Worth Reading...

Having gone over a month between blog posts, I'm trying to get "back on the wagon" this week and post every day.  I don't know that I've ever made it an entire week, but we'll see.   Today, however, being Wednesday (and having written *verrry* long posts the two previous days!), I'm going to "cheat" a bit by posting a list of others' posts worth reading today. :)  

Before I do, however, I want to mention (particularly those who read in a feed reader and don't see the sidebars...) that there is also a new list near the top of my sidebar...a list of posts "from the archives" that are particularly meaningful to me, or good for "catching up" if you're new here, or perhaps just my favorites for whatever reason. :)  

Now for today's link list...

Consecrated for Holy Plans ~ Another excellent and thought-provoking post by Sally Clarkson.

James Montgomery Boice Testimony ~ I read an excerpt from this testimony, given just weeks before Boice's death, in Randy Alcorn's If God is Good this morning, and wanted to read the rest of it.  Love what he says about "Would you change it?" and the fact that if we would change what God is doing in our lives, we'd make it worse.  Ponder *that* a bit...I need to!

Ann Voskamp's Series on Journaling ~ I've linked to this before, but looked it back up after my post on prayer yesterday.   Wonderful stuff on the spiritual discipline of journaling. 

Are We Raising Daniels? ~ Another one I've linked to before, but I ran across it again this morning and was as convicted by it as ever.  



In "Other" Words...Prayer

“Prayer invites us to rest in the fact that God is in control, and the world’s problems are ultimately God’s, not ours. If I spend enough time with God, I will inevitably begin to look at the world from the point of view that more resembles God’s own. What is faith, after all but believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”   
~ Philip Yancey: "Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?" 

Putting up the Christmas tree at our house is one of those "not as simple as it sounds" propositions.  Six people in a rather small house with no attic, garage, basement (or even very many closets!) means that every inch of floor space is carefully utilized.   Creating space for a Christmas tree (other than in the middle of the floor or hanging from the ceiling) is somewhat like the engineering problems my dad used to try to explain to me. :)   This year, in preparation for "decking the halls" (or at least the living room :)), we needed to move some bookcases.  And before we moved them, they needed to be cleaned out and reorganized.  So...one afternoon during the Thanksgiving weekend found the girls and I cleaning out bookshelves.  (I'm not sure how Peter managed to get out of that task...;-))    Bayley was pulling books off a bottom shelf when she held up a stack of thick notebooks.  "What are these, Mom?"  

I realized that what she held was a stack of prayer journals...dating from sometime in high school to my young adult years.  I had stashed them in the bottom shelf of this bookcase intending to find a better spot for them later...and completely forgotten they were there.  

As I dusted them off and found a spot for them within easy reach so that I could peruse them later, I thought about my prayer life in those days, and how it has changed since then.  Those notebooks represented hours of prayer for myself and others, carefully maintained lists of prayer requests for family and friends, our church, Bible Study groups, missionaries, etc.  There are also pages and pages of prayers written out in longhand over those years, most following a formula such as "ACTS" (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), with other, more freeform prayers during times of great joy or crisis.  

It would probably take a bit more digging to find them, but somewhere there are similar, although somewhat more simple, prayer journals from my childhood.   My mom taught me from a young age to keep a prayer journal, a heritage for which I am thankful.  Those journals are filled with prayers for a baby brother or sister (I was an only child for almost ten years), prayers for unsaved family members (who are still on my prayer list all these years later), and prayers for sick friends and family members, among other things.

Faith was an easy thing in those years.  It never wavered.  I had complete trust that God would answer those prayers...although I had learned early on that His answers aren't always "yes"...sometimes they are "no" or "wait".  Even when the answers weren't what I wanted, it was somehow still easy for me to trust that this was His will and everything would be okay.  I saw many wonderful answers to prayer in those years, and God used those years to grow and strengthen the faith of a young, innocent girl as she grew into a young, still-pretty-innocent young adult. 

As I entered my mid-twenties, life began to get a bit crazy, and my prayer life began to change.  I don't have as many prayer journals from those years...rather than an hour early in the morning in my favorite chair with my Bible and notebook on my lap, due to a very uncertain schedule in those days, my Bible reading was  often done in my office as I ate a quick breakfast or lunch, and much of my praying was done in my car as I traveled all over the state for my job.  

As I married and had children, the schedule didn't get any better, and while I do have prayer journals from those years, they are anything but consistent.  Again...not that I wasn't praying, but my prayers were often while rocking a baby or standing at the sink washing dishes (in fact, for years I kept a list of prayer requests in a plastic page protector hanging by my sink so that I could have a focused prayer time while doing dishes...perhaps I need to pull out a new page protector and start that again!)

And then we come to 2004.  2004 was an amazing, incredible, tremendously difficult, faith-building year for our family.   In February, our Ammah Grace was born 10 weeks early, necessitating 6 weeks in NICU and causing all kinds of dire predictions from her doctors.  Not only did we pray...hard and often...but our church, town, and even people all over the country and the world prayed for her.  We saw miracle after miracle after miracle...even our favorite NICU doctor, one of the top neonatologists in the country, proclaimed her a miracle.  

