruined with selfishness—whenever I’ve been on the destructive end of throwing mud on God’s goodness, I’m at a loss. It’s like I’m tasked with repairing the Colosseum, armed only with a half-roll of duct tape. I fool myself into thinking I can fix whatever I’ve broken, but I’ve come to see that I can’t do it alone. Once I shed that undeserved job title of Solitary Queen of the Universe, I can relax in the arms of a Creator who can repair creation where we’ve broken it. Even when we’re unreliable, He’s constant. We can trust Him, because there’s never been a time—past, present, or future—that He hasn’t already visited. And He’s holding all things together. Or as a different song likes to say, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

  • Crocheting

    With the cold weather in full swing, now is the perfect time for me to spend my evenings crocheting. There’s not much that makes me happier in the wintertime than rolling yarn into balls and then turning those fluffy orbs into something usable. I don’t do a lot of fancy projects, mostly just throws and scarves, but sitting on my spot on the sofa with a glowing lamp on one side and my husband on the other while I crochet lines of chains and stitches is my idea of fun. There’s something so satisfying about creating a crocheted product. I’ve never built a brick wall (unless you count Legos), but I wonder if it’s a similar experience. In crocheting, you have to start by making a chain. This looks like a braided piece of yarn, but it’s actually the foundation for what comes next. Once the chain is complete, you turn the braid and make another row, building into what’s below. You keep building and turning and checking that you’re still making the desired shape. (My first few attempts always looked like a trapezoid with the sides unintentionally increasing or decreasing.) You learn to discern the criss-crossing of yarn—the tiny diagonal, horizontal, and vertical lines—to locate the exact opening where your crochet hook should go to make each stitch. It becomes automatic, and before you know it, your hands have made a rectangle or a square (hopefully not a trapezoid). Recently, my husband and I have enjoyed watching the National Geographic TV show First Alaskans while I crochet in the evenings. The show follows several families in different areas of Alaska as they use time-tested techniques and customs to survive in challenging conditions. Other than the extreme temperatures and the hardiness and resourcefulness of the people, the most remarkable part of the show for me is to see how they take care of each other. In one episode, a family with young sons go out to hunt a walrus so they can provide for the older members of their village, people who physically are no longer able to track, shoot, and butcher these giant animals. Without their help, these “elders” would go hungry. I watched how the people on the show chopped wood for older relatives and shared their catch of fish. They didn’t just fill up their own freezers. They considered the needs of others, as it says in Romans 15:2 “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” And as I watched the show and crocheted my rectangle, I thought about how we are called to take care of each other, even if we don’t live in Alaska. Jesus had plenty to say about loving our neighbors. When He was prompted by a request from a man in the middle of an inheritance squabble with his brother, Jesus reminded the crowd, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Then Jesus told the people a story about a man who looked at the abundance of his crops. Instead of seeing the surfeit of grain and thinking of all the people he could bless with it, the man decided to build bigger barns to keep it all for himself. Jesus concluded the story by saying, “A person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” We have the opportunity to build something—bigger barns to stand as monuments to our own importance and self-reliance or better communities. But healthy communities don’t happen overnight. They are built, selfless deed by selfless deed and kind word by kind word. This kind of construction will stand the test of time, effecting generations to come.

  • Drink more water

    My New Year’s resolution this year was to drink more water. This is one of those goals that is laughably obvious and somehow difficult at the same time. If our great-grandparents saw the list of resolutions I found on the internet, they would think that humans of the future are bananas. Aside from the popular “drink more water,” I found that some of the other top goals for 2024 are exercise more, improve sleep, and cook meals at home. Upon hearing those, Great Grandma and Great Grandpa would’ve said, “Stop your whining, you whipper-snappers!” (I don’t actually know if they would speak that way, but stay with me.) “How ‘bout you plow the fields all day and see if that’ll fix what ails you!” But back to drinking more water…now that I’ve been meeting my goal of drinking 64-ounces of water a day for a couple weeks, I can safely say that I feel better. My mid-afternoon headaches are mostly gone. I think it also helps with those mid-afternoon snack cravings. It turns out I was more thirsty than hungry. The thing that has helped me the most with my resolution has been my water bottle. On one side of the green, plastic jug, there are lines and numbers with 32 at the top. If I fill it up and drink two of these, I’m done! It’s measurable, which makes meeting my goal a lot easier. I know if I’ve accomplished my water-drinking for the day, and I also know if I haven’t. Maybe it’s part of my personality, but I like quantifiable targets. I like boxes to check and lists to cross off. And being a ruler-follower (another part of my personality), I like to know if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. If you look at Jesus’ ministry, you see Him giving His followers goals and standards. Sure, there were times when He taught with stories and riddles, but by the end of His time on earth, Jesus made it plain for His disciples. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer…” Jesus says in John 13. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus offers both the goal and the test to judge if the goal is met. He tells us to be His disciples. Then he says to love each other with feet-washing, little-child-receiving, wholeness-restoring, cross-dying love. The measurement to know if we are Christ-followers isn’t how insightful our arguments are or how many degrees we have hanging on the wall. It’s how we treat each other. In Mark 9:41, Jesus gives us the baseline action for showing that we belong to Him. “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” So now when I’m chugging my 64-ounces of water, I can remember His words. I can be reminded that showing up and showing love all begins with something as simple as meeting a need of another person.

