Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Power in the Blood


Remember those thick, crusty scabs you would get as a kid? My skin-the-knee-years were in the early 70s, and I would often return from a wobbly bike ride with my knee scraped and bloody.

Tears streaming down my face, I would park my purple, banana seat bike – with its white flower-covered plastic basket, in the driveway and burst into our ranch-style suburban house in search of my mom. She would get the “cure-all” basket out of our bathroom, wipe the dirt off of my injured knee, and apply Merthiolate (the pinkish liquid applied with a dropper) to my cut, blowing on it to soothe the sting.

But the days afterward weren’t pretty either. The scrape would scab over. And it was hard to resist picking at its itchy ugliness. Blood, I learned, was not my friend.

Not only did I fear blood, I was terrified of any sort of injury. A safety first child, I dreaded gym class and even opted out of outings to the toboggan hill or roller skating rink. Blood and fear were forever linked in my mind. Self-protection became my mantra.

For me, safety was found at home and at church. First Baptist of South Holland was a small, sturdy, Dutch congregation with salt-of-the-earth suburban families. We liked to camp and potluck (both relatively safe and injury-free activities). And we really, really liked to sing.

My dad was the piano player in our small congregation, and he played that instrument with gusto. Visitors would remark that my dad was the Jerry Lee Lewis of Baptists, and they were right. In fact, if you looked beneath the piano, you could see an indent in the beige linoleum right where he would tap his foot in time to the music.

Once a month, on Sunday night (yes, we went to two services) we had choose-your-own-hymn night. My best friend’s dad, Mr. Aarup, would lead singing. And I was always ready to request one of my favorites: “There is Power in the Blood.”

Written in 1899, by Lewis E. Jones (who happens to be a very early Moody Bible Institute grad!), the song had an upbeat tempo for its somber lyrics:

“There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r,
In the blood of the Lamb.
There is pow’r, pow’r, wonder-working pow’r,
In the precious blood of the Lamb.”

Now, I have to wonder why a 10-year-old girl – especially one so fearful of injury - was deeply in love with this particular turn-of-the-century hymn. The music was rollicking, but the words were somber. I was singing about blood, after all. The thing I feared the most.

Nevertheless, I would sing the chorus with gusto, an odd juxtaposition of my childish enthusiasm and the painful, impactful reality of Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus bled. He hurt. He suffered. His red, thick, sticky blood was no different from the stuff that scabbed over on my knobby knee.

But Jesus’ blood did much more. His blood paid my debt and guaranteed my future. Christ’s blood freed me from doubt and guilt and fear. His blood was indeed filled with “wonder-working pow’r.”

No wonder I felt such freedom when I sang those words. His power became mine as well. This kind of blood was not the type I feared. It was rich and healing and life-changing!

“Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s pow’r in the blood, pow’r in the blood;
Would you o’er evil a victory win?
There’s wonderful pow’r in the blood.”

That hymn still speaks to me today, some 40 years later. I may still feel like that wobbly 10-year-old girl with bloody knees, but I cling to the powerful truth that my sins are covered by “the precious blood of the Lamb.”


Friday, April 28, 2017

In Search of Great Abs: Planks, Faith, and My Inner Core


There's this exercise that isn't really an exercise. It's more like an instrument of pain and torture - called the "plank."

I found it when I was googling "exercises for women over 50," specifically designed to get rid of that annoying pooch that resides right at my waistline. And I've been doing them. Kind of.

If you know what a plank is, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. Basically, you lie flat on the ground (stomach down). This is my favorite part. Next, you place your palms down, keeping your elbows on the floor (this is my second favorite part . . . it gets harder). Then, you push slightly up, raising your chest, torso and legs off of the ground. Use your upper arm strength, your amazing abs, and your toes. Your body should be straight with your stomach sucked in (more than I'm doing in this embarrassing photo), Your torso should be parallel with the ground. Now you count - oh, and don't forget to breathe. This looks amazingly easy. Unfortunately, it is not.

