Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Resolutions: Which are the most important, and achievable?

What's your resolution for the New Near?

Lose weight?
Make more money?
Declutter your Facebook connections?
Write more?
How about Pray More?

Even if you can list all of your goals for the New Year, could you really stick to them? If you fail, will the whole year be a loss? Of all the pressures that come with the closing and opening of a year, which are the post important?

This can easily be answered by another question: Who is the most important? 

You? Your family? Your job? God?

If you chose the first answer, you may be wondering what the whole God thing is about. Check out this page:

"And incidentally, if we please God it doesn't matter whom we displease and if we displease God it doesn't matter whom we please." ~ Dr. Adrian Rodgers

If you chose the last answer, the first place you'll want to go for resolutions is the Bible. Of the things God requires of us, there are a couple passages that jump out at me this New Years Eve. 

Micah 6:8

 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
The verse above brings to mind the word "faithfulness." When we think about it, faith has a lot to do with faithfulness. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him." One beautiful thing about this is, if we heed the following verses, the previous will take care of itself. 

Matthew 22:37-39

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Love means a lot of things. Commitment, sharing, hurting, guarding, living. 
But most of all love is sacrifice. 

My personal New Year's resolution is to be more disciplined in all areas of my life. But in the likely event that I fail, it is a comfort to know that if I love God, which in itself helps me love others, I will have pleased God. And that is true success.

What will you do differently in 2013?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Miriam ~ Bite Your Tongue

This post has been sitting on my hard drive as a jumbled first draft since July. Finally had time to get it out and revise a couple days ago. Hope you enjoy!

Miriam growled low in her throat and flicked a red-and-yellow sand fly from her arm. She gathered silver strands from her vision and tucked them back in her braid. “It’s probably because of her, you know.”
Aaron, high priest of Israel, met her brown gaze over the crackling, ancient scrolls spread wide before him. He said nothing, but a downward slant of his lips seemed agreement enough.
“And Moses' marrying an Ethiopian was just the beginning. If we had not brought in all these kinds of people, the young men wouldn't have thoughts of anyone but Moses prophesying. These other cultures, other ideas… They will be the ruination of us.”
Aaron brushed his hand across the parchment and studied the words there. Why wouldn’t he speak?
“But,” Miriam bent her head to her loom and threaded the green shuttle through the white warp strings. Next would come the dyed threads of gray and sienna. “ May-hap they are right in saying others should help lead.”
That brought his head up. His gray brows pulled his forehead together like new thread in old cloth.
Doubt drained her confidence and she missed a string of the tapestry. She pulled the green shuttle back and ran it through again. “We—we are older. Could not God speak through us even more than these young men or even Moses?"
Aaron nodded, "I've had the same thoughts, Sister. Is Moses the only one qualified?" 
She swallowed and cleared her throat, voice gravelly and a bit dry. "We were with the people, among them as slaves, while he spent his days in the palace. What kind of experience does he have, a foundling prince?”
As she spoke the words a cool wind blew through the tent. Chills skittered up her arms.
The door flap was closed tight, barring any breeze. 
A voice between a whisper and rushing water chopped through her speech. “Moses, Aaron, Miriam. Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation.”
An icy rush nettled her spirit as she and Aaron rose in tandem.
The Lord was calling.
She gathered her robes close to her like a shield. Had the whole congregation heard? She would soon be among them and know.
Aaron opened the tent door to exit before her. His face gave her pause. White smoke reflected in his dark, wide gaze. She looked toward the tabernacle and her mind emptied of all but one thought that cast an echoed rumble through her being.
“I AM.”
His holiness descended in a pillar of cloud and rested over the door of the mobile meeting place of God and man. 
Moses met them with a knowing, but saddened countenance. Did he know of what they had spoken? Had he been outside the tent and heard?
Before she could ask the Lord spoke and it shook her, inside and out. "Aaron and Miriam."
They approached. Miriam felt the terror reflected on Aaron’s face. The tumultuous cloud pulsed with the very breath of God.
“Mark my words. If there is a prophet among you I will make known to him in a vision and dream, dark speeches. My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
At once, the Lord left off speaking. The cloud dissipated into mist and departed.
Death crept into her skin, covering her arms, legs and stomach beneath her clothes. Her shaking hands were covered with raw welts and pus. She cried out, nothing left inside but horror. 
Aaron and Moses’ pleas to God for her faded as her punishment became clear. An outward symbol of her self-righteous ambitions and disrespect for God’s plan of authority. She was banished to spend a week outside the camp.
Seven days unclean.
Seven days to remember God’s holiness, the stench of her rotting flesh warring with the memories of the sweet, exclusive recipe of incense and perfumes that clung to Aaron’s robes when he exited the Holy of Holies. Her sins turned her stomach and caused her to refuse the bread Aaron left for her at the edge of the camp. Day after day she sat, shamed, isolated, in lancinate pain. Daily, she scraped and bathed. She grew weary of the sight of her own skin and the agony the ministrations caused. 
Seven days to remember God's favor and long for it once more. Deep in her heart she wondered why it was only her and not Aaron who had been judged. But when He first called Moses, God had allowed that Aaron be his helper. Not her. She had desired the man's place of leadership as God said Eve would after the fall of man. And may-hap God had judged Aaron through her own leprosy. He hated to see another suffer. Especially his sister.
Finally, blessedly, at dawn on the eighth day, she woke to pink, clean flesh.
God had healed her. Gratitude pushed tears from her throat to her eyes. With joy she put off her contaminated vesture and surrounded herself with a clean garment. She appeared before Aaron, as was the custom, and after he declared her clean, she came back into the congregation. Blessed be the Lord. He did not forsake his own.

