Sunday, December 31, 2017


I read somewhere that Christians shouldn't make New Year's resolutions. I don't remember who wrote it or what the reasoning was behind it because it was so outside the realm of the way I think that I couldn't process it. No less an authority than Jonathan Edwards made resolutions -- he ended up with seventy -- and whether or not they were "New Year's" resolutions is not exactly the point. The point is to consciously set goals and to assess (and reassess) where one is with regard to those goals. So if you want to set "birthday resolutions" or "Labor Day resolutions," it's all good. The important thing is to have intentions and goals and objectives and to remind yourself regularly of the things you say you mean to accomplish. You need to walk the talk. (I need to walk the talk.)

I need no one to persuade me that resolutions are valuable. I am a resolution maker from WAY back. I think if you never make a resolution there is something a little bit off about you. Surely you don't imagine that you've achieved a level of perfection that is so near the ultimate that you don't have anything in your life you'd like to change. And resolutions don't have to be about becoming a better person -- they can be about checking items off of a to-do list, too.

Anyway -- here are mine. I always think there should be more, but this is what I've come up with for now.

1. The Spiritual Stuff

  • My prayer life is a perpetual resolution and I think it always will be. I want to pray better, more consistently, more fervently.
  • Related (but different): in James 4 we're told that we don't have because we don't ask. In Ephesians 5 we're told to be "filled with the Spirit." In Luke 11 Jesus tells us to ask -- repeatedly. So here's what I want: I want more of God. I want to be willing to accept his gifts, to be open to them, and to use what he gives me to bring him glory and honor. I want to understand in a visceral way that he is my exceeding great reward. I want to love him more, trust him more, think of him more.
  • I want humility. This is my besetting sin: thinking more of myself than I ought to think and thinking more of myself than I do of others.

2. The Health Stuff

  • Fire up the ol' low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet. It works for me when I let it.
  • I need to head back to the gym at least three times a week; bonus points if I go four. My Fitbit died, but I'm going to ask for one for my birthday. That's not until July, but July will come.
  • Get control of my sleep schedule. This is the resolution most likely to fail, I am afraid. I try and I try and I try and I fail and I fail and I fail. I love the nighttime. I'll be tired and draggy all afternoon and evening and around 10:00 I get a surge of energy. It's annoying and frustrating.
  • Bring a salad to work (three times a week). Because I don't get to bed until 3:00 I sleep until 11:00. I get up to be at work by noon and I don't usually have time to eat breakfast (and I don't usually feel like it). I bring nothing to around 3:00 I'm starving. And I eat junk. I need to be proactive about this -- a salad is the way to go.

3. The Mind Stuff

  • Learn Latin. I got a book a couple of years ago. I just need to do it.
  • Work on my own personal reading challenge (I posted it on Facebook; basically it involves finishing Proust, starting John Frame's A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, and reading the Book of Common Prayer).

4. The Rest of the Stuff

  • Finish my online course in lettering (faux calligraphy). I signed up (and paid) for this course over a year ago and only did the first lesson.
  • A few years ago I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a cordless Dyson vacuum (which I love -- as much as one can love a vacuum, anyway). It won't clean the whole house on one charge, but it's so light and quick that if I did a little every other day my house would stay clean with minimal effort. Stella seems to be in perpetual shed-mode, so this really needs to happen.
  • Blog more. And here we are.
  • Implement the recommendations in Tim Challies' Do More Better. This is a book, broadly, on time management/productivity. It was the first or second book that I read for my challenge in 2017 and I kind of brushed it off because I didn't feel like I needed it. I started working last summer, though, and even though I'm not sure why that made such a big difference in my life (as far as remembering where I need to be and what I need to do), it has. Challies' advice (helpfully given from a Christian perspective) centers around three technological tools: a time management tool (like Todoist, Wunderlist, etc.), a scheduling tool (like Google Calendar, Outlook, and others), and an information tool (like Evernote, OneNote, and so on). 
  • Set up my office. Painting, filing, furnishing -- it's a whole thing.
So that's it. Fourteen goals for 2018 (I should come up with four more...). 

More later...

Saturday, December 30, 2017

More Is More

There is a very popular article trending right now on The Gospel Coalition web site entitled "3 Ways I Plan to Read the Bible Less in 2018." It doesn't take a genius to understand why this is a popular article: anything that gives us permission to do less in the area of spiritual disciplines (while achieving more!) is going to be popular. Like "Great Abs in 3 Minutes a Day." And we all know how that turns out.

