The assignment was to memorize Psalm 13:1-2. And 1 Corinthians 10:13 too, but I sort of knew that one already. So Psalm 13 is where I turned first.
How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
The assignment was given by a pastor we've had the privilege of meeting with twice a month to talk through ministry, marriage, and parenting challenges. These meetings have been a gift of grace. Who knew there was a colleague nearby who was gifted and trained to come alongside of us for encouragement, wisdom, and support? We would now consider him a friend - a friend unafraid to step into the challenging role of mentor and counselor. We're planning on a near-future double date with he and his wife. That's how encouraging it has been.
But difficult, too, as you can imagine, and as the assignment reveals.
So, I started memorizing. I said them aloud and copied down the verses to get them in my head and in my heart. The memorizing was not difficult. I even decided not to stop at verse 2 (and on a fairly sad note), since the lines were coming so easily. Like a familiar cadence, the words and stanzas seemed oddly second nature.
Today I realized why.
I have the week off from teaching my 10th-ish graders today at Classical Conversations. When we plan the teaching schedule for the year during the summer months, I always advocate (beg?) for taking a break the week after Easter rather than the week of Easter. Holy Week is so wonderful ~ my favorite week of the year ~ but also very full. I'd rather teach that week, packing in one more thing, and then take a true breather from teaching and extra church activity the week afterward.
So today, the day I would have been teaching, I've spent the morning reading God's word, praying, and reflecting. I even re-read my entire current journal which began in September. Not at all riveting, it was six months of what seem to be the exact same cries, pleas, and prayers for renewal, healing, restoration, and hope. John Piper says that the one thing that causes him to question the existence of God is the slowness of his own sanctification and victory over sin. I'm not sure that would be my first answer (I am, sadly, not that godly in my perspective), but his response is certainly confirmed in the pages of my own journal. Sanctification and the putting off of sin are slow in my life.
I have friends who burn their journals when they finish filling one up. And though I love archiving, I guess I can understand that somewhat. I just can't bring myself to do it yet, and don't know that I ever will be. So, for those who may read them in the future, here's a warning: Each one is simply more of the same. (Honestly, there is probably more regress that progress.)
When I got to the October 15th entry of my current journal, there was Psalm 13. I had written out each stanza with my own prayers interspersed.
I remember it now. On October 14 of this past fall, I was driving to meet a friend for lunch an hour away. The tears had been brimming since I'd awoken that morning, and in an attempt to not spill them all over her during our Panera Bread lunch, I plugged my phone into the auxiliary cord and found the Psalms on my Bible App. (Taylor Swift does not do the trick in moments like those.) Psalm 1-13 played aloud in the minivan as I drove along Rt. 2 headed for Eastern MA. After Psalm 13, I just hit repeat over and over.
Consider me and answer me, O Lord my God.
Enlighten my eyes or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say "I have overcome him,"
and my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
The words of David echoed my own longings and frustrations, and yet the gratitude of my own heart as well. I must have replayed it a dozen times. No wonder it seemed such a familiar rhythm this spring. No wonder the memorizing came without effort. It was already there.
Five months ago, God had, unbeknownst to me, filled my heart and mind with a prayer that He would use in a very specific way this month. A Psalm which He would literally assign me to memorize as a way to properly respond to the challenges at hand.
But I have trusted in your lovingkindness
My heart shall rejoice in your salvation
I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.
If this isn't proof that He deals bountifully with me, I don't know what is. His seemingly harsh dealings with me were exactly what I was tearful about, and yet there He was providing the words to pray in such a situation. And then reminding me of it today.
No, He has not forgotten me. (I really thought He might have.)
Yes, He has answered me and prevented the death of my hope and faith. (Not in the removal of the pain, but in the way through it.)
I can trust.
I can even rejoice.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Monday, March 14, 2016
|Last year's women's retreat. Don't think we'll be playing broom hockey on the frozen lake this year.|
Yesterday at church, I gave an announcement about our upcoming women's retreat. (April 15-17th. You should come!) I love planning for this event each year. I love helping to provide the opportunity for fellowship, good biblical content, and a refreshingly fun time away for the women of my church (and now three other churches as well). It got me thinking about how much I love the women of my church as well as how thankful I am for the other women God has so specifically and generously placed in my life, which then got me thinking about the week-full of women that led up to yesterday.
