Life Ain’t Fair – Just Ask Mildred

 

We have chickens. My husband and daughter followed their hearts, and we ended up with a coop and poop and chickens.

Our dog, Barney, is a herder. Everyday when he is released to the wilds of our backyard, he sprints to the coop and circles it—not once, not twice, but dozens of times at break-neck speeds—creating chaos as he barks orders at the flock. There is a deepening moat where he runs circles ‘round the chickens. He has done a fantastic job of keeping the chickens herded together in their well-fenced cage.

thOne of the poor little chickens, Mildred, is being hen-pecked. I never knew what that meant until I saw it in real life. Two of the chickens pursue her relentlessly, pecking at her feathers and pulling them out. Her backside is almost bald. It’s mean stuff. She can’t get a break.

Being the merciful soul she is, my daughter pulled the tormented creature out of the coop, hoping she will heal. She’s allowed Mildred to run wild outside—pecking at bugs and fresh vegetation—a truly free-range bird. From her new position of favor, Mildred taunts the other chickens. I can almost hear her say as she struts back and forth in front of the coup. “Look at me. I’m getting fresh bugs. Ha. That was a juicy one. Look at me. Look at me.”

The others look on jealously.

This has been going on about a week. It’s been working well. Mildred gets to roam and the wicked chickens get to be envious.

Until the other day.

Leigh Ann opened the back door, and Barney, who is always searching for adventure, bolted into the yard and sprinted toward the free-range chicken. Immediately, Mildred was in jet-chicken mode.

The race was on. The chicken fled, the dog pursued, and Leigh Ann trailed after them both, yelling at Barney, “Stop! Leave it! Shoo!” The words fell on deaf ears. Barney was in the zone.

Mildred fled from Barney across the yard, flapping and clucking in terror. She flew up the back stairs squawking and praying as she went.

“Save me, Jesus, save me.”

Barney, on the other hand, was having the time of his life, finally getting to herd something that wasn’t already penned in. As the two animals dashed and darted across the yard, Barney’s nose remained inches away from her few remaining tail feathers. He had found his purpose in life.

As my daughter chased them, she tripped on the stairs while in pursuit and fell on her rump as she grabbed for the horrified bird. Off Mildred flew—Barney’s hot breath on her nearly bald backside. Undeterred by her fall, Leigh Ann got up and continued the chase—afraid for Mildred’s life. Mildred fled to a spot beneath our camper. She huddled briefly under the  wheel well, while Barney nipped and snarled at her—never actually biting—just scaring her cluckless.

Leigh Ann lunged again—Mildred darted back up the hill, wings flapping and lips screeching (Yes, chickens have lips.) Barney growled and chased, trying to herd her to who knows where. Flapping and clucking, she dashed to a covered area beside the back steps, and in utter defeat, cowered in the corner–head darting nervously about.

Whether it was fear or exhaustion, the bird finally allowed Leigh Ann to scoop her up and save her from the backyard beast. The race was over. Leigh Ann won. Mildred, poor bird, was safe. And Barney’s herding adventure was complete.

When Leigh Ann placed Mildred into her safe kennel away from her tormentors, the exhausted animal collapsed into a heap.

After a few minutes of recovery, long enough for her to get her breath, you could hear Mildred clucking to herself just within earshot of the other birds. “Man, I can never get a break. First I get my feathers plucked out day and night, then, just when I thought my luck was changing, and I was having a good ol’ time roaming in the yard, I got chased by that vicious monster that my masters call a pet. I swear, I almost had a heart attack. Life ain’t fair.”

The rest of the chickens just cackled.

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Made in the Image of God! Really? Me Too? Yep, You Too!

“And God said, let us make man in our image… according to Our likeness, and let them rule…and God made man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:26-27

What does it mean to be created in the image of God? I’ve often wondered that. It’s a fantastic thought, one that I often take for granted. In other words, I don’t think about it.baby-pointing-in-mirror

My children, in one way or another, are created in the image of their parents. Our DNA resides in every cell. Each has the basics—a head, shoulders, knees, and toes. Their hearts beat, their minds think, and their mouths taste and speak—like ours. Innate tendencies and personality traits are also there. My sons, like their father, gently rock their heads back and forth when they have indigestion, gently working up the “bubble” in their belly. My daughter is musical and artistic, like me, but she resembles her father’s side of the family. Similarly, there is something of God’s DNA in each of us—even if we aren’t born again. We are, after all, created in the image of God.

