Starting the New Year

If working hard means getting a good start to the new year, then I think Doug and I have a lot to look forward to in 2019.

We took a working vacation over Christmas and the New Year, which meant we worked at home only, no outside appointments. We stayed up late, and slept as long as possible.

We also hosted an Open House for ministry volunteers, which was a lot of fun.

Doug did throw his back out after Christmas, but I knew it was coming. The week before he had been doing a lot of lifting and moving, and I kept hearing him say, “There’s something funny going on with my back.” I also caught a head cold, but if it stays in my head, it won’t be too bad.

It’s going to be interesting this year, because we are rolling into 2019 with so much already in place. Normally, we spend January seeking the Lord for His course of action, His plan for the ministry. Well, He set the course for us before 2018 ended; we just have to keep doing what we were doing. So, we have a running start. I like it!

You know, I was thinking about the highlights of 2018 the other day. Isaac, our grandson, was definitely a highlight. How God moved in my heart was a highlight. Doug and I arrived at a new place of goodness in our marriage this past year, and that was a highlight.* It was almost like we remembered we were friends. Maybe, working together frustrates friendship. I think it might. And, HopeMail has been a very big highlight, too. I love how that is coming along.

However, my greatest highlight of 2018 is something I wanted to do all year long. I actually did work on it throughout the year, but it wasn’t until just before Christmas that all the pieces fell into place. It may not seem like a big deal, and you will wonder why it took so long, but I managed to finally finish our spare room, making it a place where the grandbabies can hangout and Doug can play his piano.

And, when those two things come together, well, my heart is pretty full.

I am very thankful the Lord did not despair of me in 2018. His kindness overwhelms me. He does love us like a Father, and we know that because He doesn’t love us any less when we’re ornery. It’s almost like He loves us louder, to make sure that in our blindness we don’t lose our way.

* I would feel dishonest if I did not add that I’ve been repeatedly cranky with him the past couple weeks, which is disappointing for me. I’ve had to apologize a lot. I want to blame my thyroid, but I think it’s more likely just ugly sin.

When Mercy Seasons Justice

This monologue came to mind the other day.  I cannot get it out of my mind, so I decided to share it. The words are so beautiful.

In case you aren’t familiar with the scene, Portia has disguised herself as a lawyer, in order to advocate for her husband. She is speaking to Shylock, who is demanding a pound of flesh to repay his debt.

Of course, plays are meant to be heard, especially Shakespeare. I think Laura Carmichael does a lovely job.

Such good words to remember.

The quality of mercy is not strained

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

— Portia, in William ShakespeareThe Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1.

 

Six Months

In the winter of Hannah’s 5th grade year, a fellow PTA mom invited me to join a Bible study she attended. I agreed to join her. Our church did not have a women’s Bible study, and I knew my spiritual life was in rough shape. Plus, I felt ashamed to reject her invitation. The Bible study was only once a week, but it was one of the hardest commitments I ever made.

You see, each time I walked into that church, I felt as if I was walking through the hallway naked—heart, mind, and soul exposed. I cannot think of another time in my life I have ever felt so uncomfortable. You would think I’d have recognized this as the Holy Spirit’s conviction, an evidence of my sinful heart, but I was deeply deceived. I had fully given myself over to vain and selfish pursuits.


It started very sincerely. I had such good motives. We were living in a small town on the New England seacoast, and I loved it there. My little family had a very nice life. There were no private, Christian schools close by, so we enrolled Hannah in the public schools and I became a frequent volunteer.  As a stay-at-home mom, I had the time to give, so I gave many hours to the PTA. I worked hard and that dedication eventually made a place for me in the PTA Mom’s clique. That led to my being asked to become Co-President, and I was delighted. 

I rather enjoyed being a big fish in a little pond, and the little bit of power and influence I yielded felt like a well-deserved reward. I said it was all about the children—especially my own—but I was deceiving myself. The truth was, I was an embittered wife and the PTA was a way I could make things all about me.

While I worked so hard to improve the school for everyone else’s children, my own daughter was neglected. How many nights did I leave her and Doug at home, because I had an important meeting to attend? How many vacation days did Doug spend on PTA work days? I hate to think how much money and how many hours I spent. There was just enough “success” from one month to the next to keep me thinking it was all worth it.


