Thursday, May 28, 2009

There Is No Off-Season

The first time that I ran a marathon, I was fifty years old and stupid. Someone had emailed me a training program which I followed loosely. I ran a lot of miles. I figured that counted for something, but I did not train. Things went pretty well in the race until I hit mile 20. I was a hurtin’ gator. “What in the world was I thinking?” I finished the 26.2 grueling miles, but needless to say, it wasn’t in a blaze of glory.
Early last September, I made an impulsive decision and signed up online for the Memphis/St. Jude’s marathon in December. The next morning I woke up and realized with despair what I had done… or rather what I needed to do. I printed off the training schedule and looked with dread at the rigorous plan. Not too bad initially, but then the mileage started building up. Just at the point when I was about to quit, God sent two running buddies into my life to encourage me. The mileage was the same, but the accountability kept me honest. As the race approached, I dreaded it. “I can’t do this.”
A remarkable thing happened. All of those miles, all of those hills on Shady Grove, all of those mornings when the last thing I wanted to do was run, came together. It was the first time that I had intentionally trained. And it made a significant difference.
There is a recent New Balance shoe advertisement that says, “How you prepare can change the whole game.”
The same goes for your daily Bible reading. It is not that you necessarily feel like it, but what you need to do. You are training for something in your reading and meditating on Scripture. It may be for what you would consider a Memphis marathon of life, or even Boston, or a race that you never anticipated. And you will be ready. Build up your strength. A friend’s son who is training for the Army’s Special Forces wrote,
“The ruck sacks will only get heavier and the mileage longer.” Train in God’s Word like your life depends on it, because it does.
You are always training for something. And as a friend wrote recently in an email, “Life is too short to live a mediocre Christian life.”

Train yourself in godliness;
for while bodily training is of some value,
godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.
…For to this end we toil and strive,
because we have our hope set on the living God…
1 Timothy 4. 7-8,10
Press on!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Additional Step

I previously discussed positive steps to take in a state of singleness. After attending a Memorial day cookout yesterday, I realized that I left something out. Most specifically, in regard to the previously mentioned topic of establishing relationships.
This cookout was rather interesting, being that it was not at all the usual crowd. A random assortment of people, and quite a few who were new.
I went to meet two girls I hadn't seen before, and a couple of minutes later, several other girls had joined in the conversation. Glad to have connected them with others, I left the conversation to get a bottle of water. When I reentered the room, I saw a couple of guys on the other side of the room, standing off by themselves, clearly new to the group. I walked over to introduce myself, just as I had done with the girls. But this time, not one other girl came over to join the conversation.
I have noticed at such events, no matter what the location or activity, a similar layout arises: the girls all congregate together.
Please don't misunderstand me. I was so glad to see others joining me in welcoming the female newcomers. And I find it great that girls are building friendships. But I think at times, girls huddle simply because they are more comfortable talking to each other.
So the additional step I encourage you to take is really rather simple. Talk to the guys.
Obviously you do not need to do so with the intention of finding a new BFF. In fact, I think it extremely important to be cautious in how you act and how close you become in your friendships with guys. But that is another topic.
And you also do not need to do so with the intention of meeting your future spouse. (Though this is a lot more likely to occur if you are, in fact, interacting with guys.)
You do, however, need to do so with the intention of showing Christ's love to others. It becomes rather difficult for you to provide encouragement and support to your brothers in Christ if you do not know them. And you can't get to know them by huddling up with all the girls.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

If Only We Knew

Jehovah Jireh,
He is the God who provides,
far beyond my wildest dreams
far deeper than I could ever ask.
I have seen only a glimpse,
and I am awed.
If only we knew,
it would be more than we could comprehend.
I am delighted by a single drop of water
and He,
the Creator of the Universe,
moves the currents of oceans
from thousands of years ago
through thousands of lives
to touch me in this moment in time.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Just a Little Bit

I love bookstores. You don't have to know me long to figure that out. But, as much as I enjoy them, I must admit that I often find them to be rather overwhelming. Especially used bookstores. I walk in the door and don't even know where to begin.
I have found it helps immensely to start small. Maybe the first trip is for a specific book. Then maybe a row. Or a section. And, over time, as I become comfortable with the store, I am able to enjoy more and more of it with each visit.
I think God kind of works like that, too. Starts small. His mercies are new every morning. Not enough for the year, or for the month, or even for the week. Just enough for that day. Though I am not at all implying the Christian walk will be easy, He will never overwhelm us beyond what we can handle (with His help, of course). Maybe a little challenge today, and a little trial tomorrow. But, as we learn to trust Him through these experiences, we find ourselves able to take on more than we previously could. And we are able to enjoy more and more of Him.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Family Tree

