Every April, as many of the four of us as can journey to the Smoky Mountains for the Annual Wildflower Pilgrimage. From the time I was a baby, I can remember tagging along with my dad's Auburn University systematic botany students on this foray. My mom, a retired science teacher (Auburn High), had the enormous job of preparing picnic lunches for groups of nearly 50 college students (as well as putting up with Daddy's stress!), my grandmother would bake cookies to feed them all. A special highlight was looking forward to reuniting with our friend Harold Moore, my dad's first graduate student who now works in quality control at Golden Flake in Birmingham, because he would bring the latest samplings of potato and corn chips! (That's the first time I ever tried "dill pickle chips".) My brother, John, would run after every critter that moved, and I would "get my head out of that book" on the car rides long enough to marvel at seeing spring for the second time every year.
As a child, I much preferred to let the "big kids" hike while Grandmother and Granddaddy Freeman met us in Gatlinburg to "play" at the local stores and attractions. Yet as I got older, it was much more challenging and heart-warming to walk in "my daddy's shoes." I can see him now identifying "saxifrage micranthidifolia" ("commonly known as brook lettuce") in the streams for his students all the while teaching them to capture an acorn top and blow an ear-splitting whistle into the depths of the woods. I was amazed that he knew so much about every little wildflower God created (though he barely tolerated violets ) yet managed the trails and rigors of teaching under the stress of a body afflicted with juvenile diabetes from pre-adolescence. My mother was surely an earthly "right arm" for him, and together they made quite the pair serving those future trailblazers.
In the nearly 20 (!) years my father has been gone, I miss him greatly, and I cherish every spring. The loss of my earthly father has caused me to draw nearer to my Heavenly Father. God's presence is so real to me in the garden, on the trails, and anywhere a bubbling brook or a crisp breeze causes you look up, look down, and praise His mighty and astounding creation! When the Pilgrimage time rolls around, I get excited because it is almost like journeying back in time, only with the blessings of the present joys we have as we introduce our own children to the trails we know all too well. They never really knew "Papa John", but somehow they feel his presence right there with them when we head into "God's Country."
Have you lost someone special, recently or even long ago? As you read this, I pray you will smile to remember someone in your life who, though gone now, left you with memories that capture your heart, even as they led imperfect lives. Somehow, as we look back on our loved ones, we learn to see them with eyes of grace, because we know firsthand that life is hard. We try to avoid making some of the same mistakes they made, but if we are honest, we realize we're just as susceptible to the inability to live as we can and should...because we are human. I hope that somehow you've come to understand God's grace and provision in the loss of someone special, and that you know that, no matter how fresh the pain, God can bring something beautiful out of it. I treasure the fact that death is not the end of the story for those who believe in and trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Should we ever be in doubt as to whether our loved ones did...then this is surely a time to trust in God's sovereignty...and make sure our loved ones never have to wonder about US.
Take a look at the headlines today and see how the need for Jesus Christ to walk among this new generation "with skin on" has skyrocketed, illuminating WellSpring Community Church's purpose now, more than ever. It is not getting any easier to be committed to Christ as the world continues to spin out of control. We need each other in order to stay on the straight and narrow and be encouraged when life gets too hard to go on. Others yet to come need a safe place to draw near to the purifying power of Christ's Holy Spirit. As He uses us to catch 'em, He WILL clean 'em! Bass Pro isn't the ONLY bait shop on "our" happy little corner of I-65!! We must continue to faithfully fish for the catch God is bringing for HIS purposes.
I don't know much about fishing other than Tennessee summers at my "Uncle T.H.'s" catfish pond. Most of the time, if I threw my cane pole in, that little red and white bobber would let me know that a perch or a bream had been impressionable enough to think that worm was the real thing. Crickets, bread balls...it didn't really matter. In my experience, those type of pond dwellers will eat just about anything. Even snapping turtles will check out the offering (taking the line, bobber, hook, and sinker, of course. So will Satan, for that matter!).
