Susannah Baker

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How to Keep Walking When Your Legs are Tired

On October 31, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Kathy, With 4 Comments

I’ve been pondering this concept of walking a great deal lately.  I think, in part, because my head and my legs feel so heavy these days.  I haven’t birthed another baby or adopted another child.  Homeschool isn’t new on the agenda; this is my third year to have my kids at home for three days a week, and there is nothing new or shocking about our routine.  But I’m just.  So.  Tired.

I sat down with my sister-in-law today and she said, “I know why you’re tired…you’re grieving.”

Oh yes, grieving.  That is what has changed in my life.  I’m not sure why, but sometimes it’s easy to forget the weight of grief that is ever-present, yet so easily hidden.  Kathy is gone, and there is a huge, ever present hole that aches and stares out my front door and pierces my heart every morning, but when I wake up each morning, there are still four children in my household that need to be fed, clothed, schooled, and shepherded through life.  My grief sometimes has to hop in the backseat, stuffed under the cushions of the every day.  But it makes itself known through unexplained headaches, weariness, a heavy heart, and heavy legs.  Perhaps my mind and every day schedule can forget, but my heart and my body cannot.

I think before, ever other project I’ve undertaken or finish line I’ve determined to cross or peak I’ve set my mind to summit, there has been life, joy, or a satisfying tangible outcome at the end.  But the race I just finished running left Kathy crossing her finish line into heaven…while I am still here.  The emptiness at times is often so huge, it’s hard to understand and make sense of it all.

To be quite honest, I thought I was ready and prepared for her death.  But I wasn’t.  I had no idea what the finality of her absence would look like or mean.  A friend of mine last Sunday summed it well.  She said, “You weren’t ready for Kathy to be gone forever; you were just ready for her to be healed.”

That pretty much says it all.  I wasn’t ready for Kathy to die.  I don’t think I would ever have been ready.  I was just ready for her to be out of pain and free from the immense amount of suffering I watched her endure each and every day.

And I was all in in helping her get to that place of being pain free; all of us who knew and loved her were.  Whatever needed to be done, we were ready to do.  But now that she is gone, I have all of this time on my hands, and I’m not quite sure what to do with it.

I’ve been trying to fill it with responding to emails that have been sitting in my inbox for several months, paying bills and crossing things off my list that had been piling up on my desk in the kitchen, but all that’s done has left this big, empty place in my heart. To-do lists never disappear; no matter how many items I cross off, one hundred more jump in to take their place.

So I’m stopping it with the to-do lists.  I have to.  They are only leaving me half-empty and aching on the inside.  Instead, I’m going to try to take the advice of my friend Kwame who was here last week visiting Houston.  Kwame is a Bible translator and pastor from Ghana and one of the Godliest men I know.  He sat with Clay, Kathy’s husband, Jason, and me on Wednesday night and said, “People can’t heal other people’s wounds; only God can heal wounds…from the inside out.”

So that is what I am trying to do this week – make time and space for God alone to heal my wounds.  I’ve lingered a long time over Isaiah chapter 2, verse 3, carefully looking at each word: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh to the house of the God of Jacob, so that He may teach us something of His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.”

The word that has drawn me in the most is the word “Come,” the summons at the beginning of the verse.  It is a word that in the Hebrew means “to walk…used of human locomotion and to the characteristic of one’s lifestyle.”  So, literally, Isaiah’s summons to the people of God to come into the presence of God is “Walk.”

What I’m learning at this stage of my life in this stage of my grief is coming into God’s presence at any point in time always requires me to walk.  No matter how heavy my legs might feel.  Because God’s summons to His people to come, to walk, isn’t in the absence of grief, it is always, especially, in the presence of grief.  It’s in the face of hardship.  It’s in the presence of pain.  And walking with the weight of grief wrapped around your legs is so tough.  It’s a workout.  It takes an extra effort of the soul.  But what’s the alternative?  Stagnation?  Immersing myself in busy to-do lists that suck the life and joy right out of me instead of funneling it in?

Walking with grief and sorrow isn’t fun, and it isn’t easy, but I know, even if I can’t always feel it or see it, that it’s producing an eternal weight of glory in my soul that is worth every ache of the step.

