Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rambling thoughts on the last day of 2008...

I started this post earlier this morning, then wound up talking on the phone for a long time. We normally spend New Year's Eve at Chris and Cheryl's. But Nikki has started running a fever and I think it would probably be best if we didn't expose ourselves to any new germs. John has battled a sinus infection for weeks and is finally getting over it. I have not felt well since Christmas Eve and am finally just starting to get over my own sinus issues. Plus, we are all so worn out from the events of this past week. I love spending NYE with Chris, Cheryl and the kids. But I have to admit that staying home after so much traveling is also appealing. Not getting in the car for an hour's drive...even better. John and I will spend a nice, quiet NYE at home alone.

So, now I just have to figure out what I'm going to make for dinner because, after all, it's New Year's Eve! We have to have a little party for two at the very least. Which means I'm probably going to have to go to the grocery store. I know I don't want to go out. It sounds really good to stay in and just relax. Besides, we had the most amazing dinner on our way home last night. We decided to stop at Stony River in Nashville and have an early anniversary celebration. It was one of the best meals I have had in a long time. We started with a shrimp appetizer our server recommended. I think it was called Whiskey Shrimp. It had a delicious cream sauce over the shrimp, which was served on top of small slices of warm French bread. We shared a spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. I had the Tempura Lobster Tails with Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes. And John had Filet Oscar with mushrooms and steamed broccoli. We shared tastes with each other, which was the icing on the cake for me. Stony River also serves these little round rolls that are almost like eating a donut (with honey butter). I had a few of those. And after we mentioned to our server that we were celebrating our anniversary a few days early (it's Sunday), he brought us a complimentary dessert. We were so full. And I was so content. I fell asleep during the 30 minute drive from Nashville to Murfreesboro. This was partly from being exhausted and partly from the delicious Riesling we had with dinner.

It feels good to be home. And I am reflecting on the last few days, of course. In spite of the sad occasion of my grandma's passing, it was good to be with so many people I rarely have the opportunity to see. Grandma would have been pleased with her service, pleased with the lunch her church provided afterward and pleased that we were all together.

If you know me and my testimony at all, then it will come as no surprise for me to openly admit that there were a lot of things said (from a spiritual perspective) in the service that I was not in agreement with. However, as John and I shared our thoughts on the drive home, we both agreed wholeheartedly that it was the funeral Grandma would have wanted. Grandma would have agreed with the message. Grandma would have been hoping that we would recognize "the truth" (and not be "idiots"...ha had to be there to get that joke). And, after all, it was Grandma's funeral.

I remember with amusement all the times I heard Grandma say about someone (including myself) that they "need to get in the RIGHT church." (That would be HER church.) I used to get so frustrated with her at times. But now I can just remember her fondly and smile. Finding the humor in all of life's situations is one of the best strategies I have found for survival and overlooking what bothers us in others. Chances are, what bothers us in others can also be found somewhere in us. I know this is true of Grandma Annalea and me as well. I have some of her traits and not just good ones.

I thought mostly about love yesterday. It is so important to get our love to other people. It felt so good to express my love to others in that setting. It is possibly even more critical to get our love to those we disagree with. If we are to ever truly love our enemies, it really struck me yesterday that perhaps a good place to begin practicing that kind of love is with people whom we are not exactly in harmony with. I really felt that God was impressing that on me.

I don't regret (not even a little bit) standing firm for what I believe is right and true (just as Grandma stood firm for what she believed). Yet, while I know the love that is in my heart for others, I have to ask myself if I have conveyed that love in every instance as Jesus would have me to. If I am to be completely honest with myself, I know that I haven't. And one of the things I got out of Grandma's funeral service was how important it is for me to be constantly examining my own life and heart; not everybody else's.

We are told in Scripture to return good for evil. Jesus loved those who were spitting on Him and crucifying Him. He asked the Father to forgive them. I believe Jesus loved Judas, even though Judas betrayed Him and the kiss Judas offered Jesus was insincere.

I remember a Tim Keller sermon I listened to a few years ago. I have been thinking about it this morning. It was so powerful and left such a lasting impression on me. He talked about the way we look at others. He pointed out how people we disagree with, especially people who have hurt or disappointed us, become caricatures of themselves in our eyes. They become one dimensional. They become whatever they have done to us. If they have lied about us, for instance, they become, purely and simply, a liar. Whatever the label is that we've given, whether "liar," "hypocrite," "arrogant," "critical," it doesn't really matter. It's not the label, it's the caricature we have created that reduces them to this one dimensional description (whatever it may be) that was his point. That becomes all we see when we look at them. They are no longer like us. And we view ourselves as superior. In order to look down on someone else, we FIRST have to think more highly of ourselves.

In that sermon, Keller contrasted the way we view others with the way we view ourselves. After a humorous depiction of the way we label, reduce and dismiss others, seeing nothing but their hypocrisy (substitute anything here that really bothers you, from insincerity to arrogance) he followed up with, "But when I tell a lie, now that's totally different. I'm not a liar. I'm a complex, multi-faceted human being with strengths AND weaknesses..."

