Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Real Repentence is Hard February 26, 2010


The thing about change is that it requires you to give yourself over to God’s intent for you and forces you to let go of some things you might feel entirely entitled to otherwise.  Giving yourself over and loving like God requires, in fact, that you give up many of what society tells you are your rights. This morning when I woke up — again in a funk and with the last vestiges of anger clinging on when I rolled out of bed — I happened to run accross this article when I opened my email:  Anyway Love.

I’ll take you to the heart of it:

In Luke 6:32-36, Jesus says we shouldn’t love because. We should love anyway. If we love someone because that person is good to us, or gives back to us, or is kind to us, we’re acting no better than anyone else. In essence, Jesus is saying you don’t need the Holy Spirit to love a man who remembers every anniversary – not just the anniversary of your marriage, but the anniversary of your first date and your first kiss. Any woman could love a man like that. Or if you love a wife who lavishes you with sports gifts, who goes out of her way to make you comfortable when you get home from work and who wants sex anytime you do – well, you’re doing what any man would do. There’s no special credit in that!

But if you love a spouse who disappoints you, who can be a little self-absorbed – now you’re loving anyway. In doing that, you’re following the model of the heavenly Father, who loves the ungrateful and the wicked.

This is so true. It is perfectly right. There is no arguing it. And yet, it is so, so hard to take from your head to your heart.  And this is where I find much of my walk falls down.  Sitting and reading this article my whole being resonates with the rightness of loving as God has loved me.  As the article puts it:

Christians are called to anyway love. That’s what makes us different. That’s what gives glory to God. That’s what helps us appreciate God’s love for us, because God loves us anyway. He gives and gives and gives – and we take Him for granted. He is eager to meet with us, and we get too busy to notice Him. He is good to us, and we accuse Him mercilessly when something doesn’t go just the way we planned it.

But God loves us anyway. To love anyway is to love like God – and to learn about God’s love for us.

Every fiber of my being knows this is true. But when I stand up, when I walk through my home, past messes, through rooms that overwhelm me, and listen to requests from the people I love, I sometimes want to stop and cry or scream. Sometimes I DO stop and cry or scream. And I know in my head that this flies in the face of how I should love and how I should respond. But getting from knowing to doing is hard. Right now I feel trapped between “SO HELP ME…!” and “Oh, Jesus help me.”

And I need Jesus’ help. In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul talks about “taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ,” which means to me that our thoughts can be disobedient to Christ when we do not work to bring them into line with what we know to be true in God’s word.  Right now my thoughts and my heart are very undisciplined.  Can you think, for any of you who are perhaps struggling in a place of resentment and anger as I am, of the last time you felt at the end of your rope?  Can you track back your thoughts and their course?  I can because I’m in them right now.  I won’t detail through them again — it’s the last thing I need.  But I can tell you the general course:  I begin to fume and fester over whatever has made me upset that time and then, like a magnet attracting metal shavings, every other resentment comes to the fore and I find myself attaching the worst intentions, the greatest wrongs, remembering old hurts and seething until the entire situation is blown completely out of proportion.

I used to think that some of Paul’s language was a bit overblown in passages like these but here, thinking and asking for God’s help in understanding, I begin to see that facing my own undisciplined thoughts really IS like facing an army arrayed against the truths of Godly love seeking to make their way from my head into my heart and out of me into the way I deal with my family and my home. I’ll be honest, if that were the only hope I had, my ability to overcome my own sinful heart and desires and actions, I’d throw up my hands in despair and I’d have no reason to hope that this will change.

But I don’t only have myself to rely on.  I have the Holy Spirit, and I have the faithfulness of my Savior to trust in.  My hope is not in my ability to get up, let it all go and move on by the power of my own strength.  Rather, I am reminded of my real hope, the hope the author of Hebrews wrote about in chapter 10:

19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

He who promised is faithful.

I don’t sit here needing to find the perfect exercise on my own. Rather, by His grace, I’m reminded of God’s grace and that changes something in my heart, even now as I write this. It doesn’t mean I get to just sit. But it does mean that as I look toward some of the things I need to accomplish today, and am reminded of who it is I really serve in serving those I love, and whose love causes me to love…it all seems less onerous. And that means something has changed for me today.

The end of that passage from Hebrews says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” So as I get up to make my way into my day, my responsibilities and relating with my family, I urge any of you with whom this resonates to plead with God to touch your heart and remind you of all he’s done for you. He did it while we were undeserving. He did it while we were lost in sin. He did it while we resembled nothing good, nothing worthy, nothing beautiful. Ask him to make that the starting point for your heart change.

