Reminders of Grace...

Eucharisteo ~ to be grateful, feel thankful, give thanks....

* Little girls and LaLaLoopsy tea parties

* A boy-man with a still-soft heart

* Hard-working husband who spoils me still

* Fan-breeze cutting through the oppressive heat

* Riches in book stacks

* Sweet~Savory corn cakes for supper

* Everyday reminders of grace

* Squirrels

* Kids creating

* Cool, clean water

* God's steadfast Word

* Small-world reconnecting in big-God ways

* The lens through which I capture snippets of my world

* Isaiah 40:11 ~ Being held close to His heart through it all...


I Heart Faces...Water...

I Heart Faces's  theme this week is "Water".  I immediately thought of this picture that I took of our friend Joshua during "Water Baseball" at camp earlier this summer.  I love the spray of the water in his face.  It looks so wonderfully cool and refreshing in the midst of this dry heatwave!  


I promise...

that my next post will not contain bird or squirrel pictures!  Perhaps Riki Tiki and Templeton need their own blog. :)  (Actually, these pictures are of Riki Tiki and one of the "new" squirrels...I think perhaps Apollonia?  Riki Tiki has a brown "mustache" under his nose...so funny!)  Seriously, I do have several posts planned for the coming week that are not backyard-wildlife related.  However, I'm in the midst of editing several hundred photos from the 50th anniversary/vow renewal ceremony I shot yesterday AND trying to get ready to start our "summer term" of school tomorrow, so I needed the brief diversion this afternoon of a few squirrel photos. :)

Aren't they cute?  :)


So why the Squirrels?


Yes, it's another squirrel post.  And it occurred to me as I was editing photos for this post that perhaps some might wonder "Why the squirrels?"  So...I thought I'd answer that. :)  

First, like many of God's creatures, squirrels fascinate me.  They always have, ever since we used to watch them through the sliding glass door on our back porch at home.  And even before that...way back when I was a very young child and my Papaw Brown would crack pecans from my Aunt Sis's pecan grove and hand feed them to the squirrels on his patio.  I have a long history with squirrels. :)  

Second, they're here.  We always have squirrels in our backyard, in addition to a variety of birds.  Two of the current population, Templeton and Riki Tiki, have really come to trust us...they will almost eat out of Billy's hand, and they will let me get pretty close with the camera these days.  There are two additional "regulars" (there are a couple of large squirrel nests in our backyard trees...) that are becoming more trusting all the time.  Billy hasn't named them yet...he is still "getting to know them" and will name them after seeing more of their personalities. :)  

Third, they don't mind the camera.  My poor children get tired of being Mama's "guinea pigs".  I have much, much to learn about my camera and about technical and creative aspects of photography.  The squirrels are great test subjects!   They give my children a break, and give me something to practice on during this time when I can't sit outside for the longer periods necessary to take pictures of the birds. 

Riki Tiki

Which brings me to the fourth reason...I can photograph the squirrels in short bursts.  In order to photograph the birds, I have to get settled into a chair and wait until the birds get comfortable with my being there, and then sit very, very still in the same spot while taking pics.  With the triple-digit temps we've had lately, that isn't happening.  With the squirrels, I can grab my camera, take off out the door, walk up to the tree, take a succession of pictures, and be back in the house *almost* before I break a sweat. :)

Fifth, they just fascinate me.  Oh, I think I already said that. :)  But they do.  I watch them do stunts in the tops of the trees and think they are without a doubt going to plunge to their deaths, I watch them play with each other almost like my children do sometimes, I watch them hang onto the tree with their back toes and hold a piece of bread in their hands, swinging back and forth as they eat, and think "Don't they ever fall off???"  I watch them and wonder what exactly was going through God's mind as He created them...those skinny little toes with the long sharp claws, the big bushy tails they use to help balance themselves, the beady eyes that miss nothing, the sharp teeth that nibble away at whatever they happen to be eating.  I see up close the care that He took in creating a squirrel, and then multiply that by all that He created, including the grand finale...us!...and I just marvel all over again at His creatorship.  (Is that a word?  Blogger doesn't like it.  But I do, so it's staying there. :))

Psalm 148

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens;
   praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
   praise him, all his hosts!Praise him, sun and moon,
   praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD!
   For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
   he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the LORD from the earth,
   you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
    stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
   creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
   princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
   old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
   for his name alone is exalted;
    his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
    praise for all his saints,
   for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!


