Category: Scripture

A pastor friend of mine was sharing the story recently about an afternoon early in his ministry when he and another minister friend were relaxing on a bench looking out across a church campus. The church was quite old and had gone through multiple building additions and renovations over the years. As with many churches of its day, the cemetery sat immediately next to the sanctuary and so the rest of the campus had been built up around these two original structures. While the two men sat looking out across the campus my friend was letting his eyes and mind wander among the tombstones, imagining the men and women who were buried there. Had they lived long, productive, influential lives? Or in the eyes of the community had their lives been cut short, robbed of opportunity? Had they been blessed with good work and happy marriages? Children? Were they prayer warriors or troublemakers? Interrupting all these thoughts the other minister commented, “Man, I would give anything to be out there right now!” Shocked and more than a little concerned, my friend responded, “Whoa! Wait a minute, brother. Things aren’t really that bad are they?”

At that moment each of the men realized what the other had set his eyes on. My pastor friend was looking at the cemetery. The other minister was looking just beyond at the playground.

While Christmas centers on the birth of the Savior, I find myself spending lots of time thinking about Mary. Barely grown past childhood, this tender young woman was chosen to carry the son of God in her womb. Out of all eternity, God chose her.  GOD. And morning sickness, swollen feet, and backaches. I look at my own daughter, almost 13, and wonder: if she came to her father and I with the news that she was pregnant – but adamantly maintained her virginity – and told us that an angel had visited her to announce that she would become pregnant by the Hoy Spirit, what would we say? My first inclincation in 21st-century lingo would be to look at her and sarcastically ask, “Really?” My husband would probably be tempted to look at me and exclaim, “She’s your daughter!”

Surely, Mary knew from that first moment of the angel’s visit (which probably would have landed me in the funny farm) that a hard road awaited her. Shame, humiliation, gossip, rejection, finger-pointing and murmuring as she walked through town and attended services at the temple. What would the news of her pregnancy do to her family’s good name? Did anyone really believe Joseph had been visited by an angel as well? Or was he simply trying to orchestrate a cover-up of his own immoral behavior? Was Mary able to share with her mother her fears, her cravings, the first little butterfly of movement in her womb? Did she laugh or cry when the son of God rolled over in her belly and kicked at her ribs?

In the face of all these questions I am reminded of a simple, yet profound statement made by Mary immediately upon the angel’s revelation of God’s incredible call upon her life. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled,” Luke 1:38 NIV.  Mary’s eyes were set on her Redeemer, the Author and Finisher of her faith. She didn’t question whether or not God was able to do what the angel foretold (as did the elderly Zechariah upon the announcement that his barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son). Mary didn’t doubt what God was going to do, she simply asked in childlike faith to understand how He was going to do it. God’s messenger answered her and Mary embraced the first step of a journey that brought the world a Savior.

As the calendar moves us closer to the day we celebrate the giving and receiving of gifts, food and family, and the wonder of Christmas morning, let us remember that the most excellent gift of God came through one woman who had her eyes set on eternity.

May the word of the Lord be fulfilled in us this Christmas season and throughout our lives.

How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve known almost your whole life? He’s not family (at least not by blood relation) but he’s absolutely family. I met Larry Morton when I was 12 years old and he was 31. He was married to a sweet, pretty young woman named Ruth Ann. Our families become instant, lifelong friends. They had moved to the Atlanta area from Canada and my Southern family provided endless hours of entertainment for Mort as he observed our quirky sayings, behaviors, and food choices. He loved to practice his southern drawl on my name, calling me “Daaaaawwwwwwn” then flashing his Santa Claus smile. Mort lived with wild abandon, drove a corvette, rode a motorcycle, water skied, snow skied, and (fill in the blank with every other adventurous outing imaginable). I played the piano and it was not unusual for Mort to buy me a new piece of sheet music and bring it over to our house. One of his favorites was “The Entertainer”, a tricky little ragtime piece that I worked hard to master. When Mort and Ruth Ann had their first (and only) child, Nicole, I was convinced she was mine.

Mort taught my brother and me how to water ski at Lake Lanier on a warm Saturday morning in early summer when I was in high school. He showed me how to put my feet in the skis, hold the rope correctly, and lean back. Keeping my knees together and pulling hard when he hit the throttle on the boat, I came up out of the water on my first try! For many years after, my brother and I could not get enough of those early mornings and long days at the lake. Mort, my Dad, my brother, and I would go very early, meeting Ruth Ann and my mom later in the day to eat and hang out at a little cove we discovered. My confidence grew and it wasn’t long before I tried to slalom. That’s when the fun really began! Many a boyfriend tried to survive a day on the lake with my Dad, my brother, and Mort. Very few made it back for a second one.

