Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My First-born Blessing

Yesterday was Daniel's 17th birthday. I can hardly believe I have such a grown up son in my home. It does indeed still seem like just yesterday that he was toddling around the house, watching Barney, and singing songs from our Disney Sing Along tape (the tape itself would be considered an antique now!). Today he drives himself around town, watches movies on his ipod and strums eclectic music on his guitar. What a contrast!

Daniel is a blessing to his family and to many other people. While he is not perfect and is a work still in progress, he has always been a mighty fine boy. Now he is becoming a mighty fine man. Daniel is brilliant. Anyone who knows him well, knows that. But he is also talented, witty, responsible and sweet. Some people who know Daniel, don't know that. Like most 17-year-olds, Daniel does a pretty good job of hiding many of his most valuable and admirable characteristics behind sarcasm, silence, and hesitation. But I am pleased with the young man I see Daniel becoming. I believe God is pleased too. I celebrate Daniel and I celebrate all that God is doing in his life.

Last night as we celebrated Daniel's birthday with dinner at Quizno's (his choice), James said a sweet dinner blessing. He thanked God for the many people who have invested in Daniel's life - family and friends who have loved Daniel, watched over him, given generously to him, taught him, and treasured him. He called many by name, but there are more than we could have prayed for during a short dinner blessing. We are indeed thankful for the many people all over the country who have helped us raise both Daniel and Abigail. You know who you are. Just please accept our deepest appreciation and know that you have only added to the blessing that our children are to us.

Our son Daniel, what a blessing!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Everyone Where They Belong

I am so thankful for 4 blissful days of family, family, family. Mind you we didn't get to see any of our extended family this Thanksgiving. We live too far away and school is only out Thursday and Friday allowing absolutely no travel time to drive clear across the country, or even halfway across the country. But we had 4 days of great family time for the 4 in our immediate family.

We ate together more than we've eaten together in months. We watched movies and television shows and football games together. Even Daniel sat down to watch TV a few times, a real rarity. We served together, side by side, at the Salvation Army Thanksgiving meal Thursday. And we even had some real conversations. We all pitched in to decorate the house for Christmas and we rubbed elbows with each other numerous times as we did odd jobs around the house. We were together. Very together. What a blessing!

But now... Everyone has gone back to their respective corners of the world. Daniel is at his high school, probably eating lunch with his friends about now. Abby is probably doing math with her small class of 8th graders at the academy. And James is catching up on correspondence in his office at the church. Oh, and I am back in my home office typing away on my computer keyboard. I had my coffee and breakfast all by myself this morning in still silence. I read my Bible and straightened the kitchen in sweet silence. And I took a shower, made the bed and gathered everything I might need for a long day in my office, still in complete silence. Alone. Ah...what a blessing!

Yes, it is indeed a blessing to spend time with the ones you love. But perhaps what makes that together time so sweet is the fact that most of the time we are apart. And apart is a blessing too. Do I have a witness?!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Blessings

Our family had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. I hope yours did too! We spent the morning at the VFW (not to be confused with the VHF, which I told several people we were going to!) helping the Salvation Army pack turkey dinners in to-go boxes for the meals-on-wheels recipients. It was a delight and gave extra meaning to the day. What a blessing!

Later that day we shared a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner with the Ed Radmore family. Ed is our Senior Adult and Pastoral Care Minister at the church. His son-in-law Pauguin and daughter Beth cooked a huge dinner of turkey, turducken, tilapia, ham, and all the fixin's. I think there were about 12 pies! We have spent many Thanksgivings with other families and enjoy it every time. God is always good to supply someone to share the day with. Let's see, we've had Thanksgiving dinner with the Lyons, the Dallys, the Rolls, the Burnetts, the Radmores, and probably several others. What a blessing!

We rounded out the day watching movies together as a family. Abby and I enjoyed the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Vertigo, and then we all watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. We had to fast forward through a couple of language explosions by Steve Martin, but the movie is such a Thanksgiving classic. And with two busy teenagers it's a treat to occasionally sit down together with popcorn and cokes. What a blessing!

Because I missed my opportunity to write this on the day of Thanksgiving, I'm stretching Thanksgiving into a season. I'd like to share a few of the things I am most thankful for. Yes, I am most grateful for many of the things you are also thanking God for during this time - family, friends, health, etc. But I would like to go a different route and tell you a few additional blessings I am counting this season.

I'm grateful for opportunities. Opportunities are what make the days exciting and challenging. Opportunities to serve, opportunities to love, opportunities to grow. I'm grateful for opportunities to start over and opportunities to soak in. Opportunities for my children, my husband, my family, my church, myself. Thank you God for giving us opportunities. Help us to take advantage of every one of them! Opportunities. What a blessing!