Clay’s sister, Dana, who lives in Georgia but came to Houston to help and live with Kathy and Clay the last few weeks of Kathy’s life has become a precious friend and mentor to me the past few weeks.  She texted me a few days ago and said, “Weight bearing exercises build strong muscles and bones.  Emotionally weight bearing circumstances build strong spirits.  They produce greater dependence on the Lord, a refocusing of priorities, connectedness to people we love, and greater compassion.  As you walk with the Lord, your spirit will be much, much stronger than it would have been had you never gone through it.”

Amen.  Walking weighted hurts.  It’s hard on the muscles, it’s hard on the emotions, it’s hard on the spirit.  But it builds endurance and strength.  And according to Isaiah 2:3, the house of the Lord isn’t a house by the sea.  It isn’t accessed by a gentle stroll down a sandy beach or shaded lane.  It’s up.  On top of a mountain.  In fact, according to Isaiah 2:2, “the mountain of Yahweh’s house will be secured as the head of the mountains and it will be lifted up more than the hills and all the nations will stream to it.”  We’re talking Everest here.  And to climb Everest, one had better be in shape, doing some weight-bearing, hard-climbing, mountain-peak exercises.

Walking with God is never a striving in our own flesh or strength.  We don’t aim to be better people, or do better works.  Through the person of Jesus Christ, God Himself stepped off the mountain and came down to us to make a way for us to come.  To walk.  To ascend to the mountain of the Lord.  But there’s only one path, and only one way.  It’s through the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus who tells us, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and my load is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  I feel like when Jesus said that, He was picturing me.  He was picturing what I would need to do in the wake of Kathy’s death.  He was picturing Clay and the McDaniel children.  He was picturing Kathy’s parents, extended family, and friends.  He was picturing all those who are weighted down by sorrow and grief and the hurts and cares of this broken world and saying, “Listen to Me, you will never be able to make it up the mountain of of the Lord in your broken state.  So let me become broken for you.  Let me shoulder your weightedness with you, and let’s walk together.  There is never one step I am asking you to take that you will take alone.  Just look long to the left and the right, and I am there with you.  Even inside of you.  Yoked to you.  Walking every step of the way.”

When I take my focus off of the weight and put it on the One who is walking alongside of me, I can walk like that.  I can walk with a Savior, a King, and a Lord, who became weighted down when He didn’t have to be, so that He could help me in my walk.  And it is in Him, and by Him, and for Him, and with Him that I will learn to walk this out, this journey into the ache, and through the grief, one step at a time.

For further encouragement on walking with God in the weightedness of life, connect with me this week on Facebook.

Join me in learning to walk with Jesus through the hard waits and aches of life in this eight week Biblestudy, Waiting on the Lord.  

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Messy Kitchens, Messy Kids, Messy Parenting, Faithful God

On October 24, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Guest Posts, Motherhood, With No Comments

This week we have the privilege of reading and hearing wisdom from the messy kitchen and beautiful heart of Jeannie Hagopian.  Jeannie, too, lost a dear friend to cancer several years ago and has walked the same road of grief many of us are walking now.  Her wisdom and guidance over the past several months has been invaluable as she has given me permission to hurt, grieve, and make space for the mess and ache that death brings but to also hold hard to the Hand of God, trusting He will be faithful to lead us all down the path of hope and healing.  She gives us wisdom and encouragement on the path of parenting this morning, and in all places in our lives that feel a bit messy, where we stop, look around, and say, “Here, Lord, life doesn’t look like I thought it would.”

Jeannie grew up in South Carolina with her sister, Margaret, who has done a few guest posts here on the blog!  After college, she lived and worked in Washington, D.C. for a decade where she met and married Jesse.  Jesse grew up on Cape Cod, and slowly they felt God calling them to leave D.C. and move to the Cape to be a part of a church planting situation there.  They moved to the Cape 2 years ago and it’s been a hard transition in many ways, but their hearts are heavy with the need for the Gospel in the New England area and for Christians there to be encouraged.  Jesse and Jeannie have 2 children, Margaret (7 years old) and David (5 years old), and a baby girl due early December. 

You might be trying desperately to avoid the fact that life is messy.  Or you might be so aware of how messy life is that you don’t want to get out of bed in the mornings.  

Parenting (and the family nucleus) is at the heart of life; so, it should NOT surprise us then that parenting too is messy.  It can feel like parenting just offers up constant contradictions and “forks in the road.”