I know from talking to more experienced fishermen that bass are tricky, and that they like "shiny things." I've never fished for bass, but I'm about to believe this present generation of unchurched are rather like them. They are tricky to read, tricky to plan for, tricky to commit, and they seem to like shiny things, too...shiny tech, shiny cars, shiny skin, shiny coins, shiny smiles. Even shiny Starbucks (well, me too!). BUTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT....
Do you realize, do they realize, that nothing of the above will keep its shine forever? One of my cherished songs from a favorite 90's band REM, "Shiny Happy People", sounds as if it could be written to describe Christians when they are filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Check out the simplistic lyrics:
Shiny happy people laughing...(Christians...those who should know what it feels like to be cleansed and forgiven) Meet me in the crowd, people people (draw near to church frequently, faithfully) Throw your love around, love me love me (gracious, enduring service to His children in the Body) Take it into town, happy happy (exit, filled from Sunday worship, strengthened to serve the unchurched--with a good attitude) Put it in the ground where the flowers grow (plant and fertilize...what we feed grows.) Gold and silver shine
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing
Everyone around--love them, love them (He loves them; therefore, we do, too!)
Put it in your hands, take it take it (No more lip service...get busy!)
There's no time to cry--happy happy (we get down, but we don't stay there!)
Put it in your heart where tomorrow shines (always hope! ALWAYS!)
Gold and silver shine
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing
If you've ever heard the song, you know that the beat of the song is just like that...simple and happy. If a secular song can "get it right"...why can't we? Where is our shine? How can we keep from letting it fade away?
The shine on the OUTSIDE of a believer comes from fueling the INSIDE of the believer, through quietening and ordering our lives to prioritize daily prayer, scripture reading (2 chapters a day will make a huge difference), and taking a moment to reach out to someone and be "Jesus with skin on." Then, once (or more) a week, we draw near to the body as a whole to remember that:
1. Others have problems and need encouragement too.
2. The book God is writing needs our chapter but is so much bigger!
3. We are BETTER together, for our sake and for HIS, than we are alone.
There is no dollar sign on any of these things, but pursuing the "big three daily" will enrich your life and the lives of those around you immeasurably. And you MIGHT just catch a tricky bass who likes shiny things in the process!
What is the one thing that can perk up the ears of another beyond compare? A little PRAISE. As true as it is in the classroom that one will jump through hoops with the right prescription of praise sandwiched amidst constructive criticism, so it is true in our families, our friendships, and in society in general. Perhaps one of the most neglected aspects of our relationships in life, both in earthly and Heavenly realms, is the utterance of praise. The ruts and routines steal our wonder at the everyday miracles around us, which are truly gifts from God and nothing less. I am filled with amazement that He should deign to call us His children when we often bear no resemblance of His majesty. The awe of Psalm 8's praise to God in regard to His Creation, "When I consider the works of your hands, the stars....what is man that you are mindful of him?" never lessened for my late father, an Auburn University botany professor, steeped in awareness of God’s handiwork, nor should it for even the most casual observer of nature.
In my emerging faith journey, there are times when thanksgiving to God reigns. Thanksgiving is the overwhelming urge to bestow my deepest gratitude on all of the things He has done in my life and in the world. Sometimes, in the low times, all I can muster is an attitude of pleading, “Lord, please help me in this time of crisis!” Sometimes they are offered on another’s behalf, “Father, _________needs Your loving arms right now. Please make Yourself so real to him/her that he/she cannot help but be filled with Your strength and comforting presence. Help __________to learn to lean upon You.” And petitions are all right in God’s book, too!