You know, it all comes down to this. Although I was yet His enemy, God loved me and sent His Son to die in my place. I am forgiven; therefore, I am called to forgive. I am loved; therefore, I am called to love. I am also called to be salt and light. So I know there will be times when God will expect me to take a stand even if it brings conflict or rejection. Apathy is not love. Indifference is not love. Nodding in agreement simply to avoid conflict and anyone feeling upset or displeased with me is not loving others. It's loving myself. I don't want or need to grow in self-love. But I do want to grow in my ability to love others in a selfless way, to demonstrate my love for them as effectively as I communicate my stand on issues. That is something specific I would like to do better in the coming year. As a result of much that was said in my grandma's service, I have a greater desire to ask God to shine light on my own heart. I won't give an account for anyone else's life or words when I stand before God on judgment day; just mine.

The pastor of my grandma's church talked about my grandma as a person and how she wanted other people to do right. She was a very direct, very outspoken, very sober person. He acknowledged all that. And I was thankful he did not try to portray her as perfect. I was truthfully afraid he might. He didn't use this word, but we all know she was more than direct; she was often critical. I experienced this personally because she was often critical of me and did not hesitate to let me know she was not pleased with me in any area where I did not believe or "do right" exactly as she believed or did. Her way was the right way. And if I deviated from it, I was just wrong. That's all there was to it.

Her pastor described her in realistic terms. I believe he used the word immovable. That was definitely an accurate assessment of her. But as her grandaughter, I would have to tell you honestly that when I tried to have a conversation with her, she would not hear a word I said if it didn't line up with her own view. Although I loved her and I know she loved me, we could not communicate in a meaningful way. That's not a tradition I want to carry on. It's something I want to learn from. Just as I hope someone younger than me can learn from mistakes that I have made and benefit from them.

I don't say any of this to degrade my grandma in any way. I loved my grandma very much. She had many admirable qualities. There are things about her that I wish HAD been passed on to me genetically. I wish I had her work ethic, for one thing. She was a complex human being just like me and I want to remember her that way. She wasn't perfect. But I didn't need her to be perfect. I don't need to put her on a pedestal to love her and appreciate her life. I loved her as she was. But as I listened to the pastor's portrayal of her, it did strike me that in every example her pastor gave, my grandma was worrying about what other people were doing right or doing wrong. She was often evaluating and correcting others. I'm certainly not suggesting she never evaluated herself. Her pastor mentioned that she would sometimes worry about whether or not she had said something the wrong way. (I certainly can relate to THAT.) But his comments caused me to think about how I can also be guilty of the same wrong focus. I want to be more focused on my heart, my motives, and how I might be harming another soul with my words rather than to be constantly focused on whether or not someone else is doing right or wrong (and telling them).

Sometimes John will tease me and say, "I can see a little Grandma Annalea in you." He said it to me just yesterday at his mom's. He was brushing his teeth and I noticed the water was turned toward the hot side. He didn't notice and it hadn't had time to heat up. If you knew Grandma, just put her voice and expression to this question: "Why are you brushing your teeth with HOT water?!" He just laughed and said, "Okay, Grandma Annalea...what's it to ya how I brush my teeth?" And I just cracked up. It was so true. I said it JUST LIKE Grandma would have said it. I heard it through his response. But I wouldn't have recognized it on my own.

So often, I give instructions where instructions are not needed or requested. The response I hear most often from John is, "This ain't my first rodeo, darling." And thank goodness I AM able to laugh at myself and realize how often I think someone needs to know how I would handle a situation or how I would think or feel or respond. And maybe none of my insight is even helpful. Maybe my insight is even offensive at times, whether or not I mean well. Sometimes sincerity is even over-rated if it is made to be an ultimate thing. We can be sincerely wrong just as easily as we can be insincerely wrong. There's a quote I love and I may not even be able to quote it with accuracy. But it goes something like this: "People want to know you care more than they care what you know." I so want to inspire someone else rather than to instruct them. You might not always know that from my behavior. But it truly is the desire of my heart.

These are just some of the thoughts I have been pondering since my grandma's funeral.

I also cannot reflect on her funeral without expressing how thankful I am that God has delivered me from such bondage. I know some of the things that were said yesterday were directed at those of us who do not attend what my grandma and her pastor might consider the "right" church or agree with him about what the truth is. One statement that was made was that some people don't want to know the truth. I agree with that statement. I just don't think I ever received the truth of the gospel in that environment. And nothing I heard had the effect on me that he desired. I felt repelled, not drawn, by that message. But in spite of my very different convictions and beliefs, I did not feel angrer. I felt compassion. I found the humor in the situation to the very best of my ability. And I focused myself on how much I genuinely love those with whom I have so deeply disagreed. That is where I hope my focus can stay.

I want "In Christ Alone" and "Hallelujah! What a Savior!" sung at my funeral. I want to be clothed in Christ's righteousness, because only His righteousness is sufficient and only in HIM can I ever hope to stand blameless in the sight or presence of God.

In the coming year, I want to live fully in the present and for eternity. I will always acknowledge and give thanks for the deliverance God has brought to my life. And that will at times involve my testimony and my past. But I don't want to live there (in the past) anymore. I could feel during the funeral service yesterday that God was helping me in new and different ways. And I am ending 2008 with such a grateful heart. God has been so good and so faithful in my life.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

My Grandma

Annalea Guisewite
September 23, 1917 - December 26, 2008

I lost my grandma yesterday. She was 91 years old. She still lived at home (with home health care). And she was in pretty good health other than having osteoporosis. Last Sunday she suffered a fall. And she really didn't think she had hurt herself that badly. She was checked out and then allowed to go home. The doctor thought maybe she had just sprained her back. But the next morning she was unable to move without very severe pain. So she was hospitalized.