I'm also thankful for memories. Oh I have such wonderful memories. I still take the time to recount memories of my childhood - memories of family vacations, times with friends, special holidays, growing times, interventions by God, and even little insignificant moments. I also remember teenage days, college days, early marriage, and the births of my children. Memories are special little gifts that are definitely worth carefully unwrapping every now and then. Memories. What a blessing!

Finally, I am thankful for God's Word. It continues to grow more and more special and meaningful to me every day. It is truly my daily bread. I do not know how one handles the complications of life without it. It is a light for my path and a lamp showing me how to navigate that path. It actually causes my heart to quicken within me when I read the truth I need for a particular time. It blesses me and I know it blesses others who read it, treasure it, and obey it. The Word of God. What a blessing!

Remember, God is always good to us and every good and perfect gift comes from above. But if you want to see those blessings with clarity, you have to really be on the lookout. Blessings, like bluebirds, are worth looking for, gazing upon, and pointing out to others. Seen any bluebirds lately?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Behind the Scenes Blessings

Have you ever aspired to be an assistant? While that question sounds ludicrous to me, you may be the kind of person who truly loves serving in the background. I confess, however, that I have a huge affinity for the limelight. While I don't always have to be center stage, I don't want to be far from it. I'm ok with a supporting role, but at least put me on the stage! I can honestly say I've never desired to be an assistant.

But the Lord has shown me recently just what a position of honor the humble assistant holds. In fact, Jesus taught and demonstrated over and over again how crucial it is for His followers to willingly assist others. The story of the Good Samaritan teaches us that helping those in need is what makes us good neighbors. Jesus admonished His disciples to seek to be last in order to be first. And He demonstrated the calling to service when He washed His disciples' feet. Jesus elevated the role of assistant to great honor and He continues to call us to assist those around us.

Last week I spent several days in Nashville, Tennessee, at the National Women's Ministry Leadership Forum. The attendees had the huge honor of meeting almost all of LifeWay's women's ministry authors: Priscilla Shirer, Lisa Whelchel, Mary Kassian, Vicki Courtney, Shaunti Feldhahn, Angela Thomas, and Jennifer Rothschild, to name a few. During a Meet and Greet Reception, I was able to speak personally with each author, get an autograph on their latest book, and snap a picture if I chose. Each lady was delightfully personable and enjoyable. I'm grateful for these women, their gifts, and the ways they have used them to minister to thousands of women around the country through their Bible studies. But as much as I enjoyed meeting these anointed authors, I was actually more impressed with a woman whose name I can't even recall.

Jennifer Rothschild, one of the authors I mentioned, is blind. Therefore, she didn't sit at her station alone. She was accompanied by an assistant. As I approached the table with a friend to meet Jennifer, her assistant took from us the books we had brought to be autographed. She glanced at my name tag and said, "Jennifer, this is Kay." I took Jennifer by the hand and told her how glad I was to meet her. We talked for a few minutes and then Jennifer signed my book, which her assistant had opened to the title page and positioned in front of the author. Before I left, the assistant offered to take a picture of my friend and myself with Jennifer. Walking away from Jennifer's table, I knew I had been in the presence of not one great servant of God, but two.

I'm ashamed to say I can't remember the name of Jennifer's assistant. She wore a name tag and was extremely friendly. But the truth is, I'm not sure I could even describe her appearance to you. Still, her service and assistance affected me profoundly. And I'm almost certain the reason I don't remember her name or face is because she did her job so well. You see she wasn't there as the main attraction. Though I'm sure she enjoyed meeting the women who approached Jennifer for autographs and she probably has invested greatly in Jennifer's ministry, she didn't insist on being in the limelight. She didn't even try to share it with Jennifer. Mmmm, mmm, mmm. To a limelight hog like myself, that's pretty amazing!

This lovely assistant reminds me of a man who, of all things, wore animal skins and ate locusts. You probably know I'm referring to John the Baptist, who paved the way for Jesus by preaching repentance in the wilderness. When asked if he might actually be the Christ, John didn't hesitate to say no. In fact, he claimed only to be a "voice" of one crying in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord." He was an assistant who knew his place. Later, when some of John's followers tried to force him onto center stage, John resisted the temptation to accrue a following by saying, "He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease." What humility! And yet Jesus Himself would later say, "among those born of women, there is no one greater than John."

At first glance the role of assistant may seem menial and insignificant, but Jesus has elevated this position in His kingdom. He said those who desire to attain greatness must instead serve and seek no acclaim. Then He will elevate you in the proper time. Servants, assistants, helpers - call them what you will - they are in Jesus' spot light.

