Archive for December, 2016

My man and me

Thirty-eight years tomorrow.

The organist played the wedding march and I stood next to my Daddy in the foyer with my heart pounding like clapping thunder in my chest and wearing an ever so slightly off-white, nothing special wedding dress so as not to be a total fraud. We’d rented the dress for $65 and it never even occurred to me to mind. I come from very modest means and there was no world in which I expected my parents to spend several hundred dollars on a dress. They didn’t have it. And, except for the monthly stresses of bill paying in our home and overhearing my mom on the phone with bankers about overdrafts and loans and mortgages, we didn’t care that we made it by the skin of our teeth. It was normal to us and, for that matter, normal to most of the people we knew.

The congregation of about 200 came to its loud feet with the prelude and almost that many faces looked straight back at me and Daddy. My eyes darted up the middle aisle of that small Baptist church, shifting back and forth from smiling face to smiling face, many very familiar to me despite having been there a few short years. I served wherever I churched because that’s what I was raised to do. Never considered not. That day at Spring Woods Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, my wide-eyed gaze also fell on a few faces of those who filled the front aisles. Family members. And, trust me when I tell you, they weren’t smiling. Every year around our anniversary, Keith and I recount the whole ignominious scene with one another and mock the family scowls and laugh until our sides split. Nothing could have been less humorous on that particular day but the thought that we spited all of them by making it this long brings Keith and me no small glee. We were both in long term stable relationships when we met. I was engaged. He was soon to be. Each of our families loved our significant others. And, in a way I won’t go into trying to explain, so did we.

I’m not sure Keith and I ourselves completely understand why we dropped everything dependable and remotely stable in our lives and flew headlong into one another with all the tranquility of a pair of cymbals. The best explanation is that clamor attracts clamor and baggage attracts baggage and, boy, did we each have some. And then there was just pure chemistry. Had we been married to other people when we met, God help us, I trust we would have either ignored or resisted it or, by that time, never met but the fact was, we weren’t married, we did meet and we did not remotely ignore nor resist one another.

The words “wedding planner” weren’t even in my vocabulary or that of anyone I knew. The woman standing in the foyer with Dad and me on the day of the wedding was one of the very same women who brought a green bean casserole or jello salad every Wednesday night to fellowship supper. When the organ piped up, she nodded her head, touched my shoulder and said “Now.” She’d told us to go slow and Dad and I had practiced the night before but, for the life of me, I was either going to run down that aisle to that man in the tux or my hind end was going to flee to the parking lot where I’d holler like a wild hyena until somebody picked me up and hijacked me to Mexico.

I cannot say that it did not help that Keith Moore was the most beautiful man I’d ever kissed in all my life. Dad and I flew so fast down that aisle that my veil nearly took me to the wind like the flying nun.

A thought which carries impressive irony.

In seconds it seemed, the pastor said to the congregation, “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Mr. and Mrs. Keith Moore.”

And, just like that, the wedding was over.

Let the drama begin.

And I guess in a lot of ways it’s never come to an end. It’s just a different kind of drama these days for the most part.

I’ve been asked many times if I’ll ever write a book on marriage. I don’t expect to. I have no intention of setting us up as some exemplary couple. Keith and I have not had a great marriage. But, somehow, in recent years, we’ve managed to find ourselves in a pretty good one. And I guess it’s fair to say you’ve never met two people happier about being pretty happy.

We don’t just kiss on our anniversary. We high five.

I’m really reluctant to do what I’m about to do because what if he and I get into the biggest fight of our lives tonight and I maniacally hurl all his fishing gear and deer heads and forty pair of unders in the front yard? I’ve never done that before but I’ve always known I had it in me. I’ve always kept my pitching arm in shape for such a time as this. And what if one of the neighbors videos us and I end up on the YouTube cussing? I’ve never been one to cuss much but, if I’m ever going to have a cussing conniption, it will be my luck to have it on the YouTube. One time I did try to leave Keith and he said, “Go right ahead. Leave me. But you’ll look in your rearview mirror and there I will be and not because I like you any better than you like me. Because I don’t. But because we are married and married we’ll stay.” Keith never was a great Catholic except about the one thing I wished he’d been more Baptist about: splitting.

And so, like somebody pulling teeth, I’m reluctantly going to tell you with little commentary a few of the things that have kept us at it, every single one of which is nothing but the dripping grace of Jesus. We can’t even take credit for the things that have actually worked. So here goes and then I’m closing this post and publishing it before I change my mind.

