Sunday, September 17, 2017


     It is September, and the last few mornings have been cool and mood-lifting, promising the turning of the season and the pecan harvest which often begins later this month.  When the new pecans come on the market, I'm ready to do some baking and candy-making. Fresh pecans just beg to be made into pralines.
     I have a good friend who is a deacon  in his church and loves a tasty praline. He's from the deep South and pronounces the word "praw-lean". I would like to assert, however, that the correct pronunciation is "pray lean". Here is why.
     Pralines are a heavenly concoction of sugar, buttermilk, pecans, and butter that, if prepared correctly, result in an irresistible crunchy caramel confection which, at the same time, retains a creamy, melt-in-your mouth texture.  Sometimes, when I make them, the candy turns out too crunchy and sets up hard, crystallizing on the wax paper. At other times it stays gummy and never quite hardens up, needing to be scraped off of the wax paper with a spatula, resulting in chewy, teeth – locking balls. The outcome depends on the humidity, my timing in taking the boiling pot off the stove, the beating, and then holding  my mouth just so. When all the variables fall into place in my favor, my friend the deacon calls the resulting pralines "sheer perfection".
     Now, back to the reason I think the correct pronunciation should be "pray lean". Every time I make pralines--which isn't very often because the ingredients are expensive and the process tedious--, I pray a little and then lean on the hope that they will turn out perfectly and that I will not have wasted my ingredients on a crumbling mess or a sticky disaster. I think that's probably the attitude that we should have when we pray,  and a praline may remind us of it. Pray, and then lean.
1. Pray
    God tells us to pray. Plain and simple.
"6 Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:6-7 ESV

2. Lean
 Once we have prayed, we may depend on God, confident in the peace that He promises.  
 Like leaning against a wall and knowing it will support our weight, we  may lean on him. When we draw nearer to him, he comes closer to us.  He's not going to step aside and let us fall when we lean.
"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." James 4:8 ESV
 An additional benefit of leaning toward God is learning  that we may depend on him for emotional support as well and talk to Him Assured that he empathizes with us.

" 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:14-16NIV

Whether we are anxious, sad, or joyful, we know that he's listening and that he hears us. 

"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us."
I John 5:14 NIV

How much clearer could our instructions be? God tells us to pray, says that he hears us, and assures us that he understands our needs. That's a pretty simple recipe, and our success doesn't depend on the relative humidity, the amount of money we spend, or  the posture we take. We may lean on Jesus and his work on the cross, depending on the hope we have in him. Just follow the recipe:  Pray. Lean. (And, remember to say "pray-lean" every time you eat one my southern favorites--the praline!) 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Songs in the Night: Only the Twenty-third Psalm

