Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bittersweet

Aunt Nunie was a career missionary to the Congo, which was also called Zaire for much of the time she was there.

She has been a missionary everywhere she has lived, reaching out, ministering, sharing the gospel wherever she goes.  Her heart beats for Africa, but she loves the United States, too.

When she retired from the mission field, Nunie moved in with Grandma at 2715 Wingfield, which Grandpa had bought way back in 1931 and paid for in cash, $400.  It came with a pump and an outhouse.  Over the years, they've added plumbing, electricity, and a furnace, among other things.

Last June, Nunie turned 90 and we celebrated.  Now she is nearly 91, and the time has come for her to give up caring for the charming antique relic that 2715 has become.  She mowed, dug and planted right up to the end.  On Saturday, she will move to a senior apartment where she will live near friends in a community where she can relax and enjoy the fellowship without having to concern herself with home maintenance.

It will be good, but it has gone shockingly quickly.

Jon took me up to visit her this past weekend.  The house is already coming apart as Nunie packs for her move.  At one point when we stopped by, she took a break from her work and brought out a CD of piano music recorded by one of my cousins and her husband.  Jon got the music playing, and Nunie sat down on the floor, pulling up her knees up like a teenager as she lightly bobbed her head to the jaunty piano rhythms.

I took a few raw photos for posterity.

Jon greets Nunie as we arrive.  (See her coming out the porch door?)

The front of the house, and a sun spot.

Nunie under the numbers: 2715.  I'm going to have to learn a new address.  

The house is on a historic registry.

I have so many memories of long conversations out on the porch, swaying in this porch swing.

This is the chair I remember Grandma sitting in, always.  
It was red, and it used to be in the living room, against the back wall.

The fold-open desk where they'd set us to color, the little kitchen table, the corner cabinet.  (I realized after I got home that I never took a picture of the dining room, I suppose because the table was full of packing.  I hope someone has a picture of it.)  I have vivid memories of that window between the corner cabinet and the refrigerator, and watching the birdhouse, watching wrens and bluebirds, accompanied by the scent of lilies of the valley and lilacs wafting in.

I was always amazed and maybe a little bit frightened by the trap door to the root cellar 
in the center of the kitchen floor.

Such a sweet, tidy little kitchen, even as it's being packed.

"Grandpa's Secretary" -- the one really fine antique.  
Everyone has always spoken of it with reverence.

The "old kitchen" was turned into a laundry and furnace room, 
but this amazing antique sink remains, pristine.

The back of the house.

The storm cellar.

Catching rainwater right up to the end.

Backyard with garden and clothesline, of course.  Beyond, there is a golf course!

Aunt Nunie and me, on the sofa she reupholstered herself.

So many memories.  So much to be grateful for.






Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Three things I learned very slowly



Sometimes it is embarrassing to learn as slowly as I do.

You can know a lot of facts.  You can have a great deal of knowledge about the Bible.  You can even memorize numerous Bible verses, and still know very little.

There are certain principles in life -- perhaps you have experienced this -- where you know the principle, and you use the principle.  Maybe even daily, you apply this principle, assuming it will work, and it does.  But then one day while you are working through something, applying the principle as you always have, enlightenment suddenly dawns on you: This is why it works.  This is what it means.  This is what it really means!  All of a sudden, your knowledge has deepened and everything is new, everything is going to be easier because of what you just figured out about what you already knew.

This can happen in science.  It can happen in math.  It can happen when you are cooking, or when you are relating to another person.  It can also happen in your religious belief system.

So far, it has happened to me three times in my religious belief system.  Here are three things I knew, but didn't know, until one day enlightenment dawned on me and the facts in my head became alive in my heart.
  1. My righteousness comes from Christ alone, and is guaranteed because of Him
  2. God is good.
  3. All I need is Christ.

Let's briefly consider these things one by one.





My righteousness comes from Christ alone and is guaranteed because of Him.

I never had any trouble with the idea that I was unrighteous apart from Christ, but I had a great deal of trouble grasping how it worked, that He somehow imputed His righteousness to me.  The way people talked about it, I got the idea that they were describing Jesus as some sort of camouflaging umbrella over my sin: I'm down here under the tent of Jesus, heedlessly sinning away, but all God can see when He looks at me is the pure covering of Christ, hiding my filth.  I recoiled from this image.  I recoil from all teaching that suggests that we are fine if we continue in sin, since Jesus loves us and forgives us and it doesn't matter.

