A Peek Through My Lens

By request, I’m posting some of my favorite recent shots. Until the past year my “hobby” has been taking care of my home and family. While that’s still going on, I’ve added something really fun to do that serves my family and friends, and captures the emotion of both normal life and fun events.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Sheree Rae Photograph

Sheree Rae Photography

There’s something precious about a newborn crying. This picture brings tears to my eyes as I remember my dear friends praying for over ten years for a baby. Samantha is now three months old and is filling her parents lives with joy. I had such fun doing her first photo shoot.

Photo credit: Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Several weeks ago Benny and I found out Janelle and Eric and giving us Little Person number twelve, due the day before Benny’s birthday in October. My Missy is becoming a mommy!

Photo credit: Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

We have blondes, a brunette and some beautiful redheads among our Little People. I love watching how much my grandchildren love their siblings. Well, most of the time.

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Rachel is Mom to the redheads above. Her love for my son and their children is a blessing beyond words. As my first “New Girl” she taught me how to release the first of my four sons to married life. I’m so grateful.

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Amelia turned two last month and — no surprise — Lauren planned a Disney party. (Was it also an excuse for her to wear the Minnie dress Papa bought her on the day of her first Disney visit?) This picture perfectly captures Millie’s personality! Her snaggle-toothed grin (from an injury last year) makes me smile every time. I just wish there were sound affects to go with this pic.

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Our dear friends, Jenn and David, have triplets! Last weekend I went over for a photo shoot and couldn’t stop clicking! I wish could share all the pictures but this one of Emma captures my heart. Doesn’t she look like a little angel?

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Here they are: the most adorable triplets in the world. Their parents are my heros. Love and sacrifice ooze from them as the enjoy and celebrate their unique little ones.

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Ellie and Elsie love to laugh. Pictures like this light up my world and remind me of how much fun it is to be Granma.

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

One of the many perks of living in Orlando is being able to take the Little People to Disney. Last month we got to take Josiah, Jesse and Rebekah’s youngest. I caught this shot of him after a long day of fun. Such a cutie.

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Backyard fun at Papa and Granma’s often involves Red Light, Green Light. Soon we’ll be playing in our new back yard….

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Whenever my camera shows up, Annie is always an eager subject. My camera finds her a lot.

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Wyatt is my first grandson; just three days older than his cousin, JJ. This picture scares me a little. He’s looking so much like a young man and less like a little boy. It’s okay, though. My Little People aren’t allowed to age past six, so later next month his birthday will make him 6 plus 2.

Sheree Rae Photography

Sheree Rae Photography

Watching my children marry and start their own families leaves me experiencing a mixture of sadness and joy. I miss having all my chicks in the nest but the deep joy I find in seeing a new generation being raised to love and serve the Lord by godly parents brings treasured contentment. And I admit it, sometimes I love it when everyone leaves and the house gets quiet.

I am one wealthy woman who is undeserving of such kindness from God.

Advertisements

Tears in an Empty Bedroom

I walked into our new home yesterday for a pre-closing walkthrough. An empty house always makes me a little sad. Memories made are over. New ones not yet started. Stark and empty walls begging for pictures stared at me as I surveyed each room. Empty kitchen cupboards reminded me that my mismatched glasses will await Little People dropping them on yet another tiled floor. Dog mess in the back yard made me picture Wallace darting around there once a fenced is installed. A large empty room across from what will become our bedroom is the place Benny’s mom will soon call home.  White walls in Julia’s future room will be painted dark colors to welcome her space theme. The twin beds Jesse and Joey used 25 years ago will house new mattresses (finally!) for Jake and friends he’ll bring home from college to our new address.

We measured to add some trim in our bedroom; little ways to make it feel like “us.” As I stood alone in the room while Benny checked out other things, tears welled. After spending decades in the same home in Virginia before moving to Florida twelve years ago, this will be our third move in just over ten years. Just as one starts to feel like home, we move. Roots that use to go down deep have become loose and disheveled.

When I was younger I used to more eagerly welcome change. Benny got used to coming home to rearranged furniture and patiently listened to my latest ideas about paint colors or another wall I wanted to knock down to make our home more roomy. How many times did my elementary aged kids help me with a wallpaper project when Dad was out of town? I still have a couple of the wood shelves Josh made as a pre-teen during my “country” decorating phase when visits to the craft store were weekly happenings. Even little changes like new bathroom towels perked things up — until a helpful little one grabbed one to clean up vomit or sop a puddle of grape juice from the table.