I'm thankful I got to meet the lovely authors who have penned so many of the Bible studies I have taught and learned from. They have obviously made significant contributions to God's work for this age. But I am even more grateful for the opportunity to meet someone of perhaps even higher stature in Jesus' kingdom - a pleasant, gentle, humble and nameless assistant who showed me what true service looks like. May I step out of the limelight today, help someone else to shine, and serve with joy and humility.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Of MOPS and Mentors

I spent the morning with one of my favorite groups of people - one of my two MOPS groups. No, I wasn't cleaning house. They're not that kind of mops. MOPS are Mothers of Preschoolers. And, no, I'm not a mother of a preschooler. I'm a Mentor Mom. That's a "been there, done that, don't give up, you do get to sleep again one day" mom. I prefer that definition to the less flattering one: older mom with a slower metabolism and more wrinkles.

When my children were preschoolers I actually ached to be in a MOPS group. I would listen to the little MOPS moment on the radio where Elisa Morgan, the founder of MOPS, would assure me, "Mom, you're worth it!" Occasionally I would try to locate a MOPS group in my area, but I could never find one. I didn't realize that I could actually start a group with a little ingenuity and will power. So I struggled along, hundreds of miles from my mom and close girl friends. I desperately needed some MOPS to come alongside me, befriend me, swap stories with me, and chill out with me. But that never really happened.

On the other hand, I did find a number of Mentor Moms. Not affiliated with the MOPS organization of course, but mentors and moms all the same. Most of these women were years ahead of me, some with grown children and grandchildren. Women like Pearl, Evelyn, Nita, Susan, Beverly, Eunice, and Mary in Bowdon, Georgia, helped me wade through my first few years of mothering. They were my friends, my shopping buddies, my neighbors, my babysitters, and my spiritual mentors. They assured me, prayed for me, taught me things, doted on me and laughed with me. And when I suffered from extreme morning sickness with my second pregnancy, they would take Daniel off my hands for a few hours so I could sleep and vomit. They were absolute treasures.

When I moved from Georgia to Texas and left my mother behind, I desperately sought the companionship of MOPS again, but to no avail. Still, I found more Mentor Moms. Frances would take Daniel to eat pancakes and feed the ducks while I had some "me" time. She also taught me how to make play dough, how to clean my oven, and how to make meatloaf. Beverly and Marillas would take me to lunch and assure me my children were normal. Cindy lead me in aerobics and prayed for me. Barbara took my children to Mickey D's while I taught Bible studies. Patty played with my children and invited my family for Thanksgiving dinner. Janice would buy me little gifts and take me to tour old homes and botanical gardens. And that's only a few of the names and precious acts of service. There are so many more!

I never got to be a part of MOPS, but I had Mentor Moms galore - probably more than my fair share. And I loved every one of them to pieces! Is it any wonder then that eight years later God would lead me to my first MOPS group so that I could officially be, not a MOP, but a Mentor Mom? I obviously owe a debt and now I have the privilege of paying back. While I sometimes feel like I don't have much to offer, I am determined to do at least the one thing each of my mentors did for me so well: I'm going to be available and willing.

What has God blessed you with an abundance of? Have you traveled the road side by side with others who are at the same point on the path as you? Or have you, like me, been accompanied by more friends who are a few steps ahead? I'd love to hear about your experiences. Meanwhile, thank God for the blessing of companions, whether they be fellow travelers or seasoned veterans. It's good to know someone is on the road with you.

PS - For more info on MOPS, visit

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Voice in My Ear

Last night my church choir finished cutting our second Christmas CD. Until last year I had never been a part of any kind of audio recording session. It is a fascinating and invigorating process. It is also rather tedious, but the results are awesome.

When we record the music, we use a process the sound engineer called "punching in." That means that what you hear when you listen to the CD is actually the choir's gazillion different attempts to sing the song, all edited and spliced and mashed together! Here's how it works:

Everyone in the choir has their own transistor radios tuned to a specific FM frequency. We're all positioned in the choir loft in the sanctuary and the engineer is in the choir room behind us with all of this fancy smancy equipment. He has positioned a few high powered microphones and a video recorder in front of us so he can capture our sound and see what we're up to. When it's time to sing, the music comes to us via our transistor radios. For optimal listening and blending, we have one ear phone on and one off. The music comes only through our headphones; the sanctuary is completely quiet, other than our voices. We sing along with the music until he stops us, tells us what all we need to do differently (better cut-offs, better attacks, better pronunciation, etc.), and tells us where we'll start again. He also tells us where we'll "punch in." That's the point in the music from which he is actually trying to record a good take. He's giving us all these directions through our radios. We don't actually see him. We just hear him through one headphone speaker. The result is that he sounds like he is in your head. So the conversation in your head may go something like this:

Music: la, la, la, dee dah!
Choir: La, la, la, dee, dah!

Suddenly the music stops.

