Raymond Loves Linda

The other day my husband and I decided to pressure wash our porch and sidewalk. The driveway was a lost cause; we decided to wait on that. The day was perfect—just warm enough to keep from getting too cool in the overspray. It was one of the most pleasant afternoons I’ve spent recently. It was Easter Sunday. We had no family commitments—no place to be—and it was delightful. I was completely at rest in my work. He would spray awhile, then me. I washed a few windows and cleaned some nastiness in the windowsill. We paused and drank tea.

Sound boring or disagreeable? It wasn’t; I was in the zone. It felt clean, bright hopeful—watching the grunge float away with the pressurized water jet. Removing the dirt—inch by inch. Satisfying.

We reached a point near the end of the walkway, and I went in to prepare a light dinnerRaymond Loves Linda—something simple. When I went back outside to call him in I saw this etched on our driveway. It is by far one of the most romantic things he’s done in a very long time. It beat dinner out, flowers and candy, or even an expensive vacation. I felt like a school girl with her boyfriend carving our initials into a tree. It was a spontaneous gesture of his 45-year love affair with me.

That is the way love is. Or the way his love has been to me. “Raymond Loves Linda” has been etched across the path of our life together. All the dirty rotten experiences of our lives have that written over them—through my multiple bouts with depression, my injuries and sicknesses, or simply through my bad temper and our arguments, suffering, and trials. “Raymond Loves Linda” is written on the surface of our sometimes-grungy-less-than-perfect life together.

Now, every time I go down the walkway, I see this kind expression of love. It will accumulate dirt, and all will blend together, eventually becoming unreadable. However, I have this photo as a reminder of this small but beautiful gesture, and his love remains, even if the words disappear.

I just hope he is able to see “Linda Loves Raymond” etched across the dark roads of his life, too, even if it isn’t written on stone.

 

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Lazarus–A Rehearsal for the Main Event?

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Lazarus, Come forth!

I love the story of Lazarus for multiple reasons. For instance, it demonstrates that God’s timing isn’t always ours. He waited and waited and waited. He put off going until he received a “go-ahead” from the Father. (I only do and say what the Father tells me. John 8:28) The Father waited until Lazarus was dead. He would be stinking before Jesus arrived in Bethany. Everyone would have been anxious about Jesus going to take care of his dear friends. Not Jesus. He waited.

This account also shows that Jesus deals with us according to our personalities. Even if what we say might be the same, he knows what we need—the one thing that will address the sorrow and devastating disappointment in our hearts. He said one thing to Mary, another to Martha—even though they spoke the same words, “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.”

I love that Jesus wept. I’ve often wondered, why? He knew there was a resurrection coming. Perhaps he identified deeply with their sufferings and their sorrows—their tears and the power of death and sin. This is why he came—to take away the sting of death and the power of sin. He had seen hearts breaking throughout human history. Death. Grief. Loss. He was going to do something about it, but he wept, nonetheless.

But I also love this story because I think it was a tender moment between a Father and His beloved Son. It was a rehearsal for the main event—the cross and the resurrection. That momentous event would be taking place in a few days. If there had been any doubt in Jesus’s mind, this miracle was substantive proof that he had absolute power over rotting, stinking three-day-old-dead flesh.

Even his words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life,” were a reminder to his own ears that he had the power to raise dead men to life—including himself. This is one of John’s recordings of “I am” statements. He doesn’t simply say, “I have the power to raise from the dead and give life, but “I AM the resurrection and the life.” His essence IS resurrection and life. Death absolutely CAN’T have power over him.

I can’t help but think that as they all sat around feasting and celebrating afterward, that Jesus was thinking about his upcoming trials and being reminded that the purpose of his death and resurrection was what he was experiencing, in part, at the moment—fellowship with people he loved and who loved and trusted him—their salvation—their hope—and their freedom from the fear of the grave—eternally.

I don’t understand completely the ways in which Jesus was both man and God, but if he battled fear and dread (which he must have because of what we see in Gethsemane), how comforting this event must have been on his journey to the cross. It would be a recent memory of his victory over death and a reminder of the restoration of fellowship with God and the eternal life he was bringing to mankind. It was so kind of God the Father to do this for only begotten Son.

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G.A.P. s – God Appointed Partings and Vinaigrette

God is moving, and I’m sad. Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m thrilled that God is up to something new. His kingdom is moving forward, and His sovereign will is being accomplished. I just don’t happen to like the particulars.

Two people whom I love very much are moving west. A precious niece and nephew are being led by God through circumstances and confirmations to move west. They haven’t left, and an ache already grows in my heart—I miss them already.

Our lives intersect periodically—not often enough. Katherine has already been gone a while. She and her husband, Andrew Ehrenzeller, have been leading worship and doing public ministry for years. They have written powerful songs, cut albums, and had impact. They have powerful testimonies of healing. They are taking a huge leap of faith and moving westward (most probably). It feels Abrahamic—getting up and leaving all. I feel certain we will see them less. There is change—a growing gap.