  • How do we provide structure while also being flexible to the unpredictable realities of life?
  • How do we show the Gospel of Grace while also setting clear boundaries from an early age?
  • How do we foster a sense of the priority of our family relationships while also reaching out to those who are most lonely and marginalized in our community?
  • How do we prioritize teaching our children true and beautiful things while simultaneously exhibiting love in action and responding to the needs of others?
  • When do we give a second chance or know when to kick the rebellious teenager out of the house when their choices are so destructive it could cost them their very lives?
  • How much do we protect our children from evil and confusing messages?
  • Do we spend over our grocery budget to exclusively buy organic chicken for our children or throw packs of the “buy one get one free” deal chicken in our cart and give more the child in a 3rd world country who needs a simple meal?

The questions and dilemmas and second guessing can go on relentlessly.  And our current cultural moment, Google, and pressures are not helpful in our fight for balance (and sanity!).  What’s right for one family will probably look very different for your own.  There are guiding principles and then there’s the million of gray areas that we’ll find ourselves wading into each day as we raise our children.

Once again, life is messy and our decisions are rarely clear and come with perfect peace.  I write this from the trenches of messy parenting.  I’m not writing this post because my children are well-behaved and have proven any method “successful.”  I have two strong willed children who are sinners in need of grace.   We have read a lot of parenting books, we’re honest with other Christians about our struggles, we discipline our children, we have family devotionals when possible, we pray a lot.  Sometimes our children are delightful additions to society and our home.   But guess what?  Our children have very defiant spirits; they have slammed doors in our faces and even spit on us, and most days I feel as if I am a broken record…”Don’t use that tone, stop hitting your brother, put your shoes on the first time I ask”…And I’ll think to myself, “This is not how I envisioned my parenting to be.”

If you fit in the category of “human”, then most of your relationships, endeavors, marriages, children, jobs, bank statements, homes and health are probably also NOT going quite as you had originally planned or hoped.  I always come back to this C.S. Lewis quote, “Imagine yourself as a living house.  God comes in to rebuilt that house.  At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.  You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.  He intends to come and live in it Himself.”  

So what is hurting you right now and not making any sense?  Don’t try to compartmentalize, blame it on someone else, busy yourself, or offer up a quick solution.  God has never promised to deliver us from these trials and messes.  He also never offered quick solutions to His children.  Because the reasons these trials are in our life right now are complicated, confusing and at times utterly unexplainable from our limited points of view.  BUT He has promised to be with us.  He has promised to protect our souls eternally if we are covered in Christ’s righteousness.  He has promised us that these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”  This is messy but gloriously Hopeful.  And as Susannah wrote in her beautiful post on True Hope“The razor edge of hope is a hard place to walk.  Actually, it’s an impossible place to walk, save for the anchor tied to our souls that firmly fixes us to God.”

In your relationships and specifically your parenting, how are you doing at ultimately trusting Him?  Yes, part of trusting is being faithful with what is set before you but it is also casting all your cares and anxieties into His care. Steadfast minds and perfect peace are ours when our whole beings are trusting (Isaiah 26:3.)  How are you doing at encouraging your friends in their own messes to deal with their hearts before God before you immediately offer up advice or grumble alongside them?  Are we just offering each other a sleep training book, natural home remedy, glass of wine, or listening ear while ignoring the deeper (and sometimes more awkward question to ask!) like, “What would it look like for you to know Him more and love Him more in the middle of this mess?”

“Like everything else God calls people to, God doesn’t call people to be parents because they are able….Why would a God of perfect wisdom ask inadequate people to do such an important job?  The answer is so important to grasp.  God calls unable people to do important things because ultimately what He’s working on is not your immediate success, but that you would come to know him, to love him, to rest in his grace, and to live for his glory.”  Paul Tripp

To receive further encouragement on the messiness of life but the faithfulness of God, connect with Susannah this week on Facebook.

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The End of the Story

On October 17, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, Kathy, With 7 Comments

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Sometimes we don’t get the ending to the story that we wanted.

Sometimes it looks like death has the last say.

But that’s when we have to shut our eyes and remember that the ending to the story here isn’t the final word.

Kathy Elizabeth Bonds McDaniel didn’t have the ending to the her story that we all so desperately wanted.  That I wanted.