I have always believed that my righteousness is from Christ alone.  I just didn't understand what that meant, because I knew it couldn't possibly be a justification for marinating in sin.  Yet, I am conscious of my incomplete victory over sin every day.  How can I be righteous when I am so obviously wicked?

The winter I turned 27 years old, I had three very small children.  We were sick all the time.  I was isolated, far from family, seriously sleep-deprived, and I believe, looking back, that I was in an undiagnosed clinical depression.  I was also reading through the Bible (the grace of God is almost funny, in a sort of not-very-funny way).  That was my first time through, and I went straight through, cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, absorbing only a little.  When I hit the Psalms, I did not enjoy them.  Contrary to what you might expect, they almost aggravated my depression.  I have a clear memory of one day reading a section of Psalms and feeling that they were taunting me, because over and over they proclaimed outrageous promises of blessings for "the righteous."  I knew myself to be a crabby wife, an impatient mother, a crier, a yeller, a complainer, selfish, negative, angry and (on top of everything else) lazy and undisciplined.

I set my Bible down in my lap and told Jesus, "That's all well and good . . . that You promise all these great things to the righteous.  But I'm not righteous."

Almost before I had finished giving shape to the plaintive thought in my mind, the voice of God filled my head.  I can't describe it any other way, except that it was the voice of God, although it was not audible.  He told me, "You are righteous, because I died to make you righteous."  I was completely taken aback.  It hit me, fresh, for the first time.  Jesus' sacrifice on the cross cleansed me in such a way that I qualify for God's promises to the righteous.  I am counted as one of the righteous.  Even though I stumble in sin every day of my life, God's precious promises apply to me.  The relief that flooded my soul was indescribable. 

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
~1 Peter 3:18 (NIV)

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
~2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)



God is good.

I knew that God was good.  I did.  I knew it, and I believed it.  I even wrote about it.  However, I had a fear of the idea, a need to distance myself, to explain that "good" isn't always what we think of as "good."  I agonized over how God works good in our lives through trials and suffering, how He refines us with fire.  His purposes and results are always good, but His processes can be painful, and we have to trust Him.  This is all true; it isn't wrong.  It just wasn't completely helpful.

Not so very long ago, I had a breakthrough.  I'd like to say it happened in my late forties, before I turned 50, but I'm not absolutely certain that it did.  I'm not sure how it happened, either, or what circumstances brought it about.

One day it just fell into my mind, clearly, simply:  God is good because He loved us enough to send Jesus to die on the cross.

Jesus died on the cross for our sins and saved us from this fallen world.  Here we see God's goodness made manifest.  God is good because His purpose is to bring His people home to dwell in eternal glory with Him, and He sacrificed His only begotten Son to accomplish it.

If you ever doubt that God is good, all you have to do is look to the cross.  All His great goodness is displayed right there. 

. . . but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  
~Romans 5:8 (ESV)



And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.
~Revelation 5:9-10 (NIV) 

[note:  I am probably not saying anything here that you haven't heard before.  I had heard this over and over, and truly believed it, before the Holy Spirit permeated my heart with it.  Although I had believed it, it took me forever to feel it, to know it.  So I doubt if my awkward words here will accomplish in you what the Lord accomplished in me, but I hope that when it does happen in you--if it hasn't already--you will recognize and rejoice in it.]




All I need is Christ.

I also knew this.  I have known this for a long time. 

But there is something that I did not realize.  I did not realize that this is the source of our joy.

Here I've been limping along, trying to figure out how to cultivate Spirit-fruit in my life, filled with feelings of insufficiency and worry.  "Where is the joy?" I would ask myself.  "How can I be an ambassador for Christ when the wellspring of my joy is dry?  Who would believe that God brings hope to the hopeless by the testimony of my life?"

Then He showed me.  It might have been as recently as last week.  I think it happened when I was thinking about heaven, and my heart finally felt the truth that Christ Himself is the great prize.  Nothing else matters.  To be at home with Jesus is everything.

All I need is Christ.  Christ is my hope and my salvation, the living water that refreshes my soul, the lamp that lights my path, the bread that nourishes me and the song in my heart.  Christ is the sacrifice that has made peace for me with God and purchased--secured--my eternal future in glory.  Christ is my beauty, my wisdom and my home.  If I have Christ, I have everything I need for life and joy and eternity.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. ~2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

Even better: nobody and nothing can take Christ away from me.  I am His and He is mine.  