As I age, I find change less inviting. Remember my ceiling fan post? It’s coming down in a day or two to make the 30 minute drive with me where it, too, will have a new home.

My tears were unexpected. God has graciously grown my faith for this move. In fact, Sunday morning I shared a testimony with Redeemer Church (the reason for our move) about the amazing work He has done in my heart over the past year. I know this move is God’s will and I’m eager to get going into this new season in our family’s life.

So why was I crying?

A season is ending for real. While the church is just over a year old, I’ve remained near friends. Although busyness has kept us from getting together regularly I know they’re “there.” Now they will be farther away and I will be building friendships with others; people I haven’t yet met that will take a long time to get to know. This past year while God’s timing for a move has been sought, I’ve shopped at the same grocery stores and frequented the same restaurants. I don’t have to pay close attention to where I’m going because the roads are familiar. Large and mature trees greet me each day when I turn into the driveway, as if to say, “Welcome back.”

But as recently as a few days ago I got all turned around trying to find our new house.

Embracing change can be hard. Are you experiencing unplanned changes in your life? A lay off? Unexpected pregnancy? Financial challenges? Unsettling or perplexing issues with a friend? Another year without the person of your dreams? A child that seems suddenly disinterested in spiritual things?

Change happens. And when it does it can remind us that God never changes. He is always faithful. Always constant. Always near. Always in control.

Last night I was comforted by the truth that where I live isn’t nearly as important as who I live with. The place that holds my furniture and displays framed pictures of those I love is just drywall and stucco. Nothing more. But wherever I go and whatever street I live on will be just that: a temporary place to call home.

Whatever changes you’re facing, will you join me in asking God to remind us that the Unchanging One is with us here and there? Through surprise blessings and unwanted challenges? When tears come unexpectedly for reasons we don’t understand? In seasons when we’re full of faith one day and tempted to discouragement the next?

Later this week my new house will be full of boxes that hold decades of Benny’s and my life in them. We will slowly unpack everything and put pictures on the walls. And he’ll install my ceiling fan. I’m thinking that a year or two from now, if I’m still blogging, I will tell you that Mallard Landings Way is starting to become home.

Thought it all, He will be there.  Unchanging. Forever faithful. Always good.

A Perfect Dozen

Yet another surprise pregnancy test….

Three children in less than four years. Good thing I had two “older” kids (ages 7 and 8) to help out.  Little did I know how much I would need their help.

When I was five weeks pregnant I was put on bedrest to prevent a threatening miscarriage. Doctor Crowe didn’t give Benny and me much hope that our little one would make it. “You have four healthy children and one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage so you need to prepare yourself to lose this one. Go home and only get up to use the bathroom. I will see you back next week unless you need me before then.”

The following week he sent me home again — and repeated his counsel for the next four weeks. Miraculously, our baby was growing under hostile conditions. Six weeks after being placed on bedrest he told us everything was fine! During that time Josh and Jaime made lunches, potty trained their brother, brought school work to my bed to do each morning, did laundry and cared for their baby brother. On September 4 we all rejoiced at the birth of beautiful Janelle Marie. We thanked God together for protecting her, and for an older brother and sister who did more than their part to see that day happen.

Two weeks ago dinner with friends was interrupted by our now 26-year-old daughter.

“Mom, what happens when a pregnancy test is kinda positive?” she asked. “I’m sorry…oh…I didn’t want to tell you like this.  Well, maybe I’m not pregnant anyway. So am I pregnant or not?” (It’s always fun when my RN daughter calls Mom with medical questions.)

“Kinda positive? What? Wait..you’re pregnant?” I knew Eric and Janelle were hoping to have a baby soon but Eric is job hunting so I knew this wasn’t on their radar screen right now. Fortunately our dinner friend (and his wife) was also our family physician. After I blubbered my way through a question he recommended that Janelle wait three days then do the test again.

Photo credit: Granma

Photo credit: Granma

My Missy is having a baby.

