Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Leaving Me Behind

John Calvin understood what makes relationships work. He experienced both wonderful relationships (in his marriage and friendships) and unpleasant relationships (with church and city leaders) and he knew the Word of God deeply. What then, did he proclaim as the God-glorifying pattern of relating to one another in covenant relationships - in the church and marriage? He applied again what Jesus and the Apostle Paul proclaimed: self-denial. Here's a look at Jesus, Paul and then Calvin speaking to our need:

What Jesus said:
"“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." - (Luke 9:23-24 ESV)

What Paul said:
"Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord....as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
(Ephesians 5:21-25 ESV)

And here's what I read from Calvin this morning:
"Let us submit to each other in all humility.  If this is difficult for us, let us more earnestly work at it until God has mastery of us and until we have denied ourselves.  For we must leave behind everything that pertains to our nature and preserve the sacred union that God has placed among us by making us one body." - John Calvin

Now here are some thoughts that have been simmering in my mind for a while now:
If I am to follow Jesus and become a blessing to all His people, especially those with whom I am in a direct relationship, I must give up my right to be the way that I am. It's not giving up who I am; it's giving up that stubborn will that says "This is how I am and how I like things to be and if you do not accommodate me, I won't serve you." Service on those conditions is not the service to which Jesus calls us - it's not serving at all. It's the stuff that destroys relationships and their potential for magnifying the grace of Jesus, and it has to go. When it does go - when self is denied, when my life is given up for Jesus, when the will is submitted (wife to husband) or the life laid down (husband for wife), when we "leave behind everything that pertains to our nature", we do not become less of ourselves, but more of who God created us to be.

For example, I have an inclination towards extreme aestheticism - I adore beauty and abhor ugliness.
If I will only serve God and others in ways that allow me to keep my life pretty;
if I make my husband and perhaps, children, bow to my ruling desire to maintain beauty and order, or I won't be happy, watch out!;
if I will not stoop to serve in an ugly or messy situation, I have not yet learned to follow Jesus.

Indeed, the beauty-loving person that God made me begins to be lost in the very midst of my attempts to save it. The ugliness that I abhor enters into my heart, and the peace and order that I crave disappears from the relationships that are most important to me. "Whoever would save his life will lose it".
But if I leave behind what pertains to my nature, if I shower my husband with hugs and kisses even when he has not organized his papers on the kitchen counter for two weeks, and I don't stop speaking kindly to the old person at church who has hairy moles and bad breath, if I love Jesus my Savior too much to let my natural preferences get in the way of following Him, I will find my desire for beauty being satisfied in seeing my own heart conformed to Him, and my relationships glorifying His grace.

What "pertains to your nature"? Leaving it behind for Jesus might be the happiest thing you ever did.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Best Lesson I'll Learn

"We cry, 'Abba, Father!'" - Romans 8:15

Several months ago, I read a sermon by Hugh Binning on this text, and found in it a truth that profoundly strengthened my soul to face adversity with gladness and comfort. Recently, I have had to begin practicing in earnest what I learned on that day. Before describing the circumstances that prompted such practice, here is the section of Binning's sermon that instructed me:

"It would not appear by the mean, low and indigent state we are now in that we have so great and glorious a Father, How many infirmities we are compassed about with! How many wants are we pressed with! Our necessities are infinite, and our enjoyments in no way proportioned to our necessities. Notwithstanding even this, the love and wisdom of our heavenly Father shows itself, and oftentimes more gloriously in the theatre of men's weakness, infirmities and wants, than they could appear in the absolute and and total exemption of his children from necessities.  Strength perfected in weakness, grace sufficient in infirmities, has some greater glory than strength and grace alone.  Therefore he hath chosen this way as most fit for the advancing of his glory, and most suitable for our comfort and edification, to give us but little in hand, and environ us with a crowd of continued necessities and wants within and without, that we may learn to cry to him as our Father, and seek our supplies from him.

This way of narrow and hard dispensations, that at first seems contrary to the love and bounty and riches of our Father, in the perfect view of it appears to be the only way to perpetuate our communion with him, and often to renew the sense of his love and grace that would grow slack in our hearts if our needs did not every day stir up fresh longing."

Oh, how we want to be settled in life. Our spirits yearn for security, and a knowledge that everything is in place for our comfort and necessities. But our Father's aim is not to have us settled. He often purposes to have us unsettled continually, that we may cry to Him continually.
Don't we all know the tendency in our hearts? We begin to get our lives in order and to feel satisfied that all is taken care of for the present, and our prayers become cool and tidy. We don't stop praying completely, but that desperate, "Lord, I NEED you right now! Oh help!" is far from us. Our Father loves to hear those words. He loves to be our hero and show us how well His love can sustain and rescue us in the midst of difficulty. So he will not leave His beloved children to be like the rich fool who said, "Soul, you have much good laid up for many years. Take life easy." Our Lord loves us too much for that.

So here is my opportunity. My husband has been away for 8 1/2 months, and hoping that the Army will bring him home at the stated time in two months so college can proceed as planned. We have no certainty that the timing will not change completely and send us back to the drawing board, with a faint "What now?" The least we can do is try to plan, and find an apartment to rent in time for his expected return. So we emailed, searched, discussed, and I finally went to Virginia to look at the few apartment options we had found. The first apartment didn't have a kitchen. The second one I looked at I fell in love with. It was just what we wanted -  affordable, new, beautifully situated - and after brief discussion, we emailed the owner our 'yes'. I came home. We waited for two days. At last we received a reply. The apartment would be rented to someone else. I said cheerfully, "God will provide something else" and then I broke down and cried.

But I am not writing all that for you to pity me. It's to illustrate Binning's text. See, after that news, we didn't know what to do, where to look - and still don't - and in my heart there begins to be a cry, "Oh Father, provide for us! Provide for us! Provide for us! Open a door for us!...Lord, what are going to do? Oh, provide for us!"  And there is the cry of the needy child to the Father, that would not have been there in the same way if the reply had been, "We'll send you a copy of the lease to look at as soon as possible." Whatever makes us say, "We'll just have to keep praying" is a direct dispensation of love from the Father who loves to hear His children pray. That helps me. That comforts me - because our Father is not cruel, loving only to hear us cry. He loves to answer our cries. "Ask, and it shall be given to you."




Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Two Children's Songs

I love finding fun and singable ditties for teaching preschool kids - ones that have a good melody line and are not pure goofiness - and was feeling like something new today as I  pondered this morning's class over my breakfast. These two I came up with and can't wait to teach them!

B-L-U-E Spells Blue - to the tune of "Happy Birthday"

B-L-U-E spells BLUE!
B-L-U-E spells BLUE!
Like a clear sky (stretch up arms)
Or a blue-bird (flap arms)
B-L-U-E spells BLUE!

B-L-U-E spells BLUE!
B-L-U-E spells BLUE!
Like the ocean (stretch out arms)
Or the blue whale (join pointed hands and make diving motion)
B-L-U-E spells BLUE!

The second song I made for "J" week and think it will be fun to play with.

If The Jellyfish Are Coming - to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It" 

(Student 1 volunteers to be jellyfish and stand next to the teacher looking menacing and dangling fingers. Student 2 volunteers to be daughter and stand on other side of teacher)
If the jellyfish are coming, get away! ( All march in place)
If the jellyfish are coming, get away!
If you see them in the water (shade eyes and look appalled at 'jellyfish')
Get to dry land with your daughter (teacher clasps hand of 'daughter' and 'flees' to the other side of the room)
If the jellyfish are coming get away!

