Saturday, December 31, 2011

Support Beams

In seeking to make the holiday season warm for others, I sometimes begin thinking it is all up to me.  I strive and labor to build my house, my family, but still come up short.  Expectations are not met and as I approach the new year, an overwhelming sense of inadequacy sweeps over me.

I was thinking these thoughts earlier this week when I read from 1st Chronicles.  There David seeks to build a house for God and God answers with . . . no.  Instead, God would build David's house.  I was so encouraged by these words.  It is not up to me to build this family.  When there are fights and squabbles, hurt feelings and rejection I remind myself that God is in charge. He is the one who will accomplish His purposes in this home.  

Just as David was not qualified to build a house for God, so my hands are stained by failures and sins I've committed.  Only God can keep this family on track.  Only God can bear the weight of our troubles.  He is quite capable of holding us together through what may lie ahead.

As I enter the new year, this is my prayer, that God would build my house.  I would open my hand from striving to fix everything and keep everyone happy.  I will let it be okay that things and relationships aren't always perfect.  And I will pray for God's Spirit to move in our hearts and grow us into the likeness of  Christ.  What a burden is lifted when I realize it does not all depend on me.  

The following verses are above my kitchen sink, so as I go about my dailies, I can be reminded to pray for my family and release them into God's hands to mold and shape as He wills.  And as I renew my commitment to personal disciplines and goals for this year, I would do so only in reliance on the One who is in control of all things and able to accomplish His purpose through me.

The year will indeed be blessed as I cling to the promises, leaning all my weighted burdens against the support beams of Jesus.

"...the LORD will build a house for you..."
"Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my family, 
that you have brought me this far?  
And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God,
 you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant."
"There is no one like you, O LORD, and there is no God but you..."
"So your servant has found courage to pray..."

(1 Chron. 17:10,16,17,20,25)

Courage Lord, yes give me confidence to step into the new year on your strength.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Broken People

It was at Christmas, several years ago, that we came home from the hospital broken, not just in body, but in spirit. Even though we had cried out to God earnestly, we thought we might lose our youngest daughter.

Three days earlier we had driven to the emergency room, my heart in my throat as I poured out my frustration in anger to a God that seemed silent.  By the time we got there, the tears I'd tried to hold back began to trickle out into the open and others in the waiting room noticed, graciously letting us go first.

The entire family had been sick almost all of December with a severe case of the flu and we watched helpless as Summer became more and more lethargic, losing pounds rapidly from her already petite 2 or 3 year old body. Now her ankles began to swell.  It was painful to see her so unnatural, so not herself, for normally such a happy child, so very light on her feet, and quick to make others smile.

Many doctors and specialists later, we discovered she had a bone infection in her hip along with dehydration and the flu.  We wrongly assumed our church family would each be too busy with their own Christmas celebrations and so did not ask for help or let our needs be known. We didn't want to interfere on everyone's special family time. . . therefore, we felt very alone. Added to that, we had not been well enough to prepare for Christmas and it hurt to see the disappointment in my older children who had been so patient and flexible throughout the ordeal, go without Christmas.

The bone infection took months with strong medications to heal.  We had to start all over with potty training and even coax her to walk again.  She had to be carried everywhere we went, in just a certain way.  But our entire family continued to be sick, taking turns, passing it on from one person to another. It dragged on for months . . . Jan., Feb., and even into March.  It seemed we could never get well.

In exasperation I cried out to God and told Him I was so sick of being sick. Could He not just heal us?  Surely He was aware of our condition.  And out of the months of silence God finally spoke, "Yes, I'm also so very sick of you being sick . . . spiritually sick."  We were spiritually unhealthy.  God was tired of it, just as I was weary of not being well.  We knew better, but somehow had gotten off track, undisciplined, ungrateful.  Most of all I personally had developed a complaining spirit.

It might not seem like such a big deal to grumble about this or that, after all, I was being honest.  But God takes ungratefulness very seriously.  And I knew the sickness was God's discipline for my critical spirit.  It just took that many months to get it through to my thick skull.  And my children had to suffer for my mess up.  This was a hard one to swallow.

As we step into the new year, so often we focus on dieting and getting physically fit.  But I wonder if we've considered our spiritual health?  I hope I have learned my lesson, but find I often have to be reminded to offer up a sacrifice of praise when I would rather grumble and complain.  This year I plan to choose a grateful heart, and take responsibility for my joy instead of making excuses.  My first step is to tape some verses to the window above my kitchen sink.  There I hope to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.

And my Summer girl?  She has healed, but seemed stunted in her growth for awhile.  However, you would never know it now, except that we all remember the year the Christmas tree fell over and no one really cared . . . the same year we were all sick forever and a day.  We are well this year but I've never forgotten the time that we weren't.  Thank you, Jesus for physical health--what an amazing blessing we can so easily take for granted. But I remain cautious, for once again I sense the need to pray for spiritual healing.  

I need your discipline, I'm crying out, light the fire in me
I am here to buy gold refined in the fire,
naked and poor, wretched and blind I come,
Clothe me in white, so I won't be ashamed,
Come light the fire again. 
(by Brian Doerksen)

(Note:  Not all sickness is a sign of a spiritual problem.
Most often it is given as a "gift" of rest from our busy lifestyles.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Air I Breathe

But Mary treasured up all these things 
and pondered them in her heart.  (Luke 2:19)

I love reading the Bible.  Not to chalk up brownie points or to feel good about performing a duty, but because it is through the Word along with the Spirit that God reveals Himself to me . . . deeper and fuller all the time.  And it is so very personal.

This is the air I breathe
Your very Word, spoken to me.

I love gazing into the manger scene, up close, thinking about the characters of that amazing drama which makes up the nativity.  

Wrapped within the Christmas story, is a picture of God's bigger plan. Could it be?  So often we read the Christmas story only at Christmas.  But in the past few years I've come across the nativity at other times of life and have seen it in a different light.  I share some of those thoughts with you here. 

Israel was God's own treasured possession, 
special, chosen as a light to the rest of the world.

She was the only nation which held the presence of God so very closely, in a unique way all her own.

But the nation of Israel turned their back on God,  
becoming consumed with idolatry leading to apathy.  