One of the ancient relatives in my mother’s family was an itinerant preacher. Originally from Georgia, he chose to travel across the Trail of Tears in the 1830s with native Americans to be relocated in the Oklahoma territory. We have a copy of the phonetic chart that he used to teach the Indians to read. His name was Phillip Mulkey. He was known also by his preaching there under an oak tree. According to the family story passed down through the generations, the place became known as Okmulgee. There is an actual city by that name just outside of Oklahoma City to this day.
What was Phillip Mulkey remembered for? A place named for who he was and how God used him.

Reading the Bible through this year is a monumental decision that will affect you for the rest of your life. But it will also affect everyone around you now and beyond your lifetime.

Let God’s Word penetrate your heart and mind and soul and seep into the very core of your being. It will change you forever.

Lay to heart all the words which I enjoin upon you this day
that you may command them to your children;
that they may be careful to do all the words of this law.
For it is no trifle for you,
but it is your life…
Deuteronomy 32. 46-47

Press on!

Friday, May 15, 2009


Lately, I have told the young moms in our Bible study that when their kids leave for college, of all the things they take with them, there needs to be personal ownership in their relationship with God. They may have the behaviors down pat, or can recite their litany of beliefs, but down at the core of their worldview, God must be real. It is not the worldview of their parents or church or youth director, but it is theirs.

I stand corrected.

It is not that we would “own” God, like we would own a car. It is not that He would be ours. But that God would own us – that we would be fully His. It is not a matter of grasping something and claiming it as a little child, “that’s MINE!” But a matter of letting go and letting God, as my good friend Linda Smith says. I no longer own my life, but lay it on the altar for Him to use for His kingdom. It is not the proverbial hiding Jesus in our hearts, but letting Him shine from within – indeed He is not part of our lives, but life itself, the very core of who we are.

“Power belongs to God, not to us…so that the life of Jesus may be manifest in our mortal flesh.” 2 Corinthians 4. 7,11

Monday, May 11, 2009


My husband Bill and I went to the Memphis Symphony grand finale concert last Saturday night. The orchestra performed the Mahler Ninth symphony, a powerful piece that lasted almost two hours without a break. Gustav Mahler had a gift of building up an intense powerful sound and then receding suddenly to almost a whisper, like running up to a cliff and pulling back at the last possible second. Unlike most symphonies which increase in intensity and volume at the very end, Mahler concludes this monumental piece with a transparent thread, tapering gradually until all instruments have stopped playing and the sound hangs profoundly in the air. Not a movement, not a breath, the entire auditorium enraptured by the silence. And finally the conductor lowered his hands, reluctantly letting go of the moment.

When we carve out time to read God’s Word, all too often it is slipped in between two immovable objects on one’s schedule. In our busy-ness, we read the words and miss the impact, because we don’t take the time to breathe it in. When you read God’s Word, hang out a minute. Listen up after you have finished, absorbing the moment, contemplating and dwelling on what you have just read. That is when the real connections are made. We are in such a rush that we miss that golden moment that I witnessed Saturday night, standing in awe of what we have just read, as Bryan Loritts says, “the very Words of God.”

Dwell awhile. Soak it in. Let it gel. Give His Word time to connect with every aspect of your day.

The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Deuteronomy 33.27

Press on!

Prayer Request

Please be in prayer for my friends Stephen and Merri, as well as their 6-month-old son Josiah, as he undergoes surgery this morning for a brain tumor. You can read more at

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Singleness (For Our Married Readers)

My previous post on singleness did not apply to many of you, so I thought I would add to the topic in a way that would.

As the Church body, we have a unique opportunity to form deep and meaningful relationships. I think we (myself included) limit ourselves far too much in this. While I certainly enjoy having single friends, who share a similar schedule as me, and with whom I can best relate and understand their present situation, I have found that some of the individuals most instrumental in encouraging me in my faith are not those at the same stage of life as I am.

I encourage you to seek out relationships with individuals different than you. (And please understand that this is something I am currently working on as well.)

So for those who are married, a few tips in relating to the single individuals in your life:

1. Please do not hesitate to invest in our lives simply because we are single. Mentorships are an important part of the Christian community as a whole. Consequently, while I completely agree that young wives need mentors to guide and encourage them in their relationship with their spouse, single women need guidance and encouragement as well. Please do not exclude us. Or, as it may be necessary in some situations, please find other ways of including us. Though my church has one of the largest young adults groups in the area, I am realizing how separated we are from the other ministries. I would love for women of our church to offer to mentor some of the girls in our group. And I'm sure those at your church would say the same.

