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The Ancient Hill: A Good Friday Contemplation

golgotha-david-snyder

What is that there on yonder hill

Awash with red so deep?

What does it have that draws me near?

What secrets does it keep?

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My heart is caught, my eyes are set

Up to that hill I tred

There’s something there, I know not what

But oh, that deep, deep red

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I hear the story, I know it’s true

but I do not know the why

A man, they say, but more than a man

went to that hill to die

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For me? I ask, but why for me?

What did I e’re do wrong?

And then I heard a still, small voice

Sing out an ancient song

 

There was no answer I could give

upon that old, old hill

I saw the red, I heard the cries

I know I always will

 

For me, for me, I hear the song

I weep because it’s true

He came, He loved, He gave his life

For me, and friend, for you.

 

Upon that hill, that ancient hill

I always want to stay

For there I know my Savior bled

and set me free that day

 

image from: images.fineartamerica.com

Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline

I survived my kids little years. I not only survived them, I enjoyed them. I had great community, an involved husband and a knowledge that whatever struggles I encountered—and there were many—would be soon past. But not every mom thrives in motherhood, especially with little kids. For those in the midst of the mess, I would like to present to you author and mom Catherine McNiel and her book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

hi-res-book-coverTell us about your book Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.

Why did you decide to write Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline?

 A few years ago I was a work-from-home mom with a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler. These precious, demanding children took me all the way to the end of my rope…and left me there indefinitely! My life changed in every way, yet I heard only the same spiritual prescriptions I’d always heard: spend quiet time each day with God. Find 30-60 minutes each day to be in silence and solitude before the Lord. As I considered the classic spiritual practices (which I love!)—prayer, worship, fasting, meditation, service, solitude, etc.—it became abundantly clear that the realities of motherhood meant I was likely to fail. Or opt out entirely.

But my spirit didn’t allow me to do that. I heard a lament rising in the hearts of the women around me—I have nothing left, nothing left to care for myself or give to God. But as I looked at the actual seasons and tasks of motherhood, I was convinced that there was no better “boot camp” for my soul. Each day we mothers create, we nurture. Each day we are pushed to the end of ourselves and must surrender, sacrifice, and persevere. Each day we serve, pouring ourselves out. We empty ourselves for those in our care—and isn’t this emptiness the very reliance on God that the spiritual disciplines are designed to produce?

I’m convinced that motherhood is doing an eternal work on my soul, even if I’m too exhausted and overwhelmed to notice just now.

How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?

There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality. Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day!

I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and begin to drink.

 

hi-res-author-photoCatherine McNiel survived her children’s preschool years by learning to find beauty in the mayhem. Now, she writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day. The author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress, 2017), Catherine cares for three kids, works two jobs, and grows one enormous garden. Connect with Catherine on social media: Catherinemcniel.com; Twitter: @catherinemcniel; Facebook: CatherineMcNielWrites

Buy Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline by clicking one of the following links:

Amazon

Barnes&Noble

ChristianBooks.com

NavPress

 

 

Drink Like A Deer

img_1701-1In my front yard I have a grapevine doe. She used to be a Christmas decoration, but eventually the light bulbs burned out. So I moved her over to my koi pond, which sits right in front of my dining-room window. And now I can watch her all year long.

Every once in awhile I see a lizard skittering inside her belly.

What struck me today, though, was that she’s ever so close to drinking that water, but never quite getting there. If she could just stretch a little further; if the water would just come a little closer, she could be fulfilled.

It reminded me of the verse, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1b).

Do I long for God? Do I literally feel as if I will die if I’m not with Him?

This winter has been rough—I know, I know, how can a Version 2Florida winter be rough?—but though the sun has been shining and the weather has been warm, the storms of life have almost undone me.

From emotional crises to a nagging health issue to an accident that’s causing me to take on a role that doesn’t come naturally to me, the blizzards hit one after another, just as if I’m New England in this winter of ’17.

Oh, how I long for the flowing streams of God’s grace. I don’t want to sip, I want to plunge in, head over heels, and feel Him surround me and take me under so that I’m no longer breathing air, I’m breathing Jesus. Every breath I take.