Over and over through its history they continued to defile intimacy with God by chasing after other loves and they became barren . . . desolate . . . 400 years of silence. 

Zechariah and Elizabeth were old.  They had no children.  

They could represent the nation of Israel in some respects--aged and yet unfruitful.  But then God gave them a child in their old age, John, who would prepare the people for their Messiah.  Likewise, the nation of Israel and the Old Testament prepares us for our Messiah in the New Covenant.  Israel in its old age, gave us our Messiah, a tender shoot from the stump of David, of the tribe of Judah.

Mary enters the scene, similar to the church age as it enters history. 

The virgin church, young, without spot or wrinkle, a pure bride for the Son of God.  Jesus, like Joseph, does not condemn us, but rather cares for us and shows great mercy...and in fact betroths us. The Holy Spirit falls on Mary, much like the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost on the followers of Christ. Believers are filled with the Spirit of God . . . pregnant with the Spirit. The prophet Joel speaks of this when he says in these last days God's Spirit will flow freely. (Acts 2:17-21)

Mary could not explain how she was pregnant by the Spirit, 
just that she was. 

So our new birth in Christ cannot be explained except by the power of the Spirit of God. Mary was highly favored of God, as in this church age, we who are followers of Christ, are under the favor of God . . . pure grace. Mary treasured all these things in her heart, and so we hold the precious Holy Spirit within our lives.  We are His temple and have the mind of Christ. This Spirit of God in us produces spiritual fruitfulness, born not of natural descent, or of a husband's will, but of God.  Only by the Spirit of God are we born again.  It is miraculous, mysterious.  Yet with God all things are possible.   

It was the ordinary and unpolished shepherds 
who were first shown the gift of Jesus. 

In the same manner, the ragtag group of disciples were for the most part grubby fishermen, rough around the edges. They carried the precious news of our great salvation, telling everyone they met. After the Holy Spirit came on them, those same ordinary fishermen became eloquent spokesmen for God. Clay pots, holding the pearl of greatest price.

The Scriptures often refer to us as sheep.  Ordinary people, simply jars of clay, who carry the message of salvation within our hearts, the greatest treasure ever.   
 But as followers of Christ we are also a royal priesthood, 
bringing our worship to Jesus, much like the wise men.  (1 Pet. 2:9)

Three gifts. Accepting, even embracing pain and hardship, is gold . . . for the King of kings, who took on the ultimate sacrifice of pain on a cross.  Devotion to the Word and prayer, frankincense . . . for the One who is wholly devoted to me in His promises. And last, myrrh.  Pure worship in dying to my own selfish desires.  Offering all of me to all of Him     . . . who offered all of Himself in His death on the cross.

The Old Testament ends with the prophet Malachi, 
who grieves Israel's tainted worship. 

Am I going through the motions, offering God my leftovers?  Like King Herod, who made an outward show of worshiping God, but in his heart was far from it? 

I like to think of it as going to a restaurant and the waiter, instead of bringing what was ordered, offers a plate of leftovers from a table nearby. So what if its been picked over and no longer presentable, it's still food, is it not? In the same way we bring to God our leftovers and think He should be pleased--our leftover time and service, leftover devotion, leftover worship. Surely after we've fed ourselves God can have the remains. No. God is not pleased. God desires our best, our first fruits.  
 Jesus in the manger, 
is the focal point of all nativity scenes.

I think of this precious life that we, the church, have been given.  It is the focus of our lives. That He died. That He was buried. That He was raised on the third day, all according the Scriptures. . . just as He said it would happen. (1 Cor. 15:1-4)  In the New Covenant of His blood, He offers us a marriage proposal.  Think of it!  Intimacy with our Savior!  What an awesome privilege! The Holy Spirit within us is our guarantee of greater things to come.  
This is the air I breathe,
Your Holy presence, living in me
And I'm desperate for You, Jesus.
 I'm lost without You.

Zechariah and Mary both offer up a song.  

Zechariah's song applies heavily to Israel. (Luke 1:67-79) Mary's song is the song of the church. (Luke 1:46-56)  The next time you read them, notice how they apply in the light of what I've just written here.  I find this fascinating.

When Mary first greets Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb. 

So as the church age and the nation of Israel coincide, Jesus Christ is the leap which intertwines our lives together.  God has not forgotten Israel.  His promises to her remain steadfast forever.  He will restore her to fellowship with Himself in the last days.  And has already, for those who put their faith in Him.  

May I never lose the wonder! 

 Take me deeper Jesus.  Ever deeper into the mystery of Your Word.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Cup Overflows

A slight glance at a smooth little bowl painted in toasty orange poppies says it all.  It is my favorite.  Not only is it oh so adorable, but it represents a special evening  with a friend.  I wonder if she knows how she has blessed my heart?

I do not generally care for shopping.  The reason?  I come home feeling discontent, exhausted, and frustrated with the styles, along with a poor body image.  It seems a waste of time.  Depression often settles in.  Perhaps if I were not limited by prices, were skinny, and had friends I could be myself with, I would enjoy it more.

But recently a friend asked me to go shopping with her and our high school daughters.  Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to go. Wonder of all wonders, I had a blast! Silliness, laughter, and hilarious mishaps lifted my spirits. We didn't talk of the problems of the world or even of our children.  We didn't discuss any deep theological truths.  We simply had fun.  Pure silliness.  I needed that . . . desperately.  Thank you my friend.

We were at a second hand store next to some clothing which just screamed of old lady when we found the most adorable bowl.  I fell in love with it.  There were none others like it, just a small bowl all by itself which I cupped in my hands and took great delight in.  My friend decided to buy it for me.  Oh no, you don't have to do that.  I don't need it.  It's silly.  I was only admiring it.  But no, she wanted to.  So for 99 cents my friend bought me the perfect bowl.

Whenever I have my oatmeal with blueberries, a personal favorite, it is always in that precious bowl. I think of the fun we had and how very greatly my friend encouraged me.  Because the gift represents the fact that she wanted to hang out with me, that she reached past my reserved front to the deeper person within.

Being a pastor's wife is sometimes a lonely place . . . serious, heavy, overwhelming, and I'm not always free to be vulnerable.  My friend thinks it very strange that I actually relish alone times, make every effort to see the sun rise, enjoy reading books, and  find great contentment in doing housework or projects solo, while listening to my favorite radio programs. And I find it strange that she does not do alone and practically lives for socializing.  But somehow, we mesh well.

