Putting Down to Pick Up
Close at Hand
I have once again been blessed to have spent time with my daughter and her family in Texas to welcome our newest little grandson, Easton Levi, into the world. I helped with the care of all three little ones, and while it was a very special time, it was also often hectic. I tried to be diligent to keep up with the household chores such as the never-ending laundry and the dirty dishes that made their way to the sink (or not) throughout the day. But I also am keenly aware of how important it is to continue to care for myself so I remain healthy and strong in mind, body, and spirit. I often read my Bible and took a shower or bath at night to make sure to get those necessities in. And there is one thing I did in the mornings every day as per usual to keep my back from giving me trouble – a thirty-minute exercise routine that includes stretches, push-ups, sit-ups, and scrunchies, my four-year-old granddaughter’s term for crunches.
No matter where I visit, all my younger grandchildren are interested in my daily ritual, and I often have company participating in close proximity. On one of the first few days of this stay, my terrific two-year-old grandson, Caden, took it to the next level. He decided not only to join in, he was on the bottom part of my legs with his chubby little hands grasping above my knees as I did those aforementioned “scrunchies.” It made for quite an interesting, humorous, and very cozy process. This was not unlike the camaraderie I experienced from a dog we had a few years back who also held to the philosophy that he had to continually occupy the same square foot of space as I did, despite the large size of our home. Both Caden and our beloved furry friend provided a tangible illustration of the word “near.” So congenial of them both!
A few days after this incident, I was reading about Saul, the first king of Israel, in the Book of 1 Samuel Chapter 10. This chapter relays the anointing of Saul and his humble beginnings as king and even his hesitancy to sit on the throne. That would not remain true, but at this juncture, Saul was all about following and honoring God. As told in the prophecy of Samuel the Seer (what prophets were called in those days), Saul was to see three signs confirming his kingship. The culmination of these signs was Saul joining a group of prophets. “Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man” (1 Samuel 10:6, ESV). The following text really caught my attention: “Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (1 Samuel 10:7, ESV). This may have been just a little bit heady for Saul as he quickly turned from humility to self-sufficiency, making decisions without God’s input and performing sacrifices, which he was not authorized to do. Samuel’s advice from God, however, was sound. When one finds himself connected to God, listening to him in prayer, following his Word, and observing how God is moving around him, doing what the heart is urging is natural and very appropriate. But it takes that nearness to God to be able to confidently step out in faith and accomplish much in his Name. His closeness is welcome and more than congenial – it is a necessity to our growth and victory as believers.
My time with the family in Texas has come to an end. It was hard to leave behind those chubby little hands, the impish grins, the chaos, and the crazy. But I know that each time I do my exercise routine, I will cherish the memory of the nearness of one little boy that September morning. And, I am moving forward with the hope that I will inch ever closer to my Savior so that my hand can do what it finds to do for his glory.
“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory… For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (Psalm 73:23-24, 27-28, ESV).
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It was quite the lively time – six grandchildren, nine down to two, and four adults all together in one three-bedroom home; cousins that don’t get to see each other very often. Bed space was at a premium, and so the girls all slept in one room, most on quilts and blankets on the floor. Abby, being just under three-years-old, to make sure she didn’t wander around the house or turn bedtime into a perpetual party, spent her nights and her naps in a port-a-crib, albeit in that same room. Abby is of average height, and the space for her in this cozy little bed is adequate, but snug. Though the girls had somewhat of a hard time settling down at night, eventually everyone got to sleep (except for poor Mama who occupied the couch in there), and all was well.
One afternoon I went into the room to pick-up after naptime, and I literally laughed out loud. I’m not sure how Abby squeezed in amongst the items she had brought into her little nest, but it had to be a challenge. Abby had amassed quite the collection of varied toys. Along with her prized baby doll, Abby had napped in that compromised space with a pillow, at least three blankets and a sheet, a cash register complete with a phone and a microphone, plastic pieces of cake, a toy knife, a cake plate, a stuffed educational dog, and a book. She must have cleaned out a bit because there were three books next to the crib on the floor. I immediately thought to myself, “Wow, Abby was prepared!” I’m not exactly sure for what, but there was no chance that should sleep escape her, she would be bored because she’d have plenty of activities from which to choose.
This is actually a very good life lesson both for practical, every-day living and in our walk with the Lord. The Bible definitely addresses both. Of course, there is the proverbial passage about the ant: “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8, ESV). Further on in the book of Proverbs, we find the excellent wife who is also ready ahead of time for the needs of her family. “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard… She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle… She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet*” (Proverbs 31:13-16, 19, 21, ESV). Clearly, there is much thought and planning that goes into a household that is run so efficiently. It is not always easy to be so organized, but it is something to which we can aspire.