Over the past week I’ve been reflecting on God’s kindness. He saved by baby girl’s life and is now blessing her with a baby of her own. Will her little one will throw temper tantrums that dwindle the baby sitter’s list down to family only? Capture the attention of strangers with sparkling blue eyes and a captivating smile? Have future sibling relationships characterized by both caustic bickering and warm affection? Will her toddler’s eyes light up when she walks into the room? Will he or she rush to greet Daddy when he comes home from work and insist on being prayed for each night before bed?

I smile when I think of how God is already using her little one to cultivate maternal sacrifice in my girl. She goes to work as a nurse feeling tired and sick when she wishes someone could take care of her instead. She invited friends over for dinner and had to skillfully shimmy meal prep between bouts of nausea. She came to help me pack when she would have rather rested and napped. Having 11 nieces and nephews has given her quite an education — and she’s embracing a life of sacrifice and servanthood while realizing already that having kids complicates rather than tidies up your life.

This fall, God willing, my Missy will hold a little one in her arms for the first time. She will experience a rush of emotion that will take her breath away and cause her heart to swell with motherly love. Through sleep deprivation and exhaustion beyond what she has ever experienced she will cry out to God for help and probably shed more than a few tears. She’ll look at herself and wonder if she’ll ever get back into her old jeans and perhaps battle discouragement over how a tiny person that weighs less than ten pounds could possibly require so much work.

And she’ll make lots of calls to her big sister and me about how to know if the baby is hungry or tired, if the poop is the right color, and how to know if she’s feeding enough or too much. Eric will probably makes some calls, too. As a new Daddy he’ll be helping care for a baby…and a Mommy.

Today I’m praying for you, sweetie. Praying for health and growth, but also that God will put into your little heart a desire to know Him at a young age. A passion for purity that results in trusting Him to provide a spouse rather than manipulating and compromising to get one. An infectious love for the truths found in God’s word. A loyal love for Mom and Dad that makes the battle with premature independence worth fighting. And a heart of worship that inspires all who know him or her.

Just like Mommy.

Number Twelve's Cousins

Number Twelve’s Cousins

I already love you, little one. You are Papa’s and my legacy — another Little Person to love and rock to sleep and fight all the sisters for snuggle time and buy candy for. You have eleven cousins who will love you; push you; grab things from you; kiss you; and teach you to play Duck, Duck Goose. Uncles who will throw you in the air and decide soon after you’re born if you’ll be a point guard or play underneath. Aunts who will forget that I get first place as Granma and rush to Mommy to hold you first.

And you’ll have another family, too, who will love you as much and provide you with even more love and snuggles.  What a blessed little one you are.

In just about 227 days I will meet you face to face. Blonde? Brunette? Boy? Girl? The only things I know is you will be deeply loved and welcomed into our growing family…and that you’ll have a really loud laugh.

See you soon, Number Twelve!

Wait…Was a Speck Just Removed From my Eye?

It was sometime in the late 80’s and Benny and I were sitting in a hotel room with some friends. Our eight combined children were finally all down for the night and we parents were looking forward to some much anticipated adult conversation.

I don’t remember how it happened but the conversation turned to my frustration with how easily I found fault with Benny, rather than seeing evidences of God’s grace in his life. Did other wives struggle with this, too? Or did I never pick up on wifely irritation because we Christians are too often “on our best behavior” around others and leave our snippy attitudes for behind-closed-doors interactions at home? The wife empathized with my temptations and shared that she, too, was often tempted to be critical of her husband, even when she kept her attitudes to herself.

Over the next hour or so, the Holy Spirit gently convicted me of my lack of commitment to encourage Benny. It wasn’t that there weren’t things about him that I dearly loved and admired. But what too often bubbled to the surface of my heart, and then came out of my mouth sometimes, were things that frustrated or irritated me.

How did this conviction come about? By the questions and thoughtful observations of my friends and husband.

  • “Yeah, Sheree, I can see what you’re saying. Sometimes it seems like you’re a little quick to poke at Benny. We love the playfulness between you, but I’m realizing as you talk that I haven’t often heard you thank or encourage him much, at least when we’re around.”
  • “Benny, do you feel a lack of encouragement from Sheree? What challenges does that present for you?”
  • “Sheree, what do you sense the Lord is saying to you?  What might change look like in the future?”

Some serious speck removal was happening that night. But no one was gouging them out of my eye with accusing words or painful jabs. In fact, I started it by confessing my struggles and inviting their help. My conscience was already bothering me so their honest questions and observations didn’t take me off guard.