And the blueberries in the bowl . . . another special gift from a sister.  She leads a quiet life, but displays a generous heart.  Every July she meanders near the foothills of Mt. Hood and picks whopper blueberries, freezing bags of them.  Whenever she visits me, she slips them into my freezer.  She knows how much I love them, but I wonder if she knows how much it blesses my heart, that she would think of me? Thank you my sister.

A little friendship in my bowl has gone a long ways.  Small gifts . . . big hearts.  Whenever I glance at that quaint bowl, almost tiny enough to be a cup,  I receive a touch of joy down in the depths of my soul, and my heart is warmed.  Thank you my friend.

" cup overflows.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."  (Psalm 23:5,6)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Making of A Song

My youngest daughter plopped in my lap and asked,
"Mom, are you a staccato?"
"A what?"
"A staccato!"  (duh)
"No, I think I'd like to be a 16th--free to dance about with no inhibitions, letting joy flow freely from my life." But we decided I was probably a quarter note . . . consistent, methodical, and sure.

Then we set about to decide what everyone else in the family might be.  My husband was the whole note, the underlying foundation keeping us all together.  Ivy was a half note, being the calm book worm sort and skilled at crafts.  Heather was the 8th note, a little bit of happy, with a party in the works, always on the move.  Tyler was the half rest.  No, I would rather be the rest.  But Tyler won out with his love of calm and intolerance for noise and chaos.  And Summer?  She was definitely the 16th.  No, she was not just a 16th, she informed me, but a stacatto 16th!  Funny, witty, light on her feet, and often found standing on her head on the couch.

But together we make a song.

Notes by themselves do not produce near the thrill of all those notes together.  What a blessing to be part of a family.  To contribute our note to the whole.  To be lifted by the notes of others lives.  We all need each other, even the rests.  All the weight of a song is sometimes held in that moment of rest.

My two youngest daughters recently played a piano duet in a recital.  I'm sure that is where the staccato question originated from.  But they have two different styles of playing.  Two different individuals, who alone can make music, but together make a fuller sound.

As I rub shoulders with various personalities around me, sometimes in conflict I forget their different note and how much I need them. They are a gift, a vital part to a song, that if we work together, we can harmonize into something beautiful in a way that could not be achieved alone.  One is not better than another, each serves a different purpose, while simultaneously contributing to the whole.

As I move into the crunch of the Christmas season and the stress stimulates some irritation, I hope I can remember my daughter's question, "Are you a staccato?"  Perhaps I will demonstrate more grace in understanding each person's place in the song, and only concern myself about playing my own part well.  Hoping to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in my life. . . love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  (Gal. 5:22,23)

Owe no man anything, but to love one another.  (Rom. 13:8)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Broken Angels

It has begun.  I was determined it wouldn't.  Despite all my preparations to the contrary, the busiest week of the year has descended on me.  Hence, I'm writing a post to relieve my weary feet and veg for a bit. (In hopes that you might also find a moment to read it!)

We planned Christmas to be fairly simple--no traveling, no company, and no big parties to host. We simplified that we might rest . . . and worship. However, I still find myself drawn to the motherly urge to make things perfect for my family.

I recently picked up a favorite glass angel to hang on our tree, and its wing fell off.  Last year this same angel shattered and I meticulously glued it back together.  My thoughts drifted to the angels of heaven.  I wonder if we break their hearts?  I wonder if angels hurt?

Angels long to look into our great salvation. (1 Pet. 1:12)  A favorite Christmas carol says it well, "you who sang creation's story, now proclaim Messiah's birth..." Every time I hear that phrase I think of how glorious it must have been to hear the angels sing!  To witness, from heaven's perspective, the greatest event in human history. . . God made into flesh.  And all to restore broken relationship with mankind.  Simply amazing!

Do angels ache with pain when they see how we celebrate Christmas? What do they think of our activity? Going to this party or that rehearsal.  Endless shopping and decking the halls to exhaustion.  And all the while ignoring His still small voice.  How do I treat this precious gift of all gifts, the pearl of great price?

God has gotten my attention lately.  He often speaks to me through the lessons I prepare for young children each week. Last weekend was one of those moments.  It was a familiar story... Zechariah, Elizabeth, John.  I was drawn to John's life purpose . . . to prepare the people for their Messiah.  And I was keenly aware of my own heart and its need to be prepared for Christmas, prepared for worship . . . for Jesus Himself.

Angels came to common shepherds bringing, "good news of great joy which shall be for all the people...a Savior...Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10,11)  What great encouragement must have been the angel's words to those who were awaiting the Messiah.  And yes, there were some who were looking . . . prepared.  Ready hearts to receive such news.

As I think of John, that man who made the desert his home, I'm reminded of my own heart's wanderings, a wilderness of Christmas hype.  How I need to prepare a highway for God in my heart, a place where He can easily roam, abide, dwell.  And as I do, the presence of Jesus settles in like the soft drizzle of gentlest rain,  "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God...A voice of one calling . . ."  (Isa. 40:1,3)

I don't know if  theologians would say it is good angel philosophy, but I can't help but think that angel's hearts might be saddened at our response to the song they sang 2,000 plus years ago.  And I know God's heart hurts at the empty way we push Him out.

This came home to me a few years ago at another Christmas when circumstances were far different than they are today.  Broken ornaments were not the tragedy, but rather broken people. (A story for another post soon to come)  A lesson I had not taken lightly . . . yet here, last week, I had momentarily forgotten, until once again I stop and gaze at the Christ child in a manger . . . preparing my heart for Christmas.

 May I never lose the wonder.  

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men, 
on whom His favor rests." 
(Luke 2:14)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

She Sings

Where did you get those eyes so blue, 
was it from the skies that you passed through . . .

2002 was a year of gifts.  August brought a bundle of delight from the very heart of God, my youngest daughter. Later that same year, (on this day), heaven received a precious life . . . my mom.  A gift exchange of the skies.

And heaven sang.

