About Subversive Organizations

Lizards never struck me before as subversive, but it seems that they might possibly be the most conniving creatures yet. After all, they are found in king’s palaces, says the preacher. Lately I’ve noticed these tiny dragons scamper across the deck, drop, pump out about a dozen push-ups and then vanish over the edge. Perhaps they’re not turning out in hoards for the work-outs simply to avoid suspicion. I’ve grown suspicious non-the-less.

In Which I Get Really Woolly

“Just dump it in and blow it out!” the picture on the insulation blower announces. A woman stands in front of the machine, cheerfully holding a bail over the hopper, her dress and long, flowing hair blowing in the breeze. Upstairs, a man directs the hose into the attic, a discreet pair of safety glasses perched across his nose.

It’s a pretty picture, but it’s certainly not the one I would paint.

I was decked in my tightest pair of work-jeans (with sincere hopes that they might stay up), a ragged, basketball shirt, tight bun with a protective layer of bandanna, goggles and dust-mask. I spent the morning slowly feeding bales of grey fluff into a sluggish machine which rewarded this effort by emitting clouds of grey dust. Soon Lydia and I were wild and woolly, to say nothing of hot, thirsty and bored. “I’m glad it’s you today,” Lydia confided. “Josiah’s just bossy and Mom’s boring.” I tried to keep some semblance of entertaining conversation going, but I began to feel like I was slowly being consumed by a great, grey cloud of oblivion.

My turn for adventure finally arrived after lunch when I volunteered to make an assault on the attic. Josiah and Mom both crowded around, giving me advice, recommendations, precautions and predictions until I became nearly convinced I was headed on a green beret secret mission. Feeling important and somewhat daunted, I climbed the rails and disappeared into the dark attic. Only it wasn’t dark, thanks to several trouble lights dangling from the low ceiling beams. I whipped out my walkie-talkie and signaled the others to start the machine. With a gentle cough, it came to life, blowing flakes of grey in every direction.

My jeans were sagging nearly to my knees by the time I crawled on my belly back out of the addition over Mom and Papa’s room. It must have been at least 120 degrees in there. Insulation clung to me like mohair, giving me the appearance of a woolly, black ape. I squinted through my foggy goggles, trying desperately to see through the thick murk. I couldn’t help thinking how it would be easier to see and breath without this encumbrances, but a quick try proved me wrong. Black gunk plugged my nose and burned my eyes. The spiritual parallels were smothering. How often I blame the protections the Lord has given me for the very smothering they are trying to protect me from! The fresh air breezing up from the attic entrance seemed like a whisper of another world as I worked my way toward the final feet of my project. Lydia’s head poked up through the hole, looking like a bizarre gas-mask. “How many bails left?” I demanded. “We’re on the last one,” her voice smiled from somewhere under the layers of white dust mask. “Hooray!” I held the hose up and let the insulation flutter out around the ceiling beams.

And then the machine had stopped. I tossed the hose down through the hole in the laundry room ceiling and swung my legs over the edge. With a sputter, the machine came to life again, blowing heavy, grey insulation around the laundry room in flurries. “Stop!” I shrieked, jumping down from the ladder, over the washer and dryer and rushing outside where Mom was allowed the last few bits to run through the hungry hose. Surprised, she looked up, comprehended and flipped off the machine. I covered my eyes in the bright light, ripped off my dust-mask and breathed.

It's amazing the way my perspective can change in such a short time. Normally a ninety-five degree day feels blistering--this time in felt blissful.

In Which I Make Important Choices

“This is Abigail,” Sherry introduced me. “She worked with Christy doing No Apologies in the schools.” A small chorus of “ohs”. “She’ll be joining us as our receptionist.” A few minutes later, I was settled into a chair on the far side of the table, mentally running back over the ladies’ names and taking everything in, trying to get the feel for Choices. “That’s a praise. Does anyone have any prayer requests?” Sherry asked, looking around the table at eight smiling faces. “Becky, would you mind praying for us this morning, since we’re running a little late?” The slim nurse smiled as she answered, “Sure.” We all bowed our heads.

That’s when my cell phone rang. Only, it doesn’t ring. When Papa calls, it whistles at me.

Seven heads jerked up, eyes wide, looking for the source of the interruption. Nothing like a first impression.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, digging the phone out of my bag and silencing it. The table erupted in merriment and questioning looks. “That was your phone?” “That’s…um…quite the ring tone.” Becky’s eyes crinkled at the corners as she demanded, “Where’d you get that ring tone. I totally want that ring tone—for when my husband calls me.” Embarrassed, I shrugged. “I don’t know where it came from. My dad put it on for his number.”