In these verses in Genesis, we see that man was made to rule over the beasts of the earth, so man was given a measure of power over the created universe. In Genesis we witness Adam and Eve walking in the Garden with God and perceive that man was designed for fellowship with God. We watch Adam’s creativity in naming beasts and his joy over God, his wife, and his work and conclude that those things must reflect God’s image in some way. But with the fall, harmony with God and His world became dissonant—like the screech of fingernails on a blackboard. I have heard the expression “shattered image” to describe the current state of humanity. Pieces are there, but the likeness is no longer whole. Some of the image is missing altogether. We no longer see clearly, hear distinctly, or think rightly.

I’ve tried to look at myself in a broken mirror before; it’s like an abstract painting. Everything is displaced. I might be able to comprehend myself in one piece or another—but it’s odd. The eye is separated dramatically from the nose, and the hair looks pieced together—angled this way and that.

Still, I am, even in my fallen condition, a work of wonder: created with a spirit that has the capacity to commune with God and is created with the knowledge of good (and now also evil). Like God, I have imagination and creativity, volition and emotion. I have within this God-made soul the power to forgive and to love. Unlike common animals, I have the power for deep reasoning and logic. I have sentience and an awareness of others’ worth and value.

Man is a remarkable creature. Composers, writers, and artists create—like their creator—and their works explode into our world—often bringing deep insight. I’ve cried with thanksgiving as a stringed quartet gave an exquisite performance. When I stand before an Old Master’s painting or one of the dappled works of the Impressionists, I appreciate the skill; I paint, too. They wield their brushes and paints in ways I can’t. I’m moved by the proficiency required to paint the details in lace gloves or to create a boat or ocean out of daubs of multi-colored paint. Skills and creativity like that cause me me worship the God who created the artist.

In other fields, men and women take possession of, or conquer, parts of previously unknown “universes.” For instance: computer technology (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates), physics (Marie and Pierre Curie), or aeronautics (Wernher von Braun). I think of Mother Teresa and her compassion and service to the poorest of the poor. The DNA of Christ incarnated into our world through her gentle acts of mercy. Then there are men like Martin Luther King who had a dream for what man could be, and he called us to see more clearly the value of all humanity.

Man is the apex of creation: Psalm 8:3-6 says,

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” (NASB)

We are made a little lower than God. Still, most of us don’t comprehend our value or worth.

I don’t know about you, but I have gotten angry (sometimes livid) over how God made me. “Couldn’t you have made me a little more… or a little less…?” I complain to my Maker. Teaching me to love myself rightly has been a lengthy proposition for God and a difficult one for me to learn. I haven’t mastered it yet.

One day several years ago, I was meditating on how God created me—my gifts, my callings, and my limitations. I loathed parts of me. I heard God speak gently to me. (Not audibly—but to my heart.)

“Stand in front of your mirror. Look at yourself. You often worship Me when you stand before My creation.” (I sensed God’s pleasure over that and recalled a sunset at Rocky Mountain National Park. The evergreens reflected orange.The sky and mountains were ablaze with color, and the air was cool and clear. I began to clap and applaud Him for the glory of that moment.) “You joyfully lift your hands and give thanks for mountains, oceans, and sunsets. You are also my creation and are far superior to all of these. You are created in MY image. I want you to lift your hands right now and worship Me for who you are and how I’ve made you. I want you to be amazed and stand in awe of My creation.”

I was taken by surprise. I began to cry with wonder. But I did what He said. I raised my hands in worship as I looked in the mirror. I didn’t raise them to myself—but to my God for making the incredible person who stood before me—a wonky little, slightly over-weight, gray-haired woman with quirky, but loving ways, bad eyesight, but clear vision, and emotional scars that are slowly being healed by the love of my Pa Pa and His Son. I am His creation, and He is worthy of praise for making me—for making you. To do less than worship would be an offense to the Almighty.

I am more than a mountain—I’m an eternal soul. I’m made in His image. For His glory. I am a deeply loved wonder in the world.

So are you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Is There No Balm in Gilead?

jesus-with-2-childrenIs There No Balm in Gilead?