Since Jesus gave himself as the sacrifice for our sins forever, we are blessed to be able to approach God in prayer, when we have sinned, to ask His forgiveness and be restored into fellowship with him. 
Hebrews 10:19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21 And having an high priest over the house of God;
22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

 Not long after Miriam's example of leprosy,  four men, Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On, rebelled against Moses' leadership and the Lord caused the earth to "split apart under them, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the congregation." God takes it seriously when we speak against the leadership He has ordained.  
As women, we need to guard our words. Especially words about those whom God has chosen to be our authority--our husbands, fathers, pastors. 

"She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness." Proverbs 31:26

Friday, June 1, 2012

Summer is HERE!


Blackberries. Mosquito bites. 
Homemade ice cream. Water hose fights. 
Sleeping under a fan at night.
Winter's stars weren't quite this bright.
-- NDM

            I love summer, but to me it's the busiest of times. In light of that, I'll not be posting fiction for the next couple months. However, I will write something. It may be sentimental, instructional, devotional, or comical, who knows? ;) Also, we'll begin posting on the first Thursday of the month, instead of Friday, and see how that goes.

            Today, we have quotes from the insightful, fire-refined Elisabeth Elliot. After reading her book Passion and Purity for the first time last month, I was convicted, encouraged, affirmed, and challenged. I wanted to share a bit of that with you, so here are a few quotes:


“The things that we feel most deeply we ought to learn to be silent about, at least until we have talked them over thoroughly with God.”

“Wait on God. Keep your mouth shut. Don’t expect anything until the declaration is clear and forthright.” 

“I do know that waiting on God requires the willingness to bear uncertainty, to carry within oneself the unanswered question, lifting the heart to God about it whenever it intrudes upon one’s thoughts. Its easy to talk oneself into a decision that has no permanence – easier sometimes than to wait patiently.” 

“I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us have our way in the end, but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able to honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done.” 

“If we hold tightly to anything given to us unwilling to allow it to be used as the Giver means it to be used we stunt the growth of the soul. What God gives us is not necessarily "ours" but only ours to offer back to him, ours to relinquish, ours to lose, ours to let go of, if we want to be our true selves. Many deaths must go into reaching our maturity in Christ, many letting goes.” 

― Elisabeth Elliot

Happy June!!!! 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Jochebed ~ Give it to God