Discovering the perpetrator of the whistling made them titter even more, but we managed to quiet down and finish our prayer meeting before the first client had been kept waiting too long. Sherry led me back out to the front desk and waiting room and gave me a quick run-over of my duties:

• Greet clients and let their advocate/mentor know they had arrived
• Answer the phone and assist/transfer as needed
• Call tomorrow’s clients to remind them of their appointment
• Schedule any necessary appointments
• Pull client files for today
• File finished client paperwork
• Be careful to maintain “confidentiality”

All of it work they’d shared before. The “extras” that feel like overload to seven ladies with busy schedules, kept me busy for only a few minutes. “Anything else you need me to do while I’m sitting?” I asked Mary Frances. “If you’re bored, I have loads of filing you can do!” Becky teased, poking her head out of her office. “I hate filing.” She held a stack of green manila folders in one hand.

The reception desk phone beeped on line one.

“Hello, Choices Pregnancy Resource Clinic, this is Abigail. May I help you?”

A pause, then: “Yes, this is Maggie. Have any more bottles come in today?”

A pause on my end. Who is Maggie? Why does she care about the Bottles for Babies program? Why does she need to know a bottle number? Have any more bottles come in today? “Just a second,” I put her on hold and scampered to the back room where Shirley and Mary Frances were filling out client paperwork. “Maggie’s on the phone asking if any more bottles have come in today.”

Shirley shook her head. “Some this afternoon.” Then she smiled. “Abigail, Maggie is our secretary.”

Nancy was shuffling through the file cabinet when I returned to the desk. “We’re getting terrible at this filing,” she sighed. “I just can’t find her file.”

“Is this it?” I quizzed, scooping up the files I’d already pulled and handing her one from the top. A funny look crossed her face before she laughed. “Oh. You’d already pulled it? I guess I’m just not used to having a receptionist.”

“May I help you?” I asked as the door jingled and a middle-aged woman stepped through. She certainly didn’t look like she had a crisis pregnancy on her hands. “Yes, actually, I’m Dottie from River Valley Magazine, here for an interview and article. Is Sherry in?”

Feeling important, I rang Sherry and sent Dottie up the narrow staircase to her office. I wasn’t the only one who found the “reporter” intriguing. “Is she still here?” one of the ladies whispered as I entered the kitchen for a drink. “This will be good publicity for us!”

I’d just finished collecting and taking out the trash when the door jingled again. I scurried through the Dutch door to great an older man. “Hello, may I help you?”

He grinned a lop-sided grin. “Yes. May I please speak to Shirley?”

I turned toward the kitchen just as Shirley emerged. “There’s a gentleman asking for you,” I began, as she walked past me into the waiting room, giggling. “Oh Abigail,” she explained. “This is my husband, George. George, meet our new receptionist.”

The schedule book was stacked full in the morning, but by closing time, only about half of the clients had made a showing. “That’s pretty typical,” Shirley informed me. A sad thing, since these ladies are so dedicated to being available for counseling or calls, whether a girl shows up or not. It's exciting to hear the stories of girls who have come in abortion-minded and left with a babe in arms. Being a private, non-profit organization, Choices has to be creative. Based out of a two-story Victorian home near the library, the waiting room used to be a screened in porch. Bedrooms have become cozy offices. The garage is a nifty thrift-store, crammed with tidy donations for girls who have earned “parenting bucks”. The intercom system consists of calling from one line to another and transferring means calling up the desired person and asking them to pick up line one. And they have a nifty little dumb-waiter—a basket on a string—for sending papers up to Sherry in her second story office. But the Lord has really blessed the project. Thirteen years after beginning, there are a score of volunteers, hundreds of churches participating in Bottles for Babies, No Apologies makes an appearance in several local schools, and the clinic has their very own nurse and Ultra-sound room.

Well, and now they finally have a receptionist. At least on Tuesdays.

About Community

Lydia has developed a habit, during Sunday lunch, of scrunching herself onto the very edge of her chair--the one closest to me--and scarfing her meal with as little conversation as possible. I can hardly blame her since the Sunday Bruce swallowed the last piece of delicious roll, right out of her fingers while she watched wide-eyed and flabbergasted. It wasn't because he was still hungry. There's always plenty more where hers came from, but somehow, having been on Lydia's plate increases the attractiveness.

"Why thank you, Lydia," Josh beamed as Lydia carefully set her slice of banana cake on the table. "What a great idea!" He made a quick stab with his fork, but Lydia whisked the dessert out of his reach and gave him a triumphant smile.