Students can rotate taking turns to be jellyfish and daughter until everyone has a turn and knows the song!

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Prayer for the 6th of November


I was reviewing the prayer in Isaiah 26 today, and found in it a prayer deeply relevant for the church awaiting the fate of their nation and feeling how little they can do.

            In the path of your judgments,
                        O LORD, we wait for you;
            your name and remembrance
                        are the desire of our soul.
          My soul yearns for you in the night;
                        my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
            For when your judgments are in the earth,
                        the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.
            If favor is shown to the wicked,
                        he does not learn righteousness;
            in the land of uprightness he deals corruptly
                        and does not see the majesty of the LORD.

O Lord, we long, day and night, to see Your glory,
though we must stand amid Your judgments on our world..
How will the wicked know Your majesty if you allow them to prosper?
Come, and teach us Your righteousness.

            O LORD, your hand is lifted up,
                        but they do not see it.
            Let them see your zeal for your people, and be ashamed.
                        Let the fire for your adversaries consume them.

We want the world to see Your faithfulness to us,
for we are Your people.
Oh that  all people would see Your glory.
Lord, open the blind eyes!

            O LORD, you will ordain peace for us,
                        for you have indeed done for us all our works.
            O LORD our God,
                        other lords besides you have ruled over us,
                        but your name alone we bring to remembrance.
You are our hope, sovereign Lord.
Our hope for peace
for righteousness
for salvation
Though men may rule over us
we look not to them, but to You.
            They are dead, they will not live;
                        they are shades, they will not arise;
            to that end you have visited them with destruction
                        and wiped out all remembrance of them.
We do not fear the wicked,
though they be the great rulers of earth.
They are shadows in your light,
passing breaths
When you arise to judge, they will be as nothing.
Oh forbid that we should fear the dust!
            But you have increased the nation, O LORD,
                        you have increased the nation; you are glorified;
                        you have enlarged all the borders of the land.
We are confident
Though the nations, even our nation and rulers, should perish
You will build your church, Your holy nation
As you have promised
The gates of Hell shall not prevail against her.
You will make her whole
You will make her holy
And You will be glorified
            O LORD, in distress they sought you;
                        they poured out a whispered prayer
                        when your discipline was upon them.
            Like a pregnant woman
                        who writhes and cries out in her pangs
                        when she is near to giving birth,
            so were we because of you, O LORD;
                        we were pregnant, we writhed,
                        but we have given birth to wind.
            We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,
                        and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.

O Lord, though we be under Your discipline for our sin
and share in suffering for the sins of our nation,
Yet we will cry out to You for deliverance.
For we are still Your people.
You have shown us our utter helplessness
In the face of Your judgments
We cannot save our nation, our church, or our own souls
We need You.

            Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
                        You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
            For your dew is a dew of light,
                        and the earth will give birth to the dead.
Here is our hope – that as You have promised
You will raise Your people from the dead
from spiritual death and mourning to songs of joy
from physical death to everlasting life
And we will live to praise You.
            Come, my people, enter your chambers,
                        and shut your doors behind you;
            hide yourselves for a little while
                        until the fury has passed by.
            For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place
                        to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,
            and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
                        and will no more cover its slain.
But at present, we must see sorrow and suffering
For we dwell in the midst of a vile people
Who have shed innocent blood
And we are not free from vileness or innocent ourselves
But we will hide in the wounds of our Savior, Jesus
We will take refuge in His promises of deliverance
While we wait for You.
In unshaken confidence that You alone will make all things right.

(Isaiah 26:3-21 ESV)

Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm Going To Write a Book

I think if I tell myself the above often enough, I will believe it. Books are not just things that other people write. I may write one if I please. But a sequel to the well-known classic, Stuart Little? As a first book? Isn't that a little ambitious? I am going to try. A boy's question (thanks to his mother, Bekah, for posting it on Facebook when I was on to read it) - "What happened to Margalo?" is ringing in my ears, and the story that never yet happened begs to be written.

I knew I should write, but not where to start. Here is a place to start: "What Happened to Margalo?" 

Will anyone publish it if I write it? I don't know. But I know someone who will read it. It had better be good.  Here goes!

Monday, October 8, 2012

October


Oh. Autumn has come now. 

She slid silently toward us in the sunshine, 
and slipped around us a silky arm of cold. 

"Come, I will escort you through a corridor of color 
to the winter ball."



~ Alyssa Bohon 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"Not To Mention Any Names..."

Here are some very good thoughts from Hugh Binning's Christian Love (Banner of Truth, Puritan Paperbacks) on how we talk about others. I  read them while walking in the park yesterday, and being very struck by them, marked the page with some grass stems as a reminder to put them in my blog. The grass stems becoming rather troublesome I thought it best to post without further delay. Consider Mr. Binning's words:
"Great censurers are often the greatest hypocrites, and sincerity has always much charity.  Truly, there is much idle time spent this way in discourse of one another, and venting our judgments of others. As if it were enough of commendation for us to condemn others, and much piety to charge another with impiety...I would think one great help to amend this would be to abate from superfluity and multitude of discourses upon others. In the multitude of words there wants not sin, and in the multitude of discourse upon other men there cannot miss the sin of rash judging. I find the saints and fearers of God commended for speaking often one to another, but not at all for speak of one another. (Mal. 3:16)"
I have been guilty of this idle discourse about others, justifying it because, "I won't mention any names." It is good to avoid giving our neighbor a bad name when we must use their actions as an example. But how often is it that these anonymous recitation of other people's failures are used as a prideful showcase for our personal discernment? We feel good about ourselves because we can say , "A friend that I won't name did ______" and "I can't imagine how they can do that!" and pat ourselves on the back for being so good at life - much better than most people. But did we really need to bring it up at all?

Continuing with Mr. Binning:
If we would indeed grow in grace by the Word, and taste more how gracious the Lord is, we must lay these aside, and become as little children... Love covers all sins, conceals them from all to whom the knowledge of them does not belong (Prov. 10:12). Love, in a manner, suffers not itself to know what it knows, or at least to remember it much...it will pass by an infirmity, and refuse to recognize it, while many stand still and commune with it.
Isn't "commune with it" a very apt term? We sinfully spend time discussing other's failures until we feel the full effects of our superiority, leaving the anonymous sinner to their foolish ways and our silent condemnation. Love doesn't do that. Love will either be quiet and bear a bothersome fault, or speak up to correct a dangerous fault. As Mr. Binning points out -
This is nothing to the prejudice of that Christian duty of reproving and admonishing one another (Eph. 5:11): "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.'...But to look too narrowly to every step, and to write up a register of men's mere frailties, especially so as to publish them to the world: that is inconsistent with the rule of love. ...He that has most defects himself will find most in others...but a wise man can pass by frailties, yea, offences done to him, and be silent (Prov. 11:12).  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Where the Heart Is - Exhortation to the Christian Sisterhood

Picture this scenario. I invented it to illustrate some thoughts about love and where the heart is. Though a bit silly, I hope it gives the intended color to my thought:

You are at a day event and sit down to lunch with two other ladies (assuming my readers are also ladies).
The woman to your right is a believer - a sister in Christ who is generous and kind, and the woman to your left is an unbeliever who is nice enough but does not share fellowship in Christ.
So much for the characters. It's time to eat.  Hummus-olive lettuce wraps, fermented vegetable sticks and a mason jar of kombucha are your highly sensible lunch. Eating healthy is important to you and you have been expanding your crunchy creativity in the kitchen. The dear sister to your right is eating a PB and J on white bread and gives you a friendly smile as she opens her small bag of chips. The lady to your left opens her organic salad and looking over at your lunch says, "Are those fermented carrots? How do you make them?"