Never Once

Matt Redman's song "Blessed Be Your Name" is one of my favorite contemporary songs.  It made a huge impact on my life several years ago, and became one of my "theme songs" during some difficult days.   Today Matt Redman released a new cd.... 10000 Reasons.   "Never Once" is one of those songs that I fell in love with in the first few lines.  It could be my theme song...not only for the last seven crazy years, but for my life.  God has spent the last couple of weeks reminding me over and over of His faithfulness from the first day until now, and particularly His faithfulness though the difficulties of recent years....reminding me that "Never Once" has He failed us or left us alone and floundering.

So love this song already...

Never Once

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

~ Matt Redman


Quick Backyard Shoot...

After spending a great deal of time in the backyard with my camera this spring, and then having it around my neck continually during camp and VBS, it's been very odd this week to go four days without taking a single picture!  I've missed my camera, but it's just been entirely too hot to take photos.  This morning I finally braved the heat for a few minutes and took a few pictures of Billy's backyard buddies...

This is Riki-Tiki...

Riki-Tiki is quite spoiled.  He eats bread almost out of Billy's hand.  

Squirrels just fascinate me.  Riki-Tiki was hanging from the tree by his back toes while he ate bread with his front paws.  I wish I'd gotten a better picture of this...it was pretty amazing...

This is Templeton.  He is even more spoiled than Riki-Tiki.  Today he was finished eating by the time I got outside, so I barely got a shot of him.  Not sure what happened to his nose...that scar is new.  He may have gotten too close to the brown thrashers' nest...they are pretty territorial.  

A couple of last shots of Riki-Tiki...


How Did I Miss This?

I love the music of Keith and Kristyn Getty.  I have no idea how I have missed this particular song over the years...I ran across it yesterday and it instantly became one of my new favorites.  The words are incredible...

Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer
Jesus draw me ever nearer
As I labour through the storm.
You have called me to this passage,
and I'll follow, though I'm worn.

May this journey bring a blessing,
May I rise on wings of faith;
And at the end of my heart's testing,
With Your likeness let me wake.

Jesus guide me through the tempest;
Keep my spirit staid and sure.
When the midnight meets the morning,
Let me love You even more.

Let the treasures of the trial
Form within me as I go -
And at the end of this long passage,
Let me leave them at Your throne.
~ Keith Getty and Margaret Becker


The Anthony Case...My Thoughts (well, mostly mine...)

First, let me say that I have not followed this case...at all.  There are a variety of reasons for that...not the least of which is that I simply don't keep up with the news as well as I used to.  So...I have no strong feelings one way or another regarding the mom's guilt or the outcome of the trial.  I ache for what happened to this little girl, and there is a part of me that desires justice for her, whatever justice is in this case.  But...I just don't know enough to form any sort of educated opinion about the case itself.

However, I've noticed a lot about people's reactions to this case and its verdict earlier this week.  Comments started hitting my Facebook newsfeed not even minutes after the verdict was announced.  I was somewhat surprised by my own reaction to some of those comments.  I literally began to get sick at my stomach over them.  

Now, I'm sure my reaction might have been very different had I been following this case and formed a strong opinion about it.  However, there were two things that stuck out to me about my early response to the public reaction I was seeing:  (1) That no matter what the actual verdict, Casey Anthony had been convicted in the court of public opinion and the general reaction to her, and to the verdict, was quite venomous.  And (2) that the plight of little Caylee, and the lack of a murder conviction in this case, brought about a strong public desire to "raise awareness" and "find justice".  

Those who read this post got a taste of my feelings about "raising awareness".  I had some similar thoughts on Tuesday when I began seeing the "Porch Light On" posts in my newsfeed.  Now...before I go any further...I don't see anything wrong with posting that or leaving porch lights on  (or planning to do so on July 10, the official "porch lights on" night).  I realize that most who are doing so do so out of a heart of compassion for this little girl and all she suffered, and out of frustration at not being able to "do anything" or see justice for her.  

But my thought, again, was "What does this really accomplish?"  How does this help Caylee?  How does this help other victimized children?   It may make us feel better, and feel like we are "doing something", but it isn't going to bring Caylee back.  It isn't going to erase whatever trauma she went through.  It isn't going to bring her killer to justice.  