Mort and Ruth Ann took me to my first professional hockey game – the Atlanta Flames. I was hooked from the first drop of the puck. Going to the games with them was the only time my parents ever let me stay out late on a school night. The highlight of those games came one night after a tough win and a few broken hockey sticks. I managed to wrangle a stick from one of the crew and Ruth Ann and I walked down to the locker room, waiting patiently for those enormous athletes to start leaving. Ruth Ann stood there with me as I sheepishly asked them to sign the stick, which they all graciously did – every last one of them. With my stick covered in Atlanta Flames autographs, I sneaked it in the house later that night and gave it to my brother for his birthday. I thought Mort and Ruth Ann were the coolest people on the planet.

We introduced Mort to my Mom’s hot buttered biscuits and my Dad’s famous ham. He introduced us to Verner’s ginger ale. It has just the right mix of sweet and burn; I love it to this day. Some of my family’s favorite meals come straight out of Ruth Ann’s kitchen. She had been a school teacher in Canada and I was fascinated by her stories of how they did things ‘up North’. Mort and Ruth Ann were easy and comfortable to be with and Mort was the kind of man who always made you feel better after you had been around him, even if only for a few minutes.

I recently heard a Bible study teacher sharing about I Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  He asked what our thoughts were on why love is the greatest. A few people offered up the canned answers: because God is love; because love is a choice; because you can’t have faith and hope without it; because …” And then he explained it in a way I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. He said that faith is something we have here and now that the Bible promises will become sight. Hope is something we have here and now that the Bible promises will be made complete. But love? Love is eternal. Love is past, present, and future. Love will remain love for all eternity. Amazing, isn’t it? How a simple, different way of looking at something – even a word – can open up a whole new concept of what it really means. I can’t help but believe that God gave me the opportunity to hear these truths just a week before we learned that my dear friend, one of my heroes, is on his way Home.
Mort, even now your faith is being made sight. Your hope is being made complete. The love you gave your family and the love they gave you will go on forever. Rest, my friend. I love you.

I cleaned out our attic this week.  It’s only June – not even Summer yet according to the calendar – but the Atlanta area is already enduring temperatures way up in the 90s.  My goal was to work in the mornings before the heat soared past unbearable.  However, anyone who knows me knows that once I get started on a ‘project’, it’s hard for me to stop.  I’m like a freight train on crack. 

So I climbed the stairs, took a few steps onto the plywood flooring and looked around. Wow. I think there must be something about insulation, duct-taped boxes, and intense heat that promotes reproduction.  Where did all this stuff come from?  I found suitcases, Christmas decorations, papers from previous school years, air filters, clothes, and toys.  It seemed easy enough to begin editing.  I started with broken toys (how did they end up in the attic and not the trash can?)  I then moved on to parts and pieces of incomplete Christmas decorations (repeat previous question).  Clothes that no one in my family will ever wear again, luggage long past its prime, and a collection of stuffed animals that would rival FAO Schwartz brought back great memories, despite the fact that I was beginning to look and feel like I was at boot camp in the desert.

Going through each box with just enough detail to make sure I wouldn’t regret our Friday morning visit from the trash man, I was quickly filling the bags beside me.  Then I found it.  The box with Rachel’s costume from her dance recital six years ago.  It was an adorable bright yellow top and skirt that felt something like a cross between vinyl and plastic with black taffeta everywhere (literally).  Her group danced to Rascall Flatt’s Life is a Highway.  I remember her practically floating down the stairs to show her Daddy after we had the whole outfit perfectly in place, complete with slicked back her hair and makeup. She was beaming and her Daddy was speechless.

Next, I came across a collection of sports cars that Alex collected when he was much younger.  I remember the various Christmas and birthday celebrations when he received them and how he studied them, learned about the make and model, discovered all the parts that would open and close, and proudly displayed them in his room.  His favorite by far was the truck his Granddaddy gave him, a replica of his own. Alex kept a very special place reserved just for that truck and it was very often the first one he showcased when anyone else admired his collection.

With the heat sweltering and my eyes stinging from sweat running down my face, I was about ready to call it a day. My stomach told me it was well past lunchtime but I decided to go through one more stack before descending into the comfort of the air conditioned hallway. I moved a small blue blanket that a family friend had made for Stephen’s crib and opened the box underneath where I saw a stack of cards and some computer-printed sheets of paper. 