Now for the question: To which of these ladies does your heart feel drawn out in a sense of unity? (Not to ask whom you end up talking to - varying good motives could lead you to spend most of your lunch conversation with either one of them, and talking to the unbeliever might be exactly what God would have you do.) With whom do you feel like a true 'bosom buddy' because you have similar identities? With whom can you most easily fellowship? The person with whom you will share eternity?  Or the person who shares your style of living? Eating habits are just one of many lifestyle choices that could define a scenario like this. Child-rearing practices among moms, clothing styles, sports teams and many other things invisibly snip and paste groups of ladies into snug, but sometimes un-Christ-like cliques. Life-style commonalities can be a great means of reaching out to others, but exalting these preferences over love for Christ as a basis for our dearest form of fellowship is dishonoring to Him. I'm sure I've done it before, and will have to repent of it again before I breathe my last. But whatever form it may take, it's not okay to love our style of life more than our Savior from death. It's falling short of the glory of God, losing the flavor of HIM in our lives.

"So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation - if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." - 1 Peter 2:1-3, ESV

Have you tasted that the Lord is good? 

"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul." - 1 Peter 2:11, ESV

We are strangers here. The world with its hobbies, styles, information, toys and habits is passing away and my friendships must rise above these things to a sharing in "pure spiritual milk" with those who have "tasted that the Lord is good" - even if their life style is different from mine. (You there, in the Giant's sweatshirt, feeding cheese curls to your child, I see Christ in your loving attitude and I love you!)

Friday, September 21, 2012

I Am Who...

Recently I was walking in the park and came upon a pleasant, white-haired lady sitting in her walker seat in the sunshine. I had my hair tied up in a scarf and was carrying a bunch of wildflowers and a worn-out memory work paper, so perhaps looked a strange peasant, but I couldn't miss the chance to stop and chat with her about the sunshine, the goldenrod and life in the neighborhood. As I walked on, wishing I could have addressed her soul, and wondering if I should have troubled her at all with my sudden friendliness, wondering if she thought my manners bad, I thought of the 'old days' when everyone knew what polite manners were and what there place in society was. I had nothing of the sort..always wanting to be polite and always terribly fond of people or slightly afraid of them, and not really knowing when to laugh aside reticence, or reign in affection.

Inwardly, I sighed and began to philosophize,"Well, I am who I am, and that's just it."

Do you just realize what you said? That's God's name: "I Am Who I Am"

What of it? Am I not also who I am - not self-existent like God, but nonetheless myself?
No, I am not. I am continually becoming what I am being made. God is who He is, was, and always will be. I am always becoming, being formed by Him who is into what He wants me to become. This is what I realized as I reflected on my botchy conversational skills and irregular personal charms. The creative work of God in my life is ongoing and real. Here is the very cheer that a self-weary heart needs to hear - I will not always be who I am. I am not who I was, and tomorrow, much more in eternity, I will not be who I am today. Here is joy! "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) And the new that has come in Christ will keep on coming till He comes.

Here also is hope for the earthly union of two sinners in marriage. My spouse is not "I am who I am". Neither am I, and God is using our very union in the process of becoming who He is making us to be. I can be patient with my spouse's imperfections, and he can be patient with mine, because we are redeemed for further redemption. Also, we can 'submit ourselves to one another out of reverence to Christ' (Ephesians 5:21) and accept our need to change personally. We are meant to change, dying to ourselves and living no longer for ourselves but for Him who for our sake died and was raised. Failure is not cause to despair but through the Spirit to eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness and press on.


Thanks be to God that He is who He is - so perfectly good! - and that I am not. Life is a glorious adventure - even when it's messy and embarrassing - learning to become what He is making us for that final great day, when we shall stand "blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy" (Jude 1:24). Oh to look at myself and others with such eyes of faith always!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rejoicing Always is Always Hard

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice."
 ~ Philippians 4:4, ESV

There is no time when the command to rejoice in the Lord is easy to obey. It is hard on bad days. It is harder on good days. But I have heard words like these many times:

"It is easy to rejoice in the Lord when things are going well, but when times are hard, we are tempted to lose our joy."

I have never found that statement to be true. I am constantly tempted to rejoice in everything but the Lord, and were it not for grace, would have hardly a moment in which to claim that I had been resting wholly and sweetly upon the "solid joys and lasting treasure none but Zion's children know."

Recently, I had a good day - one of those days when everything actually does go right. I was pretty happy with the day and my life in general as I walked out in the park that afternoon. But as I reviewed a piece of Scripture memory, I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of my failure to rejoice in the true goodness of the Lord.
Good days, if our hearts are right, are to help us rejoice in the Lord - thankful that He has given us a spot of brightness on our heavenly journey. But most of the time, we let them do just the opposite. We forget that we are journeying to heaven at all. We say, "God is sooo good!" simply because He has given me the stuff I wanted. If our good days are the base of our declaration of God's goodness, that declaration has a dark meaning underneath: that when God doesn't give me the stuff I wanted - when He just holds before me the promised inheritance of the resurrected Christ, while ripping from my hands everything else my life holds dear - He is actually not very good at all. This is not rejoicing in the Lord. To rejoice in the Lord is to put the conditions for our joy upon Him, and then, knowing that He does not change, to never cease to be glad.

Foolish children that we are - rejoicing in the Lord is hard on the best of days. Sometimes the rejoicing is easiest on the worst of days, when the sadness and failure of everything that frustrates makes the hope of the resurrection stand forth like a warm, bright lamp in a window on a cold, wet night. But we must not let a fortuitous flash light turn us from the light in the window. There is one solid foundation for unshakable joys: the crucified and risen Christ held in the arms of our faith, taking us to Heaven.

"So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." ~ John 16:22 ESV


Saturday, September 8, 2012

For My Husband On the Evening of 6 Months of Marriage

My dear husband, this evening the sunset came like a surprising smile across a gloomy countenance. The clouds that had been gray before dinner were suddenly strewn with the most ravishing glory. 
I pronounced to my parents who were cleaning up the kitchen that there should be a law against washing dishes during sunsets and ran outside - with my camera because you could not be here to see it with me.


The canopy of deepest blue spread with ruffled gold was breathtaking. I must have smiled exceedingly because I came home with a pain in my jaw - quite worth is. Isn't it lovely, dearest?


The puddles from this afternoon's rain storm calmly drinking in the sky. Oh what a night to be a puddle!
I was so eager to be clear of the houses that I ran the last quarter of the block until I reached the clearing (blessed clearing - what sadness it would be to live without a space for sky to look through) and saw this.


and this...


and this...


...the heavens telling the glory of God. Oh how beautifully they told it tonight!


I miss you, my dearest companion. 
I would be desolate on evenings like this if I did not know that He who casts the rosy light across the clouds casts more dearly a smile upon my heart, and upon yours, wrapping us in the beauty of His beloved Son.


We are not alone.