My mom was a woman who loved God with all her heart and Sunday was her favorite day of the week.  How she delighted in the fellowship of believers! Her soprano voice rang clear while my Dad's bass joined the refrain and all ten of us children filled in with altos and tenors. The old piano didn't stand a chance against the exuberant energy which flowed through my sister's fingers. Walls trembled with the sound of voices raised to God.  And a little bit of heaven came down to us while glory filled our souls.

Now, in the hours before her funeral, God touched my dad with a wee bit of heaven as well.  My middle daughter, Ivy Jordyn, just shy of two years, became the arms of God wrapped around my dad's neck, holding him oh so tightly.  My winter baby was a dusting of comfort and joy as she eagerly lighted from one lap to another in a family that was awkward with hugs, but needed them desperately.

(Ivy, reaching for a song--Nov. 2002)

In the days before my mom entered heaven's realm, God granted me a secret longing as well.  My youngest daughter, Summer Faith, then only three months, nestled in my mom's arms and brought smiles to her heart . . . and comfort to mine.  I wanted my mom to meet my brand new baby daughter.  It was a long ways to travel, and I thought my mom might leave this earth before we got there.  But God took care of that tiny detail.   It mattered and God knew.

(Mom, myself, and Summer--Thanksgiving 2002)

But God had an even greater gift to pour out on me . . . grace.  I was so very afraid of going to the funeral . . . afraid to be real . . . afraid of loneliness . . . the tears . . . and fears.  But God wrapped His presence around me oh so tightly.   I felt it . . . knew it. Strong enough to hold me.  Never had I leaned into grace so fully before.  He gives grace in the time of need . . . when we think we cannot possibly bear the weight, He lifts on wings of strength.

(Mom holding me)

My mom loved Christmas.  As we begin this season of giving, I'm amazed that God would personally grant her a gift, even in her death.  She was caught up by her Savior, on a Sunday, at the start of Christmas.  Little children ran, eager to meet their grandma, wrapping their small arms tightly around her neck . . . grandchildren she had never met, three of them my own children, ushered from the world of the womb to the wonder of heaven.  God most certainly does delight in His children and precious are His gifts . . . tender reunions, as He meets His own, face to face, for "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." (Psa. 116:15)

And she still sings.
It's the song of the soul set free.

Thank you Jesus for your hand picked specially thought over gifts.  
Thank you for the greatest gift . . . Yourself,
drawing us so very near to Your heart.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I often wake to my husband chopping kindling in the basement--a welcome sound since I know a cozy fire is soon to come.  But last week my husband was on the far side of the Mississippi hunting a college with my oldest daughter.

And I had to make the fire.

A Pacific Northwest girl, I am no stranger to logging country.  I know trees and I know a thing or two about starting fires.  But one morning I ended up with a smoldering mess.  I was sure the authorities would soon be at my door complaining of air pollution.

Elm is dense, burns hot, but is hard to ignite.  "Stubborn wood,"  I call it. I had prepared a hot bed of coals, sufficient air flow, and even put a lighter to a discarded cereal box, but it simply refused to burn.  My husband warned me of elm and recommended I use aspen for starting the fire.  But the wood box was empty of aspen. I didn't want to venture out into the cold to haul more in. Surely the elm would suffice.

Smoke drifted to my eyes, as thoughts meandered to my heart.

How often has God sought to ignite His Holy Spirit in my life and I've resisted? Choosing only to smolder, stinging the lives of others . . . becoming irritating smoke in their eyes.  But blows of the hatchet peel away the surface, laying bare the heart.

"Seriously," thought Naaman of the Bible, "must I really dip in the mucky Jordan seven times to be healed?  What's wrong with the clear waters back home?  And I traveled all this way only to be greeted by Elisha's servant? Really?"  (See 2 Kings 5)

The hatchet splits the wood exposing raw insides . . . broken humility.  And each time Naaman dips in the river he sinks lower and lower into splinters of wood.  "He, [God], must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30)

The kindling ignites, oh so readily, stripped pride responding to Holy Spirit coals bursting into flame. And words that flow from my mouth, now warm the heart of others, a contented glow.  My life no longer stings, but blesses.

Lord, prepare me to be a sacred dwelling place of Your Spirit, 
submitting to the chipping away of pride . . . where embers ignite into love.     

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why Remember

As I shared my story of "God on the Move" in days past, the thought may have crossed your mind, "Why remember?  What's the point of looking at the past?"  During this season of Thanksgiving, the answer is obvious--to give thanks to God for His great provisions, protection, and leading.  But also as a tool to train younger generations to follow in the way of righteousness and faith in this present day.  (If you've just joined me and missed the story, check out "God on the Move" Parts 1-3 written earlier in this blog)

We are nearing a season where we remember another time when God moved a people from there to here, from England to the new world.  These pilgrims burned bridges behind them on a large scale, but as they did so, also built bridges towards a godly nation.  What sacrifices they were willing to go through to honor God in their worship of Him!  What are we doing now, today, with those bridges to godliness which they started?

I've been reading "A Time To Remember" by Barbara Rainey to my children, a chapter at a time over the last  few weeks . . . slowly, so we might thoroughly digest it.  Then we each write a summary or report on that chapter.  It is interesting to observe how each person's report is different and catches various aspects of the story from what touches their heart.  I'm hoping to have them read their reports to the family as part of our Thanksgiving celebration this year along with pictures they've drawn to illustrate their writing.

One part of the book talks about feasting and where the idea came from.  It is not simply a holiday that our government leaders decided to establish because of incredible beginnings to our country.  Even before then, God set up various feasts for the children of Israel to commemorate great moments of His working in their lives.  I sometimes tell my children that God likes parties.  It is a good thing to celebrate what He has done for us, remembering the milestones.

And so this is why I tell you the story of "God on the Move".  I want a record of it, a summary, of God's workings in the life of our family so that we may remember and give God praise.

In this season of giving thanks we are ever so thankful for the church God has brought us to and for the way He provides for our every need.  We are grateful for His mercies upon us, that He would prepare us and chose us for a calling we are not worthy of.  We are in awe of God's faithfulness in that He continues the work He started.  He will bring it to completion in His time and His way.  But as long as I have breath, I would hope that I will always say, "Blessed be the name of the Lord".  And pray that my children will receive a heritage of faith that spurs them on to submit to God's working in their lives as well.

