Memory Lane

I endeavored to observe the Sabboth today.  I took a nap, read for class but tried to convince myself it was for fun, then ultimately gave in to some long overdue dusting.  Resting is so hard!!  While cleaning off the mysterious black film that eventually will cover every piece of furniture in your house if you live in Church Hill, I discovered a goldmine.  In the corner of our  bookshelf was a large stack of cards that Jeromy and I received throughout our engagement and for our wedding (covered in said strange film).

So Sabboth reconvened as the last hour was enjoyed basking in the sunshine flooding onto my deck and reading through all those sweet cards and notes.  Thank you if you are reading this and you gave us one of those notes.  I am overwhelmed by the many supportive and loving friends and family God has given us. Unfortunately, I cannot hoard them all forever, so I gratefully reread each one, saving a select few for future reads.

One stack consisted of folded and faded cards carefully crafted out of construction paper and markers.  These were lovingly crafted by my mom's third grade students in the 2010-2011 school year.  I haven't met any of them, but the hilarity made me so desperately want to share with others.  I only wish you could see some of the pictures.  Please enjoy...

Claire and Jeromy,
Hope your wedding is wonderful
I would give you advice but I'm not married.

Dear Claire and Jeromy I hope you get alone
from Brandon

Claire and Jeromy,
Hope you have a nice time
hope it works awot.

I hope you have a good weddind. And I hope you don't get a deaforse

Dear Claire and Jeromy,
I hope you gies have a good weding!
I wish I can come.

Dear Claire and Jeromy
I hope your wedding gows well.  Love is true when it's you.

Claire and Jeromy
love is true when its new!
love is a complecacen!



Did you know Lent means springtime?  I didn't know that, and was frankly surprised since I mainly associate the 46 days leading up to Easter with self-deprivation and the last few bleak weeks of winter.  It's something we have to grin and bear before we make it to the good stuff, that being sunny, 60 degree days and an Easter dress.

It makes sense though.  The Christian practice of fasting in various forms during Lent is not meant to end in deprivation, but in a feasting on the things that really matter and truly satisfy: Christ, His sacrifice, our mission with Him.

In the season of Lent, the Christian practices a turning from dependence on earthly things to a renewed dependence on Christ for identity, comfort, and the riches of grace.  With the rest of my RH family, I've been giving up treats and other forms of self indulgence this week to begin the Lenten journey and hopefully to remind me that real comfort and security is found in Christ... NOT in a neverending bowl of Espresso Chip Edy's ice cream. 

God has been meeting me this week as I give up some good things and concentrate on what is better.  No desserts, no wine, no 50 cent candy bar purchases from the vending machine at work to help me make it through the day.  The Father's grace is what does that.

Among other things, I realized that I talk about cravings as if they were needs, and in so doing, I've tricked my mind to think that is true. God has quickly reminded me and my belly that He is what I need.  So far, I am abundantly more free without the inordinate amount of sugar and high fructose corn syrup.  In moments of stress or fatigue however, I'm greedy for a little fix, a second of cocoa heaven to de-stress or re-energize.  Thanks God, that you have something better for us than a sugar rush.  Sorry for forgetting. 

If you aren't used to practicing Lent, check out http://redemptionhill.com/lent/ to download the guide and jump in!

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34


Belated Valentine's Day Post

Recently, I've written more than one post that never made it onto the actual blog.  There's one about Tim Tebow that was one sentence away from completion.  It's now time for basketball.  There were some thoughts on Syria (?).  Rough, unfinished, nonsensical- they are all saved in my email.  Somewhere.  

Follow-through is lacking these days, and in more areas than just this.  [Sigh].  I won't list them all, but I repeated to myself this morning that God loves me regardless of the number of items on my good intentions list that remain unchecked.  He loves me and is for me.  His love doesn't ebb and flow with the tides of my productivity or lack thereof.  Amen. [End sermon to self]. Here's the post I began earlier this week, now only five days late :)

Valentine's Day evening involved a spot so cozy it feels like home, a leisurely and delicious dinner, red wine, and engaging conversation... with my RH community group a few blocks down.  Jeromy was at a four-hour bar prep class (gag), which he is most every Tuesday night (boo), so I was glad to have something fun to look forward to.  As we (three couples and myself) settled in to feast together, Daniel surveyed the group.  "So, does anyone here hate Valentine's Day?  Like, morally oppose it?"  Why did I not take a breath or even pause before answering?  