Insidious ripples teased and licked the riverbank where Jochebed hesitated.  The Nile lay flat and wide before her, calm, brown depths hiding innumerable secrets of death and sorrow. She held her basket closer. A small squeak escaped the waterproof bassinet.
Jochebed’s eyes shot behind her. Had someone heard? She loosened her hold and hummed along with the Scarab and Churchyard beetles nestled in the thick riverside foliage to cover the noise.
The moment she left the house with this precious burden, she became an outlaw. No, that wasn’t true. She became an outlaw when she and Amram hid their child from the Pharaoh. 
To be born male and Hebrew under the reign of Thutmose I carried a death sentence. But she refused to relinquish her son’s life easily. And if protecting him brought her condemnation, so be it.
Shifrah and Puah, the midwives charged with the bloody, nascent executions, defied the king’s command and helped save many babies, thanks be to Jehovah. Jochebed wept with thanks when they appeared at her birthing and not the other midwives who were afraid of the Pharaoh and bowed to his whims.
Her lullaby strangled to a high pitch whisper as her toes plumbed the river’s rippling, wet warmth. Tears robbed her breath. With a last squeeze of the reed basket to her breast she held it still before her in the current.
She closed her eyes. She couldn’t look at him. If she did, she’d never let him go.
“Oh God of Abraham,” she whispered and let her grip loosen, “protect my son.”
By the time she opened her eyes, the bent, pitch-lined bulrushes bobbed small as an almond, a miniature coffin in the distance. It would pass the palace before choosing one of the two paths into the delta. Her heart rode each eddy until her three-month-old was out of sight. Wide-fanned papyrus aided her concealment as she followed in that direction, each soggy step home heavier than the last. She’d tried to prepare herself for this day. Tried to become strong so the separation would not be as painful. But it hadn’t worked. Nothing would ever mend this tear in her heart. She was sure of it. 
Women’s happy voices taunted her through the tall papyrus fronds.
A baby cried. Hands to her responding bosom, she forged eyes to motion in the water. 
Her basket. It was caught in the bulrushes. She willed the tiny ark to move. To swim downriver to safety. To bud wings and fly away. But it didn’t happen.
A palace servant came and stole her son from the tangle of green fronds.
Jochebed darted to a more covert hiding place, eyes never leaving the woven cradle.
That’s when she saw it. A whoosh of ebony hair and white slave clothes. Four feet tall.
Miriam. Had she followed all this time? 
“No!” Jochebed shouted a whisper and reached for hair, cloth, anything. But she was too slow, her reflex weakened by this morning’s ordeal.
Youthful boldness carried little Miriam right up to the servant, but the nude woman waded undistracted toward the palace. She was one of Princess Hatshepsut’s swimmers. The young royal must be nearby.
Not put off, Miriam’s chubby legs splashed through water up to her little knees.
Get out of there. Jochebed’s legs burned with the need to run and snatch both her babies and never stop running until they were safe. But she stayed hidden. Her walking into the cluster of servants when she should be working along with the other slaves would only get them all whipped. Or worse.
She held her breath and prayed. With the wrong word, Miriam could unwittingly be the instrument in her brother’s murder.
With a wave of her dimpled arms, the cheeky seven-year-old came up and parted the circle of handmaidens.
Toes curled into the black silt, Jochebed’s chest ached from holding her breath. She must be going mad. Either that or she’d fallen, hit her head and was dreaming. The princess laughed. Laughed!
Miriam smiled up at the royal draped in sheer bathing veils and holding Jochebed’s screaming man-child.
“Hello, little one. See my new son? I’ve decided to call him Moses. What do you think?”
Jochebed closed her eyes for a short moment. Praise be to Yahweh. They weren’t going to kill her baby boy.
 “Moses?” Miriam wrinkled her nose. “You’re going to name him ‘son of?’”
Jochebed lay her forehead in her palm. Why was she cursed with such a tactless daughter? Though, among the royals her daughter could have spoken to, the princess was the most kind and good-natured. Surely Yahweh smiled on them.
“Yes.” The beautiful future queen smiled. “Because I don’t know who his parents are.”
“I know—”
Jochebed shook her head so swiftly her neck popped.
Don’t, Miriam.
“—someone who can nurse him for you.”
The richly dressed beauty stroked the baby’s dark, curly head. “Oh you do?” Interest flared to life in her eyes. But not of the cruel, investigative kind. She truly was interested in finding a wet nurse.
Jochebed ran.
Her stomach and calves burned and breath came in hiccups when she finally reached the other mud gatherers. She would be punished for being late. But it would not last long. Hatshepsut would send for her. Her family’s station would improve when she became nourisher of the new prince.
Tears cooled her hot cheeks. She wanted to laugh. She would be allowed to mother her son a while longer.
She picked up an urn, scooped it full of the rich, slimy, brick base and fell in line with the other women. The taskmaster approached, whip in hand. Jochebed flinched under the hot sting of leather on sunburned skin. After many lashes, the guard kicked her to the ground.
“Halt!” A palace messenger appeared, Miriam at his side. Jochebed turned to face them. She didn’t want her daughter to see her wounds. Wounds that had passed through more than seventeen generations as the unwanted, but unavoidable heirloom of the slave. “Princess Hatshepsut has another use for this one.”
Jochebed stood, aided by a strength born of relief. 
God had provided deliverance.

Interesting fact about Jochebed, Moses’ mother:
Her name, (pronounced yo-HEV-ed), means “Yahweh is glory.”
She married her nephew -- Ex. 6:20. (A practice Moses later banned -- Leviticus 18:12.
It is widely believed that her son Moses' stepmother was Hatshepsut, the only female Pharaoh. 