I wrote this in January of 2015 but didn’t post it. Many things have changed since then. My mother died in early March of that year, not long after writing it. There has been a divisive political war and an election, with fury raging and frustrations escalating on both sides. Isis has risen and grown. Islamic fundamentalist terrorists have made multiple attacks on the world, and seem to have become bolder. The tide of persecuted, starving, and displaced people groups has become a flood. Racial tensions have escalated. Police are gunned down in the streets. It’s a mad, mad, mad world.

One thing that remains the same, however, is our need for hope.

*********

It hasn’t taken much to drive me to despair these days. I look out and everywhere there is violence and vileness, confusion and disorder.

Politicians and world leaders try to solve heart-deep, age-old problems like greed and sin, hatred and un-forgiveness. Name a country, state or city, and I’ll show you an infestation of complex, human, soul-disease—unsolvable by laws, or natural wisdom and power.

Wars and rumors of wars. Human trafficking. Pestilence. Marriages tearing apart. Street violence. Poverty. Unimaginable evils done behind locked doors. Intentional evil. It’s too much for me, and it’s easy to move toward despair.

And if the world isn’t enough to send my soul crashing on the rocks, my own sense of failure and weakness overwhelm me. It wasn’t long ago that I said to myself more than once, “There is no hope,” when thinking about my own emotional life. Despair has been a faithful (but unwelcome) companion lately.

Is There No Balm in Gilead?

I fled my home on the day of this writing to get away with a book, my bible, my computer and my journal. I needed to reorient my heart toward truth. Sometimes a new location helps.

I was led to scripture that encouraged me—Jeremiah of all places.

The prophet is in deep despair over the condition of his people. He cries out with deep emotion, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?”

The assumption is that there IS a balm—a cure—a physician, but the cure hasn’t taken place, and the prophet is confused. Why isn’t it working? After all, Gilead dealt in balm; they were known for it. Israel had a faithful God; why weren’t things different?

We recently celebrated Christmas—the first advent of Christ. The angels declared in the heavens and on earth, peace on earth good will to men. “But there is no peace,” we mumble in protest.

Is there no balm in Gilead?

The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like yeast, which can cause a whole batch of flour to rise, becoming bread. It’s like a mustard seed that becomes a tree. Kingdom work seems slow—so, so slow.

Jesus came with transformational power—a power to change human hearts. But often it’s so gradual that we sometimes wonder if it’s taking place at all. And not everyone opts in. Those who believe and are being transformed are his. Those are the ones who are part of an invisible kingdom. For now, we can’t even tell who belongs and who doesn’t. We can guess, but no human has the capacity to judge the human heart, nor does he have the authority. And all of us get it wrong when we try.

As believers, we are so divided by theology and the color of carpet, that it’s hard to believe we are part of the same family. Is it any wonder that we, as well as the world, doubt the reality of yeast or mustard seed?

Is there no balm in Gilead?

And then there’s me! I long for courage, power, renewed faith and strength to muddle through the black tar of life—a mother with Alzheimer’s, family problems, and flagging hope. Then there are the challenges of being a member of fallen humanity AND a child of God at the same time. I feel ill equipped for it all.

Is there no balm in Gilead?

The answer, of course, is YES!

Yes, beloved, (I say it to you and myself), “There is a balm in Gilead.” He alone is the hope of the nations and of our today-heart. Unbelievers will mock. Evil will deride. The spirit of anti-Christ will rise, oppose and seek to kill. Even our hearts may feel beyond hope from time to time, but there is a physician here doing heart surgery every day of our broken lives.

Yes there is a balm. Lying deep within the souls of every man and woman is the only place eternal peace and hope for the earth can become a reality—the transformed human heart. The heart that knows God through Christ.

The cure isn’t human wisdom, might or wealth. It’s not politics or combat.