"Yes!  Why should there be a day set aside to treat your significant other the way they should be treated all the time?!  I told Jeromy to not even get me flowers.  I'd rather have them another day when I'm not expecting it.  We are called to love selflessly every day, not set aside one day to buy cheap and gaudy crap.  I do like the little gifts my parents get me though..."  I didn't shut up for at least five minutes, assuming the couples in the room were captivated by my diatribe.

"Yeah... that's kinda what I thought," murmured John before looking at his wife Kelly and trailing off.  Apparently, other people find worth in Valentine's Day.  (In Kelly's defense, Valentine's Day is the anniversary of their engagement).  Lessons learned: think before speaking and be diplomatic when speaking out special holidays.

I will briefly conclude my Valentine's Day hater speech here.  It's not that I'm against love or dates or romance.  I just appreciate all those things when they originate from a caring and attuned husband, not a commercial that serves as a profit-seeking calendar reminder.  "Valentine's Day is TUESDAY.  Get your someone special something special for Valentine's Day THIS TUESDAY."  Thank you.  Got it.

My frustration lies in the advertisement of love as a feeling, and we all know this is not true.  Love is each choice made for another at the expense of self.  Sometimes it feels great, sometimes it doesn't.  The lapses between sentimental special occasions in which it is easy and natural to love another are where the hard work and real love take root. 

"The couple whose marriage will certainly be endangered by them, and possibly ruined, are those who have idolized Eros... They expected that mere feeling would do for them, and permanently, all that was necessary," explains C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves. "When this expectation is disappointed they throw the blame on Eros or, more usually, on their partners."   

Personifying Eros, he continues, "He makes the vows; it is we who must keep them.  It is we who must labour to bring our daily life into even closer accordance with what the glimpses have revealed.  We must do the works of Eros when Eros is not present... And all good Christian lovers know that this programme, modest as it sounds, will not be carried out except by humility, charity and divine grace."

Scripture, per usual, says it best.  

God so loved the world that He gave... This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers (John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16).


Excess for Simplicity

I haven't been this excited about a good read for quite some time.  7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess is engaging, winsome, and convicting.  The author is Jen Hatmaker, who makes me heartily laugh out loud even when no one is around.  The best way to describe her work with 7 is a wild social experiment accentuated by honest commentary and self-deprecating humor. 

Jen endeavors to give up an area of excess each month in order to clear out the clutter and allow margin to hear from God.  I just finished reading about her first month in which she cut out excess by consuming only seven foods all month: chicken, eggs, bread, sweet potatoes, spinach, avocados, and apples.  Spoiler alert: She lives to tell about it, even to elaborate on the other areas in which she cuts out excess (clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress).

Crazy?  A little bit.  But Jen's point is a good one.  She cites studies showing that "increased consumerism comes at a steep price.  A rise in prosperity is not making people happier or healthier.  Findings from a survey of life satisfaction in more than 65 countries indicate that income and happiness track well until about $13,000 of annual income per person.  After that, additional income produces only modest increments of self-reported happiness."  Of course happiness, or the lack thereof, is more of a side effect than the goal of the whole project.  What Jen is after is steadfast, obedient, stalwart discipleship.

The goal of our consumption could be the gross wages we accumulate as easily as it might be the social media we mindlessly devour.  The subject of our consumption doesn't matter, but our misdirected longings for fulfillment through possessions, information, or spending do.  They squash our freedom.  Jen emphasizes that "when accumulation is not our bottom line, we are liberated to disperse our time and resources differently."  

She asks the reader some thoughtful questions on the front end to help identify areas of excess:

What in my life, if taken away, would alter my value or identity?

What is the thing outside of God that you put everything else on hold for?

Think about it.  I'll think about it too.  I've been thinking about it already, I guess.  If I'm brave enough, I'll write about my answers next time!  After all, if simplicity was good enough for my Lord, then it's good enough for me. 