"Oh give thanks unto the LORD, call upon His name;
Make known His deeds among the peoples,
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders,
Remember His wonders which He has done..."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I Learned

The move from Boulder to Junction was a life changing and eventful process in our lives.  Through the experience we learned some principles about God which I wanted to share with you here.  But I do not want you to think that having gone through these things means we really have these lessons nailed.  God continues to lead us from faith to faith in our relationship with Him and often leads us back to the beginning.  But hopefully in the journey we have grown to know Him better.

First of all, when it comes to making a large decision within a marriage, God generally speaks to both husband and wife, but not always at the same time. Often one or the other will have to learn to wait patiently while God nudges the heart in His timing.  And it is God who must work in the heart of our spouse.  We cannot think our nagging or manipulation will accomplish His purposes. (1 Pet. 3:1,2)

Secondly, steps of faith must be taken without always knowing all the details or being exactly sure of God's direction.  Believing without seeing and acting on that belief because you are sure of God who promises is the stuff of faith. Easy to talk about, but hard to practice in the nitty gritty of life. (Heb. 11)

Next, there is a crisis of belief often brought on by obstacles . . . a point of no return when bridges are burned behind us in order for new bridges to be built before us.  The difficult circumstances of our lives do not always mean direction.  Sometimes we must fight against them in order to go in the direction God would ask. (Gen. 12:1-6)

When God moves, nothing is too hard for Him and nothing can stop Him. But when He is about to do a great work, there is often a test of our faith and attacks from Satan to stop the work.  Crucial choices are placed before us which can determine whether we will get on board with what God is doing, or if we will be left behind from His blessing.  However, God's purposes will be accomplished whether we join Him or not.  It is us who miss out by our lack of faith and obedience. (Gen. 37:18-36; 39:1-23)

God also showed us that He prepares us for the task He calls us to.  As I look back on our lives, the simple job of custodial work for the church along with helping out with the youth group prepared us for full time ministry within the church.  We were able to see behind the scenes in the workings of a church, understanding church politics, becoming acutely aware of struggles within. We were made to see the sin nature within every man, even those in leadership, and learn that we could never put ourselves on a pedestal, nor others.  We were not naive in our desire for full time ministry.  God was preparing us for a specific purpose. (Ex. 2 and 3; Heb.11:23-27)

Lastly, in sharing this story with you, I risk others seeking similar experiences in their journey with God.  But our experiences will not be yours, and rarely are they the same twice.  Therefore we cannot seek to copy another's life lessons.  God's principles remain the same, but the way He works through our experiences differs for each of us. (James 1:17)  God doesn't want us to love Him just for the blessings He gives or for the sensational experiences, but rather for who He is.  God directs us as a result of our relationship with Him.  This is our highest goal--to know Christ Jesus on the deepest level possible. (Phil. 3:10)

I hope you have been encouraged through this story of God on the Move from November of 1996.  I'm blessed to revisit that time as it spurs me on to draw ever nearer to God in these days.  God is not done with us yet.  He has more to work through our lives and more to teach us, because "...He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus."  (Phil.1:6)  But most of all, He wants us to know Him even further through His Word and the Spirit as they entwine with the experiences we face today.  Thanks for hanging with me on the journey.  I trust you were also blessed.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God on the Move Part 3

So far in this review of God on the Move, I've shared much about God's great victory in our lives and amazing things He did for us.  But could we still sing the same tune when God took away?  During this time period we faced what I would consider some tests from God and a temptation from the enemy that if yielded to, could have destroyed the work of God in our lives.

I already mentioned in Part 2 our loss of a sizable business bid.  Why would God allow that to happen right when we needed the money the most?  We can see now that it was in order for God to pour out His mercy on us, but in the midst of it we couldn't make sense of it.  We were certain God wanted us to move, but it seemed He was not providing our financial means to do so, and in fact taking them away.  But God revealed to us that He would do His work in His way and that our self-sufficiency and pride needed to be broken down.

We were also expecting our third child.  It seemed God's smile of favor was on our lives.  But at 10 weeks we had our first miscarriage.  God  took away. Would we still praise Him?  This was to be the first of three miscarriages and secondary infertility, where God brought us through a journey to understand that just because children are a blessing of the Lord, does not mean that a small family is under His judgement, or that we were bad parents.  We had pridefully assumed we were going to have a big family but God had other plans and some things to teach us in the meantime. (A story for another time.)

As part of the candidating process we were asked to come for a week and meet with individual leaders of the church and their families for evaluation. This may not have been such a big deal except that we had a now 4 year old and 2 year old!  Fearful of their behavior in front of others who were evaluating us was a bit unnerving.  Again, we had to trust that God would take care of that little detail which concerned us greatly.  He did.  Our kids were on their best behavior, even though we knew their capabilities not to be.

Earlier when we failed to receive the youth pastor position at our church in Boulder, we were not the only ones disappointed.  The students in the youth group did not understand or accept it.  They had "fallen in love" with Jeff as their stability during a time when the church went through a season of turmoil.

A nucleus of students, (and parents!), wrote a letter of petition to the leaders of the church requesting that Jeff be their youth pastor, and threatened to leave the youth group if their request was not granted.  They had planned on circulating it throughout the youth group, gaining signatures and presenting it to the church.  Jeff saw the letter and stopped them before it got very far.  He instructed the students to submit to the leadership of the church.  They were treading on dangerous ground by fighting against their authority.  God was leading him elsewhere and Jeff explained to them that we dare not go against what God wills.

I'm so very thankful for God's protection and the wisdom God gave my husband.  How easily we could have fed our pride and built our own kingdom in our own way.  But those kingdoms are always built on sand and dissolve when the tide rolls in.  When Satan dangles his temptations before us, God consistently provides a way of escape.  How thankful I am that my husband took the way of escape and killed the mess it could have turned into.  (And I'm happy to report that God honored their submission to authority by bringing them a youth pastor that fit them perfectly.)

Later when some of those same students graduated and became young adults, they wanted to move out to Junction and be staff for the youth group. Again, Jeff told them no.  He would not allow them to follow him. They needed to follow Christ.  God had moved us away, perhaps for that very reason.

