Friday, January 18, 2013

Passover Crimson, Snowfall White

He's been near and dear for many years.  She was fairly new on the scene, becoming his wife in the summertime. I go to a lot of weddings.  I cried at theirs, because I had prayed for this moment for so long, because he was so happy, because she was so beautiful, so perfect for him, and because the ceremony put Christ on display so clearly, so unashamedly.  She wore a long white dress with aqua-colored sandals.  He wore a white shirt with an aqua-colored tie and a content smile.  We were on the beach and basking in dazzling sunshine.  It was glorious.

"We've both been through a lot, and we want to start off strong," was his explanation for paying for professional pre-marital Christian counseling.  When the counselor indicated the end of his typical sessions, they took his offer to continue, pressing deeper into their pasts, gaining tools for the future.

Sexual brokenness haunted each of their histories.  "She talks to the girls about remaining pure because she suffered the pain of promiscuity beginning as a teen," he said of a ministry in which they served together. "I was the old virgin on the panel," he laughed, but as a victim of sexual abuse, he is also able to minister to needful teens uniquely. I was humbled by their authenticity, blessed by their willingness to be used in this way.

I've read quite a lot of the Bible, and the more I do, the more I am in absolute awe and can declare with the Psalmist, "Oh, how I love Your law!  It is my meditation all the day," and "How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" {Psalm 119:97, 103} Truly, hardly a day passes in which He does not speak specifically and directly to my heart through His word. And it IS a promise that He would do this, so I'm not sure why I am surprised.  Really, I should expect nothing less, but He's still building that faith in me, I suppose.

In the last 3 years I've made my way through most of the Old Testament and quite a bit of the New in a more systematic way than usual. A while back I got a little chuckle out of Hezekiah re-instituting the Passover in chapter 30 of 2 Chronicles, because it reminded me of the semi-rag tag nature of my own church...

"For a multitude...had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed.  For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, 'May the good Lord pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.'  So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people." 
{v.18-20}

Full of grace, Hezekiah's Passover was also glorious...

"So there was great joy in Jerusalem because there was nothing like this in Jerusalem since the days of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel.  Then the Levitical priests arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard and their prayer came to His holy dwelling place, to heaven." {v. 26-27}


Passover: One of three main Jewish festivals to commemorate protection from the plague of death against the firstborn in Egypt and liberation from Egyptian slavery.

That's the definition my Bible's dictionary gives it.  Hezekiah re-instituted this important festival, because the people needed to remember their great deliverance by their great and covenantal God.  They needed to recount the red blood on their doorposts, and the protection it afforded them. Reading the account caused me to pause and remember, too.

There were a couple of really wicked kings after Hezekiah, but then Josiah's reign begins.  Slowly and thoroughly, he removed the idols, and repaired the temple and calls the people back to their God.  And like Hezekiah, Josiah also had to re-institute the Passover celebration which had not been celebrated in about 75 years.  Josiah's Passover was even more glorious than Hezekiah's...

"There had not been celebrated a Passover like it in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet, nor had any of the kings of Israel celebrated such a Passover as Josiah did with the priests and Levites, all Judah and Israel who were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem." 
{2 Chronicles 35: 18}

Passover, Passover, and more Passover is what I was reading about in the last couple of weeks, and therefore thinking quite a bit about.  The passing over of sin at the Cross was evidently something the Lord was wanting me to think on and celebrate.  Christ, the Passover Lamb, the fulfillment of all of those celebrations, the cessation of the sacrificial system, the fully and forever atoning bloodshed.

Those summer newlyweds came to visit in a cold month.  I prayed that it would snow for the desert-dwelling-duo, and it did. They threw snowballs, and built snowmen, and even shoveled the stuff. It was glorious. Different from the dazzling white of the sunny beach wedding, but glorious!


There was a bit of girltalk during their visit. I wish there had been more. She said her story, her painful, broken story had been written in a book, and warned me that it was bad, really bad.  I praised her for her courage to be vulnerable in sharing her "really bad" story.