I think the article makes some good points but that its broad conclusions and prescriptions are not the most beneficial. The author writes about reading cursorily, plowing through a daily reading just to check it off his to-do list, never (never?) finishing his read-the-Bible-in-a-year plans. He reminds us of the purpose of reading God's Word (adding a great D.A. Carson quote: "No one drifts toward holiness"). All of these are not only valid concerns, they were warned against by the granddaddy of all reading plan writers, Robert Murray M'Cheyne. In other words, they are nothing new. But here is something I learned in 2017 by reading 104 books as I conquered Tim Challies' reading challenge.

There are different kinds of reading with different aims and different results and benefits. Everything we read can't be meditated upon thoughtfully or we will only read a few verses a month or a book or two a year. Meditation is very important, but so is a deluge of Scripture -- a sort of bathing in God's Word without pausing to dwell deeply. That deep consideration is vital to a Christian's growth, but reading -- even quickly, almost cursorily -- provides its own type of benefit. Less significant, no doubt, but life can't be all kale and broccoli. We need less nutritionally dense foods too -- bananas and brown rice (much less nutrient dense than the aforementioned green vegetables) are a part of a very healthy diet, too.

When I was plowing through Challies' program I did not have time to pause to savor some of the chewier works that I was reading -- books by Puritan authors, for example. Yet, fast reading has benefits. First, I was exposed to books that I'll want to come back to when I have the time to concentrate and ponder. More importantly, though -- it's surprising how things stick, even when you don't think they will. Little snippets of things I read quickly asserted themselves when I was conversing about a particular subject. Apparently we are not as stupid as we think we are -- just being exposed to things can have at least a mild effect.

Here's the thing: when it comes to Scripture (and things of God generally) less is never more. More is more. We DO have time. If you literally waste no time in a day and have no extra moments to spend in God's Word -- well, to be honest I can't even imagine that. I think anyone who makes that claim is a liar (maybe even deluding himself). We can -- we just choose not to.

I think the best idea is to plan on two types of reading in 2018. First, the daily devotional reading that we do and, second, the reading of subjects that we are going to dig deeply into and study and meditate on and mull over. (There is often overlap, of course.) I've never thought that my daily Scripture reading was going to take the place of study.

Reading cursorily should not mean that we don't realize and recognize what we are privileged to be holding in our hands. The Bible -- all of it, including Malachi, the genealogies, the arcana of sacrificial law -- is God's truly precious gift to humanity. Reading something quickly without pausing to meditate on it does not -- should not -- mean that we consider it less important or not worth our time. On the contrary -- it is so important that we want to bathe in it even while we are also studying deeply one section or topic at a time. The solution to thinking of a daily reading as something on a to-do list is not to stop the daily reading -- it's to alter one's attitude toward the activity.

If we don't follow a reading plan there are parts of God's Word that we'll never get to. Let's face it: the average person is unlikely to decide to embark on a close study of Nahum. We're going to study the gospels or Romans or maybe the Psalms. Not Leviticus. But all of God's Word is all of God's Word. As M'Cheyne wrote, "If we pass over some parts of Scripture, we shall be incomplete Christians." Because "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable..." A reading plan ensures that we take advantage of the "all." (To be fair, the author of the TGC article says he reads the Bible through every year, albeit without a formal reading plan. I just don't think most people are wired in such a way as to do this without guidance.)

There are read-the-Bible-in-two-years plans if something like M'Cheyne seems too ambitious (with M'Cheyne you read the whole Bible in one year and the Psalms twice and the New Testament twice). But I am not a fan of giving people permission to be slackers. We do that fine on our own -- instead believers should be held to a higher standard and encouraged to do more, study more, learn more. Remember that Carson quote above: we have to discipline ourselves to becoming holy; it is not something that "just happens." When I teach sanctification to third- and fourth-graders I always tell them that it is the one part of the salvation process that is 100% God's work and 100% our own. We participate in our sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit. If this is not so, then Paul wastes a lot of time telling us to do thus-and-such and not to do this-and-that.

So this year: resolve to follow some sort of Bible reading plan, ambitious or otherwise. And resolve to dig deeper into and study and meditate upon one particular book, subject, chapter, etc., at a time. It's not either/or -- it's both/and.

Today I will read the second-to-last chapter in II Chronicles, the second-to-last chapter of Revelation, the second-to-last chapter of Malachi, and the second-to-last chapter of John. Tomorrow I will finish each book and then the next day I'll start Genesis, Matthew, Ezra, and Acts. I will also embark on a close study of the book of Ecclesiastes. Both/and.

More later...

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Governor's Mansion

For the past four years I've gone to tour the Governor's Mansion at Christmas time. The first two years I did it with a group of three friends, then one moved, then one more this year I asked all the women at my church and eighteen of us (I think) made the trek to downtown Montgomery (it's only about fifteen minutes away) to see the house decked out in all its holiday finery.