The doctor said it was hard to detect a new fracture in her spine because her spine was in such bad shape from the osteoporosis and the fractures that were already there. But he was almost sure she had suffered a new fracture. She also fractured some ribs, as it turned out. And pneumonia settled in pretty quickly.

We had planned to spend some time with her on Christmas Day (before her fall). We didn't know this would be the last time we'd see her. We went to visit her at the hospital on Thursday. She was sleeping from the pain meds when we got there and was only alert for a few minutes toward the end of our visit. She did know we were there. She looked right at John and me and I saw recognition in her eyes. But she was in severe pain because the nurses had come in and moved her. That was the hardest part for me. I couldn't stand to see her suffering like that.

The next morning, I got a call just before 10:00 that the doctor had told my cousins to call all the family and tell them to come if they wanted to see her. Her blood pressure was dropping and she would soon be slipping away. We were in Evansville, but got in the car immediately and headed for Mt. Carmel. We didn't get there in time to see her again. But I was so thankful she was no longer suffering.

We left the hospital with my cousins and went to Grandma's house to pick out clothes for her to wear. When we opened the closet, I saw some of my mom's blouses still hanging there. That was my emotional trigger, I guess. I remembered how long I kept my mother's clothes hanging in my own closet (even after I stopped wearing them). I can't even imagine how hard it must have been for my grandma to lose two of her three children so premmaturely, outliving them by so many years. My Uncle Gene has been gone for ten years now, having died from ALS. My mom died from colon cancer twenty-one years ago. My grandma died on my parents' fifty-second wedding anniversary.

We came home this morning and we'll go back Monday for the visitation that evening and the funeral on Tuesday morning. My grandma lived a long life and enjoyed good health for most of it. She had osteoporosis and had developed some memory issues the last few years. But considering her age, she was living a blessed life. To live to be 91 and still be in your own home is a rare blessing. I'm thankful for that. She was a strong and determined woman, my grandma. She was a no-nonsense kind of person. I think she had three knee replacements and came through all of them beautifully because she faithfully did her physical therapy and pushed right through her pain. She was definitely an inspiration in that department. I think she could do just about anything she set her mind to.

Even when someone lives to be 91 and you know the end of a life is approaching, there are always emotions that come over you like a tidal wave; emotions you can't really anticipate. I'm feeling that emotion right now. I'm also tired and fighting a sinus infection.

Despite the sad occasion, I'm looking forward to seeing some family that I don't see often. I'm thankful for my family. It's easy for emotional distance to grow when life takes family members in different directions. But life has a way of reconnecting you. Sometimes it's through a sad occasion. But God has redemptive purposes in everything He takes us through. I'm thankful for that.

Please pray for us and our families as we go through the next few days and bury our Grandma Annalea. I have no doubt there will be some stress along with the emotion for some of us. I already feel a little bit of anticipatory anxiety. But God's grace is sufficient in every situation.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I stayed up until almost midnight wrapping Christmas presents. This is the worst I have ever procrastinated. I'm up early after getting six very sound hours of sleep. We'll be going to see some of my family in Mt. Carmel today and then to John's mom's to celebrate with the Howertons. It will be a very good day. I have to frost my carrot cake and throw a few things together. So I really shouldn't be on the computer. I should be getting things done. But while I'm sipping a cup of coffee, I just had to leave a Christmas message for any of you who happen to log on here today.

Last night we attended our annual Christmas Eve service at church. We have Christmas Eve service every year, no matter what day it falls on. Everyone I know looks forward to this service. It's not long -- about an hour. But it's special and meaningful to so many of us.

John and I are always asked to serve communion at the Christmas Eve service. This is one of the highlights of my year. We do it as a couple. One of us serves the bread and the other serves the cup. Last night I served the bread so John wouldn't have to touch anything someone was going to put in their mouth (concerned about spreading his germs). Every time I looked into someone's eyes, broke off a piece of bread for them and reminded them of "the Lord's body, broken for you," I was overwhelmed with emotion. I always cry. There is a personal contact with each person in those moments, whether I know them or not, that is different from any other. We are remembering what Christ has done for us.

Sometimes when we interact with one another as human beings, there isn't a lot of eye contact. Some of us are comfortable looking people directly in the eyes and some of us aren't. In conversation, people look in all kinds of directions; up, down, off to the side, at another person, occasionally at the person they're speaking with. But in this moment, every single person is attentive and their eyes are more than casually focused on mine. As I speak these words (whether it is the Lord's body broken for them or the Lord's blood shed for them), I am speaking the words into their hearts. I look deeply into their eyes, as they do mine. They are not a stranger. They are my brothers and sisters. Christ died for each one of them. I will never forget the first time I had the opportunity to serve in this way. It was much more emotional for me than I ever dreamed it would be. It's hard to describe in words. But it opened my mind so big. It's so easy to hear and say the words that Christ died for the world or for all sin. But when you personalize it to a couple of hundred people, including children, in one setting, you are focusing on individuals and not a big corporate group. As I'm serving, I'm acknowledging for each person individually, "He died for you...He died for you...He died for you..."