I had no idea.

I ordered the book, not only because I wanted to know her better, but also because it seemed like a great resource to use with women in my church.  It arrived on a Friday evening.  UPS.  The kids hoped that the package on the doorstep was their new Xbox game.  They were disappointed that inside of that box was not a super cool soccer game, and totally unaware that it actaully contained a piece of the heart of Christ sent to his daughter, their mom.

"Mom!  Oh my gosh, Mom!  What happened?  What's the matter?"  one child came running.  I didn't realize I had gasped and started to cry in the kitchen as I read.  I apologized and explained that nothing bad had happened; I was only reading a sad story in a book.  They are used to me crying over sad books, meaningful movies... typical. The explanation sufficed.

I moved to the basement, and the sobs came uncontrollably.  Abortion. I had not anticipated that one.  Twins that required not one abortion, but two.  The second one late term. She was so young then, and there were other "bad" things, but those were expected.  It was the abortions which happened a decade ago that made my heart literally hurt inside of my chest.  Close friends of mine have had abortions.  I've watched at least one walk through its pain and then journey into Christ's healing.  It took years. When he took her, her dad said it would only hurt like a paper cut, really bad at first, but then insignificantly later. He was wrong.  She has a charm bracelet with the names of the one aborted, and then one miscarried. Now she has four healthy, grown children. Forgiveness. Mercy.  Redemption.  Beautiful.

This one seemed so close, though.

Then flooding into my heart and mind came this...

"Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool."
Isaiah 1:18

and then David's words...

"Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."
Psalm 51:7

Oh, God!  The Passover!  The crimson Passover!  And the snow that I asked for! The pure, white, delightful snow!  She was playing. in. the. SNOW.  Playing!  Forgiven. Free.  And that dress. That snow white dress that she wore at the beach. Now the sobs turned into all out weeping.  The Old Testament Bible readings.  The silly weather prayer requests.  They were gifts for me, preparation for this moment.  You are so good to me.  You are so faithful to show this "good girl" the extent of your love and grace to others, so that my prayer to understand my equal need will be accomplished.  I long to know you in your extravagant grace and forgiveness, and you answer that prayer so readily.  "for there is no distinction, for all have sinned..." {Romans 3:22-23}

And as is repeated in the Passover liturgy..."It would have been enough...It would have been enough..."  Yes, that experience was more than enough, but the story doesn't end there.

Exactly nine days later, nine days after I wept over her "bad" past, he sends a photo text message. It's of a home pregnancy test.  It's positive.

Oh my! You must just really enjoy delighting me with your boundless grace, Lord.  A baby!?  She's going to have a baby!  He's going to be a Daddy.

And then as if it had been settled before the foundation of the earth, written in the days of His book before one of them came to be, I was filling in birthdays on my new 2013 calendar later that same afternoon ~ the baby news day.  When I got to his birthday month, I noticed that it already had something printed by the manufacturer in the square that marked his special day, an annual and nationally recognized holiday.


Passover.

Of course.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Gluten Free Friday ~ Birthday Food, Skiing Food

 Food, food, FOOD!  Now that I look back on these photos I took in the last week, I'm wondering how in the world I didn't gain 10 extra pounds, because evidently I ate a lot of food ~ and really delicious food at that!  To those of you who have a sneaking suspicion that you should avoid gluten, but resist getting tested, maybe this blog post will serve to assure you that there will still be plenty to eat should you discover a Celiac diagnosis.

I celebrated my birthday this week, and it was such a fun day!  Unfortunately, Robert has not been here this week due to travels and ministry responsibilities in Texas and Oklahoma, but the kids made up for his absence by greeting me first thing in the morning with breakfast in bed:

Eggs over-easy
GF toast with butter
Fruit cup with bananas, blackberries, strawberries AND a candle!
Tazo Awake Tea with agave

They even remembered the "You Are Special Today" red plate and placed handmade cards with handwritten notes on my tray. All of it was delicious and such a sweet encouragement to me.