However, it is PRAISE that is music to God’s ears. Different from thanksgiving, praise is giving glory to God not for what He has done for us, but for WHO HE IS. For His magnificent imagination (look at a platypus!)…for His on-target sense of timing…for His incredible patience with us…for His never-ceasing stamina (on call 24/7)…for His completely perfect wisdom that so defies our own and strips it bare…for His foresight in providing a bridge to Him through Christ…the list goes on and on. Though He doesn’t need the “pats on the back” in His infinite power and might, it is one of the major reasons we were created: to give Him much-deserved glory and honor. And it should FLOW. It does, mightily, in the Book of Psalms and throughout the entire Bible as eyes began to be opened, glimpses at a time, to the multitude of facets that comprise the awesome God we are privileged to serve. Even the tiniest of creatures cannot help but offer praise to such a glorious Creator: “From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise.” (Psalm 8:2).
Jesus said, even if we cease to praise God, the stones themselves will cry out (Luke 19:40). If an inanimate object can find something for which to praise God, how much more can we, create by His infinite mercy and in His divinely perfect image? Praise God that He is more than worthy of praise!
“I will praise You, O Lord, with all my heart. I will tell of all Your wonders.” Psalm 9:1
WASHINGTON, October 15----American Airlines Flight 11 had fallen mysteriously silent. The air traffic controller called over and over for a response. None came. Then he heard an unidentified voice from the cockpit: “We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you’ll be O.K. We are returning to the airport.”
The controller, confused, asked, “Who’s trying to call me?”
No response. Then he heard the voice again: “Nobody move, please; we are going back to the airport. Don’t try to make any stupid moves.”
Where were you on September 11, 2001? When the New York Times released this conversation to America’s ears a month later, we relived the grief all over again, though many Montgomery businesses had already replaced their “Pray for America” signs with “Don’t Wait! Make Your Holiday Reservation Today!” Though I knew that “business as usual” would grind its way front and center, for the moment, I rejoiced in the spreading wave of red, white and blue, currently hitting every fall festival this side of the Mississippi in the form of T-shirts, jewelry, bumper stickers, previously unprocurable flags, and even soaps and candles! I rejoiced that, for most, it seemed that the torch of a love for one another, our country, truth, and God burned lively and well.
What struck me with the recorded conversation of Flight11 was this hard reality: these passengers were assured that they would be returning home. The promise of an airport return probably assuaged the bilious fear rising within them, as they thought of hugging spouses, children, and friends again, having survived a narrow escape. The reporters had pondered the amazement that, save for the insightful courage of the heroes of Flight 93, which crashed into a southwest Pennsylvania farm field, mere box cutters were able to keep three planes of passengers at bay. There had to be another reason that kept them contained, and on October 15, 2001, we learned the reason: they were motivated by HOPE.
Does this not fit God’s creation of His children to a T? Have you ever seen a child’s face light up as Friday approaches, knowing full well he has earned a “red apple” for every day of the week? Is there not something wonderful about the anticipation of a new birth, a long-awaited vacation, or the possibility that a marvelous day beyond compare will follow an excruciatingly horrible one? Are we not ecstatic at the promise of a life beyond that of ours on earth, where there is no suffering, pain, oppression, separation, or ISIS?
Members of militant Islamic sects (not to be confused with most Muslims) state that they believe it is a sign of honor to be martyred for their faith, with a supposed waiting list of those craving to wage jihad (their version of “Holy War”) even to the point of losing their own lives. Research tells us that the surviving families of suicide bombers are well-respected and cared for after the loss of their loved ones, and even small children, even in light of seeing fathers meet their demise in this way, aspire to be like them.
We also, as Christians, believe in offering our lives for the sake of another, as well, with history full of Christian martyrs, following the example of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly gave His life for humanity. Without His sacrifice, we would have no other way of meeting a pure and holy Father because of the sin which stains each one of us, our ancestors, and our progeny as well. Yet, though we are willing to die for this cause, God has created in all of His children a respectful, appreciative value of the sanctity of life. The debate rages in secular circles as to how “life” is interpreted, but it seems hardly debatable that Scripture teaches that God’s ultimate desire for His children is that each of us would treat His gift of life with gentle awe and the will to preserve it.