My nephew, Jon David Conolley, has accepted a job in San Antonio. He is a multi-talented, sociable man with great wisdom and a godly heart. His cheerful countenance and determination to know truth and develop a Godward heart has been awe-inspiring. Two weeks, and he’ll be gone. He has assured us that he will be back often over the next six months due to some previously planned singing gigs with a music group. Still, he won’t be living down the street—available for a chat or attendance at famly game night. He will be in southern Texas.

God is behind both moves. I know it. But I don’t have to like how it impacts our extended family–or me.

I will still, however, rejoice in God’s unfailing love for them, as well as the people they are going to touch. God is good. They are on an adventure. A God-sized adventure, and I’m happy for them, but sad for me—for all those who remain here.

Those left behind feel the fragmentation of the separation more acutely. We dematerialize as loved ones leave, marry, become ill, suffer, or die. I feel the impact of the fall in my own life daily (sin, pain, grief). But the grief of absence—of the tearing of hearts from one another—reminds me of another part of the fall. Mortality. Dissatisfaction. Absence. Death—the final separation from living humans.

All of it will be redeemed. There will be, for those who know Christ, an eternal fellowship with no more longing or sorrow. No more parsing out time stingily. No more breaches in fellowship. Not to mention, we’ll experience total satisfaction and joy in the presence of our Lord.

I’m thankful it will be redeemed, but for now, there will be a hole where they belong—a gap at the table of fellowship and family.

A hate those GAPs, but I have to live in the midst of them anyway.

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Vinaigrette

Sorrow and Joy – an odd chemistry whose elements do not form solution

Emulsifying instead, like oil and vinegar – one soothing – one acerbic.

I shake them together desperately, hoping that they might meld into one sweet union –

Meld!

They refuse.

Without debate – it is poured like vinaigrette on my life –

Compelled to consume the bitter-sweet potion – I must choose.

Die; or eat and live.

Linda Barrett

 

 

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Meet Me in the Middle

I met my very dear friend, Linda, at a prayer meeting at our new church. I went because the Lord prompted me to go. Linda went because prayer makes her heart sing. We met for coffee afterward and found that we were both military spouses, writers, and students of God’s Word. I’m utterly thankful that all along the Lord was preparing us for this lovely friendship. Today, I hope you enjoy her as much as I do!

My dear friend, Britta, posted this on her website which has been highlighting a project called Meet Me in the Middle.  This is the site. Meet Me in the Middle with Britta Lafont Please check her out. She’s awesome and has wonderful things to share about life, the Lord, and the messy middle of life.

PREPARING A PLACE…

It has been a loonng time, of living in the middle, especially if you consider the changes begun twenty-five years ago.

I don’t have photos of the concrete garage, the dark-paneled walls in the den, or the 25-year-old gold shag carpet. Thank goodness! That part of the remodel took place ages ago; I can barely remember it. However, I do have this “before” photo taken about thirteen months ago when we began demolition for our current basement-makeover. And now, I have an “after” photo.

I love beauty. When we began, I had a vision of what the area could be. I imagined light airy spaces, a well-lit bedroom, and a kitchen in the space occupied by a wet bar. During this renovation, we’ve hauled truckloads of junk away to the thrift store and to the dump. It has been a long, very messy thirteen months.

The space we’ve built downstairs, however, is not for us. It’s an apartment, a place for someone else to live.

In John 14, we learn that Christ has gone to prepare a place for us, and that He will call us to Himself. These words were spoken on the way to the cross. They were essential, meant to encourage and give hope while the disciples lived in the messy middle—between regeneration and glorification, during that season when Jesus was no longer a tangible presence. It was, and is, a challenging abode of suffering and sanctification while we wait.

I wonder how often those early, persecuted Christians said to themselves as they desperately clung to the promise, “I have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. He’s building a place for US – for ME, and it’s worth the wait.”

Although God is building a home in heaven, He also has a building project in and among His people on the earth, in us individually and corporately.

During our renovation, some of the work was backbreaking—like sledge hammering concrete and digging the trench for the plumbing, or hanging heavy bead board on the ceiling. Other parts have been tedious, like sinking nails and puttying nail holes, or ornamental—picking paint and fixtures or creatively designing an eating area.

And so it is with us. Some of the work God does in us is deep and dirty. At other times, He’s helping us to toss trash, to rip down wrong beliefs, and to choose between good and best. Occasionally, He applies putty to the empty holes in our lives and sands to make things smooth. At other times God is making us beautiful—simply for the joy of it.

Our God is preparing a house for us, but as the Church, He’s also building a dwelling place for Himself. We’re living stones, built on the foundation of the Chief Corner Stone, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2). He’s a builder in heaven and on earth.

