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We are always happy to see a wound heal.  After carefully treating it–whether that means timely stitches or just the careful application of antibiotic ointment and faithful changing of dressings–to have a cut or incision heal properly without becoming infected makes us breath a sigh of relief.

I’ve spent the last half-hour hurting with a mom who prepared to watch her son die in a desert place, desolate and without water, as she herself was.  I’ve just read the account of Hagar and Ishmael being sent away from Abraham’s household after the birth of the heir of promise, Isaac.  God came to her with provision and comfort at the peak moment of her excruciating pain in this situation.  (Read Genesis 21 for the full account.)

This related verse from Psalm 147 was included in the study I was working my way through:  “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  I immediately thought of a friend who recently lost his beloved wife.  He is very openly sharing his grieving and healing journey as he begins to discover what “new normal” looks like.  As I’ve observed him and as I ponder this verse, several thoughts about healing come to mind:

  • No matter how deep the wound, generally, given enough time, a degree of healing can happen when health exists.  As long as we walk in this world, broken hearts and wounds will dot the landscape.  Often, our encounters with them are unavoidable and not of our choosing.  Yet, if we are living in health–health of body, mind, and most importantly, spirit–our chances for healing increase.
  • Even when the wound comes to a less-than-healthy body, there is much that can be done externally to fortify and restore so that healing may happen.  Sometimes, when non-physical wounds happen, we are concurrently not at a place of health, with the circumstances that result in the wounding already having worn us down.  I’m guessing that it is not very common for a severely wounded person to reject the person who applies pressure to stop the bleeding, who calls 911, or who stays nearby to soothe until help arrives.  In our places of woundedness and brokenheartedness, God has a way of providing aid that rushes in when we are too weak to help ourselves.  In those moments, our role is to acquiesce in quiet gratitude and to embrace what is offered for our stabilization and beginning of restoration.
  • The fact that a heart can break, that a wound can bleed, shows that life is present.  We do not worry about mending a broken rock.  But, where there is life, there is hope.  The Healer of broken hearts is Hope.  His faithful monitoring of our healing hearts, through the breath and heartbeat of truth by His Holy Spirit, progresses us to a place of renewed health and strength.  His binding tenderly protects the wounded places, cushioning the blows that come through daily living while time does its healing work.
  • Once-broken hearts and healed wounds leave their scars.  A scar can be unsightly and may even cause some problems later on.  But these can be tended to.  They can also be reminders–reminders that so far, as I read on a Facebook “poster” yesterday, we have a 100% record of coming through the hard times–because we are still here.

Hagar was sent away at least twice that we read of. Both times, God met her with provision and the healing balm of assurance that she was seen and known and that God’s plan for her and for her son was working itself out.  I wonder if she would have chosen to trade the place of hostility and hurt she was experiencing in Abraham’s home for the personal, healing aid that God brought to her broken heart in the desert places.


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Measuring My Words

I used to chuckle when Michael told me his memory of his mom always baking on Saturdays.  Of all the things to do on a Saturday, why bake?  (My own mom was more likely to bake during the week; we cleaned on Saturdays.)  Now, being gone from home most of the other days of the week and having a son still living at home who likes his chocolate chip cookies, I often find myself being a Saturday baker.  A key to good baking is careful measuring.

Anyone who bakes knows you don’t measure every ingredient in the same way.  As I’ve baked with the grands over the past few years, I’m teaching them the differences:  pack the brown sugar (and isn’t it fun to watch it come out of the cup like one of the towers of a sand castle on a Lake Michigan beach?); lightly spoon in the flour and level it off with a knife (or in our case, the edge of the flour scoop)–don’t shake it down!

This fall, I’ve been learning a lot about measuring my words.  There have been some hard lessons about what to say, when to say it, and how many words to use.  Being sparing with my words does not come naturally.  But, I am told that sometimes, more is less.  Knowing when it is so is not always easy.

However, when I think of “measuring” my words–well, I can get my head around that.  Just as measuring ingredients properly can make the difference whether a recipe turns out as intended or not, measuring my words properly in accordance with the purpose for which they are being written can determine the effectiveness of their outcome.

The Psalmist had the right perspective, one I should breathe in and out more often and more deeply:  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.”  Perfection in measurement, I’d say!

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So Near

We had the great privilege of attending Easter Sunday morning celebration at my home church in Litchfield, MI.  It was fun to be in the same worship service as my parents, my niece and her children (who all attend there regularly), and my sister and her family, who chose to surprise Mom and Dad by worshiping in Litchfield instead of at their home  church.

For most of the service I was very attentive, but there were a couple of minutes when a familiar move in front of me captured my attention.  The lady in front of me reached her left hand over her right shoulder and began firmly massaging that place where I often find a tense knot in my own shoulder.  As she kept it up, a fleeting thought came to me:  Isn’t it ironic that she is sitting just two chairs down from a chiropractor (my brother-in-law) and doesn’t know that one who could be helpful is so close?

Then, my mind went farther down that path.  How many people around me are needy and don’t have a clue about the closeness of One who is help for their every need–for their greatest need?

God, alert me to those ones who need to see a life that points to You.

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Ellen and I talked yesterday on our way back from lunch about hearing yourself say things to your own kids that your parents said to you.  We further discussed the difference between just continuing the family “lingo” and actually parenting as your parents parented you.

Today, I watched Gabe and Ellen interact with a three-year-old and a four-year-old in a short version of a game of “Battleship”.  Totally fascinating to watch their patience and their teaching styles kick in as they made the complex simple enough for a little child to comprehend and take delight in.  Even though I think they each have their own special gifts when it comes to that, I also harbor a little hope that maybe a tiny bit of what I see in such moments is something that rubbed off in what they saw in the parenting styles of their own mom and dad.