We are like the passengers of Flight 11 and the others: motivated by hope. The honor of dying for a cause may be real, and perhaps culturally divergent, but it is hope which gives us the faith to keep on going, even in the face of box cutters and paralyzing fear. Though some try to motivate with fear, success in this manner cannot touch the track record of hope. There can be no greater hope than that hope which is bestowed freely upon all who believe in Christ, through the acceptance of God’s ultimate gift and with the growing desire to obey His words, which just happen to be for our ultimate best, anyway! Only Christ acting in us can help us grow beyond our tendency toward selfish pursuits to make a daily practice, be it in theory or reality to, as the passengers of Flight 93 knew, “die so that others may live.” Knowing full well that, in the twinkling of His eye, Christ could come in full glory to take us home, regardless of how many unfinished projects lie waiting for us or how many debates continue to rage regarding “flag perception” or the intent of America’s founding fathers, let us spread the hope of Christ today as if there were no tomorrow, for this ray of sunshine is needed now, perhaps more than it has ever been needed before.
Quality time. Acts of service. Physical touch. Words of affirmation. Gifts. You may recognize these as Christian marriage author Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages” detailed in his same-titled book and now available for children, teenagers, and many others. The late Rev. Dr. Charles Britt, my childhood minister at Auburn United Methodist Church, former missionary to Liberia, and eventual adjunct Family & Child Development instructor at Auburn University hammered this phrase into our minds in “Mate Selection/Marriage Introduction” long before Chapman ever penned his book: “You have to LOVE people the way they NEED to be loved…not how you want to love them!” In twenty-six years of marriage, I have seen this to be true, and I see firsthand how much a quality marriage depends upon God working in a couple’s life to be able to perceive and then deliver!
One of the most recognizable signs of spiritual maturity in an individual’s life is the achievement of balance. Because self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, one cannot achieve balance independent of Gods’ strength and power. Jesus was balanced physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in His relationships with God and with others. In our imitation of Him, we are to do no less.
Perhaps we love Him spiritually, but do we demonstrate our physical love for Him by eating and drinking wisely, by abstaining from substances that poison His Temple, by disciplining our bodies with regular exercise and adequate sleep? Perhaps we love Him physically ,but do we hunger for Him emotionally by taking each negative and destructive thought captive by discarding it, replacing it with whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy ( Philippians 4:8)?
It could be that we have our emotions under control by His strength, but do we love Him mentally by hungering for spiritual truth to be found in His Word and in inspirational books, classic and new, that uplift and drive us to greater communion with Him? Do our mental closets need daily cleaning from the pollution gathered from our movie, book, television, radio, music, magazine, or Internet choices? Loving God and hungering for Him spiritually in an honest way that is pleasing to Him means that the physical, mental, and emotional areas of our lives must be brought under His control. Our witness to a watching world, both Christian and non-Christian, suffer when we are seen failing to love Him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind.
Which area (s), physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, needs an overhaul as you try to love Him as He commands you to? What will you do to show Him you recognize this need for growth?
Prayer: “Dear Father, when I read that there are only two commandments that Jesus gives me regarding loving You and loving others, I initially breathe a sigh of relief. But when I begin to try to obey these commands, I realize just how difficult the practical application can be! Show me how I can daily love You physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Surround me with others who can help me be accountable to loving You in each of these ways as I continue the journey to Christian maturity. In Jesus’ Name, Amen”
Psalm 18 became real to me during March 2004 while on a trip with Mike to Billy Graham’s retreat “The Cove,” near Asheville, North Carolina. We were awaiting news of our new ministry assignment, one of the last of 14 seminary families to be assigned after an incredible, stretching year in the Beeson doctoral program. It was a time of trusting, for the Mobile call we believed God had for us had just been given to a younger couple with less experience (but more “connections”). During that weekend, we learned that Millbrook was “the one”, and we knew that finding a house—our first ever—from two states away would soon be on the docket. The last ten years of ministry…from Asbury to Asbury once again…had been incredible.
Three specific verses from this Psalm that touched my heart while stealing away to pray and meditate under a tree that afternoon were
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me” 35 You make your saving help my shield,
and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great.
