Praise Project, Week 48

This week I’m praising God for:

1). My general feeling toward life and eternity is something along the lines of “Lord, come quickly because life down here is hard and unpleasant” until this week. In the words of a friend, I am surrounded by people with broken hearts and no regard for truth. This week I have found myself saying, “Lord, I want You to come back, but not yet. Too many people I love don’t know you.” Praise God for perspective. It keeps me from whittling my time away on unnecessary pursuits.

2). My new student who is wide open to learning the truth of God. I’m still pinching myself at the opportunity to speak openly to her about my love for Jesus. This is why we are here, our reason for living.

3). “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (II Timothy 1:7).

4). Being able to join forces with another believer in solidarity for a friend who’s going through a horrible situation. Satan is fighting a losing battle and will find he is no match for the power of God or His people.

5). The Church- despite its many flaws, God still uses it as a built-in support system and place of refuge for His people.

6).  The upcoming Christmas break. My husband and kids are tired and need a break.

7). A quiet Friday night with nothing that has to be done.


Praise Project, Week 47

I’m a little late with this week’s Praise Project, a testament to the craziness of the week. It was a good one nonetheless, and I’m praising God for the following:

1). A week of being productive. There’s nothing more satisfying than laying your head on the pillow at night, tired, because of good hard work.

2). Co-hosting a night of fun and celebration with friends at the Women’s Christmas Tea with my daughter.

3). Being asked to contribute to my friend, Sarah’s, blog in her Making Christmas Merry series. You can read about my fondness for Christmas trees there on Monday and on my blog later in the week.

4). I had a falling out with a neighbor before I moved six years ago. Two years ago she called me out of the blue to apologize for her treatment of me which spurred me on to apologize for my role in the ugliness, something I should have done long ago. We met at a mutual friend’s house this past week to pray with that friend who is going through a horrible time right now. Forgiveness has a long reach.

5). Another new student to tutor.

6). For my sweet neighbor surviving a horrific car accident recently. I’m beyond relieved that despite some cuts, bruises, fractured ribs and countless stitches she’s still with us and recovering.

7). Watching my kids desire to get involved with those around them who have broken hearts.

Praise Project, Week 46

This week I’m praising God for:

1). My once-a-year visit with a friend I’ve known since I was three. Whether he knows it or not, I thank God for putting Michael in my life starting with pre-school and all the way to the present. Very cool to have a friend for that long.

2). Yummy food and conversation with family.

3). All the turkeys that sacrificed their lives for a country full of carnivores.

4). Memories of past Thanksgivings with family that’s now gone.

5). Time off from work and school.

6). Getting to Des Moines with no car trouble .

7). Not having to go Black Friday shopping. Thank you to my mom for taking my daughter to do the one thing she loves the most so I don’t have to do the one thing I hate the most.

Praise Project, Week 45

This week’s Praise Project revolves around recent events in politics. As someone who respects the United States Constitution, the President’s executive order the other day reeks of Constitutional malpractice. Having said that, it occurred to me not long ago that when we get right down to it, the Constitution is a piece of paper that men signed hundreds of years ago setting up the framework for this country and in which millions of people have respected as sacred. But the Constitution is only as sacred a document as the people in charge deem it to be. As soon as those in power decide it is worth no more than the paper on which it was printed, it loses it’s power. In that vein, this week I’m praising God:

1). That He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Despite what man decides about God, His Son, the Holy Spirit and His Word, they all remain holy and sacred. No one can strip God of Who He is.

2). That my name is written in a Book and can’t ever be erased.

3). That when man fails me, God is faithful and truthful and trustworthy.

4). “He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars” (Daniel 2:21, NLT).

5). That God is not one dimensional as I often see Him.

6). That the Christmas season is coming and with it the reminder of hope which is why none of this turmoil really matters.

7). The reminder of what really matters: salvation of my lost friends and neighbors.

An Abundant Home

As I brushed the vintage cream-colored paint all over the trim of my bedroom, my mind instantly took me back to my childhood in the house where my paternal grandparents lived. Newton, Iowa was and still is a small town. Always seemingly on the verge of crumbling, the town marches on with the fortitude of a bygone era. My grandmother was the same. It did not matter what was going on in the world, her biological clock woke her at 5:30 every morning to start the day. From up in the guest room where I slept, I could hear the gentle hum of the radio next to a bubbling percolator.

Every morning started with Grandpa standing at the foot of the stairs coaxing us out of bed. Never one to sleep in, he couldn’t imagine why anyone else would either. A morning person myself, my feet hit the floor often before his wake-up call. My sister’s never did, and I could see the irritation creep across her face as she made her way to the breakfast table. Grumpy or not, my grandmother’s morning greeting consisted of a hug so tight she caused our breathing to come to an abrupt halt and the frustrations of a premature rising to melt.