The Lord replies to Jeremiah’s cries of despair “Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom. Don’t let heroes brag about their exploits. Don’t let the rich brag of their riches. If you brag, brag of this and this only: That you understand and know me. I’m God, and I act in loyal love. I do what’s right and set things right and fair, and delight in those who do the same things. These are my trademarks.” (The Message, my underlining.) Jeremiah 8

God allowed Israel to be carried away because of evil and idolatry. Jeremiah was in despair over the people. God promised hope would come when Messiah arrived. The hope he brought, however, wasn’t a political kingdom. It was a kingdom of changed hearts—hearts that are transformed by knowing HIM. It’s a supernatural force that changes greed to generosity, judgment to grace, hatred to forgiveness, anger to peace, fear to love, and vileness to holiness. It is a transformation that opposes darkness and hatred with light and love. But no human law or decree will bring this healing. And it will not be fully completed until he comes again. For now, we only know in part. Then we will see face to face. (I Cor. 13:12)

When he comes again, we will see God’s law, God’s decree, and God’s eternal, loving, holy presence in our every-day reality. And every knee will bow. Hearts will understand. Those who are His will be like him—not in power or omniscience, but in love, peace, and truth—because we will see Him as he truly is. (I John 3:2)

Restoration will be completed. The balm will be on us to soothe and heal what remained broken.

Hallelujah! There is a balm in Gilead!

 

There is a balm in Gilead, To make the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead, To heal the sin-sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,

And think my work’s in vain,

But then the Holy Spirit

Revives my hope again.

Beautiful rendition of “There is a Balm in Gilead”

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Where are the Tissues? Here’s the Box.

 

sorry_crying_cartoon1I went to my writers’ group this week. I had nothing to share…my writing has been methodic, dry, dull, and shapeless. When I told them how I felt, they said to write about it. So I am.

I prefer being inspired—finding nuggets of truth and beauty and commenting on them. But lately, I’ve seen too much of the dark side of life. Some of it is too dark to describe in detail at this time of year.  (I’m supposed to be cheerful, right?) The darkness is what Christ came for: Death. Abuse. Murder. Poverty. Sickness. Despair. Family brokenness. Oppressive sexual evil. Racial enmity. Then there’s the human slaughter in Aleppo and the great divide in our nation.

What do you do with all that pain, hatred and evil?

None of us want to be zombies, moving through life in denial, numbing our pain through drink, drugs, or detachment. But holding onto the pain isn’t an answer either. My shoulders aren’t wide enough. My pockets aren’t deep enough. My love isn’t sturdy enough to carry the pain of this fallen world and its people. I feel things too deeply; it’s hard to handle what I do see.

So I have chosen to compartmentalize my pain. I put it in a box.

It’s a way of handling life, and perhaps its’ an unhealthy way. I’m not really sure, but I do it knowingly, anyway. I consider an issue—something causing me pain or anger—and I let myself feel the emotion. The loss. The evil. Then I pray about it. Fight for it—or against it, often crying as I do. As I do this, I spiritually wrap up the unfixable, the un-healable, the unredeemable, and then I give the whole box of horrors to God.

Normally, that’s what I do.

But I’ve let the box stay in my hands too long. I’ve opened the edge of the box. Repeatedly. I’ve worried over the contents and slammed the box shut, but I haven’t prayed much about the things I see.

Normally, after I’ve prayed about the darkness in the box, I begin to exalt the name of Jesus, concentrating on His attributes. I praise the Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then I do “the handoff.” I give the box away to God, visualizing it as I do.  I give it to the ONE with the big shoulders and the sturdy heart. I bow my soul, acknowledging both my helplessness and His hope.

But lately I’ve been lazy. Sluggish. A little afraid to open the box all the way and let myself truly see the mess. I don’t want to groan and weep—or permit myself to have an ugly weep-a-thon. I’m fearful I won’t recover from the looking and the praying.

I ran into a friend in Wal-Mart this afternoon, whose daughter is in rehab. Because of this, she is taking care of her grandchild. It’s Christmas. She’s divorced and alone. She struggled not to cry as she told me. I did too.

A member of my writing group lost two loved ones this year: her father and her best friend. She feels it deeply as she’s left with caring for a moody, mean, miserable mother. An old school buddy lost her husband in December last year, and her relationship with her only child is strained. There’s pain. Longing. Loneliness. A daughter is sick. A son is in jail. A family is jobless. A marriage is disintegrating.

I could go on—but I won’t.  If you’ve been spared, hold on. If you’re in the midst of it, hold on. If you feel hell’s icy breath on your neck, hold on.