If you don’t mind, I’m going to do this backwards and start with the bottom line because everything else comes back to this: We have both and each been willing, many times through bitter tears and against our human-hearted natural preferences, to choose to love each other again. Over and over and over and over.  After some really harsh things.

We had Amanda nine months and two weeks from our wedding day after being told I’d need surgery to conceive. Liar, liar pants on fire. We may as well have named her Elmers. She was the glue God used to hold our first few years together. Then came Melissa, who was a dyed in the wool daddy’s girl. We still wouldn’t have made it even with them to consider, I’m sorry to say, if not for that one bottom line above.

We developed compassion for one another. We were both messed up and we each understood why. And, I really don’t know a better way to say it, we felt sorry for one another and started trying to help each other get better.

The fact that I could sob as I write this next one is fittingly ironic. We each think the other is hilarious. The only thing Keith and I have done as much as fight is laugh. I don’t know why we got that gift but we did. We even laughed at times in the terrible years. We tried not to but we couldn’t help ourselves. We are each the most absurd person the other has ever met. We are a cartoon strip and we know it.

One last thing. I told Keith before we were engaged that God had placed a call on my life at 18 and, if he didn’t think he could handle it, he better run for his life. Having no other paradigm for a woman in ministry, he looked at me with a measure of horror and said, “Are you going to be a nun?” (We’d made out for the better part of the last hour so the absurdity of this one makes me rub my forehead with no small delight.)  No, I said, to which he responded, “Then I’m in.” And he has been. For somewhere around 15 Bible studies, numerous other books, 23 years of Sunday School lessons, many years of Tuesday night Bible study and two Friday nights a month with me on the road. Unwaveringly. And not as a weakling but as the strongest willed man I’ve ever met. Nobody need wonder who wears the Wranglers in my family. And you may as well not go to seed feeling sorry for him. He’d have to lie to say I ignored him and then I’d have to hit him with my purse and, considering all the lip glosses in it, it would hurt considerably. Him, not me. He just wasn’t the kind that would be ignored. When we were at home together, we were at home together. I didn’t hang out on the phone all the time doing ministry or study my commentaries in front of him – I did that while he was at work – or flip through magazines. To this day, if I’m messing around on social media on my phone when I’m with him, he’ll say, “Pay attention to me!” And I’m glad he will. And I do. Or we’d have nothing.

And, finally, after many years, I returned a certain spiritual favor after all he’d done to be supportive of my calling: I just accepted him like he was and quit trying to turn him into a deacon or some big spiritual beacon. He didn’t want to be one. Doesn’t want to now.

Thirty-eight years tomorrow. This one man and me. We’ve decided to stay in this dance a little bit longer.

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Because, ladies and gentlemen, smilers and scowlers, we are Mr. and Mrs. Keith Moore.

 

 

 

 

 

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On the SSMT Countdown! Got Your Spirals?

***NOTE: If you are looking to register your verse 1, go ahead and comment with your selected Scripture on the “SSMT 2017: Verse 1!” post.***

 

We are 15 days out. LPM staff is gearing up for SSMT and we just wanted to make sure we have you well prepared!

SSMT Staff

We know it’s a busy time of year, and things are moving a million miles an hour, so we just wanted to give you a little reminder on what you will need to start SSMT strong!

Your verse: Have your first verse selected for our kick-off on January 1st. Choose a verse that means something to you in your present season or circumstance. This is the reason why we don’t all memorize the same Scripture. We’re not all going through the same things.

Your spiral: You will need your SSMT spiral for recording your verses by hand. This is a recommendation and not a rule, but there’s something about writing it with your own hand and picturing it later in your own handwriting that helps it sink into your memory bank.

You can now order an official SSMT spiral from our online store! Click here to purchase your copy. You also have the option to print just the cover yourself at home to add to your own notecard spiral. (We suggested some methods in the Instructions post.)

SSMT will launch on January 1st, so check back then for our first post and be ready to comment with your name, city, Bible translation, and selected verse! You can leave your comment on the blog or on our SSMT Facebook page.

If you have further questions about SSMT, see Beth’s original post here.

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2017 SSMT Instructions! Join us for the biggest Scripture Memory Team under heaven!

***NOTE: If you are looking to register your verse 1, go ahead and comment with your selected Scripture on the “SSMT 2017: Verse 1!” post.***

 

Hey Everybody!

