And Coming in 2016....

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden," to be published by Cranberry Quill... an allegory for children of all ages, beautifully illustrated.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 20, 2010 Another Year Under a Widening Belt

“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
“Those who obey His commands live in Him and He in them”
(I John 3:24).

Writes Max Lucado:
“Take note of the precious preposition ‘in.’ Christ isn’t just near you or for you or with you; he longs to be in you. God offers you the same Christmas gift he gave Mary-- the indwelling Christ. Christ grew in her until he came out. Christ will grow in you until the same occurs. Christ will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions. Every place you live will be a Bethlehem and everyday you live will be a Christmas. You, like Mary, will deliver Christ into the world. “

What a frightening thought that for some people, the Christ I deliver to them in my words and actions could be the only Jesus they experience! This weekend I celebrated my 53rd birthday and can say with discouraging confidence that the Christ I have delivered to family, friends, and strangers over the last half-century and change is not the Christ I long to encounter at life’s end.

That Jesus is always, always merciful. I have harbored, on far too many occasions, a well-covered desire for punishment to befall those guilty of real and supposed offenses against me or my loved ones. They have it coming, don’t they?

That Jesus is always, always loving. If I’m brutally honest, there is a pitifully short list of people I have deemed worthy of my love; in contrast, Jesus’ list includes every person on the planet. I have spoken biting words of sarcasm when he would have softly whispered, “I love you even now.” I have let resentments build and boil over when his love would have …has…covered a multitude of sins (see 1 Peter 4:8).

The Jesus I want to be like is holy. Holier-than-thou isn’t the same thing, unfortunately! My sins may look, compared to some and through equally sinful eyes, not too too bad. But if the standard is Christ, his holiness shining through this weak vessel has been effectively diluted and filtered out by my cares for the world, my selfishness, my unholiness. To be holy is to be set apart, kept for God’s purposes. How many purposes have been put into place, and fulfilled, by…me? Apart from God, not set apart for him. The Bible calls all that stuff wood, hay, and stubble, destined to be burned up. Only what God has wrought in our lives will stand the test of fire (see 1 Corinthians 3:12).

The Jesus who will greet me one day loves justice. Although it seemed, growing up, that I never got away with anything, I have. If I’ve been consistently caught with my hand in the cookie jar, I owe it to God’s loving discipline, not my own desire to stick to the straight and narrow. And if people could read my thoughts, as God can, and does? As horrible as my words and actions have been for five decades, my thoughts have been far worse. I do not want justice for myself because it would mean extreme punishment, even death (see Romans 6:23).

And yet…when I was younger, I would look at my elders and sometimes hear them speak of regrets. They wished they had gone further in school, taken another job, moved to another city, married someone else. They wished they had committed their lives to the Lord sooner. They wished they had taken better care of themselves.

At 53, I would love to go back to school and further my own education—but apparently it is God’s will that I be around to help my grandkids with their homework. Instead of gaining head knowledge I may never need or use, I have the opportunity to teach them every day. My lessons aren’t always positive, but it is a positive part of life. And nothing can stop an inquisitive person from learning, whether inside university walls or not.

I missed out on a career while homeschooling and raising four children, but those years represent the happiest (and busiest) time of my life. My jobs, when I finally ventured outside the home, have been rewarding.

When I was a child, we moved from the mountains of North Carolina to Florida’s southeast coast; I grumbled the whole way, determined not to like my parent’s choice. Had the Lord not led us there, I wouldn’t have married my husband. Four wonderful children would not have been born. Ditto for three grandchildren. And who would have guessed I would travel to Jamaica, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand? That I would have preferred staying longer on foreign soil doesn’t rob the richness of our experiences.

My parents took us to church whenever the doors were open, and made sure that we were raised in an environment of unconditional love and faith. Even though I didn’t have a deep enough understanding to commit myself to Christ until I was a teenager, I know that the decision was honestly my own.

When I started writing this, I got choked up with a sense of my shortcoming and faults. Clearly, I’ve got lots of work to do…or rather, the Lord’s completed work (see Colossians 2:9, 10) may need many more years to shine through this thick skull and carnal shell. On the other hand, I’ve finished up smiling at the gracious things he has allowed me to experience. I have known mercy. I have known love. I have known the joy of accomplishing tasks and reaching goals. I haven’t been rich (by my standards) but I also haven’t been poor (again, by my standards).

I’ve fallen down more times than I care to say. But the Lord has always pulled me back up to my feet, brushed me off, and said, one more time, “Follow me.” No matter how many times he says it, it is never with impatience, as if he knew I would fall in the first place. Hmmm.

