All posts by Traci Stead

Let It Be To Me

I know my Christmas posts are late in coming, but in the hubub of holiday busyness, writing falls low on the priority list. Travel, shopping, other events and parties, wrapping, cooking, cards, and calls fill my days, and perhaps my mind, to overflowing. But now in the stillness of a January freeze I contemplate. Would I have uttered, “Let it be to me”?

An angel showed up, certainly like Mary, I would listen. I love babies and children, and to have the child of God would be perfection, surely. Yes, God, let it be to me as you have said. But babies and burp cloths are not what she really agreed to.

Mary quickly agreed and said, “Let it be to me”, but she didn’t know what lay ahead- a baby in  a manger in a strange town, a son who is considered so crazy that you fetch him home, his death as a criminal. Had she known all of that, would she still have said, “Let it be to me”?

God doesn’t give us the whole picture at once. It would be too overwhelming. But He knows my heart. He knows I want to say, “Let it be to me”, and He answers, “A little at a time, my child.”

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”b 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”c 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be bornd will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.   Luke 1:26-38

Jesus’ Lifetime of Suffering

The manger and the tree are put away. The returns have been made, the furniture put back in place, and school books are tossed on the stairs. Yes, Christmas is over.

2000+ years ago it meant that Mary’s breasts ached, Joseph was job hunting in an overpopulated town, and the baby cried a lot. Christmas was far from over. Christ had come and, at the same time, had not yet come. Mary and Joseph had a lot of work ahead of them. They were new parents, confused and bewildered, and deservedly so.

Others parents wonder how this tiny life happened and how they will cope. Mary and Joseph really didn’t know how this tiny life happened, and it sure didn’t seem like things were going the way God would want His son to be cared for; confused and bewildered didn’t even begin to describe them.

The days flew by and soon toddler Jesus was walking and talking. The family moved a couple of times and then found themselves settling down in Nazareth. By now Mary and Joseph had a couple more kids and had figured out how all of this was supposed to work.

Perhaps now the gossip that had followed them in Bethlehem would die down. But people are slow to forget a scandal, and children are cruel. I wonder about the Torah lessons and if Jesus was made an example of during class. I wonder if kids whose parents talked too much would later during a game spit the ugly words out at the child Jesus. I wonder if he cried at the sting of the words, or even the sting of a stone.

Having a mother’s heart, I feel the pain Mary must have felt as her son was treated with disdain. Joseph was a good man, treating Jesus as his very own, but a father’s love can only shield so much, and children are cruel. But the times that I want to shield my children turn into the times that help them grow into men. Learning to live through life’s pain is part of learning to live. So Mary held her tongue.

Is that how Jesus learned to deal with and be merciful to sinners when he was grown? Did living on “the wrong side of the tracks” give Jesus some insight into the pain of those he came to serve? When they asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”, did Jesus remember the childhood of disgrace?

Hebrews says that Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered, but he didn’t start by going to the cross. He started by being a baby, a child, a teen; each step of growth a new lesson to learn until ultimately he was ready to obey. Where are you on this journey of obedience? Are you still falling on your toddler hands and knees, or are you stepping forth declaring with your changing voice and body that you “know what you are doing”? Or, have you, like the adult Jesus, learned obedience from what you have suffered?

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, 10 being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 5:7-10 ESV

Standing As Cheesy Vegetable Soup

I returned from Christmas Holiday to a refrigerator holding the last. The last of the cauliflower. The last of the celery. The last half of an onion and the last few baby carrots. I imagine they all thought they had been forgotten and would be tossed out as soon as I got the chance. Instead, I made cheesy vegetable soup.

I used all of those veggies and the last of the mashed potatoes from our New Year’s lunch to make a delicious, nutritious soup that even the finickiest kid would eat. There was only enough soup left over for a small lunch for me the next day.

John Milton, the famous author of Paradise Lost, was a blind poet later in life. He wrote about his concerns and fears that blindness would limit his ability to serve God:

When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide,

Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest He returning chide.

“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”

I fondly ask, but Patience to prevent

that murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need

Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best

Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state

Is kingly. Thousands at His bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest;

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Sometimes I wonder if I am the last in the refrigerator. I feel like everyone has gone before me and been a steak with stuffed mushrooms and a beautiful salad with balsamic dressing. Now here I am sitting in the crisper drawer wondering if the next grocery run will replace me. I’ll be scraps thrown over the fence to some old goats.

But that is just ridiculous. Perhaps I am still in the crisper drawer and everyone else has had their turn, but God can still whip up a cheesy vegetable soup, and every kid will want a spoonful. I can still serve God, even if I only stand and wait.

 

You Turkey!

IMG_20131231_112444926 (1)This is a picture of a big turkey, nearly twenty pounds. At least it used to be. Way back in November, I roasted a huge turkey. It was more than we could eat, so I froze it in zip lock plastic bags. Last week I took out one of the bags, and we have been having turkey ever since. First, we ate turkey as a main dish. Then I shredded some of it and cooked it with green chilies and tomatoes for a soft taco dinner. Next, I cut up the turkey in chunks and made a heavy gravy for creamed turkey and biscuits. Finally, I threw the rest of the turkey into a gnocchi soup, and there you have it: Turkey.