When Benny and I retired to our room in the wee hours, I asked his forgiveness for my stinking attitudes and criticalness. I expressed my desire to grow in encouragement as a wife, but acknowledged some of my habits were so deep seated change would take time. What had just happened?  The day before I had said some biting, fault-finding things to him — and now I was asking his forgiveness.

What happened was speck removal. My husband and friends had the courage and love to  gently help me see what was happening in my heart; and then coming out of my mouth.

“Benny, did I just get confronted?” I playfully asked him. When specks are removed gently and compassionately, there is relief not condemnation. I felt cared for, not criticized; helped, not judged.

I wish I could say that night changed me forever. It didn’t. I’m still tempted to judge my husband and to find fault rather than look for things to encourage. But I’ve experienced the life changing grace of God to see my sin more quickly and to find hope for ongoing change. The correction of friends isn’t what changes us, after all. Change comes only by convicting, sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit moving on our hearts. Because Jesus died for and lives within me, I can have faith that “He who has begun a good work in me will carry it on to completion” (Phil 1:6). You can, too!

I remain a work in progress but am forever grateful for the truth-telling that set my heart on course for change.

Candy and Trinket Christian Living? Not!

Marketers know what they’re doing. They fill clear containers with colorful candies and toys at just the right height for little ones to notice; then place them strategically in restaurant lobbies or other well traveled places so moms and dads can hear, “Can I have a quarter?” on a regular basis. The quarter goes in and a handful of candy or a plastic enclosed trinket falls into eager little hands. Marketing success!

Sometimes we Christians expect the same from our growth in godliness. Put prayer or consistent devotions or serving others in and — boom! — out comes spiritual maturity. While there’s certainly considerable value in these activities, simply doing them won’t produce quick results. Becoming Christlike, as author Jerry Bridges says, requires “personal, vigorous effort anchored in the grace of God.”

Why? Because God isn’t in the marketing business. Put the money in/walk away with results just isn’t how He chose to grow Christians. Believe me, if there was a way for that to happen I would have figured it out by now.

One of the main ways God grows children is by using their siblings. This isn’t just true in biological families; it’s also true in spiritual ones. Children learn to share, resolve conflicts, stop tattling, overcome selfishness and love someone besides themselves by messing up and then having others teach them how to change. Even God’s children grow through the normal “iron sharpening iron” rubbing with other flawed believers (see Proverbs 27:17). Add speck removal to living in a fallen world with broken people like ourselves and what falls into our hands isn’t usually a goody. In fact, we often walk away from challenging interactions with disappointment, offense, confusion, misunderstanding and hurt feelings.

Tim Lane of CCEF says, “God has put me in your life, and he has put you in my life, for the purpose of making us more like Christ together.” Yep. One of the primary ways Christian growth happens is in the context of community. We shouldn’t be surprised. From eternity past the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have provided a powerful demonstration to us of how much relationship means to almighty God.

My posts on log and speck removal may have come as a surprise to some. “Seriously,” you may have thought, “are Christians really supposed to be up in each other’s business like this? I don’t know what you’re experiencing but my friends and I are way too polite and accepting to dig around for specks in each other’s eyes. Besides, it sounds way too messy.”

Living in genuine Christian community with others who are similarly fallible, weak and flawed as ourselves is messy. In fact, I have often chosen the tidy road of limiting my input in other’s lives to encouragement. It’s fun to be known as an encourager, after all.

But the kind of life changing growth that God is after in our lives is designed to happen in a mess: a mess that author Paul Tripp says is “worth making.”

I knew a woman once whose home was immaculate every time I saw it. When I asked how she kept it so tidy and clean she responded, “It’s easy. I rarely have people over!” Our hearts and lives can stay relatively mess free if we don’t invite people in. Once we start to confess our sins or invite others to share things about us that concern them or venture into the risky business of humbly asking them about something we’ve noticed about their marriage/character/parenting/interactions with others — well, mess happens. It’s much easier to just keep the door of our lives closed so things can remain tidy and confusion free!