Just as we began to breathe a sigh of relief and thankfulness that it appeared our Gracie would be completely "normal", we were hit with the second major crisis of 2004...my dad's health, which hadn't been good for the previous five years, went into steep decline.  A second round of cancer was first suspected, then confirmed, in the midst of other quite serious health issues that made treatment complicated if not impossible.  In November we realized that barring a miracle, we were entering our last holiday season with Daddy, and on December 9 of that year, we stood around his bed in the hospice unit as he took his last breath and went to be with Jesus.  

Although our prayers for Daddy's healing weren't answered in the way we would have chosen, we realized that even in that, he *had* been healed...in the most glorious way possible...and in those last months of his life, we saw incredible answers to prayer just as we had with Ammah Grace.  Again, there was an army of prayer warriors praying for him and for our family, and God sustained us in awesome ways through those prayers.  

I grieved hard for Daddy...but amazingly, even in what was up until then the hardest experience of life, God shored up my faith and allowed me never to question His goodness and sovereignty.  How could I, when I had watched my dad, in horrible, unrelenting pain, look up with tears in his eyes a few days before he died and say, "God has been so good to me."  

As we closed 2004, my heart was grieving, but my faith...and my prayer life...was stronger than it had ever been.  

Sometime in that next year, though, I began to slack in my prayer life.  Not because of any bad feelings or turning away from God...I still confessed sin, I still thanked Him for His blessings and provision, I still praised Him...but as far as supplication, I had hit a place of confusion.  I had learned much during that time about God's sovereignty, and while I still prayed for specific requests when asked, I began to feel a "What's the point?" attitude creeping in.  It's hard to even explain, as it wasn't a bitter or angry "What's the point?", but just a truly questioning, "If God is totally sovereign and His plan is sure from before the foundation of the earth, He is going to fulfill that plan regardless, so what difference is my prayer going to make?"  

Quite a change for the girl with shelves full of prayer journals.

As 2004 ended, we felt that we had been through the fire.  We felt that we had been through the "great year of testing" and we had survived, through God's grace.   We had learned and grown more than ever that year, and had seen God work in marvelous and amazing ways.   2005 and early 2006, in addition to being a time of confusion in my prayer life, were still a time of growth through deep grief.  By the summer of 2006, though, I was beginning to emerge from the valley of sorrow, and feel like we were headed into a "new normal".  

And then on July 2, 2006, our world exploded, as we discovered that one of our precious children had been abused by someone very close to us whom we had trusted completely.    Life as we knew it literally shattered into a million pieces...and my prayer life took a dramatic turn again.  

It would take a book (and I realize I have already written a chapter here...eek!) to tell all that happened during that time and all that God did in our lives as a result.  But as far as my prayer life went, I entered a period of desperation...gone were the acrostics and neatly organized prayer journals and carefully worded prayers.   I had prayed some desperate prayers when our tiny baby's life hung in the balance, but even those prayers were nothing like these.   I've since realized that with Ammah Grace, although we prayed constantly and hard, there were no decisions to be made, there was nothing we could *do* but sit and wait to see what God would do.  We could ask for healing, but it was all completely out of our hands. 

In this situation, however, there were decisions to be made, and there were small people (a situation like this can't help but affect the whole family) with desperate needs that we had to figure out how to meet...and at that point, there was really no one else to ask for counsel.  Billy and I realized that it was us and God, and that we were going to be making the biggest decisions of our lives, with long-term, even permanent, consequences for our children and our family as a whole.  One small misstep, the slightest mistake in judgement, could cause devastating repercussions.  

Our prayers were definitely desperate.  Prayers for wisdom, prayers for direction, prayers for God to somehow heal the trauma our children had experienced.  Prayers just to survive the days of horrible emotional meltdowns of a traumatized child and severe sleep deprivation brought on by night terrors.  Prayers, often, that couldn't be uttered at all...when there were no words, and all I could do was cling to Romans 8:26 ("Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.")

"Prayer time" became a thing of the past, as life became a continual breathing of prayer to God moment by moment.  Billy and I made a determination from the very beginning that we would not take a step, that we would not make the slightest move or decision in this situation, without total, complete certainty that it was what God was leading us to do.  If we didn't have that total certainty and peace, we did nothing until He gave clear direction.  "Waiting on God" took on a whole new meaning...we felt as though we were taking a master's level class in waiting.  But every step of the way, God did, truly, answer our prayers that He would not give us a choice as far as the next move to make.  At each point, not a minute early, but just at the right time, He would clearly show us what to do and how to do it with really no other choice when the time came.  Looking back, I am amazed to see His hand orchestrating it all...although as Philip Yancey says, it "only make[s] sense in reverse".  

Somewhere in the midst of the many lessons God has taught me over the past 4 1/2 years, and the wrestling He brought me through as I struggled with true doubt for the first time in my life, He brought me to a realization about the issues I'd had about prayers of supplication.  Those prayers are not for God.  They aren't to let Him know our needs or those of others around us...because He already knows.  They aren't to beg Him into changing His mind...because His plan is perfect.  They are for us.  First, as an act of obedience.  He tells us to pray.  He tells us to bring our needs and the needs of others before Him.  And second, as a part of building our faith as we see His answers...whether those answers be "yes", "no", or "wait"...and as He makes us more like Himself and brings our prayers more in line with His will. 

