Starving the Spirit

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught. ~Winston Churchill

Matt and I were on a self-imposed exercise and diet regimen. We both had lost a lot of weight and were feeling good about ourselves, especially our health. So seeing a health fair advertised in Sam’s Club, we decided to get a little check up.

That was when we were directed to the pharmacy at the back. The pharmacist then directed us to the doctor, “and don’t delay!” Matt was diabetic, in most cases, he would have been hospitalized his blood sugar was so high.

The doctor talked to us about how to eat and exercise, but we already were doing what he said. I was afraid and read everything I could about the evils of carbohydrates.

Matt was allowed two ounces of pasta. I cooked the noodles, weighed them out, and nearly cried. Matt looked at his rinky, dinky plate of pasta and slumped.

Not long after, we headed to the nutritionist to learn more. Silly me- I should have weighed the pasta BEFORE I cooked it. Yes, that made more sense. She talked to us about substitutions, additions, and celebrations. She took my recipes and broke them down into grams of carbs so he could still enjoy cookies.

We saw possibilities and knew he wouldn’t starve.

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. Acts 18: 24-28 NIV

Apollos was doing the best he could with what he knew. He was exercising and eating right, but he didn’t know about carbs and blood sugar. It wasn’t his fault; he was trying to stay healthy, but he didn’t have all the information. He needed a nutritionist- enter Priscilla and Aquila.

What about you? Are you on a partial spiritual regimen? Are you praying but not studying? Are you worshiping but not serving? Are you vacillating between working too hard and resting too much?

Why not find a spiritual nutritionist? Someone who is farther along on the road to spiritual health than you are. Ask for help. Ask for advice. Be open to learning more, like Apollos.

Stop starving your spirit and be fed. Don’t delay!

Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding. Proverbs 15: 30-32 NIV

Fresh Bread Obedience

“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.”  ~Annie Dillard

I used to read The Little Red Hen to my Kindergarten students.

You probably know the story. The hen wants to make bread, but first she has to put the work into it. She asks for help, but everyone has other things, better things, to do.

It didn’t take long for my students to catch on to the repetition: “Not I,” said the dog. “Not I,” said the cat. “Not I,” said the duck. “Then I will,” said the Little Red Hen, and she did.

And then the bread is ready to eat.

“And who will eat the bread?” asks the Little Red Hen.

You know the answer; don’t you?

How many of us are the dog, cat, or duck? The bread smells wonderful, but the sweat that it takes stinks.

You know what it is going to take to help that single mother- your free nights turned into babysitting, your extra cash spent buying kids’ underwear and socks, your family Thanksgiving expanded to “outsiders”.

Or what about that college kid that seems so lost? You just got your own kids out of the house, but here is this one needing laundry, meals, rides to the pharmacy.

Maybe your story is an older neighbor who needs their lawn mowed, leaves raked, a hot meal, a sidewalk shoveled. He sits in the dark, a glowing television his only companion.

Genesis 11 and Joshua 24 gives us just a hint about what might have been.

Abram’s father, Terah, gathers together his family and sets off for Canaan, but they stop in Harran. Abram is with his father for 135 years before Terah dies. Joshua 24 tells us that Terah worshiped other gods.

Somewhere along the way, Terah didn’t do the work. Was he the intended one for the Promised Land? Was God asking him to begin a new nation? Did God instruct Terah, only to lose him to other gods?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that Terah never saw Canaan- the land of future promise. He never got to eat the bread.

It was given to someone who was willing to put in the work.

Has God called you to work?

What is your answer?

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered. Matthew 21:28-31 NIV

Smart and Sexy?

My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder. ~Emma Watson

Earlier this year Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, was under fire for a photo in Vanity Fair. She was dressed in a sheer shirt with a crocheted shawl that draped suggestively, hiding enough of her breasts to make the copy permissible on most grocer’s shelves.

The arguments arose because Watson is often a voice for the feminist movement. Some leaders in the movement tweeted and shouted that showing your breasts silences your voice. Others returned the outrage with the argument that you can be both sexy and smart.

Being mostly uninterested in popular culture, I only noticed the kerfuffle last week. Since the photo didn’t startle me, I’m not sure why the article irritated me so much. I don’t really have a dog in this fight.

Except that I do.

I mentor young girls. I expect in a few years or so to have a couple of daughters-in-law. I have two nieces who are entering that stage of life when what they look like will speak louder than anything else.

And I believe both sides are right.

You can be smart and sexy. You also lose your voice when you allow sexy to speak.

The very idea of sexy is that you want to attract someone in an enticing manner. You want to be noticed in an exciting way.

Plain and simple, sexy is for the one you wish to have sex with.

Attractive, on the other hand, allows you to retain your voice. You can be noticed, will be noticed. But the first thought someone has of you is I’d like to get to know her better.

You have something to offer that lasts longer than a rumpus in the sack.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t send signals to someone that you are interested sexually. But don’t send them to the whole world.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. Ezekiel 28:17 NIV

10 Things I Learned This Summer

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

Watermelon flags are on clearance and candy corn can be found at the grocery. One season has unofficially ended and another begun. It’s time to look back over the summer and see if I am any better off than when it began.

  1. Every summer I travel a LOT and then decide that next year I will stay home more. This summer I once again learned that I would rather stay home. I love the trips while they are happening, but the return home to chaos and a lawn ready to winter a herd of cattle sends me into despair every time. Here’s to next summer when I will master the skill of staying home.

2. Practicing what you preach is difficult, but so necessary. This summer I gave a lecture on the importance of nature to nurture the soul. My ending suggestions were 30 minutes a day outside and once a week 2-3 hours. Once a month should include a day retreat- or at least half a day if you can’t find an entire day- of uninterrupted nature, rest, meditation, and reflection. I have successfully managed the daily and weekly, the monthly is getting better.  The solitude gives me peace, the outdoors gives me perspective.

3. Trees are astounding, amazing, stunning . . . I could go on forever. The Hidden Life of Trees was part of my research reading this summer, and it opened my mind and eyes to things beyond my imagination. Trees talk to each other, and even to trees of other species. They intentionally plan mass reproduction cycles, tell giraffes to go somewhere else, and kill off their enemies. Read it. You will not regret it.

4. Medical personnel no longer use real venom to counteract snake bites. The artificial ‘antivenin’ costs $3900 a bag and you will gladly pay more than that for your baby to survive. Some things you could do without learning.

5. Chinese students are given homework to do over the summer. Not little packets of busywork in case they get bored, but books of homework and online assignments. It is not wise to inform young Chinese children that this is not the habit of American schools. If there is a rebellion, it is not my fault.

6. Bureaucracy at universities is exasperating. An incorrect charge applied to my son’s bill took nearly FIVE months to get taken off of his account. This meant classes were dropped and registrations were denied. Even going in person and hand delivering letters will not guarantee that business gets taken care of.

7. Losing a loved one mentally does not lessen the pain when they actually leave you physically. It was hard to say goodbye to Grandma, but I know it’s only “See you later!”

8. Peaches at the Virginia Farmer’s Market peak in August. Oh. My.

9. It will take an entire year to fix a kitchen after the ceiling falls in. We still don’t have cupboard doors up.

10. The idea of writing a one-syllable essay sounds horribly monotone, but in actuality is a beautiful  form of art. I’m so excited that my essay was chosen for publication in Short and Sweet, Too. All proceeds benefit World Christian Broadcasting. I’ll let you know when it comes out.

It’s been a summer of reflection swimming in peaceful waters, sometimes deep and murky, other times shallow and clear. I’ve discovered that peace does not mean the absence of pain, and love provides unexpected strength.

What did you learn this summer?

While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease. Gen 8:22 NASB


Successful Failure

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill

I have written lots of things over the years. Some have been great and others have been tossed in the recycling tub before they ever fully developed. The only writing contest I ever won was in sixth grade. My first book, Devotions of a Gerbil, was sent to twenty or more publishers before it was picked up by a small press.

The failures outnumber the successes, but in spite of all these failures, I continue to write.

Peter was a professional fisherman. He had boats- plural!- so we have to assume that he was usually successful. Yet, after a night of fishing on the sea, he sometimes came up empty.

A stranger walking along the coast yelled out some great advice, “Try throwing the net on the other side of the boat.” Of course! He’d forgotten that fish only swim on one side of a boat. As ridiculous as it was, Peter threw the nets over to show this stranger that there were no fish to catch, but up came the net with a boatload of fish.

Peter spent the next three years or so learning about fishing for men. He had some successes, but he also had many failures- failures that have lived through thousands of years and been shared with millions of people. How do you like those fish?

After the resurrection, Peter went back to fishing for fish. He didn’t know what else to do.

On the dark sea he did all of the things that professional fishermen should do– out at night, good boats, strong nets, deep water–  BUT NOTHING. After throwing overboard three years of following Jesus, here was yet another failure.

Then, a stranger called out, “Try the other side of the boat.”

The water was shallow. The sun was up. It made no sense, but Peter did it anyway.

He pulled in 153 big fish and nearly sank.

What is Jesus calling you to do? Begin a clothing ministry? Clean people’s teeth in Honduras? Write songs? Start a neighborhood Bible study?

Will you throw your net out and be a successful failure? Or will you turn back to the boat you’ve been sailing in for years and keep on pulling in empty nets?

Only when we work with Jesus do we succeed. Even if we are trained and doing all the things right, true success takes a call from Jesus.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. Jeremiah 17:7 NIV

Rule the Roost or Rest

Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again. ~Og Mandino


We have two roosters.

The gray-barred rooster is younger and carefree. He chases his own bugs, wanders through the cornfield, and plays with the chicks.

The black rooster is older and believes he rules the roost. He chases down the hens, pecks the chicks, and flogs the other rooster.

I was reading in the hammock when the younger rooster and a hen headed off to the corn field for some dinner and necking. The ruling rooster was on the other side of the fence with the goats, but he saw what was happening.

He frantically ran back and forth in front of the fence unable to get out because of his anger. He couldn’t think to fly over the fence, or to go a few steps more and under the gate, or even to try hopping through the wires. I found it very amusing.

And then I thought about how much energy it takes to feed the hunger for power.

You can’t relax because there are others trying to get your hen- even though there are enough hens for everyone. You can’t enjoy your meal because you’re busy snatching bugs from babies. You don’t have friendships because you fear everyone.

Both roosters have hens. Both roosters eat well. Both roosters could be content, but one isn’t.

Which rooster are you?

 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1 Timothy 6:6-7 NIV

God’s Way of Life

Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. ~Mark Twain

I asked a man recently about his wife. “She’s alright. She had to go to a family funeral for an uncle. He was hard to get along with and won’t be missed.”

It was said matter-of-fact and pragmatically, without contempt or malice.

How sad to have that be the epithet after your death.

Abram was a good man. He invited strangers in for a meal. He gave the best land to his nephew.  He defended the helpless and rescued the captive.

God says about him, “Yes, I’ve settled on him as the one to train his children and future family to observe God’s way of life, live kindly and generously and fairly, so that God can complete in Abraham what he promised him.” Genesis 18:19 MSG

Did you catch that? To live God’s way of life is to be kind, generous, and fair.

You find yourself on another committee at school when the younger teachers haven’t put in as many hours. Do you complain about already paying your dues, or do you smile and offer your expertise?

The dog- that you didn’t ask for- has just vomited a trail to the door. Do you throw up your own hissy fit or do you quietly clean the mess?

Another letter comes in the mail asking for help with a mission trip. Do you grumble about trips to exotic countries and the lost in your own country, or do you give your date night money and go serve dinner in the shelter?

I never knew my friend’s uncle-in-law, but I would guess he didn’t live God’s way.

What will be said about you when your time is ended?

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. . . . Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. Deuteronomy 15: 7-8, 10 NIV

Community For the Individual

“I believe that the community- in the fullest sense: a place and all its creatures- is the smallest unit of health and that to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.” ~Wendell Berry

Our children were born in the Philadelphia area. I was pregnant with the first when we moved there, so finding a pediatrician/family doctor was high on the priority list. I was blessed to find Dr. Warren.

Dr. Warren “examined” the whole family, regardless if it was a sick or well-visit. At every appointment he asked about all of the other family members. If the baby wasn’t eating right, he wanted to know what Mom was eating and doing. If Matt had strep, he wanted to know everyone’s temperature. When a horrible stomach bug visited, he doctored the whole family, even the ones not yet affected.

I’m part of a group of women that is meeting to read the Bible together. We read it, confess it, dig into it, and look for it in each others’ lives. When something isn’t working for one of us, we question what the rest of life looks like. Is there a virus somewhere else that’s slowing healthy growth?

This past spring I paid to be part of an online writers’ community where I could learn from the masters and make some contacts. It was helpful, and I think I have seen some positive results, but it wasn’t the same as being part of a live group who knows me intimately. It was not sustainably formative, correcting, or encouraging.

Are you spending most of your social time on Facebook? Do you find Instagram looks better than the faces in front of you? Do you text your family more than you sit down to eat with them? Does breakfast together take less time than a Snap Chat quip?

Maybe it’s time you developed a new community, an in-person, live, face-to-face community. Christ formed communities and even sent disciples in pairs. He understood that this life needs encouragement and support. He understood the importance of a touch, a tear, a nod, and a hug.

Community is important to the entire individual, body and soul. What are you doing to improve your health?

Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. “For whom am I toiling,” he asked, “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered,two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 NIV

Rocky Garden

Gardeners instinctively know that flowers and plants are a continuum and that the wheel of garden history will always be coming full circle. ~ Francis Cabot Lowell

My grandfather plowed the field that would be the extended family’s garden. It was across the driveway under the big pine where the swings sat untouched by children.

There was work to be done. No time for swinging now.

Every year we tilled the soil and picked up rocks. The rocks grew in the cold churning of winter; then in spring they burst forth unable to stay beneath the surface.

The rocks had to be removed in order to plant the new crop, to give the tender shoots sunshine and soil that would produce a great harvest. My job was to pick up the rocks and stack them in some fashion at the end of the field.

Spring turned to summer and the garden grew. Weeding and watering were followed by the harvest and canning. The seasons cycled on summer to fall to winter again.

Then spring rushed upon us with a new crop of rocks. No matter how many times we tilled the same garden there were always more rocks in the spring.

You think you’ve kicked the smoking habit, then the cold wind of unemployment blows your way and you light up again.

You manage to control your tongue at the community soccer game, but then that little rascal throws an elbow at your daughter and words fly out of your mouth like snow in a blizzard, blinding everyone in your path.

You succeed in paying off most of the credit card bill, but your favorite patient passed away and that little sundress will make you forget the snowbank of pain that is drifting higher against your chest.

Every winter brings more rocks, and every summer another opportunity to clear them out.

To everything there is a season . . . but summer is the most productive. Why not stack a few rocks this week?

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 NIV

Garden Work, Garden Rest

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace. ~May Sarton

I didn’t enjoy working in the garden as a kid. It was my job to pick up the rocks that had surfaced over the winter and stack them at the end of the field.  Once the rocks were removed, it was time to weed. If the weeding was finished it was time to harvest, and that meant chopping, peeling, and cutting.

The garden was never-ending work.

I enjoyed other gardens over the years, though. Flower gardens spray color over well-tended lawns. Arboretums cast shade over well-worn paths. English hedgerows meander around historic mansions and palaces. Those were gardens provided for me, unworked by my hands.

They offered rest and thoughtful meditation.

The Bible narrative starts and ends in gardens. And just like my experiences, there are two ways to look at gardens. They can be unhappy remembrances of Satan’s first battle with mankind, or gardens can be reminders of the future walled garden that sustains us and is watered by a life-giving river that runs through it.

Summer is a great time to meditate on the garden. We share our garden bounty with friends and family. A child offers a fistful of flowers to a mother. We bring in a bouquet of flowers cut for the dinner table that groans under the weight of fresh corn, green beans, and new potatoes.

But garden gifts don’t come without labor. We bend and stretch after a long morning weeding. We apply ointment to calloused hands that have hoed many rows. Dirty footprints track across the kitchen floor after an evening spent watering the garden.

Just as Eden brought work and pain and frustration, it also lingers in our common consciousness as the place where we met with our father, the Great Gardener.

Find some time this week to walk through a garden and meditate on the time, perhaps not so far from now, when we will once again walk with God through the garden paradise.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. Revelation 22:1-3 NIV

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