We are so very thankful for the working of God in our lives and for His faithfulness.  As I look back on those years I'm amazed at the things He brought us through.  We were young and thought we knew so much about life, but God had yet so much to teach us.  We are still learning, and God is still moving.  He has not stopped.  However, sometimes when God moves among us we don't even recognize it because we are not attuned to His Spirit.  An ongoing relationship with God is crucial.  I hope I have not missed any of His amazing wonders because I did not have eyes or heart to see.

This concludes Part 3 of the story of how God brought us from Boulder to Junction.  There is more which I did not share as it is too personal in nature. God asks me to "guard my heart" and so I seek to do that.  But hopefully I have shared enough that it can encourage your heart to follow after God's heart.  Through this experience we were drawn to understand some of the ways of God more clearly.  I plan to share some principles of  "What I Learned" from these experiences next time, hoping you will join me.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

God on the Move Part 2

God had gotten our attention.  He had worked out circumstances favorable towards a career change as well as a change in scenery, in churches, and in friends.  But the logistics for this to work out still seemed too impossible to actually become a reality.  There were yet some looming obstacles which threatened to stop all activity of God. But we soon learned that God cannot be hindered by our limitations.

The news of our possible move was not at first well received from my in-laws.  Our son, then 3 years, and daughter, 2, were their only grandchildren. We lived 5 minutes away and if this move came about, we would be a mountain range and 5 hours away.  Could we not find a pastorate somewhere on the front range they asked?  Why Grand Junction?  We did not know why, except that we were sure God was leading us in some very specific ways.  Over the next few months God changed their hearts, causing them to later send us off with their blessing.  (Those of you who are grandparents probably understand the magnitude of this obstacle more than others.)

We had just purchased our first house two years before and worked hard to make ends meet.  My husband worked two jobs running our own upholstery shop and being the custodian for our church.  On top of this he was full time volunteer staff for the high school youth group.  We would often put our children to bed for the night and then work in the garage until the wee hours of the morning to finish a bid. One weekend we were asked to come visit the church in Grand Junction.  It happened to fall at a time when we were very short on finances. We did not agree with debt and therefore held no credit cards.  All we had was just enough money to travel out to Junction, but not enough to get back.

We thought about not coming, or asking to come a different weekend, but did not want to miss what God might be doing.  We finally agreed to come and figured if this really was of God He would somehow provide a way for us to get home again.  We stayed with people from the church who graciously fed and housed us all weekend.  When it was time to come home, the senior pastor treated us to frozen yogurt.  As we were getting ready to leave he offered to fill up our gas tank.  At first my husband refused, but I jabbed him in the ribs whispering, "Say yes!  This is God's answer!  This is the provision!"  And so our pastor filled our car full of gasoline, paying for all of  it.  We made it home that night, hearts full of wonder over the faithfulness of God.

Later, after receiving the youth pastor position, we had the problem of our house.  We could not get it sold before we left, and we did not yet have renters.  Meanwhile, we were trying to rent a house in Junction which involved a deposit as well.  With three major payments to make at one time, we didn't know how we could possibly move.  We didn't have the means to meet all the requirements.  We had also just lost a sizable upholstery bid that we thought was secured.  We prayed about it, but quite frankly, didn't really see a way around this one.  But the next day we received a check in the mail for $1,000. sent anonymously.  We still do not know who sent it, but it was the exact amount needed to make the move.  Again, we were blown away by God's provision.

"Give us this day, our daily bread", from Matt. 6:11 became a reality in our lives as we took some steps of faith into obedience towards the movement of God in our lives.  In the midst of the transition our faith was stretched to great lengths.  How easy now to look back on that time and see God's answers, but going through it we could not see.  We simply had to trust and believe without seeing.

God was on the move and nothing could stop Him.  The time was right.  But to get us from there to here were still a few more obstacles to overcome, only of a different sort . . . trials of the soul and spirit which sought to hurl us into defeat.  These set backs threatened to destroy our hope.  Hang in there for part 3, the final chapter of this story, soon to come.

Friday, November 11, 2011

God on the Move Part 1

It was Sunday, Nov. 11, 1996 when we got the call.  The elder chairman informed us that the vote was positive.  The church had decided to accept my husband Jeff, as their youth pastor.  Like the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night which led Israel across the wilderness, God was on the move in our lives, transitioning us across the Colorado mountains into a land of mesas, red rock, and cactus.

Earlier this week I was sorting some boxes and found my journals.  One of them randomly fell open to Nov. 1996.  As I read I was once again blown away by the movement of God in our lives. It never ceases to amaze me. I've been meaning to share this story with you for some time, but was not sure when God would have me do that.  Now seems to be the time.

We were part of a vibrant evangelical church in Boulder, CO.  It was the church we got married in.  We bonded with many of the believers as they walked beside us through some difficult days. But God began to cause my heart to get antsy.  I was sure it was time to make a major change in our lives, finding a niche, a calling in ministry.  But I was impatient with God because it seemed He was not giving Jeff the same message.  Needless to say, my nagging began to gnaw away at our marriage.

Jeff was convinced we were to stay in Boulder.  Shortly after we were married, the youth pastor in Boulder pulled us aside and asked us to help as staff for the high school.  We thrived in that department and later when the church was between youth pastors, Jeff filled in the gap.  Now the church was without a youth pastor again and my husband applied for the job-- it seemed obvious that it was the will of God.

But we were shocked and disappointed to receive a rejection of our application.  It didn't make sense. We kept trying for the position to no avail, fighting to stay in Boulder. But it was like kicking against an iron door that simply refused to budge. It was obvious we were not meant to be there.

Meanwhile, I had to learn to trust God to move in the heart of my husband. Could God really do that without my help?  Lead my husband without a word from his wife? Yes, God could handle him all by Himself.  I needed to be still and wait for His timing.

When I finally learned to keep my mouth shut, then my husband began to consider that God might be leading us elsewhere.  (Funny how that works.) We started looking for openings at other churches in various parts of the country.  We compiled a list that we were planning to send our application to. Meanwhile, we made a trip out to the western slope to visit my sister.

As we entered Grand Junction, the thought came to us.  Wasn't one of the churches on our list in this area? We decided to stop by and check it out. After finding the church, Jeff went into the office stating that he was there for the youth pastor position. The senior pastor then drilled Jeff in an unplanned interview for over an hour.