Nothing around me looks different. But that isn’t the point. The point is Jesus. I have dishes to do.

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Seeing and Being Seen July 25, 2009


When she was a senior in high school, my mom was nominated for and then won the Miss Elsinore contest in the little town she grew up in.  She went on to get a runner-up slot in the Miss Riverside contest that same year.  I remember being agog at the fact that my very own, every day, utterly normal (only in a kid’s eyes!) mom was a beauty queen!  I would press her for all sorts of details and was constantly left a little disappointed because she seemed so completely uninterested in it all.  She would say things like, “Well, it wasn’t ME on that stage.  I had on 10 pounds of make-up!” and “Oh I hated that picture…but you know, I DID get to leave class one day for that photo shoot and that was pretty fun.”

The first time what she was saying to me really started to make sense was when I was a teen.  I’d brought the story up again and begged her to drag out the photos and she told me a few details of that week to make me happy.  “Mom, were you SO popular then?”  She laughed.  “Well, I had a date every day that next week!”  The thought of it made my toes positively curl with glee.  “And did any of them end up being your boyfriend?”  “Oh, love, NO.  No.  They didn’t want to go on a date with ME.  They wanted to go out on a date with Miss Elsinore.  To say they’d gone out to dinner with the local beauty queen.”

And there, plainly, was the crux of the matter.  Mom did not feel like, when she won that contest, it was based on real things.  She did not feel that she had been really seen.  She didn’t feel that it really had anything to do with who she really was at all.  Any real piece of her that had been there for judging had been slathered under pounds of stage makeup.

When I fell in love with my husband, I barely remembered how to put makeup on.  It was in 2001 at the tail end of my mother’s first bout with cancer.  It had been a grueling year and I felt stripped of artifice of any kind.  When we met I wasn’t looking for a relationship at all — I was utterly unprepared to be charming or beautiful or socially acceptable.  I was in a stage of my life where I grossed people out inadvertently by just explaining the day-to-day basics of our lives.  What we found funny at home other people in non-cancer world did not find funny.  When people asked, “How are you?” I couldn’t gracefully tell anymore whether they really wanted to know or if they were just asking because that was how conversation was supposed to go and the next line was supposed to be “Oh, fine thank you!  And you?”

I remember walking toward Ryan one night at a little dive we used to go to after coming out of the ladies room and realizing that for the first time of any that I could think of when he looked over and saw me and lit up with a smile, he was smiling at me.  All my cracks and dings and rawness were right there in front of him and he was delighted to have me coming over to slide back into the seat across from him.  As much as I loved him for so many wonderful things, I loved him for that.

There is something, I think, about being laid bare, recognized for who you are, and loved in the face of it all.

This is, in the end, what makes the love of my Savior so intoxicating and breathtaking when I stop in day-to-day business and ponder him.

Think about it:  There are stars in the sky so far away that our very strongest telescopes can only pick them out as specks of light in the vast distance.  Yet our physical beings are determined by 25,000 human genes that were not fully mapped until less than a decade ago and are contained in such microscopic detail that no human eye could ever decipher them without powerful aid.  Romans 1 declares that what can be known of God has been made plain to men and that His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen in the things that have been made.  What creation tells us is that our God is unfathomable.  He is greater than we can even begin to comprehend.

With the greatest of care and imagination He knit each of us together in our mothers’ wombs.  He named us before we had names.  He knew us before we could be known by any other being and knew us more fully than we even know ourselves.  Every hidden dark place, every decision made wrong, every hatred, every cheat, every selfishness, every slight given was before his eyes when he then chose to love us with a deep, never-ending, fierce, perfect love.  He holds back nothing in that love.  Nothing at all was too great a sacrifice — not even the cross.

If, tonight, you are needing to feel love — ponder on this for awhile.  As unlovable as you may feel you are loved beyond what you can possibly imagine.  If you are God’s and springing to the front of your mind is “Yes but you don’t know what I…” — I can tell you that no matter how you finish that sentence, no matter how dark the ending, God knows and he loves you anyway.  If you acknowledge him, if you love him, if the darkness of the things you keep tight in your heart make you understand your need for the cross and, therefore, thankful for it then I can assure you that He knows and loves you still with a love that makes all things good and new.  He sees you and He has allowed himself to be seen.