  • The Ghost of Christmas Future

    The Last of the Spirits, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. During Christmas this year, I must’ve watched half a dozen different versions of The Christmas Carol. Whether it was with Mickey or Muppets, a parody or a podcast, the storyline on all of these sitcoms and movies took the same basic route each time I watched one. Through studying his past, present and future, a selfish person sees the error of his ways. In Charles Dickens’ version, after Ebenezer Scrooge’s depressing end is revealed, he asks the third ghost in a shaky voice, “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?” After three or four times watching this scene play out, I started thinking about what would happen if people really were visited by a trio of spirits who could sum it all up. What if we all knew how it was going to end, and we were given the news with enough warning that we could change the ending? In 2 Kings 20, we read a similar story of a man who gets a second chance, but instead of three ghosts, King Hezekiah was visited by a prophet. Hezekiah had been sick, and Isaiah came to tell him he wouldn’t recover. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. He cried and cried, asking God for more time. Before Isaiah had left the palace, God told the prophet, “Go back to the king and tell him I have heard his prayer and seen his tears. Tell him I will heal him, and he will live 15 more years.” Now if this were one of those adaptations of The Christmas Carol, this would be the point when Hezekiah changed. He would wake up the next morning and throw open the window on a new day. He would call out to some passerby, “What day is it? Am I really still alive?” Then he would spend his last 15 years devoting himself to the Temple, God’s word and His people. He may have started off that way, but he actually squandered that extra decade and a half. When an envoy from Babylon came to town, he took them through his storehouses and bragged about his wealth and good fortune. It was as if those miserable, tear-soaked hours he had spent praying for God to save him had never happened. Because of his arrogance, Babylon would end up taking everything and everyone. I feel pretty certain that we won’t be visited by ghosts like Ebenezer Scrooge or get the King Hezekiah experience, but with the end of another year upon us, we get the chance to reflect and rededicate. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions or setting goals for 2024, I’ve decided to list what I know to be true. I will thank God for the promises in Scripture. I will try to praise Him in good and bad times. As the popular saying goes, “I may not know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future.”

  • Playing with dolls

    Growing up the middle sister of three girls, we had a lot of Barbie dolls. We liked to make haute-couture dresses for them using scraps of fabric we would sew directly onto the dolls and then cut the dresses off of them when we were ready to change their outfits. (Our Barbies were so fashionable! They wouldn’t have dared wear any of their wardrobe more than once, anyway!) For their house, we would use lengths of yarn to mark out rooms for them. Then we’d create furniture in these rooms out of whatever we found lying around—wooden blocks, Legos, cardboard. We weren’t a Barbie Dream House-kind of family. We were more like a “dream it up yourself from junk around the house” kind of family. It would drive me crazy that we would work and work to get everything set up—the rooms just so, the outfits picked out, even a storyline devised for Barbie and Ken and their friends—then, just when we were about to start actually playing, my older sister would decide she was done. She would leave me and our youngest sister to either play out the drama by ourselves or clean it up. Normally we would just abandon the game at that point, too. All the fun was gone without the leadership and participation of our oldest sister. Since it’s been quite a while since I last played with Barbies, I’ve come to realize since then that life is nothing like playing with dolls. With dolls, you can make them say and do exactly what you want. You hold your Barbie’s waist and make her hop up and down while she talks to the other Barbies. When you want her to go to bed, she lies down and instantly goes to sleep. When you want her to wear high heels, she doesn’t complain. (Although, those shoes rarely stayed on her tiny, tippy-toed feet.) In real life, you can’t get people to do what you want AT ALL. They don’t respond the way you want them to, and they often behave in unpredictable, irrational ways which are completely off-script. The older I get, the more I realize that life is so messy. Couples fight. Kids make bad choices. Adults are selfish. Being a human around other humans can be downright impossible at times. After a while, we no longer recognize the life we’re living day to day because things didn’t turn out quite like we thought they would. So what’s a former Barbie operator to do? Proverbs 19:21 gives me a good starting place. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Or in James 4: “And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, ‘Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.’” (The Message) So I’ll start by acknowledging that I’m not in control. Then I’ll honor my commitments, even though those commitments are made with other flawed, disappointing humans. I’ll try to die to self and live for Jesus, which won’t usually result in me getting my desired outcome on my terms. And I’ll have to wake up every day that the Lord gives me and start that list over again. Because I don’t live in a Barbie Dream House. I’m “a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing.” And God has called me to love big through this chaotic mess.