It’s the beginning of a new year, and we like to think of all of the possibilities it brings. I made a list of all of the things I want to accomplish. I even wrote out a daily schedule to help keep me on task and focused. It’s January 2, and I already have blown the schedule. Twice.

And though I am annoyed with “life” that gets in the way of my schedule and plans, I’m actually okay with the way it isn’t turning out. Because, although every time I ate turkey, it turned into lots of different tasty dishes. The possibilities this year are endless; I just have to keep on cooking.

Happy New Year! And may you enjoy all the meals it brings, whether you planned them or not.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”  Julia Child

Adoption That Keeps On Adopting

One year ago we adopted our newest addition, Captain. The seemingly sweet beagle pup needed a new home. His family was adding another human pup and were concerned about a snapping behavior he had with the youngest child. We drove over to their house to “look”, but Amos fell in love and the look became took.

We took Captain home, and within twelve hours I was ready to return him. He has a mean streak; they were right to be concerned about Captain near a little kid. His meanness, though, seems to be contained to moments when he wants things his way and no other. If he thinks he should be on the couch, and I never think he should be there, then he growls and snaps as he grumpily gets down and goes to his stool. If he thinks he should be allowed to jump up on Matt’s lap and eat off the table, and Matt thinks he should not do thusly, Captain snaps and grouchily glares at us from his designated time-out spot.

Yet, here we are a year later, still feeding, bathing, and caring for Captain. Honestly, if it weren’t for Amos, another family that was “looking” after we did would have had the little guy. But Amos saved Captain, because I love Amos and was willing to forgive the dog his offenses for Amos’s sake.

007It helped Amos’s case that Kelly had come before Captain. I learned some things from her and have a little more patience for badly behaved dogs because of her. Kelly was trouble, just like Captain, wanting her way, peeing on my carpet, dragging fleas into the boys’ beds, and tearing into the garbage. But ten years with Kelly taught me that she was a gift, sent to teach me what it feels like to be my Father.

In this season of gift-giving, look for the gift that gives back unexpectedly. Perhaps a puppy or kitten, perhaps a night in a soup kitchen, or perhaps, just maybe, there is a babe in a manger waiting to grow in your heart.

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

 

Sweet Smells

It was one of those sunny afternoon walks that warms your heart and lightens your mood. I was visiting with Matt, enjoying the sun on my cheeks, when a sweet smell wafted by on the breeze.

“Mmm. Home,” I said as we passed the community garden.

“What?” he asked turning toward me.

Thinking he hadn’t heard me, I repeated, “Home. It smells like home.”

He laughed at me and quipped, “Home smells like crap. That’s manure you’re smelling.”

“I know, but it’s aged manure. That’s different. It’s sweet.”

Home means something different to each of us, and my mother will probably cringe and faint through the floor if she reads that home smells like crap to me, but it isn’t the manure that I am reminded of. As that odor blew by on the breeze, I was remembering warm summer days riding my horse, sitting under a tree reading a book, a game of Hide-and-Seek in a cornfield, and happiness.

Other happy home “smellories” are popcorn balls and homemade penuche icing, fresh baked pepperoni rolls, and a wood fire in the fireplace. I still smell my grandma as I hug her for plaiting my hair, and the fragrance of freshly mown hay instantly sends me strolling down memory lane.

So, sorry, Mom, if it offends, but I like that home smells sweetly of crap.

 

Increase: Verb or Noun?

Nearly a month ago a friend sent me a message. She makes it a practice to ask God for a word for a person. This particular week she had been praying for a word for me, and the word that she felt given was “increase”. She explained her prayer request to me and then told me my word.

She didn’t know what it meant. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do with it either.

I have been praying for years that our tiny church will grow, and I hope(d) that increase was an answer to that prayer. Perhaps God was letting me know that the blessing will soon come. The fields will be white with more than snow and our church will grow.

But what if it was intended as a verb instead of a noun? Perhaps God was telling me to increase something I was doing? Increase my activities at church, my audience, my time with particular people. . .?

After nearly two weeks of prayer and contemplation on my part I headed to scripture for some insight. The first “increase” scripture I came across was Genesis 1:22, “Be fruitful and increase in number.” Oh, dear Lord, please NOT THAT! I know I asked for more kids years ago, but that was YEARS ago. I’m too old for that now!

Quickly moving on, there was an “increase in wickedness” (pretty sure that wasn’t it), and “oppress the poor to increase your wealth” (another no-no), and then 1 Thessalonians 3:12: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

That was one I could stomach, but still was it the “increase” that my friend had been given for me? Then I considered asking her to beg God for another word. Increase what or what will increase? One more word isn’t too much to ask, is it? Then I imagined God’s sense of humor trickling down from heaven with “the” and decided I better stick to increasing my love for others.