This is something for which my words fall short. My description of the experience is hollow compared to what it means to me. If we are in town, I just can't stand to miss this service. It's not that we don't receive communion more often than on Christmas Eve. We do. But John and I serve communion on Christmas Eve. After telling someone on staff how meaningful it is to me, I got the feeling we may be enlisted to do this during the year.

I talk about being thankful a lot. It's because I truly am. I have much to be thankful for. This morning, I'm thankful for Jesus most of all. I'm thankful for my church family and my natural family. I'm thankful for John. I'm thankful for so many dear friends. I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve others. And I'm so very thankful for the forgiveness and grace God has extended to me.

I regularly say and do things that, in hindsight, I would say or do differently. There are times I speak my opinion when I later wish I had just kept it to myself. Especially if doing so might have spared someone else. I engaged with someone yesterday on a message board out of genuine conviction and from an honest heart. But that person wasn't served well by the conversation. He was not the person I should have asked any of my questions of. I genuinely love this person (even though he gets under my skin). And I wish I had just passed up the opportunity to make my points or ask my questions (even though they were valid). I did not set out to do harm. But I felt convicted last night as I was wrapping gifts that I could have used a lot more wisdom. I could have been more concerned for him and the repercussions he would have to deal with as a result of the conversation. I could have just been silent, whether justifiably provoked or not. And I felt regret because of the love I feel for this person.

I'm thankful for the conviction God puts on my heart. And I'm thankful also that I have progressed to the point where I don't have to crucify myself for days on end for making a mistake. There are no do-overs in life. There is only repentance. Repentance to God and repentance to each other. I've learned to ask forgiveness and then believe and rest in that forgiveness. I've learned to put my trust in God's promises. He knows how weak and flawed I am. There is no use denying it to myself or anyone else. I can agonize for days over what other people think of me when I mess up, or I can rest in the sovereignty and grace of my Lord, knowing that I am forgiven and loved in spite of my imperfections. I am learning how to do the latter.

I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas and blessed New Year. And now I better get myself in gear for my own wonderful day.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I am so thankful!

After posting for an entire month about our trip to Israel, I have been in a bit of a writing slump on my blog this week. I have also been preoccupied with a lot of other things. It's hard to believe Christmas is just days away. I'm thankful for another joy-filled Christmas season.

I have gotten through the entire season without going near a mall. I did all of my shopping online this year. Not only did I enjoy shopping from the comfort of my home, I did not pay sales tax or shipping. I probably didn't get the sale prices I might have gotten if I'd driven and parked somewhere. But I didn't buy gas or fight crowds either. So I can live with the trade-off. Now that everything has arrived, there are lots of unwrapped gifts under my tree. I guess you know what I'll be doing tomorrow. I'm thankful for the ability to give gifts to those I love.

I worked at the church today, then came home and made a pot of chili for dinner. Poor John is battling sinus problems, congestion and coughing. Antibiotics have not helped at all, so it may be some kind of allergy. He hasn't been able to sleep, so it's all catching up with him. He even came home early today to rest. If you read this, I would appreciate your prayers that he'll start feeling better. One of our favorite Christmas traditions as a couple is attending our church's Candlelight Christmas Eve service and serving communion to others. We really look forward to that. If it were tonight, I don't know that he could even go. So I'm hoping there will be a big improvement in the next two days. I'm thankful for friends who pray for us.

Christmas morning we will get up and drive to Mt. Carmel to see some of my extended family. From there we will go to Evansville and have Christmas with John's family at his mom's. Sunday we'll celebrate here with the kids. And we always spend the night at Chris and Cheryl's on New Year's Eve. That has kind of become our Christmas get-together. I'm looking forward to each gathering. Being with people I love is always the highlight of the holidays for me. I'm thankful for the blessing of wonderful relationships, closeness and the comfort of never feeling alone.

I woke up at 4:30 this morning and 3:00 Sunday morning. I was so tired from waking up at 3:00 that I went to sleep at 9:00 last night, knowing it would result in my waking up early again today. When I woke up, all I could think about were my blessings as I laid there in my nice, warm, comfortable bed. I thanked God for every day and every year He's given us, for our kids and our families, for our church family, our friends, and all the many ways He provides for our needs. I thanked Him for His mercy, His love, His faithfulness, salvation, the cross. I am thankful for such a blessed life.

I never run out of things to thank Him for. It's not that we don't have challenges yet to face or situations that we would love to be different. But we have no challenge or problem to face that is not common to all of humanity. And all I have to do is watch the news to be reminded of all the things common to humanity that I have never had to face. I have never been all alone in the world. And I have never gone without food. Those are just two things that I thought about as we watched the evening news just tonight. My worst day is better than many people's best day. I'm thankful for perspective on my problems and the reminder of just how small my problems are compared to people less fortunate who have known only suffering in this life; especially those who live in places where they cannot even feed their children.

If God never answers another prayer for me the way I want Him to, He has already provided what I needed most. He sent His Son. I never want to take that so lightly that this greatest act of love and greatest gift ever given is not enough for me. I never want to love God conditionally in response to the unsurpassing love He has demonstrated for me. Consciously, none of us would ever think of saying to God, "What you've done is not enough." But we have all, at one time or another, demonstrated that through our actions, our behavior, our discouragement, our lack of gratitude or our thoughts in difficult times. I have heard Christians occasionally make statements about not being able to serve God if God doesn't do this or that for them, if He does not change their situation, if He requires something of them or if serving Him results in life circumstances they feel they can't live with. If we haven't all said it audibly, I doubt many of us could say honestly that we have never had a similar thought go through our mind in a moment of desperation. In those moments, our love for Him is conditional and our gratitude is small. I am thankful that God shows me my heart and inspires me to love and trust Him more.