Then I indulged in some wonderfully filling spiritual food: 2 Chronicles 30 and 31 as well as Psalm 119.  It was good to read about Hezekiah inviting all of Israel to return to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and the joyful worship that it led to ~ especially after all of the evil practices his father had instituted.

Next on the birthday agenda was a manicure and pedicure and Starbucks ~ all by myself!

At lunchtime I met my dear friend Izckra at a local cafe:

China Breakfast Tea
Turkey/Cranberry/Gouda/Apple Slice Sandwich on GF bread 
Side Salad
Sweet Fellowship and Conversation

Later, the kids drove over to the same cafe to eat GF cupcakes with me!  The boys went for the lemon variety, but Kayla and I always opt for the chocolate ones with raspberry icing ~ YUM!
 We came home for a few hours which I had determined would be for reading Les Miserables {mental food}despite the not-quite-finished Gilead sitting on my night stand.  I read until it was time to take Kayla to her acrobatics class, and then read more while waiting for her to finish. I'm sure it will take me a year or more to complete it, but I love being reminded of all of the details that the movie and musical just can not include. I also read the short biography of Victor Hugo and a timeline of his life included in the front of the book.  Whoa.  Talk about tragic and scandalous ~ affairs, secrets, betrayals, mental illness, asylums, and untimely deaths.  I think he outlived his wife, his mistress, and all of his four children.

After acrobatics we all went to another friend's house ~ Betsy ~ my running/triathlete partner and dear sister in Christ.  Betsy made White Chicken Chili, rice, and GF cornbread.  I wish I had taken picture of that meal ~ super delicious!  Kayla provided the birthday cake ~ a double layer chocolate cake with chocolate icing, and all gluten free.  Didn't she do well with the decorations, too?

Pretty amazing birthday, huh?  I am blessed.

Last Friday we began a six week session of snow skiing at Mt. Snow near Wilmington, VT.  The kids get an hour and a half lesson, and then we take a lunch break.  After lunch they have 2-3 hours to ski anywhere they like.  Despite losing Kayla on the mountain for 20 minutes that felt like 20 hours {Ugh!}, and a major wipe-out with a minor injury by Kory, we all had so much fun!
Today we're off to ski again, and I spent yesterday afternoon getting some food ready for our journey.  I always feel a bit of stress about packing lunches for trips like this, wanting to make sure there will be enough for lunch and snacks, that the kids will enjoy it, and that I don't pack the same old thing every time. Surely there's a blog out there somewhere dedicated to relieving this very concern?! 

After a breakfast of sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast tacos on the way up, want to know what we're packing for lunch today? {I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat!}
Chicken salad with apples, almonds, and onions
White bean hummus with crackers and veggies for dipping
Energy Bites {or "Balls of Energy" or "Mega Bites" which Kayla came up with last week!}
Chocolate chip cookies by Kayla

See what I mean ~ a week of food, food, food.  To be honest, it feels like my life revolves around what the next meal will be, but this week it was easy, fun, and delicious.  Maybe even more so this week, since I cooked so little of it myself!

There's no going hungry on the GF diet. I promise.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Counting One Thousand Gifts ~ December & Joy Dare Complete!

What an incredible journey!  Counting 1000 gifts in the course of a year.  It was a dare and a challenge the Lord knew I needed to bring healing and new patterns of thought and emotion to a heart that tends toward discouragement and despair.  And though I'll possibly always fight that internal battle, the practice of looking for and expecting His gifts has worked transformation in me.  I can stop myself and shift to a godly perspective better than ever before ~ which is an answered prayer and gift in and of itself!

We are reading Psalm 119 together as a church during the month of January.  Yesterday's reading was verses 25-32.  I was amazed all over again at how specifically He speaks to me through His Word ~ whether an assigned reading or something that I've chosen or even something I've blindly opened to in desperation.  Here's the part I'm talking about:

My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word.  I have told you of my ways, and You have answered me; teach me Your statutes.  Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders. 
Psalm 119: 25-27

Can I tell you how often I "tell Him of my ways?"  