Again, there is nothing wrong with "turning on a porch light for Caylee".  And yes, my heart aches for this little girl.  And yes, I "want justice".   I know firsthand the deep ache for justice.  I have children who have been deeply traumatized by violent crime.  And despite the fact that charges have been filed and we have been told to expect a trial in a couple of years...with each passing day I am less and less sure that the promised trial, much less the promised conviction, will happen.  We have already begun to prepare ourselves that we very well may never "see justice" through the courts.  It brings a huge lump to my throat just to type that.  And yet, the reality is there.  

Chris Brauns, author of Unpacking Forgiveness, has written an excellent post this week in response to the Casey Anthony case.  It is good not only for those struggling with the verdict in that case, but for anyone facing "situations when the wounds are deep and justice seems far away".   In fact, I need to print this out and read it about once a week!  Most of it involves lessons God has already been teaching me, but the reminders are excellent and there are new thoughts as well.  I definitely need to read this book!  (Which I actually own but haven't read yet...I need to move it way up on my list!)  

I know that often the temptation is to skip right over links like this one...but I urge you to click through to this article and read it today.  It isn't long, and it really is worth the effort.  I would love to post the article in its entirety right here, but I'm not sure what the copyright implications of that would be.  

Scotty Smith's post this morning was also excellent...another one definitely worth a click-through...

Feel a need to do more?  No matter how much our hearts ache for her, there isn't anything we can do for Caylee Anthony now.  But there are ways that we can get involved to help other children in traumatic situations.  Sponsor a child through Compassion International or World Vision.  Join the fight against child trafficking through She is Priceless/Children's HopeChest ministries.  Learn about local child trafficking (no, it isn't just overseas) and research ways to get involved.  Reach out to the kids across the street, or at the local children's shelter.  Reach out to support a struggling parent...a single mom, a jobless dad, or parents of a child with special needs, whether those needs are physical, mental, or emotional.   Most importantly...share Jesus.  Children are traumatized because of sin in the world.  The best thing we can do to help traumatized children is to share Jesus, to pray, and to watch Him change lives.  Leaving a light on is fine...but being a light (Matt. 5:14-16)  can truly make a difference.  (And pray for me as I seek to do that as well...it's easy to type those things sometimes, and harder to actually get up and do them...)


A Wednesday Night Song, an Old/New Book, and Stewarding the Story...

I love summer choir.  Actually, I love choir all the time, and each season has something special to offer.  But there is a bit of a lower-key element to summer, usually singing lots of  "old favorites"  while learning some new pieces as well, that is just a bit different than the rest of the year.  Tonight we sang several "oldies", one of which brought back some *really* old memories....

The first time I remember hearing "My Tribute" was at the funeral of Dana Mize.  It was 1976.  I was 7 years old and attending my first memorial service.  Dana was a 12 year old girl in our church who had been kidnapped and murdered.  Her death shook our church and the entire community, and it was my first exposure to violent crime.  

I have vivid memories of her memorial service.  The crowd was huge, filling our large church sanctuary and spilling outside.  I sat with my mom and a friend in our "usual spot" near the front, piano side.  My dad was in the choir, which opened the service with what has been one of my favorite hymns ever since, "O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus", and closed it with the Hallelujah Chorus.  Although there were many tears, Dana's service wasn't one of sadness; even as a child, I was overwhelmed by the way that God was glorified and praised through it all.  I've thought of that service many times in the years since.  

Dana's uncle sang the song "My Tribute".  That was the first time I remember hearing it, and I will always associate it with her memorial service.  It will always be a reminder of Dana's family and their strong faith, and of God's faithfulness to them and to our church during that time.  

Three years later, Dana's mother, Jean Mize, wrote a book about their experiences, Night of Anguish, Morning of Hope.  I read it several  times during my pre-teen and teen years and was impacted greatly by her testimony of God's faithfulness to them throughout their ordeal.   I remember thinking that I couldn't imagine anything worse than one's child being the victim of a violent crime.  I had no idea that years later I would be one of those parents, although our story would be much different than the Mize's.  