As I drove to the church today, I was thinking about how good God has been to me. I said a short prayer acknowledging my inadequacy. I confessed from my heart, "Lord, I am not the Bible student that I want and hope to become. I am not the prayer warrior that I want and hope to become. I am not what I want to be in so many areas. I fall short daily. But I thank You for the gifts and abilities You have given me and I want to use them for Your glory and Your kingdom. Help me to live for You and Your glory."

My hope and prayer is that I will be able to endure whatever God allows me to suffer in this life for the glory of His name and for the joy that is set before me. I don't want to be entirely focused on this life and my own comfort. I want a servant's heart. And I want to be transformed into the image of Christ. I know that suffering is a part of that transformation.

I have had years that were hard. I've suffered losses. I know what rejection feels like. And I know the reality of the uncertainty of tomorrow no matter how good today may be. I also know that my life has been easy compared to many. And I have not suffered anything that resembles what Jesus suffered willingly to make me His own. I pray that in all things I will trust my heavenly Father and in all things I will give Him thanks; not just in the coming new year, but for all of my days and regardless of what comes.

Right now I am not suffering. I am living such a blessed life and enjoying the mercy and the goodness of God. But no matter what the future holds, I want to be faithful. I'm thankful God has put that desire in my heart and it has taken root.

This is the time of year when people are thinking about New Year's resolutions. I don't make resolutions. I never have. But I do have a desire and a determination to learn to trust God more fully and completely in this coming year than I ever have before. Because I know that my obedience will be in direct proportion to my trust.

I have so much to be thankful for again this year. And among my many blessings is the blessing of your friendship. If you're reading this blog, you must love me. (I can't imagine any other reason you would be reading considering how longwinded I am!) Thank you for taking the time to read my often scattered thoughts. Thank you for occasionally leaving me a comment. Thank you for your love and your prayers. Thank you for your friendship. And thank you for not letting me go if you have ever FELT like letting me go. I know I have traits that are not exactly endearing; possibly even annoying. : )

You have no idea how thankful I am for you, my dear friends. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


The kids were having so much fun, it just didn't seem right to make them go to bed. After all, I was still trying to get them to eat at 7:00. They didn't get in the tub until close to 8:00. And they still needed to have their milk and wrestle a little bit. Just as I was getting tough and telling them it was bedtime (at 9:00), the phone rang and it was Rebecca. She was surprised they were still up. There was no hiding it, either. She could hear their little voices.

I'm glad I didn't put them to bed on time, though. Andrew spit up some of his milk and I was able to clean him up. If he had done it after I'd put him down, I might not have known. He had a tough time going to sleep tonight. I rocked him for a long time and then sat by him and patted him in his bed for a long time after that. It was like he was willing himself to watch and make sure I didn't leave. I was afraid to leave because he had spit up and I knew I couldn't relax until he was asleep. He did notice when I slipped out and he cried a little bit. But he finally fell asleep. I was just worried that he didn't feel good because Danny had a virus last night. Rebecca, if you're reading this, I'm sorry I didn't get them to bed on time. I'm not sure I ever will be able to. So you should probably just know this and accept it. Grandma Shari is not good at enforcing their bedtime. Here are some pictures that should explain why...

Break out the cookies!

I finally broke down and gave the kids their cookies. When I did, Joshua said, "Grandma Shari, you need to take a picture of us eating our cookies!"

We're giving it the old collge try, Mom!

It's 7:00 and we're still working on dinner. I've offered to make everything I can think no avail. I've gotten a little sweet potato in both of them. Andrew has eaten pears. And right now I've got them both eating yogurt. I'm trying to get some nutrition in them so they can have one of the sugar cookies Grandma Shari just baked for them! They keep telling me they love me. They say it like they really mean it, but I think they are trying to manipulate me! (It's pretty close to working, too!)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A clip from the Garden Tomb...

This is just a brief portion of Allen's comments to us at the Garden Tomb which I was able to record on my digital camera. I thought I would share the clip. You can hear believers from other countries as they sing praises in the background. There were church services going on all over the place that day. It was amazing.

As we approach Christmas, Allen has been talking to us about our desperate need of a Savior, about God sending His Son and our salvation being solely through our faith in Christ, His sacrificial death and resurrection. He preaches obedience on a regular basis and one of the things I have been so grateful for in his preaching is that he continually challenges and encourages us to live lives of obedience. But he always reminds us that it is not our obedience that saves us. Salvation is the gift of God through Jesus Christ. We are saved through Christ's perfect life and sacrifice; not our own. Among the scriptures he referenced, he quoted the following passage:

Romans 10:9-10
9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

I loved what he said after quoting this passage. I will have to paraphrase from memory, but it went something like this:

"I want you to notice something. There is no mention of me in this passage. It is all about Jesus and your faith in Him, it's about making Him Lord of your life. It's not about this particular church or me as pastor. Salvation is through faith in the person of Jesus Christ and your confession of Him as Lord and Savior."