It really was FULL. Just take a look.
MONDAY: This is Sarah, and I only really met her last Thursday. (Technically, I met her about four years ago at a Chili's in Ft. Worth, but that was too quick to count.) I said goodbye to Sarah and her husband Christian on Tuesday morning after spending much of the extended weekend with them ~ even went to Worcester and Boston with them all day Friday. Robert took them to Vermont all day Monday, and then they were back here for dinner Monday night. They were here checking out the church planting scene and trying to discern a call to ministry in this part of the country. Sarah homeschools four children ages six to twelve and works part time at her church organizing the children's ministry there. Full of life and faith and spunk and practical wisdom, it was so good to laugh together and share background and ministry experiences with her. Don't tell her, but I'm hoping and praying that they come to live in Massachusetts for good.
|Here's Deb again as well as four other WONDERFUL women I get to interact with on a weekly basis.|
White Mountain Backpacking Trips (Yikes), to cross country skiing, to downhill skiing, to soccer games, and basketball games, graduations, and weddings of children. I'm so, so thankful that she's a regular part of my week.
Now that I've finished telling you about all of these wonderful women, I almost feel guilty. Women are not always easy to relate with, and yet so much of my week was spent being encouraged by women who are full of life and wisdom. Women who love me for who I really am. Women who love their Lord with their whole lives. Women who are so gifted and so committed to their work, studies, husbands, children, churches. Women who make me want to grow in grace and surrender to the Spirit's work in my life. Women who challenge and sharpen me.
And this was just one week. I didn't even get to mention Kayla (my own daughter is a huge blessing and example to me), or Sarah, or Karla, or Aimee, or Amy, or Chris, or Christie, or Jenna, or Jenn, or Katie, or Kelly, or Kim, or Yvette, or Sherri, or Nichelle, or Rachel, or Rayna, or Molly, or Becky, or Deborah, or Mandie, or Melissa, or Mariah, or Melinda, or Laurie, or Romy, or Lois, or Cindy, or Isabelle or a hundred others, really.
|Wonderful women from a recent summer small group.|
And I'm praying that our upcoming women's retreat fosters both intimacy with Christ and with other women. We have so far to grow in Him and so much to gain from each other in that process.
P.S. Listing all of these women makes me think I should feature one per week on a more in-depth level. What do you think? That would take me quite a while ~ years actually ~ but it would be really fun. If I did feature a woman per week, what questions would you want her to answer? What things would you like to know?
Thursday, February 4, 2016
With staff, students, and chaperones, there were nearly 900 people gathered around the theme: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) Since it was a big anniversary year, everyone on stage speaking or leading worship was an alumnus of the conference, meaning they had attended as a teenager at some point or possibly every year of middle and high school and then some. (The sound tech beat us all with 35 years of perfect attendance!)
I had the privilege of leading a little breakout session twice on Saturday afternoon called "My Daily Dose: What happens when you read the Bible every day." It was sort of a last minute thing, I didn't really know the exact description of it till the day before, and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be a very popular session, but it turned out to be such a fun time interacting with teens (and their chaperones) about God's Word.
And I got to make posters, so that was icing on the cake.
The top poster is probably my favorite, artistically speaking (Like my sword?), but this next verse is my favorite of the ones I chose to encourage them that reading God's Word every day draws us close to Him, and accomplishes great things in our hearts and lives ~ guaranteed.
The last half of the session was a bit interactive, as I asked the students to share ways they have learned to incorporate daily Bible reading into their lives. I don't think I was expecting much of a response. In fact, I was prepared to give them several tips and ideas for how to do this, but they surprised me in the cutest ways.
A 7th grade girl raised her hand and said she reads two chapters of the New Testament and one chapter of Proverbs every morning, because Proverbs has 31 chapters, so in one month, you finish the whole thing!