I can hold the plank position for a short bit. Ten seconds, maybe twelve. And then I get all wobbly, and sweaty, and eventually collapse back into my favorite position, which is lying down.

But I'm told the plank is good for me in so many ways. It strengthens my inner core. It tightens my abdomen, shores up my back, and even improves posture and balance. So, planks it is.

Why am I telling you about this horribly healthy exercise? Because, while I was staring at the ground, trying desperately not to immediately lie back down on it, I had this thought.

It's good to have a strong core. Not just physically, but spiritually, too.

As I've waded through the first years of my 50s, I've felt the earth move a bit. I've gone through some major, life-changing, soul-rattling events.

My core was trembling.

In the span of about three months:
  • My only child left for college.
  • My next door neighbor and then a dear friend died unexpectedly.
  • My mom was diagnosed with round two of breast cancer.
  • A hurricane blasted our hometown.
And it's not even the big stuff; it seems that the list of life-shaking events just keeps going on. Sometimes it's simple things - like when I dropped a glass jar and cut my toe. Or when I was out of town on a business trip and received a tearful, worried phone call from my daughter. Or that time I made a stupid, entirely-my-fault mistake while doing my job.

Even these small, every day things can cause their own special kind of pain and distress. They make us wonder what to do and where to turn.

That's where the core part comes in. I really believe that my faith in Jesus keeps me upright during difficult and bewildering times. In my connection to Him, I have been promised an anchor that holds, roots that go deep, and, time and time again, that inner core has kept me from being blown away by life's trauma.

Psalm 27:1

The Lord is my light and my salvation: whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall  I be afraid?

A stronghold is a fortress, a safe place. Certainly - in times of war - a fortress offered protection from the enemy. The big castle-like structure with enormously thick  walls would shield its inhabitants from oncoming attacks.

When Hurricane Matthew came through our Florida town last October, I realized the importance of a stronghold. I saw enormous trees literally yanked out of the sandy soil by their roots and thrown on the ground. Huge chunks of concrete. Entire boat docks. Uprooted. Tossed aside like they were nothing.

But I know this much is true. No matter what life has tossed my way, God has been my stronghold - and He can be your stronghold, too. Even at age 50, with my flabby stomach and weak abs, I have a God who offers me His resilient, incredible, unfailing strength - and all I have to do is run to Him.

When I'm shaking, when I feel weak, when my core trembles,He is my stronghold, my safe place. He gives me strength. No matter when. No matter where. No matter how weak I might feel...

What do you believe? What holds you firm when the waves of life crash onto your shore?

Turn to Him today. Give Him your troubles, even the really big perplexing ones. Take a walk. Whisper a prayer. Let God's strength become yours. He promises to be your stronghold, your lighthouse, your safe place.

Friends, great abs may come and go, but strengthening our inner core has never been more important.



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

15751 South Park Avenue: When a House is More Than Just a House


My friend Janet posted this photo of her childhood home on Facebook. Someone has rehabbed it a bit (nice tile back splash in the kitchen, by the way), polished the original woodwork, and is selling it. It is a charming Chicago-style brick bungalow. But that is not why this photo struck my heart.

Immediately my mind was flooded with memories of our time together as little girls. Janet and I spent many Sunday afternoons in this house at 15751 South Park Avenue, in South Holland, Illinois. Even if the real estate company hadn’t given the street address and provided photos I would have recognized it.

The Aarup family attended the same church as mine – our parents were friends. And, I became an honorary Aarup most Sunday afternoons after church, inviting myself over for Sunday dinner, playing all the way up until the evening church service. Janet’s house number, 15751, was the same backward and forward. I had it memorized; I had her phone number memorized also. But it is her family’s house that will forever be etched in my mind.

I don’t think we had air conditioning in those days, so our families relied on window units and big box fans. On hot summer afternoons, Janet and I would place a big flat bed sheet on the living room floor and set books all around the edges. Then, we’d take the living room fan and insert it at one end of our makeshift tent. It would blow up, igloo-shaped, and we’d sit inside and giggle and talk. It was all fun until her dad came home and wondered why we had commandeered the fan that was cooling down the rest of the stuffy house.