Opposite to the story of Hannah, about whom I almost wrote this month's post, Jochebed gave her most precious possession to the Lord, and He graciously returned the child to her keeping. I can't imagine her joy at being allowed to care for her son, who she thought was lost to her forever. Would that we all were so willing to trust God with the things we hold closest to our hearts.
I took slight creative liberties with this post. To read the real story, see Exodus Chapter 2. :)

P.S. For interesting info. on the rulers in Egypt during that time, see the following link: (I'm not saying all of it is true. I haven't thoroughly researched the Pharaohs. It was, however, very interesting to read.)

Until next time,

Friday, April 6, 2012

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Wife of Simon of Cyrene ~ The Weight of a Cross

            “We have a letter from Paul.”
            Gasps echoed through the assembly of the Roman believers and whispers roared.
            Nava smiled and eased her quaky bones onto one of the stools reserved for the elderly women at meeting, not the least bit surprised at the news her son Rufus shared. He’d given in to her pleadings and read it to her the night before, having just received it from Phoebe, a devout woman Paul sent to help the church here.
            What a blessing it was to hear from dear Paul, her son in the Lord!
            Knowing the contents of the letter, she watched the faces of others as they heard his admonitions for the first time. That the power of God could bring a group of this number together, unified in the service of Christ, filled her with fresh wonder. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost..." Paul wrote. Her mind journeyed back to the time she’d first witnessed that love...

            She'd told Simon they'd wait on him. And they would. But sunset wouldn't. He'd said he had an errand to run, that he'd be back soon.
            That was three hours ago.
            They traveled all the way from Cyrene to Jerusalem, three days early no less, for the most important event of the year--Passover week. And now he was late.
            Indecision only lasted a moment. She was going to find him.
            As soon as she stepped onto the main street, swarming people rushed her from all sides. Important people. High priests along with Roman soldiers. No wonder Simon wasn't home. The unyielding crowd dragged her into its flow to the edge of town. She searched each face. Then she saw him.
            He turned, but not toward her. Soldiers confined him from all sides. Fear rose up to strangle her. No. Surely he wasn’t the cause of this uproar. What could they want with him?
            She pressed her way forward, but lost sight of them. Without notice, the capricious sea of people thrust her into the open. She scrambled backward from the scene that met her. The bloody form of a pain-snagged body stumbled toward her and up the hill against a silver sky. A splintered cross rode the man's shoulders, rubbing raw flesh against his seamless, blood-soaked tunic.
            Nausea writhed in Nava’s throat.
            What had this man done to be both scourged and crucified?
            The name "Jesus" floated through the murmurings of the crowd.
            Jesus of Nazareth? She’d heard the name many times since coming to Jerusalem. He claimed to be the Messiah. Had done many miracles in the name of God.
            He stopped with a sudden gasping groan. For one aching, breathless moment, he looked at her.
            She couldn’t blink. Couldn’t move.
            Couldn’t rip her focus from those eyes.
            The most powerful love she’d ever seen beamed steadily from their depths.
            A lamb’s bleating sounded in her memory. The fuzzy, white Passover lamb, still at the house, a captive of her sons'.
            Blood would spill from it’s throat and pour over Simon’s hand this evening in the Passover ceremony. Blood, rich and red like the rivulets dripping from Jesus' thorn-flayed brow.
            All she’d ever done against the will of God pressed in on her in that moment. And in that moment, none of the deeds of the law--deeds she'd done to escape judgement, seemed sufficient. She wanted to run. Run from the forgiveness in his eyes. From the kindness there. She didn't understand it. She didn’t deserve it.
            Her heart twisted in impossible pain. Had she imagined it? She believed she had, but saw it again briefly before the solders shouted and pushed him on. A tiny pressing together of the lips.
            A smile.
            Something broke inside her and she heaved a sob. Tears pushed free and trickled down to her jaw.
            It was Him. The Messiah.
            Her soul strings hummed Alleluias and also wept for His grief. Then doubt whispered. How could a dying man save the Jews and overthrow the Romans? What was Jehovah doing?
            Why did these royally bedecked leaders crucify the Lord of Glory? Could they not see? The voice of dying justice screamed within her.
            Jesus, feet crusted with the black paste of dust and blood, resumed his journey up the steep grade. Nava turned to go, but stopped.
            Someone followed Him, carrying the cross’ centerpiece. Cool trails of disbelief drained her face.
            Shock painted his expression ashen, fear for her his silent outcry.
            Her mouth responded before thought and the smile Jesus had given her she gave to her husband. He looked confused and concerned, almost about to speak, but the soldiers gave him no time. He hoisted the cross higher.
            She watched the proceedings to their denouement. Heaviness settled in her bosom as Jesus pushed against the foot spikes for His last drag of air, then died.
            When Simon returned, exhausted as she, they continued with the Passover ritual. Her husband’s blade drew dark red streams and as soon as the lamb stilled, her body collapsed in tearful anguish. They carried her from the room to her bed. The only phrase she could mutter was, “It should have been me. It should have been me.”