I'm worried, Lord.  I'm angry, Lord.  I don't think I can keep this pace, Lord.  There's not enough time....not enough money....not enough strength...not enough faith.

I cringe when I look back at my journals only to see these desperate pleas repeated over and over again, but I don't think He does.  I think He gladly receives them and then He answers by "teaching me His statutes" and "making me understand his precepts so I will meditate on His wonders."

Those desperate pleas and prayers led to this "Joy Dare," this counting of 1000 gifts, and through it He taught me His statue of thanksgiving, His precept of worship and the offering of my body a living and holy sacrifice.  He showed me His wonders all around and helped me to focus on those wonders rather than drown in the sorrows of a fallen world.

I'm not sure I could have done it without Robert's encouragement, though.  Oh, the "Joy Dare" was my discovery through Ann Voskamp's incredibly inspired book, One Thousand Gifts and her blog "A Holy Experience," for which I am so very thankful, but Robert prays for me and checks in with me about the state of my heart almost every day.  When we finish a long run in the mornings, he prays aloud on the steps to our front door for me to have joy and strength to face the day ahead.  At night before bed, he holds me close and prays again.  For the last few years, he's also kept a journal of near-daily prayers for me with a little description of what was going on that day.  We've taken that prayer journal with us to our last two New Year's Eve dinners out.  Someone always asks us what we're doing, and he always explains that we're remembering the year through a book of prayers that was kept throughout that year.  This year the kids gave us a gift certificate for Christmas which treated us to an incredible dinner at an historic Inn downtown. I sort of dreaded hearing about all my complaints and discouragements throughout 2012, and all that Robert had to pray for, but the reading of the journal turned out to be a joyful testimony to all that the Lord had carried us through.  We laughed at the crazy pace of our life, and the interesting situations we found ourselves in over the last year, and we rejoiced together over God's loving sovereignty and abundant blessing. I marveled at the gift of a husband I so often take for granted.
I think the most important thing this journey of counting gifts has taught me, though, is that if there were no date nights with an incredible husband, no Starbucks drinks to delight in, no healthy kids, or Christmas gifts, or vacations, or warm sunshine, or good friends, there is One Grace Gift that would suffice.  I love how Ann Voskamp puts it...

"And I see a world through His lens: 'He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all - how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?' (Romans 8:32 NIV)
He gave us Jesus.  Jesus! Gave Him up for us all.  If we have only one memory, isn't this one enough?  Why is this the one memory I most often take for granted?  He cut open the flesh of the God-Man and let the blood.  He washed our grime with the bloody grace.  He drove the iron ore through His own vein.  Doesn't that memory alone suffice?  Need there be anything more?  If God didn't withhold from us His very own Son, will God withhold anything we need?
If trust must be earned, hasn't God unequivocally earned our trust with the bark on the raw wounds, the thorns pressed into the brow, your name on the cracked lips?  How will He not graciously give us all things He deems best and right?  He's already given the incomprehensible.
Christ our Crossbeam. 
The counting of all blessings is ultimately summed up in One.
All gratitude is ultimately gratitude for Christ, all remembering a remembrance of Him.  For in Him all things were created, are sustained, have their being.  Thus, Christ is all there is to give thanks for; Christ is all there is to remember. To know how we can count on God, we count graces, but ultimately there is only One."
~ One Thousand Gifts, pp. 154-155

The last of this year's gifts and the completion of the dare to choose joy...