So excited and earnest.
A senior boy said he read two chapters of the Old and New Testaments every night before bed, and had recently started taking his Bible to school and finding time to read it once or twice during the day. He used to worry what his friends would think, but not really anymore.
So committed and brave.
And here's the response that got me laughing out loud:
Tiny 7th Grade Girl (twin of the first one!): I read 4 chapters of the Bible a day, because that way I can finish the whole Bible every year.
Me: Wow! That's great. I don't think I knew that four chapters a day would mean finishing the whole thing in a year. Thanks for that piece of info!
Me (to the whole group): What if you miss a day or two? Should you feel bad about that?
Tiny 7th Grade Girl: No! Because really, it's not 4 chapters. It's 3.5. So, if you miss a day or two, you'll still finish the Bible in a year.
(Which is NOT what I was getting at, of course!)
Me: Oh! So, if you go ahead and try to read 4 chapters a day, but then you miss a few days, you'll still finish the Bible in a year?
Tiny 7th Grade Girl: Yes
Me: Got it. Good to know! Thank you!
7th Grade Girl: Actually...
Tiny 7th grade girl: Well, actually........it's 3.2, but I really don't like rounding down.
Me: (cracking up) Are you a statistician? A mathematician?
Oh my goodness. Both groups (of about 30 each) were so cute. The 7th grade twins' mom was in the back of the room. They approached me afterward to thank me for the session and one of her 7th grade daughters gave me a hug and told me how much she LOVED learning about the Bible in our time together.
Pretty sure I loved the time more.
3.2 chapters, friends. I think we can all manage that.
Monday, January 25, 2016
The lunch date was July 15, so it's been a little over six months now. We were at our annual youth camp, held every year at Gordon College, and just a hop, skip, and a jump from Lars and Elisabeth's home in Magnolia, MA. Elisabeth had passed away in June, we'd been to the memorial and graveside services, and even spoken with Lars there (he all but begged us to come over to the seminary and help them eat some of the 500 chocolate chip cookies he'd asked a local friend to make), but I really wanted to see him again and see how he was doing. I also wanted him to know that our friendship over the last 15 or so years wasn't just about Elisabeth.
So, I called him from camp. The line was busy. A few minutes later I called again. Busy. I waited a while longer and called again. He answered. He asked if I'd been trying to call earlier, and I said that I had been. He explained that he'd been on the phone ever since he'd gotten up that morning, and could he get dressed and eat some breakfast and call me back? I said "Of course!"
Lars ALWAYS does what he says he is going to do. If you call him, he will always call you back. If you write him, you WILL get a handwritten note in return. It might be in a few days or it might be few months, but a response is a guarantee with Lars. And not only that, but the response will be a specific response. He will remember why you called and follow up with that, or he will address something specific in his written correspondence. Last week this came:
He had received our Christmas card, read the accompanying letter, related to Cooper's work on a golf course, and shared something from his own youth and experience with golfing. How nice. Really. In this age of technology and efficiency and urgency, I love picturing Lars sitting down with our letter, reading it thoughtfully, and then taking the time to write back in his own hand and from his own life experiences. Truly a treasure to me, and something I aspire to. It communicates true care, concern, and Christian love.
Lars called back several hours later. I told him we were at Gordon College for the week and would love to come by and take him out for lunch sometime. He said he would be available on Wednesday and asked Kea (the lovely live-in caregiver to Elisabeth) for some restaurant suggestions. Kea had told him that she and her dad had been to Cala's in Manchester-by-the-Sea and that they have Root Beer Marinated Steak Tips on the menu. That sounded quite delicious to Lars, and so we decided that Cala's it was.
We met Lars there, and were offered a table near the back of the restaurant. There was a bar in the center of the restaurant and unfortunately, even though it was fairly empty, it was pretty loud. At one point, Lars requested that they turn the music down. The waiter agreed to that request, but we still had to talk pretty loudly in order to communicate.
We looked at the menu and quickly found the Root Beer Marinated Steak Tips. Robert decided to order them, but Lars went for the Chicken Caesar Salad. When we acted surprised that he turned down the steak tips, he said he was sure Robert would not be able to eat all of his and would be happy to help him finish them off ~ ha!
