Encouragement for a Woman's Heart...

"...in a time lacking in truth and certainty and filled with anguish and despair, no woman should be shamefaced in attempting to give back to the world, through her work, a portion of its lost heart."
~Louise Bogan

Dear Woman Friend,

Every little thing you do to bring beauty and order matters. As the cosmos and everything in it slides towards disorder, you fulfill your portion of the divine dominion mandate, your portion of the Great Commission, each time you straighten your desk, write a thoughtful blog post, wrap a gift, enter data, field office phone calls, close a sales deal, grade a paper, gently administer an IV to a patient, or lovingly put a bow in a little girl's hair. You bring your part of the world one step closer to order and beauty, and thus "give back to the world...a portion of its lost heart."

Do what you do with grace. Do it with style. Do it with dignity. Do it...knowing your God is pleased with what you are doing.

Work as unto the Lord. There are no menial tasks in His estimation.

Can One Weekend Hold More Joy?

It began this way...


A few of us Harvest women drove through the winter wonderland to decorate the church, and then create handmade wreaths at the Bower Farm.

Are we the cutest bunch you ever saw, or what?
(L-R Wendy, Hannah, Maria, Sarah, Me, Cheryl, Kelly, Angel, Vickie, and Jenny)

We punked the pastor so good...this is what we did to his preachin' table (he doesn't preach from a typical pulpit...)

Then, more fun at the Bower Farm

Greens clipping...

Wreath making...

Christmas music softly playing...

the smell of apple cider filling the air...

The view from just one of the windows (all the views are this sweet - and I overheard more than one or two request to come live at "The Farm"! There is such a peace there.)

some of the simple, homey decorations...

A sweet, sweet scene, no?

Then, my son Isaac had a basketball game - that's him, with the black "shooting sleeve". Skinny. Handsome. Athletically gifted.

Number five-four

Tonight, at my house, the second installment of Focus on the Family's Truth Project. Our college aged small group is going through this excellent curriculum.

Searching for The Truth?

Or enjoying the holiday food?

Our facilitator Jonathan, explaining to us using his Mac (showoff!) how to log onto the Truth Project's website, and sign on to our group.

Furious note taking. This is no frilly study. It is challenging.

In the Word

Bibles everywhere...

I cannot imagine a fuller weekend (or preceding week, for that matter - spent PREPARING for all this!) I imagine I didn't stop to sit down until just now. But along the way, I soaked in each and every amazing moment in all the non stop action. The snow...making my wreath...cutting my hands on wire in the process...punking the pastor (he took it so well!)....time with girlfriends...watching Isaac score a couple of three pointers....church this morning...small group tonight...all the achingly sincere questions that were posed after the study...the glow that is still in this house.

Have a blessed Advent season, my friends.


There's something so sexy about a man pushing a carpet cleaner for his wife...

Having Myself a Merry Little Christmas...

Today was "decorate the mantle" day. Despite a very long list of things I had to get done, I squeezed this in, purely for my own enjoyment. The result is even lovelier in person, I must say.

I clipped a pile of greens from outside my house...

put on a little James Taylor Christmas music...

Added some oranges that I cloved last night, and 3 pots of paper whites, just blooming...

It took about ten minutes.

Don't worry, the candles are flameless!

The Gospel Produces Good Works

This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. (Titus 3)

The above Scripture is a classic "proof text" for some who want to mix the pure gospel with a message of human effort. In fact, they want to use all of Titus to back their emphasis on works. But when it is used in that way, the user commits a common error:


Every verse was written in the context of a chapter, which was written in the context of a book, which was written in the context of old covenant or new covenant, which was written in the context of the whole Bible, which was written in the context of grace. Jesus was the plan of God from before the foundation of the world.

The entire book of Titus was written to instruct about how to choose leaders whose lives adorn the gospel, and about training the saints regarding what it would look like to live in such a way as to adorn the doctrine Paul preached (as found in Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, etc.).

What sort of life best describes the God who has made you the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus?

In Titus, Paul again warns about legalists - a fact often conveniently ignored. Far from being a letter about the virtues of human effort, Pauls words are fatherly pearls of wisdom, inspiring a young leader to choose wisely and well who would shepherd God's people. Church leaders should be so consumed with the gospel of Jesus, that they make every decision, choose every course of action in the light of what would promote the gospel and silence its critics.

The utter, unmitigated, sheer glory of grace will make a human being zealous to live in such a way as to be God's visual aid in teaching the world how amazing He is. Jesus went about doing good for the sake of doing good, because He was simply doing what He saw a good God do. He and the Father were one.

This verse is not saying that Paul wants leaders to continually remind the saints to be mindful to work hard, and do Godly things, with no context other than "Godly principle", or "the right way to live versus wrong way to live". This verse is saying that the message of the gospel will produce a people who are prone to living accomplished and hard working lives, being of benefit to everyone, loving their work because it is productive and good - because good works impress lost people, and shame religious critics...not because good works impress God.

It says, in context, that Paul wants leaders to be constantly affirming doctrine and what adorns it, affirming the gospel of grace, the good news of Jesus. Included in this (whether we like it or not) is a respect for authority....

Respect for authority is mentioned first in chapter 3, first in the line of thought, because if respect is not in place, no one's message - not even the faithful sayings of God, communicated through the five fold ministry gifts - will be heard.

Interestingly, it is those who live as a law unto themselves who are the very ones who take this verse, and the whole book of Titus, out of context and try to make it say something it doesn't. They "submit" to almost nothing, not even the laws of hermanuetics, apparently.

If you can bear with me, here is this verse (bolded), in context, in several translations (edited in one little spot, for time's sake).

First the Phillips:

REMIND your people to recognise the power of those who rule and bear authority. They must obey them and be prepared to render whatever good service they can.
They are not to speak evil of any man, they must not be quarrelsome but reasonable, showing every consideration to all men.
For we ourselves have known what it is to be ignorant, disobedient and deceived...
But when the kindness and love of God our saviour dawned upon us,
he saved us in his mercy—not by virtue of any moral achievement of ours, but by the cleansing power of a new birth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit,

which he poured upon us through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

The result is that we are acquitted by his grace, and can look forward in hope to inheriting life eternal.
This is solid truth: I want you to speak about these matters with absolute certainty, so that those who have believed in God may concentrate upon a life of goodness. Good work is good in itself and is also useful to mankind. (Phillips)

The Message (not my favorite, but for the sake of thorough study) ~

Remind the people to respect the government and be law-abiding, always ready to lend a helping hand. No insults, no fights. God’s people should be bighearted and courteous.
It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn...But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that.

It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life!

You can count on this. I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone.Last, the New King James ~

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient...

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared,
not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.

The gospel of the abundant grace of God, which justified us (past tense) and assures our eternity, makes us care about living lives that adorn the message we are bringing. No one who has really understood the grace of God will be prone to habitually walk in a way that obscures or brings reproach on such a precious thing.

The point is that it is all about the 'faithful saying', it is all about affirming the gospel. This book of Titus, this verse, does not make it all about us and what we do. One is stimulus, the other response. One is primary, the other secondary. One is root, the other fruit.

Context, context...

Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth...

The term "unfriended" has made it into the dictionary. What does that say about our culture?

Can you believe it? "Unfriended" is Oxford dictionary's Word of the Year for 2009! Please share in my burden - and oddly, amusement - as you read this article from the Charlotte Observer "What Word Represents 2009?" (~ those of you who are cracking up laughing right now, you know who you are. "Stop it.")

Vol. 5, No. 22


It’s official. The 2009 word of the year, courtesy of the American Oxford Dictionary, has been named.

Drum roll, please.


Some of you might be wondering - particularly if you are distanced from the latest in social networking – just what “unfriended” means.

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya from the movie The Princess Bride, “lemme ‘splain”.

To “unfriend” means to remove someone as a friend on a social networking Web site like Facebook.

I found this to be an intriguing selection, or perhaps better put, observation. Particularly as the word chosen was not “friending” someone, which is the positive side of the act and just as newly minted for our vocabulary.

No, it was to “unfriend,” suggesting that as much as we may desire relational health and wholeness, we are much more prone to wallow in the mire of relational dysfunction. We do not work through the process of conflict resolution, as suggested by Matthew 18:15. We do not manifest grace toward our differences, or perceived weaknesses. And even less toward each other’s sin.

We know only to “unfriend.”

Granted, there are times this may be sadly needed. There are those who are relationally unsafe, and boundaries must be drawn. But that is not what has given us our new word of the year. We do not unfriend as a matter of last resort, but often as a first response. As a result, we live in a day where it is acceptable to have a trail of jobs and locations and commitments behind us as we flee from one relational breakdown to another.

Of course, followers of Christ should be the counter-balance to unfriending.

Called into community by Christ, and unified through our joint relationship with Christ, we should be manifesting the healthiest relationships on the planet. We share the same values, the same mission, the same purpose – everything needed for the deepest levels of relational health.

So as Christians before a watching world, this should be our opening. And it is. Jesus told us that if we would just love each other, it would arrest the world’s attention and give it the greatest apologetic for His message.

So why isn’t the world flocking to our communities of faith to gain a glimpse of authentic community?

Because we unfriend with as much ease as anyone. Perhaps more so.

John Ortberg once wrote of a man who was rescued from a desert island where he had survived alone for fifteen years. Before leaving, he gave his rescuers a little tour of the buildings he had constructed as a sort of one-man town over the years.

“That was my house, that was my store, this building was a kind of cabana, and over here is where I go to church.”

“What’s the building next to it?”

“Oh, that’s where I used to go to church.”

Never before has there been such a need to model Jesus and be a friend to sinners. A friend that attracts, appeals, engages.

Perhaps we need to remember that it begins by being a friend to each other.

James Emery White


“What word represents 2009?”, The Charlotte Observer, “Nation and World,” Tuesday, November 17, 2009, p. 6A.

John Ortberg, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them.

Advent - Days of Waiting

(...I blush and apologize ahead of time for the length of this post...it is mostly pictures.)

No longer having small children, eager to open tiny doors on calendars or make paper chains counting the days till Christmas, I am observing Advent quietly, in my own heart this year.

"The Handel's Messiah Family Advent Reader"...a tool to be used in the art of the mindful Christmas season. I've owned this for years, and always enjoy it. Each day of Advent contains a sumptuous piece of classic art (Rembrandt, Roubillac, and more), a devotion, interesting facts about Handel and the Messiah, and one track from an included CD of the whole of Handel's Messiah - I simply savor...really hear....one part of his magnificent oratorio each day.
As I sit tonight, engaging evening prayer, I meditate on what it must have been like to long and wait for thousands of years for a promise from God. I know what it is like to long and wait for a few of God's promises to me. I think it was not much different for the Hebrews. It was personal. Sure, it was national, it was civil, it was a longing for a King...but it was also a personal longing for freedom from every hint of captivity. A longing for validation...and yes, vindication. Each Israelite wondered, "Will I see the fulfillment in my lifetime?"
It was a mournful wait, for millenia.
Oh come, oh come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel... how utterly fitting, the minor key of that profound carol.
Well, night has long since fallen here in east Tennessee - my fireplace is burning, and I'm bursting with the urge to sit and quietly talk of cabbages and kings with you. I have so much to share - blessedly, I can share it with pictures, which everyone knows are worth a thousand words. It has been an unbelieeeevably full week, last week. Come. Sit. There is literally an empty easy chair beside me.

Jonathan's parents, Tom and Amy Howe, who we had over for lunch. I love them already.

...followed by a trip to David's Bridal later in the week, to get the dress. The. Stunning. Vintage looking. Breathtaking. Dress. Once you see this little bride on her day, you will never be the same. (Can't show the dress, of course, but here is Sarah, ordering her...underpinnings. Ahem.)

Hannah, taking a moment to pose for me while she helps daddy put up the tree. The cardboard boxes are our nativity scene. I put up our artificial tree about two days before Thanksgiving, then we decorate it whenever we can get all the grown kids together, which happened to finally be yesterday. Sorry to gush about my girl, but doesn't she look like a model??