The passage you read with me today came to mind:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
and from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”
(Isaiah 43:1-7 ESV)

We are safe in His love.

and I love you


Monday, August 27, 2012

A Lesson from Lewis

The other evening I was reading, from C. S. Lewis's little book, The Problem of Pain, the chapter in which he addresses guilt. His words on corporate and national guilt are quite applicable our day:
We feel ourselves to be involved in an iniquitous social system and to share a corporate guilt.  This is very true: but the enemy can exploit even truths to our deception.  Beware lest you are making use of the idea of corporate guilt to distract your attention from those hum-drum, old-fashioned guilts of your own which have nothing to do with ‘the system’ and which can be dealt with without waiting for the millennium.  For corporate guilt perhaps cannot be, and certainly is not, felt with the same force as personal guilt. For most of us, as we now are, this conception is a mere excuse for evading the real issue. When we have really learned to know our individual corruption, then indeed we can go on to think of the corporate guilt and can hardly think of it too much.  But we must learn to walk before we run.
– C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
It is easy to get on a righteous band wagon protesting homosexuality, abortion, socialism, government-dependency and the other God-denying evils swirling about us in our nation. These evils are worthy of our grief and are calls for us to repent and pray - but repent of what? Not just that myriads in our nation approve of homosexual behavior and killing babies, but that I myself have not faithfully crucified the flesh, that I love to please my senses and prefer convenience to loving sacrifice for others - for these sins in my heart are at the root of those sins in our nation. "We must learn to walk before we run." 


And where do we walk, and then run? To the cross of Jesus Christ. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2 ESV) Here, in Jesus Christ, my own guilt finds its solution, and here there is enough hope for nation of sinners.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Soul's Great Treasure


"Nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 8:39, ESV

"The love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". Here is everything to make my heart glad. Indeed, I am not safe being glad in anything apart from this.

Am I glad in a person who is dear to me? Let it be only because they are given to me by the "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". For if that loved one should be taken from me, I will be comfortless unless I have been assured that "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" remains to be mine.

Am I glad in financial security? Let it be only be that my comforts are provided for me by the God who loves me in Christ Jesus our Lord. For if I should come to be in financial distress, "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" assures me that I am, in poverty or wealth today, an heir of Heaven's joys tomorrow.

Am I glad in the love of friends? Let it be only that they dimly reflect my highest prize of "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord". For if they should turn to hate me or forsake me, "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" remains to my soul as the ceaseless gift of my dearest Friend.

Am I glad in my spiritual growth and holiness? Let me rejoice that it is a gift of "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" and not my own cause of salvation. For if I should fall from this and sin and have need of repentance, "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" remains to welcome me back as a changelessly-loved child.

The world and flesh and Satan would have me tie my heart around everything that is not enduring, everything that is liable to fail. And if I do, when that does fail, it will take my heart down with it, leaving me miserable. To be so firmly attached to anything perishing is perilous. Those who do not know God know this. The Buddhist philosophers know this, and counsel their followers to renounce all desires that they may feel no pain. This empty, self-renunciation, however, is powerless, because it cannot last beyond the grave.

Here is "the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" for His children. It burned brightly for them before time began, surrounds them ceaselessly all of their lives, and will carry them into the vastness of eternity, secure and happy. It is the hope that should get them out of bed in the morning, and the settled peace that should rest them quietly in bed at night. It is their sun above the dark clouds of earthly sorrow, and their anchor beneath the relentless waves of temptation. I must not live without the remembrance of my treasure, and when I remember, let me rejoice, for this most glorious possession can never be taken from me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

There Never Was Such Another - Repost

Last year, Kevin DeYoung posted on his blog a brief excerpt from the life of Charles Hodge. I read it before marrying my dear husband, bookmarked it, and keep thinking back to it as standing among the sweetest words I ever read on marriage. After reading it again today, I wanted to record it here.

Here is DeYoung's post:

I was moved by this touching description of Charles Hodge with his fifty-one year-old dying wife Sarah.
The next death that visited Hodge was infinitely dearer to him. On Christmas Day 1849, just four months after her return to Princeton with her daughter and grandchild, Sarah “softly & sweetly fell asleep in Jesus.” She most probably fell victim to uterine cancer.
Sarah’s health had begun to deteriorate soon after her return, and by December her condition was such that Hodge had lost all hope of recovery. In her final weeks, he personally nursed Sarah, spending countless hours simply lying next to her. During these times, he held her hand, and conversed with her when she had the strength. The depth of their love remained so intense that Hodge later commented that “to the last she was like a girl in love.” During her final weeks, Sarah asked Hodge to tell her in detail “how much you love me,” and they spent time recounting the high points of their life together.
Hodge’s last hours with his wife were particularly poignant. As her life ebbed away, Sarah looked at her children gathered around her bed and quietly murmured “I give them to God.” Hodge then asked her if she had thought him a devoted husband to which she replied as “she sweetly passed her hand over” his face: “There never was such another.” (Charles Hodge, 258)
Married couples, if you imagine that your final moments together will be like this, rejoice and again I say rejoice. Let the thought of such bittersweet sorrow put your present troubles and conflicts in perspective. But if this scene feels like an impossible dream, what must you change now so you and your spouse can die like this later?
It is my fervent prayer, which I trust God in His kindness will give me, that my husband and I may be together when the first of us passes from earth to glory, and that the send-off may be such a one as gives unspeakable comfort to the one left behind. How wonderful is the capacity of the human heart - made in God's image and renewed by God's Spirit -  to love. It is a gift worth cultivating above all other things.  Nothing is closer to heaven.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

God is Treating You as Sons

A compilation of John Calvin's writings, gathered by Joel Beeke into a wonderful devotional, contains in today's reading Calvin's comments on Matthew 27:43, which speaks of the onlookers who mocked the crucified Lord with the cruel words, "He trusted in God, let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God."

Calvin writes of the falseness of these accusations and our temptation to believe such words in our own adversities:  
"It is contrary to the nature of faith that the word now should be insisted on by those whom God is training by the cross and by adversity to obedience, and whom he entreats to pray and to call on his name, for these are rather the testimonies of his fatherly love, as the apostle tells us (Heb. 12:6). But consider this peculiarity, that though Christ was the 'well-beloved Son' (Matt. 3:17; 17:5), yet he was not delivered from death until he had endured the punishment which we deserved, for that was the price by which our salvation was purchased."

May I never demand, as proof of God's love, the removal of the very thing His love has laid upon me.


"'For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.'
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons."

~ Hebrews 12:6-7a, ESV

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weak Enough to Suffer Woe


"God clothed Himself in vile man's flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe." 
~ John Donne 

When I read these words I instantly remembered a childhood and youth shot through with growing fear of pain. I had begun quite early to realize - through reading and observation - the trials life held for every human, felt them in my own body, and wished if I could have anything in all the world it would be the power to never feel sickness or pain. I remember distinctly wishing that a fairy or genie would come and offer me 'anything you wished in the world' - and I would request this freedom. I have since learned from Christ that this wish is not the most desirable nor is it attainable in this life, but when I read these words of Donne's, I was struck by that mighty lesson of the cross which I will never be done learning. Here is a most powerful weakness, more mighty, more beautiful than the healthy, happy bodies worshiped by the people of the world. Here is one who had the power that I had desired - to never experience sickness or pain, colds or cancer, poisoning or accidents - and He gave it all up, embraced the flesh that would make Him vulnerable to every suffering, and became by this, my Savior. I cannot merely love Him for this, I must have this love. This love saves me, but goes beyond that to teach me what it is to live. All that I once esteemed, turned on its head and made foolish by the love that embraced my dread.


"This is how we know what love is - Jesus Christ laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" - 1 John 3:16


And the upside-down, beautiful life of sacrifice is not forever. It is just for a time in this upside down world, until one day all things are made right and we will go to share, with the Lamb who was slain, the reward of His suffering. But we must suffer with Him here, "be made like Him in His death", "suffer with Him that we may be glorified with Him". It is all worth it.