Besides being in the presence of this strong Dutch woman, visiting her meant spending time in her grand house, a virtual extension of herself. Every room captivated my imagination. Covering her living room walls was a paper in green velvet and cream satin checkerboard with ornate-looking cutout designs and framed in cream satin paint. Beyond stood a room she referred to as the “solarium” housing a prickly brown couch that I could never quite fall in love with. Flat green carpet covered her wood floors. Despite the uninteresting carpet, the velvet roping up the stairs more than made up for it. Mounting the staircase on the way to bed each night, my small hands would grasp that soft green velvet, and I would imagine that it was black velvet that I stood behind waiting to get into the ballet or the opera.

Her house was an overload of sensory stimulation and creative output for our young minds. Perfectly pressed dresses and beautiful shoes lined the insides of her cedar closets. If I try hard enough I can still smell the scent of fresh cedar as I did then while my sister and I zipped each other up in her dresses. Once dressed we would walk to the vanity of one of the spare bedrooms to where two old jewelry boxes loaded with oversize costume jewelry stood, our feet clomping on the wood floors.

We would then march to the most magical place on earth-her bedroom closet lined in pink-petalled wallpaper. I could never quite get over the excitement of a closet that spilled into a staircase leading to yet another level of that grand house. Adding to its appeal was the fact that it was off-limits to us. Too much for me to resist, I would push my way through the clothes and peer longingly at the door that stood between me and my remedy for an overactive imagination. What was up there anyway? Were there more jewels, maybe real ones? More crisp white sheets that she tucked me into every night that I stayed? Were there more shoes, more dresses, anything that would clue me into who this woman was who technically wasn’t my biological grandmother but my grandfather’s second wife? Though not a blood relative she proved to be more of a grandmother to my sister and me than the one whose place she took. What secrets did she harbor up there?

Finally, in utter desperation, I persuaded her to let my sister and me have just a peek. She wasn’t too keen on the idea, but she gave in. What we found wasn’t all that spectacular. It might have been had she allowed us to investigate, but that was not her way. A peek would have to do. The musty unfinished third level housed what one might expect to find in anyone’s attic: old books, mirrors, boxes of unidentified things, silk flowers and such; basically anything she couldn’t yet part with but didn’t have a proper place for. It could have been a let down, but since I had not done a proper search of the place, my hopes for what that room held remained unscathed.

Despite the grandness of that house, life within those walls was about as simple and stress-free as a person could get. It was the only place on earth where my stomach settled and let me enjoy whatever activity she had planned. There was peace there, and the older I get the more I crave that and attempt to harvest it in my own house. What was it about her that made her so peaceful?

I’ll never forget a comment about my grandmother during her eulogy. The speaker remarked that Erma Bailey did not lead an extraordinary life. She wasn’t known for anything, but she served other people quietly. From the outside looking in, her life probably seemed insignificant in a world where public accolades are everything, where they determine the success of a life.

But she knew better, and she by default was teaching that to my sister and me. Though completely unappreciative of it at the time, I can say that the quiet, peaceful life she lead is more appealing to me now than a bank full of cash.

She was consistent, quiet, giving, serving, dragging us with her to deliver a meal to someone homebound due to illness or disease. I could hear her on the phone cheering someone up who needed it, asking thoughtful questions and responding with words of encouragement.

Her life proved that to be used of God doesn’t require extraordinary talents, on display for public applause. In that way she was very much like Christ, humbly washing the disciples’ feet, quietly doing the will of the Father, never asking for anything in return. Like others she had learned the key to an abundant life was an others-first attitude, the dying of self and the living to God and others.

And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:35).

Unlike the third floor of her big house, an abundant life isn’t nearly as mysterious as we make it. I think I search harder than I need to because the answer requires the one thing I am more averse to than anything else: self-denial; letting go of my unrealistic expectations of people and this life on earth and what I feel entitled to during my stay here. To live abundantly is to live like Jesus lived, serving others for the sheer joy of it expecting nothing in return, searching for nothing more than His approval, letting our service to others be quiet and between us and God-our little secret if you will.

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13).

Abundance is freedom, and freedom is serving. My grandmother got it, and I want it. In later years, as I spent less and less time there, I dreamed of purchasing the house and all the renovations I would make starting with the worn green carpet. I fancied ripping down the wallpaper, painting the bathroom something more modern and tearing up the striped kitchen carpet.

Oddly enough without knowing it, I’ve copied her decorating style. The main color in her house was green, and somehow it has made its way into mine in a hue I’m not sure she would approve of. But there it is. In my quest to be modern and freethinking in my décor choices, I’ve bought and purchased the majority of my houses from the same era as hers; the kind with arched doorways, glass door handles and wooden floors that I wouldn’t dream of covering up with anything plusher than an area rug. I’ve furnished it in things that were made by the man my grandmother loved and waited on all those years.

As a kid running through those rooms I wished for her to speed up, do things faster, catch up with the times. But time grows us wiser. Like the slowly crafted furniture she decorated with that is now mine, I’m learning to take another cue from her: to slowly and deliberately craft a home of peace and abundance that comes from service and self-denial; to remember my purpose here and that I live and work and do for an audience of One. I hope she would be proud.