That's when Tommy snagged her plate from across the table.

Lydia heaved an exasperated sigh and crossed her arms over her long-suffering heart. Josh's reaction lacked her forbearance. "Lydia!" He exclaimed. "Lydia! Did you see that? He took our cake!"

If I'm to be Christ-Like...

...what does it look like?

I’ve been mulling over this question in a quiet corner over my overly active brain, trying to grasp the essence of Who I should be emulating.

Some parts of His person come to mind more quickly than others: His humility, grace, love, perseverance, devotion to God’s pleasure (and success!), imitation of God, resistance to sin, patience in suffering, search for the lost, sacrificial generosity.

But this I am wrestling with: Jesus was consumed with zeal for God. He destroyed the tables of the moneychangers because they desecrated the house of God. He called the false religious leaders white-washed tomb-stones because they pretended purity, while inwardly indulged in vice. He even turned away some half-hearted followers with the blunt edge of truth.

It’s easy to perceive Jesus as the lamb led to slaughter and imagine that I should be demure, avoiding offense at all costs. But Jesus was also the majestic lion, King of Kings, on fire for God’s name. If the righteous are as bold as a lion, where is my boldness for the truth? If we are to be zealous for righteousness, where is my zeal for God’s honor? Is it my place to denounce false teachers? False teachings? Do I have that authority? Can I control my own emotions with enough purity to be sure that the zeal consuming me is godly and not of my own flesh? How can I be, at once, both gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent? Meek as a lamb and bold as a lion? A humble bond-servant, yet a faithful witness of God’s Holiness?

In this is my dilemma.

This is my hope: that in being more with Christ, I shall become more like Him.

Lord, I bow before Thee humbly,
Kneel and plead that Thou consume me.
Nail in farewell to Thy cross
The parts of me both flesh and dross.

Unite in me Thy perfect zeal,
Humility and power revealed
To spring from Thee and Thy control
To work Thy will and please Thy soul.

Concerning Hard Hearts

"Would God harden a Christian’s heart?” The question has been addressed to me a couple of times recently. Exodus chapters 1-14 and Psalm 81 are two of the passages inspiring this question. The first show Pharaoh resisting God’s command to let the Israelites go followed by God hardening his heart. The second speaks of a rebellious Israel, given over to the stubbornness of their hearts to walk in their own devices. Is this a fate that can befall the believer?

Amber and I are starting that little gem of a book "The Joy of Discovery in Bible Study" and one of the first rules for understanding a passage is to understand WHO it was written to and WHO it was written about. In the Exodus passage, we quickly see two things: first, Pharaoh was not a believer. Second, he had already chosen to harden his own heart. The obvious result of God hardening his heart was a lack of good judgment—his resistance to God prevented him from making reasonable decisions. His whole land was being destroyed, his people killed, himself tormented and yet he could not relent. The second passage might seem a little less obvious at first glance, because we are used to interpreting the Psalms as applicable to us. After a little observation, it's pretty clear that the passage is about the nation Israel. This might seem unimportant until we recall that God's relationship with Israel the nation is different than His relationship with the individual. This passage wasn't actually written FOR a believer. That doesn't mean we can't glean anything from it--we can! But the application is not as direct.

Even when Israel was rebellious to Yahweh, there was always a believing remnant. The whole nation was His chosen nation, chosen to be blessed by Him, but the nation was not a nation of believers. Many of the Israelites were rebellious—my family just finished a study of the kings of Israel and Judah--very few of which obeyed Yahweh. And even then, some of the wicked kings (like Ahab) occasionally obeyed God. And some of the good kings (like Josiah) disobeyed and lost their lives. Do you remember the blessings and the curses from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim (Deuteronomy 27-28)? These blessings and curses were a part of Yahweh's covenant with Israel. He'd warned them that if they refused to listen to Him, to obey them, He would turn them over to poor leaders, poor judgment and ravaging enemies. As a nation. This meant if the nation as a whole turned away from Him, He would stop blessing the nation, as a whole. "The stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices" meaning, He'd let them go their own foolish way--as a nation. This didn't mean He would stop interacting with individuals. He still spoke through many prophets. Even during the humanistic time of the judges we find Ruth and Boaz who loved Yahweh and who Yahweh blessed. His curse was that He would stop blessing them on a national basis. But He never stops interacting on an individual basis.