Over lunch we asked Lars about how he had proposed to Elisabeth, and he happily and hilariously recounted how she made him move out of her house as soon as she sensed a romantic connection and how that made him mad. (He had been a boarder there.) He told us about how he was still at the house every day painting something or fixing something. He explained how Elisabeth would spend summers writing on Cape Cod and how he had proposed in a letter during one of those summers while she was away. "I'd like to have you for a wife," was the horrific way (his description) he had put it. "I don't recommend that approach," he said dryly. She did not respond to that letter right away, which also made him a bit angry.
She wasn't necessarily playing hard to get. Rather, she was concerned about the "scandal" of getting married a third time. The very idea lacked propriety in her mind. But Lars was not easily deterred, and she eventually gave in.
(There is a MUCH better rendering of this story by Lars and Elisabeth themselves which you can find here! Worth every minute to listen! Lars had a copy of this in his pocket on CD and gave it to us at lunch. We listened to it on the way home from camp and couldn't believe we'd gotten the story from him at lunch and then again on the way home. That's the other thing about Lars - he always has a book or recording of Elisabeth's to pass along to you.)
Lunch was filled with catching up on the Krum kids and what Lars had done before (a hospital chaplain) he became Elisabeth's book manager. When we finally asked how he had been doing since Elisabeth's passing, it seemed to dawn on all of us at the same time. It was one month to the day. An anniversary. He had lost her on June 15 and it was now July 15. There were tears (his and ours) as he recounted the night and early morning of Elisabeth's home-going, and we knew it was a holy moment. A true privilege to have a glimpse into both the love of a husband for a wife and the raw pain of losing a spouse.
I had made him a card with pictures from our past lunches together, my visit to their home two summers ago, and some quotes, verses, and lyrics from the memorial service. Here's what the front looked like:
I re-read Passion and Purity on the days leading up to the funeral, and was tickled to find what she had written in the preface. If you can't read it from the bottom of the above photo, here's what it says:
"In the providence of God, I have had three chances to reflect on and try to practice the principles I write about here. I have been married three times: to Jim Elliot, killed by Indians in the Ecuadorian Jungle; to Addison Leitch, killed by cancer; and to Lars Gren, who is feeling fine on the day I'm writing this. Lars has lasted nearly six years which is longer than either Jim or Add, so he says he is the 'front runner.' May he outrun me!"
I shared this with Lars after the graveside service and he cried. He had outrun her, but he was grieving that reality. They were married for 37 years in all, I believe.
On the back of the card I wrote this under a picture of our family:
Dear Lars, Thank you for loving Elisabeth, and thereby Christ and His church so well.
Love, Melanie and Robert
The family photo overshadowed some of the words, so I decided to read it out loud to him. This brought more tears. For a moment, it felt wrong to ask questions and share sentiments that made him cry. I felt bad about that. I really don't think he minded, though, and I don't think I would have either. I think I'd much rather people delve into authentic conversation if I'm suffering a loss or facing a trial, than try and keep things unrealistically happy or not bring up the obvious out of fear or discomfort. I think I would be comforted by their interest as well as their shared memories. It seemed that he was grateful for the encouragement, even if it contained moments of grief.
Lars was getting down to the final bites of his Caesar salad, and so I motioned to Robert to be sure and leave him a couple of steak tips. He did, and Lars was more than happy to help Robert clean his plate. They both agreed that it would have been nice to taste a bit more of that root beer marinade.
Deep pain, hearty laughter, great loss, treasured memories, loud music, and root beer marinade. The ordinary and the extraordinary. All of it sacred though. All of it holy. I couldn't help thinking that this is what life is all about ~ especially life in Christ who uses it all to His glory and to our good. Participating in these moments together as believers. I came away understanding better how to love and how to grieve and how to look to Christ in all of it ~ resting in Him, trusting Him. And oh, how I long for these examples and experiences! I often feel so ill-equipped for life in general, and so to have this older, godly man share his frailty and as well as his strength was a great source of grace and equipping to me.
