Friday, March 27, 2015


We're finally going! I am going to ask that all bad guys, robbers, and dishonest people ignore this information. And apparently Sam had a little too much of the eggnog on Christmas Day. And Jack is posing for the cover of GQ. And I have the cutest niece in the whole wide world.
“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned. But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.

John 15:1-8

These are such familiar words. I can quote most of them without having formally memorized them. Many Christians can. But the danger in words being so familiar is that they can lose their power and significance for us.

Jesus gives an analogy that compares our spiritual life to that of a garden. God is the gardener. Jesus is the vine. We are the branches. But what does that mean for us?

I am guilty of reading this passage and thinking of it as a suggestion for being a “Super Christian.” If I really want to do “big things” for God, I’ll have to someday figure out this whole remaining and being a branch thing.

But Jesus seems to be speaking in absolutes. He doesn’t say, if you want to do lots of Christian type things, hang out with me. He doesn’t say you should be the branch if you want to be a super awesome God-follower. He doesn’t give us the option of mediocrity. He doesn’t give us the option of playing the role of gardener or vine.

God is the Gardener.

Christ is the Vine.

You and I are merely the branches.

I think if I could fully absorb my role and be content in it, my life might look differently. I must realize that I cannot sever myself from Christ, his death, burial, and resurrection and try to muster up some decent fruit. It’s not an option to go out on my own and produce mediocre fruit. He says that when I do not remain in Him, I bear no fruit at all. I can do nothing. I am like a branch that is thrown away and withers.

Chris and I are not master gardeners by any stretch of the imagination. However, in order to keep ourselves from being blackballed by the neighbors or earning the title “The Lazy Neighbors who Really Need to Invest in Hedge Clippers,” we do get out in the yard from time to time. Chris trims back the out of control bushes before they engulf our house, and he throws all of the pruned branches to the side. When he first throws them onto the ground, they still look alive. All looks okay. But on the rare occasion that no one comes and picks up the pruned branches and disposes of them immediately, because only super lazy neighbors would do that, and we are not super lazy neighbors…ahem…then the truth would eventually come out. We would return to the yard a few days later to see shriveled up, brown branches.

It’s not a possible outcome. It is an inevitable outcome.

And that’s the part I think I forget. I think I have options.

Sometimes, I think I have the option of being the gardener. I think that I can be in control of things that will never actually be under my authority, yet I act like they are nonetheless. This leads to anxiety and worry, because I am trying to grasp at sand. I am trying to control things that I cannot rather than trusting the Gardener to take care of those things. I cannot control the wind or the rain. (And this Gardener can. That’s what happens when the Gardener is God.) I do not get to decide who stays on the vine and who goes. I do not get to make the choice of what kind of fertilizer to use or when to water the vine or what kind of soil will suit it best.

Not my job.

I am not the vine. It is not my job to provide the food and water that every branch needs. It is not my job to give life to others. I cannot do it. And when I think it is my role, I find myself frantic and stressed. When I see myself as the end all be all of others’ existence, I can play the role for a while, but then I start to go a little nutso. All looks fine at first, but I end up brown and withered.

 Not my job.

My job is to hang on to Jesus and let Him work in me and through me. My job is to simply stay attached to Him and let the Gardener and the Vine do all the work. Their job is to provide life and produce fruit. My job is to be connected and available to display the fruit for all to see.

When you pass by a beautiful rose bush, you likely will not meet the Gardener Himself in a physical way. He will be in the background, having done His work and slipped away. You will not notice the strong, thick trunk in the middle of the bush, thrusting its roots into the soil and holding up all of the branches. You will see the very tip of the branch. You will see the beautiful rose, and you will marvel at its beauty. As you marvel at its beauty, however, you will intuitively know that it must have a good, strong trunk to support it and it must have a skillful, wise master gardener with a green thumb rather than a black one like yours. You will know that there is more to that rose than the branch or the rose itself, and you will admire the skill and process that resulted in such beauty.

When you think about it, my job is actually the thing I’m best suited for. Shocking, huh? It is a job free from stress or worry and colossal effort. It is a job of remaining and trusting. It is a peaceful, still, quiet job. It means trusting that all that must happen for me to bloom is happening. The branch cannot prune itself or water itself or force itself to bloom. It must hang on and trust.

My job is to remain in the vine, trusting the Gardener. I have to choose to believe that He knows what He’s doing and that He is able to produce beauty from my thorny self.