Little did we know however, that when Jeff walked through the door of the office, the senior pastor had just laid out four youth pastor applications on his desk and was poring over them in prayer, seeking God's direction as to which one He would lead to them.  The senior pastor was already scheduled to be on the front range the following week to interview these four pastors and view them on site.  He didn't have time to fit in another, but would try to stop by if it worked out.

One of the other applicants "happened to" cancel and so the senior pastor was able to get to our church in Boulder just in time to join the youth group on their service project.  There he watched Jeff carefully in his interaction with the students. God's timing is always perfect, and these "coincidences" we believe did not happen by chance. It was none less than the hand of God going before us. This was just the beginning.

God was preparing to move us and also move our obstacles . . . big looming obstacles.  But not without faith and obedience on our part, at times burning bridges behind us. I will tell you about that next time.  This concludes part one of a three part story.  I hope you'll stick around to hear the rest of it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Authentic Joy

Tucked between the glory of fall and the wonder of winter is a tiny season of drab. The leaves, spent of their splendor, cling to the trees by mere threads in hope of leftover life, but droop pathetic in the inevitable.  The branches, stripped bare of their clutter, appear ghastly against an overcast sky.

But today I have joy.  Sheer joy.  The reason?
I've been refreshed in the Lord.

When all is stripped away I am left with the joy of the Lord as my strength.  It is sufficient.  It is enough.  Not that I want all to be stripped away.  Far from it! But sometimes in the glory of a season I forget where my true joy lies.  Not in friendships, retreats, things, or events, but in the Lord.  However, when I look to these wonderful gifts He has given to sustain my joy they become, in fact,

                                         . . . . .dare I say it?


Spiritual downfall does not happen in one instance, but rather in the accumulation of small choices made within the day . . . the week . . . the month, producing a way of life.

It's a slow fade, when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade, when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid,
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade . . .
by Casting Crowns

God has placed before me an offer of contented rest, His awesome presence each day.  He is eager to pour out His grace in my life and fill me with His joy.  May it never be said of me, "you missed it!" because of small choices I made to turn away from Living Life.

Idolatry defines my culture, but I cannot excuse loss of devotion on the world. No, it is my own desire carried away like a leaf on the wind which descends into puddles of apathy . . . idolatry, for "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."  (Matt. 6:21)

Where is my heart?  Lost on 7th street?  Deadlines?  Successes of my children?  Image?  Status?  The formidable screen?  I must find my heart, for there I will also find my loves. . . treasure.

Idolatry, the thief which seeks to steal priceless joy from my life . . . sneaks around as pirates in stealth modes of neglect, default, and small choices. But I can hear the creak in the floor behind me, and I'd best attend to its warning or be crumpled.  "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord."  
(Acts 3:19)

Falling away . . .
            provoking the Lord to anger . . .
                            distancing myself from the Lord . . .
                                                           May it never be so!

Yet, we want His stuff, His blessings, His guidance, His smile.
This is craziness.  God will not be mocked.
". . . for who is he who will devote himself to be close to Me?  
declares the Lord."  
(Jer. 30:21) 
Can it be said of us that we are devoted to being close to the Lord?  In this drizzly season of rain and overcast skies, before the snowflake's gentle caresses, we can still find a place of delight . . . joy settles deep within the heart as we return to the God of all mercy and grace.  Because for those "who revere [His] name, the sun of righteousness will arise with healing in its wings . . . "  

And after the healing, ". . . you will go out 
and leap like calves released from the stall."  (Mal.4:2)

I have witnessed first hand "calves released from the stall",
and it is, indeed, joy . . . sheer joy!

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Dirty Rotten Trick

Facebook, you have deceived me.

Decked out in beautiful faces and perfect lives, you hold promise of friendship. But I am not fooled.  You are but a ghost, evading my grasp and taunting my emotions with what I can't have.  People from my past blend with the present and pop up here and there, sneaking around the corners of backyard fences.  Peering through the cracks, their view obscured, they find snippets to chew on.

Every now and then you bring flowers to my gate . . . sweet fragrance for the soul . . . promise of what you could be.  At other times I reach out and find hands meet, but dissolve into cloudy mists of misunderstanding and hurt. Lacking voice inflection and the warmth of real bodies they are but words engraved on stone, never to be erased or taken back.

Why do I continually return to you facebook?  Perhaps because you tease me with the longing for which I was made. Your talons strive to hold me in your grasp, but I am drawn to another place, its pull far more powerful, because God has set eternity in my heart.

I'm going to a place of real people where a book of faces will be opened and the Lamb's book of life will reveal our true colors.  There we will connect with each other's hearts and our friendships will be genuine through and through. Attached by love our words will bless.  Joy will not be staged, but real.  In that heavenly host I will commune with God where there will be no death, no parting, and no hurt.  A place of complete purity, my cloak of sin sizzled to nothingness by the iron of the cross.

Stripped of our facades would leave us exposed . . . vulnerable.  It is risky business, and far more than we could ever handle and so God graciously provides a covering.  It is not skimpy, but covers us completely . . . a robe of righteousness. Shimmering, dazzling, righteousness that glistens in the Son. We will love each other for who we really are . . . the character of Christ which God has molded in us, washed in grace.   Joy will reign as we are fully known, yet fully loved.

And facebook?  Your pangs of loneliness will never haunt me again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lift Up Your Head

"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love...
for to you I lift up my soul." 
 Psalm 143:8

I never enter a corn maze alone.

Not for fear of scarecrows or spiders that might lurk there, but because of endless trails which threaten to engulf me into obscurity, digesting me in the belly of a field.  None the less, excited and confident of the way we should go, I recently entered a corn maze with my family.

But what started hopeful began to wear thin with frustration.  We had already circled the same area once, then twice, even going back to the beginning and trying again.  We had the map.  What was wrong?  Certainly the map.  But we couldn't bring ourselves to exit at the entrance.  This maze would be conquered!

Hot, tired, and low on zeal we finally gave up and decided to chill out and follow our instincts.  I don't know what it is about a man's sense of direction, but somehow they just know.  Suddenly my husband had found our way out with ease . . . at the exit.