Songs in the Night: Only the Twenty-third Psalm

#36: Only the Twenty-third Psalm

     Because I have low vision due to  retinitis pigmentosa, I often need a little help, especially when I am in dark or unfamiliar places. In those situations  I use an assistance cane or hold on to the arm of my companion.  I keep a white cane in the coat closet at home, where I may grab it quickly if I need to go out at night,  and a collapsing one in my purse for when I travel. I nearly always carry a small flashlight as well. Nonetheless, there are times when I find myself in a difficult spot without my cane, a companion, or a flashlight, and I often suffer the consequences.
     Oh, the repercussions of walking blindly! Recently, during a rehearsal for a Fourth of July event at which I sang, I needed to walk quickly across the back of the stage area in the dark.   Neglecting to use my cane OR a flashlight, I failed to notice a step, caught my foot, and fell forward headlong, banging my knees and wrenching my back. A kind woman sitting in the back row saw me fall, helped me to my feet, and, sure-footed, with soothing words and strong hands,  guided me in the dark down several steps all the way to my seat where I sank back in relief, trembling and aching. I didn't know until after the rehearsal that it was a dear friend whom I know well that had helped me. I could not see her in that dark place.
     Something else that I know well is Psalm 23. As I saw it in my reading selection this morning, I almost  skipped over it, taking such a familiar Psalm for granted. But, I have been wrong in such an action before, and God has surprised me with unexpected joys in familiar places. In today's reading words and phrases grabbed me and begged deeper attention.  The text, as presented in the English Standard Version of the Bible, spurred me to think more about my painful Independence Day event.
     "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters." The literal meaning of this last phrase is "beside waters of rest". 
It brings to mind relaxing on a beach or going to a spa. But, for the present, I think only about the warm, soaking Epsom salt baths that soothe my aching back since I fell. I focus on just the literal meaning of David's words.  This fact reminds me that we are less likely to have deep spiritual insights when we are in the midst of physical pain or need, and I need those "waters of rest."
    "He restores my soul." " Restores"  is an ongoing, present tense, continuous action verb. That means that my soul must need restoring on a regular basis. I'm glad that God doesn't neglect to care for me and that He is ready to restore me every day.
    "He leads me in paths of righteousness (the right paths) for his name's sake." If I will let Him, He will LEAD me in the right path. He will show me the way to go. And, He does it for the sake of His Name--to show that He is Who He says He is.
    Our Lord's character is revealed in his names. His name in this chapter is "Jehovah ROHI", meaning "our shepherd" who tenderly leads us, loves us, and will keep us safe. I am thankful that He leads me even when I don't see where I am going. He leads me even when I don't see  or recognize His face in the dark, just as I did not recognize my friend the night that I fell or realize that she was watching.
    But, He is not only my shepherd; He is also all the other names of God that are revealed in the Bible. Today I  think particularly of "Jehovah Shammah", the "One who is with us everywhere for He is omnipresent" (Ezekiel 48:35) , and "Jehovah Rapha", "the Lord your Physician, the Lord your Healer",  the name God spoke about Himself (Exodus 15:26). (A more extensive list of the names of God and their meanings is found here:
     Another revelation today in Psalm 23 comes from verse 4. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" actually means "Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness"! I have learned that particular scripture as a help for someone who is facing a severe illness, death, or grief. However, today I find that it applies to my own situation every day. 
     The sentence does not end there. "Even though I walk through the valley of deep darkness, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."  How remarkable it is in our digital age to be able to have a question about the wording of a scripture and then have it answered almost instantly by looking it up on a smart phone or iPad and reading multiple commentaries' insights. By consulting these resources, I find that "rod" and "staff" are not interchangeable. From a shepherd's viewpoint, a rod is more of a club or stick with a rounded knob on the end that serves as an extension of the shepherd's arm and may be used as a weapon or as a symbol of strength and power. The staff might be shaped like a crook or hook and is used to draw or guide a sheep to himself or the other sheep, to lift it up off of a dangerous precipice or out of a tangle of thorns, or to direct it to a better place.
     We, as the sheep that we are, need God to be more than merely present in our valleys of darkness. We necessarily need Him to use His rod AND His staff--the rod to remind us of His power and authority so that we might trust Him, and His staff to guide us, to protect us, to pick us up out of dangerous places, to put us back with other sheep, and to draw us nearer to Himself. 
      I may carry a white cane as a necessary assistance device, but the Lord's tools --His rod and His staff--are much more useful and more powerful. They give me a quiet assurance and confident comfort as I travel "the valleys of deep darkness" on my own journey. I am grateful for his rod and his staff.
      I'm also thankful for the second-cup time God gave me today.  (I have written about the "second cup" in earlier blog entries.) To think that I thought it was "only the 23rd Psalm" in my Bible reading today and almost skimmed it!
      Finally, I am grateful for the hand of my friend Carolyn who reached out and helped me in the darkness when I fell. God is a friend like that. I know it not only because He has said it, but also because He has proven it, both in the light of day and in the darkest hours of my life's journey. He was the One who would never leave me or forsake me after my husband left. He was the peace that passes understanding when my son took his own life. 

     "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV

     "Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. " Micah 7:8 NIV

     In the midst of writing this blog entry six weeks ago, we were rocked by the news that a dear friend of our family had taken his own life. We are still mourning his death and aching for his grieving family members. He had to have been in a "valley of deep darkness" at the time. His passing stilled my hand from publishing this blog post until today. I pray that the 23rd Psalm will be a comfort for his friends and family who remain.

Friday, September 1, 2017

#35: To be Faithful, Not Faithless

      I am not a consistent blogger; neither do I regularly write in my journals. I hope that, if my children or loved ones ever read my journals, they will realize that I often write when I am upset--as an outlet for my emotions.  When I go months, or even years, without writing, I may be okay or just interested in something else.  Or, I may be feeling despondent, defeated, and depressed--unable to do it. For those of you reading this blog, I do a lot of writing that  I don't care to share with anyone and which never makes it to this page. As much as I try to live a life of transparency, I am not always able to lay it all out here in the open.
     However, I am trying to be more consistent with my morning quiet time--when I get my cup of tea, sit in my chair, read my Bible, and then write in my prayer journal. Some days I just can't do it. Other days I spend a couple of hours there. I journal, I blog, and I even do some work on a book.  If I do other things before settling down in my chair, I often become consumed by those things--tasks, bills, pet-feeding, weed-pulling, cooking, laundry, etc.
     Today, I want to share something that struck me recently when I was reading James. It has taken me a couple of weeks to be able to clear out the fog in my brain enough to publish this, but no writing, however well-thought out, is perfect. And, God is able to use our imperfections to accomplish His purposes.  So, I'm trusting Him with that.