Although we will be dealing with the consequences of what happened to our children for the rest of our/their lives, things have finally begun to settle into a bit of a new normal for our family.  God continues to heal and comfort and teach us through it, but as we've moved into a period of relative calm...for however long it may last...the intensity of the deep, desperate, groaning prayer has eased.  The challenge now is to realize that even though our circumstances don't seem quite as desperate, our need for "continual breathing of prayer to God moment by moment" is just as necessary.  It's that "abiding" that John 15 talks about...the "pray without ceasing" of 1 Thessalonians 5.  

I've realized recently that as that season of desperate, almost autonomic or involuntary prayer has moved into a more peaceful season, I need to in an intentional way weave together all that God has taught me (and continues to teach me!) about constant prayer-breathing and structured, focused prayer, and not only practice it in my own life, but teach it to my children as well.   I've gone back to a somewhat haphazard prayer journal in the past couple of years, but I need to become disciplined in that again.  I want to move back to keeping an organized prayer list...both to help me on those brain-foggy, hard-to-focus days, and to keep a running, written record of God's faithfulness.  

I'm so thankful for Debbie of Heart Choices, who is today's In "Other" Words hostess, and who chose today's quote.   I needed this time to reflect on and pull together the things God has been teaching me in the school of prayer.  I have realized for a while that I need to become more "intentional" again in my prayer life, and Debbie's quote and the writing of this post has helped me sit down and really focus on where God is leading me in that right now.  

To see Debbie's post, and read others' thoughts on today's quote, visit Heart Choices.  


Bugs Bunny, Facebook, and Stewarding the Story ( or "Quite Possibly My Most Important Blog Post Ever")

I've always thought of myself as anything but a rebel, but in the last few years I realize more and more that there is a part of me that seriously balks at the thought of doing something...anything..."everyone else" is doing.  There is a part of me that enjoys being just a bit different.  Not "dye your hair purple" different, but swimming upstream a bit.  If a curriculum is really popular, I tend to shy away from it....and it's going to have to work extra hard to convince me it's head and shoulders above the rest.   I tend to ignore "popular" musicians unless I happen to hear a song I think is just fabulous.  Thinking back, I was that way even in high school...my dream car was not the brand new sports car my friends were ogling, but a candy apple red 1973 Karmann Ghia (which I actually owned :)).

So, whenever a status starts popping up on my Facebook newsfeed..."copy and paste this to your status if you support ________________", I start feeling a tad hive-ish.  I don't think I've *ever* copied and pasted such a status, no matter how much I may agree with the cause (or at least the ideas behind it).   I hate cancer.  I've watched it ravage two of my grandparents, my dad, and various friends through the years.  It's a terrible thing.  But I can't bring myself to post a "copy and paste this if you've lost someone you love to cancer" status.   I love my children...but when I see a "copy and paste this to your status if you have a child you are thankful for",  it doesn't cause me to think "Oh, yes, I must post that!"

I guess it shouldn't have been a huge surprise, then, that when I began seeing cartoon characters popping up in my newsfeed over the weekend, I began to feel a bit antsy.  I actually did have some favorite 70s cartoons.  The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, etc., were great!  And of course, Looney Tunes are timeless. :)  My FB friends may yet see a Hanna-Barbara creation or Bugs and Taz on my profile.  I certainly have nothing against anyone else posting...it isn't like some of the "awareness" campaigns that have been little more than titillating sensationalism.   And, again, I can't guarantee I won't post one myself.

But frankly, I struggle with understanding how a thumbnail image of a cartoon character is really going to make a difference for those who have already been devastated by child abuse or prevent children from being abused in the future.

"Awareness" seems to be the goal these days, no matter what the issue.  And while in one sense, I understand that, in another, I just don't see the point.

Are there really that many people out there who aren't aware that child abuse happens?  I look over my friend list and can't find anyone I really think would be shocked to know that child abuse exists.  I suppose that there are people on Facebook somewhere who aren't aware...but really, is making that (relative) handful of people "aware" that there is such a thing going to stop a child from being abused, or help heal a child who has already been traumatized?

Please understand that I am not saying there is anything, at all, wrong with posting a cartoon character profile pic this week.  Having written this post, I probably actually *will* post one later today, just because. :)  Many of my dear friends have posted photos of characters that bring back feelings of nostalgia (or in some cases, a "did we actually WATCH that??? reaction :)).  I appreciate the caring hearts I know are behind those profile pictures, some of whom I know have been directly affected by the horror of abuse and/or active in the fight against it.

I just don't think it goes far enough.

I don't think it gets the really necessary info out there.

I don't think it helps us differentiate between the frivolous, petty things some call abuse, and the truly horrific acts that actually are.

Child abuse is a hot button issue for me.  I've talked about child protection on this blog before, and those who have read those posts know that child protection is an issue about which I am passionate.  What may not have been clear in those posts is the fact that I tend to distance myself from things labeled "child abuse advocate."  My pre-SAHM career was in the social work field, working with foster children, their families, and their foster families.  I saw a lot of true abuse in those years...and I saw things labeled abuse that frankly weren't. (And while this blog post won't deal with that particular issue in detail, I must say that that is a *dangerous* thing, as it detracts from true abuse issues on so many levels.)  I saw many false allegations and the devastation they caused to the families involved.  I saw many caring people trying to help children and their families...and I saw a flawed system that sometimes caused as much trauma as the abuse itself.  And I've seen some of the most caring folks of all devastated by the very system through which they were trying to make a difference.

Several years ago, though, child abuse became something much more personal when we discovered that one of our children had been victims of abuse by someone close to our family who we loved and trusted.  Our family was rocked to the core and there were times that we wondered if we would survive.