See, asking God for another word would be ungrateful for the word already given. It would be selfish and rude to ask God for more when I hadn’t even asked for anything to start with. The blessing lay in knowing that God is aware of me and my desires. He knows when I need to increase something, and he knows when I need something increased. So whatever it means, whether verb or noun, the only thing I really need to know is that God knows.

God the Goatherd

Our normally warm autumn has not shown itself much this year. The days have been colder than usual, and the wind blows with a special bite meant to send you rushing indoors. Migrating robins were heading south a few weeks ago while I walked along the river, actually preceded months ago by the geese traipsing across the sky. I have been watching the signs of winter approaching and have been dismayed to see the completely black woolly worms, signaling a long, cold winter ahead. IMG_20131123_112704

I haven’t just watched the natural signs, though. I have been keeping my eye on the weather when the news is on in the morning. Not long ago, the temps were to dip down in the low 20s, and I thought I better throw some hay in the barn for the goats. They do have an especially thick coat this year, but a little extra covering would surely be appreciated.

As I spread hay out for my girls I thought about the way my God takes care of me. Mary, Maddie, and Faye have no idea what the weather will be from one day to the next. They know that winter is approaching; they can read the signs, too. But they don’t know when a night is going to be especially severe. That is when I enter with my extra care and attention.

IMG_20131123_112817I have an idea of what life holds for me, but I don’t know all of the particulars or when they will occur. But God is always there watching the news while I go on with my everyday life. When the weather is about to change, He comes out with an extra bale of hay to pad and comfort my cold, dark nights. He scatters an extra bowl of feed into the bucket, pats my back, and reassures me that he is there watching over everything.

The Lord is my goatherd, I shall not be in want. He lets me lie down in sunny pastures, he fills my trough with water, he restores my soul.

Thankful Thanksgiving

I grew up in the north central part of West Virginia, about an hour each from Pennsylvania and Maryland. In late September the first yellow twinges of color dot the hillsides as the trees prepare for their last hoorah before the cold winter overtakes them. All through October the reds and golds shine brilliantly during sunny, autumn days. Then cold, frosty nights turn the bright colors to dreary browns, and the leaves float to the ground to cover the previous years’ mulch. By the time Halloween is over with, so is Fall.

Now that I live in the South, I realize that Thanksgiving is a fall festival for much of the country. It is easier to recognize your blessings when the sun shines down on red and gold leaves. The wind may blow cold briskness through my britches, but blessings are in abundance and the sky is blue and bright. IMG_20131123_103402874

This year I am especially thankful for the publishing of my first book, Devotions Of a Gerbil. I am thankful that I managed to teach one kid well enough that he has been accepted into a college. I am grateful that my happy marriage includes a now safely diabetic husband. I am pleased that my younger son is doing well in school and has good friends. I am grateful for friends who encourage and support me in whatever I try. And I am extremely thankful that I serve a God who thinks me worthy of being his servant.

Hebrews 12:28-29 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom  which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an  acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.

Everyone’s Experience or A 16 YO’s Wisdom

Not long ago, a very important paper came in the mail. Jonathan was accepted to the college of his choice. We were fairly sure that he would get in, but still the anticipation built as he tore into the envelope. He was happy to announce that in the fall he will be a Bison at Lipscomb University.IMG_20131116_214013007

Why did he choose Lipscomb? Well, Lipscomb may not want to know this, but he chose it because he can leave it faster than other colleges. Yep, you read that right. He can leave faster.

You see, Jonathan has never enjoyed school. He loves learning- what he wants to learn. Everything else is just drudgery. So when he found out that he could get a bachelor’s degree in three years instead of four, Jonathan was all in. On top of that he will start in the fall with some course work already completed during his high school years, so he legitimately hopes to finish in 2 1/2 years!

As we talked about college, Jonathan asked me to tell him what it will be like. “I don’t know if I can,” I explained. “Your experience will be a lot different than mine. I took some time off before going to college because I was tired of school. Then a year after I did start, I married your dad. We moved and I transferred schools. I never lived in a dorm or ate at the cafeteria.”

“You’re right that our experiences will be different,” he replied, “but really they are the same. We both don’t (didn’t) want to be in school but know it has to be done in order to get the degree to do what we really want to do. It’s all the same goal.” Wisdom comes from sixteen year olds, too, sometimes.

IMG_20131123_102926789_HDRI was walking through the farm fields and noticed brown stripes where the bean harvester had changed directions. As the large machine swept through the field, it harvested in one direction and then the next, creating a pattern of dark and light brown stripes.

The goal of the harvester never changed, the direction that the goal was met did. We all have the same goal- a relationship with the Father- but we each take a different path there. (I’m not talking about other religions; Jesus is the only way to the Father.) Some of us take the shortest route, seeing a 2 1/2 year option and racing straight to the finish line. Others of us putz along kicking dust in the wind as we wander along a winding path. And still others of us head in a different direction for years before we realize the map is turned upside down; then we flip it over and head toward the Father.

Don’t let others tell you that your experience is wrong. God gives each of us a different route with different scenery, speed bumps, and traffic lights. The only question you need to ask is, Am I heading in the right direction?

“Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-10