I looked up “hold on” and “stand fast” and was led to the book of Philippians. The church in Philippi was a suffering church. Paul writes to encourage them. He’s trying to equip them for their struggles: Roman persecution, the martyrdom of family members, theft of goods, cruelty, public prostitution, and idol worship.

In the midst of these horrible things, what did Paul tell them to do? Rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.  Philippians 4:4-8

 So, perhaps I am handling the pain correctly when I pass it on to God. Maybe thinking about honorable, pure, lovely, and right things is wiser than dwelling on the evil. Maybe prayer, with worship tagged onto the end, is the highest form of admitting our pain and inadequacies while demonstrating our faith and hope. Prayer and thanksgiving won’t make me a zombie—in fact it might prevent spiritual decay.

Giving the box to God is the only solution for most of the issues I see, as I have no power to heal or save. This writers’ group assignment has been helpful. I’ve written something. That was my goal, and that’s good. Maybe it’s not great writing—but it’s honest, and that’s good.

I’ve also been reminded that beneath the suffering there is an everlasting God who longs to reconnect with me as the Box Bearer. He’s the hope of salvation and redemption for all the ugly-mean-nasty junk in the box.

And that’s very, very good.

So, I’m going to finish this night with a good, wet, cry and some intense prayer and worship.

Where are my tissues?

Here’s the box.

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Periodic Peanut Butter-Pauses

Have you seen the video of the little girl painting her little brother with peanut butter? The mother’s reaction is nothing short of miraculous. Not only does she avoid throwing a fit, she even calls her daughter an artist. Seriously? I would have wandered into that nightmare and begun to screech, “What are you doing? You can’t do this! What’s wrong with you? Have you lost your mind?” I might have sunk lower.

This woman had time to pause and get her phone or camera to record the fiasco. She knew others would see her response—perhaps millions. She had time to step back and think.

If I could learn to create a phone-, camera-, or peanut butter-pause before opening my lips, it would be a better world—especially if my pause involved prayer and faith. It would help, too, if I remembered that I had an audience: God and the one receiving the bad reaction.

This is an offering of grace and kindness I can give to others. The pause. The prayer. The deep breath. It’s acknowledging I’m not alone, that God can and will help me, and that what I say impacts others—sometimes profoundly.

As a young mother I often reacted to a “peanut butter baby” in anger, sometimes rage. As I matured, I learned there were some things I couldn’t control: my children’s behavior behind my back—or even in front of me for that matter, their reactions to my words or my discipline, others’ responses in general, and events and circumstances that came our way. I could, however, look to God to create a godly response in me.

So, when rage coils like a serpent in my heart, I can take a breath. Pause. Halt and…

Remember I have an audience of God and at least one other living soul.

Recall that my response matters to the Kingdom of God and to the person against whom I am about to sin. It impacts them more deeply than I can comprehend.

Meditate on the thought, God has promised that “no temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Cor. 10:13) ESV

Claim the promise that he is able to work within me according to the power that works in my life—like help me be kind and full of mercy when I want to be cruel. He can give me a grace-response when I prepare to bite and insert poison.

I need periodic peanut butter-pauses. Changes in response require the supernatural presence of God and grace. I need a pause to let grace happen. In light of Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,” I have great hope.

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Who’s in Control, Anyway?

We recently decided to be more faithful in leash training our mischievous dog, Barney.

The decision was reached the day after my daughter made several trips through the house furiously chasing him. “You come back here right now. Drop it! Now! Drop it, I say.” He ignored her and pranced from room to room with her partially chewed slippers in his mouth, glancing behind him occasionally, then sprinting ahead. Round and round they went. I tried to be serious, but I couldn’t help myself. I heehawed as he ran circles around her.

The next morning my shoes were chewed.

“That’s it! No more! We are not being fair to this dog or ourselves.” He wants to please, and we want him to. We need a plan.” So we devised one.

These are our rules: If he is in the house, he is on a leash and someone is in charge. If he does something wrong while you are in charge of the leash (like abridge a bible), you have to do a 20-minute chore for each household member AND do restitution for whatever happened under your watch. (My husband has had to wash a whole bunch of bath mats and the bedspread several times.)

One morning after beginning the training, we woke up and had coffee together in the living room. Barney was released from Sing Sing (his kennel). We casually passed him off to one another as he greeted us and said “good morning” with his tail and a full-body wag.