            “Mother, are you all right?”her son whispered.
            Nava blinked at Alexander. They were still at meeting. She looked down to where his hand clasped hers and a tear fell from her eye to land on his.
            She breathed deeply and patted his hand with a smile. “Yes. I’m fine.”
            She was more than fine.
            Three days after His burial, Jesus “was raised again for our justification” as dear Paul wrote in his letter. He’d come back to life by His own power. Roman authorities had paid to silence the truth. But twenty years later, the evidence of His resurrection still affected the world. She, her husband, and her sons all served Him openly now and Alexander and Rufus were leading many to the Way. 
            She closed her eyes and let His blessed peace wash over her. He lives. He's alive forever. And someday very soon she would be with Him.
            Many times over the years she’d wondered what He meant by the smile He’d given her that day in the street.
            Now...she thought she knew.

*Nava is a pseudonym, as there is no mention of her name in the Bible. She is mentioned in Romans 16:13 and her husband and sons are referenced in Mark 15:21. Not much is known about her except that she loved Paul as one of her own sons and her husband carried the cross of Jesus. I thought it might be interesting to view the precedent of Easter through her eyes.

I saw One hanging on a tree
In agony and blood;
He fixed His pain-filled eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.

Sure, never, till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.

My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair;
I saw my sins His blood had spilt
And helped to nail Him there.

A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid,
I die that thou mayest live.”
(“I Saw One Hanging on a Tree,” by John Newton, 1725-1807;
to the tune of “O Set Ye Open Unto Me”).

If you have never personally experienced the love of Christ and would like to, please click here. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Euodius & Synteche ~ Unity