The mansion is open for evening tours the first three Mondays in December, from 5:30 to 7:30. The last three years we just waltzed right in. This year it was MOBBED. LONG line to get in -- it was crazy! Part of it, I think, was that we waited until the last night -- I've never done that before. But they said they've never had this many people take the tour, so it could have been just one of those things. Anyway -- next year we'll go the first or second Monday!

I didn't take a picture of the outside of the house this year and my pictures of past years are currently "lost" (because they're on Facebook and I can't get to them with my account deactivated), but I took pictures inside.

The tour begins at the Governor's Mansion Gift Shop, right across the street. The small shop has a lot of cute Alabama items -- mugs, stickers, magnets, ornaments -- you name it, they've got it. They also have products that were made in Alabama -- candles, textiles, food items. They were giving away samples of jellies and relishes and sweet dips out back and we tried everything we could! The tickets for the mansion tour are handed out by the cashiers, so that was our real purpose for going there.

In years past we've entered the mansion from the side grounds, taking a pretty drive that winds a little bit through the grounds. We always see our friend Donald Hollums who works as a law enforcement officer and is always at the mansion when we're there. This year -- I don't know if it's because of the crowds or for some other reason -- they had us walk down the street and come in from the front lawn. But -- we DID see Donald, so our tradition was maintained!

The choir from the First United Methodist Church was singing on the grand staircase when we walked in. They were amazing -- just beautiful. I was with Wilda Clark (and Susan Waldrop and Jean Shepherd and Carol Bowman -- we were the last of our group) and Wilda knew one of the singers (I think he's a doctor in Prattville). Pardon my less-than-stellar videography.

We always step to the side and take our picture in the mirror above a sideboard in the dining room. This year no one was walking back there, but Wilda and Carol were brave and snuck out of line to humor me. The only thing wrong with the picture is me -- it's not a good shot, but tra-dition! (Click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Last year Governor Bentley was either divorced or about to be divorced from his wife of 184 years. I know they don't actually do the decorating, but we all agreed that the house Not as warm or welcoming. Well, let me say -- the house has NEVER looked prettier than it did this year! The decorations were lush, there were more of them, everything was just perfection. I don't know if Governor Ivey had anything to do with it, but I'm inclined to think she must have. This next picture is mainly a shot of the table in the dining room, but Jean and Susan are in the background.

In the drawing room there was a spectacular tree decorated with all sorts of things made by schoolchildren -- here's a sample of some of their creations (plenty of tiger paws and "Roll Tide" decorations).

The house next door -- the Farley-Hill house -- was decorated far more than it ever has been before. And it was spectacular. It's used as a kind of spillover house -- if they need extra space, a place for folks to stay, etc. This is a picture of me standing on tiptoe in the dining room trying to peer over the decorations on the fireplace mantel to get a shot. (If anything in these pictures looks tacky, that's not how it looked in person. In person it was all gorgeous, and a proof of the maxim that sometimes more is more. Really pretty.)

Decorations on the beautiful staircase in the Farley-Hill House.

The last room that we toured was decorated by the Master Gardeners and it was my favorite. I'm not sure what the room is used for -- it's relatively small, there's a fireplace in it -- maybe a sitting room or a parlor. Anyway, all of the decorations are made from natural materials: gourds, dried okra pods, cotton, dried flowers, etc. The next pictures were all taken in that room -- it was all so pretty!

I should have taken more pictures of the people I was with -- maybe I'll get it right next year! Dinner was delicious (I had a steak -- the last time I had a steak was a year ago on the same occasion). Very fun evening with women I love. I'm blessed.

More later...

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Grammar Lesson

In yet one more sign that our civilization is crumbling, the choir sang an anthem this morning that contained this line:

          "Unto us is born a King, He of whom the angels sing."

In order to give disapprobation to whom it is due, I will tell you who wrote the song. It's called "Unto Us" and the words and music are by Ed Kee and Brian Carr. I don't blame the choir (mostly).

Let's look at the beginning of Romans 10:14: "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?"

There are several ways to know that "He" is the incorrect pronoun in the choir anthem (besides it being jarring to the eye/ear and in case Romans 10:14 doesn't leap immediately to mind). The easiest is that "he" is the object in a sentence and "him" is the subject. Always (if they're used as pronouns; I can imagine someone naming a dog "Him" in which case these rules wouldn't necessarily apply). In the offending clause above, "He of whom the angels sing," the angels are the subject (they're the ones doing the verb -- singing) and "He" is the object (the one the verb is being done to, on, for, about, whatever). And we have already noted that "he" is not an object -- "him" is an object.