I think this is the one lesson that I will have to go on learning the rest of my life. The lesson of the cross. Let me be taught.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Sweetest Calling

It is sweet to submit to a man you trust
       when both of you rest securely under the wings of a sovereign Lord.


"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior." (Ephesians 5:22-23 ESV)

"Indeed, none who wait for You shall be put to shame..."
(Psalm 25:3 ESV)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Only the Help of God" - Pioneer Missionary Charles Gutzlaff

Take a look
Robert Davey has put together an excellent book on China and missions - The Power to Save - A History of the Gospel China - which I have lately begun reading.

The third chapter tells the story of Charles Gutzlaff, a pioneer missionary to China the fame and significance of whose work Davey compares to David Livingstone's later work in Africa. I had never before heard of this man. The excerpts that Davey shares of his writings are full of spiritual truth and zeal, and worthy of being re-quoted many times over.

Gutzlaff had His Saviour's burden for the lost souls of the world. This is clearly seen fom a plea Gutzlaff wrote for the Missionary Register:


"Are the bowels of mercy of a compassionate Saviour shut against these millions? Before him, China is not shut! He, the almighty conqueror of death and hell, will open the gates of heaven for these millions.  He has opened them. Neither the apostles nor reformers waited until governments were favourable to the gospel, but went on boldly in the strength of the Lord. We want no gentleman missionaries here but men who are at all times ready to lay down their lives for the Saviour and can wander about forgotten and despised, without human assistance but only the help of God."


Here is a missionary spirit that is nothing less than beautiful. "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!...who say unto Zion, 'Your God reigns!'"

Charles Gutzlaff had close biblical philosophy of missions that I admired. Davey summarizes the philosophy:

The mission was based in Hong Kong and grew out of Gutzlaff's daily Bible teachings. Recruits were to go forth, two by two, into inland China as colporteurs [literature distributors] and evangelists. They were to distribute the Scriptures, tracts and also an essay on the nature of saving faith. Each had to learn whole chapters of the Bible, the Ten Commandments and the Creed. The principles of the mission were advanced for their day...China could only be evangelized fully by the Chinese themselves. The function of foreign missionaries was only to train, as servants of the Chinese church...Foreign missionaries must dress and live like Chinese as far as possible and must live and work among them.  Chinese churches should autonomous form the beginning. Anglo-Saxon culture most not be imposed on the Chinese churches. Charles Gutzlaff urged Christians everywhere to pray for a thousand native evangelists to reach all China.


Gutzlaff believed firmly in the necessity of self-supporting missions work. He wrote, "As no worldly prospects are attached to their profession, we have had very few hypocrites...one of the most necessary things to introduce true Christianity is to keep the idol of the world - money - entirely out of view."

I want to close this sketch of a newly-beloved hero with his statement of vision for Christian life and work:

"Nothing can be done without the Spirit of God, and unless the prayer for His powerful assistance is constant and earnest there can be no success...The love of Christ in and through us must actuate all our thoughts and actions...it must be love from first to last, real ardent, never-failing love, flowing from the great fountain, Jesus Christ."

Is this not the heart of all that a Christian will ever do in this world? True, constant prayer and real, Christ-like love will accomplish much for Christ's kingdom in any circumstance, and without them, our labors are in vain.


Thank God for you, Mr. Gutzlaff.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

All That is Good for Man

In the early 1800's, after a serious illness, the Rev. Richard Cecil (1748-1810) spoke of a clarified vision for his reading pursuits. His advice, while especially useful to those in ministry, is a noble reminder to me of how I ought to value my soul and my Savior more entirely in the books and media I choose.
"If God should restore me to health again, I am resolved to study nothing but my Bible. Literature is inimical to spirituality if it be not kept under with a firm hand. A man ought to call in from every quarter what may assist him to understand, explain and illustrate the Bible, but there - in its light and life - is all that is good for man.  All important truth is there; and I feel that no comfort enters sick curtains from any other quarter.  My state is an admonition to young men. I have been too much occupied in preparing to live and too little in living.  I have read too much from curiosity and for mental gratification.  I was literary when I should have been active.  We trifle too much. Let us do something for God. The man of god is a man of feeling and activity. I feel, and would urge with all possible strength on others that Jesus is our all in all. " 
From The Later Evangelical Fathers by Mary Seeley on books.google.com

Monday, April 16, 2012

Such was thy charity...

I would that in the end, the words William Cowper wrote of a kind friend could be said of me.

"And though in act unwearied, secret still,
As in some solitude the summer rill
Refreshes, where it winds, the faded green,
And cheers the drooping flow'rs, unheard, unseen.
Such was thy charity; no sudden start
After long sleep, of passion in the heart,
But steadfast principle, and in its kind, 
Of close relation to the eternal Mind
Traced easily to its true source above,
To Him whose work bespeaks His nature, love."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Smiles

Reading from Mary Beeke's book "Kindness" today, I was struck by the beauty of this ideal for our relationships with loved ones:

"I read of a man's description of his mother, and one thing that stood out in his memory was that, every time his mother looked at him, she 'brightened.' Let's make a more conscious effort to smile.  It should be simple. A smile chases away the shadows in the heart of both the giver and the receiver...Let's not let the drudgery of everyday life overshadow the abundance of blessings we enjoy."




Friday, February 17, 2012

the boy I love...

...the man I love


I pray for you "that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." ~ Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV


I love you.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Pain that Love Will Choose

In the rush of changed plans than have come to Caleb and me, I've thought through what our decision to marry in March before his year of deployment will mean. We may have less than two weeks together, and both know that the separation will probably be harder because of being married, yet don't want it any other way.  Tennyson's well-known line of poetry has been coming to mind:


"I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."


 A year's absence is not a complete "lost" (though I can't imagine any woman has watched her boy leave her side for a war zone and not had the "What if..." thought cross her mind) but it is a loss nonetheless - it is the loss of a year together, a loss of sharing that year's sweet spring, that year's long-dayed summer, that year's crisp autumn, a loss of 365 suppertimes, read alouds on the couch and washing dishes elbow to elbow, a loss of 260 "Welcome home" hugs and kisses after a day's work. And the pain of all that loss could be lessened by staying outside the love - by not weaving our lives into another's so we cannot be hurt by a separation.  But this is not why God gave us hearts - to be only kept safe.  Our hearts were given to reflect God's heart and to fellowship with Him. When I open my heart to love another human being - not in an idolatrous way, but in a devoted and sacrificial way - that love, desire for their welfare and delight in their presence, that connection of my good with theirs - opens a million avenues for joy and pain that I cannot have apart from love. And in each of those avenues, Jesus wants to walk with me and show me more of His heart.  He wants to reveal His incredible grace in love's joys and His tender mercy in love's pain. It is because I want to experience that tenderness of the Lord that I would choose the pains of love rather than the ease of not caring. I want to love, lose, mourn and be comforted in His presence - rather than to withdraw to myself and keep my own comfort. I want to see Him do through me what I cannot do on my own.

After Caleb's first deployment, when I started to know and care for him more, I thought how glad I was that I hadn't known him during the former deployment until he came back - because of how much harder it would have been to care. As it was, I passed many weeks and months without a thought or concern about his welfare while he was gone. I had not loved him - or even known him. And when I said those words later, after I thought I loved him, I did not love him still - I loved myself, and was only glad to spare myself the pain. Now I can say that (though I do not wish to change anything about God's perfect plan for our lives) I would gladly have gone through that deployment too,  knowing and caring about him, giving to God a hundred times my anguish for his safety, writing to him and encouraging him, and allowing him to bear the burden of my own concerns. Why? I love him. I want our lives woven together, even if the strands of my life must now touch strands of his life that hurt, and his mine - and he has loved me in the same way.