I’m just a little bit agog about all of this tonight and so I thought I’d share.  Maybe now my brain will quiet down enough for me to sleep.

 

Buzzy Bees and Gargening Again…FINALLY! July 21, 2009

Filed under: family,garden,Gardening,love,stories,thanks — Mary @ 9:24 pm
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Tomorrow I’m heading over to break ground at my new garden site — the back yard of a family friend.  It’s closer to us (less than a mile), has an enclosed yard, and is one block from the beach:  A good treat for my son when he’s been with me as I garden.  I have a rototiller to put together and beds to measure out and I just simply MUST put in my tomatoes which have been languishing in pots outside our apartment for three weeks now.

Is this odd?  I’m approaching this with much trepidation.  Getting started on a garden is just so much work.  But at the same time, I’m thrilled to death to get going on it.  It’s been a long time coming and my fingers are itching for soil.  My final inspiration was sitting in our living room last night after the tomatoes were watered.  I could smell them and the window fan was actually pulling the scent of them into the room on cool air after the heat of the day.  The ache for green is officially irresistible!

I’ll dig out my box of seed tomorrow and figure out what to start, as well.  Although we’re in a weird month to start growing.  I’ll have to pull up my old planting charts for this area, as well.

Before and after pictures will come, of course.

Last night as I finished up some work before bed, I listened to my husband and son in my son’s room.  My husband had gone in to cuddle him before he went to sleep.  The conversation went like this:

“I love you, Buddy.”

“I love you, too, Honey.”

“Hey!  I’m not your honey!”

“Oh yes you aaaarrree!”

“I’m not your honey…I’m daddy!”

“NO!  Your my honey!” (Accompanied by the beginnings of giggles.)

“Oh yeah?  Well…do you know who LOVES honey??”

“Who?”

“BEES!”

And then there was the most screechingly delightful round of tickles giggles and belly laughs heard in recent history. The perfect lullaby.

I am tremendously, infinitely, completely blessed.

 

A Monument to Joy in Loss July 7, 2009


When we knew my mom was dying — really dying and soon — family began to pour in to see her at the hospital as we waited for hospice to be set up so she could come home.  We still thought that perhaps we had a few weeks with her but there was a certain urgency in my heart to say something to her.  To say…what?  I thought a lot about the things that people say in deathbed scenes in books and movies and on TV.  So many people feel the need to plead for forgiveness for that last wrong they thought of, that last hurt that had gone buried all those years, to confess, to clear the air, to leave no potential stone of regret unturned at the end.  I felt no need for any of that with my mom at her deathbed.

Throughout the Old Testament you read about the people of Israel raising monuments as reminders to themselves and all who observed them of the glorious things God had done for them and through them.  In the beginning of the book of Joshua, after 40 years in the wilderness, the people of Israel finally were able to cross the Jordan and enter into their promised land.  The first thing they did after crossing over the Jordan was take 12 stones, one for each tribe of the people, and build a monument with them.  Joshua instructed them to do this so that when their children asked what the stones meant, the people would be reminded to tell the children of God’s mighty work of stopping up the waters of the over-filled Jordan so that his people might pass safely on dry ground.

On the one hand, it’s sort of funny to think that a people would need a monument to remember a story like that.  You know?  HOW could you forget seeing the water piled up on itself as Scripture said it was, waiting for you to cross into the new home you’d been waiting your whole life to reach?  It’s preposterous!  Well, it’s funny and preposterous until you stop and take a good look at the frailty of your own memories and how they can be changed so easily and quickly sometimes.

We’re told later on that the people fell into sin and disarray almost immediately and that it was because they did not teach their children to remember the mighty ways of what God had done to deliver them.  They did not remember themselves.

And can’t you hear it?  Imagine, say, even fifteen years later, how the story might have been twisted at first.  “Daddy, really did God stop up the water?  Did it really pile up so high while you crossed over that it was taller than your head??” “Oh son, I was so young then and so small!  Why, I was shorter than you are now.  So perhaps the water seemed very high but…”  “Oh son, it was so long ago.  But the water was very shallow.  Perhaps it had been a dry season that year and we were so releaved to cross over that it seemed as if the very hand of God stopped the water and dried out the sand…”

But no.  No that was not how the story went at all.  And the people all together that first day lay those stones and all acknowedged the supernatural greatness of what had been done by their mighty God.  They acknowledged it together so that later together they could help each other remember how it really happened and so that they could continue to praise their mighty God and teach their children to praise him as well.