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
~Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

I don't need a nice house, or pretty clothes or a reliable car.  I don't need a husband, children, a dog or money in the bank.  I don't need my lupus medicine or friends or vacations or food or even water.  I am thankful when I have these things, but I don't need them.  All I need is Christ, and He will take me home to glory, and there in His presence I will never even imagine needing anything, ever again.  I will have Him, and He is more than enough.  I depend on nothing else.


For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
~Philippians 1:21 (NIV) 

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.
~Psalm 23:1 (NIV)

I've struggled with a fear: What if someone I love doesn't come to Christ?  What if someone I love doesn't make it to heaven for eternity?  What if I can't get someone saved?  How can I live joyfully if someone I love is not safe from the wrath of God?

First off, I won't be getting anybody saved.  God does the saving.  Jesus taught that people are unable to come to Him unless the Father draws them (John 6:44).  I can be an ambassador, but I am not the Savior.  Jesus is the Savior, and He is mighty to save.

It's my job to live out the radiance of Christ, to showcase His redemptive power through the Christlikeness of my life.  I need to walk in love and grace, humility and kindness, forgiveness and gentleness and peace.  Living in the power of the Holy Spirit produces opportunities to share truth.  I can't do any of it if I am fearful and unhappy.  The cure for fearfulness and unhappiness is to understand, deep within my inmost being, that all I need is Christ.  And I have Christ.  Nobody can take Him away from me, and He will never leave me nor forsake me.  All I need is Christ, and He freely gives Himself to me and fills me with His Spirit.  This is joy.  This is security.  

This is the key.  All I need is Christ. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
~Romans 15:13 (NIV)

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost."
~Isaiah 55:1

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
~Revelation 22:17   





 

 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Can we get beyond egocentrism?



Crucified,
Laid behind a stone,
You lived to die
Rejected and alone.
Like a rose,
Trampled on the ground,
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all.
[from "Above All," by Michael W. Smith]

Those words come from quite a pretty song.  I always find myself blindsided by it, because it has a lovely melody and it starts out really well.  Then it ends:

Like a rose,
Trampled on the ground,
You took the fall
And thought of me
Above all.

Theologically, I am not sure where this idea comes from.  Jesus thought of me, above all?  It is a very romantic and sentimental thought, but it may not be rooted in scripture.  Jesus died because God loved the world and desired to restore His people to fellowship with Himself.  Jesus died for the salvation of men and for the glory of the Father.  This was an inconceivably gracious and obedient act.  I am overwhelmed at His goodness, His mercy and His love.  And yes, He loves me.  I am a part of this great salvation that He provided; I am a recipient, saved by grace.

But I do not think it is right to say that He thought of me above all.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you."
~John 17:1 (ESV)

Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
~Hebrews 12:2 (ESV)  

I think it would be more accurate to say that Jesus thought of His Father's will and His Father's glory above all.  That was the overarching thing, and by some great mystery of grace, God's glory increases through my salvation, which brings Him joy.  I receive the benefit from His glory in a most amazing way.  You can, too.  He did not think of me above you, nor of you above me.  He thought of His Father above all.  The miracle is that what brings God the most glory brings us the most good, because He is God--holy and unique--and the things that glorify Him send ripples of divine blessing out over all creation. 

To say that Jesus thought of me, above all, as He poured out his blood on Calvary to satisfy the justice of God, seems egocentric.  How can we, as believers in the fully effective work of Christ, be egocentric?  Christianity is about not being egocentric.  Christianity is learning to die to our self-focus and self-interest.  The point of Christianity is that we are freed from self-absorption, which always leads to misery, and we are turned towards the face of the God, where we find perfect love and life and joy.

In a similar vein, I have heard it taught that, "If you were the only person on earth, Jesus still would have died for you.  He loves you that much.  You alone are worth all of His grace."  This statement baffles me.  It is completely moot.  I am not the only person on earth.  God's goal from before the beginning of time was to purify a people for Himself.  People.  That's plural.

Yes, God loves me.  God knows me by name.  He keeps a record of my tears, and He knows each hair that falls from my head.  He is fully aware of every word I speak, even before I speak it.  He has a plan for my life, and specific jobs (good deeds) that He has prepared in advance for me to do.  He knows when I stand and when I sit down.  He watches over my coming and going both now and forever.  He is with me, will never leave me nor forsake me.  Here's the truly remarkable, miraculous thing:  God is not just obsessed with me.  God has this kind of zeal for each one of His people, every single one.  He loves all of us, from every nation, tongue and tribe.  He has a plurality of love that far exceeds anything we can imagine.  When He spoke to Abram about the promised Messiah, ages and ages ago, He said, "Through your seed, all the families of the earth will be blessed."  The point, the beauty, the amazing thing is that there is a Divine Being who can love with that depth, power and attention to detail on such a vast scale.  It's not about me.  It's about God.