Also -- "him" always goes with "whom"; "he" always goes with "who."

That's one way you can know when to use who/whom, by the way. Usually people know when to use "him" vs. "he." It's the who/whom that screws us up. Here's a quick-and-dirty way to know which to use. Let's take the sentence "Who went to the game with you?" And say I'm not sure about that "Who" -- should it be "Whom"? Answer the question: it's either "he went with me" or "him went with me." Since we know the correct grammar is "he went with me" we know that the correct word to use is "who."

Another example: "You went to the game with who/m?" The answer is "I went with him." So the correct way to phrase the question is "You went to the game with whom?"

It's really easy if you just think about it.

I know "whom" is going the way of the pterodactyl. I know languages grow, change, evolve. They will just not grow, change, or evolve because of me.

When I was on Facebook folks would occasionally find some "grammar Nazi" joke and tag me in it. I do have many flaws, but I think this was unfair. Not only do I almost never correct someone's grammar, most of the time I don't even notice it. If I'm not reading as an editor things often slip by me (life is easier this way). Not always -- I mean, as soon as I read the "He" in the above song it jumped out at me like a red flashing light. That's rare, though. But even if I notice it I wouldn't correct it. That's unkind. There are a couple of friends who tease me and I tease back and I'd correct them -- but it's not so much because they used incorrect grammar as that I caught them in a mistake.

I see no reason to remain in ignorance, however. In fact, no one should be willing to stay that way. It's why I always want to be corrected -- it's a great day if I can learn something. I'll never understand why everyone doesn't feel that way, but experience has taught me that most people are content to be wrong. Don't be one of them! No, it's not fun to be corrected. But it's so much worse to continue making the same mistake and later realizing it (and realizing that people have been hearing you make it over and over). Embrace correction!

All right, that's it for now. It's cold (48 degrees) and raining out. Today is our church's Christmas caroling expedition and I usually skip it. I was thinking of going this year, however, but I'd have to leave the house in about twenty minutes. I'm currently wearing jammies, sitting under a blanket, sipping hot tea...

More later...

Friday, December 15, 2017

Redeeming the Time

I feel a pressure, time pressure, the crushing heaviness of a deadline fast approaching. I idolized myself and wasted so many weeks, months, years -- I cannot make up for the lost time, but I have no more to fritter away.

I know I am forgiven for the prodigal years, I know, I know. God is faithful. Faithful and just. I have not yet forgiven myself; how can I? If I had spent every day, hour, moment in service to my Lord it would only have been mere duty. Nothing to exult over, to pat myself on the back about.

I open my eyes in the morning, determined to make this day count. And before I leave the house I have inevitably wasted time. How can I redeem the moments better? How? "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."

This year drawing to a close, 2017, I did something I've never done before -- I read 104 books, an average of two a week. Exactly half of them were Christian books: biographies, works of theology, novels. In addition to those 52 books I read the Bible (M'Cheyne's plan, so that's the whole Bible plus the New Testament twice and Psalms twice). I also read snippets of other books, big chunks of others -- almost all Christian books.

I want to write about this challenge, but the point now is this: I was immersed in Christian words this year in a way I never have been before. And that was an exercise of great value.

Here is one thing I know about this thing we call the Christian religion: the more you know the more you see there is to know. And the more you know the more beautiful and exciting and amazing and awesome it is. You see how God has arranged things so that they all fit together in ways that no human being could have imagined much less accomplished. And just when you think you've wrapped your mind around a big part of it you turn another corner and there is more beauty, more glory, you find more things to astonish and astound. On a lower level -- but still an important and beautiful and thrilling level --  you see how men (mostly) have grappled over the centuries to understand theology in order to worship God in a way fitting to honor the King of the Universe.

We are, almost all of us, too careless with our worship and our consideration of God. We dash off moments, we graciously condescend to grant him ten minutes of our time for prayer or meditation on his Word. We treat God, in short, like most of us treat our earthly parents. We love them, sure, but we do have lives of our own, after all. How foolish we are.

And never mind the "we." I should make claims for no one but myself. I love God; how I long to love him more. I believe him; how I yearn to trust him more. I know God; how desperately I want to know him even as I am known.

The four men whose writings have most influenced me, who have increased my longing for a closer relationship with Christ are John Piper, C. S. Lewis, Tim Keller, and R. C. Sproul. I go to Piper, Keller, and Sproul for theology. I go to Lewis and Piper for a sense of the wonder and the beauty of God. I go to Keller to glory in the mystery and to plumb the depths of a relationship with Jesus. I go to Sproul for a sense of the enormity and holiness of God and a reminder of my own unworthiness. They are all human beings and so I don't expect infallibility or perfection; I know their words are not inspired. But they challenge me, encourage me, prod me, comfort me, edify me, convict me.