Male voice in my head: Choir, we're going to stop right there for now. You are doing a great job! That's some good singing. From those two pages, we're going to keep measures 72 and 73 (For those of you who are not musicians, 2 measures is not much - usually a couple of words!). Men I need you to smile more at measure 71 (that's musician speak for 'you're going flat there'). Everyone watch your cut offs at measures 68, 70, and 74. There's also a soprano who sounds angry on the crescendo in measure 70. And we have a tenor with a hang over in measure 74. We're going to start again at measure 58 and we're going to punch in at 62.

Music: la, la, la, dee, dah!

Male voice in my head: Choir, sing along!

Choir: la, la, dee, la, dee, dah!

Music stops.

Male voice in my head: Choir that was great! You did measures 68-71 great that time and since you just repeat that at measure 73-76 we're just going to cut and paste 68-71 on top of 73-76! Give me just a minute to edit that in! (This is where the engineer does his magic and earns his big bucks!) Okay! Let's do all that over again; we still need to get the cut offs on 78 and 80!

And so the process goes. Let me just tell you, if you haven't already figured this out, this whole process does some strange things to your head. Hearing a male voice in my female head telling me what I've done well, what I need to do better, and what I'm going to do next is a little unnerving! It's as though he has crawled in my head, plopped down in the commander's chair and taken over. I want to please this voice and heed it's directions. It has unusual power over me.

Can you imagine what it would be like if all of life were somewhat like this? What if we could hear the Holy Spirit as clearly as I can hear Mark (that's our sound engineer's name) in my left ear? What if I were to hear Him say something like this:

Holy Spirit: Kay, that was great the way you offered to fix your husband a sandwich and bring him a bottled water. You were really kind when you told him what a good job he's doing in the yard. But right after that you complained about how long this yard work is taking. You sounded a little harsh. You need to work on your "cut offs." Why don't you go back outside and try that whole scene again. This time a little softer too. We'll "punch in" right after you offer the sandwich and give the compliment.

Of course, to me, the greatest benefit would come if the Holy Spirit could also do a little cutting and pasting so I could get a little more mileage out of the few things I do well! It'd be nice if he would say something like:

Holy Spirit: Kay, it's time to fix dinner for you family. Now yesterday you did such a good job of preparing a tasty and nutritious meal. And you seemed to really care about making the meal time special for your kids and husband. But today I see you pulling out the wieners and buns. Tell you what, you work on your attitude and I'll just cut and paste yesterday's meal into today. While we're at it, I'll also cut and paste all the laundry you did yesterday too. Now give me just a minute to edit all this in.

Kay: Thanks Holy Spirit! I feel my attitude improving already!

Unfortunately it doesn't work that way! But here's one thing I think we all might be missing out on that does indeed happen. God does speak to us. He speaks to us loud and clear quite often. He speaks to us through His Word. He speaks to us through nature. He speaks to us through other people. And, yes, I believe He even occasionally speaks to us through a still, small voice that is almost audible.

Perhaps the problem is not that He doesn't speak to us; the problem is we're not listening. I imagine if I walked through a day or two with Mark's voice in my left ear, I would soon learn to "tune him out." Mark is extremely pleasant and very good at sandwiching every bit of constructive criticism between a couple of compliments or encouraging words, but still... Who wants to let someone else call the shots for very long? Our two recording sessions were four hours each and at the end of those sessions I was tired of listening to Mark! In fact, it was tempting at times just to turn off my radio so I wouldn't even have to hear him. Could it be that we sometimes, maybe even often, do that with the Holy Spirit? He speaks to our hearts, but we've tuned Him out or even turned Him off?

I think the remedy to this problem is to realize what a precious gift the Holy Spirit is. Only occasionally did the Holy Spirit take up residence in the lives of Old Testament believers. Most of our OT heroes had to walk by faith without the assistance of the ever-present Holy Spirit. Wow! But we have been given the very Spirit of God to teach us, pray for us, speak to us, lead and guide us, comfort us, and convict us. What a treasure!

Today I'm thanking God for sending His Spirit to fill and lead me. I'm thanking Him for the work He does in my life even when it must be like pulling teeth at times. I'm thanking Him for speaking to me and I'm promising to tune in and listen better.

One more thing. Mark, our sound engineer, didn't waste any time speaking just to be heard. He was trying to help us produce a quality music CD that we can be happy with. He didn't sing a note himself, but he was guiding, instructing, and encouraging us so that we would sing our very best. When we would obey his directions, he could take the sounds we produced and put them together to make a masterpiece that we could not have made on our own. But when we clung to old patterns, didn't heed his instructions, and got sloppy, we gave him nothing to work with. If we had done that enough, I imagine even good-natured Mark would have just given in and let us produce a less-than-acceptable CD. That would have been a shame.

When God speaks to us, he doesn't just speak to be heard either. He speaks to be obeyed. He knows what He is doing and we can trust His expertise. So let's not just listen to hear His voice; let's listen to obey His commands. Imagine the quality product He can produce. After all, He is truly the Master Engineer.