Conversely, a different idea is true.  If God were the only thing in heaven, it would still be wonderful and surpass our wildest hopes and dreams.  He is everything.  He is all.  He is truth, beauty, life, light, joy and goodness.  He is love.

If I were to get to heaven, and the only thing there was the Lord, He alone would be abundantly more than I need for my eternal fulfillment.  This is hard to understand, because it is hard to grasp the concept of God.  Actually, it is probably impossible to grasp the concept of God; all we can do is try to ponder His attributes as best we can.  But I know and believe that God is far more satisfying than any jewels, or streets of gold, or perfect sunsets, or heavenly harp music, or even precious family relationships.

Sometimes I can get to fretting about who may or may not be in Heaven.  Sometimes I wonder if I can be happy if certain ones whom I love don't arrive there.  Surely, it will be wonderful to be reunited with loved ones in our promised eternal home, but this is not the Great Hope.  This is not the Ultimate Reward.  The Great Hope, the Ultimate Reward, is the unveiled presence of God in all His glory.

When we are with God in Heaven, nothing else will matter.  When we are with God in Heaven, we will live in unending joy and peace.  We aren't going to miss anybody at that point.  It's going to be okay.  We will be with Jesus!

We still need to testify to the goodness of the Lord.  We need to speak of His grace, His love, His salvation.  We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to convict and enlighten.  We need to pour out our lives for the salvation of the lost.  What does that even mean?  We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and walk in love, demonstrating the grace of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in whatever ways He shows us, ways we probably could not even imagine on our own.

When we learn to be channels for the Holy Spirit, to walk by the Spirit, to abide in Him, to truly offer our bodies as living sacrifices, then we will become instruments in the Father's hands, instruments He uses to accomplish His salvation for His people.  He will use us, and it will be glorious, and there will be no regrets.

No regrets.





Thursday, May 5, 2016

Heaven on earth, or what Jesus came to fix?



Many times, when doing evangelism, Christians make great claims about how giving your heart to Jesus fixes everything and makes your life pleasant in the here and now.

I'm so happy, and here's the reason why, Jesus took my burdens all away...
Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before...
Something good is going to happen to you, happen to you, this very day.  Something good is going to happen to you, Jesus of Nazareth is passing your way...

Now, there is a certain truth in this.

For one thing, when you live by good, solid moral standards such as telling the truth, being kind, controlling your temper, and working hard, you generally do encounter fewer bumps and bruises in life.  Although living by a high moral code is not the core of Christianity, it is a highly correlated benefit of Christianity.

For another thing, becoming a Christian brings the wonderful blessing of being forgiven from all your sins and freed from guilt, condemnation and the fear of hell.  Christians receive the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit who comforts us, illuminates our understanding, helps us navigate life, and promises never to leave us or forsake us.  The Holy Spirit also empowers us to live increasingly purer lives, resulting in the blessings that naturally flow from morality.  These truths are worthy of much celebration, and they do bring joy.

However, there is an impression we sometimes give: Today you are a miserable sinner, locked in the shackles of pain and darkness. But when you come to Jesus, you will get a job, balance your bank account, restore all your broken relationships and be healed from all your diseases and addictions.  We give the impression that turning to Jesus brings heaven on earth, that everything will be restored quickly in the here and now, and you will live happily ever after.

I think many people--especially those who grew up in churches where they were exposed to the idea that Jesus fixes everything, and the Christian life is free from pain--turn away from the Lord when they experience the realities of suffering in a fallen world.  They are primed and ready to swallow the devil's lie that, "A good God couldn't possibly allow such things to happen."

There are some earthly benefits to being a child of God.  Of course there are.  (Check out the book of Proverbs.)   But this is not the reason why we throw our lot in with Christ.  This is not the great promise of the faith.

The whole point of Christianity is that the world is broken, fatally wounded; dying, in fact.  The world is corrupt and decaying, and there would be no hope for any of us.

Except for Jesus.

Jesus gives us hope.

Jesus gives us hope that we can be saved from this deathly place.  He gives us hope that there is forgiveness for sins, through the blood He shed for us, which He poured out in payment for the staggering sin debt we had racked up.

Jesus gives us hope that there is eternal life in the future, and a place where justice will reign, where all will be made right, where death will be undone along with injustice, pain, sorrow, disappointment, danger and fear.  Our hope isn't for a nice house and a cancer free body in this world.  Our hope is for an eternal future of life and health and joy in the presence of God, fully redeemed, fully purified.  This is the great promise of the faith.