  • The Coventry Carol

    Apart from the few cheesy holiday songs which make me want to rend my garments Old Testament-style, I love Christmas music. Once I start to consistently hear these tunes playing in stores and on my car radio and at home, I begin to believe that Christmas really is coming again, which brings on warm feelings of happiness and goodwill toward all. One of the most moving and haunting Christmas songs is the “Coventry Carol.” It’s an old English tune, dating way back to the 16th century. It was originally performed in Coventry, England as a part of their nativity play. In the song, we hear the voices of mothers singing a lullaby to their baby boys who King Herod sentenced to die after the Wise Men stopped off in Jerusalem on their way to follow the star. After the visitors saw Jesus, worshipped Him, and gave him gifts, the Wise Men (or Magi) were told in a dream to go home a different way, avoiding Herod. After the visit of these Wise Men, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to leave right away. “Get up! Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” The song picks up the story in Matthew 2:16: “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” When you stop and listen to the grieving mothers’ words and hear their plaintive tune in the Coventry Carol, your heart breaks along with them. “Lully, lullah, thou little tiny child/Bye bye, lully, lully.” No doubt these lines were inspired by Matthew’s reference to a prediction by the Prophet Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” It’s hard to imagine a more tragic scene. Though the carol had been around for centuries, the song grew in popularity after it was sung on Christmas Day in 1940 on a live broadcast by the BBC. The broadcast came just six weeks after the industrial city of Coventry was bombed by the German forces, demolishing the city’s cathedral. The destruction of the city was so complete that the chief Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, coined the term “coventried” to describe future attacks with a similar level of devastation. Coventry was targeted by the German forces multiple times due to their munitions factories. A few months before the attack which reduced the cathedral to ruins, a lieutenant named Sandy Campbell came to take care of an unexploded bomb which had fallen at a factory formerly used to make motorcycles. Realizing that the bomb was fitted with a device to delay its detonation, Campbell made plans to move the bomb to a safer site. During transport, he lay next to the explosive device so that he could hear if the inner workings made a different kind of ticking sound, giving him the chance to tell the driver and the others who were helping move the bomb so they could get to safety. It's hard to focus on these stories of ruthless devastation and cold-blooded murder, especially during a season when we’d rather think about wrapped presents and twinkling lights and toy-making elves. But even during Christmastime, we see the consequences of sin and arrogance. Thousands of years may have passed between these stories but they ring true with similar notes of wicked selfishness, and the unfortunate consequences meted out on the innocent. All of this destruction points to our need for a Savior, someone to volunteer to lay down his life and position himself next to a ticking bomb. The world needed him during Herod’s reign, and we still need Him today.

  • Blind Spots

    One of the scariest parts of teaching someone to drive is sitting in the passenger seat when they’re learning how to change lanes. Once you’ve been driving for a while, the process of quickly checking and re-checking your mirrors while keeping your speed up and staying in your lane becomes second nature. But at the beginning, it’s like you’re asking them to cook a 4-course meal while playing the flute and giving your dog a bath…impossible. They look at the rearview mirror for a bit longer than necessary, and suddenly they’re inches away from the bumper of the car in front of them. The side mirrors with their message: “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,” just feels like a Fun House in a horror movie to a new driver. If they can’t trust their mirrors, they don’t know what to believe. And you can’t teach the concept of changing lanes without touching on the dreaded blind spot. It’s different for every vehicle, but when you’re about to change lanes and you look over your right shoulder only to see a car barreling down the interstate who wasn’t there just seconds before, it can be a frightening reality check. As you try to slow your heartbeat down to a rate that’s normal instead of one which indicates you’re being chased by a werewolf, you ask yourself, “What would’ve happened if I didn’t look first?” The way to know you’re achieving master-level status in your driving skills is when you can anticipate when the drivers around you want to change lanes, and you react when you realize you are in their blind spot. Here’s the scenario: You’re going a little faster than the car to your left, and you just get a gut-feeling that they want to be in your lane. You speed up to move out of the danger zone. No problem. But the only reason you knew this scenario was playing out in the car of the stranger next to you is because you’ve been there before. This idea of finding understanding due to common experiences doesn’t just apply to driving. A friend who can practice empathy is worth her weight in gold (or my preference: chocolate. You can’t eat gold!). If you stumble upon people who act out 1 Corinthians 12: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it,” then you’ve found something pretty special. Why are we able to comfort and bless those who are suffering in this very personal way? It’s because we are made in the image of our Creator who, as 2 Corinthians 1 tells us, is “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That is recycling at its very best. Pass that heavenly comforter down to me, please! I could use that kind of snuggling. In Hebrews 4:14-16, we read that we have a great High Priest (Jesus) who has “been there, done that” way before we were even a twinkle in our mother’s eyes. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We can’t shock him with our bad behavior and crippling baggage. He knew we were veering into that blind spot before we did. Now that we know that about our Heavenly Father and High Priest, it’s time to extend that grace to others.

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