R.C. Sproul passed away yesterday. I have been profoundly saddened by this -- to an extent that really doesn't make sense to me. I am not sad for Dr. Sproul. I am overjoyed for him, jealous of him. But a world without his presence is a little bit colder, a little darker; I am sad for us. But this is the way things must be until Christ returns and defeats the last enemy.

I love the following poem and video. Please do not let the title keep you from watching (there is a story behind the title; there are always stories behind titles). Because one of my eccentricities is that I want to know details behind everything, I have carefully listened and watched and matched the narrators to the times they speak on the video. Listen especially to R. C. Sproul's closing line and marvel at how appropriate it is right now. Here they are:

0:18 John Piper
0:48 D. A. Carson
1:12 R. C. Sproul
1:39 Alistair Begg
2:04 Thabiti Anyabwile
2:32 John Piper
3:00 Matt Chandler
3:24 Sinclair Ferguson
3:50 R. C. Sproul

More later...

Thursday, December 14, 2017

R.C. Sproul, February 13, 1939 - December 14, 2017

One thing I have noticed since Mom's death has been that other deaths hit me harder. I've cried more for people I barely knew in the last year than in the 58 previous years put together. Tonight I am crying for R. C. Sproul.

Well -- not for him, exactly. He needs no prayers. He is joyfully singing "holy, holy, holy" before the throne of Jesus. I envy Dr. Sproul. He is happy and free, no longer tethered to an oxygen tank, and in possession of his heart's desire: to see his Lord.

But I am sad for us. For me. I will miss this man I never met (but one day). Two of his books especially have been so important in my life: Chosen by God, which helped me to understand, believe, and articulate the doctrine(s) of election and predestination, and The Holiness of God, which impressed upon me God's transcendence and my unworthiness. I am facilitating a study group at church right now based on his teaching series "Angels and Demons." There is a stack of his works on my to-be-read pile. My dream is to one day attend the seminary he founded, Reformed Theological Seminary.

Tributes and encomiums are pouring in: from Sinclair Ferguson, from Joni Eareckson Tada, from The Gospel Coalition, on and on. John Piper wrote his remembrance and it ended with this: "I will miss him (for a short while)." That made me cry all over again because it's true; in a few weeks John Piper will turn 72 and while he seems quite healthy and spry there is much more life behind him than ahead of him (excepting eternity, of course). So we'll be losing Piper somewhere down the road.

Of course everybody gets lost somewhere down the road. I just don't want anymore of that. Period. I understand that while a Christian ultimately has no fear of death, that doesn't mean we don't hate it. The Bible calls it an "enemy." It's not normal -- we were not created to die. But Genesis 3 happened and since then death has been a part of our world and will be until Jesus sets all things right. It can't happen soon enough to suit me.

If you have never read anything by Sproul I would suggest starting with The Holiness of God. I also led a class on a video series of Sproul teaching this material and we were so impressed by the awe he had for the Creator of the universe. When I think of Piper I think of a man in love with Christ and the Word and when I think of Sproul I think of a man utterly committed to the Bible and utterly amazed at the sovereign God. (Lots of overlap, of course.)

I'm getting old enough that I think I'm only going to start reading and listening to folks who are younger than me -- who are probably going to outlast me. (I'm kidding, of course, but only a little.)

I thank God for R.C. Sproul: for his life and ministry, for his complete devotion to Christ, and for the works that he has done that will continue to bless believers for many years to come.

More later...

Saturday, September 23, 2017

I deactivated my Facebook account.

It wasn't one thing -- it was a thousand one things. Here's my theory:

Before Facebook you might work next to someone day in, day out for a decade and never know how completely ignorant they were with regard to environmental issues. Or Obamacare. Or junk science. And so on.

But on Facebook, you even get to interact with complete strangers who comment on your comments and you find yourself in a twisted spiral of annoyance that is way out of proportion to what the issue deserves.

I'm an addict ("Hi, Sharon"), so while I want this to last I know better than to count on it. But I didn't just close the browser and remove the app from my phone like I usually do. Unfortunately I can reactivate my account in about three minutes, but still -- the gesture seems meaningful somehow.

More later...

Monday, July 24, 2017


The first book I remember owning was a big children's Bible story book. I can still feel what it was like to be sitting on the couch with Mom or Nana reading to me and while I don't remember what the cover of the book looked like I can see some of the illustrations in my mind's eye: there was a giant hand hovering behind the earth -- like God had just thrown a fastball -- that illustrated creation, for instance. There was a picture showing Noah reaching out of the ark to retrieve the dove returning with the olive leaf in its beak (floating around in a big boat filled with animals sounded like a foretaste of heaven to me). And I had an actual Bible -- it had a picture of Jesus on the cover. He was sitting under a tree and was surrounded by children. The sky was a quite unbelievable royal blue, but I thought it was all beautiful.