Yes, I'm also idealistic and proud and want to be a hero (can I deny it? I'm just stinkin' proud of my soldier and being his support as he goes out to serve) but I write here what I want to be most of all true about the life of love I am entering into with a man who will not always be here.  And I think this vision of experiencing God through sacrifice should be true of other loving relationships besides marriage that exist for God's glory.


"No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
"
(1 John 4:12 ESV)



Tuesday, January 31, 2012

All Things Well



"All the way my Savior leads me, what have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy, who through life has been my guide?
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort, here by faith in Him to dwell
For I know whate'er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well
For I know whate'er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well."

The rocking chair and company in the nursery where I was working were comfortable. Three-year old Lydia snuggled in my lap, clasping her baby doll Charlotte and I chatted with Megan about my May wedding plans in between spurts of amending toddler situations. The phone in my pocket rang, and I smiled, happy to be getting a call from Caleb
"Hello!"
The words that followed his greeting dissolved a smile"....Captain Mosely called and said I have orders cut for deployment with the 319th, probably in March. I wanted to tell you before I told anyone else."
I felt pale, "Can you say that again?" Tears began to fall. He explained further, we would talk more later.
"...God is in control."
"Yes...He is."
"I love you."
I choked out an "I love you" in return, and that was that.

Megan's sympathy was a balm, as was Lydia, still sitting on my lap, ignorant of why my face was so wet. The wedding plans for May that had been dancing in my head stopped and stood still, looking at me as if to say, 'Why did the music stop?'. My only answer was, that they would just have to lie down and take a long nap for now. God had decided that he wanted it more quiet. Maybe He wanted to talk to me.

Walking outside later, I thought of these words,

"Savior, like a shepherd, lead us
Much we need Thy tender care
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us
For our use Thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus
Thou hast bought us Thine we are."

I can think of nothing that I want more than to be shepherded by Jesus Christ's good hand in the security of being His.

To Him I may commit every grief over the disappointment of delaying our dreams.
To Him I will submit as the Ruler of kings, in whose hand lies every decision affecting our lives - decisions that seems to rest in the power of our nation's leaders, but are an illusion beneath His sovereign right.
To Him I can turn to satisfy and comfort my heart - for He is its Maker and Redeemer.
To Him I entrust my anxieties for the life of the man I love, when he must go into the midst of a people who do not love his life, for the Lord has counted his every hour and will not let even one be stolen from the span He has allotted.
To Him I credit all the blessings I have and all the love that flows to me in the severity of discipline intended to train me for holiness.

I love our Jesus, love to know that He is working all things for our good, and that His loving friendship is with us forever. We never will have to bid Him farewell, but only anticipate a morning when we will see Him face to face.

"Commit whatever grieves Thee into the gracious hands
Of Him who never leaves Thee
Whom earth and heav'n commands
Who points the clouds their courses
Whom winds and waves obey
He will direct Thy footsteps and find for Thee a way."


Am I making the sudden halt to wedding plans, a military deployment, disappointed lovers - all a matter bigger than it is? Perhaps. It happens to a lot of people. Life goes on when you're done crying over the  uniformed back disappearing behind the airport check-in. And God has work for us to do wherever He places us. But I would not miss an opportunity to give Jesus glory when He gives me tears.  I love to proclaim, "Yes, this hurts and I believe that our loving God planned it knowing that it would hurt - and I know that in it all He is good and I do not question His love." When He gives me an opportunity to declare Him true to His Word, true to His love and to me, even by means of sorrow and pain, I can only love Him all the more for it. It is a chance for us to see His glory, and is not His glory our highest joy?

If you have read this, pray that the Lord would keep this confidence in us to the end.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Little Devils in the Gardens

Photo Credit

While walking outside today, I passed a small garden in which was displayed a garden angel - that is a rather provocatively dressed, winged young female, molded of cement looking over the frost-withered plants with a demure innocence. I use the word 'angel' because that is what I knew its designer would call it, and what came to my mind when I saw it. But as I continued walking I thought again of how different such angels are from the angel that are. I also considered that the common images which much of western culture would identify as 'angels' and 'devils' are in some respects representative of their opposites.

Think of the typical image of an angel - white clad, smiling female - usually looking ecstatic or mysterious, satisfied and rather huggable. Now think of the typical image of a devil - fierce, fiery, armed - ready to stab you, and rather horrible. These images, though based on shreds of truth, are far from accurate. Granted, angels are white and beautifully bright, but they are also referred to as flames of fire (Heb. 1:7) and are sometimes armed and rather fiercesome (Numbers 22:23). In Scripture, whenever a human being saw an angel, terror usually ensued.  On the other hand, the devil often manifests himself to people in ways that are alluring, winsome and promising pleasure (Gen. 3). In Scripture, when a human being had an encounter with Satan or a devil, they were not usually frightened, but often drawn to listen to the one who "disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14). So that cement molded image of a provocatively dressed, winged young female might be just as aptly named a "garden devil" as a "garden angel".  Besides being more petrifying than provocative, and more awesome than alluring, angels are also messengers. They don't hang around pretty places looking sweet - they are like the most of earnest of hound dogs, looking upon the face of God with keen eyes waiting for orders (Matt. 18:10), and zealously prompt and accurate in fulfilling them (Matt. 28:7, Luke 1:19). The devil is the one who hangs out in gardens (Gen. 3, Job 1:7)

All that to say, these realities made me realize how the inventions of man's hands, set before our eyes, despite their artistic beauty or material quality, also have subtle power to deceive our minds about the truth of how things are. It is not only pictures of little angels and devils, but images that the world begs to set before me on every side, that can glaze my perception of the truth. It happens without my knowing it, unless I have a treasury, a cleanser, an armory which will set me right after my vision has unknowingly blurred by walking through a day in the world with open eyes. "Sanctify them, by the truth. Your word is truth." Jesus prayed for His people (John 17:17).  So, again, all that to say (funny how it all comes back to this), I need to keep reading my Bible - but not only reading, setting it up against all that enters my eyes and heart and fortifying a weak heart with its truth.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

How We Came to be Engaged

Caleb and I were both members of Grace Baptist Church in Carlisle (my family joined in 2008, after Caleb had been there), but several years passed before we met each other – due to one or the other of us being away at college or Caleb’s being deployed to Iraq…and also due to my studious avoidance of Caleb when I first learned about him - the grandson of one of my favorite older ladies in church whom I had adopted as my surrogate grandmother. Of course everyone knows what grandmas like to do, and I decided that there was no way that I was going to be set up with that grandson of hers! But while Caleb was busy with army and school doings, I continued to enjoy a growing friendship with Grandma– despite those irksome, unwearying references to that eldest grandson. Caleb began to hear similar references to me from her and others and was about as uncomfortable as I was with the hints. But little words from others (like Daddy, who offhandedly mentioned one Sunday afternoon “I like Caleb Bohon”) and all the stories from Grandma began to rub off on me. Caleb did sound like a person I wouldn’t mind getting to know – he liked books, studied Latin, was a devoted Christian and soldier, and even liked flowers. Well, for goodness sake, I might as well be friendly to him the next time he is home – if Grandma thought we could be friends and he lived with them when home, there was no sense in avoiding him. I came to that conclusion while Caleb was in Iraq.  
Several months later, Caleb was home on leave and at church on a Sunday morning in May. I was hoping I could meet him and get this being friends thing on the proper footing. He came with his grandma and a cousin into our Sunday School class and I noticed him hastening to get a chair for his grandma to put her foot on – handsome is as handsome does, and I thought he was pretty handsome right about then. And then Grandma introduced us to each other before the service. I was determined to be friendly for the first time – Caleb was still determined not to be set up so didn’t say much. My first impression was that he had an amazing handshake, but was rather a misanthrop – hardly spoke a word to me when I asked about his library! But the next day, he sent me a friend request on Facebook and told me a bit more about his library and that I was free to borrow (which in retrospect is amusing, since I never took a book from his library till we were engaged and I was given the task of thinning it out in preparation for moving).