36 You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.
As a child, I could not keep from turning my ankles! We kept ACE bandages on hand, and I wore them often. One version of this Psalm says, “You stoop down to make me great.” I could not get my mind around the fact that sometimes God does indeed stack the deck in our favor when it comes to making His way—and His blessing—clear to us. We hear a lot about staying on the narrow path in order to be close to His heart, but when HE BROADENS the path beneath your feet, it’s an amazing realization. Words like “spacious”, “delighted”, “rescued”, “sustains”, “saving”, and “shield” describe the lengths He goes for us just to show His love for each of us uniquely. As our retreat gets underway today and we learn what it means to see God’s Kingdom multiplied through prayer, may we beam inwardly that spreads outwardly to know that He honestly DELIGHTS in us. He loves to lead us to spacious places. He lives to rescue us…not just through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, but daily in both small and big ways. Know that, if you are presently fighting an enemy as is described in the other verses of Psalm 18, this will be the end result as we “show ourselves faithful.” His grace is sufficient for us to do just that.
Prayer: “Lord Jesus, thank You for Your saving help, my shield. Thank You for all from which You protect me, much of which I may never know. Thank You for Your right hand, the POWER hand, which keeps me sustained and standing, even if I haven’t the strength to take a step. Standing is territory held, also. Thank You for broadening the path beneath my feet when my natural ability fails me. It delights me to know that YOU DELIGHT in me! Guide me and lead me today exactly as You will. Speak to my heart and ease any burdens that would keep my mind off of You and what You want to do in me, around me, through me. Thank You for leading me thus far, and for this new spacious place in which to adventure with You. Empower me by Your Holy Spirit to see with Your eyes, hear with Your ears, and believe with Your heart. I love You, Lord! In Your precious Name I pray, Amen.”
Several years ago an article appeared in the local newspaper that I have saved for a sober reminder. Without getting too political, we can probably all agree that it seems our country and the world beyond are spinning out of control. Things we once thought we'd never witness are coming to pass, many with their own cheering section. In this reflection, Alabama State Representative Barry Mask shares his thoughts which ring far too true for any student of history:
"HOW LONG DOES AMERICA HAVE LEFT?"
"About the time our original 13 states adopted their new constitution in 1787, Alexander Tyler, a Scottish history professor at the University of Edinburgh, had this to say about the fall of the Athenian Republic some 2,000 years earlier: 'A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always vote for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.' The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200-250 years. Last week, America celebrated its 230th birthday. According to Tyler, during a 250-year span of time, the greatest nations always progressed through the following sequence:
1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
2. From spiritual faith to great courage;
3. From courage to liberty;
4. From liberty to abundance;
5. From abundance to complacency;
6. From complacency to apathy;
7. From apathy to dependence;
8. From dependence back into bondage.
Where do you think we are in this sequence?"
One of the hardest things to do as a Christian is to roll up our sleeves and work hard physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in this earthly gift of a home--all the while keeping our eyes and our hearts turned Heavenward. It is hard to continue to move against the stream of public tide, making a difference in individual lives. It is slow work, and it is vulnerable to criticism from all sides. Our time here is but a speck, but it's such an IMPORTANT speck. On earth is the only chance we have to give cups of cold water in Jesus' name...so that we might one day fellowship with each changed life in our permanent Home. As July 4th comes and goes once again, may we never forget the price that was paid...and continues to be paid...so that, sadly, many can choose to be complacent and apathetic. May it never be said of Christ-followers, however... and may we be firmly committed to prayer and the illumination of His Holy Word by the power of the Holy Spirit here at WellSpring so that we will clearly see where He is at work...and have the courage and the stamina to join Him there!