For us in the new covenant, inaugurated through Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice, we have a different promise: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)

The promise for believers is that, if you believe Jesus and belong to Him, He won't deny you. He won't forsake you. Nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:35-39) We have confident access to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-15). I know of no scripture to believe that God would harden your heart. Believer's can drift from the Lord and can become disobedient--and scripture says that the Lord will chasten disobedient children (Hebrews 12:6)--even sometimes putting them to death (1 Cor. 11:30). But the distance is not caused by God. Nor does He watch them wander and then place a wall between Himself and them so that they cannot return. If you have put your faith in God, He has sealed you with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13) and you have an advocate with Him, any time you sin (1 John 2:1). Not only that, He is waiting as a loving Father, to welcome you home any time you get sick of feeding pigs.

The scripture also speaks of walking in the light (1 John) and living in the Spirit--exercising the Spirit God has given you so that it is strengthened. There's the story of the Eskimo man who had a white dog and a black dog which he would bring to town, make fight and take bets on which would win. He always won the best. Finally someone asked him how he knew which would win. "Simple," he replied gruffly. "Whichever I feed." It's the same way with our Spirit and our flesh. I find that the more I feed my flesh (even just spending time in "harmless" activities--as long as they don't feed my spirit and bring spiritual growth) my desire for spiritual things slides into nonexistence. Also my spiritual perceptions dwindle--I don't notice God's working in my life or that of others, I become discontent, focused on myself, God seems to grow distant and small. On the other hand, when I am feeding my spirit, spending time on my knees begging God to open up the mysteries of His word to me, begging Him to work in my life (not just asking for things I think I need, but for growth and change in myself, too) I become starved for time with Him--ravenously hungry for His word, His people, even just to be alone with Him. Then His word comes alive to me, full of meaning for my life. "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble"--when we seek Him humbly, we find He is there with blessing upon blessing. Others may not even see that we are blessed, but we can see little things He is doing constantly! Our perspective changes--we recognize all the spiritual blessings we have in Christ (1 Peter 1:1-9). Scripture tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling--this doesn't mean we are working to make it happen, but that God's worked it into us, and we must work it out--so that it's visible--with His help, of course. It's an effort. A choice. We don't just sit and say, "God, if you're real, show me." He's evidenced Himself in so many ways--just look around at the world! In all of the scientists clever stories, they really can't account for it at all. Or if we demand, "God, if you love me, show me." Look at the cross! God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us! (Rom. 5:8)

Pharaoh had no interest in a relationship with Yahweh. The Israelites thumbed their noses at His covenant. The Lord stripped them of their judgment—after all, the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. Did they care? Pharaoh didn’t. He plunged into the Red Sea after the Israelites and was swept away by the currents of his rebellion. The Israelites, on the other hand, often repented, returned to Yahweh and cried out to Him. Once He even tried to ignore them—but the sound of their humble cry and the smell of their sacrifices reached Him and He turned to them.

The truths I see in these stories are simple. A hard heart is a heart that doesn't care about God. Doesn't desire God. Has poor judgment. Doesn't even realize it resists God. A hard heart never asks the question, "Am I a hard heart?" Never worries that it might not be able to respond to God. A hard heart has no desire for repentance. No desire for God.

A hard heart does not belong to a believer.

For the person who feels they have turned from Yahweh, rejected Him, grown cold and hard with time, bitterness and disappointment, their hope is in God’s character, revealed through His dealings with the Israelites. David told His son Solomon, "Set your heart to seek Yahweh." (1 Chronicles 22:19) It's a choice. A decision. Something you must decide you want to do. If you want to know Yahweh, you must seek Him while He may be found. Later David told Solomon again, "If you seek Him, He will let you find Him." (1 Chronicles 28:9) Even spoken to an individual under the old covenant, these words reveal God’s character. David had beautiful insight into God's character and God's workings with man. He understood that God delights in being sought. That's His desire. It brings glory to Him when we do what we were created to do--seek Him. He doesn't hide Himself from those who seek Him. The best place to find Him is in the pages of His word. Through prayer, praise and thanksgiving, He reveals Himself to us through His word. If you're worried that you've drifted from Him, that you might have gone too far to come back--give His mercy a try! Seek Him diligently and see what will happen! If you want to find Him, seek Him! He who comes to Him must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6) Anything good requires effort. Our salvation is a free gift--God did the effort there. But for us to grow strong and to enjoy a healthy relationship with Yahweh, we must exercise and feed our spirit for His work to work out.

Enjoying the Ease of E

Ethnic—Because the Italian restaurant Helen and Paul took us to in downtown Tulsa was terribly authentic.

Exotic—Because Calimari didn’t look terribly appetizing, but proved to be quite palatable. Especially the babies. “It tastes like fried spiders,” I encouragingly informed a dubious Lauren. She never did work up the appetite to try the babies.