And so this is the monument I want to raise — a monument to the joy I was allowed while losing my mother, because of the God she loved and served and who I love and serve as well.  I nearly lost this memory, it very nearly got changed in the telling, and so I want to preserve it here now.

This was the last real conversation I had with my mom:

Sitting and holding her hand while my dear husband looked on, I was able to tell her thank you for her love and for the fact that I did not feel the need to beg forgiveness for anything.  It was not my own perfection that allowed me to feel this.  Rather, I felt no need to beg because I knew that forgiveness had been freely and openly given already and I rested in the peace of that — thankful, so very thankful that because of that forgiveness I could simply bask in her love and my own love for her.

I hurt my mother deeply through the 29 years of my life with her.  Sometimes I hurt her unintentionally and sometimes I did it very intentionally.  Sometimes I did not mean to be ugly and sometimes I was ugly just to feel the power of the effect it had on her.  I was, indeed, sometimes that kind of daughter.  And we did have wonderful, sweet times together — they far outnumbered the bad times.  But they did not make up for the bad times at all.  There was real and deep hurt there.  But Christ went deeper still.

And so sitting there wanting badly to say the right last things, the most important last things, I found that all there was in my heart was love and thanks and more love and more thanks and a whole lot of expectation for the time when, after I spend the whole rest of my earthly life missing her, I would get to see her again as we worshipped at Jesus’ throne.  And so that’s what I told her and she understood me perfectly.

You see, my mom knew herself before a perfectly righteous and just God.  She knew herself to be a sinner.  She didn’t think that, on her own merit, she would someday stand before His throne and hear “You did good, kid.  We’ll call it even.”  In fact she had a sense of her own sin that was so sincere that it seemed sometimes ridiculously out of proportion to the sweetness and the love we all knew from her.  But because she wasn’t comparing herself to the rest of the world but rather to her perfect Savior, she knew keenly that she fell short.  And that made the love and forgiveness she found at the foot of His cross so precious to her.  It was so precious, so powerful, so all-encompassing in its enormity that it changed her utterly and it made her like Him.  And because she was learning to be like Him I found in my mother love and forgiveness and tenderness and self-sacrifice all wrapped in real joy that taught me about Him, too.

And so, at the end of that confession of all that was in my heart to her, do you know what my mom said?  She didn’t deny that there were things that had had to be forgiven.  She acknowledged that all of what I’d said and known of her heart was true.  And then she told me that she was proud of me because she could see the fruit of Jesus’ love for me in my life and that other people had shared with her that they could see His work in me, too.  And she told me that she loved me.  And we cried — a lot.

It was the best deathbed confession I could have possibly come up with, only it wasn’t contrived.  It was what was in our hearts and it was real.

You might wonder why I’m writing about this now, almost a year and a half later.

Over the course of a few months this last year my memory of this time with my mom began to change a bit.  What I remembered were the parts of what I’d said to her about having no regrets to come to her with.  Somehow my memory changed and left out the parts that had to do with our mutual knowledge of God’s forgiveness in our lives.  I didn’t remember at all her response to me.  Rather, what remained in my mind became a picture of me blithely and somewhat insensitively refusing to acknowledge the full picture of our relationship together and insisting that it had been good enough for me to have no regrets.  I started to cringe at myself.  I no longer thought of that time with her at the end with peace in my heart and it started to color all of the other memories of that sweet and painful time of loss over the next few days before she went home.  Suddenly, where there had been none before, I had regret.

God is faithful where our memories are not and one day in my kitchen I paused over a counter I was scrubbing and was suddenly overwhelmed with the need to remember what she’d said to me.  WHAT had she said to me when I’d so calously informed her that I had nothing at all to be sorry for?  I paused and closed my eyes and forced myself to think through the hot shame that this partial memory brought and remember what she’d said in response to me…she said…that in me she could see the work of Jesus.

And the rest of it came flooding back.

Oh what relief to see that whole picture again!  Jesus!  He is mighty to save.  He is faithful to forgive.  He lives and pleads for me!  HE was the reason we had no regret.  HE was the reason losing her was suffused with joy.  HE was the reason, He was the topic, He is our mighty God.

When I read the story of Isreal and their monument at the Jordan I though to myself, “I must raise one of my own.”

Here it is.

God brought me over the trecherous river of my faulty memory safely and reminded me of the joy and peace only He could give.

Truly, He is my Rock and He is my salvation.