"For the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. " James 2:26 ESV

        Conversely, in order for a body to be living, it must have a spirit. And, in order for faith to be alive, it must have works. I'm thinking about how "works" might be manifested in my own life. How am I living out my faith in my actions? Perhaps going ahead and publishing this blog today is a work of faith.
      Examples of "works" in this chapter in James include giving a brother or a sister food and clothing (verses 14-16).  Although I have participated in that activity, and I see many people giving of their time, talents, labor, and fortunes in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and its destruction, I am not satisfied with giving being  the only evidence of a living faith.
     The next verse follows this example by saying, "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:17 ) Certainly, I don't want to have dead faith!
      What comes next in verses 18-23 is a description of Abraham being justified by his works because he "offered up his son Isaac on the altar" and showed "that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works." Furthermore, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness – – and he was called a friend of God." James 2:23 ESV  What,  exactly, Abraham  believed is explained in Hebrews 11, the book that comes just before James in the New Testament.  It tells us that "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (v. 1) I don't know that I could have exhibited the sort of faith that Abraham had  as evidenced by the actions that he took.
     Continuing in Hebrew 11, "by faith  we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen is not made out of things that are visible." (v. 2)  This concept is huge and unfathomable  to me. Our current physicists believe that there was a "big bang"  that started the universe. All I know is that God did it. The first verse of Genesis tells me that He did. Hebrews 11:3 tells me that He did.  I have faith that God did it, but I don't know how, and I'm not sure how that faith can be demonstrated in my works, except to continue to take God at His word and believe it.
      Further down in Chapter 11 we read, " without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. " (v. 6)
      I seek him by sitting down in the morning in my quiet-time chair, opening my Bible, and  reading his word. By doing so I am participating in a work – – opening the Bible because I believe God inspired it, reading it because I believe that he has something to say to me today, and meditating on what I read so that I may draw near to him and show him that I am seeking him. These are works that demonstrate my faith,
      Verse eight tells us " by faith Abraham obeyed"..." When he was called to go out"..." Not knowing." " By faith he went to live…" " By  faith Abraham… offered up Isaac" (v. 17) because " he considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead ." (v. 19)  Abraham's faith in God was demonstrated in his obedience to God's direction, even when he didn't understand how God's promises could be fulfilled if Isaac died.  He just trusted God and believed that God would keep his word, would fulfill his promises, and would do so in his own way. Perhaps I may be able to relate to Abraham's faith in action.
      When I'm reading God's word, I find guidance for life, sometimes in the form of instructions that make no sense to me, directions that are beyond my ability to understand. If I obey, if I believe even without understanding, if I act on that belief because I am trusting my Lord to work it out, that also is a work. However, reading  it and not believing it enough to act on what God says is an example of "faith without works".
      James 1:22 directs, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."  I am deceiving myself if I act on my own understanding and don't take God's directions to heart. Although I say I have faith, I am not demonstrating it by obedience. This is another example of faith without works.
      As a believer in my early thirties,  I was in a bad marriage and trying to endure it. On the one hand I believed God when he said divorce is wrong and that he hates it. (Malachi 2:16)  But, on the other,  I had needs that were not being met. I was committed to staying married but vulnerable to temptation. The result was that I justified my own sin  while obeying part of God's word and denying other parts. The consequences of my decisions have been ongoing, and I mull over those today on the day of my wedding anniversary of my first marriage.
      It has been twenty-seven years since  that fifteen-year marriage ended, and I still see the repercussions of those decisions being played out in my own life and in the lives of my children. God knew what would happen if I was a hearer of the word and not a doer. He knew what would happen if I picked out only the parts of his word palatable to me, cherry-picking the fruit that was compatible with my tastes and preferences.
      I can visualize Him now, my loving Father, shaking his head and grieving over me and with me, weeping as I weep, yet singing over me, soothing me with his voice of encouragement.
     He  knows I still seek him. He has guided me these twenty-seven years, healed me and shown me his unfailing love, and given me a life more beautiful than I could have ever imagined when I was trying to solve my problems in my own way, with my own understanding.
      I considered suicide twenty-eight years ago when my husband left me. I went into therapy and was hospitalized for treatment of depression. My therapist was a Godsend, and the hospitalization a much needed respite. God was Jehovah-Rophe to me, my healer. He continues to be who he says he is today.
      "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing." Zephaniah 3:17 ESV

     I hope by now that my faith is evident in my works, especially in believing God regardless of what He does or doesn't do, regardless of my limited human understanding, regardless of whether I get my way or not, regardless of whether his word agrees with my current opinion or not, REGARDLESS.