He whined to see Papa, that’s my husband, and my daughter released him. “Here comes Barney, Daddy.” Barney was properly greeted and loved on. Then he whined to see Momma Nim, that’s me. “Here he comes,” Raymond released the leash, and he traveled to me—leash trailing behind him. After a good love-in, he decided to go to the kitchen where Papa was cooking bacon. I released the leash and yelled, “Heads up, Raymond, here he comes.”

Barney with leashBarney promptly grabbed the end of his leash—secured it with a wad of strapping in his mouth, pranced into the kitchen, right past my husband and into the bedroom where he jumped on the bed.

He was now in charge of himself. He had the leash and that settled that. He likes to be in charge of himself. So do I.

It’s a constant battle to recognize that someone else—like my Heavenly Father—may have a better idea about how to do MY life than I do. My stubbornness isn’t usually intentional; it happens when I trust in my strength to do something. I move without consulting and wreak havoc or simply waste time while running in circles with a wad of leash in my mouth.

The reality is that I should be desperately seeking God’s presence and his will for every event—small and large.

His word says, “I am continually with Thee; Thou has taken hold of my right hand. With Thy counsel Thou wilt guide me and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalm 73:23-24.)

Ah yes, this is why I don’t want control. With Christ there is no leash. It is a journey birthed in relationship. I am with him continually; he has my right hand, and he will guide me. There is no one better to be managing my life than my faithful Father.

I just hope I can remember that the next time I am tempted to put myself in charge and grab the “leash” of control.

 

 

 

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Whatever is Lovely

I’ve been looking back on my life and remembering the people and the stories that have made it what it is.

Too often I get caught up in the negative harsh things. They loom large and dark with sharp beaks and harsh squawks. But if I were completely honest, much (maybe even most) of my life has been filled with small, gentle, holy things. The ugly ones scream and gnaw and fill me with bitterness. The others pass by quietly—unless I pay attention.

Remembering through stories sanctifies (sets apart for good) the characters and their moments and helps us see how they impacted our lives. Stories hold these moments up to the light to be seen and cherished—or perhaps just understood in the brilliance of forgiving grace.

Stories reveal our hearts, too. When do we weep or laugh? Why do we grieve or get angry? What causes us to sigh with longing? Each emotional response to a story informs us about ourselves.

Small things; big impact

Small beautiful acts of kindness make huge impact on our lives.

The majority of life is full of every-day-kind-of-stories—mostly unmemorable. Those every-day things mount up, surround us and empower or disable us: words (lovely and cruel), sin (against ourselves and others), and of course grace, love, and forgiveness (that we give, withhold, or receive).

There can be splendor in simple stories. An exhausted father rocks a sick child during the night, so a frazzled mother can sleep. A grandmother plays Go Fishing with a grandson—as if it’s the most important thing she will do all day—and it might be. Daughters, sons, grandsons and granddaughters care for aging parents. These are glorious overlooked moments when divine mercy intersects with broken humanity. They are moments when we sacrificially give—even if our giving is laced with sin.

Stories also reveal our fallen state. All truly great tales have conflict with the darkness: external and internal. Stories mimic life. People are a mixture of glory and sin—and stories are filled with people—therefore conflict. Made in the image of God, mankind experiences its most splendid moments as we bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. However, our fallen state makes such steady glory impossible. We find hate, despair, cruelty, unfaithfulness, and unfettered sin of all kind mingled into our lives—even as we try to do right things.

But I don’t want to remember life as bitter. I want to see and appreciate the small holy things in the tiny stories, and I have thousands of such stories.

My husband rises and cooks us breakfast—most days. My oldest son insists on paying for gutter cleaning, so my husband won’t climb the ladder and get injured. My daughter helps me put mulch in the yard and plants flowers on my behalf; yesterday she made muffins. My youngest son is helping me put in a bathroom and kitchenette downstairs. I loaded groceries for a young mother with a baby girl papoosed to her chest. She also had five boisterous sons under ten in tow—all acting like puppies in play.

Can I write a compelling novel from these stories? Probably not. Still, those are the stories that transform our lives. It isn’t the trip to Germany that’s so important to remember; it’s the people who love you and pick you up from the airport with flowers in hand.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8-9; The Message)

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