Then, something happened. Something very unexpected.

It was in April of Hannah’s 5th-grade year. I was sitting in a circle with the other ladies in that Bible study, Bibles and folders on our lap, when the leader asked a question that hadn’t been in our study notes. She asked us to just say the first thing that came to mind, without analyzing the question or our answer.

Now, before I share her question, I want to ask you to do the same. Don’t think; don’t analyze. Just say the first thing that comes to mind.

Her question was:

“What would you do, if you knew for sure that Jesus Christ was coming (the Rapture of the church) in six months?”


Even today, seventeen-and-a-half years later, thinking about that moment makes me emotional. I remember it so clearly. This was my answer: 

“I would support my husband’s ministry.”

What? 

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing myself say. Didn’t I already support him? Hadn’t I encouraged him in everything he did for the Lord? It’s not as tough he was called to full-time ministry. How much support did he need?

I hate to say this, but I just didn’t get it. I prayed a prayer of some description before the Bible study finished, committing myself to at least meditating on what this meant, but my prayer was a lot of blah, blah, blah. I went home and went back to work, with the PTA still my priority.  In fact, our biggest events of the year were still coming up.

By June, the Bible study had ended for the summer, and Hannah would soon be promoted to the junior high. PTA elections were held, and I was asked to continue my work. The vote was unanimous, and I made sure there would be no more co- in my title. Why did we need two co-presidents, when I did all the work? Honestly, if I had asked to be called the Queen of the PTA, they would have probably agreed, because I had elevated the PTA. People kept telling me it had been the best year anyone could recall—the most events, the most funds raised, the most accomplishments. The Superintendent and School Board respected me. Teachers appreciated me. Principals feared me. Parents depended on me. 

And, then something happened. Something very unexpected.

I woke up on a lovely, warm and sunny day, and couldn’t speak. I could barely swallow. I went to bed perfectly well, there had been no signs of illness. Yet, I woke-up sicker than I could remember ever being. The doctor said it was an “extreme case” of strep throat. No one else in my circle had strep, or even knew someone with it. Nonetheless, there I was, sick as a dog. It was time for the final event of the year, an event I’d been planning for and looking forward to for over a year, the biggest production of the year, and something no one else had even done there: a Volunteer Appreciation Banquet. Everything was coming together beautifully. I’d made all of the thank you gifts. Food had been arranged. Beautiful invitations were designed by yours truly, and mailed in envelopes I’d addressed myself. The big event was just days away, but I was completely derailed.


I don’t know why*, but knew God had something to do with what was happening. For almost two weeks, I sat in bed silent. I couldn’t even whisper. I had to turn all the plans for my big event over to my co-president. She’d call with questions, and I’d write the answers down for Doug to tell her for me. I couldn’t believe what was happening. The grand finale of my year, and I wouldn’t even be able to attend. I wasn’t going to get my victory lap. 

But, during that silence, God finally got me to stop and listen. And, He spoke one simple thing to me.

“Come home.”


Despite my sinful heart, I did fear God. I knew not to disobey a direct order. The instruction was simple, but I knew what it meant.

Once my voice returned (almost the day after the banquet), I resigned from the PTA. I was actually very thankful to make my exit, and never missed it.

Homeschooling was also an very easy transition to make. We were committed to keeping Hannah connected to her school friends, and she seemed excited about the prospect of being an independent learner.

Supporting my husband’s ministry was the one thing I wasn’t sure how to do, but within a week’s time I would learn that the struggle he’d confessed after our tenth anniversary debacle had not been overcome. In fact, I began to see that Satan was aiming for his heart, trying to take away not just his victory, but his very life. My husband needed me, and I was going to begin learning how to pray for him and love him through the spiritual battle that was waiting right around the corner.

*Actually, I do know why, now that I have written this: it was the peace I felt about it all. I wasn’t angry or fretting. I was resigned in my heart. I knew I had brought this upon myself, because I had not been heeding the Holy Spirit all winter and spring, as He had tried to get me to see my sinfulness and selfishness. I was walking in rebellion, but His mercy stopped me in my tracks. Thank You, Jesus!