So we were friends on Facebook and Caleb returned to Iraq. We didn’t communicate until Caleb’s birthday in September. It happened on Facebook – I posted a happy birthday wish to my dad (who shares a birthday with Caleb) and Grandma commented on it that Caleb (whom she did not refer to by name) was now 25 and was studying Latin on his birthday. Since it is customary for everyone’s Facebook friends to post greetings to them on their birthday, I decided to wish Caleb a happy birthday - in Latin. I was pleasantly surprised that he responded quite warmly and graciously – in Latin – and ran to the basement to dig out my Latin-English dictionary. Not long after that, Caleb was on his way home from Iraq, and I found myself surprisingly excited at the prospect. The Sunday after he arrived home, he came to church with his grandparents.  I remember seeing them walking down the hall in church towards us and many people stopping to give Caleb greetings. I busied myself with my errand of putting several items in the church mail cubbyholes, wishing I could make contact with this stranger-friend, but trying to mind my own business. As the group of people passed behind me, I was again pleasantly surprised to see out of the corner of my eye the familiar figure of a young man wearing a blue gray suit and a close crew cut standing silently facing me at the end of the mailboxes. I turned toward him briefly and said “Welcome back” before returning to my mail posting. He took a step towards me, and with a sudden, “Salve`”, he walked on by, leaving me mildly amused and curious what that Latin word meant. We had some brief contacts online, but my parents sought to help me keep these brief. I was torn between wanting to just be friends and not have to treat him as a potential suitor to be handled with caution, and realizing that for two in our situation, this might not be possible. One morning after church, I was nearly blown over by Caleb walking directly up to me and greeting me, “Hi Alyssa. How are you doing?” and then, to my dismay, walking beside me out of the church sanctuary, talking as we walked.  “Everyone is looking at us, everyone is looking at us”  is all I could think inside – too many people wanted us to get together, and how smug they must feel observing us and smirking and nodding to themselves. Well, let them look – that’s how it has to be in a church family. These brief contacts in church continued, facilitated at times by Grandma, and I attended church with baited breath these days, wondering if he would approach to talk to me or if we would be otherwise encountering each other. After I mentioned once on Facebook missing my brother with his Greek New Testament beside me in church, Caleb gave me a Greek New Testament that had belonged to his dad. How I treasured that book! September was passing into October, and when the fall semester was over, Caleb would be returning to Virginia to resume his college studies on campus at Patrick Henry College. I don’t know how far our friendship would have gone if it hadn’t been for a new intervention of providence to bring us closer together.  Daddy was on staff at church during that time, and during the weekly meeting with the pastors in which they were discussing people to visit/encourage, Daddy mentioned Caleb who was briefly here between deployment and school – a young man who might appreciate a discipling relationship during this window of time. Pastor David’s reply was “Why don’t you do that, John?”  
Caleb was agreeable to the proposal. Although Daddy had an office at church, they decided to meet at our home for their weekly book study, timing it to precede the college student Bible study at our home so that Caleb could attend that also. The first week they were to meet on Thursday evening at 6:45, Caleb’s grandparents, whom he lived with, were away in Canada and he was home by himself. I thought that it would be rather silly to invite a single young man who was home alone to our house immediately after supper, and not invite him to join us for our meal, so I suggested this to my parents and Caleb was invited. During this time, I was the only child at home with my parents, and missing my brothers very much, so I was especially glad to have Caleb with us.  The next week, Caleb’s grandparents were home again, but the precedent had been set and everyone liked it – he came for supper again, and then the book study in the basement with Daddy, and then the college student Bible study in our living room. A few times, another college student came, but most of the 8pm Bible studies ended up being just us four – Daddy, Mother, Caleb and me. They were wonderful studies – Tim Keller’s studies in Genesis. I was learning and thinking about a lot, and also learning to appreciate Caleb as someone who cared about God’s word as deeply as I did. It almost seems so clear and almost amusing to look back on it now – how cleverly we were ‘set up’ by the hands of providence – but much was unclear then. Caleb and I were both interested in one another but unsure of where our undefined friendship would lead. I thought about Caleb distractedly day in and day out. When we studied the passage in Genesis about Abraham offering up Isaac, and discussed idols that God calls us to lay down for him, Caleb asked, “How do you know if something has become an idol?” and I felt cut to the heart to hear those words coming from my own idol’s mouth, but I do remember discussing it together, quoting Augustine’s “He loves Thee too little who loves anything together with Thee which he loves not for Thy sake”. The next time I saw Caleb in church on Sunday, he was keeping a distance from me that I could not understand but pained me deeply – his every little look and word and attention had become a solace, a hope to me, and they were removed without explanation – well, not altogether without. I wondered if he had been idolizing our friendship as I had done, and decided that I would follow his silent lead, even if it hurt, and wait to see what the outcome would be.  That afternoon, I came upon a quotation in Spurgeon’s sermons that I felt I just had to share with Caleb, to let him know that I was also willing to put God before our relationship – “Let nothing hide from our hearts even a single beam of the glorious sun of righteousness”. I didn’t want to be forward about it, but just to make sure he had the quote in his hands, so I wrote it on an unassuming scrap of paper and left it on the bench where I sat for choir practice – the same bench where he would sit for the service. Looking back, I think it was more distracting to him than helpful at the time to get a mysterious note, but I’m still glad that I shared it with him. The next day, Caleb posted a note on Facebook about giving up anything for Jesus – anything – and the thought came back to me of giving him up and I spent much of that day crying, and also praying for Caleb. The next Wednesday in church, Caleb continued to not look at me – I remember walking past him and seeing him look the other way – I almost sobbed aloud, but somehow kept it all inside as I smiled and talked with the other ladies going to pray. I saw Caleb talk to Daddy and found out from Mother that he was asking to talk to him soon before the Thursday night study. Oh why? He is going to say he cannot come anymore…or, I don’t know… I remember having a good time of talking and then praying with Mother sometime during that week, and also being on pins and needles all day on Thursday, seeking to trust God who would make “the clouds you so much dread, big with mercy, break in blessing on your head”. The time of Caleb’s meeting with Daddy at the office before supper came, and I sat in my room and read psalms and William Cowper’s poems, and prayed and wrote in my journal. The phone rang – Mother told me, “They’re coming home for supper.” I was so pleased, relieved. I remember reading from Psalm 116 as I waited: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you – “ and they were arriving; I read one more verse – “as for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” and I went to get the door. Caleb came in as if everything was normal, and we all had a very nice supper and study together as usual. I went to sleep that night, relieved that all was well and there had been nothing to worry about. While I was still in bed that cold November morning, there was a knock at my door and Mother and Daddy both came in to talk to me. Now what was this? Something about Caleb, I wonder. It was indeed – news that in Caleb’s conversation with Daddy, he had asked permission to court me !!! and that Daddy had promised an answer in a week’s time. (They had waited till morning to tell me so that I would sleep that night – how kind of them!) It was what I had wanted to happen – what no other young man had ever done on my behalf, but what I thought was the only proper way to go about a relationship. That dear boy. As soon as Mother and Daddy left, I fell to the floor and praised the Lord. But I did have to think and pray about it, and not be rash. So I thought, I prayed, and knew that I wanted to say Yes! if Daddy and Mother’s answer was the same.  I told Daddy that I did not want to see an unanswered man on Sunday and he told Caleb our answer between Sunday School and church – I hope that helped him to be more focused during the service! I was not at Sunday School because (for some strange reason) I felt suddenly very ill that morning, but revived in time to go to church. I was so excited to see Caleb and be allowed to really look at him and smile at him with a confirmed understanding of our mutual friendship – no more wonderings, stolen glances, hiding of feelings – but face-to-face friends.  We still hardly knew each other, it seems looking back now, there was so much getting-to-know to do, and so much commonality to happily discover. The Thursday nights expanded into Thursday afternoon walks before dinner and reading Precious Remedies together. On our first walk together, Caleb started laying out his thoughts on boundaries – I was surprised – I had scarcely thought of holding hands with or even less kissing this person whom I was just so happy to talk to and be friends with. But he was wise to do so at this very point, so that we could decide our physical boundaries before the inevitable growth of affection would make it harder to lay them down as strictly as we did: he would not be in a building with me alone, would not hug me except when leaving for or returning from long absences, would not hold my hand or put his arm around me unless we came to the point of being engaged, would not kiss me unless we came to marriage…these decisions were very helpful guides as our relationship progressed.
After about two months of happy courtship and Christmas holiday together, Caleb returned to college. We sent email back and forth daily, and I got to see him about once a month if he came home after army drill or had break. We talked about everything it seemed over emails. Summer came and Caleb was still on campus working in Virginia, but I was able to visit him for a week, staying with a lovely family from his church. I remember Caleb coming to see me at their home after work in the evenings. After working on our respective homework for summer classes, we would walk out in the meltingly hot June evenings, quoting Bible memory to each other - John 16 and Psalm 127. In June, we switched from regular email correspondence to phone calls and Caleb decided that these nightly phone calls should have regular prayer and Bible reading together – a decision that I deeply value and that we have so far maintained. In October Caleb took me to Canada along with his cousin Elizabeth to attend his cousin Sarah’s wedding.  It was the most beautiful weekend for the wedding and the trip….I remember arriving at his aunt and uncle’s little home in the country and loving it all, the young cousins inviting me to jump on the trampoline with them, the horse farm across the lane, the glorious Indian summer with its sunsets and romps through the tall grass and farm lanes with Caleb and the cousins, sleeping in the popup camper in the yard with Abby, watching the sunrise with Caleb and one of the cats on our last morning there. By the time we headed home, I was decidedly in love with Caleb. (I didn’t know at the time that he asked my father for permission to propose to me before we left on that trip and was told to wait.)