Sometimes it feels like the process will take forever, both waiting for heaven and waiting for change here, in me. But when I look back, I can barely remember some of things I struggled with years ago. Change has already taken place.

God has a vision of what we will be one day: we will look like Jesus. In the meantime, I try to keep an image of a perfect Christ in my heart and mind, believing like 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, that we are being transformed into that image. “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” That’s the work that’s taking place here.

Slow work. But the “after” picture? Oh, YES!

“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is…everyone who has this hope fixed on Him, purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

In the meantime, we wait, between the before and the after, secure in His promise, yet filled with our longing.

Linda Barrett is Honey to her husband, Mama to three grown children, and Momanim to an energetic, blue-eyed dog named Barnabas. She grew up in Alabama, graduated with a degree in English, married, then for twenty years zigzagged across the country, finally settling in Birmingham twenty-two years ago.

Although converted when young, performance-based Christianity drove Linda to despair. Then she awakened to God’s glory and unconditional love. Now you can often find her weeping in delight over God and his overwhelming grace to her and others. She shares God’s revealed grace and wonders through writing, teaching, mentoring, and other arts.

She loves well-crafted stories, meaningful conversations, camping with her husband, laughter with friends and family, and worship and prayer with like-minded people.

Linda has published several articles and co-authored a unique new-moms study called: Engaging Motherhood: Heart Preparation for a Holy Calling. 

She blogs at: invitationtowonder.wordpress.com.

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Prayer is…

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“We must pray not first of all because it feels good or helps, but because God loves us and wants our attention.“ (Henri Nouwen quoted in The Blue Book by Jim Branch p.73)

I confess; I don’t pray just because God wants me to or wants my attention, but I pray because I desire to connect with God and sense His presence—to hear the whisper of love in my ear—to be reoriented in the right direction once again. I am very selfish in my desire for prayer, but I really don’t think God objects.

In my prayer time I experience union with Christ—an intimacy of mind and heart. I hear the gentle voice of conviction; I experience the comfort of affection—both God’s for me and mine for Him. There, He gives me courage as I see Him holding my day tenderly and with willful determination to form Christ in me.

I pray because I am desperate.

I pray because His love satisfies my heart.

I pray because there is evil and I need a battle buddy—empowerment—truth—an anchor in the wind and waves.

I pray because I love others and know that God in Christ is the answer for grief, sorrow, pain, loneliness, hatred, sin, misery, hunger and thirst.

It is in prayer with the Beloved that I find myself—I know God and therefore know who I am today—this moment—in my sin, my doubts, my fears, and my hopes, as well as in His dreams for me. There is a merger of hearts that I experience in prayer wherein I see Him and the promise of what is being shaped from the ashes, wounds and the nothings of my life.

The Holy Spirit also helps me when I pray. When I pray, I enter into the present work of Christ as intercessor. Prayer admits lack and places faith in someone bi3140f546627cc1cc0185fd9f87050440 praying on the floorgger, but too often it is the last thing I do when I can’t fix things, when all my control is gone.

We cease to be god in prayer.

Sometimes I pray, like Nouwen said, because I know God wants me to and that He loves me. That, too, is part of the Christian life—simple discipline—even when we don’t feel like it.

But even in those times, as I turn my heart begrudgingly, sometimes sourly toward a God who seems to demand my attention and affection, it is the look of love that is returned to me that keeps me there. Rarely is it obligation, but hope and desperation that lures me to God.

IMG_0588l worhsip in the lightOver the years, God has re-formed His image in my heart. Scripture, teaching, and a deeper understanding of grace lets me see an approachable, loving, grace-filled Father who—like in the story of the Prodigal Son—waits for me to travel toward Him so He can run and embrace me, cleanse me, clothe me, feed me, and give me gifts. He is generous that way.

Prayer is not simply an exercise of faith—not a few words strung together blindly, hopelessly—although I have prayed that way—and will again. It is not rote incantations and mindless mumbling. Though I’ve prayed like that, too.

Prayer is the poetry of desperate hearts—the melody of the Blues—the glory of the Hallelujah Chorus—the sound of drums—the Reggae—the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies—a bird’s song—the moaning of the hungry—the wailing of the grieving—the laughter of the hopeful. It is a waltz with God—sometimes spinning, sometimes staring into eyes—and sometimes it is like the dance of a child—our feet upon His as He leads us into what should be.

It is stillness.                                                                                       14064-woman-sunset-girl-arms-blue-sky-clouds-silhouette.1200w.tn

It is violence.

It is agony.

It is joy unspeakable and full of glory.

It is pleasure and pain.

It is the brightest and the darkest place I’ve known.

It is a high priority for God, the present work of Christ, a point of active involvement for the Holy Spirit, and it is often the least attended to by us.