I had long since lost track of my copy of Mrs. Mize's little book, but many times during the last five years, I've remembered something that she said in it, or something from Dana's funeral, that has encouraged me at just the right time.  Just weeks ago, I vaguely remembered something from the book and began wishing that I could read it again.  As is my usual response when I have a thought like that, I searched for the book on Amazon, hoping they might have a very old, very cheap copy I might buy.  There were indeed several cheap copies of the little orange book I remembered, but I was amazed to discover that the book was re-published earlier this year with the original content plus an update on the intervening years and some additional materials that weren't part of the first book.  And not only that, but it was available for Kindle!  I rarely pay for Kindle books, as I have enough free ones to keep me busy for a long, long time, but this one was well worth its $7.69 purchase price.  

I cried my way through the book in just a couple of days, remembering much of what I read either from the actual happenings or from past readings of the book, but also also relating to so much of what she said as a parent; although our situations were very different, many of the emotions and the things God taught us were very similar.  

I hope to share more from the book in another post...I've been planning to review it ever since I read the new edition, but the intervening weeks have been a bit full. :)  However, I want to close with part of the message from Dana's memorial service, given by my childhood pastor, Bro. Bill Probasco...

"And moreover, He would use Satan's evil rage to Satan's disadvantage.  The entire affair would have the effect of calling attention to the grace and glory of Jesus Christ by showing that His grace is greater than sin and His power greater than death.  This nightmarish ordeal will be used to call attention, as sure as God is living, to His undeserved grace and bring many to heed His loving call." 

I've been thinking a lot lately about Mary Beth Chapman's words about "stewarding our story well".  The Mize family has stewarded theirs well and they continue to over 30 years later.  We all have a story...His story, unfolding in us.   Some stories are more dramatic than others.  Some, like the Mizes' and the Chapmans', are tragic.  Some are stories of great weariness, some of very obvious victory.  Some, like ours, have plot twists that we never in a million years would have expected.  Regardless, God has promised that for all who are His children, to those "elect exiles" who are called according to His purpose, every element is working together for our good, and for His glory.  I am so thankful for that promise.  I am so thankful for the people God has put in my life from my youngest years to show His faithfulness and prepare me for what has come so far and is still to come.

God is still using Dana's story and that of her family "to call attention, as sure as God is living, to His undeserved grace and bring many to heed His loving call" and to "have the effect of calling attention to the grace and glory of Jesus Christ".   That is my heart cry about our story as well...that God would use it to call attention to His grace and glory, to bring many to heed His loving call, and to encourage those who are going through their own "nights of anguish".

My Tribute, To God Be the Glory   
How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? 
Things so undeserved, yet you gave to prove Your love for me, 
The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude, 
All that I am and ever hope to be I owe it all to Thee!
 To God be the glory, to God be the glory 
To God be the glory For the things He has done. 
With His blood He has saved me, 
With His power He has raised me, 
To God be the glory for the things He has done.
 Just let me live my life, Let it be pleasing, Lord, to Thee, 
And should I gain any praise, Let it go to Calvary.
 To God be the glory for the things He has done. 
~Andrae Crouch


Sunday Song ~ Bow the Knee

I've blogged about this song more than once, but we sang it again this morning, and again, it spoke to me so deeply.  God has used this song so mightily in my life through the last few years...often through a little girl singing it "randomly" around the house...it's Ammah Grace's favorite song.  I thought it was so neat that God caused Lyndel to put it on the program for today, on this anniversary weekend

I had planned to come home and type a quick post about it, but after 4 weeks of non-stop running, I finally "hit the wall" this afternoon, and frankly, I don't have the brain capacity tonight to compose a coherent post.  However, I found a post from 2008 about this song, and so much of it is so much what God is reminding me of what He's taught me in the last few years, and what He is working on in me *right now*...so I thought I'd repost it today...