I also remember spending time in that brown-paneled basement. We had sleepovers with girlfriends – one time having a spitting contest, propelling grape seeds into the toilet. Again, it was all fun until the toilet overflowed at 2 a.m. Needless to say, her long-suffering father was not pleased. I seem to remember steam coming out of his ears.

We also crafted in that indestructible room. We had this brilliant idea to do a hair transplant from her sister’s doll with her long, luxurious locks to Janet’s baby doll which had a sad little plastic, bald, molded head. We put on “lab coats,” after raiding her dad’s closet for white shirts, and set up a makeshift operating table, laying both dolls side by side.

We snipped away, getting a huge mound of donor hair, and then set about gluing it to the poor, bald baby doll. Of course, we had not thought what her older sister would say. When Robin returned she was furious, and Janet and I got a good scolding.

Her house was on a main street, and we could walk down the block to the South Holland Bowl. They had  a little restaurant attached where aproned ladies  served sandwiches to hungry bowlers. I remember stopping in there for a bottled Coke and taking our time sipping it on our walk back to her house.

We had one more escapade in the 15751 house. There was a huge vacant lot just to the north, and we loved to play there. So when a builder came and began surveying the lot to build two more homes, we were upset. We waited till they were done for the day and then quietly pulled out the stakes, every last one of them. Alas, we were unsuccessful (although probably criminal). Today there are two houses firmly planted just to the north of hers, but not without the vigilant, aggressive protest of two young girls.

It was nice to see you again, 15751. Thank you for allowing me to visit, play, and get into all sorts of trouble. You are forever in my heart.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Wait


I’ve been reading a lot about selecting a “word of the year.” For some, it is seen as a divinely-given word that will help focus their heart and mind on where God is leading. For others, the word is carefully selected as a symbol of their focused dreams, desires, or wishes.

And even while I admired the word choices of others, I honestly didn’t feel a desire to pen one of my own. After all, how could I put my current, mostly muddled feelings into one single word?

But one afternoon, while driving back from Lowe's, I tried to express my current state of mind to my husband.  Earlier that morning, in one of those pop-up Facebook memories (which are quite helpful for a woman of my age), it said that four years ago, I had published my first (and only) book.

I was shocked to realize how time had sped by.  In these four years, I’ve often been asked – what is next?  My answer continues to be: I have no idea.

There’s plenty of reasons why. Life has been busy. I uprooted my family and moved hundreds of miles to a new home. I’ve switched jobs, said goodbye to old friends, and tentatively started to open my heart to a few new ones. My husband and I have watched our only child graduate high school and begin college. And (the reason for another trip to the hardware store) we’ve been painting and rebuilding and cleaning our beloved 1960s beach house.

So while the past four years may not look super productive on my writing resume, I’ve put mile upon mile on this weary soul of mine. Maybe this is why, as I began this January, I sensed a word quietly resonating in my soul.

“Wait.”

The word “wait” can have many meanings. To “lie in wait” means you are going to ambush the enemy. And then there is the type of waiting that anticipates a very specific event: “I can’t wait until Friday” or “I’m waiting for my package to arrive from Amazon.”

But that isn’t the type of waiting I mean.

I was thinking about the unique way the word “wait” is used in Scripture – to “wait upon the Lord.” It means to have an attitude of your soul that points God-ward. As one writer explains, “It implies the listening ear, a heart responsive to the wooing of God, a concentration of the spiritual faculties upon heavenly things, the patience of faith.”

This type of faith contains anticipation, but not merely of something happening to me – personally, more of an expectant interaction with the Almighty.

As the Psalmist says, “My soul, wait thou . . . for God only” (69:5).

Rather than feeling guilty about not writing, not doing, not achieving. Rather than seeking out the next project or looking for a new challenge, I am going to sit back and wait.