When we encounter the brokenness of the world--sexual abuse and political corruption, mental illness and terminal diseases, wars, car accidents, bank failures, floods, fires and tornadoes, friends who betray, plans that fizzle, dreams that die--it makes no sense to ask, "Why would God allow this?"  Instead, we need to say, "This is what Jesus came to fix.  This is why we need to set our eyes on things above, on our eternal hope."

Yes, in a sense I guess God does "allow" these things, but only in that He "allowed" Adam and Eve to defy Him.  Rebelling against God leads to death--not because God is mean, but because He is the source of life.  Rebelling against life leads to death.  Furthermore, rebellion is sin, and sin is a web that spreads.  Nobody's sin happens in a vacuum.  Sin always sends out disastrous ripple effects.  Sin constantly runs amuck among us, while the original beauty of God's creation stands as the backdrop to life, testifying to His existence and His grace.  We can be so blinded by Satan's schemes that we think the beauty is ours, and we mistakenly attribute the effects of humanity's cumulative sins to God.  May the Lord have mercy on our souls and open our eyes to the truth about these things.

God has always allowed us to choose, and He gives us what we want.  He even warns us, repeatedly, to choose well; but at the end, He gives us what we want.

"This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live." 
~Deuteronomy 30:19




Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Beach houses

This will be interesting only to my immediate family.



We first began going to the beach in about 2002, I think.  We had a pastor at that time who spoke often in his sermons about Ocean Isle Beach.  It sounded good, so we gave it a try.  I think Jon was six, Laura was nine, David was eleven and Shannon was twelve, or thereabout.  That seems right.  We stayed in an oceanfront home called Fisher's Wharf on the corner of Raeford.  We arrived as the sun was setting, to a magical sky full of amazing pastel colors.  The children ran around the decking to the front of the house and out the boardwalk to the ocean where they sank directly into the foaming ocean waves, in their clothes, and Shannon called out, "Mom!  How did you find this place?"  It was a very comfortable house; I slept to the roar of the ocean like I'd never slept on vacation before in my life.  We enjoyed the beach, which was very full of shells.  I'd bought a guidebook about North Carolina, and it spoke of Sunset Beach, 20 minutes to the southwest.  We drove over to check it out one afternoon, and loved the fine white sand and the quiet atmosphere.  We decided to try that island if we ever came again.  Our house on Ocean Isle had everything we needed except good knives.  After we got home, I bought a special knife for taking on beach vacations.  Mama gotta cook.

Our next beach vacation was in April of 2005, I'm pretty sure.  We went to a house on Sunset Beach called Amazing Grace.  It was on the extreme eastern end of the island (more extreme then than now, as that end has since been further developed).  It was a two-story turreted house, and the windows surrounding the sitting room off the master bedroom gave a circular view around the end of the island from ocean to channel to bay.  We were delighted to discover that pink sunrises awoke us each morning, with lovely views right from the bed!  That house also came with an impressive supply of toys for the kids to take to the beach.  It was a good week.

We went back again in August of that same year (2005).  Our house was called Southern Comfort, which I did not approve of.  It was a classic beach house floor plan with living/dining/kitchen down the middle and two bedrooms and a bathroom on either side.  I remember lots of white wicker and high, vaulted ceilings with ceiling fans.  It was a second row house, just across the street from the Fifth Street beach access.  It's been rebuilt, or at least renamed (renaming could only have been an improvement).  That was the year we bought an inflatable raft and the kids navigated the channel to visit Ocean Isle.  It was also the year when Shawn and I spent evenings walking along the shore under a full moon at high tide.

I think we went right back again in 2006.  That would have been the April when Shannon was a junior, David was in ninth grade, Laura was in eighth grade, and Jon was in fifth.  I think that is right?  That time we went in April and it was cold. We stayed in a lovely home on the back bay on the east end called Conch Out, and I think it may have been my favorite vacation.  David had his saxophone.  There was a crab trap and a floating dock to the bay where we could set the trap and catch crabs.  Jon made friends with the people next door.  Our friend TJ drove up from SC to visit us.

