Beyond the Board to Break Through

(Written by my dear friend, Lisa…)

Do you have six seconds for a powerful object lesson?

My daughter passed the first part of her Black Belt test in Tae Kwon Do and broke through 2 boards with her elbow for the first time at the test. In practice, she hit the middle of the board but didn’t break through, leaving bruises but no broken boards. It’s tempting to focus on the center of the boards because if she aims too high or too low, the boards won’t break.   The object lesson for me came from her training. She was taught that she can’t focus on the boards but must focus beyond them at the man holding them. If she aims for his chest, instead of the boards, she will have enough momentum to break through.

It reminded me that in prayer, it is tempting to focus on the challenges that I’m praying about, but that is the equivalent of looking at the board. We need to look beyond the problems to God and seek His heart, trusting Him to break through. He holds the ‘boards’ and us in His hands, and He is able. So I want to remember to look beyond to board … to the Lord. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, it says that “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

I appreciate the repetition: All. All. All. All. No exceptions. God is able!

So I say with confidence, I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure” (Psalm 16:7-9).

Samuel Has a Ball Bowling

For any of you who’ve read my blog over the past few years, you may remember we have a grandson living in Grand Rapids who was a micro-preemie. His survival was in question and the source of unceasing prayers for months. Three years later, Samuel is still almost off-the-charts small, but the doctor has signed off on his needing any more speech assessments and says Samuel has completely caught up intellectually and physically (as far as coordination and skill go), for which we are all deeply grateful to our merciful heavenly Father, who loves us all even more dearly than we can imagine loving one another! Samuel has a passion for “Dude Perfect” and anything that has to do with balls, and so he asked if he could have a bowling party for his birthday. I haven’t been to many parties for three year olds (since all our other grand kids live pretty far away), but I can say that this is one of the most fun birthday parties I’ve ever attended where a small fry was center stage! Sammy carried his own ball and learned how to roll it down a little ramp to give it enough momentum to make it all the way to the end of the lane. I’d never seen one of these contraptions before, but what a great way to get toddlers going!  We had four lanes’ worth of family (Brianna’s family also lives in town), and everybody got to bowl a couple of games, but I think we all enjoyed watching Sammy, who was so excited he was practically ecstatic the whole time!Sammy’s mother was a heroine that day, carrying Baby Sister the entire time to keep her content and then making sure Sammy was happy even when it was someone else’s turn now and then (although I think he not only had his own turns, but he got one of his mom’s and one of his dad’s each round as well).Brianna’s dad handily beat the rest of us, although her brother-in-law Sam had unbelievable power!             Most importantly, everybody had a ball…including sweet Samuel!                             He even got a few balls among his birthday gifts!  🙂              Samuel wanted a carrot cake shaped like a ball for his birthday.  The cake was moist, full of carrots and walnuts, and had cream cheese frosting. We all loved it (at least, those of us with teeth), but it made me consider the fact that Sammy is very unusual! However, isn’t every child unique and wonderful?!?In a day and age when fewer people are investing in children and more people are lavishing their love on pets, I’d like to encourage married couples who are considering whether or not they want children to go ahead and take the plunge! Sure, they’re a huge amount of work and life will never be the same, but it will be better! Through all the sleepless nights and struggles, you’ll become less selfish and emotionally richer. Most parents I know wouldn’t trade their kids for anything, even if they do roll their eyes at times and tease about it! In fact, I don’t think there’s anything more precious on earth than a home with children.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127:3-5).

(P.S.—I took the photos from the bowling alley, but the three portraits of Samuel were taken by his mom and used by her permission. Thank you, Brianna!)

Rise Up, My Love 262: The Mary Lesson

Song of Solomon 8:4 “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.” As we end the Thanksgiving holiday in America and begin preparing for the Christmas holidays around the world, here is a precious thought to help us focus our minds and keep our priorities straight. It’s fresh from the heart of God to you today…even though it comes from Solomon’s 4,000 year old song!