Sometimes the life-giving water seems far away. I just can’t reach that far. There is too
much fear, like lizards crawling around in my belly. Do I trust Him, even though He’s choosing to keep me in this season?
img_9130Do I believe He’s a good Father who is doing the best for me? Working all things together for good. Because I do love Him. I am called according to His purpose.

As the hymn writer Horatio Spafford said, “When peace like a river attendeth my way . . .”

So many water images in the Bible, Jesus Himself being the epitome of that. Living Water.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” Ps. 34:8.

The water is fine, I tell that doe. And myself. Dive right in.

It’s A Matter Of The Heart

heartbeatAbout a week ago, I was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. I have experienced what I thought were benign PVCs (premature ventricular contractions) for many, many years, but things had picked up in the last couple of months. Turns out, they were mostly PACs (premature atrial contractions), which apparently can be a precursor to A-Fib.

Great.

So now I have an appointment with a cardiologist in early January. My general practitioner doesn’t think I’m a very good candidate for medication because they pose more of a risk than the aFib with my current good health, so we’ll see what the specialist has to say. Meanwhile, I pay attention to what my heart is doing, rejoice when I have a good day and hope when an episode happens that it is short lived.

Would that I would pay as much attention to my spiritual heart.

There’s an old Amy Grant song called “Every Heartbeat.” Yes, the song is to a boy from aheartjesus_small girl, but I think it’s appropriate to say to Jesus as well: “Every heartbeat bears Your name. Loud and clear they stake my claim. My red blood runs true blue. And every heartbeat belongs to You.”

Are my words to others evidence to the fact that I belong to Jesus?

Do my actions show that I am His?

Is He embarrassed to have me bear His name?

As I monitor every physical heartbeat these days, I want to monitor every spiritual beat as well. No skips, no fibrillations, no arrhythmias. Every heartbeat is true.

So how do I do that? I wore a 24-hour heart monitor that detected my A-Fib. What monitor do I have for my spiritual heart? A few simple questions might do the trick. Is this where you want me to be going, Lord? What should I say to this hurting person? What would you have me do in this situation? Help me to see what I’m not seeing.
Honestly, the A-Fib symptoms concern me. They’re uncomfortable and disconcerting. But the uncomfortable symptoms in my spiritual heart concern me as well. Did I just ignore someone’s cry for help? Was I selfish with my stuff when someone was in need? Did I go a whole day without talking to Jesus?

My physical health is important, and I will do what I can to make sure it’s taken care of and controlled. All I have to do is make an appointment the-great-physician-400x400with a doctor and then make decisions based on the best information I have. Taking care of my spiritual heart is not as easy. Discovering what’s wrong is more difficult.

But that’s why another name for Jesus is the Great Physician. I think I’ll give him a call.

 

 

 

Jesus heart image from glorytogod.do.am; great physician from thelordspeople.org

A Person’s A Person

hortonMy thoughts are heavy as I sit down to write thinking about how the heart of God must be grieved by what He sees in the world today. But He is bound by His Word that He will not destroy the Earth by flood again, so we are constrained to live with what we have sown.

And we have sown the seeds of superiority and vulgarity far and wide in our culture.

In his classic work Horton Hears a Who!, about an elephant who gives everything he’s got to save a civilization living on a speck of dust, Dr. Seuss (Theodore Seuss Geisel) sets forth the idea that “a person’s a person no matter how small.” To Geisel, who used to have very strong anti-Japanese sentiments, the importance of the individual was an exciting new concept after a visit to Japan post-World War II. His Horton story is a reflection of his new-and-improved attitude that, you know what? I was wrong. Everyone is important.

More than 1900 years prior to that epiphany, Someone else knew that those treated as second-class citizens held the very image of God in their being.

Collin Outerbridge, one of my pastors, said the following on Facebook just today:

jesus-and-woman“Jesus treated women like PEOPLE when culture did not.

He defended women’s integrity. (Luke 7:36-50)
He treated women as friends. (Luke 10:38-42)
He looked women in the eye. (John 8:1-11)
He included women on his team. (Luke 8:1-3)
He defied cultural norms. (John 4)

I want to be more like Jesus.