Allen actively discourages us from placing him on any kind of pedestal. I so appreciate that in him.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Last day in Jerusalem

Our guide, Ronny Simone, is an author and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Israeli army, as well as an amazing historian. Our church always requests Ronny as tour guide. He has become a friend and he has visited our church. I think he will be coming in January or February to do a seminar. I bought two of his books and began reading one of them while we were still in Israel. The one I started with was "The Story of Israel." The morning of our last day, I read the third chapter, "The Kingdom." I had no idea what we were going to see that day. As it turned out, we saw the excavation site for one of the events I read about that morning.

In II Kings 19:32-35 the Bible tells us that it was God who saved Jerusalem:

32 "Therefore this is what the LORD says concerning the king of Assyria:
"He will not enter this city
or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
or build a siege ramp against it.

33 By the way that he came he will return;
he will not enter this city,
declares the LORD.

34 I will defend this city and save it,
for my sake and for the sake of David my servant."

35 That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.

When this site was excavated, the skeletons of an army along with their weapons were discovered. It was the unearthed physical evidence of an entire army slaughtered by the hand of God in one location. Prior to our trip, I had not known about this evidence. I believe the Bible on faith and I believed this happened because God's Word tells me it did. But it is an amazing experience to stand in physical locations where events not only occurred, but where historical evidence has proven the Bible to be true and accurate. As Ronny told us the story I had just read about that morning and showed us this spot, it was another one of those spiritual high points in the trip for me. The event had been refreshed in my mind first thing in the morning and then I stood in the place where the event happened and was preserved for future discovery. However, if I just showed you the picture, it would look like nothing more than a bunch of rocks.

This next picture was taken in the surrounding area of the Jewish Quarter. I looked up behind me and saw these apartments (overlooking the site). I thought the building was pretty and showed the contrast between ancient and modern civilization.

I was only able to take two pictures of this next site. The excavation has been turned into a museum and you are not supposed to take photographs inside museums. I didn't realize that and I started to snap pictures immediately. Ronny was so kind. He let me get a couple of shots before he pointed out the restriction. I apologized and he smiled, shook his head and said, "It's fine. No problem."

I wish I could have taken more pictures. You can google any of these sites and bring up a wealth of information. The following is a review of the site I copied from Fodor's Reviews online (

Herodian Quarter & Wohl Archaeological Museum
Category: Museums/Galleries, Archaeological Sites
Location: Jewish Quarter
Fodor's Review:
Excavations in the 1970s exposed the Jewish Quarter's most visually arresting site: the remains of sumptuous mansions from the aristocratic Upper City of the Second Temple period. Preserved in the basement of a modern Jewish seminary, the geometrically patterned mosaic floors, faded frescoes, and costly glassware, stone objects, and ceramics provide a peek into domestic life of the richest families in the days of Herod and Jesus. Several small stone cisterns have been identified as private mikva'ot, (Jewish ritual baths); holograms depict their use. Large stone water jars are just like those described in the New Testament story of the wedding at Cana. Rare stone tables resemble the dining-room furniture depicted in Roman stone reliefs found in Europe.

On the last of the site's three distinct levels is a mansion with an estimated original floor area of some 6,000 square feet. None of the upper stories have survived, but the frescoes (half replaced by the later, more fashionable stucco) and the quality of the artifacts found here indicate an exceptional standard of living, leading some scholars to suggest this may have been the long-sought palace of the high priest. The charred ceiling beam and badly scorched mosaic floor and fresco at the southern end of the fine reception hall bear witness to the Roman torching of the neighborhood in the late summer of AD 70, exactly one month after the Second Temple itself had been destroyed. Precisely 19 centuries later, the victims' compatriots uncovered evidence of destruction so vivid, wrote chief archaeologist Nahman Avigad, "that we could almost smell the burning and feel the heat of the flames."

After Ronny gave us the history, Allen took over with the spiritual implications of this site for us. This palace is believed to be the home of the high priest in the days of Jesus. Allen talked about what life would have been like for the high priests and those with a certain status both socially and religiously at that time. He talked about the life of Jesus and the miracles He'd done, reports of which were widespread. He reminded us that all of the Jews did not reject Jesus. He had many followers who did not betray Him. But those with positions of status and authority were not willing to risk their lifestyles and the political/religious prestige they so enjoyed. We don't know what they believed in their hearts. They may have even recognized the signs and miracles accompanying Jesus' claims. They may have even considered the possibility that He was who He said He was. But they were threatened by Him. He challenged their authority and the religious system they clung to. They were obviously unwilling to give up what was precious to them in order to follow Jesus and believe in Him.

Allen pointed out that this should be an important lesson for us. What are we protecting, holding onto, that might stand in the way of our fully responding in obedience to Jesus and following Him more fully and completely? In what ways, choices or priorities are we rejecting the Son of God today? What do we value in our lives more highly than the Kingdom? We want to think we value nothing more highly than Jesus and the Kingdom. But the fact is that our lives are often a demonstration of other things being more important, capturing more of our attention, our focus, our resources, our time. We are all guilty. Living a life of denial and convincing ourselves that we are different from the people of those days is a mistake. If we had been alive at that time, what blinds us to the reality that we very well may have been one in the angry mob? Could it be a belief in ourselves as being morally superior, possessing superior intelligence, greater faith? It's not true. We are not superior in any way. We are the recipients of God's unmerited favor. Apart from the grace and mercy of God, we were the angry mob.