What does this look like for me?

I think it means not worrying about the crowds or the weather or our health in Disney World. I cannot control those things, yet I’ve found myself worrying about them. I think it means realizing that, even with the best laid plans, we will face stress and long lines and heat and grumpy children. I think it means that, even though I decide to try and be nice in the midst of it all, I will fail and I cannot do it alone. It is beyond me.

I think it means trusting that, in all of the weariness and chaos and uncontrollable factors involved, I just need to hang on to Jesus. I must keep my mind focused on the fact that I have been crucified with Christ and it is now Christ who lives in me. Christ loves sacrificially. He does not insist on His own way. He’s not in it for what He can get out of it. He provides rest for the weary and forgiveness for those who have messed up. He is full of grace, kindness, and patience.

Only by denying my flesh and clinging to all that He is…by trusting that He can sustain me and bear beautiful fruit when I just feel thorny and ugly…can I become the God-glorifying branch I desire to be.

It is not up to me to decide on my role. It is not up to me to control all people and circumstances. It is up to me to deny myself, to pick up my cross in order to crucify my selfish, prideful flesh, and to follow Christ.

It is my job to remain in Him. And what a beautiful, peace-filled job that can be if I will remain in it.


1.    to continue in the same state; continue to be as specified:

2.    to stay behind or in the same place:

3.    to be left after the removal, loss, destruction, etc., of all else:

4.    to be left to be done, told, shown, etc.:

5.    to be reserved or in store.


Monday, March 9, 2015

My Lips Repeat

I give up on editing this, after the 263rd interruption. Apparently, everyone in my house is cold, needs to poop, has a tummy ache, and is in desperate need of cartoons. And they're hungry, though I could have sworn I just fed them multiple biscuits.

First of all, let me apologize for mentioning my underwear in my last post. I have continually thought that it was very crass and unladylike of me. I choose to blame it on the insanity that sets in during two weeks of confinement. Please forgive me. I cannot promise it won't happen again upon my next stint of spending day after day with whiny sick people. There is a reason I'm not a nurse.

There is rarely a day that goes by that one of my prayers to the Lord is not, "Help me set my mind on things above...eternal things." We are told that children of the Lord do just that, set their minds beyond this earth and themselves, to things in heaven. I know that I need to do it in order to live this life here for the Lord, but I've always just thought of that, practically, as having the thought, "Remember the things that last," or perhaps, "All of this junk will someday pass away." In something I read last week, however, it encouraged me to actually think of the place of heaven, to envision what is going on there, what it will be like, and who is there already, all within biblical parameters, of course, and not simply things of my own imaginings such as piles of chocolate that won't make me fat.

But I would be okay with piles of chocolate that won't make me fat. I just want to be clear about that.

That was a new thought to me, to actually ponder the things that are happening right now in the heavenly realms...the praise of the Lord, the Lamb seated beside the Father, the intercession that is occurring on my behalf, the joy that awaits me there. What powerful things to set my mind on as I do laundry or intervene in the 38th fight of the morning between kids who think they both have a right to sit their fannies on my pillow on my couch at the same time. Because they couldn't possibly sit somewhere else! Sheesh!


Yesterday as we gathered for worship and the preaching of the Word on Sunday morning, we were reminded of the twenty-one Christians who were martyred in Egypt recently. I'll just be honest. The thought of being martyred or of seeing those I love being martyred makes my stomach tie up in knots and my chest feel extraordinarily heavy. Mention a little burning alive, and I find myself having to stave off a serious panic attack. I have a hard time facing my daily trials of dirty toilets. How would I ever be able to face beheading?

It was mentioned that those who know the martyrs could see on the video that was released of their execution that their lips were repeatedly murmuring the name of Jesus Christ as they knelt before their executioners. Later, as we sang:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
Jesus died my soul to save,
my lips shall still repeat.

I thought, "That's how they did it." Those men must have set their minds on things above. They must have set their minds on Jesus, who paid it all, as their lips repeated his name over and over. And then I realized that, in the instant it takes for a sword to sever a head from a body, they went from repeating "Jesus Christ" as they knelt on earthly soil to repeating "Jesus Christ" in the very presence of Jesus in heaven. And so now when I imagine heaven, I can add the vision of twenty-one rejoicing men, thankful and excited beyond words to be free from this world of suffering and in the presence of their Savior.