Christian Men,
Let’s OWN our part in the commodification of women in our culture.
Let’s REPENT to the women in our life.
Let’s LEARN from King Jesus—His Way is better.
Let’s SPEAK out and join the chorus that calls for justice.”

I have 2 teenaged boys (one is nearing the end of that era in the next couple of months).

I also have a teen daughter.

I also have a husband who treats me with respect, never belittles his mother and sister, and gives our daughter strength and confidence with his words.

I have never allowed my kids to say demeaning things to each other, but I will be more proactive from this day forward to make sure that they all know that they can neither speak of any person in a way that objectifies them, nor can they accept that kind of treatment from anyone else.

I will call them out.

And I will let them know that they are to call out others they hear or see doing the same thing.

It’s so subtle, we hardly even notice. But I’m not turning a blind eye or a deaf ear anymore.

I will tell my son that calling his girlfriend “hot” objectifies her.

I will tell my friends that drooling over the male judges on The Voice is not acceptable.

Women are not “eye candy.” You aren’t allowed to touch them if they don’t want to be touched. You are not allowed to refer to them by anything but their names or their official positions. If they say stop, you stop. End of story. There is no “boys will be boys.” No. That’s not acceptable.

Men are not “sugar daddies.” You can’t watch football because you like the tight uniforms. You aren’t allowed to buy the Firemen of Orange County calendar. Big muscles just show that a lot of hard work has been accomplished.

I am not an object. You are not an object. Nobody, no matter how they dress, no matter how they act, no matter what they’ve done, is an object that is fair game in the crude comment and demeaning acts department.

No one.

And no one is so important that they are exempt from these rules.

 

second image from shawnakersministries.com

Fairytales: A Guest Post From Instagram

My 13-year-old daughter recently posted something on her Instagram that I wanted to share. I was blown away by her words. I fixed the spelling but left the punctuation as is.

prince on horse“You know the perfect fairytale has a prince and a princess, and in the tale, the princess is in danger and the prince comes to rescue her? Well let me tell you one of those fairytales right now.

It’s about a prince, a noble, kind, and truthful prince who loved his princess very much, but his princess was in danger, she was in danger of herself, she was broken.

The prince made it his mission to help her, for even though he loved her, he could not be with her if her shattered parts were never mended.princess by hedges

He sacrificed everything to be with her, fixed her with the power of his blood, and he took her and told her to trust him, he loved her with all of his heart, and he promised her that one day, she would be his bride, and they would live happily ever after in his kingdomperfect kingdom. The End.”

Sappy teenaged-girl story? Or a truth for the ages?

He loves us. Oh, how He loves us.

 

 

 

 

 

photoillustrations from: imgur.com and Pinterest (2)

Good Ground, Bad Ground

ibisWe’ve all seen it. We’re driving down the road and see a poor, pathetic, smooshed animal. Sometimes recognizable, sometimes not, victim of a speeding vehicle.

Road kill. Vulture victuals. Victims of their own unthinking action.

The other day when my daughter and I were riding our bikes around a nearby neighborhood, a small group of ibis, very common birds in our part of Florida, meandered across the road close to the entrance to the subdivision we navigated.

As is her wont, my daughter encouraged them along: “Hurry up, get to the side, let’s go, let’s go.” The last thing my animal-lover girl wanted to see was a car coming their way.

They made it across and I commented, “You think they’d learn, hard ground bad, soft ground good,” referring to the road and the grass. Morgan came back with, “That sounds like the story in the Bible.”

Genius.

She was referring to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9:

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Hard ground bad; soft ground good.

Is my heart hard? Am I in danger of becoming road kill, letting the good seeds of God’s Word shrivel up and die in my stone-filled heart? Are the vultures of the world circling, just waiting for me to drop dead? Oh, wouldn’t they then rejoice.

How do I keep that from happening? “He who has ears, let him hear.” Let God’s Word dwell in my heart so that it changes me. James, the brother of Jesus, talked about this:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1: 22-24).

Rich seed, wonderful fruit, a feast for the soul. That is what God’s Word holds for those who hear and obey, who have hearts like soft ground.

Don’t be spiritual road kill.