"We cannot carry the gospel to the poor and lowly while emulating the practices of the rich and powerful." -Jen Hatmaker, 7


A Legacy of Grace

As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  Philippians 1:21

You can't be at Redemption Hill more than 29 minutes or so without meeting Matt and Betty Bristol.  Somewhat like the wise and gentle mama and papa of our church, they have radiated Jesus' intentionality with the way they welcomed and served since the day I first visited.  

That being said, it is probably true that all of us at Redemption Hill have traveled with Matt and Betty Bristol through these last months of Betty's life as a family.  We have hoped for healing, asked for updates, and enjoyed grace together week in and week out.  In so doing, we have seen each step of the journey marked by gratitude, authenticity, and confidence-

Gratitude at His grace that covers us and another day given.  

Authenticity in attesting to the reality of pain and suffering in our world.

Confidence in God's sovereignty and the power of the Gospel over death.

Matt has generously shared these last few weeks with our church family and made God look so good in the process.  What follows are Matt's last two updates on Betty's impending "promotion to glory," far too beautiful not to share.

Monday, January 23
Getting very close to promotion…

Betty is still here, but it will not be long before she is promoted to glory. She is heavily medicated now but at times can hear and understand. She nodded to our son Matt that she wanted breakfast this morning, not just any breakfast but scrambled eggs. So eggs she received.

At this point she looks just like her brother looked a year and a month ago, mainly sleeping (morphine tends to do that), no longer coughing, much more difficulty breathing. She seems able to hear when we speak, and the hospice nurse says we have entered the final hours. Whether that means 8 or 48, only the Lord knows. But we plan to keep praying, even singing to her, loving her as she slowly but inexorably slips into the loving and eternal arms of our Savior.

Thanks for all your prayers. It will not be long now. She is more than ready. I am the one not ready yet. Tears are starting to flow. Hard to stop them for long. I should be happy, but it is a mixture of emotions.

All around the world, each of you is family, thanks for coming along on this journey of faith and hope.

God bless you! Take each new day as a precious gift from a loving God. If you do not really believe in God or know God in a life changing way, take a moment now and stop what you are doing, and just talk to Him. He is always near and never sleeps. Tell Him you want to know Him in a fresh and real way, and thank Him for the gift of life and energy and love and family and work and everything! Ask Him to forgive you for being away and opposed to Him, or ignoring and disobeying Him, and He will hear and respond. Then read His Word in a new way, asking His Holy Spirit to open your eyes and give you a new understanding. That is Betty’s desire for you on this perhaps her last day before she goes off to be with Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is so simple, yet so profound. One can argue theology all day, but one cannot argue with a changed life. I thank God for giving us all Betty as an example of His grace and love.

Am sorry I let several days go by without posting…it has been somewhat a blur for me. Yesterday the nurse asked me when Betty started on hospice and I could not recall that it has been 2 weeks!

A sweet sister from our church came yesterday and sang for Betty, one of her favorite songs. His eye is on the sparrow. Betty smiled. God smiled.

In His Love,

Wednesday, January 25
Betty is with Jesus. Thank you, Lord.

Last night she waved off further meds and would not receive further oxygen. She said she was ready to go. Matt IV and I slept next to her bed, and at one point he helped me climb into bed with her, where I was able to hold her and comfort her. My last act was to apply cream to the soles of her feet. I wanted to be standing at her side when she went, but I think she wanted to spare me that.

She is still a bit warm, but hands are cold and there is no question she is gone. Allie says she has read that sometimes the dying consciously wait until loved ones are away before they go. Or perhaps it is God who waits. She suffered so much, and so nobly, so gracefully. Last night she was still receiving guests in her room. Now I am here writing this and she is lying still. I prayed over her with the kids a moment ago. They are strong. Allie will be a great nurse. Matt is a tower of strength. They are a major part of Betty’s legacy. Not all, but special.

I am signing off this blog for now, to help clean and change her clothes and then to call hospice. As near as I can tell, she passed into the arms of Jesus at about 6:30am EST.

Thank you Lord for her life and witness, for her sweet spirit, for her strength, for her amazing strength and her amazing faith in you, her amazing God, our amazing God. She suffered well, just a glimpse into your own suffering. She will live with You forever. Amen!
Writing through tears of joy and sorrow.