I didn’t want to watch an ambulance drive away with my friend and neighbor, knowing she would never step foot in her house again.

I didn’t want to walk in the lobby of a hospital, push “4” for the hospice floor, and walk into room 417 to say goodbye to a beautiful young mother of three children.

I didn’t want to get her husband’s text at 7:35am last Tuesday morning that Kathy had slipped into the arms of Jesus at 2:09am earlier that morning.  I just didn’t want to.

I didn’t want that kind of ending.

But I didn’t get to write the story.

But the One who writes all of our stories left us words to reflect on and remember, to trust and to believe, and to give our hearts great comfort and hope in the midst of great sorrows He knew would inevitably come.  These words were read at the service celebrating Kathy’s life last Friday morning: “‘Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.‘  Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?’  Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me'” (John 14:1-6).

Here is the amazing part: according to Jesus’ words in John 14, Kathy’s story is just beginning.  She left her earthly house to go to her Father’s House, to be received by her Father’s Son, Jesus, and to live the rest of eternity fully healed, fully fulfilled, made fully whole and new, redeemed and restored in His Presence.  Not a bad ending to her story.

But it’s the rest of us who are left here who have to adjust to the ending and learn to live life with one foot firmly planted in our earthly homes, the good places God has put us to grow, flourish, live, work, and bring His rule and His reign in the here and now, and with one foot firmly planted in Heaven, the Home where all those who love King Jesus and long for His appearing are headed and where Kathy is now.

I’m trying to adjust to this ending.  I’m not used to (and will I ever get used to?) Kathy’s presence missing from across the street.

And I’m not sure how to live in the wake of the ending to this story.  How do I, and how does her husband, and how do her children, and parents, and close knit community of family and friends, live in the every day reality of a story that leaves our hearts torn rather than mended?  Bruised rather than healed?  Battered rather than bandaged?

I don’t know.  But the prophet Hosea must have had to learn to walk through an ending to a story he wasn’t expecting or wanting when he wrote the words, “Come, let us return to the Lord.  For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.  He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him.  So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.  His going forth is as certain as the dawn; and He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain watering the earth” (Hosea 6:1-3).

Pressing on isn’t a magical formula.  It isn’t a magic wand waved over us that makes our hearts whole, healed, and mended from the tearing.  Pressing on is a long obedience in the same direction.  It’s an every day decision to wake up and put the right foot in front of the left foot and to walk down the path of the God who will come to us as we choose to walk in His ways and trust in His character even when we don’t understand the ending to the story.

So that’s what I’m planning to do today.  And tomorrow.  And the next day.  And the day after that.

I’m planning on putting one foot in front of the other every morning when I wake up.  I’m planning on turning to His Word and reading and soaking in its words when I’m tempted to listen to words of despair.  I’m planning on meditating on and trusting in His goodness every time I look out the front door of my house and see Kathy’s house and achingly miss her presence.  I’m planning on opening my heart wide to the pain of the ending of this story and to the pursuit of God in the midst of this story knowing that, as Kathy told me several weeks ago, “The God of the Sunrise” will come and dawn over our hearts, ushering in the grace and the power and the hope and the faith and the love that we need so that we can trust the One who wrote the story, knowing His ending and His final word will bring more healing, more grace, more goodness, more mercy, and more redemption than we could ever possibly imagine not only here, but in our Home to come.

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To receive further encouragement on learning to wait on the Lord as He writes our stories, connect with me this week on Facebook.

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My Mother’s Table: The Fall Table

On October 10, 2016, Posted by , in My Mother's Table, With 14 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about a topic that seemed to resonate with and encourage many people – the topic of the dinner table.  In our culture, in many ways, the dinner table seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs and is on its way to slow and gradual extinction.  To fight for its importance and centrality in our homes, and to encourage one another in our struggle to keep it as a regular part of our weekly rhythm and routine, I thought it would be fun to step together into the classroom of the greatest teacher I know on the subject – my mom.  

When I was growing up, it wasn’t a secret around the Ince household that my mom was an excellent cook…and I was not.  Family lore includes many stories of my mishaps in the kitchen, including the time I was left to watch the broccoli on the stove, decided to pick up the book, The Robe, and became so absorbed in its pages that not only did I burn the entire head of broccoli to a crisp but charred the entire top of the white rental house stove as well.  It took days of scrubbing to remove the blackened remains (I’m still sorry, dad).  