Savoring the memory of those sunny afternoon minutes , I’m thinking tonight how my Heavenly Father must delight in seeing His traits in me.  And I also ponder, more soberly, whether He ever shakes His head and wonders, “Where did I go wrong with that one?”


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What We Do in the Pauses

A student asked me today about learning better to punctuate what she writes.  I found myself talking about commas–those little bits of ink that mark pauses as we think, write, and speak.

That got me thinking about what we do in the pauses of life.  About what I do in the pauses of my life.

I remember reading something years ago–can’t remember if it was by Elisabeth Elliot or something someone else had written that she was sharing.  Either way, the point was that, in music, the pauses–the rests–are just as integral to the music as the notes.  Without the rests, there are compositions that would lose their drama.  The rests are part of the music.

The rests are part of the music…

When there is a pause, my first impulse is too often to jump right in and speak.  (In fact, I have to force myself to wait for the pause–have to work at not interrupting.)  How much better if I would listen in the pauses.  Would I hear more of another’s heart?  Would I hear another’s idea that would turn mine to an entirely different, perhaps more productive or more creative, vein?

When there is a pause, do I look around in silent wonder?  There is much to be seen.  People are endlessly fascinating, and I don’t ever have to look far to notice. Would I be better at really seeing–really seeing–people if I silently observed in the pauses?

When there is a pause, do I savor the silence, the stillness?  Or do I hurry to fill it with noise, with activity?  That rush to fill every empty space can become an addiction.

I think I need to nurture a greater regard for commas.

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

“Who have you listened to carefully?”–another of Jon Swanson’s questions for reviewing 2010.

I try to listen carefully to the people who are closest to me, the people to/for whom I have responsibility:  my husband, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my students.  What has that looked like in 2010?

Those of you who know me/our family know that my husband Michael lost his job when Taylor University closed its Fort Wayne campus in May 2009.  His unemployment is still a reality, despite multiple job apps and several interviews.  Listening carefully to Michael’s mind and emotions and spirit in this part of the journey is one of the hardest “listenings” I’ve been called upon to do in my life.  I have learned that there are limits to which one can get inside another’s mind and heart and that sometimes just walking alongside, listening, seems like a very unhelpful partnership indeed.  Beyond that, we have both tried to listen carefully to what God is saying about this season; there have been many, many times when that effort has seemed to yield silence.  But, as 2010 draws to a close and the calendar turns to the first days of 2011, we will continue to listen with hope and trust.  God, adjust our hearing if we are not tuned in at the right frequency.

A mother listens to her children even before they are born.  What mother of the modern age hasn’t thrilled to hear that first swish-swish-swish sounding heartbeat detected at a pre-natal visit?  When our children are with us every day, we hear a great deal, but may listen less if we let life’s stresses separate our ears from our hearts.  When our children leave our homes, we don’t hear them as often or as much; does that make listening easier?  My children are at threshold stages of life: young motherhood and grad school, about to be married, senior in high school.  It is so tempting to talk, talk, talk, but I am painfully aware that my best mothering at this stage may come in the form of being a better listener.  Part of listening is pulse taking–I’ve been trying to do better at hearing hearts when it comes to my kids.

I teach college students.  They come with stories.  Class time doesn’t give much opportunity for them to tell them.  But those stories give shape to their lives, and it is that shape that determines their successes or failures as students.  I try to hear the pieces of their stories that come through in every conversation or email or response to a question.  I’m discovering that at the point of their story bits, we connect most and best.  My philosophy of education is that teaching, if it is nothing else, is relational.  Listening well helps me be a more effective teacher.

I would like to say I have listened carefully to God in 2010.  But, if I am to be honest, I know there are far too many times that I’ve been in another room when He was speaking.  God, just as I am drawn into a room where a fire is blazing in the hearth and lights twinkle welcome, let me quickly and always draw near to the irresistible light and warmth of your voice to me in the cold and dark of my sojourn apart from your presence.

My prayer is for clean ears.

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Mercies, Graces

In the summer of 1980 (I think), I took a couple of graduate courses at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC.  In one of the Bible courses I took, the professor made a distinction that I have not since forgotten.

He said that mercy consists of that which we deserve that God spares us from.  Grace is that which we do not deserve that God bestows on us.

I’ve experienced a great deal of both in my life.  I was thinking tonight of  some recent occurrences.

In the department of mercy–mercies, if you will–I’m not sure that the things from which I’ve been spared recently were things I necessarily deserved.  But I definitely felt I was being shown the mercies of God when neither of our boys was injured in car crashes in recent weeks (Zach was in a collision which totaled our Buick Le Sabre; Gabe’s KIA Optima met up with a deer one dark October Saturday night.)  When I fell as a result of a stumble from stepping on a sweet gum fruit in Foster Park a couple of weeks ago, I came away with nothing more than a severely sprained ankle and a little damaged pride.  The mercies of not grieving over lost sons or broken bones are fresh in my heart and mind.

When I got home from work today, I checked the mail.  One envelope that came today contained a card with a large-denomination bill taped inside.  That gesture brought tears to my eyes and humble joy to my heart.  Someone listened to God, obeyed, and, in that, we were blessed and provided for…..a grace indeed.

These are the front-burner mercies and graces in my life.  I am quite certain that if I attend to the back burner, I will be amazed at the others I discover.

How about you?

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