The bride warns: “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.” This is the third repetition of that refrain. The first was in 2:7 after the bride had become secured in her position as the true object of her husband’s singular desire and affection and was luxuriating in the rest of their love. The second was in 3:5 after the young wife feared a loss of that intimacy and had gone on a desperate search for her husband, stopping at nothing until she felt the wonderful peace of communion restored. This third time the refrain is heard in the midst of the busy-ness of their mature and very productive life together. It is not out of contentedness that she demands uninterrupted slumber for her husband, nor is it out of insecurity and possessiveness.

This time, the wife is demanding rest primarily for the sake of her husband, not herself. She has initiated their working together at what she knows he loves and needs to do; she has offered her love to him; she has prepared gifts for him; she has desired to give him her body and the sweet offerings of her mind; and now she protects him from those who would trouble him before he’s completely refreshed.

Three times the bride exclaims her charge: “stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.” Three times, the symbolic number of fullness in Scripture…the completion of perfection. Throughout their marriage the refrain is heard: At the first bud of secured love and loyalty, during love’s early testing and blossom, and now when their love is truly in full bloom and more beautiful and fragrant than a summer rose! When wrapped in love’s embrace and resting in love…do not end those precious moments until your Lord so please! If only we could learn this lesson…thrice repeated.   This is the “Mary Lesson.” Of course, Solomon’s bride had learned the secret centuries before Jesus walked on the earth, but it was demonstrated for us again in the New Testament when Mary sat unperturbed at the feet of Christ. The “Mary Lesson” is learning to love Christ above all else. Actually, it is nothing more than learning to maintain the intuitive understanding shared by passionate lovers of all generations. It is learning how to appreciate your greatest treasure while you have it!

God wants us to be like Mary, who sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to Him. She did not care that there were other people milling about. She did not care that her sister was anxiously trying to play the perfect hostess for all the visitors wanting Jesus’ attention…and was frustrated because Mary wouldn’t help her. In fact, Mary did not care one whit about who wanted her to do what when or why! All she cared about was being with Jesus and listening to the things he wanted to tell her. Their time together meant more to her than anything or anybody else in the world, and well it should have, because this was likely the last quiet moments they had together before Jesus’ death.  Did you know that? Have you thought about what that would feel like? The supper that Lazarus, Martha, and Mary had invited Jesus to was just six days before the Passover…the night before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and beginning of his “week of passion” which ended just five days later in his crucifixion. This was the night that Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with spikenard, and Jesus defended her, saying that she understood this was preparation for his burial. Other than the mention of women weeping at the foot of the cross, there is no record of Mary seeing Jesus again before his death.

How would you feel if you knew it was the last night you would be able to spend with the one person you loved more than anyone else in the world? No wonder she wept as she anointed his feet! But, bless Mary! Many had come to the feet of Jesus to be healed and receive miraculous help, but she alone of all mankind came to express her love and gratitude. Oh that we might so love Jesus, coming to sit at his feet in the quiet of the morning…or in the heart of night when we awake.Can you hear him calling you? Can you visualize his arms opening wide for you and feel the power of his love drawing you? What an incomprehensible privilege! “Come,” he calls. So may we come! Haven’t you experienced that passionate power of love? Is there anything you long for more than time communing with the one you love above all else? Do you protect your time “sitting at the feet of Jesus” drinking in His Word each day? That should be our first priority in life. If we learn to abide in the Vine and open our hearts to the flow of his Spirit at the beginning of each new day, we will be wonderfully nourished and revitalized…filled with “sap” and plump again like a limp flower rejuvenated after a refreshing rain!

Just as Prince Jonathan—weary from pursuing his enemies all day—was refreshed by dipping the end of his rod into the honey comb “and his eyes were enlightened” (I Samuel 14:27), so our hearts will be refreshed and our eyes enlightened to discern good and evil if we satisfy our souls by feeding on honey out of the Rock each day (Psalm 81:16). If you glean nothing else from this book, please learn the “Mary Lesson”…learn to be intimate with God by sitting daily at the feet of Jesus, listening to and obeying his Words…loving him, and gratefully expressing that love to him.

“Stir not up nor awake my love until he please.” Sit still at his feet… and in his embrace …until our lovely Lord Jesus is pleased to send us forth again into the heat of the new day.