“You put what in my dough?!” A woman squeaked. An old woman.
I stopped and searched the village street, the sun making one peachy-white glowscape out of everything. Noisy wind whipped dust and hair into my eyes. No one was there.
The response was mumbled and full of persuasion. It came from the hut I’d just passed.
            A wail groaned out of the house and I came closer to peak through the darkened door. A woman, not over five feet, propped her basket heavily on a worktable with her other hand to her forehead.
Another figure stood next to her, wrist deep in a bowl of…something. She was taller, but only by a couple inches.
“I knew this would happen. I go to the market this morning, am not gone for more than two breaths and you manage to ruin my famous raisin cakes.”
The shadowy house vibrated with a barked rebuttal. “I did not ruin them, Euodius! Now, put in the raisins you brought from market or else I’ll have to use these week-old dates. The batter is ready to bake and the coals, they have cooled too long already.”
Euodius? I remembered that name from Paul’s writings. Euodias and Synteche, women from the church here in Philippi who could not get along.
“Today’s meeting will be held in our house and we should serve refreshments that are full of flavor,” the dough-covered woman continued, “I couldn’t have the elders bite into a bland cookie.”
“My cakes are not bland! I have Brother Paul’s word on that one, Synteche--you remember how many he ate when he was here.”
            “And you might try remembering how he recorded our names and our discord in his only letter to—”
I sneezed.
Both women looked up, Synteche’s dough covered finger two raisin lengths from Euodius’ nose. A clod of grainy dough plopped to the table.
I shrugged. Too late to back up.
            Ignoring my uncouth interruption, the woman named Euodius waddled to me, took my hand and pulled me in. “You there, come and be the judge betwixt us.” Her fuzzy white head bobbed ahead of me until we were toe to toe with Synteche in the dim room.
“I—I’m no expert on raisin cakes. Surely there is someone else…”
Euodius’ well padded hands urged me onto a stool. “We haven’t the time, child. The followers of the Way will gather here at any moment. Now sit.”
“Is the Brother Paul you speak of not in town?”
The women looked at one another then the floor.
Synteche began to sniffle. “He went to be with the Lord a few years back.”
Euodius put an arm around the taller woman and patted her arm. “He gave his life for the Gospel’s sake.” She ruefully looked at the dough on Synteche’s hands. “After all these years, it still takes much effort to ‘be of the same mind in the Lord’, doesn't it, Sister Synteche?”
The woman nodded and dabbed a wrist to her dripping eye.
"Enough now," Euodius straightened brusquely and emptied two handfuls of raisins from a cloth wrap she'd held in her basket, "lets get these cakes to baking."
I watched them work, afraid to ask what was on my mind for fear it would start another argument. Soon enough curiosity won out. "If you don't mind my asking, what was the disagreement that caused Brother Paul's mention of you in his letter?" 
Synteche helped her friend spread the dough in neat little piles on the long baking instrument. As if they'd not heard, they continued until the task was done. Then they rinsed their hands in a basin. Finally their eyes met with chagrined laughter. 
"Ahhhhh me!" Euodius cackled and jiggled her elbow into Synteche's ribs. When the laughter flowed slowly away, she looked at me. 
"It was a pigeon."
"A pigeon." My question was more of a statement.
Euodius nodded once. "A pigeon."
"And quite a skinny one, at that!" Synteche said. Her voice flew to the highest scales of the register with more laughter. These old ladies were a hoot.
"Well, the little stubby-beaked thing was my pet. But Synteche's boy was out practicing with stone and sling and brought the poor bird home to her for supper. Synteche was so pleased to have a young, fat fowl to cook, she decided to make it an occasion and invite me, her old childhood friend, to sup with her that evening!"
At this, Synteche's heat-moistened cheeks turned red with merriment and she pushed out a sentence with the one breath she could muster. "Oooh-I-will-never-forget-your-countenance!" She heaved in air, hand to breast, and bumped a hip against the crusty wall for support. "To this day, my boy won't eat pigeon to save his life."
"It was fifteen years before we spoke again. Oh, we still gathered faithfully with the church, but I think it did more harm than good." Euodius cocked her head at me and wagged a finger. "I would have you to know, our frivolous feuding caused more trouble for our dear church from inside than any outsider could have made. Once word burned through the town that the church quaked with disharmony, the number of souls saved and added to our gathering diminished daily. No one is convicted by a Christian's life which is not separated to God. Faith that doesn't make a change in us, doesn't make a difference in others. Our testimonies as individuals and as a church were quenched for a time. It is a very serious thing to cause discord in Christ's beloved church. The Lord hates it, Proverbs says." (Proverbs 6:16-19)
"Oh, look." Syntyche smoothed back her coiled hair. "there is Brother Amyntas, coming over the hill."
Euodius turned to me. "Won't you stay for the assembly?"
Synteche checked the cakes. "Yes, please do."
"I had better be on my way, but thank you."
"Are you not a follower of Christ?" The ladies looked on me for the first time with fear and distrust. They must have often had spies from the outside, seeking to destroy the church. 
"Yes, but it is still early I have other believers to meet with today. Please give my greetings to your congregation."
The ladies seemed relieved at that and hustled to wrap two raisin cakes for me. Brother Amyntas spoke courteously as I passed and I already missed the quaint duo he would soon see. 
After a moist whiff of cinnamon and cloves, I pulled out a cake for a mouthwatering nibble. 
Toothsome baking like this showcased the tangy flavor of lifelong experience. Their gift of example by repentance and efforts of unity, however, held just as sweet a savor.

Phil 2:3-5 "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;"
I Cor. 1:10 "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."
Romans 15:5-6 "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
In John 17:20-21, Jesus said, speaking of his disciples, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."
"That the world may believe..."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Gomer ~ Finally Home