It seems like in those days we meant to go to the beach every other year, and then to Minnesota on the alternating years.  But then we started going to the beach in April and to Minnesota over the summer.  Maybe this is accurate?  We'd gone to Maine when Jonny was two (1997) and it was freezing.  Then we went to Cape Cod in about 2000.  That was even colder than Maine (it was one of those summerless years).  We flew all the way to California and explored the Pacific coast from Pasadena to San Diego in February of 2001, but that was cold too (at least we had a heated pool at our San Diego hotel).  Finally, we found the Brunswick Beaches of NC, which even when they are cold in April are not as cold as Maine in June.  In August the water is like a bath, and even I can walk straight in.

Anyway, that 2006 vacation in Conch Out was the last beach vacation we took as a whole family.  It was a good one, full of sweet azaleas and bitter sunscreen.  Little did I know that we wouldn't have the whole tribe together at the beach again.  Well, perhaps some day we will, but it hasn't happened yet.

April 2008 we went back, this time to the west end of the Sunset Beach, near Bird Island and the marsh.  We stayed in an amazing home called Tranquility Base.  It was on 40th Street and had double decks overlooking the marsh and the sunsets.  Everything about the house was fabulous, from the decorating, to the kitchen equipment, to the large soaking tub in the master bathroom, to the sunset views.  They even provided kayaks, although the marsh was low and we didn't have much luck using them. The only drawback (besides that it was cold) was that Shannon wasn't with us; she was in college, and her spring break was different from everyone else's.  David and Laura got sunburned studying for AP exams on one of the roof decks.  It was a fabulously beautiful house, and I remember Laura saying, "If their beach house is this nice, can you imagine what their regular house is like?"  This house is no longer available to renters.  I think one of the most memorable things about that vacation was the trip back up north to New York.  Spring was full blown in North Carolina, with spring green leaves spreading gentle shade over colorful bulb flowers everywhere.  As we headed north, the flowers disappeared and the leaves got smaller and smaller, until finally we reached the land of bare branches.  It began to snow, and we arrived home to a blizzard and a snow day school cancellation that Monday.

In the summer of 2009, we went to Texas to see Shawn's paternal grandmother, whom the children had never met.  We did the Riverwalk in San Antonio, visited the Alamo and swam in the gulf around Port Aransas.   This was our last family vacation, and it was one to remember forever.

August 2010 we went back to Sunset Beach.  That summer we stayed on Fifth Street, towards the east end of the island, farther back from the ocean than we'd ever stayed before.  We used the money we saved on the house rental to rent a vacation package that gave us a grill, a beach wagon, four beach chairs and an umbrella.



It turned out to be a fabulous way to do things.  The house was called Carpenters' Cottage, and it was really cute.  The background colors were neutral and light, the bedspreads were eye-poppingly bright and beachy, the furniture was comfortable and the kitchen was very nicely equipped.  We took David, Laura, Jon and a friend of Laura's, and much Boom-o was played.  It was a great vacation until Thursday, when Shawn received an email that threatened a ferocious lawsuit against the boss at his previous company.  This event put a major damper on our memories of an otherwise lovely vacation.

Nevertheless, we went back for another round in August 2011.  We tried the same strategy: rent a house farther from the beach, and spend the savings on a grill and beach gear.  The house in 2011 was called Three Sisters, which was ironic because we had three children, but only one sister: David, Laura and Jon.



Although we missed Shannon immensely, we had a magical, beautiful time together in this well maintained and equipped pink house.  It was not the fanciest house we've stayed in, but it was one of the most comfortable and livable houses; I loved it.  It was the first time we stayed in a pink house, and every time I came "home" to it, I had a little thrill that this pink house was mine for the week.  The kids got along well, Laura was happy because she had her own bathroom, and the waves were warm and wonderful.  I think this was the year Jon bought his first skim board and learned to use it.  Friday, as I was beginning to think about packing up to leave, I opened my computer and found a message from my niece Abby, saying that my father had suffered a heart attack, but that he was okay.  So that vacation had a less than ideal ending too, although it was a blessing that we did have immediate confirmation that all was well.  Shawn and Jon and I headed to Minnesota to see my parents after dropping Laura off at college, so we got an extra trip that summer.

August 2012, we set forth again.  This time, we took a houseful: our youth pastor, his wife and their two little children, and a friend of David's, as well as David and Jon (Laura had already gone back to college by the time we went).  That year, we got a house called Sand In My Shoes.  It actually had a sort of separate apartment upstairs, with a kitchenette and everything, so our youth pastor's family could have some semblance of privacy.  I'd always wanted to have the joy of watching little children discover the beach, and it was exciting and rewarding to practice up on some grandma skills.  That was a busy vacation because, besides having extra people along, I was trying to prepare for my job teaching English at a Christian school (the vacation had been planned long before the job offer came along), and this was totally overwhelming to me.  I don't have many clear memories of this vacation, but I had an impression of other people playing a lot of Settlers of Catan and watching Batman movies late at night.