2. Please abstain from questions and comments including, but not limited to, the following:
"When will you get married?"
"I need to find you a man!"
"Why don't you have a boyfriend?"
While we certainly appreciate your concern and understand that you are just trying to be sympathetic, there really is no good response to these inquiries. It is really quite awkward from our side. So instead, please ask us about other aspects of our lives. Because there really is more to us than our singleness.

3. Similar to #2, please do not make it your mission in life to find a spouse for all your single friends. Again, while we appreciate your concern, please remember that just because I am single and under the age of 30, this does not mean that I will automatically be perfect with every guy you know who is also single and under the age of 30.

4. Please allow us to be a part of your lives. This especially applies to those singles who do not live near their families. I was having lunch on Monday with a friend from college, who I hadn't talked to since then. She almost seemed embarrassed as she asked, "Do you still babysit?" When I told her that I occasionally do, and very much enjoy doing so, she responded with a relieved tone in her voice, "Oh, good. I'm so glad I'm not the only one!" Though we both work full-time jobs, we (and I think I speak for most singles when I say this) enjoy helping you out. Don't feel bad when you ask us for favors. We have the time, and want to use it beneficially. Just as we want you to invest in us, we, too, want to do the same for you. We want to encourage you in your walk with Christ. Please provide us with the opportunity to do so.

And to the single readers, what else would you include?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Just a little step

Recently I saw a friend’s children who I haven’t seen in a while. I couldn’t believe how much they had grown. It was a visible difference. They did not suddenly grow six inches overnight, but the growth was in almost imperceptible increments, day by day, moment by moment. We look back to what has been and we see that there is change.

God’s Word changes us daily, degree by degree, not by head knowledge but by transformation of our hearts. It changes your world view – how you view your world—as you seek to be more like Him. Scripture is not just another book among many. It is the Word of God and its power can’t help but change us.

Another way that the daily reading of God’s Word changes us is in the discipline itself. Indeed, the apostle Paul refers to the discipline of an athlete in several passages. The discipline of daily meeting with God breaks down strongholds in your life brick by brick. That mere act of discipline gives you the courage and strength to tackle those things that ensnare you and tear down those things that have become idols. Do you have the strength and courage to walk away from that one little thing around which your day revolves?– whether it is interaction with a certain person who lures you, a television series to die for, even a daily stop at Starbucks which you know you can’t afford? If you say, “Oh, I could never do that,” it has probably already has you in its web.

We are not talking “legalism” here, but discipline. Legalism means that the action is directly related to your salvation -- which is a performance-based view of life. Your salvation, according to Scripture, is based on grace, the sacrifice of Christ alone, not anything you do or don’t do. Discipline is merely taking on an action to draw you closer in your relationship with God-- or taking out those things in your life which trip you up. This weekend, I was staying at a guest house. There was a large bowl of little Hershey bars on the counter. Behind the bowl hung a sign, “Put the chocolate down, back away slowly and no one gets hurt.” The discipline is the strength to walk away.

And you thought that you were just reading your Bible. It will affect every area of your life, if you let it. Mark my words. And may those who haven’t seen you in a while say,

“What happened to you?”

And let steadfastness have its full effect

that you may be perfect and complete,

lacking in nothing.

James 1.4

Press on!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Singleness (Without Bitterness)

Following the service, the young adults at my church tend to congregate in a certain section of the lobby. As I exited the sanctuary yesterday, I approached one of the girls who happened to be standing by herself at the time.
"Hi! How are you?" I asked.
"Tired," she responded, with a grumbled tone. "I couldn't stand that sermon. What am I supposed to do? Apply it to my cats?"
Though I, too, was not an especially big fan of the service, a part of the current parenting series, I found myself a bit taken aback by her negativity regarding the situation. Though I must admit I have heard similar comments in past conversations, both with this girl and with others.

I've come to realize there are two approaches to the world of female singleness. You can let it make you bitter. Or you can let God use it.

Please understand that, in writing this, I am not trying to imply that my current state of singleness is especially easy for me. I frequently struggle with finding contentment in my present circumstances. Nevertheless, I can look back, even within the past few months, and see just how much God has used this time in my life. And, while it can be difficult, I realize just how beneficial it can be as well.