I regret to tell you that it wasn't until we said our goodbyes and began driving back toward Gordon College that I realized I had forgotten to take a picture. I hardly ever forget to take a picture in case you hadn't noticed, and so I wanted to turn around and track him down in order to capture the moment. But then it occurred to me: the moment was not to be captured on film or by pixels. It was a moment to ponder, not visually, but in the heart and mind.
And that's sort of been a theme the Lord keeps bringing up in my life: the need to ponder, to reflect, to remember. I'm always moving on to next things at the speed of light, and consequently I often miss the message, take for granted the answered prayers, have to re-learn the lessons. I don't want to do that anymore. That the Lord took my thoughts off the phone and camera and kept them swept up in the holy moments with Lars was good for me. Writing it all out here is good for me, and maybe for you, too.
So, there's no photographic evidence, but I'm hopeful that there's some heart evidence from the time spent with Lars over salad and steak tips. I am so grateful for those moments and look forward to many more.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Hello from Hondo, TX. We've just spent a busy two weeks in Texas seeing family and friends, shopping for, wrapping, and opening Christmas gifts, eating lots of food, drinking lots of iced coffee and enjoying the local sights and the warm weather. (More on that below.)
It's been SO long since I've written anything here, so I thought I'd spend this lazy (finally!) afternoon and evening sitting under a blanket on the couch at my in-laws house "watching" the Baylor Bowl Game (we're winning so far!) and trying to remember ALL of the things that happened in the second half of this year. (Not that I wrote much about the first half!)
The last thing I really wrote about was Owen going to school and before that it was the upcoming Taylor Swift concert. That was July and August, but I'm going to back up just a bit to document some of the special things that happened over that past 8 months or so. So, here goes...
The month of May always involves baptisms at Puffers Pond. Those are my favorite days of our church year. This May we also traveled to Texas to celebrate Robert's parent's 50th Anniversary. We marked the day by going out to eat at their favorite nacho (yes, nachos!) restaurant near Hondo and having all of the cousins (except for Kory) together. Fun time!
Back home in MA, Kory came home for a few short weeks and we were able to celebrate Father's Day in Portsmouth, NH and Ogunquit, ME. (It was a bit cold and windy for our beach day...)
Just before Kory's birthday, a friend and hero of mine passed away. Kory actually texted me while I was at the grocery store on June 15th to let me know it happened. Robert, Kayla and I traveled to Gordon College for Elisabeth's funeral.
He spent nearly the entire time 40 feet up in the air sending campers down the zip line and coaching them through the high elements ropes course and loved every minute of it.
Home long enough to do another wedding and teach another couple of weeks and then it was time to say goodbye to Coop. Robert gave him a proper send off at church...
A couple of weeks later I went to Texas for a third time in one year...
On Christmas Eve we ate an early dinner at El Jarro's back in San Antonio and then attended my dad's church for their candlelight service. After that we made little stop at Starbucks and took this photo. It's been great to have my sister Melinda and her boyfriend, Brent in town from Denver. Brent is certainly getting full exposure to the Rowland family!
It was such a full year, and I didn't think they could get any fuller. I didn't even tell you about the PURE women's conference I went to in New Jersey in November (because Paige Benton Brown was speaking!) or the Fusion Student conference on Cape Cod where I got to speak to the young women about embracing their femininity "fearlessly," or the Simply Beautiful Conference that I took Kayla and friends to last month. And I certainly didn't mention any of the hard things. There were lots of those, but I'm learning to be grateful for the lessons and the growth in those circumstances.
I've said it plenty of times before, but if you are still reading this ~ thank you. Thanks for caring and for praying and for loving us and being a friend.
I love that Christmas is a week before the beginning of the new year. I kept marveling at the Incarnation this Advent season. The fact that Christ came down and entered my world and even my own heart gives me renewed hope and strength to welcome 2016 and all that it will bring.
And being a better blogger is not really one of my resolutions, but I do hope to keep up a little better. It's good for me, and I love the connecting with you!
Happy New Year!