"Let us not grow weary of doing what is right, for at the proper time, we will yield a harvest--if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9
"All I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother." Abraham Lincoln
President Abraham Lincoln, my favorite of all time, nailed it, along with his..."Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a weed and planted a flower wherever I thought a flower might grow." Over time, I have written so much about my father that one might think we were two peas in a pod when he was alive. I loved my dad, and I would definitely say I admired him, but a "warm fuzzy relationship" we did not have. It was not because I didn't want it; Daddy was shy perhaps, reserved, stoic to some, and only let his guard down when he was fully relaxed. He was raised as the miracle "only child" of a mother who had lost hers at the age of five to the same disease that cropped up in my father before the onset of his teenage years. An overcomer from his early days, he persevered through hurdles I could only imagine. When he wasn't belabored with the joys of teaching and the stress of politics universally experienced at most "institutions of higher learning" ("Publish or perish!"), he took summers off for our family to travel several times the expanse of the United States (plus eastern Canada) and as well managed a lot of after-church picnics all over central Alabama. He taught me the wonders of God's beautiful creation, he taught me to dive, he taught me to DRIVE, and he told me once that "it took a special person to be able to play an instrument" when I failed to make Auburn High School's flag squad. I do remember my personal favorite memory of anything I ever heard him say: "It would be my pleasure," when asked to redo the "father-daughter-kiss-on-the-cheek" photograph on my wedding day when the first one messed up! I will always have precious memories of my dad...but it is my mother who captivated and continues to captivate my heart.
Many of you have been blessed to meet Ruth Carolyn Fussell Freeman. She has been a faithful supporter of WellSpring from the moment of its inception (and before), and she comes as often as she can. She spends most Sundays playing the piano (and sometimes sharing a "sermonette") with the elderly residents of Oak Park, in Auburn. She is on the road to Tennessee frequently to help her aging sisters tend to rental property, and as my only sibling lives abroad, she has some pressing interests in Japan, as well! One of seven children born to Buford and Ether Fussell in the early 1940's, she was uniquely crafted from the get-go. As one of several middle children, she navigated family relationships through the most challenging of circumstances. Unlike my father, she could not "run off to the treehouse" when dealing with everything from unwanted green paint in her hair to bearing steady favoritism, as "MaMaw always saved the best piece of fried chicken for Jamie." She lived in the shadow of accomplished, Type-A Sister Polly, whom to this day, says Mama, cannot sit still (Mama, we say the same thing about you...and mine say the same thing about me!). When she married Daddy, self-esteem took a beating again against his "prize intellect". To this day, she will tell you, "I wasn't a good student; you definitely get your gift of writing from the Freeman/Hinton side of the family." But I am here to tell you that I am HERE because of my "angel mother." I do not know what I would do without her, and I will never be the same if I outlive her.
It was Mama who gave birth to me, obviously. It was Mama, honoring Daddy's Methodist heritage, who left the Nazarene church of her birth to make Auburn United Methodist her church home. It was Mama who packed the picnic lunches and organized multiple details for Daddy's graduate classes on our annual Smokies pilgrimages. It was Mama who took me to the emergency room when I cracked my arm at the Auburn Childhood Center in Kindergarten. It was Mama who took me back to the emergency room a few years later when I foolishly rocked back and forth on a tricycle one Sunday night during "The Wonderful World of Disney" and crashed my chin into rugged pavement (I still bear the scar. Daddy may have been with her on that one...). It was Mama who got me through long division in third grade. It was Mama who gave me an ear when Little Leslie and Big Leslie decided they'd rather play without me. It was Mama who cooked spaghetti, baked birthday cakes, planned parties, and monitored our slumber party noise level with a "Your dad will be in here in a minute" (all it took). It was Mama who took us to Hollifield Memorial Library and read to me until I caught the fever so desperately I never put a book down again. It was Mama who nursed my chicken pox in third grade; it was Mama who told me I would get well when I missed two weeks of school in the 8th grade with a bronchial infection I could not kick and wasn't sure I wanted to. It was Mama who drove me, at 16, to the Village Theater to meet my first date, who at 15 could not drive yet, either. (Have I ever told you I'm a late bloomer?) And it was Mama who ran for Daddy on April 1, 1983, when I, churched all my life, asked Jesus to come into my heart one Sunday afternoon...because she thought he was a deeper thinker and he would understand more than she.