Mom took us to Sunday School when we were little, but not church; I don't know why. Dad didn't go with us and at first we went to Anona Methodist Church in Largo. I have no memories of ever entering the church sanctuary at Anona, which is a shame (I was baptized there as a baby, so I DID go inside -- I just don't recall it). Even then the small building was quite old -- my great-grandparents Sara (Hammock) and Irving Meares were the first people to be married in it way back in 1901, and the cemetery behind it contains the graves of the largest gathering of my relatives anywhere. It was built as a community church originally, serving people of various faiths. Today that old building is a prayer chapel. I keep meaning to stop by, to see if it's open. I've been past it so often, but I've never dropped in.

I attended kindergarten at Anona Methodist Church too. In those days kindergarten was optional and I'm pretty impressed that Mom signed me up (maybe I was driving her crazy and it was a way to get a partial break -- my brother is just 11 months younger than I am, so it might have been a chance to spend one-on-one time with him). My teacher was Goldie Kreitzer -- a Jewish name if ever there was one (I don't know anything about her background and I'm sure I didn't even know what a Jew was back then). I loved Mrs. Kreitzer and I loved kindergarten. I wonder if we went inside the sanctuary during kindergarten? It would seem likely, but I don't remember.

My two favorite things were fingerpainting and music. Fingerpainting satisfied my tactile sensibilities. Mrs. Kreitzer would take us into a room adjoining our classroom, help us into a smock, put a big glob of red or blue or green paint on a piece of cream-colored paper, and let us go to town. I can still feel the cold paint squishing between my fingers. The only thing I knew how to create were flowers that I made by smooshing the side of my closed fist in the paint, so that's pretty much what I always did. The end product wasn't important, of course -- it was all about the process.

As for music -- well, "music" is kind of a stretch -- we had blocks that we would bang against each other or hit with sticks, and a few bells, and something resembling castanets, but we just called them "shakers." One child would be chosen to conduct the orchestra. She would stand in front of the class on a chair with a conductor's baton (adults were so reckless with our safety back then), raise her arms, and begin. No tune, no rhythm -- but it felt glorious when I got to be the conductor! Leading the class satisfied my need for attention, I guess. Or power. Everyone had to at least pretend to pay attention to me.

I still have a friend from my kindergarten days -- Kitty Wright McNeel. My oldest friend.

I don't know why Mom switched from Anona Methodist to Seminole Methodist -- it was closer to our house, but not by much. I have a few hazy memories of church at Seminole -- mostly because Mom made me join the children's choir. I hated it because the practices were barely organized chaos and I had such stage fright that I could only whisper when it was finally time to sing in front of the whole church. Oddly enough, I remember one song quite well that we learned in choir: The Church's One Foundation. Go figure. "Chaos" describes my memories of Sunday School there, too. I hated it. I was always sure someone was actually going to get hurt and I also wanted to learn, which was impossible in that environment.

Mom finally gave up -- again, I don't know why -- but I felt relief more than anything else.

On the day of first-grade registration I met Joanne White, another new registrant. When I found out that she lived on my street I was elated. Joanne is about six months younger than I am but just made the cut-off for first grade. Her mother was older than mine and different from anyone I'd known up until then. She was short and broad, had a loud voice and a northeastern brusqueness. She had been raised Catholic, I remember, but had converted to Protestantism at some point. The bus stop was probably half a mile from my house (again -- parents let us do things then that they would be arrested for today) and I'd pass their house on the way. Mrs. White would invite me inside (actually, she would insist that I come in -- she was not about giving me options) and we'd all have morning devotions. There would be Bible reading and then prayer. She taught me to pray using my fingers as reminders: the thumb was family and friends; the pointer finger was people who pointed me in the right direction -- pastors, teachers; the tallest middle finger was for government leaders; the weak ring finger was for the sick and the pinkie, the smallest, was for myself.

Joanne invited me to come with her to a club called Pioneer Girls (that's us in our uniforms above -- Joanne is on the left). Pioneer Girls was like Girl Scouts -- we earned badges, went camping, etc. -- but God was a major focus. I was in Brownies (then Girl Scouts) and Pioneer Girls, but I liked Pioneer Girls so much more. God was working on my heart. I knew of him, but I still didn't know him.

More later...

Friday, July 21, 2017

Do I Have Anything to Say?