And I started reading.  “Dawn, we are praying for you and your family every day”; “Please know that Heaven is being bombarded with your name!”; “Our children pray for you and Baby Hood every morning before breakfast”; “So sorry to hear that you must undergo another surgery”; “Praying for you as you begin your chemotherapy treatments”; “Please let us know if we can do anything for you”; “You and Richard are a testimony of God’s strength and grace”; “I love your short hair!”; “The Lord brings you to mind several times each day and I am asking Him to give you strength and courage”; “Thank you for your updates by email…it helps me pray specifically for everyone in your family”; “You look fabulous with a bald head!”  More cards.  More Scripture passages.  More prayers.  Countless emails and notes of encouragement. 

I have no idea how long I sat on the floor of our attic reading those precious notes of encouragement, remembering like it was yesterday.  But what really made my heart swell was the realization that nearly ten years later I remain close to almost everyone who sent those cards, notes, and letters.  How it blessed me to realize that these friends and family have shared the good, the bad, the ugly, and the miracles of life with us! 

I was drenched when I slowly, carefully, came down those rickety stairs and closed the ‘trap door’.  But my spirit felt uplifted. Encouraged. Strong.

Eight years in the attic.  And still so very close to my heart.

I blogged about this during the week of Mother’s Day but thought you might enjoy a different spin on the same thought…

 Sitting in a doctor’s office (one of many) a few years ago, I came across the following quote and inconspicuously attempted to tear the page out of the magazine without calling attention to the ripping of the page. It reminded me of trying to open a cough drop wrapper in church – could anything be louder when it’s not supposed to be?  Well, after the deed was done my conscience got the better of me and I approached the receptionist, asking sheepishly if I could keep the page I had already torn out.  I mean, really, what was I going to do if she said ‘no’?  Re-bind it?  Go buy another magazine?  It was a periodical from about six months prior!  She graciously agreed to let me keep it – I think she may have misinterpreted the chemo-induced hot flash I was having for actual fear that I had committed a crime. The quote read simply,“The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles.” 