I could go on forever, because during my college and married years, she has been there over and over and over again. She rode with us to Kentucky to help us move when my teaching job came through upon Mike's entering Asbury Seminary in 1994 on the weekend of her August anniversary! (To Daddy's credit, he surprised her by coming after her a few days later!) She helped us move into and out of every parsonage we occupied while serving the Methodist church following seminary, and she has scrubbed every one of them in some way, shape or form also. She fed me ice in the delivery room twice, and she has cared for our two over the years to give us much-needed and much-appreciated "renewal time" near and far. It still pains me greatly that she lost both parents and a husband when she was far too young...but our precious whirlwind has taught me how to live and go on with grace in the aftermath of grief just as surely as my dad taught me how to die with faith and dignity. I can only hope and pray that those God has brought into her life at all levels of relationship have helped to fill the void, although nothing could possibly completely do so, except Jesus.
Oh, Mama, I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day. You are a sermon of love, joy, generosity, perseverance, and others-centeredness, and everyone who knows you would be lying if they didn't agree. You live what countless study. You share what most speak. You have lost yourself as you give Jesus away in every form He ever could be given, and I hope you know how extremely special you are. I love you more than words can say, "loquacious" as I can tend to be.
Why must we celebrate mothers only in May? If not for our mothers, perfect or imperfect as we view them, we would not have the blessing of knowing, loving, and serving alongside you in our mighty church of miracle upon miracle. The attributes we cherish about our mothers, we save and share with the children God blesses us to have personally or to mentor. The qualities that show their imperfections, we file away, vowing with God's help to break the cycle, knowing full well our own children will be needing to do the same for our own flaws. My heart goes out to those who have lost their mothers in childhood or adulthood; I am certain Jesus' does, too, and He can fill this void in a way that those who've not walked in these shoes can't comprehend. For certain, there is a special place in our hearts, and in God's hearts, for mothers.
Proverbs 31:28-31 puts it like this:
"Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
'Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.'
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates."
You know how Facebook has those “three years ago today” snapshot/status blurbs? How about nearly a decade ago, today? The perpetual request to add another cat to our now-collection of two is undying, but on that day, I gave in. It was an ambush.
Here I was, poor, defenseless, enroute from a back-to-school Kindergarten teachers' party in Wetumpka when I called Mike to check in with the morning's errands. As you probably know, each household has "its LIST" of "must do before school starts" jobs. He had his and I had mine, and we rendezvous often to check the progress on them. Only THIS TIME one of his list items had been to take Micah, our newest cat, to the vet for his annual shots. That was dangerous, and I should have known.
"The kids can't WAIT for you to get home. There is a new litter of kittens at The Ark who are ready for adoption....and all of our trips are behind us now (chorus in the background..."Oh, Mama, they're so CUTE!!! One looks like Micah, another is pure black, and most of them are all gray...except there's this one with more white on it...")...IT'S UP TO YOU." (THANK YOU SO MUCH!) I told them WE WOULD DISCUSS IT LATER.
24 hours later, on that summer day nearly ten years ago, we welcomed Zipporah into our family. She was the lone female in our then-collection of cats. We did not claim "Ridge" any longer; he was a part-wild cat (“feral”) we found on I-65 several years ago as a kitten who loved our food and shelter but not us. That's grace and agape love personified...with him as the "UNgrateful recipient". Max was from a family in Lee County, the long-awaited pet cat we were able to finally have when we transitioned from the parsonage lifestyle into owning our first home when we moved to Millbrook. Micah was the runt of a well-cared-for litter in Columbia, Alabama, whose name reflects the Micah 5:2 phrase, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times". The ONE was Jesus, and it goes to prove, as Micah has, that great things come in small, seemingly inconsequential packages.