The summer of 2013, we moved from New York to Illinois.  We did not have a vacation.  The summer of 2014, Laura got married and we did not have a vacation that year, either, unless you count the trip to Ohio for the wedding.

Last summer, 2015, we went to the beach for two whole weeks!  The house was called Beach Time.  It was, perhaps, the shabbiest house we had ever rented, although it provided everything we needed, even boogie boards.  The kitchen was decent except for the knives (and I had to go to Walmart and buy a pan to bake chicken in).  We didn't rent a beach package because the price had more than doubled, and being there two weeks made the cost ridiculously prohibitive, but they did furnish a charcoal grill with the property.  It was a super vacation, despite the shabbiness, and you can read about it in my August 2015 logs, if you wish.  We had Shannon and Jon for the first week, and then our friends Ann and Walter joined us when Shannon left, for the second week.

Most recently, we stayed oceanfront on Sunset Beach for the very first time, about a week ago (April 2016), in a house called Dune Our Thing.  This sounds fancier than it was.  It was a pet friendly oceanfront rental, and it was affordable, so that should give you some idea.  It may have been even shabbier than Beach Time from last summer; at any rate, the washer and dryer were rustier.  I quite enjoyed the "art" on the walls in this house, and I got used to the bright colors after a few days, and began to feel fondly about them.  We took Schubert, and spent some time just the two of us and our little brown dog (who was not much enamored of the beach).  We might have gotten lonely for family, but David and a friend of his joined us for a number of days, so that was a blessing.  Shawn had a blast setting up a ham radio and contacting many people in many places, from Uruguay to the United Arab Emirates to Russia and Ireland to Australia and back to Cary, NC!



So that is our history, to date, of beach vacation rentals.



To recap:

August 2002, Fisher's Wharf, OIB
April 2005, Amazing Grace, SB
August 2005, Southern Comfort, SB
April 2006, Conch Out, SB
April 2008, Tranquility Base, SB
August 2010, Carpenters' Cottage, SB
August 2011, Three Sisters, SB
August 2012, Sand in My Shoes, SB
August 2015, Beach Time, SB
April 2016, Dune our Thing, SB

Ten vacations, ten houses, ten sets of precious memories.




Monday, April 25, 2016

Sometimes I wonder



I think about the year sometimes.

There is such a pattern to the years of life.  Although every year is different in many ways, every year is also the same in many ways.

I've been thinking about it since my last post, where I began to discuss the solstices and equinoxes.

Building off what I started to discover in that last post, here's the deal:

Christmas is clearly a celebration of the Winter Solstice.  Actually, it is a celebration of the passing of the Winter Solstice.  I know this, because my birthday is December 22, and that is the actual Winter Solstice, the shortest, darkest, coldest day of the year.  Christmas comes three days later, and New Year's a full week after that.  Clearly, God planted Christmas at the turning point, when days start to grow longer instead of shorter.  I once sang in a Christmas cantata called, "Hope Has Come."  I often think how astoundingly correct that title was.  The advent of hope.  The turning of the tide.  The incarnation of the Savior.  The beginning of the end of sin's dark rule over humanity.  I am sure that this is divine purpose, and not coincidence.

One cannot help but notice that Easter happens near the Spring Equinox. At Easter time, we find ourselves rejoicing that the days are not only getting longer, but that the hours of the day have shifted to provide more light than dark during their 24 hours.  I think this is God's way of using nature to reflect what He is doing in the process of history.  After Jesus died and rose again, the human race received a clear pathway to glory.  Just as Jesus' birth turned things from ever-increasing darkness and doom to ever-increasing light and hope, Jesus' death and resurrection sealed the promise of the victory of good over evil.

And yet, there are promises to come.  There will be the fullness of the Lord, in all His glory, dwelling with His people, face to face.  There will be an end to all that is sad, disappointing, destructive, hurtful and dangerous.  There will be beauty and light and life everlasting, perfect redemption, perfect bodies, perfect personalities, perfect community, perfect joy.

This was paradise in Eden; this was how Creation stood at the outset.  Then sin crept in; decay began and begat death.  Pride, selfishness and unbelief led to disobedience, which led to shame and separation from God, which led to the increase of sin and the shading out of God's image in the world.  I'm not sure where this all falls in relation to the rhythms of a year and the Fall Equinox.  The Fall (the theological fall into sin, not autumn) must have preceded the Fall Equinox, because it was the Fall that ushered sin into the world and began the deterioration at the very beginning, when we first lost paradise.  The Fall Equinox comes later in the cycle and would symbolize Satan's expanding rule as prince of the earth, his growing power.