This same phenomena occured again last weekend, not in a corn field, but in life.  I've been working on a project for several months. . . a maze I entered with confidence and excitement, sure that if I just followed the rules I could find my way out.  I thought it should all make sense, but in the midst of it began trying too hard.  It became a part of my life where I'd grit my teeth and seek to conquer, its weighted shadow always looming over me . . . laughing, mocking, accusing.  I was advised to go in a direction that did not make sense to me.  I resisted the advice thinking I knew better.  But things are not always as they seem.

Lift up your head.

Release the desire to do things your way.
Stop making excuses...
resisting... complaining. 

Then . . . it all fell into place.  

"What do you want me to do for you?"  Jesus asks the blind man. 
(Luke 18:40) 
Jesus met me in my "maze" of frustration.
"I am blind", I cry out, "I just want to see!  
Show me the way . . . if you are willing."

"I am willing", Jesus replies.  He has been eager all along to lead me through this maze to its finish . . .but am I?  It requires sacrifice . . . wounded pride. Am I ready for God to finish what He's started even if it hurts?  Even if it requires such total dependence on Him . . . such need on my part?
Am I willing?

"I will not sacrifice...that which costs me nothing."  (2 Sam. 24:24)

I know the maze is simple from above, but in the midst of it I cannot see.  I get claustrophobic.  I've tried and tried but cannot find my way through.  I've even gone back to the beginning and started over.

But this weekend I looked up.  I followed the lead of the Holy Spirit and the thoughts in my heart flowed freely to my pen with overwhelming ease . . . completing in two days that which I'd labored over for three months.

God wants to draw me close to His heart.  If the process gets me to that place, then it has accomplished its purpose, even if the exit is never found.  If this is what it takes to get me to trust Him, then so be it.

I cannot see, but I trust the One who can.
He will do it, because He is willing.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fire In The House

"Let us not give up meeting together...but encourage each other."
Heb. 10:25

Comfort.  Warmth.  Family.

I love the heat and light of real fire burning in a wood stove on a brisk day.  It draws me in . . . beckons me to linger, its soothing crackle and dancing flames speak of a place where I am welcomed, wanted, and set to stay awhile.

But this fire does not simply appear.  No, someone went through a lot of sweat to make it happen.  Wood must be chosen, cut, split, dried, and hauled in. And then it must be ignited.

Likewise, a flame dwells within the family of God.  We are His house, and a fire blazes on the hearth- the Holy Spirit.  Today I'm reminded of those who shepherd the people of God.  They often carry heavy burdens, laboring in prayer and tears, bringing in the wood, fuel for the fire. They display self sacrifice in devotion and commitment to God's family on a regular basis.

I am blessed with four pastors who have had great influence on my life.  One in particular has a unique place in my heart and the most impact on my life. That would be my husband. I am honored to bear his name and look to him as my greatest spiritual leader.  He has led me into a faith that is deeper and more authentic than I've ever experienced before . . . a faith that relies on the power of God in the every day ebb and flow of life. . . a faith that simply takes God at His Word . . . that's my man!

But I'm grateful for the three other pastors of my home church as well.  How blessed I am to have a senior pastor who is passionate about preaching the Word verse by verse with accuracy and clarity . . . and with the power of the Holy Spirit flowing freely through his life.  I'm especially grateful for the way he has mentored my husband over the last 16 years.

Our education pastor is committed to teaching our children and adults, guiding others to teach as well.  He can be counted on to uphold the truth. . . reliable and dedicated to the people of God.  A man of prayer, he loves the Word of God.

Our worship pastor, in tune with God's Spirit, lifts the congregation into the very presence of God.  How refreshing to go to church each week and be a participator in that worship, rather than just an onlooker to an entertaining performance. . . to have a worship pastor, rather than a worship leader, one who shepherds the flock in his care.

I love my local church, its leaders, and its people.  I love Sundays.  It is like drinking in the fullness of God in all His beauty, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket, sitting near the heated stove on a chilly day.  Yet, the pastors do not create the fire. The flame comes from God Himself.

All of us have received the gift, the promised Holy Spirit, and all of us contribute to fanning into flame the spark that is there . . .
                                    preparing our hearts for the fire.

Our pastors carry heavy burdens. . .

                                                                             Some administrate. . .

      Others do the marking. . .

                                                                       And still others do the cutting. . .

Stacking . . .

And the carrying of lesser loads. . .

Some protect from danger, guarding against false teaching, apathy, hypocrisy . . .
                     enemies that would sting and destroy.

Those young in the faith need simply be with other workers
to be blessed and built up . . .
                    the children whose play is their work.

Some lift their arms not only for burdens, but for praise. . .

But we all bear one another's burdens,
hauling them to the place of prayer . . . the place of fire.

God has chosen us together, in the body of our local church to work toward a common goal . . . the presence of Jesus. This is why we do what we do.  We long for fire in the house of God.  We long for His Spirit to consume us, to purify us, and to produce heat and light so the world around us might be drawn to its comfort.  A fire can be terrifying or it can be inviting. God's fire is both, for "our God is a consuming fire!" (Heb. 12:29)

My pastors have encouraged my walk with the Lord and drawn me into deeper levels with Him.  But I am perhaps most indebted to my very first pastor.  He began praying for me before I was born and continues to do so. That would be my dad.  He was a shepherd to his own family along with the house of God.  Sitting under my dad's sermons shaped my life.  He first introduced me to the Lord and later led me to put my faith in God.  What a precious treasure he is.

Let's not forget the pastors of our local churches, set apart, called, anointed, and commissioned to shepherd the people of God into the blaze of holiness. Indeed, there is a flame in the house of God.  Don't miss it by being aloof, distant, or uninvolved.  My family loves sitting by the stove and enjoying its warmth. But we also love going out to gather the wood and exerting ourselves in the fall air among the towering aspens,

listening to the breeze flutter the leaves . . . yes, even out there in the forest, the leaves witness evidence of God's Spirit at work, though we cannot see Him.  He is there.

God's Spirit is present working in and through us as we contribute to the body of Christ in our local churches, laboring together for the building up of His Kingdom.  Can anything be more attractive, more inviting, more bonding?
Lord Jesus, ignite us with your holy flame.