As a Christian, I have a unique privilege to share this concept – by my lifestyle – many times a day with my family and those whose path I cross.  My neighbors, friends, and even strangers who deal with struggling marriages, wayward kids, diagnoses of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, elderly parents who require time and energy, businesses that have gone under, stocks that have tanked, homes lost, lives devastated, and unexpected deaths. How has this little nugget impacted the way I filter what I do, how I do it, what I say, how I say it, and what the Scriptural truths are behind this anonymous quote?
“Pouring of Compassion”.  Compassion is defined as a deep awareness of and sympathy for the suffering of another; the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it; a human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, this feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s pain or suffering.
The Old Testament is packed full of references to compassion, most often referring to God having compassion over us.  It is an active verb that indicates God is doing something towards us and on our behalf.  One of the most memorable acts of compassion among humanity is told in I Kings.  You may remember this story of two women – prostitutes actually – who were brought before King Solomon.  They were roommates, both pregnant at the same time, and delivered their infant sons within three days of each other.  One woman’s baby died during the night – Scripture says the mother actually smothered him in her sleep, and so, in her grief she took the other woman’s baby as her own.  In the morning, as the other woman prepared to nurse her new son, she realized not only that the infant beside her was dead but that it wasn’t even hers! 
A quick sidebar to this story is the incredible realization that from the moment of birth we know our children.  This is true throughout all of the animal kingdom and with human nature as well.  I remember my first son’s birth over 21 years ago.  Back then, all the babies went to the nursery – they didn’t have a “rooming in” plan like they do now.  The following morning, this cute little candy striped volunteer showed up in my room with a perfect bundle of joy all swaddled up and sporting the blue knit cap they put on all the newborn boys – girls of course get a pink one.  She brought him over to the bed and laid him in my arms.  I took one look at him and felt sick to my stomach.  I knew instantly that this wasn’t my baby I was holding.  As the panic rose, I hesitated for just a millisecond wondering if I had lost my mind during the night and then said to her, “this isn’t my baby!”   She quickly went out into the hall where three other bassinets of babies were waiting to be delivered to their moms on the same hall and came back in with another baby.  She looked almost as panicked as I and said, “I’m so sorry!  I looked at the wrong card on the bassinet!  Is this one yours?”  She was now asking me if we had the right baby!  A huge flood of relief swept through me as I instantly recognized my precious baby boy.  She begged me not to tell her supervisor and disappeared down the hall.  I remember being shocked that I, in less than 24 hours, knew my son. 
So here sits King Solomon on his throne listening to these two women ferociously argue back and forth about whose baby has died and whose baby was there with them, still living.  King Solomon makes what appears to be a violent, irrational decision when he orders that a sword be brought out and the baby cut in two!  “Give them each a half”, he callously renders judgment.  And immediately – immediately – the mother of the living child responds.  Scripture says in verse 26 of chapter 3 that she was “filled with compassion for her son” and shouted out to the King, “no! Give her the living baby!  Don’t kill him!”  This young mother’s compassion prompted an action to save her baby even if it meant giving him up. To another woman.  A fellow prostitute.  Her room-mate!  And King Solomon had his answer. 
“Gifts and Generosity” – what do they have in common? And how do we most effectively mix them?  Gifts are defined this way: Something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation; a purchase which, when given, omits key information – including the price paid for the item!  Generosity is defined as liberality in giving or willingness to give; the trait of being willing to give your money or time; and (I love this one) freedom from meanness or smallness of mind and character.  Let me attempt to illustrate.
When my daughter Rachel was about 5, her favorite thing to do was invite people over for apple pie.  She loves my apple pie with ice cream and she would regularly call either or both sets of grandparents on the phone and invite them over for dessert.  The conversation would go something like this:
“Mimi (or Honey)? Can you and Papaw (or Granddaddy) come over for apple pie?  And ice cream, too?  Mommy!  Do we have apple pie?”  You see, she felt absolutely free to give and give generously – without regard to anything but the heart with which it was given.  Including whether or not we even had apple pie!  All motivated by love.  In the tender heart of my 5-year-old daughter, Mommy’s apple pie was the grandest thing she had to offer.
Esther illustrates this concept of gifts in a beautiful way.  After Esther was taken into the king’s harem at the citadel of Susa, she immediately won the favor of the king’s eunuch, Hegai.  When the time came after a year’s worth of beauty treatments for her to go before the king she asked Hegai, who probably knew the king better than anyone, what she should take with her.  Esther was a wise woman, very aware that this moment – this one night – could be the beginning or the end for her.  She sought wise counsel and she listened to it.  She set herself up to succeed.  Well, it worked!  The king was so pleased with Esther that he placed a crown on her head and named her queen.
Chapter 2, verse 18 says, “And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.”  Royal liberality!  Now that’s a party I want to get in on!  Her desire to please him resulted in his desire to honor her.  There is great bounty to be had from the heart of a happy king, especially when he’s not looking at the price tag.
II Corinthians 9 offers another illustration of this concept.  II Corinthians is actually Paul’s fourth letter to the church at Corinth, and his response to Titus’ report on the condition of the church there.  Addressing their giving Paul reminds them that he has bragged on them to other churches for their eagerness to give and then cautions them to check their motives for giving.  “…not out of regret or necessity…”  Then he blesses them with this charge in verse 11, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
The generosity we offer from every area of our lives, not just our wallets, results in others offering thanksgiving to God!  Think of it: we have an opportunity to be the catalyst for someone else giving thanks! Paul is reminding the church here that rich in every way means literally every way – rich in time, talents, energy, wisdom, vision, and yes money.  And as we have opportunity to be generous on every occasion – whatever the occasion calls for – the results are that those around us offer their thanksgiving to God.  And I think you will all agree with me, that is a win-win.
“Serving Miracles”.  How exactly do you serve a miracle? 
A miracle is defined as any amazing or wonderful occurrence; an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God; even the Qu’ran defines a miracle as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings.  Certainly, God performed miracles numerous times on behalf of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament.  The records of Jesus’ miracles in the New Testament are probably, to use a classic Greek term, just a ‘smidgen’ of what He actually did as He walked among us.  And yes, there are records of what we call modern day miracles that are clearly an intervention of God’s power and presence in the lives of humanity.
But within the context of this train of thought, maybe we can look at miracles in a slightly different manner.  Is it possible that ‘serving miracles’ is simply the end result of pouring compassion and mixing gifts and generosity?  Again, an illustration…
About 12 years ago, Richard and I had gone through a particularly traumatic time in our lives, mostly at the hands of another believer who had taken advantage of us financially.  I had a very dear, very elderly friend who was quite concerned about me because I had pulled away from her and became increasingly isolated.  We had been sharing a weekly prayer time together for almost two years and she had mentored me specifically in the area of my prayer life.  The stress we were under had taken its toll physically.  I wasn’t sleeping; I had lost a lot of weight and generally looked every bit of what we were going through.  Miss Dottie called me several times on the telephone; I didn’t return the favor.  She finally showed up at my doorstep one afternoon and announced quite emphatically, “Dawn darling, you look like flesh draped over bones!  Your eyes are dead – there’s no life in you!  You’re coming to my house right now and we are having tea!”  Well, tea at Miss Dottie’s house meant we were going to talk.  I surrendered my vacuum cleaner to the middle of the living room floor and followed her to the car.  A few minutes later at her home, as her fragile hands poured a cup of freshly steeped hot tea into a delicate little china cup, adding just the right amount of milk and honey, she looked me in the eye and said, “Honey, every time I pray for you the Lord lays on my heart the word ‘betrayed’.  Has someone betrayed you?”
Well, I began to break.  For the next two hours I literally laid my head in her lap and cried as she gently stroked my hair and prayed over me.  That afternoon, Miss Dottie poured compassion over me; she gave me both gift and generosity.  The gift of a wise, loving, discerning friend; the generosity of time set free and prayers unhindered.  And I realized later that night that only God could have laid that particular word – betrayed – on her heart.  That afternoon, in fact, was a miracle: a supernatural intervention of God in my life through the life of another one of His children.  I’ll never forget how deeply I was touched and the many times since then I’ve thanked God for serving the miracle of that afternoon.
Compassion is choosing to act, respond, and reach out; a gift is a gift because it is not motivated to seek its own reward; generosity is freedom from predetermined limitations and boundaries; and miracles?  Miracles, I believe, are very often simply witnessing the presence of God in an active, living, here-and-now kind of way.  It is the driving force behind our desire to be more like Him – and that may very well be the greatest miracle of all.
So I ask you: how have compassion, gifts, generosity, and miracles marked your life in the past or in the present?  Is you pitcher filled with compassion?  Are you pouring out of the fullness of your own life? Are gifts and generosity fighting for their place like oil and water? Or do they blend together undetected, perfectly seasoning our lives like sugar and salt?  Are you feasting at a table of miracles?  Are those around you enjoying God’s goodness, love, mercy, forgiveness, and joy served from your life?
The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles.