That entire half of the year, when darkness starts to grow following the Summer Solstice, and continues to grow until it threatens to overtake the light at the Winter Solstice (perhaps nearly does so in some polar climes), that half of the year symbolizes the period of human history between the Fall of Man and the Birth of Christ.

The birth of Christ changes the direction, reshapes the trajectory.  The birth of Christ leads to His crucifixion and resurrection, and the swell of life-giving light into lives that will accept it.

The Winter Solstice leads to the Spring Equinox.

And then the Summer Solstice.

My favorite.

I have to believe that the Summer Solstice symbolizes the Second Coming of Christ, the completion of the New Heavens and the New Earth.  The first creation broke and moved towards darkness and decay, but the New Creation will be perfect and last forever, eternally.

The Summer Solstice forever.

I cannot wait.

Except for the people who still need to put their faith in Jesus before He comes.  For them I can wait.  But oh, may they hear and believe.  Open their eyes and their hearts, Lord Jesus.

And then, please come soon.

He who testifies to these things says,  
“Surely I am coming soon.” 
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
~Revelation 22:20 (ESV)


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Position and direction



When we are at the beach, we start to track the tides.  Nearly always, a tide chart is affixed to the side of the refrigerator.

Low tide is when the beach strand is at its widest.  Often, the wind seems gentler at low tide.  Tide pools form in the low depressions, where trapped water warms in the sun and small children splash contentedly with their buckets and shovels, or sometimes just lie on their bellies absorbing sand into their swim suits.

At high tide, the beach is often wild and loud, the waves reaching high up towards the dunes.  Beach gear left unattended may be swept out to sea by the ever encroaching water.  You have to shout to your companions to be heard, and the water can slap you down or knock you over if you aren't careful.

My kids used to enjoy high tide, because it was more exciting.  However, most people like low tide best.  If you want to have a good time riding the waves on a boogie board, you want to go out sometime after the tide has begun to come back in from low tide, as it ramps up to high tide power.

Here we have our first example of position and direction.  You are at a position with high tide or low tide, but (as in my example) if you want to have a good time on your boogie board, it is not so much about your position at high or low tide; it is about whether the tide is coming in or going out.  Boogie boarding goes better when the tide is coming in, when the direction of the tide is inward.

I've noticed this same phenomenon with the seasons of the year.  I track the solstices and equinoxes like a fiend in my old age.  My favorite is the summer solstice.  I love long days, warm weather and lots of light (I've fantasized about owning a home in southern Argentina where I could go to spend November through March).  I love the summer solstice, but I love the spring equinox nearly as much, because it marks our victory of coming once again into that part of the year when days are longer than nights.  The summer solstice is the position I aim for, but the spring equinox tells me we're heading towards it and making good progress.

Even the winter solstice has a good side, if you consider it as a direction rather than a  position.  Immediately after the winter solstice, days start to get longer rather than shorter, which is quite a victory in its own right.  The lengthening of the days always adds an extra measure of satisfaction to my feeling of having survived the holidays after the year turns over to a brand new January 1.

The only point in the year that I decidedly dislike is the fall equinox, the time when nights begin to be longer than days, which I also associate with the start of the school year and Halloween.  Ugh.  But God is gracious in that He set things up so that preparations for His Son's birthday party begin to brighten that quarter of the year with candles and strings of sparkly lights which hold us over, amidst many precious gatherings of families and friends, until the days start to get longer once again.

What I'm trying to say is this: it's not just about where you are... it's about where you are headed.  If your goal is to reach Chicago, and you are just an hour east of Chicago, you are pretty close to your goal.  However, if your route is headed east, and you continue in that direction, you will not reach Chicago, no matter how near you may have been.  (Well, not unless you go around the entire earth, but that would take a very long time, and you'd have to figure out how to cross oceans.)

I could draw a lot of conclusions about life from this, but I am tired, so I hope you will ponder the idea and come up with some conclusions of your own.  Suffice it for me to say that the journey of life is never static.  You are always going in one direction or another, and sometimes you even have to take three left turns to make a right.  Sometimes you have to get through a winter before a spring thaw brings a spark of hope back into your heart.

Just keep track of where you are, and where you need to be, and keep plugging away, because life will surprise you most of the time, but God has a plan.

The tides come in, the tides go out.