Ropes cut and burned Gomer’s wrists and dragged her toward the auction block. With an anonymous shove to her shoulder, she stumbled onto the sandstone cube. Sunlight bleached her vision yellow-white and torpid winds broiled her shaven nakedness, but she didn’t possess the dignity to care. She gloried in the shame of her position, but desired it to be less bearable, more degrading, and…darker. It was less punishment than she deserved.
As her eyes adjusted, crowds of pale voices deepened into faces debauched with greed and rapacity. More than a hundred gathered near to see the spectacle--the prophet's wife sold as a slave of prostitution. The auction agent began the bidding at 5 pieces of silver. So low? She laughed. Her reward was a bruising blast of the slave guard’s hand in her face. One foot slipped from the block and his whip to her nape reinstated her previous perch. Her Baalite lovers had bought her more expensively than these men would ever ascend to afford. Even Hosea valued her more than this…
Murmured bids droned low and thoughts of her husband rushed near. Her chest caved with memories of their home and children. Lowly as she’d esteemed it, there had never been want. Even her lovers’ rich corn and new wine did not compare to the provisions for her in Hosea’s house.
She clenched her eyelids shut until darkness came and pushed him out of her heart once more. She’d sealed the door to their marriage long ago and not even she could open it now.
Blisters threatened her scalp before the price rose to 9 silver pieces. If a sale were not made promptly, the sun would soon end it all. As much as her charred conscience craved the punishment of dehydration and death, the sapless life in her could not be ignored. She thirsted intensely for a sip of water. It didn’t have to be cool or fresh, just moist.
The bidding stopped.
She heard footsteps but her grit-filled eyes refused to open. Gomer dropped her head back to face the red-orange glow of sky. She thought she smelled the rugged-clean scent of Hosea’s robes. It must be a delusion. She laughed again, no one stopping her, and a tear she didn’t know she contained slipped beneath her lid and down into her ear. Even in its current declination her mind wished for him.
She jolted when a dream-like trickle dribbled off her chin. It couldn’t be.
She reached for its source and clutched the cruse skin to her mouth. It was pulled away long before she was done drinking.
A hoarse whisper brushed her face. “Twelve pieces of silver.”
Eyes flipped wide open, heart crashing into her ribs, Gomer stared into the face of her past—the very best part of it—and something in her melted, then calcified. She held his wary gaze for as long as the window of shock allowed, heart and head slumping when he finally looked to the auction caller. Shame glazed her. He was only here to save himself further dishonor. She was a fool to believe otherwise.
Well, she was a life’s journey ahead of him where dishonor was considered. If he did not truly want her return, she would be absent at opportunity’s dawn and spare him the discomfort.
Removing his leathern belt, Hosea met her debt with the auctioneer, slung his outer cloak of camel’s hair around her shoulders, and fastened it together. He lead her off the slaver’s platform, he in his under-linen and she fully covered. Every step home was strained.
When she stepped inside, the dim lamp burning in the small alcove, the wholesome adobe walls, the tidiness in which the room was kept all scorned her for ever leaving their safe, honest haven.
She stepped back. “Where are the children?”
Hosea braced her arms and maneuvered her inside. He closed the door and walked to the middle of the room. “Jezreel works day and night to finish his own home. He will take to wife the goldsmith’s daughter in one week.”
The goldsmith’s daughter. Gomer knew this marriage would grieve Hosea. The workman made his living sculpting idols. He was renown for his work on the golden calves of Samaria.
Hosea livened the coals in the corner furnace. With a hand to the paddle shaped board against the wall, he shoveled in two braided loaves of challah to warm. It chagrined her to see him do women’s work.
He turned slowly. “Ammi has cursed his father and Ruhama has followed in her mother’s folly.”
Cold trails of stoicism plaited her tightly inside. She’d corrupted the ones she loved. She looked up. Soon it would be Hosea. Somehow, someway she would lead to his demise as well. Her husband’s regretful eyes pleaded with her, for what she did not know.
“Why did you bring me here?” She choked out. Tears blocked her breathing. The wall her only support, she slid slowly down its cool length with her head to her knees and reached to tunnel trembling hands into her hair—only there was none.
Hosea stared at her, unbelieving. “You are my wife.”
She rubbed the razored reminder that she had defied her husband’s protection and chosen a life that would destroy them all. “Why do you want me here?” She was afraid of his answer. There could be but one. He was punishing her.
“Because the Lord spoke to me and bade me bring you back.”
Gomer’s fingers stilled on her skull. His God wanted her? Flashes from her participation in sacrifices to Baal singed her subconscious. Was she to be sacrificed then? Breath fled her chest and her pulse rammed her skin. She tried to remember her journeys with Hosea to the temple. No. Not a sacrifice. Only animals were sacrificed at the temple--not people. Lambs. Bullocks. Doves. Pidgeons.
In an instant Hosea was there, his hands covering hers and moving them aside. Surprise bathed her as his lips warmed a spot on her bare head. He inclined her chin with his fingertips, the angle of their faces forcing her to meet his eyes. She felt more than saw the fear and hesitance in them, as if the words in his mouth held power over him.
“Because I love you.”
Gomer searched his eyes frenziedly. Love? It had been so long since she’d heard that word. Love. Selflessness. Commitment. They all frightened her. She wasn’t sure she could ever be faithful. What if there was some weakness in her she couldn’t overcome? What if every time she came upon an old ‘friend’, she would be drawn away?
Hosea’s eyes fell to her mouth. She blushed. What was it about this man that made her feel innocent again? For years she participated in wickedness with Baalites with only the slightest twinge of conscience. Now, her husband had only to look at her and she went weak.
He trailed a hand beneath her ear and closed the distance between them. For one delicate moment, he gave her his lips before the sweet heat of remembrance ignited her response and drove him to pursue her further. His kiss was the first in an age that had not been taken. Yes, she’d given herself to men in search of riches, the thrill of power, and that something she couldn't seem to find, but never had she felt that they gave her anything. With deep, halting breaths Hosea tugged her into the warmth of his arms then quickly stood and crossed to the furnace. He scrubbed a hand across his brow and retrieved the golden, fragrant cakes while her breathing calmed.
He was giving her time.
Something like fresh, sweet cream expanded inside her chest when she realized he didn't want to rush her or try forcing her love. Still, there was something she must know above anything else.
Steaming, amber-glossed bread skidded from the long-handled peel onto the trencher. Hosea set it on the rug next to the reclining pillows and crushed a loaf in two. He snagged a basket from a peg in the pasty wall and lifted out dates, raisins, cheese and oil. Her jaw clenched with the imagining of their rusty-sweet taste.
“Come,” he beckoned. When she remained motionless, he sat, gestured to the food, and turned hopeful eyes to her. “Sup with me?”
Gomer approached the rug to sit, newly mindful of the gaps in her covering, but did not touch the food. She dared not even think the words on her tongue, but they tumbled into the air between them without her permission.
“You forgive me, then?” Blood drained from her head. Cool shock painted her face pale. She endeavored not to faint before she heard his answer. It was vain to believe it was so. It was more mercy than any woman ought be allowed.
Hosea met her eyes for a long time. She could see it on his face. Part of him still didn’t trust, didn’t want to forgive. Was afraid she would hurt him again.
Gomer looked at her lap, still covered with his over-warm camelhair cloak.
It was the freshest, most honeyed word she’d ever known. Yes. Even if he didn’t mean it yet, he’d said it and it gave her hope. Her shoulders shook. She held them rigid to subdue herself, but sobs convulsed her and pushed her forward. His hand gripped hers and pulled her to him. He stilled her so tightly against himself it nearly ended her air supply and her tears dampened his garment, but she didn’t budge. She was safe, so safe.
She nestled her head beneath his chin. How strange. Without her dark waves, she sensed the heartbeat in his throat. “My heart is very sore. I’ve sinned against you and the God of Israel. How can it ever be as it was?”
“It won’t be. We will have to build anew. But there is something you should learn.” He loosened his arms and lay the backs of his fingers against one swollen eyelid then the next. “It is not our worthiness which merits love. Real love cannot be earned. It is not solicited from the heart of the loved but is chosen by the heart of the lover and cannot be rooted out by guiltiness, hatred, or separation.”
Hosea gently released her and went through the curtained bedroom door. He came back with a bundle of cloth he held out hesitantly. "Your robes."
Gomer reached for the garments. "You kept them."
The house was silent as she slid from beneath the camel skins and into the soft, delicate attire. No matter how much as she longed for it, changing her clothing did not change the past. But she could make a new beginning.
She slipped her hand into her husband's. She was finally home.