We are revving up around here for SSMT 2017! The Scripture memory team we host and support every other year is the most extensive thing we do around here on the LPM blog, so you can know that you are the size of an Airbus on our ministry radar right now.  siesta_1_revised

We are elated about the year we have ahead and believe with all our hearts that God finds tremendous delight in this group of diverse women banding together to memorize His Word. Here is everything you need to know about how to participate in the 2017 Siesta Scripture Memory Team! Please be sure you make it all the way to the bottom of the post where you’ll find the information about our matching spirals.

First, a few things up front since many people joining us have no previous interaction here:

*For you new-comers, an explanation of the name is in order. “Siesta” is just an endearment for “Sister.” There’s no club to join and no person you need to become. If you’ve trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, you’re a sister in Christ. If you don’t know Him, we’d love for you to stick around and get to know us and see if anything around here draws you. Everyone is welcome. Here’s a bit of our back-story on the weird name: When we first began the blog, it never occurred to any of us how much we’d come to love each other. As the community grew closer and closer and the participants more and more familiar with one another, one of you asked what name we should call each another. I tried to say, “I’ll tell you what we are: We’re sistahs!” but spell-check switched it to “siestas.” It stuck and that’s been us ever since. We even liked the thought that its actual meaning is to take a nap. We’ll know we’ve been a place of divine intervention if we’re a respite from the female competition and clatter out there. Only Jesus can give us that kind of relief in this exhausting culture.

*We call this a Scripture memory “team” because that’s exactly what we are. We cheer each other on, hold each other accountable, and urge one another to make it to the goal – 24 verses systematically memorized in 12 months – through a process that requires significant practice.

*Very often you will see me refer to SSMT. Just so nobody’s confused from the start, that is an abbreviation for “Siesta Scripture Memory Team.” If you’re not participating in SSMT, please know that we don’t limit the entire blog to our Scripture memory participants. It has a big presence on here because it’s twice a month but we still do lots of other things. Please don’t feel left out or forgotten.

*Why 24 verses? In previous years, we’ve found this to be a very doable pace: 1 verse every 2 weeks. If you do much more, you’ll tend to fall behind and not retain. If you do much less, the impact is negligible. You really can do this. So many of you will surprise yourselves with what you’re capable of doing in the power of the Spirit. Yes, it takes work but it’s tremendously fulfilling and the results are nearly immeasurable. Look at it this way: we’re going to be meditating on something: unforgiveness, toxic memories, misery, lust, greed, dissatisfaction, jealousy, competition. Let’s choose Scripture instead! Christ Himself said as a man thinks, so is he. He also said His words are spirit and life. This is work worth doing, Beloved. Never – NOT ONCE – have I ever known anyone to get to the end of a Scripture memory commitment and say that it didn’t make any real difference. Not a single time.

OK, NOW FOR THE INSTRUCTIONS. You can cut and paste these somewhere if necessary. Here’s how it will go:

Instructions
About your SSMT spiral!

Our Siesta Scripture Memory Team 2017 Celebration will be in January 2018. I’m telling you about it now so that you can have it for a little extra incentive. Our main incentive is the will and good pleasure of God, of course, but He Himself authored great celebrations in His Name so feel free to be excited at the thought. Also, I want you to have plenty of time to start saving your money for your transportation and hotel. We do not charge for the event. Your entrance fee is your well-used spiral. More information still to come.

How you qualify to attend the 2018 Celebration

Whew! Have I exhausted you?? I’ve worn myself out. We just want to answer as many of your questions up front as possible.

I want to say something to you before I wrap up this diatribe: this community means something to me. I love it because I love you. I think about you on an ongoing basis. So does my staff. You are a huge part of this ministry. Thank you for the privilege to serve you and to embark on another wild journey with you. May Christ find such delight here that He astonishes us with His presence, favor, and power.

So, welcome to Siestaville: women walking alongside women on our way Home, stirring up excitement toward that great day. SSMT is one way we do that. AND IT’S A WHOPPER. Let’s do it, Sisters, starting this coming January 1st! I’ll talk to you again about other things before then but I don’t want the New Year to take you by surprise.

I love you.