I can't begin to describe the trauma experienced  by our whole family.  The first two years were spent literally trying to just survive hour by hour and minute by minute some days.  It would take a book to even begin to tell the story of the last 4 1/2 years.  The important part is...God has worked and is continuing to work in our family in amazing ways.  He has taught us things through this that we could never have imagined.  Our journey is far from over.  We know that there will be new "layers of the onion" peeled away periodically for the rest of their (and our) lives.  The perpetrator of the abuse is currently in prison on other charges, and while charges have been filed in our case, legal loopholes mean that the case won't actually go to trial until his current sentence is over.  We know there are difficult and uncertain days ahead.

Through our experiences...years of combined experience of Billy and I both in the child protection field as well as our personal experience...true awareness of child protection issues is a subject close to my heart.  Billy and I were "experts" on child abuse/protection issues.  As a foster/adoptive parent trainer years ago, I taught classes in "signs of abuse" and "risk factors".  Billy and I knew that we couldn't protect our children from every eventuality in life...we knew we couldn't control accidents, illnesses, etc....but we were *sure* that one thing from which we could protect our children was abuse/m*lestation.  We were (and still are) hall of famers in the overprotective parents' club.

If the horror of abuse can happen to our children, it can happen to *anyone's* children.

Even yours.

Because of our experiences and my heart on these issues, I couldn't ignore this latest FB "awareness" campaign...but neither could I post a cute picture and be done with it.

We do need to be aware.  Parents, grandparents, and anyone who is ever responsible for the care of children NEED to be aware of the fact that child abuse is NOT just something that happens to "other people".

It is NOT something that just happens in disadvantaged families.

It is NOT something that just happens in bad neighborhoods.

Perpetrators are NOT just the scary-looking guy on the street corner.  They may wear nice clothes, have charming personalities, drive nice vehicles, live in the best neighborhoods, have a good job, and be well-educated.

There are perpetrators everywhere.  That is not said for dramatic effect, and it is not to say we should be looking at every stranger (or friend or family member) as a possible perpetrator.  However, more than likely, if you were to search the sexual offender registry, you would find at least one, if not more, registered sexual offenders living much too close for comfort to your home, church, or workplace.  And those are just those who have been caught, tried, convicted, and registered as sexual offenders.  There are many more who haven't been caught yet, tried yet, or convicted yet.  AFTER we discovered the situation with our children, we discovered that the perpetrator in our case had been under investigation for over two years by the FBI for crimes against children...during which time we had absolutely no idea such an investigation was going on.

Almost ANY time your child is not in your line of sight...there is a possibility of abuse.  That doesn't mean it is probable, but it is possible.  It can happen in under five minutes.  It can happen in a public place.  It can happen, quite literally, in your own backyard.  It can happen when they are with people you trust.

I am not advocating that parents never take their eyes off their children.  I am not advocating that parents never trust *anyone* but themselves with their children.    I am saying that there are often times when parents are lulled into a false sense of security that "it couldn't happen to us", and that can cause a lack of caution that can have devastating consequences.

We need to realize that allowing our child to go anywhere by themselves (*especially* public restrooms) puts them at risk.  This doesn't just mean at the mall or the grocery store...this means *any* public place.  I cringe every time I see a child allowed to go to the restroom by themselves at church.  At one time, at least four known sexual offenders lived within a mile or less (some within blocks) of our church.  As far as we know, they are still there.  Our church is not in a bad neighborhood by any means.  It is just down the street from a school.  I would guess that there isn't a church in our town that doesn't have a registered sexual offender living in the vicinity.  And again...those are just the registered ones.

We need to think long and hard about who we allow to care for our children in our absence.  Every family will have their own boundaries on this...but we need to realize that just because we have known someone a long time, or because they live next door, or because they have passed background checks, doesn't mean they are "safe".   I understand the need for background checks in certain areas, but they make me very nervous because they give us a false sense of security.  All a clean background check can tell us is that someone has never been caught and convicted (or had a child abuse allegation "founded" against them).

We need to be aware that teaching our children about "good touches and bad touches" only goes so far.  One of our children is, as far as we know, still unaware of the abuse they experienced for over six months (by the perpetrator's own admission).  The other was apparently not aware of the abuse until the last occurrence...again, after over six months.  The perpetrator said that they were always asleep...we believe, given the degree of the abuse and the lack of apparent awareness, that they were probably drugged.  "Educating" a child is not an effective defense in such situations.

We need to understand that no matter how hard we try to protect our children, we are not all-powerful, and there is no way we can guarantee that we can prevent abuse from happening to our children.  Our family is living proof of that.  I taught classes in preventing and detecting abuse.  Billy and I did everything "right" in that area.  And it happened to our family anyway.  As traumatic as our situation has been, however, I have to say that it would have been so incredibly much more traumatic for us as parents if it had occurred due to something we could have prevented.   We need to do all we can to prevent...while realizing that our prevention efforts are not guarantees.

And for individuals and families who have experienced abuse, we must know that as horrible and heinous and devastating as it is for a person or a family...it is not the end of the world.   It feels like it...often for a long time.  But there is hope.  God can and does give peace in the midst of the storm and bring beauty from ashes.  I have written much on this blog about God's work in our lives during the dark days of the last few years, and I am sure that I am nowhere near finished writing that story.  None of it has been easy, but He has shown Himself totally faithful through it all.  