So, I guess it’s one of those paradoxes of life that while I have many, many regrets as to my own choices of behavior, I have no regrets at all in the way the Lord has led me during the last 53 years. There are things I don’t understand and will probably never understand this side of heaven. I still get angry about some of the things he has allowed to happen, still pout occasionally and feel sorry for myself that Life refuses to treat me as the center of the universe. But I can truly say that in all things and at all times, his grace has been and continues to be sufficient.

He might have suggested exercising a little sooner, though.


Permission to reprint with acknowledgment of source.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 6, 2010 I Do's and Didn'ts

On December 4, 1976, a man and a woman stood before family and friends. They had entered through different doors—he, with his groomsmen; she, on her daddy’s arm. They had never been so dressed up in their lives, and were unlikely to ever do so again.

The minister addressed the congregation: “Dearly Beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God – and in the face of this company – to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is commended to be honorable among all men; and therefore – is not by any – to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly – but reverently, discreetly, advisedly and solemnly. Into this holy estate these two persons present now come to be joined. If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together – let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

No one said a word.

At some point, the minister continued, “Do you, David (for that was the name of the man, almost 26) take Ellen (for that was the name of the woman, or rather teenager…not quite 19) to be your wife – to live together after God’s ordinance – in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon her your heart’s deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” David answered, and he meant it.

But he hasn’t always lived up to his words, not really. He hasn’t always even done his best. He has broken that vow on countless occasions, and rarely even said he was sorry when he did. His wife has, at times, felt the opposite of his intention that day—felt unloved. She has been full of sadness along the way and he would tell you that he has been one of the main causes. His violence to the vows has been, however, relatively mild. Sins of omission. While he has not always cherished, he most definitely has kept her around, when lesser men would have chosen to do otherwise.

“Do you Ellen take David to be your husband – to live together after God’s ordinance – in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon him your heart’s deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” she said. I said it, and I meant it. But I haven’t. Not even close. I haven’t done my best to love and comfort. I have dishonored him, dishonored our marriage. Caused him sadness, made things worse. Mine have been more the sins of commission—hurtful sins of thought, word, and deed. I have not always forsaken others, certainly not myself and my own selfishness. And yet, I am still here, kept by the strength of a commitment made long ago, a commitment made strong not by my own will or David’s, but by the grace and according to the will of God himself.

Thirty-four years ago this month, we stated other vows as we exchanged rings. There was special music and candles. We kissed. The minister introduced us as Mr. and Mrs. David Gillette, and we walked down the aisle, this time together. This time, leaving through the same door and out into a new life and world. Two made one. Mr. and Mrs.

Over Thanksgiving I had the pleasure of visiting with a young man at whose own wedding our oldest son had been a groomsman. I remember sitting beside my sister-in-law as we watched the group—so young!—go through the ceremony. At one point I leaned over to her and whispered, “Do you think we should tell them?”

She knew exactly what I meant.

Weddings are wonderful, full of joy and hope and love. We get all dressed up, but truly, metaphorically, we never get that dressed up again. Reality takes over. Bills mount. Children come, and when they come, sometimes they misbehave. Sometimes they get sick. Sometimes they die. Jobs are changed and lost. Houses are rented, bought, sold, repaired, burned to the ground. With every harsh word, there is someone waiting in the wings to make it, it would seem, all better again.

Statistically speaking, about half of all marriages end in divorce, even among Christians. The amazing thing is not that this is true but that it’s only half…a full 100 percent of marriages exist between fallen, imperfect men and fallen, imperfect women. There is not a marriage anywhere, at any time, that does not—or will not—face challenges. That any of us survives is a testimony to God’s awesome keeping power.

Surely it isn’t the words we spoke, or the clothes we wore, or the rings we slipped on slightly trembling fingers. We often forget that in the midst of all the preparations, the flowers and engraved invitations, that God himself was invited to the wedding too. “In his sight.” He has a vested interest in marriage, it being his idea and all. He will, given even the slightest of opportunities, work wonders in the area of beating the odds.

There are a whole bunch of folks who never thought David and I would make it to Anniversary #34, the two of us and our children included. But we did. And, barring tragedy, we will make it to #35 and beyond.

Mind you, it won’t be easy. It won’t ever be easy. Husbands and wives, David and Ellen, and you and your spouses, will break our vows in little ways and big on an annoyingly regular basis. Each break results in a frayed edge to the fabric of marriage, a rip, an unsightly gap, a nasty stain.

Fortunately, God has always been in the mending business. Not every rip in the fabric of a marriage can be restored, certainly, but as long as there is a willingness to look back on those vows, as long as even a whisper of their original meaning remains true, miracles can still happen. Every day.


Permission to reprint with acknowledgment of source.