No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.


Away In A Manager

Much earlier this month, I got to meet and hold a baby less than 24 hours old. It was terrifying. He seemed so small and fragile. His loudest cry barely turned a head because his lungs weren’t yet big enough to wail. He was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but mostly soft and tiny and helpless.

I was incredibly content to look at him. Who knew what would happen if I held him? Suddenly everything in the room and on my person resembled a potentially harmful weapon that could wound this little life in a split second.

This little boy was the son of my coworker Stacy. His name is Zachary and his arrival was much anticipated. Zachary was their first, and Stacy did everything she could to nurture his growth while he slowly developed within her.

She and her husband made every preparation for his entry into the world- touring the hospital, attending childbirth classes, decorating the nursery, looking up baby food recipes, getting his car seat approved, buying onesies, baby blankets, socks and hats. This little man didn’t know how good he had it when he took his first breath out of the womb.

In the midst of Advent season, God had me meet a little boy to help me meditate on the baby boy of the Christmas story. Marveling at little Zachary (and the Christmas card picture still propped up on my kitchen table), I still can’t believe Jesus donned the flesh of a helpless infant. Moreover, he didn’t have the relatively plush life that Zachary does, but rather endured real poverty, rejection, and homelessness as a newborn while embodying joy, hope, love, and peace in their purest forms.

The story of the child in a manager and his life on earth is the ultimate story of humility, for the God of heaven and earth condescended Himself into the form of an infant. The longer I think of the Christ child, the more clearly I see my own pride and sense of entitlement in contrast. Thus, during this Christmas season, I’ve asked Jesus to teach me His humility and am trusting He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself... Philippians 2:5-8


Book Review: The Gift of Being Yourself

Acknowledging from the start that it may seem paradoxical to write a “book promoting self-discovery to people who are seeking to follow a self-sacrificing Christ," David Benner insists that knowing self and knowing God are intimately intertwined.  By knowing our vulnerabilities, our gifts, our pitfalls, and our own personalities, we can better know the God who made us and meet Him as He actively delivers us.   

In The Gift of Being Yourself, Benner doesn’t gloss over the importance of disciplining ourselves to sit at God’s feet so that we might really know Him, not just know about Him.  He encourages readers to meditate on the life of Jesus as described in the Gospels as one way to give shape, color, and flesh to the God we long to know.  He also spurs the reader on to meet God in the events of daily life by taking time to reflect with God on the happenings and subsequent reactions and emotions of the day.

Knowing oneself is clearly described as knowing ourselves in relation to God and also knowing ourselves as we are and as God intends us to be.  Benner affirms that we can’t really know ourselves without knowing simple truths about the way God made us: we are sinners who are deeply loved and we are works in progress with marvelous potential.  As such, we must dig deep to discover the self that is really present, that is the self that we would prefer to ignore.  To truly know oneself, the false selves so quietly crafted must be unmasked, accepted, and then sacrificed to God for transformation.  In this way, Benner hones in on developing an integrity and authenticity to the self that does not naturally exist.  Our natural inclination is to hide and pretend, but to truly experience the “gift of being yourself,” one must first come to terms with the real self that we might not even know until we trod deeper into the journey of self-discovery. This is the redemptive restoration process of the Christian life.

Thoroughly describing both the current situation and the journey ahead, Benner continues by offering practical ideas for how to identify the false self and grow into the true self that is uniquely made and distinctively called by God.  It is evident throughout the book that both the process and outcome of truly knowing self are grounded in the Lord and intended for His glory and our deep joy. 

Benner’s case that the journey of self-discovery and knowing God are co-dependent and inseparable is a believable one.  He supports his arguments with compelling biblical texts along with keen observations of the human psyche and development. I found the premise refreshing, especially as our sinful identity is increasingly emphasized while our dual identity as God’s image bearers is (albeit fractured images) is more and more so ignored.  We are indeed “God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10).  Benner captures both identities quite well in this work and inspired me to know my true self in Christ.  

Around 100 pages, this is a simple yet centering read; especially relevant as we quickly arrive at the time of year in which we reflect on who we are and who we are becoming.  Get it!