God used Hosea's life and marriage to reflect His own love for Israel--to tell them that, no matter how wrong they were, he still loved them and desired them to return to Him so he could bless them.
Here are some memorable verses from Hosea:

Hosea 2:14-15 & 19-20 
     "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. 
     And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope: and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. 
     And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.  
     I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD."

     "Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine.
      So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley:
      And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee."
14:4 "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him."

Our next post will be March 2, with guests Euodius & Synteche. It should prove interesting. ;) Thanks for reading! If you like what you've read so far, feel free to tell a friend about the Sweet South Blog!
Til next time!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Blog Update & Your Suggestions Needed

What does the above picture have to do with this post? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

News coming up, but first, I want to say a quick thanks to all who read The Sweet South Blog. Your encouragement to and patience for this novice writer is unspeakably appreciated. :) I have enjoyed our Fridays together going through the Women of the Bible and look forward to many more.

We've got a few changes coming up. Due to several sweetly urging readers, I've decided to devote more time to finishing my first manuscript, which is currently hovering in scenic nostalgia until I can put it into words. So, the Encouragement From Women of the Bible series will now be posted only once a month, the first Friday of each month. Next post will go up Friday, Feb. 3. With Valentine's Day coming up, our guest will be Gomer, Hosea's wife. What in the ever-loving-piece-of-heart-confetti does she have to do with St. Valy Day? Read the post and find out! :)

I've run out of your previous suggestions for guests to interview, so I need some feedback from you, dear reader. Below are a few Biblical women who are possible candidates for future posts. If you will let me know from whom you would like to hear, I'll make those priority. Feel free to suggest any women not mentioned.

Abigail - a wife of King David
Hannah - Samuel's Mother
Shunammite Woman - 2 Kings 4:8-44 (not to be confused with the Shulamite woman in Song.) 
Dinah - Judah's Daughter
Euodias & Syntyche
Jochebed - Moses' Mother
Miriam - Moses' Sister
Elisabeth - Mother of John the Baptist