My friends, let us serve well today.

I have known women over the years whose deepest heart’s desire is to be a mother.  They are kind, loving, generous, tender, compassionate, and dedicated to giving their absolute best to the fruit of their womb.  But their womb is empty.  They know all too well the words, ‘barren’, ‘infertile’, and ‘incapable’.  Motherhood defies them, even mocks them.  They pray, they fast, they cry hopeful tears of joy followed by devastated tears of sorrow.  They visit doctors, search the internet, and subject themselves to all sorts of tests and procedures.  All to no avail.  
These women grieve what will never be.
I have also known women over the years who had the opportunity to bask in the glory of being called ‘Mother’.  They are women of integrity, character, strength, and passion.  They know the thrill of announcing, “We’re having a baby!”  Delivering their very own bundle of joy is excruciating and exhilarating, counting fingers and toes is fascinating, and kissing those rose bud lips is glorious.  They have swaddled an infant to their breast, nourished them with the very best nature has to offer, and settled their anxious child with a softly whispered, “shhhhh…Mama’s here.”  But they know the excruciating pain of losing a child – a child of any age – and being forced to say good-bye much too soon. 
These women grieve what was.
And over the years I have known women who had the opportunity to be a Mother, women who saw the stripe turn pink or blue and decided – for good reason or for no reason – to end the life of their unborn child.  Whatever your thoughts and feelings about abortion, make no mistake about it: these women grieve, too.  Maybe not publicly, probably without condolences from loved ones, but they grieve.  In the quiet of the night when thoughts will not surrender to sleep, they remember.  As they pass a maternity store window, or gaze across the park at a mother pushing her child in a stroller or on a swing, they remember.  They wonder.
These women grieve what might have been.
None of these women would deny in their heart they want to be, have been, or could have been a mother.  They all had dreams of some sort: to be a Mom, to be a Mom forever, to be a Mom later.  My guess is that for these women Mother’s Day is the most difficult to endure.  Hopes crushed.  Dreams lost.  Choices made.  Innocence lost for both mother and child.  I believe, as Scripture promises, that God keeps their tears in a bottle (Psalms 56:8).  If He in fact knows the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30) and sees the sparrow fall (Matthew 10:29), imagine how His heart must break when tears flow from agonizing emptiness, grief, and regret.  
As we approach this Mother’s Day may we look beyond the greeting cards, department stores, perfume counters, and jewelry stores to see those who truly need our love and encouragement ~ these women who would be Mom. 
%d bloggers like this: