This is my other first-born daughter, Sarah. (Her identical twin is Hannah...) She's the one who went to Cambodia recently...and the picture you see above, perfectly captures her spirit ~ "I Love Fun!" and "Have Backpack, Will Travel."

This girl of mine lives for adventure. She is known in these parts for outworking the men on many-a-job-site. Currently, she is learning the ropes of the home construction industry, with hopes to one day have the skills to build (or oversee the building of) homes and churches and simple structures, in any nation on this spinning earth.

But she's all girl, too. She can't stand to wear her hair too short, and if you open her closet, the shoes...pairs upon pairs upon pairs....come tumbling out in colors and styles galore. Yet, day after day, she leaves the house in old tennis shoes, and all that hair slapped up into the cutest messy bun you ever saw. You see...for all the shoes, our Sarah isn't overly fashion forward, a trait her family takes great delight in teasing her about - which brings me to another of her defining characteristics: her thick skin.

Sarah can take a joke, a correction, and even a personal afront with a greater amount of calm and class than most young women I know. She simply will not get her knickers in a knot over small stuff, and to Sarah, it is almost all small stuff. She's courageous, that girl is. Strong. Tough. She can travel to the other side of the world, eat what is set before her there, ride elephants and motorcycles, and scrub nasty toilets in foreign lands without batting an eye. High maintenence, she definitely is not....well, when she doesn't want to be.

She has a laugh that can charm the meanest snake, and a smile that makes her eyes disappear, the corners of them crinkling in contagious delight.

She's recently begun classes at Trinity's College of Ministry ( ) with an eye towards completing the missions track....these days you often see her with a book or her laptop, puzzling over Old Testament geography, or the meaning of grace. This, I love. As I watch God form her (often in the fire) into who He has planned for her to be, my heart cannot help but swell with Motherly Pride.

I know she'll be leaving us one day - either for Timbuktoo or a man. Or both. But "won't you smile awhile for me, Sarah?" Being your mom has been pure joy....

More Grace, Whenever You Need It...

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

(me...utterly enjoying more grace....)

I remember, in my twenties, becoming paralyzed by the teaching of a man I deeply respected. (A man no longer in my circle of associations...I do not know what has become of him.) He preached, passionately, that we've been given all we need in Christ. He very convincingly presented a gospel that declares a work having already been exceedingly and abundantly and completely done at the cross.

While every word of that is true, I then somehow came away with the wrong idea. I don't know if what I "got" from his radical sermons was what he meant for me to get - but what I heard was that the call of Christ was the call to come and die daily, the cross was all there was currently available to me, and thus I am to deny any personal desire to experience the love of God in fresh ways. The love of God was proven at the cross...what more did I need?

I've been years getting those concepts out of my spirit. In times of distress, depression, or even simple "stress", I have always tried to pull myself up by the bootstraps, and look at the cross alone. Right there, at Calvary, is my solution, cut and dried. I was taught by this great teacher that any ongoing revelation or experience of grace beyond looking to that cross, is entirely superfluous, and charismatic nonsense.

Well, now I know that we truly prophesy "in part". That was (and is) only a partial truth. It is truth, and it will need to be applied to our lives from time to time, and in certain situations. "Look to the cross, alone. It is enough". I have no doubt of it!

But the other part of the gospel is this stunning and ongoing involvement of the Father, in giving us "more grace". James 4:6 says "He gives us more grace." This verse is in context of our human propensity to sin. This verse is in the context of humility - God gives "more grace" to the humble.

More! Not some pre-determined, measured-at-the-cross, theologically correct amount of salvation. I can wallow in sheer over-abundance of moment-to-moment mercy, with more on the way in the morning. Not only that, but to she who possesses any God-gift, to her more shall be given.

Own the grace of God. Claim it with all the confidence in the Son's sacrifice. If you do that, more will be given. Utilize grace for every time of need. This is part of the humility that attracts "more grace" into our lives!

Humility comes entirely from an urgent awareness of our neediness. When I am most needy, most undone, altogether unable to help myself, God gives me "more grace".

"More" grace is Biblical! This continues to bring great freedom to my bound-up theology. God gives grace to help in time of need. This covers yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and it covers absolutely all reasons for my neediness. There is no qualification as to what sort of need qualifies for urgent grace. "Let us therefore come"....these words echo down through the corridors of history and time, and touch my spirit even tonight.

Let us, tomorrow, and when we are much older. Let us come moment by moment, if we must. The more we come, the more we get. The only prerequisite is a knowlege of our need. Never...never analyze whether your need is theologically correct. Needy qualifies. Period. Thank God that He is delivering me from the paralysis of analysis, brought on by a zealous Bible teacher, more than twenty years ago.

Yes, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ is more than enough. Forever. But you can experience something dynamic and fresh, in addition to all that unquestionable sufficiency. If your "time of need" is now, more grace is waiting. Go get it!

Liberating, no?

Dare to Fail More Often!

If we are truly people of faith, we must be willing to fail more often. If we fail infrequently, it means we are not acting boldly enough or lovingly enough, enough of the time. It means we are hiding behind walls of past successes and shrinking from present-day risks which will determine what is possible. Unless we fail on a regular basis, God will have insufficient raw material with which to work. It is from our haphazard efforts that the Holy One can sculpt works of art. So be unafraid. Dare to fail more often!
— Hope Douglas J. Harle-Mould

Only God Can!

He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light; he can bring your summer out of winter, though you have no spring; though in the ways of fortune, or understanding, or conscience, you have been benighted until now, wintered and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied till now, now God comes to you, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon.
--John Donne

Grace Toppled My Idols...

Whoever your peace and sense of well-being depends on, that person has become a false god in your life.

Grace can flat-out tear down our idols. The opposite of grace is the letter of law. The letter of the law is, in most cases, and in this application, an unwritten code of conduct that we apply to others - especially those we care about most. We may think we've come out from under law - but we can know we've come out from under it when our "code" gets violated, and we still don't lose our peace and well-being.

This past early-June, I was wrestling over some disappointment I was going through. The feelings were intense. In retrospect, I can now see that everything I'd known about grace was about to be sifted and fine-tuned. I was on the cusp of a whole new world - a new place in God, where grace wore skin.

The Holy Spirit said to me, "You can hang onto this intense desire to see your children walk with Me, or you can intensely desire Me. I will be your "one thing", or nothing at all. Any desire that competes with the desire for more of Me is idolatry."

Huge revelation. I cannot begin to put into words how my world stopped turning, paused in suspended animation, and then reversed both its spinning and its orbit that night. My God became my "one thing".

One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after...

I had honestly thought, all these years of pouring my heart into my mothering and my home schooling, that the desire that my children walk with God, and the desire for God Himself, were as close to one-in-the-same as any two desires could be. I never imagined for a moment that my longing to see my kids follow the Lord with the same passion as their parents had become the singlemost dangerous idol in my life.

That's the thing about being self deceived. If you knew you were deceived, then you would no longer be deceived at all!

I didn't know.

And it is a whole new world, a new place in God, a new learning curve that has me shooting straight up, vertically, into the heart of the Father....learning "of" Him, not just "about" Him. Getting to know His ways, not just His acts. It is also the hardest thing, ever.

There are so many things I have no control over, and my children's lives are at the top of that long list. And I have great kids! Great kids....but no control over their lives, ultimately. Let me assure you, you don't realize that so much when they are small. You don't realize that so much when they are teenagers. In fact, you don't realize it so much until they make a fundamentally wrong choice, and the consequences are no longer artificial, and parent-contrived.

But there is one thing I have "control" over, if you can call it control. I can have as much of the Lord as I want. I can have as much of God as I can contain.

That night, outside on my deck, looking up at early-June stars, I chose. Then, I sighed deeply. It was a sigh that came from the depths of my being; involuntary, and revealing...almost a shudder. It was a sigh that was the unavoidable result of my letting go of what was the most dear to me in this world, placing it in the Father's hands....and walking away. Forever.

I do mean forever. The choice was made, that night. It has had only to be re-inforced since then, not revisited or remade. It will be re-inforced over and over. Making the peace is winning the war. Keeping the peace is re-inforcing the victory. And it is still not easy.

He will be my One Thing that I desire, and that (alone) will I seek after. Finally, for the first time in my whole life perhaps, no other desire I have can begin to compare to my desire for God - Himself, alone.

As a consequence, He personally looks after what concerns me. He takes care of my heart. He nurtures my soul. My soul, well-fed on the grace of God, has no need to get its sense of well-being from the performance of others - my children least of all. A mother's soul, at rest in her God, is a much healthier resource to her children. A soul filled with Christ, never has to grub about for an idol to comfort it.

I'll tell you what I know: you have not lived until you have smashed your idols. And you cannot smash them without a revelation of the grace of your God. Without an understanding of grace, you may never even know they are there.

Greater Grace...

I'll never forget my first, very personal revelation into the grace of God. Unfortunately, it didn't come until I was a grown woman, with children of my own. I'm sure I'd heard about the grace of God, but either didn't listen, or didn't fully understand. Having known Christ, and having walked with God from the time I was six years old, being filled with the Holy Spirit at the age of eleven (yes, for me a "second blessing" experience), moving in the gifts of the Spirit by age twelve, and experiencing supernatural visitations from God from puberty onward, and then hurled into ministry at the tender age of'd think I would have known of the grace of God more than I did.

Nope. And that's an important fact to grasp: I had not experienced grace in its fullness.

Have you experienced the grace of God? With all else you may have experienced, with all else you may know and perceive and understand, have you experienced grace?

When the revelation came, I remember it well. I imagine it was much like Martin Luther's big moment, "The just shall live by faith..." He remembered exactly where he was when the lights came on and shone brightly over that passage of Scripture.

For me, it was nighttime, and well nigh fifteen years ago. I was comfortably esconced in the pillows of my bed, Bible open, searching for strength to raise four small children, and be "the pastor's wife." Suddenly, I flung the pages aside, and came flying out of my room, eyes bugging. Tim was sitting at the computer, working on his studies. I exclaimed, "Honey! I get it! I understand! I'm telling you I could...I could...I could rob a bank right now, and it would not matter! Well, not that I would, but I could, you see....I can't put it into words, but nothing whatsoever can separate me from the love of God."

Tim looked at me and slowly responded, "Ye-e-e-es...." with that look husbands get when they are really thinking, " are just now getting this?"

And every day of my life since, the enemy has attempted to steal that seed sown in my spirit that night. If having a seed-stealer hot on my heels was not enough, circumstances conspired, and do conspire, to vandalize the picture of grace my life has become. As many years as it took for me to "get it", the revelation of grace was the easy part. The concept is heady and glorious. It is the reclaim-ation of grace that challenges me to my knees, and will challenge you likewise. The revel-ation brings revel-ry. What joy! The reclaim-ation brings...a reclamation.

Reclaim: To bring into a condition for use, as in cultivation or habitation

The grace message reclaimed is the grace message cultivated and activated...grace unleashed to undo you and plow you right-up-and-over, and then rebuild you and replant you. Grace isn't merely a revelation to be understood. It also is not a gauge we use to rate other Christians. It certainly isn't a badge of having arrived. It isn't a truth that I enjoy personally, but use as a measuring stick to evaluate fellow believers. As soon as "The Grace Message" makes me look down on someone who doesn't yet understand it as I do, I've violated the reality of grace.

Grace is a way of life to be enjoyed....and a gift to be given to others who least deserve it. It exists to be lavished on the very humans who hurt us the most. It is a throne to which we point, and to which all who are in a time of need can be emboldened to run - inspired by our own bold approach.

Grace is personal, but grace's greater glory is communal. Your revelation of it is not tested by how freely you live, personally, but rather by how freely you love, communally.

I'm still finding it odd how the grace-inclined individual can apply grace to everyone but those who challenge her inclination. Isn't that strange? God help the poor soul who clashes with a mercy-motivated person's concept of mercy. That mercy-motivated believer OWNS that gift, byGod, defines it flawlessly (in their mind), and if you dare question their administration of it, they promptly forget mercy. I can say that, both because I bear (practically in my body) the wounds administered by a few Mercy People, and moreover I consider myself to be one who can be patient with almost anyone BUT a legalist.

We are to grow in grace. To me, this means getting beyond receiving it only. We also begin administering it, even when doing so defies reason and makes us insanely vulnerable.

It certainly is not a truth that we gleefully and thoughtlessly snatch up like cheap candy at Mardi Gras. Grace is lion-like, not tame. It is lamb-like, not solitary. We are the sheep of His pasture. We'll be all our lives growing in glorious, scandalous grace. The revelation is only the first step. The reclamation of grace, cultivating it, living it out in our relationships, is the real growth in grace.

When grace reclaims us, it brings as great a reformation to our lives as it did to Luther's.

And that's just crazy.

Towards a Philosophy on Chili...

Any modest writer will not title their essay or book, "The Complete Philosophy of Education", or "The Philosophy of Cuisine". They will entitle their thoughts, "Towards a Philosophy of..."

I'm still learning. I'm still becoming. I'm still working towards full expertise. All I know for sure, is what I know today. What I know today could change come next week, when God or the cooking channel teaches me something greater.

Thus, I caution my younger readers of twenty-something years of age. Listen to those who are twice your age. Everything that you think you know today, I knew twenty years ago, and I've been steadily adding to those stores of wisdom since. I may not know pop trivia, but I know how to feed a large family on a very modest budget, how to survive two more, how to get (and keep) a Godly man, how to lead with limited strength and ability, and how to walk with God.

But that is another blog entry for another day. (And aren't you just on the edge of your chair about it???)

Regardless of your age, I welcome your input on this subject as well, indulgent reader, as I work towards a philosophy of chili.

Chili should not be consumed in spring or summer. We have an Atchley Tradition (yes, with Capital Letters) and that is, we stop eating chili in spring, and we don't touch a bite of the delightful stuff until the first evening of the following autumn, when the temperature is forecasted to dip to forty-something. It can be, gentle reader, forty-nine. Yes, we'll break out the chili powder and the jalapeno for a low of forty-nine degrees.

Tonight, October 1st 2008, the forecasted low dips down to the magic number for the first time since last April. It is predicted to be forty-SEVEN degrees tonight. Wahoojah-amen, fire up the really big stock pot, and let the chili makin's begin. Time to celebrate.

Fire for the palate.

If it doesn't kick your butt, it ain't chili. If it doesn't give you a quasi-charismatic moment, it ain't chili. (hop around, fan yourself, speak in strange tongues...) If it doesn't leave you feeling somewhat alarmed at first bite, it ain't chili. You are supposed to shovel in that first, delectable spoonful, buck about in your chair for a split-second, and exclaim:

"THAT'S what I'm talkin' about. EEEEEEEE-yeah."

Have a hand towel at the ready, because if you aren't wiping your forehead along with the corners of your ain't chili. Have lots of sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, and Frito's on the table, because if you don't have those...well, you get what I'm trying to say.

It ain't chili.

I think chili making is Mercy Ministry at its finest. All the capsaicin (the ingredient that makes your nose run, and makes you speak with strange tongues) in chili actually releases endorphins! Who needs a "runner's high"? Gimme a bowl of the good stuff. Who needs to be slain in the spirit? I'll share my chili with you, and have you feeling high as a kite in no time flat. You'll be swimming in endorphins, praisin' the Lord.

All that said, I really do feel humble about it. I've not arrived, when it comes to making God's Favorite Dish. If you'd like to work towards your own chili philosophy, feel free to enlighten me.