Exquisite Candied Fruitcake

Fruitcakes have a terrible reputation, and if you don’t like candied fruit, then no recipe is going to make you like fruitcake, but here is a recipe that I’ve developed after many years of trying to imitate our family’s favorite, which used to be called “Texas fruitcake.”  Unlike most traditional fruitcakes, which dry out and end up being discarded after a month in the back of the fridge, this recipe is absolutely loaded with whole candied fruits and pecans, and tastes so scrumptious that I have to stash one or two or they’re gone before all the Christmas gifts are under the tree. Here it is, from my home to yours, just in time for the holidays!

Exquisite Candied Fruitcake
(makes 3 loaves)

First, collect your ingredients, because they’re not something most people keep around the house:
16 oz. candied red cherries
16 oz. candied pineapple
2 six-ounce containers of candied green cherries
12 (or 16) oz. roasted, salted pecans
1 pound butter (well, you might have this ingredient at home)Next: load the following ingredients into your mixer:
1 pound softened butter (not a second pound; just the one mentioned above)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs. Beat all these ingredients together until totally whipped. Add:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice. Beat all these ingredients together until it looks like soft cookie dough. Next, add all the fruit and nuts, and stir carefully by hand just until it’s all mixed.                                                  The next step is crucial!  Cut out parchment paper and fit it to the bottom of each loaf pan with about 4-5 inches of paper hanging over each side. This lining is what will enable you to lift the fruitcake out of the loaf pan without crumbling after it bakes and cools. Divide the batter equally into three pans, smoothing out the mixture. Preheat the oven to 325°F. If you have an artistic flair, you can save some of the candied fruit and nuts and arrange flowers on the top, although I didn’t this time.Bake the cakes for 75 minutes at 325°F. They will still be quite soft, but they should be a deep, golden brown in color. Set them on the counter until they are entirely cool. In fact, it won’t hurt them if you let them rest overnight, although if you do that, pull the paper flaps down and cover all three pans loosely with more parchment paper to keep them from drying out too much.After they are completely cool, gently lift the cakes out of their pans by pulling on the parchment paper. If the ends don’t want to come loose, try gently separating them from the sides of the pans with a plastic knife. Once you can tell that the paper isn’t sticking, lift them out completely. These fruitcakes are super rich, so a small piece goes a long way, but it’s so good that nobody will really want a very small piece! They can be eaten fresh (although I always keep them wrapped in saran wrap). They can also be wrapped up to save for later (can last a month in the refrigerator although they also freeze just fine), or they can be gift wrapped and shared!

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.
(Psalm 136:26)

A Time for Heaven Contrived By God

 A Time for Heaven is one of those “fact is stranger than fiction” stories that would seem contrived and “too good to be true” unless it is, and they say it is!! A Time for Heaven is definitely advertised as being “based on the incredible true story about a tenacious nurse who helped people that had reached the end of their lives come to terms with God and heaven.”  I couldn’t find any more information on line to test just how closely the story line followed the realities, but I did learn that the real nurse was fired from the hospital for being too open about her faith.  A Time for Heaven (2017) is G-rated and has a 7.6 from IMDb, so it’s a well done movie your whole family could enjoy together (or at least those old enough to deal with the issue of impending death).  It showcases hospice care at its best, starring a compassionate young nurse who is assigned a very grouchy patient.  Although he’s hard on her, she’s up for the challenge, and eventually the patient is loved into peace and contentment about his imminent death.  Despite (but also because of) the amazing coincidences, A Time for Heaven is a beautiful story about life, death, abandonment, forgiveness, and hope, and it has a wonderfully happy ending.                                         So, what’s not to love about that?   Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

Thanksgiving, Thanksgetting, or Both? (With Illustrations from India and Nepal to Give Perspective)