1. Snow! {white}
2. Christmas Tree Lights {white}
3. Steamed Milk {white}
4. Faces of Gals in Sunday School {bright}
5. Time of Lunch and Shopping with Friends {bright}
6. December Sunrise {bright}
7. Flutes and Trumpets at Vespers {shining}
8. God's Word being Read {shining}
9. Jennie and Luca {shining}
10.Christmas Packages from Texas {circling}
11. Advent Wreath on Table {crowning}
12. Glass Snowflake {crafted}
13. Old Men Chatting on the Bike Trail {silver}
14. Star on Top of Tree {silver}
15. Pots and Pans to Fit my Stove {silver}
16. Nutella Brownies {sweet}
17. Honey in My Tea {sweet}
18. A Few Extra Moments to Lie in Bed {sweet}
19. Indwelling {from My Savior}
20. Rescue {from My Savior}
21. No Condemnation {from My Savior}
22. Kayla's New Stocking {hung}
23. Hopes For the Future {held}
24. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus {heard}
25. Raising Teens {ugly-beautiful}
26. Middle Age {ugly-beautiful}
27. Homeschooling {ugly-beautiful}
28. Christmas Bouquet From a Friend {unframed art}
29. Little Girls' Gingerbread Houses {unframed art}
30. Table Set for a Tea Party {unframed art}
31. A December Day with Sunshine {ice cold}
32.  Berries on Granola {ice cold}
33. Coconut Milk {ice cold}
34. Wrapped Christmas Gifts {berry red}
35. Poinsettias {berry red}
36. Ribbons and Bows {berry red}
37. A New Sweater {striped}
38. Jesus, for me {striped}
39. Candy Canes {striped}
40. Christmas Cards {stamped}
41. Baylor Acceptance Letter! {stamped}
42. Thoughtful Thank You Notes {stamped}
43. Sliver of the Moon {gold}
44. Eucalyptus Oil for Healing {scented}
45. A Holy God in a Temple, a Manger, and my Heart {bent low}
46. A Savior {Bethlehem-unlikely}
47. Hope {Bethlehem-unlikely}
48. Justification {Bethlehem-unlikely}
49. Rice Krispie Treats with Chocolate {frosted}
50. The World with Ice {frosted}
51. Window Panes {frosted}
52. Staying Well to Nurture Sick Kids {miraculous}
53. Provision for Gifts and Hospitality {miraculous}
54. His Coming Near {miraculous}
55. A Button Fern Plant From a Student {manger small}
56. A Snowman Peanut Ornament From another Student {manger small}
57. New Starbucks Cup Ornament {manger small}
58. Little Girls Caroling at the Nursing Home {angelic song}
59. Karen Carpenter Christmas Carols {angelic song}
60. Carolers at Prudential Mall {angelic song}
61. Boston at Christmastime {lit}
62. Robert's iPhone {lit}
63. Kayla's Face and Eyes ~ finally ~ after being sick {lit}
64. Boys to Felton's Funeral {rejoicing}
65. Allyson's Faith {wonder}
66. His Nearness {praising}
67. Night Out With Christie and Melinda {starry}
68. Strength to Shop with a Fever {starry (eyed!)}
69. Starbucks Hot Tea and Comfy Chair to the Rescue {starry}
70. The Manger {humble}
71. Mary's Faith {humble}
72. Humiliation on the Cross for Me {humble}
73. His Condescension { in Luke 2}
74. The Angel of the Lord {in Luke 2}
75. Anna and Simeon's Faith and Faithfulness {in Luke 2}
76. Sustenance {in Christ}
77. Life {in Christ}
78. Strength for Lifegiving {in Christ}
79. Karla's Handmade Soap and Tea and a Book Gift in my Mudroom {found}
80. Xbox Dancing {shared}
81. Cheeses and Sparkling Juices for Company {saved}
82. Family Here for a Week {lingering}
83. Decorations and Baked Goodies {lingering}
84. Snow {lingering}
85. Les Miserables Story {hope}
86. Christ in Me {hope}
87. Psalm 1 {hope}
88. Sabbatical {remembered}
89. Disney World {remembered}
90. California Trip and Wedding {remembered}
91. Kory's College Decision and Experience {anticipated}
92. Counting Future Gifts and Growth in Christ {anticipated}
93. A Master's in Theology for Me?  {anticipated!}

...but may I never forget that "He's already given the incomprehensible."  Jesus.