Last year I got to attend The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference. I was so inspired by the speakers and the music and the worship that I was feeling pretty jazzed about doing something for God. Something that I wasn't currently doing. And I thought that maybe writing a blog might be that something.

Don't take this the wrong way. I don't think I'm the female incarnation of Charles Spurgeon or that I have been touched by God in such a way as to make every pixel that proceeds from my keyboard a nugget of gold. I don't think any of that and, in fact, am closer to the "why would anyone read anything I write?" end of the spectrum. But here's the deal...

God gives each of us gifts and the reason he does that is so we'll use them (to edify the Church, further the Kingdom, bring him glory -- whatever, but first you have to use your gifts). I like to write and I write all right (yeah, I did that on purpose) and there is a reason why there is not only one book in the world or one author writing about Jesus or football or romance or gardening. Different writers speak to different readers and I'll allow that there's an outside chance that the way I write or the things I write about might speak to someone out there. I used to know that no matter what I wrote I'd have one reader -- Mom -- but that's not the point. The point is that I love Jesus and I want other folks to love him too. I'm flawed (and all my friends just said "Amen!"), but I'm redeemed. We are each a story penned by God, we are each image bearers, and because of that are worth knowing. So...I'll write.

I was talking with my friend Susan one late night at the conference about the possibility of blogging and she noted that there aren't that many blogs written by women my age (today is my 59th birthday -- I was a much more youthful 57 during our conversation). You can't log on without stumbling over a mommy blog, but for whatever reason there are many fewer empty-nester blogs. 

So I came home and started a blog and...quit.

Why will this time be different? I don't know, to be honest. Maybe it won't be. But I read this article about older women the other day and one of the what-should-I-do? suggestions was this:

"There’s a void of women writing from the middle and later years, for reasons both varied and complicated—no doubt because life as an older woman is itself varied and complicated. Be it aging parents or rebellious teens or emptying nests, not everything we experience should be shared. But some can be. Start a blog, submit an article, or tweet your observations about life and gospel and kingdom. Tell your story. Your perspective is vital."

So there you go. My "perspective is vital." 

I've actually been blogging for a very long time -- since 2003. On various platforms under various blog names. I used to blog a lot -- almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Then...Facebook. If video killed the radio star, Facebook did the same to a lot of personal blogs. My writing went from longer form to snippets (okay, sometimes I write too much on Facebook). And my blogging became worse than sporadic.

Because I've blogged for so long, though, I still walk through life thinking, "How would I write about this?" or "What a great blog post I could make out of that." I always used to say that I never knew what I thought about something until I'd written about it, and I still think that's true (which means I haven't known what I've thought about things for a while, I guess). 

But here's the biggest thing: I want to share why Jesus matters starting with why he matters to me. I have wasted so many years running away from God or going through the motions or doing the right things for the wrong reasons and it's important to me not to waste the time I have left. As the above-linked article cautions, I don't want to forego the important things in life in pursuit of the inconsequential. 

If I keep this up it will soon become apparent that finding balance is my biggest challenge. I want to focus on the important -- so does that means I need to stop watching "Everybody Loves Raymond" reruns? Do I have to give up fiction and only read the Puritans with an occasional Tim Keller thrown in as a beach read? I ponder things like this -- probably too much. And I'm not being serious. Okay, I am. Kind of.

The verse that I keep thinking about over and over is Ephesians 5:16 in the King James version: "Redeeming the time because the days are evil." And short -- the days are short. I am almost to the day twenty years younger than Mom was when she died (and, of course, I don't even have that guaranteed to me). When I was twenty that seemed like a boatload of time; now it seems like nothing. What can I produce for Christ in the next two decades if that's allotted to me? Will he bestow on me the oh-so-desirable "good and faithful servant" sobriquet when I see him face to face? Will I finish my race strong to the end? 

The key, I think, is to wake up every morning and know that today is the day I must rely on God. Today I can do nothing without his grace. Today I have to preach the gospel to myself: I can do nothing of value in my own power -- he has done, is doing, will do everything I need. We are blessed to have been chosen to be God's instruments here on earth and everything else is froth.

So I'm going to give this a shot and we'll just see where we land.

More later...


Mom died on January 25th; we're about to hit six months without her. She'd been sick for a long time, so this should not have been a surprise, but I never believed it was going to happen -- at least not as soon as it did. My poor stepfather, Don, had been calling me the week she died, telling me that he wasn't sure she would last until Friday (my plan was to drive down there that day), but I was sure he was exaggerating. It's a horrible defense mechanism -- I simply refuse to believe bad news and I'm really good at the whole denial thing. It does protect me emotionally, but I almost didn't get to see Mom one last time.