I have four of the world’s best daughter-in-laws, and my one and only son-in-law is right up there with the best of them too! He is warm, quiet, affectionate, generous, always helpful, devout, ingenious, artistic, and usually has a bit of a smirk on his face, which I presume is his creative imagination kicking in to add a bit of humorous (albeit silent) commentary to life.    I wouldn’t trade him for a barrel of monkeys or anything else you might offer!  All this intro is so you don’t misinterpret his wry pseudonym for Thanksgiving, which is (as you’ve probably guessed) “Thanksgetting.”   So, what are you doing for Thanksgetting tomorrow? Lord willing, we’ll do what we most often do: Gather with those of our family who are able to come and share a Thanksgiving “feast,” and then we’ll sit in a circle around a candle-lit coffee table in our living room and play “The Thankful Game.” Do you ever play that game? It’s a time of reflecting on all the blessings we’ve received over the past year from God, and we go around the circle sharing one by one, round and round until we all seem content that we’ve remembered to give thanks to God for all the most important things we’ve gotten from him. It’s really an opportunity to recognize God’s goodness in our lives and a great way to worship Him, whether you’re alone for Thanksgiving or in a big group.
However you celebrate, I hope you focus on what you’ve gotten rather than what you’ve given this year, and if it’s been a terrible year where you’ve suffered great loss, perhaps you can think about what you still have.  I have a number of friends who’ve had serious physical problems this year, and some who have lost someone precious to them, and my heart grieves for them.  Still, after visiting India and Nepal recently, I am reminded of how “good” most of us have it in America.  King David suffered terrible losses in his life, and yet he wrote beautiful psalms of praise to God for His goodness and graces.  I pray that whatever your circumstances, you’ll be able to say with David: “I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116 :17, emphasis mine; notice that sometimes it is actually an act of sacrifice to believe in God, surrender to him, and find reasons to give him thanks in the midst of anguish). Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms” (Psalm 95:2). Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalm 100:4).   And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing” (Psalm 107:22).   “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:8).

What About Dead Parking Meters and No Outlets? Is There No Hope?

Have you ever gone up to put money in a parking meter only to discover that it’s dEAd? Today is my son Daniel’s thirty-second birthday, and when I asked him what he wanted for a gift, he said a little wistfully, “You know, I think time is about the most precious gift.” I wasn’t exactly sure how to buy him time, but after reflecting on it a little, it did occur to me that I could offer him a little of my time to babysit their two little ones so he could take his wife out on a date!

It also occurred to me that their toddler, Samuel, likes donuts, so I decided to stop at Van’s Pastry (which has some of the best donuts in town) and pick up some donuts to make his day a bit brighter.  Can you believe this parking meter? In all my years, I’ve never seen this before, but it did make me think about what it means to be “dEAd.” On the way to their home, I also pass a cemetery, and I’m always taken with this sign: “NO OUTLET.”                                Once you’re dEAd, is there really “no outlet?” Over the weekend, Alan and I watched two movies, both based on true events that dealt with life and death issues. In one movie (A Tale of Love and Darkness, based on the youth of Amos Oz, who lived through the terrible years of Israel going from a British Mandate to an independent state), one of the main characters became terminally depressed and looks at Death (personified) as a comforting protector. The other story, The Unmiracle, is  about two brothers (one an ex-marine) trying to cope with the tragedies of life, although in their situation, they began to see a glimmer of hope even in the midst of all the darkness. Quite a few years ago, I bought three cups and let my two sons (who were living with us at the time) each choose which cup they wanted. They chose “Love” and “Faith,” leaving me with “Hope.” At the time, I don’t think I completely appreciated the value of “hope.” I knew that God is love (1 John 4:16), and that to love God above all else and our neighbor as I love myself is God’s highest command (Mark 12:29-31). I also knew that without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) and through faith we’re justified and have peace with God (Romans 5:1-2). But, I didn’t appreciate the role of hope in life. Hope is what gives us joy and makes us happy (Psalm 146:5). It’s what gives us the courage to go on. I read about a study on what helped people survive during World War 2. It wasn’t physical strength and health (although I’m sure that gave people more of a possibility of surviving). The strongest factor was the will to live, and that was usually based on the person having a sense of hope.

Are you lacking hope today? Do you feel dEAd and like there’s no outlet? Please, please, please turn to Jesus and cry out to him for help and hope. Trust him. Call on him. Let him help you! Truly, He will!

*Here are a few readings from the Bible to get you started if you’re wanting more hope:

And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these Mark 11:29-31.

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:1 6).

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Psalm 146:5).

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord (Psalm 31:24).

That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God” (Psalm 78:6-8).