Youngest son, helping me put together my very first "front porch tree". Yes, my friends, I am also squeezing in a tree on my front porch this year. Let's just all get over it right now. I'm also making my own live, fresh green wreath with all the Harvest women this weekend...we're going to decorate the church sanctuary, and then head over to the Bower Farm to make hand made wreaths with greenery from the farm. My porch is already decked to the gills, and yes...I'm also...in addition...in the spirit of tasteful abundance...squeezing in this tree, and another wreath. Soon.

Kevin Cunningham, missionary to Columbia, ministering in Harvest Church yesterday. Tim and I so, so enjoyed fellowshipping with this gentle, Godly, sincere man - who has planted about seven churches in Columbia. He's the real deal - so is his wife. Harvest Church seems to collect prophets, evangelists, missionaries...and pastors...who are down to earth and accessible and real.

And his gorgeous wife Christine, whom you'd never imagine has grandchildren! We shed instant tears upon hugging one another yesterday, and shared honestly from our hearts together about recent events in our respective lives.>

All the newly-marrieds, and about-to-be-marrieds in the family...together for the trimming of the tree last night.

Sarah, putting one of her ornaments on that tiny tree...(no room for a tree as large as this mother's heart!)

Josiah, putting one of his ornaments on the tree...the glass-blown cricket. Ask him why.

Tim, fixing my jeans...with a tool. Tim the Tool Man. It was a funny interlude...a happy thing...there was an emblem riveted to the pocket of these jeans, and I despise wearing emblems. He said he could fix it...and he did. Emblem gone. My hero.

Later on, we all sat back, enjoyed the completed tree, sipped hot drinks, and watch the Grinch. (See the nativity scene on the mantle?)

And tonight...voila! The result of a trip to the spa - a gift from a girlfriend. Pedicures so rock.

Here I Go Again!

the cute couple, compiling their guest list today

I offer you murmured apologies as I once again launch into a four month season of wedding preparation. Sarah and Jonathan have set the date...March! Yeah...this March.

There are already some delicious secrets that have me feeling delightfully anticipatory, and I shan't reveal those. I did run across something that touched my heart, though, and I want to share it with you. I adapted it for myself...

...as I, for the last time, ever in my life, fulfill the role of Mother of the Bride.

It is my heart's desire that I look back at all the pictures, ten years from today, and think ~

Look at how relaxed I was. Fully present in the moment.
Basking in it. Soaking it in. Friends and family all there.

My shoes and dress were comfortable enough for dancing.

My beauty radiated out of me; it was not applied to me.

I got to spend quality time with my friends and family.

I was myself, not a show. In fact, I was my fullest expression of self.

I do not remember whether the invitations were letterpress

or whether the flowers at the ceremony were expensive.

The wedding favors or the fanciness of the reception did not make memories.

The sincerity did. The connection did. The time together did.

It did not matter whether every last detail conformed to the signature colors.

Instead of saying, “That family must have spent a lot of money,”
the guests said, “That family must have a lot of love.”

~adapted from a wedding blog post by Sarah E. Cotner

Of Front Porches and Christmas

I have spent a blissful afternoon today decorating my front porch for Christmas. The only "rule" I made for myself was that nothing could be bought ~ it all had to come from my garden, combine with what was already there, and be finished off from my small stash of bows and berries I always use for the holidays.

Clippers in hand, I went to work, chopping greenery from our Leland cypress trees, and many many stems from my sweet olive bush. The fragrance of the small white flowers on that sweet olive, combined with the fresh scent of evergreen now fills the air on my front porch. Here are the happy results of an afternoon's quiet work ~

Front door

Tim found and then painted that rock for me, twenty years ago.

I someday want steps right where that double rocker is sitting...

added greenery and large, red ornaments to the pansies already in the planters

Swag, hung on the column

The whole porch

The planters, from the obvious perspective - standing over them.

This is my favorite. My strawberry jar was repurposed beautifully!

Come to my back porch, now, where I want to show you the....ornamental cabbage

the old wagon, with pansies and cabbage (needs more pansies, but I digress...)

the firepit, from behind (sunflower seed bird feeder in foreground)

the firepit - twinkle lights on the little trees!

the sun was setting as I finished up...

And now we've come full circle again to the front porch. Come sit and have some hot tea with me. God has been good to us, no?

From my front porch to your heart, here is my Thanksgiving "card" to all of you~