If you’ve found a magic coin that can be inserted into my heart that, when cranked, will produce a fistful of godliness, please let me know! Otherwise, I think Tim Lane is right. I’m grateful for the growth that has come in my life from times alone in my room worshiping, reading God’s word and praying. Engaging in the spiritual disciplines is a true gift. But I can’t refute the growth that has also come after I open the door and interact with my friends and family. After all, “the eye can’t say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.'” The God who has lived in trinitarian community forever calls and requires us to do the same.

Is the door to your life carefully locked and protected? Or does a welcome mat invite people to come on in and make a mess with you?

Speck removal in relationships isn’t about barging into someone’s life and pointing out irritants. Rather, it’s about fellow sinners pulling up comfy chairs and getting to know each other. Over time, biblical fellowship is born and specks start revealing themselves. Sometimes it’s hard and painful. But other times you walk away and think, “Hmmm. I can see better. What just happened?”

I’ll tell you about one of those times in my life tomorrow.

R.O.N.G. Wrong!

Years ago I heard a pastor tell the story of a time he had to admit to his wife that he was wrong. “R.O.N.G. Wrong!” he said with firm enunciation of each letter. Some of his friends later joked that he was so unfamiliar with acknowledging being wrong, he didn’t even know how to spell it!

When is the last time you said, “I was wrong?” Would those close to you and me say it’s something they hear only infrequently from us? Or it is a regular occurrence?

For me, it was last Saturday. I reacted angrily to someone I love. Of course, I felt justified. She acted selfishly and needed to learn a thing or two. I lectured. She withdrew. I seethed. She cried. We parted ways. Then I cried and felt foolish for being hurt. A few hours later we were together again and I apologized. She didn’t…so I was hurt again.

Ugh. I tried to remove a speck from someone’s eye by gouging it out with my words. Nope, it didn’t work.

It never does.

She needs correction and help. She was wrong, but her wrongness exposed my own weakness. And two wrongs definitely didn’t make a right. As David Pawlison says, our heart is like a sponge. When it gets squeezed, whatever was in the sponge comes out. If fresh water is in the sponge, fresh water comes out. If putrid water is in the sponge, putrid water comes out.  When my heart got squeezed, what was already in there — anger, resentment, frustration, irritation — came out.

So what happens when something in another’s life legitimately needs to be addressed and we blow it? We attempt to remove a speck gently (at first) but something goes wrong and, like Pinocchio’s lengthening nose, before we know it a log is growing out of our own eye as we speak. What then? Does our wrong discount the wrong of another?

Over the weekend I wrestled. Honestly, I’m still wrestling. I’m asking God to clarify for me why I reacted the way I did on Saturday. How did the yukky water that was squeezed out of the sponge of my heart get there? I generally apologized, but then told her I needed some time to discern the specific ways I had sinned against her; knowledge that only God could give me since only He knows my heart. I’m still asking and, gratefully, clarity is coming.

These words from author and teacher Paul Tripp have helped me over the past few days:

“When I come to the Lord after I’ve blown it…I leave the courtroom of my own defense, I come out of hiding and I admit who I am. But I’m not afraid, because I’ve been personally and eternally blessed. Because of what Jesus has done, God looks on me with mercy. It’s my only appeal, it’s the source of my hope, it’s my life. Mercy, mercy me!”

I blew it on Saturday. I wanted to defend myself to her; to myself; to God. But I had to just admit it: I was W.R.O.N.G. Wrong. The truth is, without God’s sanctifying grace in my life I would be a regularly angry person who demands to be heard, understood and appreciated. Apart from His power to change me, I would have no hope of growing in self-control and patience. Yes, I wouldn’t know how to spell wrong because there’s a part of me that still wants to justify myself and admit my failure only when others are willing to do so, too. I don’t mind admitting my wrongs if the blame is shared. I want everyone’s specks to be exposed and gone, not just because I ache for their freedom but, in part, because specks mess up my own life.

God, though, looks on me not with foot tapping impatience and frustration with my wrongness, but with forgiving mercy. How can that be? Such grace is scandalous because I deserve frustration, not forgiveness, from holiness Himself.

And so I ask again: Lord, help me. My dear one needs some speck removal. I tried and failed. My own log was revealed and I need your help to remove it. There is comfort in the admission that I am weak. Once again, I come to a throne of grace to find mercy. I’m not afraid because you died for me knowing I would need your forgiveness again and again. So please forgive me and help me to have the courage to attempt to gently remove that speck in Your time. And if not me, then help me to trust You to use someone else. Amen.