I talked with her over the phone on Tuesday, the 24th. She could speak, barely. I told her to wait for me and she told me she didn't think she could. And I talked with one of her nurses. They were moving her to hospice -- that shocked me into reality. I made quick plans to drive down the next day.

I don't remember the exact times, but I got to her room sometime Wednesday evening. Don was there as was my brother, David. When I walked in she looked up at me with surprise and said, "What...?" I think that was the last word I heard her say; I honestly don't remember. I have photographs of memories of that night, but nothing long and clear. She put her hand out toward me and I took it and said, "What am I doing here? I had to come and see you." I couldn't bring myself to add "...and say goodbye."

The television was going -- Food Network or HGTV -- those had been her constant companions over the last couple of years as she had grown progressively weaker and her world had shrunk until it consisted only of the living room and television.

Don was exhausted. He had taken such good care of Mom -- such, such sweet care -- and the guilt I feel today is less about what I did or didn't do for Mom than what I didn't do for him. We live about eleven hours apart. It was very hard for me to get down to Florida because Bruce, my husband, works in a different state and is gone during the week. We have dogs -- big dogs -- and kenneling them is not cheap. So the routine for the past year or so had been Bruce coming home on Thursday, me leaving on Friday and driving to Florida, Don leaving Saturday morning and spending the day and a night with friends, and me driving back home on Sunday. The purpose was really to give Don a very short break. You had to get up with Mom several times a night, so Don never really got a good night's rest. I would sleep on the couch the first night there so I could hear Mom in the guest bedroom and Don could sleep on Friday night. He slept at my aunt's on Saturday, coming home first thing on Sunday mornings. I gave him a short break, sure, but it was so minimal and I only came down once every few weeks. I should have helped more somehow.

Once I arrived at hospice, Don needed to go home to get some rest. I told him I'd stay the night. He left and it was just Mom and David and me. David went outside to smoke a cigarette and I was given a gift that I'll always remember. I moved as close to Mom as I could get and took her hand. She turned to look at me and I told her I was going to pray. I thanked God for giving me such a sweet mother. I prayed that she would know how much she was loved and I prayed that she would soon be in heaven with Jesus. (The worst part of Mom's death is my uncertainty with regard to her spiritual status. She was never very forthcoming, never really wanted to talk about it. She would sometimes say the right things, but never with enough certainty to give me peace.)

David came back and we sat there in silence (except for the dreadful television). I watched Mom's breaths and then suddenly she didn't take one. I watched and watched and then there was one more. But that was it. Her eyes stayed open, but she was gone.

Mom and I loved one another very much, but we were an odd pair. We had almost no interests in common outside of Alex, my son and her only grandchild. We were comfortable around one another and could easily spend days together and I don't ever remember us arguing -- ever. As she got older she'd get on my nerves occasionally and I'd bark at her and she'd stop doing whatever it was that had annoyed me. (For instance, Mom was a lifelong Democrat. She would always blame my conservative leanings on my father -- as though I inherited them the way I inherited my blue eyes and double chin. I got no credit for thinking about positions and coming to a different conclusion than she had, and one day I called her on it. She never mentioned it again.) But honestly -- the times we rubbed one another the wrong way are so minimal as to be not worth remembering.

So I've mourned Mom since she died, but what has surprised me has been the way her death has affected my emotions in unexpected ways. I cried almost no tears for Mom, but I've sobbed for the losses of others. I know that when I'm crying because someone I barely know has lost her brother I'm really crying because I've lost my mother. I have experienced more nostalgia this year -- an aching sadness tinged with sweetness (but mostly sadness) -- for earlier times. I've spent hours on Google Earth looking at places I lived twenty, thirty, forty years ago and mourning the changes. I know this is all related to the biggest loss I've felt so far -- and I know how blessed I was to have reached the age of 58 and not experienced any traumatic losses. (Yes, I lost Dad and all my grandparents, but for various reasons the losses were not as great as losing Mom.)

I have been acutely aware of how painful and difficult and broken this world is. I compare my easy first-world life to the lives of the majority of people throughout history and marvel that human beings have survived. I've prayed "Come, Lord Jesus" over and over. I've withdrawn from some activities and plunged deeper into others. The whole process has been interesting to observe.

Mostly I have been so grateful that God has made his presence abundantly clear this last half-year. He has guided, he has blessed, he has loved me exuberantly and lavishly every step of the way. I have a husband and son who are loving and kind and good. I have friends who know what is best for me sometimes better than I know myself and they have provided guidance and support and my only fear is that they don't know how much I love them. So this year has been the best of times and the worst of times -- but mostly best because in those worst times are fleeting glimpses of gold and I see God's work even through eyes filled with tears.

More later...