Engagement

In November, a bomb dropped. The end of daylight savings time brought the dreaded advent of dark evenings, but that was not as sad as the other darkness that came to us that first Sunday of November. Caleb was home with us after church on Sunday evening – he had come in late from drill just in time to join us for communion after the service, which was a comfort to me. After church, he had to respond to a phone call from his captain and walked into the living room, where I overheard him saying, “Is that January or March?...” and I knew that the dreaded happening was happening – he was being deployed. He came back to the dining room where I was sitting and said, “Do you want me tell you?-“ – “No” I said…I already knew. He could ask for a replacement but there was little chance of anyone wanting to replace him. Our boundaries were hard to keep about then – I wanted to hold onto him and never let go. The nights after that were dreadful and sparse in rest. We had a few more precious days together with him home before he had to leave…he came the next day to the church where I was watching the little children outside and gave me a dozen roses to mark our soon-to-be year of courtship…after he left they became the cheering adornment of my sick room where I spent much of the next month fighting illness and sadness at once. The Lord enabled me to see the light of his love in all that He was doing in our lives and I was able to “trust Him wholly all for us to do” even though I was still not well.  Caleb had asked me, in light of his coming deployment, to accompany him to drill the first weekend of December, which was a special family weekend. I was unsure if I would be well enough to go, but made plans to stay with dear friends in the area and tried hard to get better! Caleb wanted me to meet good friends of his who would be at the drill also. He would come home on Friday night and we would leave together on Saturday morning. That Friday night, he arrived around 8 and said he wanted to talk to my dad (his customary practice when home) but before eating. That gave me plenty of time to prepare his dinner – they talked longer than usual. I had it all nearly ready, including candles and cookies before they came out of Daddy’s study. The candles being lit and Caleb and I praying before he ate, he reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a thick folded stack of paper –
“I have a letter for you to read” 
“Right now – while you eat?” – “Yes.” I was excited, and became more so as I read, starting to wish that we were more alone than we were with my parents in the next room. There was only one place this letter could be leading. He was telling me that he wanted me in his life – I knew that, but, well, he wouldn’t say it like that unless he was going to ask to marry me, and then I turned the page over and read, “I love you” – which he had decided to never say to me unless he asked me to marry him, and then the question came – from the letter and from his lips, “Will you marry me?”
“ah-I– I sure will!!” I managed to stammer out. (So much for planning what I was going to say). And then there came out of the suit pocket a little box with a beautiful ring inside, which he put on my finger, and then I squealed and ran to my mother in the next room. And then I realized that Caleb and I could hold hands (and not pull away as we had while romping with the little cousins in Canada who were ever for holding our hands and we had both unconsciously reached for one another’s hands when one had run from between us). The next morning, Caleb took not his girlfriend, but his fiancĂ©e to the Tobyhanna Army Depot for the drill weekend. So much happiness – but we still had a weight on our minds – the deployment. Should we have a swift and sweet wedding in 6 weeks before he was deployed (I would not be able to go with him to where he was deployed) or wait it out for the whole year of separation until he returned? We asked his Christian friends, the Barshingers for their advice and after thought and prayer decided it would be best to wait until after he returned from deployment. A hurried marriage beforehand would only make the long separation harder. We decided that within the same Saturday. That evening at the formal Army dining out, Caleb introduced me to the captain who he had called about his deployment. She warmly congratulated us on our engagement, and I told her that I had been there when he called about the deployment and that it was nice to meet her in person. “You know”, she said, “it’s looking like it’s not going to happen” (Finding a replacement? I thought) “They’re weakening the force”….I don’t remember all else she said, but after she gave us further best wishes and moved on to greet another table, we both realized that Caleb’s deployment had changed in our understanding from nearly inevitable to nearly unlikely with a few words dropped from high places. Soon afterwards we were talking about a summer wedding. I was afraid to let my hopes up, but as time went on, I began to believe that we could plan for it. God has so clearly led us together thus far, it was no longer reasonable for us to be apart unless providentially hindered. If he is to be deployed, so be it. We are engaged to be married – someday. We hope that will be the 19th of May, 2012. Come quickly! Even more, come quickly, Prince of Peace who will make wars cease to the end of the earth – sad wars that tear beloved men from the arms of those who love them. I am so proud of my soldier, but I will be happy when the day comes when his brave services are not needed.  When that day comes, when He, our Savior, comes, He will not only bring an end to war, but bring all those who love and serve Him here into that everlasting love of which earthly marriage is but a feeble picture. Maranatha!