And Zipporah? Well, she was the wife of Moses, who was rescued from the pit of an evil death plan. We were told that this litter of kittens was brought to The Ark, sick and not expected to live, plagued by an upper respiratory infection. They were destined to be put to sleep, but even after several weeks of touch and go, they rallied and are the picture of health now. There is something somewhat secure in adopting from "the experts"... but, more alluring to me as I endeavor to see significance in everything, I can't help but think of WellSpring and the many twists and turns this journey has taken us all...as well as the "near death" experiences those of us closest to the fire have seen it encounter.
Simply put, Zipporah was rescued twice. Once, by the good people at The Ark. Next, by us. Yes, it was somewhat inconvenient to adopt a new baby into an already established one, busy as we were...busy as all humans are! Yes, she needed a little different food, more inside time at first, and definitely lots of patience and love...but the joy on our children's faces and the sure knowledge that they're seemingly growing up faster than little kittens made the decision easy. A temporary inconvenience for long-term gain.
Truth is, we all need rescuing in some way or another...from bad habits, from bad choices, from self-centered absorption, from hopelessness, from more than we can even imagine, I am sure. Who needs rescuing in your life? Where is God calling you to accept a little inconvenience? As Steve Sjogren, planter of Cincinnati Vineyard shares in his book Conspiracy of Kindness, "discarded pennies add up." Won't you stoop to pick one up today?"
Band camp has begun for John Michael. Anna Caroline will camp at Faulkner next week. In two short weeks, Open House will be upon us as I prepare to welcome a new crop of Garden Patch Kids. Although we are enjoying our last moments of "unscheduledness", our household will soon brim with excitement as everyone settles in, gets to know their teachers, learns which students need to be separated in our various classes, and begins to fall in love with their charges, young and old. Teaching is absolutely the most incredible privilege that could possibly exist, and EACH OF US IS ONE. You never know where the seeds that come from your mouth will take root!
Because it's been so long since most of us were in Kindergarten, I'd like to share the famous essay, "All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum. Read on for some lifelong lessons that most of us are still pursuing:
"Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in Kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I learned...Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that. Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup - they all die. So do we.
And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living. Think of what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. A nd it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together."
The most incredible thing about teaching Kindergarten is that it's a year of firsts, forming the foundation for all else. I've seen children hold scissors for the first apparent time this week as well as prayed with several crying mamas (because I remember all too well!). What God plants through me into the lives of these children and families needs to be sturdy and strong. In the same way, planting a church is an incredible privilege--one that few get to take or CHOOSE to take! The foundation that is laid in the early, formative, impressionable years will set the strength and growth tone for its entire future (and churches honestly only get one real opportunity to build a solid foundation). Churches spring up everywhere, and some even grow astronomically (by numbers), but it can't be said often enough that we should be so careful to build on the wisdom and Word of God, the love and service of Jesus Christ, and the excitement and power of the Holy Spirit in order to be a God-glorifying church that survives the long haul. It's just too easy to gather a crowd without building a house of faith that will withstand life's certain storms!
Mike and I are certain, steadfastly certain, that WellSpring's best days are beginning RIGHT NOW. What God has begun, who He has brought, what He does each week to our amazement gives us a peace, joy, and exhilaration like nothing we've ever before experienced. It has been worth the wait, worth the prayers, worth the toil, worth the confusion...because this fruit is mighty tasty. We praise God for each person who is currently experiencing His incredible person and presence, as well as for those who are in prayer about who to bring into the fold at WellSpring. Laying the foundation of a church is not for everyone, but there could be nothing more important in Kingdom building than GETTING IT RIGHT. Much like teaching Kindergarten, it requires much tender care, but the joy that accompanies it when it's RIGHT will leave you "downright delirious"!
Faithfuls, thank you so much. Local surfers? Come ride the wave. Across-the-globe-seekers? Send up a prayer. And remember to wonder at small beginnings...for as Scripture puts it..."Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin..." (Zechariah 4:10). And so it is with the foundation laid in Kindergarten. One can never predict the harvest as we sow and reap together!