Beth

 

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Proverbs of Ashes in a World Burning Down

In my Scripture reading early yesterday morning, I chased a rabbit trail that landed me in a cul de sac with Job 13. I got so preoccupied I was late for work then, once I got there, still couldn’t keep my thoughts from circling around that curb. In the corner shadow of more substantial themes, the Book of Job gives impressive credence to the adage, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” God bless them, they started out well but time took its toll and the temptation to offer explanation for human suffering became intolerable. When in doubt, after all, what better coping skill could there be than dogmatism? To the reader’s measurable relief, chapter 13 marks the spot where Job indelicately invites his friends to shut up. Unroll the scroll to verse 5.

“Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom!” Then a little further down to verse 13, “Let me have silence, and I will speak, and let come on me what may.”

The show stealer in the chapter is the temerarious declaration the pummeled mortal makes in reference to his God. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” (13:15 AV) The HCSB says it like a boxer spitting blood from a busted lip through broken teeth: “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him.”

But one of the things I love best about Spirit-breathed Scripture is that the Spirit reserves the right to animate a passage that has never attracted our attention before. For me yesterday morning, it was the first half of the 12th verse. Job, to his friends:

“Your maxims are proverbs of ashes.”

For all we know the man made the statement sitting in a heap of ashes like he’d positioned himself in Job 2:8. Of course, it’s easy to miss the ashes in that early scene because we’re too disturbed by him scraping his loathsome sores with a piece of broken pottery. When these words come out of Job’s mouth in 13:12, one commentator suggested he may have gathered some ashes in his palm and blown them into the wind in case his observers were inclined to miss the point. Ashes symbolized loss, grief, mourning and death to the ancients and at times were the wares of sorrowful repentance. The idea probably germinated with God’s words to Adam after the fall in the Garden when death was born.

“For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Mourners commonly practiced demonstrating their profound grief by wrapping their waists in skin-rawing sackcloth and covering their heads in ashes. At least it showed. Don’t you sometimes wish our shattered hearts would at least dignify our suffering enough to show up? Tamar, Mordecai and Daniel displayed their anguish with ashes but here’s the irony: so did Job’s three friends. Yep. At the very first glimpse of him.

And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:12-13)

 But then Job opened his mouth and released his lament and they opened theirs.

And their maxims were proverbs of ashes.

I never noticed the wording before because maxims had yet to be promoted to our primary means of communication. Shoot, a good maxim today could bring you a whopping ten thousand likes. We’ve developed such an appetite for maxims, we’re bored to oblivion by actual messages from our pastors. We demand twenty minutes of strung-together maxims or we’re staying home and surfing podcasts. Give us tweetables. Quotes we can stick on a picture and post.

And I’m neck deep in the middle of it splashing around in my floaties while people are down at the bottom of the lake drowning. This is not a rant for more meaningful maxims. It’s just a reminder to me today that my aphorisms don’t mean a flying flip in a frying world. Nobody’s likely to thank me in heaven for that life-changing tweet. I love Twitter. Good grief, I love all the things. And, man, do I ever appreciate a good aphorism. It’s fun. Quippy. Can even make people think.

For five seconds.

Mind you, five seconds is better than none. But let’s take it for what it is then get to the real business of ministering to the mournful. They are crowded around us, blinded by the darkness, flailing, feeling around in thin air for somebody’s warm-blooded hand. And sometimes the mournful is you. Me. Sometimes the mournful zips itself up in our ruddy skin and makes it hard to get out of bed. And, Good Lord, no wonder we’re depressed. We’ve turned social media into a spiritual discipline. We’ve made a diet of cheese puffs, bloating our souls with air and calling ourselves healthy.

Ashes.

The thing is, I can’t get the Oakland warehouse fire off my mind. That’s where this whole thing started. I don’t want to get it off my mind right away anyway. That community and those terror-stricken families will need prayer for a long time. I know that because my family has lived in the ashes of murderous flames for decades. I know that because the evening before the news broke out about the fire in Oakland, my husband brought up the fire in his childhood garage over supper with our daughters.

We know the story by heart. I knew it by our third date. Keith and his big brother were knee-high, plump-faced preschoolers playing in the garage when a slender river of gasoline rolled underneath the water heater and ignited. Both boys were burned. Both boys rushed to the hospital. Both admitted. Both treated for several days. Both desperately prayed for. Both were impossible to imagine living without. One went home with his mommy. The other went home with Jesus.

A couple of years ago, Keith and I were sitting with his parents at a picnic table on the porch of a burger joint we often frequented. The men were sitting on one side of the table and we women were facing them from the other. When Keith got up to fetch our order from the carry-out window, my father-in-law leaned across the table and, in a tone dripping with tenderness, said to me, “Baby, today is the anniversary of Duke’s death.”