This is by no means an all-inclusive "everything you need to know about child abuse" post.  It also doesn't begin to tell our whole story and what God has done in our lives and taught us through it.  I could...and perhaps someday will...write a whole book on the subject.   But hopefully it does take "awareness" a step further.  Perhaps this is an issue that tugs on your heartstrings and you want more information.  Feel free to email me by clicking on the "view my complete profile" link near the top of the sidebar, and then clicking the "email" button on the left side of the profile.  Or perhaps your family or someone close to you has experienced  the devastation of abuse and you are looking for support or encouragement or prayer...or you have encouragement to offer others.  Again...please email me through the profile link.  Or you are always welcome to post less personal questions or comments below.

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for 3 days while I prayed and sought counsel about posting it.  It hasn't been easy to write, and it won't be easy to hit "publish".   God has brought us a long, long way in the past four and a half years.   In the beginning, we were dead set against anyone knowing our story but the few who "had to" know.   God has slowly changed our hearts over the last couple of years and caused us to realize that this story is not ours, but His.  He has given our family, including the child who is aware of what happened, a strong sense of the fact that He has a plan for our family as a whole and each of us individually and that the last 4.5 years were not an interruption in that plan, but a vital part of it.  God has given us a desire to minister to others who are walking this dark road, and to truly "raise awareness" about protection and prevention in a realistic way.

Mary Beth Chapman, wife of Steven Curtis Chapman and author of  Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope
  (which is, by the way, one of the two best books I've read all year), says of her family that she wants them to "steward their story well."   That is my heart...to steward our story well.  Even more than "raising awareness" of child abuse, I want to "raise awareness" of the Hope that lies within us...the Hope that has carried us through the many dark days and sleep-deprived nights of this journey.  God is good.  He loves us with an everlasting, unchanging love.  He loves my children even more than I do!  He is working for our best, always.  His plan cannot be thwarted or changed.  He has carried us in the palm of His hand throughout it all.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
 ~ Genesis 50:20

"I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." 
~Jeremiah 29:11

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young." 
~ Isaiah 40:11

"That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
~Romans 10:9-10


Find Us Faithful...

Faithfulness.  It's a word that has been on my mind often lately.   First, because the faithfulness of God has been such a major theme of all God has been teaching me and working in my life in recent years especially.  But in the last few weeks, the faithfulness of God's people has been a recurring theme as well.

Our church celebrated its 50th anniversary this year...this past weekend, in fact.  It was a wonderful weekend of looking back at God's work over the past 50 years and looking forward to where God is going to take us from here...and I'm planning a post (or perhaps posts :)) on the anniversary itself soon.  

In the meantime, this post has been "percolating" for a few weeks.  I had the blessing of serving on the anniversary committee, and as part of that, collecting photographs from the church's 50 year history and re-doing our church scrapbook.  It was a lot of work, but it was *mostly* fun work...despite some major frustrations along the way. :)   

One of the best parts of the whole process was learning so many things about our church history that I didn't know and hearing so many stories I'd never heard.  We've been at Oak Cliff almost 15 years, and I learned a lot when I served on the 40th anniversary committee ten years ago, but there were many things about its history that I didn't piece together until this go-round.  

As I went through photos with various people trying to put names with faces and identify dates and events, there were many people who always evoked similar reactions:  "Oh, look there is ________________.  He/she served so faithfully for so many years"....and then would come the explanation of the fact that this lady worked in the nursery for 30+ years, or this man was so faithful in this ministry up until the day he died, or this person was the beloved teacher in this department for so long.    This one was such a prayer warrior.  This person gave so generously anytime there was a need.   This person was always such an encouragement to everyone around them.  This person shared the gospel with everyone they met.  

Four of the seven faithful pastors of Oak Cliff

It was such a blessing and encouragement to hear those stories.  It was a blessing to see pictures of people from 30, 40, 50 years ago who are still serving the Lord today, although their bodies may move more slowly and their area of service may have changed due to physical limitations.  

Occasionally, though, the stories weren't so encouraging.  There were the pictures that no one really wanted to display...photos that were reminders of people who had in one way or another fallen away...those who chose a lifestyle of sin over faithful service, those who let bitterness overtake them...those who aren't now serving the Lord at Oak Cliff or anywhere else.  

As I was sorting through photos one day, I was struck by the contrasts.  And overwhelmed with the desire to be in that first group, rather than the second.  To be faithful to the finish.  And immediately the old Steve Green song came to mind (and has stayed there now for weeks!)...

We are so blessed to have such a heritage of faithfulness at Oak Cliff.  But as with any church, I suppose, there are those whose stories grieve our hearts...and most of all grieve the heart of God.  The kids and I have spent time this week talking about these things, and discussing the subject of faithfulness.  I reminded them that one of the names that comes up often in relation to faithfulness is a name very near and dear to us...their Papaw, my dad.   Bro. Phil used him as an example of faithfulness in his sermon Saturday night, in fact. 