Speck Removal Begins

We had been friends for years but there was something different about this invitation to get together.

“Is everything okay?” I asked.

“Yes, everything’s fine. I just have some things I’d like to talk over with you,” she responded. “Can you come over sometime this week?”

Gulp. Somehow I knew I was “in trouble.” This friend has always been supportive, encouraging and lots of fun. We had gone through both tough and joyful times together. Whatever she had to share was going to be helpful, I knew. But I was still troubled….

When I arrived at her home she was her typical self: welcoming and warm. I was eager to hear what was on her heart so I jumped in to thank her in advance. Her friendship was dear and cherished, and we had talked comfortably and openly over the years about our strengths and weaknesses. I knew how hard it was to say hard things to someone I loved.

“Sheree, thanks for coming over,” she began. “I’ve been praying about this for some time and sensed the Lord wanted me to share with you some thoughts I’ve had….”

When she pulled out one of those yellow-lined pads of paper with hand written notes I gulped again. What could be so serious to warrant notes? What in the world had I done?

For the next couples of hours (ha…at least that’s what those thirtyish minutes felt like!) my friend lovingly and graciously pointed out several indications of what she called my hatred of correction. She cited the familiar verse in Proverbs 12:1 that says, “He who loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.” She contrasted my response to solicited correction and feedback verses being surprised by it. Then she skillfully and articulately pointed out several examples of times when I had either deflected input or defended myself when criticized. She expressed her concern that my response to unsolicited correction or evaluation was likely making it hard for those close to me to muster the courage to speak up. As I sat there listening, I knew there was no appropriate way to respond but to agree. After all, I certainly didn’t want to add another example to her list!

When I left that day I experienced a strange mixture of gratitude and discouragement. In fact, part of me wanted to do exactly what she had mentioned I had done before; I wanted to defend myself — or at least explain my side of the story on some of the examples she used. I wanted to remind her of the times I had responded well — at least outwardly. I felt her list of examples didn’t take into consideration the stinky attitudes of my correctors. I felt mildly judged and wished our conversation had been a little more of a friendly exchange than a lecture. I’m sure you’re getting the picture: my inward reactions to her feedback were only confirming her discernment.

Yet there was a fresh breeze of thankfulness in my heart for a friend who would have the courage and love to point out the speck in my eye.

Over the following days the Lord worked on my heart. What He was doing had little to do with my friend’s delivery (she would admit today that she should have been less of a lecturer and more of a conversant). What God was doing was alerting me to the truth of her comments.

didn’t like being corrected!

I wish I could say that has dramatically changed. Twenty years later I still don’t like having my faults and weaknesses pointed out to me. And if they are, I want the person to first point out areas of strength! If they are upset, self-righteous, critical or assume their conclusions are correct without any dialogue I still find it hard to take.

Yet I learned something that day in my friend’s living room that produced an appreciation for speck removal that stayed with me till today. The Bible rightly calls the “wounds of a friend” faithful. When someone loves you enough to exercise the courage to remove a speck from your eye, true friendships become stronger and deeper. My friended wounded me that day with her honesty, but years of loyal friendship earned her the right to do so. We’ve lived hundreds of miles apart for over ten years, but recently she was in town and we were together till nearly 2 AM one night. You know those friendships where you pick up right where you left off, as if it hasn’t been years since you last had a meaningful conversation? That’s the gift my friend Nora is to me.

Do you have friends who know you well enough to detect your specks? Or are your relationships more of the superficial, “on your best behavior” type? Do your friends and family find it easy to point out your flaws and weaknesses or would they be afraid of your response if they tried? Do you feel that unless constructive feedback is given graciously, with acknowledgement of your strengths and giftings. it’s invalid?

There’s only One who removes specks from our eyes perfectly. Anytime we or anyone we know approaches someone with sharp instruments in hand to dig into someone’s eye, there will be mistakes.

My friend did well. And I’m forever grateful.

P.S. Next week I’ll be posting more about how we can welcome and provide speck removals in our relationships.

The Boy in the Baby Blue Tux is Still Mine

Not his baby blue tux...but close

Not his baby blue tux…but close

He walked into the choir room in a baby blue tux and I thought my heart would burst. That night was our spring choral concert; a few girls had joined me to coerce him to participate and he was happy to have a class he didn’t have to study for. I won the competition between us girls and soon the cute blonde and I were dating.