The pictures do not convey how impressive this home was. I had no idea anyone had a 6,000 square foot home in the days of Jesus (other than Herod).

This is just a scenic picture from the Jewish Quarter.

This was our last official site of the trip, but not quite the end of my pictures. We walked back through the streets of the old city on our way to the bus and I couldn't resist taking a picture of a little pizza kitchen...
Our last stop before returning to the hotel was very special. We got to visit George and Betty's apartment, where they live many months of the year. We sang and prayed and had a little snack. Then we had the rest of the afternoon free to spend however we chose. Several wanted to shop. I wanted a frozen coffee drink.

We strolled down a few more streets, had some coffee and returned to our room to pack. Just two days prior, I was so sad when I thought about the trip ending. I was not ready to go home yet. I loved Jerusalem. I loved Israel. I loved spending time with our friends. You really do bond with people when you travel (unless you have a bad experience, of course). I had become attached to our group and I knew I would miss seeing so much of them. I knew when we got home, life would return to the normal pace and we'd all be busy preparing for the holidays. I'm happy to report that we have gotten together with several since the trip. We had dinner last night with Lee and Donna. We might not even know each other had we not taken this tour together. And I'm so thankful to now have them as such dear friends. It's hard to imagine not knowing them now.

I thought I would not be ready to go home. But finally on the very last day, I found myself eagerly anticipating being home again. I was ready. I was feeling no reluctance as I packed up my things and prepared for our departure.

We decided to have dinner in the hotel on our last night. I haven't gone into great detail about the food because, for once, food was not the focus for me. But I had the best pita and focaccia breads I've ever tasted at this hotel. They are freshly baked. I had pasta and an order of focaccia with olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. A lot of places add lemon juice to their olive oil and serve that as a salad dressing. It is so good. And when I asked for Parmesan cheese, they brought a bowl full of it. I could have made a meal out of the focaccia, oil and cheese. I bought a recipe book of Israeli dishes and I plan to try my hand at fresh pita. By the way, I learned that to say pita bread in Israel is the equivalent of saying "bread bread."

After dinner, we brought our luggage down and loaded the bus. The long journey home was about to begin. As it turns out, our journey was prolonged by a technical problem on the plane after we boarded. I think our departure was delayed for almost two hours. I'm not absolutely sure because I went to sleep. But we missed our connection and had a much longer layover in Newark. Normally, a delay like that would stress me out. But I just looked at it as an opportunity to spend a little bit more time with my travel buddies. However, when we finally arrived in the church parking lot to collect our vehicles, I have to say it felt so good to be back home in Murfreesboro. And I was very tired. We managed to stay awake all day and not go to sleep until 9:00. But I still woke up at 3:00. It took me over a week to get back on Central time as far as my sleeping is concerned.

Well, John is patiently waiting for me to finish this very long blog post and work out. And this has become REALLY long (if you are even still reading). I have a few more pictures and video clips I have not uploaded yet. I may share those at some point. But this officially concludes our first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, November of 2008. I hope this will not be a once in a lifetime experience. We both have the strong desire to return one day. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Israel, you simply must not miss it. I promise you that it will renew, refresh, enhance and strengthen your faith and the reality of God's plan in the earth. We have wanted to go for a long time and I knew that someday we would. But I just wasn't sure how long John might procrastinate (thinking he could not be gone that long from work). I am so thankful he made this trip a priority.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Only one more day ahead of us...

We finished touring a little earlier on this (next to the last) day in Jerusalem. As we stood just outside the Holy Sepulchre, Allen gave us our options for the remainder of the day and dinner.

The following pictures are just outside the walls of the old city.

We enjoyed especially nice weather the entire trip. We went prepared for some rain. And they really need rain, so we sure weren't going to selfishly pray for sunshine. But it was in the low eighties just about every day and we didn't have a drop of rainfall.

We strolled down a street with a newer, open mall area on the way back to our hotel. Along this street were many stores any American would recognize. There was even a Mac make up store. I didn't care to shop on this trip (other than a few olive wood pieces), but there was a little cafe' that had the best coffee and frozen coffee drinks. I loved going there. I had heard so much about the frozen drink, I had to have one. And they had tables outside with a view of the old city. It was such a relaxing place.

As the trip was winding down, we were ready to relax a bit and just sit outside, taking in the view and the atmosphere, enjoying a coffee before getting ready for dinner. A few of us had gone the night before for a Cafe' Americano and a shared pastry at the end of our after dinner walk through the old city. It was a perfect way to end the evening. It was so fascinating to walk through the city at night and observe more of the culture and the people out along the city streets. When you are inside the walls of the old city, it feels like you've stepped back in time in some ways. It's just a very different way of life.

This is the David Citadel Hotel where we spent the last three days of our trip.

I took this picture inside our hotel room as a reminder of what was going on in the U.S. while we were away...

Several of us ventured out to a local Argentinian restaurant (because they have good steaks) for dinner this night. It was an interesting experience. I have never had to show a host the contents of my purse before being seated. And John has never before been asked, "Any weapons?" They take security seriously. For some reason, this was not at all unsettling to me as I might have previously thought it would be. I felt quite safe throughout the trip. But I did tease John, "Hey, if something happens to us, not only will we get to go to heaven together, we'll arrive with our pastor and Charlie Daniels. Good company to be in, don't you think?"