This is prayer to me.

 

 

 

 

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Beware the Little Foxes

Song of Solomon 2:15 says, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, while our vineyards are in blossom.”

Several years ago, my husband had to cut the wedding band off my finger. I jammed my finger during exercise, and rather than running the risk of losing the ring by taking it off and tossing it in my disorganized purse, I waited. By the time class was over, my finger had swelled, and I couldn’t remove it.

I felt sorrow as the ring I had worn for 38 years was clipped off. My husband, being the pragmatist that he is, said, “I’d sleep better if I knew the ring wasn’t going to cut off the blood supply to your finger if it continues to swell during the night.” I felt nostalgic loss, but not despair, as I placed my puffy finger before him. I wasn’t losing my marriage, only my ring. My husband’s love was shown as he worked his Dremel round and round to get the ring off. It took a while to thin the gold with the abrasive edge of the Dremel’s circular bit so that he could finally clip it, allowing me to pull the ring over my swollen finger as I gently pried it open.

Marriage can be much more fragile than a gold band. It is easy to thin the gold from our marriage through little repetitive moves as round and round the abrasive circle of our sin goes – nagging, name calling, unforgiveness, hyper control, withholding sex, over spending, lack of self-control, selfishness. All these things etch away at the circle of our marriages.   The best guardian of a marriage is a heart in transformation to the image of God and in submission to the Holy Spirit. A heart in process makes mistakes, asks forgiveness, and seeks to remedy the repetitive sin by trusting in God to empower and change the “thing” – whatever it might be. A heart in process is less abrasive, softer, leaving fewer permanent marks on our marriages. A heart in process forgives.

Perhaps that is an over-simplification of the complex problems that can arise in marriage. I have noticed, however, that most marriages are thinned slowly before some final clipping takes place. It takes a while to sever love. I am also reminded of the saying that comes from Song of Solomon: Beware the little foxes.

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God’s Word is Real and True

alice-in-wonderland-1498008_960_720I’m fascinated with Alice in Wonderland. Her journey has become a bit of an obsession. Animals talk in Wonderland. To exist there, Alice must believe it. She thinks she’s dreaming. If she believes it’s unreal, then their words are irrelevant. She will wander through Wonderland never understanding the plight of the citizens. Her identity will be unrealized, and her destiny will be unfulfilled.

The same can be said of us. If we don’t believe that God speaks to us in various ways, especially in Scripture, we won’t see the condition in the world around us, our true, God-shaped identity will never be realized, and the potential for a unique, God-glorifying destiny will fade away. We will wander, like exiles, in a foreign land with a false identity and a twisted sense of purpose—achieving fame, fortune, or significant world approval.

God spoke—from the very beginning. He spoke and the worlds were formed. There’s life-giving, creative, redemptive power in his words. After he created man, he continued to speak on late afternoons in the Garden. He then spoke judgment to Adam and Eve when they sinned. Then, he delivered hope when he promised someone would come to bruise the head of the serpent who had deceived and entrapped them.

He talked to Abraham, promising a family too large to number—even though he had no children at the time, and only one he ever saw. He declared truth to Moses through the law, and was heard rumbling from the mountain. He spoke to Moses face to face. He addressed people through the prophets, warning, promising, and painting pictures of future hope.

He described redemption through metaphor: perfect sacrifices, the tabernacle, the scape goat and the Manna, and the Passover. He explained his plan through perfect sacrifices and the Passover lamb whose blood was applied to the doorposts of their homes so death would pass by.

And then, he communicated perfectly and gloriously through Christ—the Word made Flesh, who dwelt among us. Jesus expressed only what his Father wanted, and he did only what his Father told him to do. He declared deliverance by faith, redemption through faith in his sacrifice, and a kingdom of heaven—unlike the one expected. He shouted the humility and love of God as he was incarnated and born in a stable and died on a cross—bringing redemption to all who believe.

The same love that motivated God to speak then, motivates his continued voice now. The Word of God was given because of love—because of a desire for us to realize the MORE that is found in Jesus Christ as Savior, Deliverer, Resurrection, and Life. He came and spoke to bring light and life to a fallen world.

The creative power and certainty of God’s word and decrees cannot be overestimated and is made clear from the first words in Genesis, “Let there be,” until the end of the Book of Revelation with its solemn warning against altering the words that have been written. Scripture works on our hearts supernaturally. “The word goes where it will and accomplishes whatever it was sent to accomplish.” (Isaiah 55)  The more we read or hear it, the more our faith grows. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” It works on our hearts supernaturally. It’s a fact.

Understanding that God has spoken and continues to speak to his people is central to Christian faith. Absolutely.

Believe: The word of God has real power because it is alive and supernatural. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Below is a link to a powerful song by Michael Card about how God spoke through Jesus.

Michael Card–Link to The Final Word

 

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