 

United We Paint June 27, 2009

Filed under: family,friends,thanks — Mary @ 10:04 pm
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My sweet hub agreed to come with me to a United We Paint event that our community group at church was participating in.  If you’re looking for a way to reach out in your community and UWP serves in your area, I highly recomment it.  It was well organized and very fun and, quite honestly, I was shocked at how nice the house looked with two new fresh coats of paint.

The lady who lived in the home where we worked moved into our community in 1939!  She’d lived in that house since 1954.  I just can’t imagine all of the changes she must have seen living in that little neighborhood right down the street from us for all these years.  Amazing.  This whole area used to mostly be farmland and flower fields leading up almost to the shoreline itself.  I wish I could have seen it back then.

There was something especially sweet about being with Ryan doing this today.  I watched how hard he worked at the painting we were doing, going back over spots that needed extra work and kindly admonishing me when he found some areas where I had not paid enough attention.  His kindness and the obvious capability with which he worked as we painted our way along our assigned area rounded out my love for him just a little bit more today.

Love really is a process, isn’t it?  It stretches and grows and fills out and cracks open and fills in again in ways that we can never really anticipate.  It’s beautiful.  I am very thankful to be married to him.

 

Greetings from Okieville July 21, 2008

Filed under: family,friends,grace,grandma,thanks — Mary @ 7:01 am
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Greetings from Okieville where my family and I have been basking in the heat, the skeeters, the music of the tree frogs and cicadas, and tons and tons of love.

I meant to explain my absence before it started, but was too wrapped up in last-minute preparations.

So, until our return, I hope your face aches from smiling as much as mine does.

 

What He’s Done for Me June 17, 2008

Filed under: grace,rambling thoughts,thanks — Mary @ 10:16 pm
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I attended a church in our neighborhood this weekend as I was feeling under the weather and an hour round trip drive just wasn’t in the cards. I appreciated the service and appreciated, too, what the pastor had to say. None of it was un-biblical and everything that came out of his mouth, I needed to hear. But there was something missing and its lack rang loudly in my ears as I gathered up my notes which contained a stunning “to do” list of things that I felt incapable of accomplishing before I even left the doors of the church.

Do you ever feel that way? Whether you are a Christian or not, I imagine that if you’ve ever heard a sermon preached you likely wound up at some point thinking, “Give me a break. Who can really live like that? I know I can’t. And I doubt any of these people sitting here can, either. And if they say they are, they’re probably hypocrites.”

And you’d be right. Even as a Christian I must on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute basis answer truthfully if anyone were to ask, “I have failed.”

When we are focused this way, as I was with my “to do” list on Sunday, it’s hard to find the hope.

But then, I happily was reminded as I went to pick Eamonn up from Children’s Church, my hope is not in myself. It’s in Jesus and in what he’s accomplished. If my hope were in myself, and if my salvation laid in the things that I accomplished there would be little room for hope at all. But it is not my work that saves me, it is Jesus’ and it is out of thanks for this that I dare not to despair and to try to live a life that is pleasing to him.

It is amazing the difference you feel when you go from living a life of vain effort in the hopes that it will be good enough, to living a life of thanks for what has already been accomplished for you, secure in the outpouring of love and mercy rather than trying to earn a reward for which you are not worthy anyway.

I bring this up not to criticize the sermon I heard on Sunday. I was worshiping with a body of believers who love Jesus. I bring it up because that understanding — that Christ is your hope and that he is the one who has accomplished what you clearly could not — is so incredibly important, and yet it is so easy to lose sight of. We lose sight of it time and time again.

If you need to be reminded of that hope, or even if you don’t quite believe it’s real but you want to know more about it, I would encourage you to listen to “An Unjust Judge and a Persistent Widow,” preached by Pastor Ted Hamilton at New Life on the first of this month. In the last few minutes of the sermon, Ted takes all these floating points and draws them together in such a way that, upon the hearing, I wished a little bit that we spent more time shouting “Hallelujah” from the top of our lungs in Presbyterian circles.

And so I repeat to myself today, on a day when I felt like such a failure in so many ways as a mom, as a Christian, and with an insight on all of the sad things that go on inside of me every day as I struggle with my baser desires, pettiness and selfishness: I hope in Christ, not in myself. I am cherished because He is the first born. I am loved because He is loved. It is finished because He finished it. It is forgiven because He paid. For what He accomplished I am rewarded. And with the relief of that I can rest and pray to do better on the new day. Not to earn anything, but to say thank you for what He earned and gives freely to me.

 

 
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