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Wikipedia

This is another possible site for Calvary. The link above provides the history. Several different religious groups share control of the site and there is continual conflict. Just the day before we were here, a fairly substantial physical altercation broke out. It was covered on Fox News. A few people told me they saw it. In the exterior picture there is a ladder visible on the ledge. It's called the immovable ladder. It is also present in a picture taken over a century ago. Apparently, the different groups cannot come to an agreement on moving it. Wikipedia addresses this under the section "status quo." According to Wikipedia, someone placed a wooden ladder on this ledge sometime before 1852, when the status quo defined both the doors and the window ledges as common ground. The ladder remains there to this day, in almost exactly the same position.

This is a picture of the bedrock that is believed to be the actual place where Jesus was crucified. In the picture where I am reaching into a hole, I am touching the bedrock.

This slab is believed by many to be where Jesus' body was prepared for burial. We saw people laying their bodies over it, kissing it, lining up possessions on it (for a blessing). It felt more superstitious than spiritual. I guess after seeing some of the pictures, you can probably understand my preference for The Garden Tomb.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Old City

We walked through the streets of Jerusalem on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We stopped for lunch at a little cafe' which sold Falafels and Schwarmas (pita sandwiches). The pita is so different in Israel from what we have in our stores. It is baked fresh every day and SO soft. I always knew I could have made a meal of fresh pita and olive oil if nothing else looked good to me. But it never came to that.

I wanted some people photos from our lunch spot. My apologies for catching some of you in the middle of a bite or a swig...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finally...inside St. Anne's!

See post below for explanation of "Finally..."

It took me forever to upload (and figure out how to embed) this video.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

St. Anne's Church - Amazing Acoustics!

The Church of St. Anne is a 12th-century Crusader church, erected over the traditional site of the birthplace of Anne (Hannah), the mother of Mary. It is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture.

The church is right next to the Bethesda Pool, believed to be the site where Jesus healed a paralytic (John 5:1-15). Here you can see ruins of a Roman temple to the god of medicine and remains of a Byzantine church built over the temple.

Saint Anne's acoustics, designed for Gregorian chant, are so perfect that the church is virtually a musical instrument to be played by the human voice.

I have been trying to upload a video all weekend with no success. I have three wonderful video clips of Heather and also Charlie singing in St. Anne's. You can hear how magnificent the acoustics are. And for a while, we were the only ones in the church. Heather sang, "Lord I Believe in You" and "How Great is Our God." If memory serves me (without checking), Charlie began singing, "How Great Thou Art" and we all joined in with both of them. It was another special time of praise and worship. I really want to share one or two of those videos if I can ever get the Internet and my computer to cooperate. I first tried using Blogger to no avail. And now I have registered with YouTube. But it just seems as though it uploads forever with no end and I never do wind up with an uploaded file. I will get it figured out and posted eventually!

This morning I had this Daily Thought in my email and I thought I would share it. Romans 8 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, and one I cling to during difficult places. Especially Romans 8:28. Here is what my Daily Thought says about Romans 8 and the assurances God has given to us:

8 December 08
Christian Assurance
The promise of victory

Romans 8 contains five convictions about God’s providence (verse 28), five affirmations about his purpose (29,30) and five questions about his love (31-39), which together bring us fifteen assurances about him. We urgently need them today, since nothing seems stable in our world any longer. Insecurity is written across all human experience. Christian people are not guaranteed immunity to temptation, tribulation or tragedy, but we are promised victory over them. God’s pledge is not that suffering will never afflict us, but that it will never separate us from his love. --From "Men Made New" (London: IVF, 1994), p. 259.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Lion's Gate / Pool of Bethesda Ruins

Lion's Gate
(also known as the Sheep Gate and Stephen's Gate).
From Wikipedia: "Located in the east wall, the entrance marks the beginning of the traditional Christian observance of the last walk of Jesus from prison to execution, the Via Dolorosa."

This gate is the entrance that was used to bring in the sacrificial sheep. The sheep raised for the purpose of sacrifice all came from Bethlehem and were brought to the Temple through this gate. I didn't know that before this trip (or if I had heard it, it didn't lodge like it did while I was in the actual location). How interesting that the sheep were born in Bethlehem and entered the Temple through the same gate that Jesus was brought through on His way to execution; to be our sacrificial Lamb. Even typing those words moves me to tears. I have such a deep appreciation for what He did for me. I finally have such a realization of what was accomplished for me on the cross. If you've read my testimony, you understand what I'm saying. I grew up in a church that told me I had to be perfect myself and that Jesus died to give me a chance to be like Him. He lived a perfect life in order to show us that it could be done. That is such a different message from the true message of the cross and the gospel. I'm so thankful I can see that now. I never intend to belabor this when I refer to it in a blog post, but you can't appreciate how huge this is to me if you have always known you were going to heaven to see Jesus because of what HE did and not based on your own perfect life. I never believed I could go to heaven or see Him. And now I do. Sorry to get caught up in the emotion, but looking at these pictures and telling the story of this gate brought it all to the surface again. I am so thankful for the Lamb of God. MY sin nailed Him to that cross. But He loved me so much, He went willingly for the joy that was set before Him; our redemption.

The reason this gate is also referred to as Stephen's Gate is because tradition says that it was through this gate that they took Stephen to stone him after he was convicted of blasphemy by the Sanhedrin.

Pool of Bethesda Ruins - Link to interesting details about this area.
Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. (John 5:2)