But our relationship had ended a few weeks prior. That tux convinced me I had made the wrong decision. Gratefully, Daddy secretely slipped him a twenty to invite me out after the concert. He wasn’t a bit fond of the former boyfriend I had allowed to convince me to dump Benny so I could be his date to the Senior prom.

The rest, as they say, is history.

My heart still often squeezes when he walks into the room. I love how he consistently opens doors for me and insists on carrying things  — even when they’re not heavy. He rarely leaves the house without kissing me goodbye and comes to find me when he gets home. He babysits grandchildren when I’m not around, makes sure my dog gets fed on time, and offers to get me food when I’m working on the computer and forget it’s long past lunchtime. He goes shopping with me when he’d rather do most anything else, just to be with me. He is quick to forgive and doesn’t hold my sins against me. He laughs out loud, even when he’s watching TV alone. And his young adult passion for God and His church has only grown through the years.

I know he’s gotten mad at me, but I remember only one time when he spoke sharply to me. (How I wish he could say that about me.) He’s frugal but loves to find a way to say yes to my requests, even if it takes time and savings. He loves quiet but eagerly welcomes our big and loud family into the house (and only occasionally do I find him hunkered in our bedroom reading the Washington Post on his computer). His love for the Redskins and Auburn doesn’t keep him from recording a game to watch later when someone needs their pastor (no small sacrifice for a die hard fan).

Yes, we argue. And sometimes things about him drive me crazy. Like when he takes the last cookie without asking anyone else if they want it or leaves it to me to see our conversations deepen rather than fall flat or wants to talk sports when I want to talk important stuff.  But, of course, I frustrate him, too; especially when I’m quicker to point out his faults than to draw attention to the many evidences of God’s grace in his life, forget (again) to turn off my curling iron or get irritated when I have to repeat myself because he can’t hear as well as he used to (shhh…don’t tell him I said that; he’ll deny it in a heartbeat).

Three of my sons are married. During challenging times in their marriages I remind my new girls that “Phillips men are like fine wine; they get sweeter as time goes by.” When we were younger, Benny and I were both more self-centered. Most things were all about us: our comfort, happiness and preferences were at the top of the marriage list. I wish I would have practiced “esteeming others as more important than himself” (Phil 2:3) as much as he has. The “other” in his life is most often me.

Today is our 42nd Valentines Day together. 42 years of being sweethearts. Yes, he has sweetened…and he still has my heart. He doesn’t have as much hair as the guy that walked into the choir room that night in 1972, and he recently joked about requesting info about Debby Boone’s LifeStyle facelift for his aging skin. Yet there’s a certain way he grabs my hand and slips it into his that often makes my heart flutter and reminds me of how deeply blessed I am to have been loved by him for over four decades.

Happy Valentines Day, Benny. You are still adorable to me — and I pray our sons will age as sweetly as you have. It’s unlikely we’ll be around when they celebrate 42 Valentines Days with their wives, but your legacy will live on, God willing, for little boys we’ll never meet and their blessed ladies.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

Someone Has to Pay

My 60th Easter is days away.  Some years Easter feels more routine and I find myself thinking about all the fun of it.  But today I’m thinking about the cost.

The quote is from Tim Keller’s outstanding book The Prodigal God. It references the familiar story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. You can read here.

“Over the years many readers have drawn the superficial conclusion that the restoration of the younger bother involved no atonement, no cost. They point out that the younger son wanted to make restitution but the father wouldn’t let him – his acceptance back into the family was simply free. This, they say, shows that forgiveness and love should always be free and unconditional.

That is an oversimplification. If someone breaks your lamp, you could demand that she pay for it. The alternative is that you could forgive her and pay for it yourself (or go about bumping into furniture in the dark). Imagine a more grave situation, namely that someone has seriously damaged your reputation. Again, you have two options. You could make him pay for this by going to others criticizing and ruining his good name as a way to restore your own. Or you could forgive him, taking on the more difficult task of setting the record straight without vilifying him. The forgiveness is free and unconditional to the perpetrator, but it is costly to you.

Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgivenessalways comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.