It is even more important to be prepared each day for the tasks and encounters to which the Lord may call us. Second Timothy chapter four begins with these words, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2, ESV). A key passage that reminds us to always be ready for the Lord’s plans is found in a parable that Jesus shared with his disciples. In Matthew chapter twenty-five is located “The Parable of the Ten Virgins,” which is a story meant to help us understand the kingdom of heaven. Ten young ladies were awaiting the coming of the bridegroom for the wedding feast. Five had readied themselves by bringing oil for their lamps, and they are called wise. The other five were unprepared for the bridegroom’s arrival, and they are labeled foolish. As the bridegroom approached, the foolish virgins tried to buy oil from the wise, but there wasn’t enough for all. When the foolish left to purchase some for themselves, the bridegroom came, the wise maidens took part in the feast, and the foolish virgins were shut out of the party. When they returned begging for entrance, the bridegroom answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:12b-13, ESV).
Certainly, we should always be ready for the Lord’s return. But, by virtue of our time in the Bible and in prayer we should also be ready for the opportunity to encourage believers in the faith and to encourage non-believers to seek a life-giving relationship with Jesus. Like Abby we can be prepared; unlike Abby, our aim is not just to fill up our time with frivolous things to prevent boredom just in case we cannot sleep, but to make an impact that will last throughout eternity.
*(can mean double thickness) Footnote on Proverbs 31:21, Page 844, ESV Student Study Bible, Copyright 2011, Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois USA. All rights reserved.
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The Wonders Around Us
Ah, summer! It’s finally here – one in which we can actually leave our own four walls and explore the great outdoors virtually bare-faced and bare-footed, depending on our environs. In case you’ve forgotten best practices, keep in mind that shoes of some type are still required in most places even as masks become unnecessary.
When I was a child, our summer outings were basically within a hundred-mile radius of home. For the adventuresome type, this probably seems tremendously restrictive. In general, I would have to agree, especially since much of my first ten years of marriage were spent in Europe. But I can’t go on without mentioning that I grew up within 30 minutes of the Canadian border and just a short distance more to what has often been included on various lists of the world’s top natural wonders, the powerful and majestic Niagara Falls. We would often go to the Canadian side of the Falls where one can view all three sections the best – Horseshoe Falls, The American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. We would pack a picnic meal in order to spend the day, often stop along the Niagara River to fish for a while, and bring along swimsuits to enjoy a dip in the water at a small beach not far from the main attraction. At some point we would stroll along the walking path that skirts the Falls. And we’d stop and look at the massive formation with the great deluge of water coursing to the rocks below. Impressive – of course. Awe-inspiring – absolutely. Commonplace – unfortunately for me, this also was true. Somehow I had come to view this extraordinary creation of God as ordinary. I began to take this amazing display of nature for granted, as if something so wonderful was found in everyone’s backyard. This desired destination for so many from not just North America but for millions around the world was a normal, everyday part of my experience, and I lost the wonder along the way.
It reminds me of the experiences of the Israelites as the Lord brought them out of Egypt. They were prone to taking an awful lot for granted, but even more so, they were a complaining crowd. Moses had been given the information to pass on to them about how God was going to provide for them in the wilderness. One would think that as a sustaining substance miraculously appeared on the ground that first morning, they would have stood there, mouths agape, proclaiming, “This is a wonder from heaven!” But their first comments were quite to the contrary. Can you hear them quizzically or even sarcastically ask, “What is it?” which in Hebrew sounds like manna. Not only did they not recognize the wonder before them, some of them didn’t follow God’s explicit directions regarding its gathering, and then as they continued seeing it on the ground and therefore on the daily menu, they complained about it. What an ungrateful group!
In all honesty, I have no right to point fingers at them. The other day as I was reading the passion of the Christ in the Book of John, these words gripped my soul, “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands” (John 19:1-3, ESV). Having read the Gospel passages about Jesus’ denigration and crucifixion so many times before, I was absolutely struck anew by this description of the utterly contemptible treatment the Lord took for me when he chose this path to save me from my sins. How could I have read it so matter-of-factly in the past and missed the outright wonder of this most loving, devoted act by the God of the universe? I literally paused in awe, thanksgiving, and repentance for what the Lord willingly endured for me. And of course, this is only one piece of the wonder of who God is.
There are so many wonders to behold in God’s creation. May we not just accept them as part of our everyday experience and take them for granted when access to them is easy and/or in close proximity. As an adult, I’ve had many opportunities to return to Niagara Falls, and I have a far greater appreciation for the marvel that it is. I have tried to pass that on with excitement to my children and grandchildren. Even more so, I desire to continue to appreciate the wonder of all that God is and all that he’s done for me. Communicating that to my progeny is far greater to share.
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