I've reflected a lot lately on the heritage of faithfulness not only from our church, but also from my parents.   From the time I was a little girl, my parents taught me...by word and by example...the importance of faithfulness.  They continued to live that even when it became difficult to the point that most people would have said that they had a "reason"...multiple ones, in fact, for letting the younger, more active people take over.  Daddy sang in choir even after he was declared legally blind and could no longer read the music, and when getting in and out of the choir loft every week became not just difficult, but painful.  He taught 3rd grade Sunday School right up until his health got so bad that he couldn't get to church at all.  My mom has continued to teach in the kindergarten Sunday School class even though her mobility has gotten so poor she is having a hip replacement next week.  They have believed and lived that we are to serve God until we literally *can't* anymore...not until it is just inconvenient or difficult.  

My dad as Noah...a role he reprised often :)

The children and I talked about the fact that faithfulness isn't just what we *do*...it is who we *are*.  Faithfulness may be seen through our activities, but it begins in our hearts.  It starts with our totally giving our hearts and lives to Christ, and then seeking the Holy Spirit's help to live for Him every day.  Faithfulness isn't just about doing the right things...it is about making right choices, even in the little things, day by day.  And faithfulness isn't about never making a mistake...never sinning...because we all will.  It's about repenting, in brokenness, when we do make a wrong choice, and turning from that, rather than "wallowing" in it.  

Our conversation yesterday stemmed from study we were doing on the life of Solomon.   Solomon started out well...at the beginning of his reign as king of Israel, he made a good choice, for which God rewarded him, and he became not only the wisest man who ever lived, but also one of the wealthiest.  God allowed him to build His temple, and to have a very prosperous reign as king.  And yet, by the end of his life, Solomon had made wrong choices and turned away from God, ending his reign and his life in disobedience, sin, and idolatry.  

Solomon's father, David, also made some very wrong choices, and committed some truly heinous sins.  The difference between David and his predecessor, Saul, and his successor, Solomon, was that David always acknowledged his sin, repented in brokenness, and turned back to God.  Perfection is not the key to faithfulness...repentance and commitment are.  

I'd been pondering this blog post for several days, and finally determined yesterday to get it posted.  Then last night, my friend Michelle posted this verse on Facebook.  She had heard it in the testimony of an elderly man who was receiving a volunteer award...he cited it as his motivation to volunteer.  I thought it went so perfectly with what the children and I have been discussing, and with this post...I originally read it in the New Living Translation, which I don't normally use, but I love the wording, and I think it stays pretty true to the translations I trust most...the ESV and NASB:

Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.

Here it is in the ESV...

They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,

And in NASB...

They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green,

I want to be vital and full of sap, producing fruit into my old age!  I want my children to have that heritage not only from their church and from their grandparents, but from their parents.  I want that to be a desire of my children's hearts even at their young ages now.   I am so thankful for my parents, and for so many others through the years who have modeled that faithfulness for me.   I am thankful for our church, celebrating 50 years of faithfulness this year and looking forward to many more.   Mostly, I am thankful for God's faithfulness  that never wavers.  


In "Other" Words..."I Know a Whole Lot More For Sure"


"I know a lot less about God, 
but the things I know about God, I know a whole lot more for sure."

~Steven Curtis Chapman
on Larry King Live after the tragic death of his daughter Maria

On May 21, 2008, Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, experienced a "parent's worst nightmare" as their 5-year-old daughter, Maria, was killed in a tragic accident.  Her older brother was coming home in his SUV, and didn't see little Maria as she ran to meet him.   Just over two months later, Steven and Mary Beth, as well as their three older children, appeared on Larry King Live to talk about the tragedy and the hope that was and is carrying them through.

I hadn't watched Larry King in years...decades, even...but I watched that particular interview with great interest (and through many tears!)   First, just two years earlier, our family had gone through one of those "defining moments" in our lives...experiencing a situation that sent us reeling....and continues to, in many ways, today.  Our situation did not involve the death of a child, but the trauma involved was very similar in many ways.   I had ached for and prayed for the Chapman family since first hearing about the accident, and I was anxious to see and hear how God was answering the prayers of people around the world on their behalf.  

I was also interested to see how Larry King would react to this family of faith and the hope they were showing through tragedy.  Years ago I watched Larry King fairly frequently...not by my own choice, but because my grandparents rarely ever missed an episode.  When I visited them, and later when I lived with my grandmother for a few years after college, he was a nightly visitor in their living room.  I knew that Mr. King was quite adamant in his anti-Christian views.  

There was much that was noteworthy about that interview.  I remember at the time actually taking notes of things the family said...there was so much that resonated so strongly with me, even though our situations were very different.   But the thing that stuck out the most was the above quote by Steven.    It expressed so perfectly what God had done in me in the two years preceding that interview...and what He has continued to do in the two years since.  

I had been blessed to grow up in solid Bible-teaching churches and a godly home.   I was saved at a young age and saturated with God's Word throughout my growing up years.   Our family went through some difficult trials over the years, and I saw my parents meet those trials with faith and obedience.  During all of those years...even through a devastating church split in my teen years, the death of my beloved grandfather at 17, family financial crises, and serious health issues with my dad...my faith never wavered.  I never once asked "Why?"  I read and heard about people questioning their faith in times of crisis, but the crises we experienced just strengthened my faith even more.  

Then came 2004.   We experienced the birth of our little 30-week preemie and listened to dire prognoses for her future.  We spent 6 weeks in NICU with her, with almost daily threats to her health and even her survival.  Six months after she came home, when we had finally begun to relax and enjoy our now healthy baby, my dad's health, which had been in decline for a while, took a steep downturn.   We discovered that his cancer from years before had returned, and at this point his health was otherwise so fragile that there was no possibility of treatment.  He spent his last few months in constant intense pain, and died in December of that year.  