The younger brother’s restoration was free to him, but it came at enormous cost to the elder brother. The father could not just forgive the younger son, somebody had to pay!  The father could not reinstate him except at the expense of the elder brother. There was no other way.  But Jesus does not put a true elder borther in the story, one who is willing to pay any cost to seek and save that which is lost.  It is heartbreaking. The younger son gets a Pharisee for a brother instead.

BUT WE DO NOT!

By putting a flawed elder brother in the story, Jesus is inviting us to imagine and yearn for a true one.

AND WE HAVE HIM! Think of the kind of brother we need. We need one who does not just go to the next country to find us but who will come all the way from heaven to earth.  We need one who is willing to pay not just a finite amount of money, but, at the infinite cost of his own life to bring us into God’s family, for our debt is so much greater.  Either as elder brothers or as younger brothers we have rebelled against the father.  We deserve alienation, isolation, and rejection. The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price – someone has to pay. There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself. Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place…

How can the inner workings fo the heart be changed from a dynamic of fear and anger to that of love, joy, and gratitude? Here is how. You need to be moved by the sight of what it cost to bring you home. The key difference between a Pharisee and a believer in Jesus is inner-heart motivation…Christians have seen something that has transformed their hearts toward God so they can finally love and rest in the Father.”

Powerful. Forgiveness is costly, yet we’ve been provided with all we need to pay the price because of the price that was paid for us.

That’s what Easter is all about.

Log Freedom

(If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, scroll down to read it first.)

My list was done. And it was long. There was no way I could continue to hold someone else’s sins over them when their sins against me were a fraction in number compared to my sins against the God who sacrificed His own Son so I could be forgiven.

But please understand that I’m not saying forgiveness is cheap. Anything that cost the death of an innocent person is scandalously pricey. It’s one thing to forgive someone for forgetting our birthday or not greeting us on a Sunday morning or being angry at us. It’s another thing, though, when their actions result in deep wounds in our hearts that can take years to sort through. Forgiveness doesn’t always result in restoration. An abuse victim, for example, may forgive the abuser’s actions without ever having personal contact with him or her. Sometimes forgiveness is just that…and only that.

For me, though, forgiveness meant having an ongoing relationship with the person who deeply hurt me. Close, almost daily contact. I knew I had to let go. To forgive from the heart and not just in my head. Benny helped me as he walked through his own battles with bitterness and, by God’s grace, we came through. Side by side we prayed; cried; wrestled; prayed some more; begged God for strength; asked forgiveness of our offender for our own sins against them; and then it happened. Love started to grow where hatred once reigned.

This is only possible because of the gospel. Because Jesus Christ refused to hold my sins against me but chose to absorb the wrath I deserved for that list of sins that I sometimes review (and, yes, add to) in my notebook, I have the power to forgive. it’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard.

That exercise in forgiveness was one I thought could never be topped. But seven years later an even more weighty circumstance forced me to my knees repeatedly for grace to forgive. It was harder and took longer. It cut deeper and left me reeling. Yet once again the gospel echoed loud and sweet. The Savior helped Benny and me to forgive another offender yet again.

If log removal had not been a regular part of our battle against self-righteous pride for many years I can firmly say that I would be a walking ball of hateful bitterness. But as DC Talk once said, even Christians are “still in need of a Savior.” My Savior has been busy continuing to grow and change me, giving me strength to forgive and keep forgiving.

That same Savior is at work in you.

Is there someone you are struggling to forgive? Are you battling bitterness? Is hopelessness convincing you that there’s no way you can forgive that? Does it seem like forgiving him or her means what was said or done to you is now meaningless? Do you want him or her to pay for what has happened?

I don’t know your situation and certainly don’t mean to in any way minimize it. Perhaps it would be helpful and comforting to you to meet with someone who can help you know the next step in your own freedom from the suffering the sins against you have caused. I just know that for me the light at the end of the dark tunnel of pain and bitterness was getting logs out of my own eye. The fact is, there were some huge specks that needed removal from my offenders eyes. In one case God wanted to use me to help remove them; in the other case I haven’t interacted with the person in years. But, gratefully, God helped me to forgive them both.

Jesus Christ’s perfect life (lived in my place), substitutionary death (died in my place), and glorious resurrection (raised in my place) means that the same power He received to forgive you and me is available for us to forgive others.

No wonder removing logs from our eyes is so important.