Electricity—Because we were without it at Nathaniel and Lauren’s—for more than a day. Gathered in the hallway, we sang scripture by the light of a lantern and listened to storm warnings on a battery weather-radio.

Evelyn—Because she’s a light in a dark place—and she had the same birthday as I do! Turning seventy-eight, shut into a nursing home, yet cheerful and encouraging when Lauren and I visited her. She held our hands and prayed over us before we left, bringing tears to my eyes.

Exxon—Because they apparently still believe in the caste system. Two restrooms: one marked “ladies”, the other “women.”

Excited—Because Lauren and I are gung-ho for starting a joint blog for young women—married and single. Be watching for announcements in the future!

Economics—Because “Settlers of Catan” was a study in old-school economics—bartering, shipping and trading. When the guys had talked about it in the past, I’d done the whole “smile and nod” trick, since I thought it sounded boring. It wasn’t. Strategizing on the best way to get rid of excess wheat or attempting to convince the others they needed more sheep (“Tim, you’d look fabulous in wool!” or “Josiah, have you ever had mutton with mint leaves?”) proved more entertaining than I’d imagined.

Encouraging—Because having Ashley here from New Jersey was a pleasant happening. She seems so far away and yet, we can reconnect on the same level as if nothing has happened in between.

Exhausted—Because, starting with the well pump’s failure on my birthday, we’ve had incident after incident. Last week, with Papa home on vacation, we tackled enough projects to make me feel like I’d accomplished a lifetime of useful things. And yet, it doesn’t seem as though we actually came out ahead in the long-haul.

Embarrassed—Because my very first day cleaning the neighbor’s house, I broke a candle. One of those terribly valuable ones that come in a canning jar and smell like blue coconut.

Everything else—Because it will just have to go unnoted. The past several weeks have been a whirlwind—I feel like I’ve hardly been home! I keep thinking the next day will bring a breather—a chance to get quiet and just enjoy the Lord, but each day turns out crazier than the last one! How did David grow so close to the Lord while fleeing from Saul? And how did Jesus survive with multitudes clamoring after Him constantly?

End—Because this is it for now, folks.

About Habits

"I used to have a terrible habit," Tabby admitted in a conspiratorial tone. I pressed the phone closer to my ear. "Go on." She took a deep breath. "I used to be horrible about not knocking on closed doors. Just barged right in. Then Mom told me I needed to practice by always knocking on every door before I came in. Next thing I knew my habit had gone the other way. I caught myself knocking on my closet door before opening it to select an outfit. But, worst of all, I knocked on doors to rooms I was leaving." She never told me the sad ending to her tale--whether she's been able to break these new habits or whether they plague her still.

In Which I Celebrate the Anniversary of Something Unimportant

Exactly twenty-one years ago, at five o’clock in the morning, a very little girl made her debut on the world stage in a hurry. The scene was set in the maternity ward of the Hutchinson, Kansas hospital. Nurses bustled around the young woman, laboring as she gripped her husband’s hand. “Just wait,” they pleaded. “Don’t push yet!” The regular Doctor was on vacation enjoying Southern hospitality, because no one expects a baby on her due date. His substitute barely made it to the delivery room, whistling a hymn, in time to put his stamp of approval upon the little waif’s arrival. And then, that was that. She’d accomplished her first great task in life—in a rush.

Just a common occurrence in the little hospital. Not even the couple’s first baby. But this birth had a profound influence on my life. I was there. Announcing my entrance into God’s beautiful world with a piercing wail.

It’s not like I’d accomplished anything extraordinary. But I still get ice-cream, presents, balloons and flowers every year—just for that.

Imagine what would happen if I ever did something really outstanding.

About Opportunities

Apparently Nathaniel was inspired by Josiah's account of prank phone-calling Taylor. I walked into the study with a question for Nathaniel to discover him relaying messages via IP relay, reading Taylor's responses on the computer screen. Of course, considering that Taylor was responsible for introducing Nathaniel to the site, it couldn't have taken him long to figure out what was going on and Nathaniel didn't make much effort to maintain a farce. My interest was perked when, after a little friendly conversation, Taylor offered to share a verse he'd found--in 2 Corinthians "God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God." Well. That was an interesting turn to the conversation. Realization dawned on me and Nathaniel at about the same time, and he quickly began typing questions to give Taylor a chance to explain the gospel--for the benefit of the operator relaying messages between them. I'd gotten an answer for my question and left the room without knowing how it ended, but with the distinct impression that I'd just witnessed "every opportunity." I wonder what impression the operator left with?