That is setting your mind on things above. It is the grace of God which allows us to face every day of this life here on earth as we wait for the moment when we are transported to heaven, with our lips repeating, "Jesus died my soul to save."

In order to be ready to set my mind on things above in the "big things," I must be able to set my mind in the heavenly realms in the "little things." What a beautiful gift we've been given: descriptions of eternity in the Word, a mind and imagination to think of and envision something of what it must be like, and the righteousness of Christ through salvation that allows us the assurance of one day being in His presence.

Lord, help me to truly set my mind on things above today.

At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God. Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.

In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’
who was, and is, and is to come.”

Monday, March 2, 2015

Germs, Germs, Go Away!!

You know it's been a fun week when you can unequivocally say that the best and most exciting moment of the last seven days came when you found your new favorite pair of underwear at the store. They had me with their very savvy marketing ploy, which went something like this:

Good Muffin

Bad Muffin
Okay, the second picture isn't exactly like the one they used, but I just couldn't do the real ones. You get the idea. (I think I had those jeans and that belt in 1995. But that was before my bad muffin.)
So, I think I can definitely say that the Lord has showered His grace on me when I needed it. After a week of sick kiddos and confinement, He gives me underwear. I really mean it.
The bonus of the whole experience was that my almost-teenager was with me, and I got to go on and on and on about how there is nothing worse than underwear that gives you a bad muffin. She loved it.
One of the things I deplore most about motherhood is being stuck at home with sick kids. There. I said it. I am clearly full of sacrificial love and compassion. I tend to get mad at people in my house when they get sick. Don't they know how inconvenient this is and how much I hate being trapped in my own home?
I was just looking for cute school ideas on a blog called, "made to be a Momma: create, bake, love inspire." Yeah, that's not me.
Broken. I am broken.
Now that I've entered my second decade as a parent, I can say that I'm not quite as bad as I used to be. Years ago, I'd come close to pitching an actual temper tantrum when this happened. Okay, maybe I did more than come close. It's been a while. I can't remember so well. In this spoiled American life that I live, having my fun weekend plans cancelled was just more than I could bear. I knew I shouldn't feel this way, so I would feel guilty, but I was powerless to change it.
Now, many years and sicknesses and sleepless nights and puke buckets and snotty noses and missed events later, it's still not fun.  However, since it's bound to happen, I figured I should ask the Lord to use it. We read inspiring verses from Scripture, such as:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5
It all sounds so lofty and noble and perfect for those undergoing terrible suffering. But I imagine that the Lord wants me to apply them to puke-filled nights and long, long, looooooooong days at home with whiny kids. It is so terribly hard to see such everyday, mundane struggles in a spiritual light. How did it take me so long before I even had the glimmer of understanding that these everyday trials are the ones the Lord wants to use to grow my dependency on Him, my character, and my hope?
These grueling times don't have to be wasted, if I can just hand them over to Him and fall on His grace. For me, sometimes that looks like easily rejoicing in new underwear. At other times, it looks like me moaning and crying out, "Help me! I can't take it anymore!" and trusting that He will.
Earlier this week, on a day that seems more like a month ago in this uber-stretched-out week of sickness we've been enjoying, it was supposed to snow. And "supposed to snow" in Alabama means 1) It could be the Snow of the Century or 2) It won't snow. Our little cooped-up family spent ALL DAY LOOOOOONG peering out the window at the grayest, coldest rain I've ever seen. Each time I checked the weather forecast, the snow was just "an hour away." We watched reports on television and Facebook of all the beautiful inches of snow our friends just miles up the road were getting.
And we watched it rain.
And rain.
And rain. For the love....make it snow!
After 8+ hours of sitting in this house with several sick and snow-wanting people, we all but gave up hope. The boys got their baths and put on their pj's, and we looked out the window for the 1,476th time that day. And we saw SNOW.
We were so excited. I wonder if we'd have been that excited eight hours earlier. Maybe. Probably. But it seemed pretty miraculous after it had seemed so impossible.
Sam declared, "I'm so proud of God!"
The kids didn't care that it had taken all day and that we only got an inch or two instead of a foot. God had answered their prayer, and they were thankful. Thankful in a way that only comes after waiting for days for the snow day to come and then hours for the rain to change to soft, white snow.
When the day comes that we get to emerge from this sick house, though it seems like it might never arrive at all, may we all say, "I'm so proud of God!" and emerge with faith that's a little stronger and character that's a little more Christ-like.
But don't think I'm not ready for it now! :)