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


Leash Laws

Captain’s favorite sight, yes, even more than a bone, is of me picking up the leash. He turns into a begging kangaroo, jumping in circles and bounding as high as my chin, overjoyed to be on his way down the lane. New smells, a possible dog fight with the neighbor, romping with the pups, chasing a cat, he never knows what excitement might await him. Captain absolutely adores a walk.

However, he will turn his head as soon as the leash, removed from the wall peg, nears his nose. I have to grab his head and hold him still while I place the gentle lead around his muzzle. Captain both loves and hates the leash.

The leash stands for excitement and new possibilities, but it also means giving me the control. I don’t have any mean ulterior motives in my walking Captain. I want him to enjoy the walk, maintain his health, have some new experiences, and stay near my side. I slow down to let him smell things. I run next to him (don’t tell my chiropractor) when he is feeling extra energetic, and I let him explore new areas.

IMG_20131123_095800943I don’t, however, let him into the muddy ditch. There are ditches I do allow him into, but some ditches are off limits. He may go into the water-filled ditch and get a drink. He may crawl through the weed-infested ditches to satisfy his beagle nose. He may dig in ditches dried from sunshine and lack of rain. BUT, he may not get into muddy ditches.

Why not muddy ditches? Because he will have to have a bath. He cannot bring the filth of the ditch into my house. And in my house is where he wants to be. When darkness falls and temperatures drop, Captain wants the safety and warmth of my house, but the only way that is allowed is if he is clean, smelling only of dog, not old manure, dead animals, or skunk.IMG_20131123_100724625

And that is where the leash law comes in. If Captain follows the laws of the leash, he will stay by my side enjoying the walk, experiencing all of its delights, and then he will return straight home to my livingroom. But if he doesn’t obey the leash laws, he cannot come in until apologies are made and stink-stains are washed.


Sound familiar? The Master leads with the loveliest of leashes. Wear the leash.

“Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord; do not let me put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. (29-32)

“I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (44-45)

“Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. (165)

IMG_20131123_095803906“May my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word. May my supplication come before you; deliver me according to your promise. May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees. May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous. May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me. I have strayed like a lost pup (sheep). Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commandments. (169-176)” Excerpts from Psalm 119

Damage Done

I opened the bedroom window and crawled back under the covers. The sun was shining brightly on the green and yellow birch leaves of an autumn morning. Propping myself up a bit I stared out the window, whispering to God my daily concerns. I noticed the tree give a shiver and a few leaves fall off the branches. I didn’t notice a breeze waft through the window, so I was surprised by the action.

Turning my attention to the Bible in my lap, I began reading the morning’s scripture. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed more leaves drift from a shivering branch. How odd, I thought, it’s like a Peanuts cartoon, leaves falling without reason. Every few minutes a branch or two would tremble and off would fall a few more leaves. But there seemed to be no air movement to cause it.

Staring intently at the tree, I now noticed a small sparrow flit from one branch to another. As she repositioned her perch, a few more leaves slowly fluttered to the ground. This continued for a brief time, and then she flew off to the holly tree across the road.

The leaves would have fallen off the birch in a week or so. It wasn’t as if the bird had done anything horrible, but I wondered about the “fall-out”. Did the bird have any idea of the damage she had done? Did she know that she had hastened the tree’s seasonal death? Did she know the results of her behavior? 073

Snuggling down under my comforter, I whispered to God some more; apologies for havoc unintentionally wreaked on the world I live in. Often I live my days concerned about myself, never noticing the leaves that I have shaken from my friends’ trees. If I have caused you to tremble and lose a bit of your self as I flew off to the holly, I am truly sorry.

Good nature and good sense must ever join; To err is human, to forgive, divine. – Alexander Pope


There is a job hazard to being a preacher: Moving. I know, lots of jobs require picking up and resettling every few years, but it seems the lot of the preacher’s family is seldom to put down roots.

There are some ministry families that make it through their children’s school years without a move, but it doesn’t happen often. We have lived here for nine years now, an eternity for some churches. My children have friends, childhood memories, traditions, and shallow though they be, roots. It has been a blessing to stay in one home, one town, one church for most of the boys’ childhoods. It is an answered prayer.

After we lived here a year or so, I planted fruit trees. A sign of stability, permanence. I asked God to let us stay here at least until the children were out of school. I wanted them to experiece having a hometown, a place to call theirs. It seems God has answered that prayer.

But, it also seems, that the sense of permanence does not come with having been in a place for many years. Last week, I noticed an advertisement in a church paper for a minister in Ireland. Knowing my children love to “speak” in an Irish accent, I spontaneously and jokingly suggested we try for the job. The younger child was stunned. 001

“You mean we’re moving again?!”

Honestly, he has been here for all of his memory. What did he mean by AGAIN!?

And then it hit me. Perhaps we have not moved for nine years, but moving has always been a threat to our family. Several years ago we spoke with the boys about the possibility of moving if the church couldn’t afford to pay us any longer. The boys agreed to tighten their belts and stay put, but evidently they also put two and two together and knew that it might not last.

I’m sad that the black cloud of impermanence has burdened my children’s childhood, but perhaps it has also taught them a lesson. This world is not our home.

Enjoy the time you have, the friends you make, the memories and experiences and happinesses, but remember that you don’t belong here. We live in a hotel waiting for the day when the house will be ready.

An Open Letter To Church Ladies

My two teen sons and I walked up to the gate and asked to be let in. We were working concessions at the local university basketball game. I was surprised to see the long line waiting to get in already. I know we had a good season last year, but the line seemed a bit excessive for a pre-season game.

We inventoried the booth, greeted school friends, and settled in to our posts as the guards opened the doors to let everyone in. Girls in varying amounts of clothing poured through the doors like a little kid pouring syrup on pancakes. The floor could not sop up all of the skin that was streaming through the doors.

“What is going on?” I asked. It seems we were selling concessions for the homecoming concert, not the ball game. I was in shock.

At first I was mortified to see nearly naked girls left and right, under my boys’ noses. Bosoms bobbed up and down wobbling across the hall on four and six inch stilettos. Rear cheeks smiled from scantily covered mini-dresses. Make-up was the only covering in full abundance.

As the line continued to join us indoors, my shock turned to sadness. My first instinct was to ask the girls if their fathers had seen a picture of them before they left the dorm rooms. Later, I wondered if they had fathers, and would the fathers care?

And, finally, I thought, this is my fault. How many times have I looked at a girl and thought, she’s attractive. How many times have I based my opinion on someone because of how they looked? How many times have I wondered what others think of me based on how I look?

And here is the kicker- I AM THE CHRISTIAN! I am the one who knows that God loves me because He is God not because I look good. I am the one who knows that Jesus died for me while I was still a stinky rat swimming in sewage. I am the one who has the Spirit of God residing in my flesh, shining forth his beauty to the world around me.

Yes, Church Ladies, we have taught these girls no better than the world’s message: How you look is how you will be judged.

Of course, these misguided girls thought that the look they should go for was a Victoria’s Secret catalogue cover, but really the message wasn’t any different than the one church ladies send out: We love you because you look nice.

I left the concert with a new resolution. Once a week I will fast from my looks. I will remember that God is the beauty I want people to see when they look at me. No make-up, no special clothes. No fragrances, no jewelry, no special hair-dos. Nothing but the beauty of Jesus.

Will you join me?

Bad Words

“Megan said the “B” word!”

I could not imagine that my sweet, little kindergarten student actually said the “B” word, so I probed a little further. It turned out that the word in question was “bra”. Not a dirty word to most of society, but to this little one it was scandalous.

The “D” word entered our house on 9-17-13. It isn’t a dirty word to most of society, but it rocked our world. Scandalous doesn’t even begin to describe it. Diabetes.

Diabetes seemed so inoculous,  so ordinary, so mundane, until it was declared by a doctor upon my husband. Suddenly its meaning changed to  kidney failure, blindness, amputation, stroke, heart disease, death. It was shocking and unexpected. It stopped us in our tracks, and only now after nearly two months are we starting to fall out of the funnel cloud.

Matt and I already were losing weight and exercising, doing all of the things we should be doing to stay healthy, but diabetes happened anyway. We learned about carbohydrates and how many are acceptable for him to have. We learned about insulin and how to give him a shot in the stomach. We discovered that most people have diabetes 5-10 years before they ever even know it. We learned about all of the bad side-effects of diabetes and recommitted ourselves to living healthfully.

Matt’s glucose levels have stabilized enough now to come off of the insulin. He watches carefully how many carbs he eats and at what time he eats them. He is continuing to lose weight. We feel like we have been given a second chance.

But, a couple weeks ago, Matt left town to attend a conference. Travel, the conference schedule, and restaurant food meant that his numbers began to escalate. Time to refocus and reassess. We learned something new: you don’t recover from diabetes. It stays with you for the rest of your life.

There is another word that holds little meaning to most of the world, but to a Christian it is disheartening. The word is “SIN”. Sin often seems inoculous, ordinary, and mundane. It is disheartening because it is so deceptive, like diabetes. It sneaks into your life without your notice. It hides little secrets under the rug. It tells you it resides across the street, not at your house.

But then the Great Physician makes his diagnosis and offers a second chance. Although sin can kill you just as easily as diabetes, there is also a way to escape its grasp. Sin is a lifelong predicament, but should you find yourself lulled back into complacency toward it, you will be offered another chance at obedience as soon as you refocus and recommit.

Instinct is Insanity

Isabelle is an innocent, yellow lab who lives down the road from us. She has a great family, is friendly, and stays in a kennel that I walk by daily. She is also the bane of my existence right now; you see, Isabelle is in heat.008

Captain our 1 1/2 year old beagle is desperate to get to her, though he doesn’t know why. He can smell her fertility clock half a mile away, and he can’t stand it. He whines constantly, a high-pitched, complaining, whine of desperation and frustration. He whines to be let outside, then whines to come back in. He can’t sleep at night, is restless all day, and is misbehaving at an alarming rate. Instinct is driving him insane.

Last night we headed to bed around 10:00, but Captain couldn’t relax. At 11:00, I arose with him and let him out. When coyotes started howling and running our way five minutes later, we headed inside to safety. But still Captain was dissatisfied. I took him to the livingroom, so that at least Matt could sleep, and settled myself on the couch. A while later, there was Captain again, sidling up to the couch, begging for comfort. He was shaking, trembling, definitely upset; “Make it stop, Mom,” he seemed to beg.

Humans live by instinct too. Day by day they go through their lives trying to figure out why they can’t find satisfaction. Eating whatever they desire, sleeping with whomever seems good at the time, clawing their way to the top of society’s ladder, all of these things should bring happiness and contentment. But instead, most people pace the floor at night unable to rest or relax. Dissatisfied and discontent, they plod through each day trying to hide their trembling from all of the other discontented people.

Captain’s frustration will end in about four more days, but only to return again when the next female’s alarm goes off. There is no way for me to explain to him what is going on and why. Thankfully, we are not left alone to our instincts. God has told us what and why. He has explained the enemy and his threats.

When you hear that old coyote start howling and running your way, why not throw open the door to the Master? Push yourself up to him and beg him to make it stop. “Please, Daddy, save me from myself!”

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