The Lord Our Dwelling Place

"He who dwells in the shelter of the most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."
Psalm 91:1-2
"Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations."
Psalm 90:1
"But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves."
John 17:13
As I mentioned in my last post, Psalm 91 was on my mind all last weekend. As I prayed for the needs of others, as well as my own, God kept bringing the words of Psalm 91 back to my attention. Saturday morning, as I prayed for a particular need, God seemed to keep reminding me that our safe spot in time of trouble, and our oasis in time of confusion is not a *place*...it is Him. *He* is our refuge. He...not our home...is our dwelling place.
Sunday morning, as I pondered the events of the *wee hours*, I was hit by the awareness that
"If you make the Most High your dwelling--
Even the Lord, who is my refuge--
Then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent."
I had decided while I was typing "No Disaster Will Come Near Your Tent" that I need to memorize Psalm 91. I need to daily meditate right now upon God as our refuge and dwelling place. I need to trust recognize and trust that in my own life, and I need to be praying it for others around me who are experiencing huge trials.
Then came church on Sunday morning. God continues to blow me away in the way that the music Lyndel plans and the words Bro. Kent brings always seem to be put there *just for me*, wherever I am at that point. And yet I know that there are others (and probably many more than I know) for whom they seem just as perfect and personal.
The choir sang a new-to-us chorus that has spoken *loudly* to me ever since we began learning it:
Bow the Knee
"Bow the knee;
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see.
Bow the Knee;
Lift your eyes toward Heaven and believe the One who holds eternity.
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan,
In the presence of the King,
Bow the knee."
~Chris Machen and Mike Harland
I was so struck by the meaning of those words. When our world turns upside down, when nothing about life makes sense, when God's answers to our prayers are nowhere near what we expected...our immediate response should be to "bow the knee". That is the answer. Worship--focusing on Who He is and responding in awe and obedience--is the key. Plain and simple. But how hard do we often make it, and how rarely do we actually practice it!
Those thoughts had been rolling around in my head for over a week as I've hummed that chorus. They came to mind again as we sang Sunday morning.
Then Bro. Kent began to preach. I won't type my notes in their entirety here...although it is tempting...but I'll attempt to summarize:
John 17:13
"The world in which we live is just messed up."
How are we to respond? With JOY.
Our joy doesn't come from the circumstances around us--God gives us joy even in the midst of a hostile world, even in the face of the greatest evil.
Definition of Joy: "Joy is the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally great or satisfying."
This joy is Christ Himself.
We don't feel joy because we kid ourselves that everything is okay when it really isn't. It isn't about pretending or putting on a happy face. Our only source of joy is Christ Himself...and that is COMPLETELY APART FROM CIRCUMSTANCES.
Our problem is that we focus on the bad stuff, the circumstances. WE HAVE TO GET OUR FOCUS BACK ON JESUS. How do we do this? Go around thinking about Jesus all the time? YES!
Memorize and meditate on Scripture. Think on it continually. Sticky-note verses everywhere so you will see them throughout the day!
Jesus' own prayer for us was that our "joy would be made full." It is His will. If we aren't experiencing it right now it is either because we are not His (not saved), or because our focus ison our circumstances and not on Jesus.
Col. 3:1-3
He will protect us from evil. "But bad things are happening to me, bad things have happened to my loved ones." "But...you are still a believer. You still have His forgiveness and approval." No one can pluck you out of His hand. No matter what happens to you, you are protected. There is great joy in knowing that you *are* protected...Satan cannot do anything to you without going through God first. (Job)
He protects us from defeat and despair and keeps our faith intact--and that is cause for joy! He has *promised* us joy. This joy is in our relationship with Him. Not in any other relationship, not in our circumstances, not in our job or our home or *anything else*...IN HIM.
When we get discouraged, we must get our focus back on Him. Sit down, open the Bible, and begin to read. Get in the Word, get our focus back on Him, and He has promised to restore our joy.
Well, so much for summarizing. ;-) I *didn't* type my notes in their *entirety*, but almost. :)
They were too good to leave anything out!
As I sat and listened Sunday morning, God seemed to tie together the whole lesson He's been teaching me on "The Lord Our Dwelling Place". A friend confirmed those thoughts later that day. Our safe place, our refuge, *is* in Him. And when He is our dwelling...when we are immersed in His Word and who He is...our focus is where it should be, rather than on our circumstances, and we WILL have joy.
One of the things I have realized I love about this study in the book of John is that much of it is *not* new...many of the verses are verses most of us can quote by heart, and many of the concepts are concepts we have heard all of our lives. And yet...God is using Bro. Kent's words and the circumstances in my life to make it new and fresh as though I am hearing it for the first time. I love the "light-bulb" or "Aha!" moments when a verse I can quote in my sleep suddenly comes alive in a whole new way as God says, "THIS is what I mean by this, and THIS is the answer to what you are struggling with right now!"
It is so simple, so basic...and yet so hugely, amazingly powerful. "Bow the knee...Dwell in Him...And He will protect you and give you joy."