And, let’s be honest, this type of waiting doesn’t come naturally, especially for me. I like to do. I like to plan. I like to dream. So waiting can feel a whole lot like giving up. It can even feel like failure or laziness. But, this year that word keeps whispering into my heart.

“Wait. Wait on everything. Wait on me.”

And so I will.

Friend, I have to tell you – this might be the best New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made. It feels good. It feels right. Even as it rolls off my tongue, I can feel the tension in my shoulders release, as I breathe a sigh of relief. I can wait.  

I can put off deciding anything and everything in a God-ordained kind of way. I don’t have to have it all figured out. I don’t have to worry that I’m not doing enough. I can know for certain that this is the place I’m meant to be right now.

I’m going to sit in this moment.

I’m going to rest in His peace.

I’m going to push aside the niggling self-induced guilt.

I’m going to enjoy waiting on the Lord with that beautiful song by Mumford & Sons softly playing as a repeat song track in the background.

When He moves, I will follow.

Until then, I will wait. Lord, let me wait . . . resting my soul in Thee.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A New Year's Blessing


New Year's Day always feels a bit disconcerting to me.

My Christmas decorations are looking a bit "tired" . . . to put it nicely. One of the sheep in my nativity set has fallen over , and three chocolate bars are laying on the hay, right next to the wise men. It looks a bit like a cryptic crime scene.

Our once festively decorated dining room is now cluttered with a 50s fiberglass lampshade sitting askew on top of magazine ads, a pile of receipts, unpaid bills, and a Fannie May mint meltaway bar (missing two of the three sections of chocolate).

Yep. This is me - not the Instagram version - but the real one. Rumpled and a bit cluttered. Forgetful and uncertain.

This is the New Year. 

For all of our celebrating, the grand countdown, the auld lang synes, the kisses, New Year's Day always seems a bit ordinary, even a bit disappointing, doesn't it?

So here I sit - still wearing my flannel pajama pants, no makeup, Alfred Hitchcock on the television, Christmas cookies tempting me to put off healthy eating just one more day. My mind is torn between plans and challenges for the days ahead, and the fact that I really, really need to clean my house.

But I'm glad that on this ordinary day there is time for me, for all of us, to stop and think. 

So before I pull the plastic Christmas bins out of the storage area and pack up that poor, tired manger scene, Before I take a walk or take out the garbage that is piling up, I want to put words to this day. The first day of 2017.

Many of us have said we are glad to be rid of 2016. And, I have nodded in agreement. This year was a tough one. But I'm also realizing that in the midst of 2016 have been precious times with our friends and family. And I want more of those in 2017. I don't want grand, crazy, extraordinary things, just the regular stuff that I love, and a maybe a few special wishes thrown into the mix. 

So here is my "ordinary" New Year's wish list...
  • I want to walk on the beach and find another seashell.
  • I want to go shopping at thrift stores with my daughter, looking for t-shirts, purses, and jackets.
  • I want to bake muffins and cakes and cookies, and even a few of those recipes I've pinned.
  • I want to enjoy dinners at interesting restaurants with my husband, and maybe a glass of Chardonnay.
  • I want time and space to pray and think and read.
  • I want to work and write. 
  • I want to clean my house. 
  • I want to organize my linen closet, paint the laundry room, throw out junk. 
  • I want my family to be healthy. I want my mom to come through her cancer surgery successfully with as little pain as possible.
  • I want my friends who have suffered great loss and pain in 2016 to heal. I want them to feel loved and appreciated and find peace.
  • I want to honor God with everything I do and say. 
  • I want to avoid worry, cast my cares on Him.
  • And tonight, I just want a quiet family fondue dinner with a late-night showing of Rear Window, and maybe a glass of that almond champagne that's been chilling in the fridge.
Blessings to you, my friends. Thank you for sharing my journey in 2016. And may you get all of your ordinary wishes for the New Year. 

Love to you in 2017.