We felt like we had been through the fire that year.  We had been through the great trials of our lives, and though they had been horribly painful, we had survived with our faith not only intact, but stronger.  God had taught us much during that awful year, and again, despite a year and a half of intense grieving over the loss of my daddy, I never truly questioned God or doubted my faith.   There were questions, but they were mostly superficial ones...not life-shaking ones.  

Then came 2006.  We were just beginning to feel like we were settling into a "new normal" when the bottom fell out of life as we knew it, never to be the same again.   And this time...for the first time ever...my faith was truly shaken...and I wrestled with doubts and questions I had never expected to face.   It was a blessedly short time, but it shook me to my very core.  I questioned God's goodness and became angry at the thought of His sovereignty.   But...God met every doubt and every question with His love, grace, and faithfulness.   

As I questioned and wrestled with those questions, He sent people, books, music, and always Scripture to shore up and solidify my faith from the very foundation up.   He took me back to the basics of who He is...and who we are...and back to basic doctrines of the faith to rebuild what had shattered in this latest and most devastating storm.   He reminded me over and over of the fact that He is so very much greater than we can ever imagine, and His ways are so very much higher.  He reminded me...and in that, brought me crashing to my knees...that He is GOD.  He created us.  He made a way of salvation for us.  Although this "thrice Holy" God can't even look at our sin and depravity, He LOVES us, and He calls us to cleansing through His Son, Jesus.   He gently showed me that, as Voddie Baucham says, we ask the wrong question in times like these.  Instead of asking "Why? am I going through this trial?  Why? do we have to suffer?"  we should be asking  "How on earth can a Holy, Righteous God know what I did and thought and said yesterday, and not kill me in my sleep last night?"  "Why, O God, do your judgement and your wrath tarry?"   The very fact that we wake up to another day, or breathe another breath, is the awesome goodness and mercy of God.   Every blessing that He gives us is effectively icing on the cake...and further proof of His love, mercy, and grace.

The lessons I've learned...the things God has taught me...in the intervening years could fill a book, and many of them are scattered throughout this blog.   But as I listened to Steven Curtis Chapman say those words on LKL that day, I realized that they summed it all up perfectly. 

"I know a lot less about God, but the things I know about God, I know a whole lot more for sure."

God has shown me, in a most humbling way, that despite my solidly Biblical Christian background....being raised in a Christian home, active in wonderful churches, saved at a young age, etc....I know much less about God than I thought I did when this journey started back in the summer of 2006.  I have questions that will never be answered, at least not on earth.  There are things I will never...ever...make any sense of.  But God graciously wrestled through my doubts and questions with me, and brought me to the point where the things I *do* know about God, I am more sure and more certain of than ever.  The concept of His sovereignty, which brought so much anger and pain at one point, has become one of the greatest comforts of my life.  He has taken things that I have believed all my life and tested them in the fire, and now I know them not just because I have been *taught* them, but because I have *lived* them.  And I cling to them in ways I have never clung to them before.   There are still days...weeks...hours when I struggle...sometimes much more than others.   And yet God is always faithful to remind me of the things that He has shown me in these years, and to continue to teach me day by day.  

In that same interview, Steven Curtis Chapman said that we don't always have an explanation, but we do have a comfort, and a hope.  Later, Larry King stated that he wished he had that kind of faith.  I have no idea what God may have done and still may be doing in Larry King's heart since that interview, but I am thankful for the Chapmans' faithfulness and openness during such a traumatic time, and I pray that perhaps even yet God may draw Mr. King to Himself.  


In "Other" Words..."A Whole Lot More For Sure"

"I know a lot less about God, 
but the things I know about God, I know a whole lot more for sure."

~Steven Curtis Chapman
on Larry King Live after the tragic death of his daughter Maria

Please join us here tomorrow (Tuesday) for In "Other" Words!  I'm looking forward to hosting and to reading your thoughts on the above quote...it's been a very meaningful one to me in the last few years.   

If you are new to IOW, we'd love to have you join us.  Just post your thoughts on the above quote on your blog, and then come back here to link to your post (be sure to copy and paste the link to the actual post, not your main blog link).  Then visit the other participating blogs to see what others share!  

(Note: If you come in the morning and the IOW post isn't up yet, please check back mid-morning Central time.  I had planned to have a post ready to auto-post at midnight tonight, but today's schedule has been a bit derailed by a sick child.   I'll finish my post and have Mr. Linky up as soon as possible in the morning...I'm sorry for any inconvenience!)


Post-Vacation Week Daybook...

October 18, 2010

Outside My Window...
Dark, Quiet, and probably chilly at the moment.  Birds beginning to chirp a bit.  After the sun comes up, there will be the beginnings of fall color visible.  So looking forward to the color to come in the next few weeks!

I Am Thankful For...

I actually just replied to a "Five Things I'm Thankful For" thread elsewhere, so I'll cheat a bit and copy those answers here...:) :)

1. Billy's vacation last week...all the things we got accomplished and fun family times with him and our growing-up-way-too-fast children!

2. For a job for him to go back to today, even though we are really going to miss him!

3.  That God led us, in a very odd way, to our current church 14 1/2 years ago, for the blessing it has been in so many ways, and for the opportunity to be part of it's 50th anniversary celebration this week.