My eyes immediately shot to my mother-in-law. She did not say a word. She couldn’t. Even all those years later. She reached in her pocket for a tissue and blotted her wet eyes. I can hardly write these words without doing the same. I hugged her, squeezed her hand, picked at my food like she did then sobbed all the way home. Every loss etches an absence. But tragedy threatens to carve an abyss.

Especially a fire. Its destructive force doesn’t just dent, cut or bruise. Fire has the capacity to consume. It has the capacity to take something teeming with life and vitality – a church, for instance, or a home or, God help us, a life – and reduce it to ashes. Something weighty into dust in the gust. I think maybe that’s what makes such vivid imagery of ash: its cold reduction of something to almost nothing.

Forgive me for being so graphic. I don’t do this often. But, the thing is, we are the Body of Christ commissioned to flesh Him out through the ministries of His Spirit to this graphic global darkness. We flip on our screens or open our feeds daily to news of tragedies somewhere on this aching orb. Unless we’ve let our hearts grow cold to shield us from the harsh elements, we shake our heads and shed some tears and at times drop faces to palms and sob. We summon Jesus to hold the hurting and to comfort them in a way that is otherworldly. In a way that is deeply personal because, if we possess a whiff of wisdom, we know that no two hearts process loss the same way. In the wording of Proverbs 14:10, each heart knows its own bitterness.

No two losses are exactly the same. And not all tragedies are equal. There is no one-size-fits-all remedy for the pain-ravaged.

Our maxims are not only a waste of breath. Of electronic space. They are offensive to the suffering. Sometimes even things we know to be true are better left unsaid for a long, long time. In the presence of those suffering, we say less and do more. We still our tongues and loose our hands. We mute our volume and vacuum their dens. We save our words then spill them like a dam breaking before God. Because He’s the only one whose feet don’t fail in a tidal wave of suffering. He’s the only one who really knows the whys and hows and wheres and whens. And He won’t tell us now. But He’ll tell us then.

Yesterday morning it was the word “ashes” that took me on that rabbit trail. I kept thinking about what I’d read in a news article about the first responders carefully, “reverently” removing the ashes from the Oakland warehouse. “Reverently.” That was the description the writer used and I appreciated it even if it made me want to wail. So I looked up every time ashes are found in the Scriptures. I found this among them.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor;

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

…to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—

to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes.

(Isaiah 61:1,3)

This section had long-since been dear to me but that’s the beauty of research. That’s the beauty of looking to scholars God has equipped with spiritual gifts of knowledge. You learn something brand new. I’ll let Dr. J.N. Oswalt tell it to you the way he told it to me in New International Commentary on the Book of Isaiah: (emphasis his)

“In 60:17 the prophet promised the best (gold) for the better (bronze), but here the Servant/Messiah promises the best for the worst…The picture of the mourner, with ashes on the head, wrapped in sackcloth, with a spirit crushed by despair, is replaced by the picture of a party goer with a beautiful headdress, smelling of costly oil, and wearing a garment of praise.[1] 

 There is a wordplay in the Hebrew that makes it especially spectacular. The peʾēr, “beautiful headdress,” replaces ʾēper, “dust.”[2]

If anybody at all is still reading, I’m almost done. Just take this part of Isaiah 61 in one more time.

to grant to those who mourn in Zion—

to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.[3]

Instead of, instead of, instead of.

I want to be there on the scene for at least a few thousand rounds of “instead of.” Sometimes we see those things happen right here in this earthly realm but other times it’s too late. Their tragedies took their lives. I want to see Jesus replace the ashes on the heads of the grief stricken in this lifetime with the headdresses of deliriously happy party-goers. Yes, party-goers. Don’t even try to talk me out of that. I want some parties when I get to heaven. I want to see some people shake a leg who’d suffered paralysis here. People dine in style who’d starved to death in squalor here. I want to see Jesus unwind the awful sackcloth from those who’d mourned on this earth and spin them around in garments of praise.

That’s what I want. I want to see my mother-in-law in a party hat laughing her head off. And I want to meet my brother-in-law. And sit cozy by a fire and never get burned.

Because this life is the hint of hell for a whole lot of people. But there is a God in heaven weaving eternity from an endless string of insteads. No proverbs of ashes from His lips. Just straight up promises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (p. 567). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[2] Oswalt, J. N. (1998). The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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