As I begin, I think it necessary to mention that, no matter what your marital status may be, your primary focus should be strengthening your relationship with God. If you are not spending time with Him each day, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of doing so.

In a state of singleness, you are at an extreme advantage in this area. Developing the habit of spending time reading the Bible each day is certainly not something that suddenly becomes easier once you are married. Yes, I realize you are busy. We all are. But the number of distractions with which you presently find yourself is fairly limited in comparison to others. Use that advantage. Let the Word become a part of your daily life. I guarantee it will make a difference. (If you don't believe me, ask me about it sometime.)

Read Scripture daily. Read whatever else you can. A friend asked me recently about my routine in doing so. The following is what I shared with her:
I like to start my day by reading the Bible. By doing this in the morning, I find that it sets the tone for my day, plus I am guaranteed to have time for it. Because I like structure, I use this reading plan. I know there are many others available if you prefer something different. Then, I save all other reading for later in the day. Typically I will read from a Christian formation book immediately prior to bedtime. This usually ends up being a chapter or less, and sometimes even just a few pages. And any other reading time I happen to have that day can be used for whatever else I am reading. Though your schedule might be entirely different than mine, I encourage you to find something that works for you. And stick to that.

That being said, here are a few additional ways I have found I can allow God to use my current state of singleness:

1. Become skilled.

Though I do not speak from experience in saying this, I am fairly confident that loving and serving a family is not an easy task. So learn all you can beforehand. Opportunities to do so are abundant:

Learn to cook. One of my single friends cooks a meal for her parents and siblings once a week. Another just makes a big batch of something and freezes it in individually sized portions. Or use cooking as a means of practicing hospitality, and invite others over.

Learn to clean. I feel kind of dumb including this, since keeping your house clean should not be limited to those who are married. But I have found many instances in which my roommates or friends have come to me asking a housekeeping question. Sometimes I know the answer, and sometimes I don't. But the more "weird" little tricks you pick up on now, the better. Plus, I think it is probably good to practice keeping things clean now, because it is not a habit you will immediately gain with marriage.

Watch other people's children. In doing so, you will not only gain experience but also can be a huge blessing to that family. You can learn various practices which you want (or in some cases, don't want) to use. Sometimes you can even pick up on little traditions which you would like to make a part of your own family someday. (I keep an ongoing list on my computer of potential "future traditions" that I add to whenever I hear an interesting idea.)

Learn whatever else you can.

2. Pray.

Prayer is one way you can be loving and serving your future husband, even if you do not yet know who he is. And I acknowledge that it does feel kind of awkward at first. But, just as God is using your singleness, He is also using the singleness of your future spouse. So what better way to support him than in prayer? I used this template to get started, though it is actually for married women. Once you get in the habit of doing that, add prayer for your future children as well. My mom previously wrote of the importance of this.

3. Save.

Establishing positive financial habits now will certainly prove beneficial in the future. You have no idea what kind of debt with which your husband might be entering the marriage. Saving now will enable you as a couple to pay off that debt more quickly. And build a good credit score. This could be extremely helpful to you as a couple if he has had past financial difficulty. And if he, too, is in good financial order, the money you saved might better enable you to buy a house. Or allow you to stay home with your children someday. Or pay for their college education.

4. Establish relationships.

Once you have a family, your husband and children will become a priority. As it should be. But this will obviously detract from your ability to invest in others. Community is an essential part of the Christian faith, whether or not you are married. But it takes more effort when you are single. I would encourage you to make that effort. Build up your friendships with other believers. Learn from them. And take the time to help others along in their walk with Christ. While this certainly can take place within friendships, I find it to take other forms as well. Maybe it is with the children you babysit. Maybe you teach Sunday school. Maybe you mentor. Or maybe you simply make sure the new girl feels welcomed. Whatever form it takes, if you enable God, He will use you.

I realize this post, while certainly longer than I originally intended, is certainly not exhaustive. What would you add? What do you wish you would have known when you were single? What were you glad you knew?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Psalm 103

Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.
My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
The Lord gives righteousness
and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
He revealed his character to Moses
and his deeds to the people of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass;
like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone-
as though we had never been here.
But the love of the Lord remains forever
with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children
of those who are faithful to his covenant,
of those who obey his commandments!
The Lord has made the heavens his throne;
from there he rules over everything.
Praise the Lord, you angels,
you mighty ones who carry out his plans,
listening for each of his commands.
Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels
who serve him and do his will!
Praise the Lord, everything he has created,
everything in all his kingdom.
Let all that I am praise the Lord.