4.  The Sunday School class of youth girls I get to teach every week...I love the girls, I love teaching, and I'm just blessed every week by this class.

5.  Six years ago this week was a turning point in my life in many ways...God began working in my life in several areas in very obvious, pivotal ways that "set the stage", so to speak, for the major events He was about to bring into our lives (my dad's death and the situation with my brother and the girls).  I'm thankful for the memories of that week and all that followed and the reminder that they are of God's perfect faithfulness and sovereignty.  

From the Learning Rooms...

We were on vacation last week, as Billy was off.  This week is a very busy and oddly-scheduled week for us, so school this week will probably be rather "bare-bones basics" as we transition and meet the demands of the week.  Next week should be a "normal" school week, and then we will have a week or two (or more) of "school-on-the-go" as my mom is having hip replacement surgery and things will be a bit topsy-turvy for a while.  I've got some major planning to do between now and then, because we aren't especially good at school-on-the-go. :)

I Am Remembering...

Delving into Oak Cliff's history for the anniversary celebration has brought back many memories of the beginnings of Woodland Heights.  It's hard to believe that has been over 23 years!   Those were exciting times...and times God used to grow my faith immensely.  It looks like we may get to go back for a visit in December (hopefully we'll be there for their Keyboard Christmas!)

 From the Kitchen...

I need to pull out my menu plan and see!  Billy did most of the cooking last week...which was wonderful!   A few things I can remember from this week's menu plan...CopyCat Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana, Baked Mac & Cheese from Southern Plate, sloppy joes, lasagna soup, and enchiladas.  (I actually didn't remember all those...I pulled out my list when I couldn't remember anything other than the Zuppa. :))

I Am Creating...

Actually "re-creating" our church scrapbook.  The huge scrapbook that was made ten years ago for our church's 40th anniversary has been looked at and loved on a bit much in the intervening years, so we decided to refurbish it for our 50th anniversary celebration this weekend.  It's been one of those "Murphy's Law" projects where everything that could go wrong, has, and it's all taken 10 times as much time as originally planned. :)   So...it's crunch time to get it finished, and that is top on the list of the week's priorities. 

On My Mind...

Thoughts on the topic of faithfulness brought on by preparations for our church's 50th anniversary celebration this weekend.  Planning a blog post related to this soon.   They involve a big pile of photos, a couple of songs (Steve Green's "Find Us Faithful" and Getty Music's "By Faith"), and a Psalm (Psalm 145). 


This has been one of those weeks when you notice all over again how fast your children are growing up.  We bought Peter new shoes this week...bigger than his daddy's!  He is 12 and wears a men's size 11.5.  He's already taller than me, and given his age, he still has quite a bit of growing to do.  :-O  Bayley is growing into such a young lady.  I can't believe she will be a "youth" in less than a year.  And speaking of shoes...she's wearing a ladies size 7 now.  Eek.  Emlyn is really "coming into her own" now...it's been amazing to see how much she has changed and matured in the last few months.  She is developing a real sense of vision and purpose about what God may want her to do with her life that is exciting!  And Ammah Grace...my "tiny girl" is growing up, too!   I've gotten so many glimpses in the last week or so of "big girl Ammah Grace"...and they are startling sometimes!  I don't know if it is because she is our youngest, and therefore always the "baby" to us all, or if it is more specifically because of her preemie tininess, but I've been slower to see her as a "big girl" than my others.   I realized last night that she is older now than Peter was when she was born...when he and Bayley became "the big kids" (and sometimes Emlyn...she's the true middle child who is one of the "big kids" one minute, and one of the "little girls" the next. :))  

I Am Reading...

*Still* trying to get through Ted Dekker's Immanuel's Veins.  I had to take a little break from it this weekend...it is pretty intense, and I needed "not-so-intense" for a while.  I'll get back to it this week.  Also re-reading The Schwarzbein Principle a bit at a time.  Other than that, these days have been too busy for much reading.  I'm hoping to catch up after this weekend's anniversary celebration (and when my mom has her surgery...I'm planning for all of us to get a lot of reading done then!)

I Am Hearing...

Silence, mostly.  And birds chirping outside.  And the tapping of my keyboard as I type.  I love quiet early mornings. :)

Around the House...

Enjoying the fruits of Billy's labor from his vacation...Peter's room and the girls' room got painted last week and we are SO excited.  We didn't quite get to the dining room, but we have the paint now and plan to have it done before my mom's surgery.  I can't wait!   This week's plans include mostly maintenance, a bit of decluttering/organizing, and the seasonal clothes switch (which we planned to do weeks ago, but didn't...and thankfully so, given the 80-90 degree temps we've had lately!)

One of My Favorite Things...

My husband's cooking!   I always said that if I married a man who liked to cook, I would let him. :)  Billy loves to cook and he is an excellent cook, and I always enjoy his experiments in the kitchen. 

A Few Plans for the Rest of the Week...

School, chores, and food prep
Finish church scrapbook
Children's choir, Adult choir, and Ensemble rehearsal Wednesday night
Field trip to Prairie Grove and trip to Lake Fort Smith with Billy later this week
50th anniversary celebration this weekend at church
*Somewhere* in there fit in a two-week grocery shopping trip! 

Photos to Share...

From our trip to Natural Dam/Lake Fort Smith last week...more to come soon!

Thanks to Peggy for hosting the Daybook each week!