All that to say, a chef I am not.  I’ve always preferred books to spatulas, but my mom can turn any ingredients into a feast, and the place where she shines the brightest is in her kitchen and around her table.  So I thought my mom and I could periodically team up to do what each one of us does best – mom can set a beautiful table, cook a delicious meal, and I can put it all into words.  So, welcome to the first official entry of the blog series we’re going to call My Mother’s Table.  Each entry will consist of a menu, the recipes to go along with it, pictures of her beautiful table, directions for us to follow to make our tables beautiful as well, and a devotional thought to go along with it all (that’s my small part).

This week, we are going to pull up a chair to my mother’s fall table.  Because…it’s official…fall is here.  Well, it’s sort of here.  It’s here in Houston in a theoretical sense if not in an actual sense.  So all you fall-loving-people (myself included), pull up a seat, cut yourself a slice of pumpkin pie, and join the feast at a place where I have never failed to not only be fed, but also loved.

The Menu

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  • Cowboy Stew
  • Fresh Greens with Homemade Salad Dressing
  • Buffins (Mom’s Famous Mix Between a Biscuit and a Muffin – these are melt in your mouth delicious!)
  • Pumpkin Pie (I don’t like pumpkin pie, but I like my mom’s recipe. It’s worth trying!)

 

unnamed-23Cowboy Stew
2 lbs ground meat (beef or turkey)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cans minestrone soup (I use Progresso soup, 19 oz can)
1 52 oz can of ranch style beans (substitute black beans or kidney beans for a healthier stew)
1 can rotel tomatoes (substitute diced tomatoes for a milder flavor; can be helpful with kiddos)

Directions: brown the onion; add meat and cook until brown.  Add the rest of the ingredients, juice and all.  Heat until bubbly and enjoy!  Everyone loves this stew!

 

unnamed-10Fresh Greens and Homemade Salad Dressing
Fresh Spinach
Cherub Tomatoes
Grated Carrots
Salad Dressing: mix together 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 T balsamic vinegar, 2 T apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp dijon mustard.  Pour over salad ingredients and toss when ready to serve.

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Muffins (A Mix Between a Biscuit and a Muffin – Not Healthy But Worth Every Bite) 
2 1/4 cup Pioneer Original Baking Mix
1 1/2 sticks (gulp!) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 hefty cup of sour cream
1 T sugar

Directions: melt butter, add rest of ingredients and mix (I do this by hand).  Plop into greased muffin tins (I use coconut spray oil) and distribute batter evenly.  Cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Serve with honey, preserves, or jam.  I personally like Apple Butter for the fall.

unnamed-25Pumpkin Pie 
(This is a little different from the normal pumpkin pie because it’s not as dense, much like a custard texture.  People LOVE it!)
3 eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup solid pumpkin
1/8 tsp salt
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
2 unbaked 8-9 inch pie shells – 1 for the pie and 1 for the leaf cut outs on top.  (I use Pillsbury pie shells, found in the diary section of the grocery store.)

Directions: cream eggs, milk, and sugar.  Add remaining ingredients and mix in well.  Sprinkle sugar over the bottom of the unbaked pie shell, then pour filling into the shell.  Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Allow pie to cool before serving.

For decor on top of the pie, I use leaf cut outs from Williams-Sonoma.  Cut out the shapes from the an unbaked pie shell, and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Sprinkle the cut outs with sugar before baking.  Bake alongside of the pie at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.  After the pie cools, place them on top of the pie.

Homemade Whipped Cream
1 pint heavy whipped cream
1-2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs vanilla

Directions: pour pint of heavy whipped cream into a bowl and beat on high.  As cream thickens, gradually add 1-2 Tbs sugar and 1 Tbs vanilla.  Whip on high until the cream holds its shape.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve pumpkin pie with whipped cream with a pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon sprinkled over the top.  Delicious!  Happy Fall!

The Table – by Susan

unnamed-3The fall table might be my favorite table to put together because it represents a time of year where my family can come together after summer vacations, a time when hot weather turns cooler, and a time when orange pumpkins grace the table as decorations and in the food we eat.  Using my table to create the beauty that God has provided not only is a draw for family gatherings, but represents to me a little bit of the heavenly beauty that we will all experience together someday, in our exquisitely beautiful heavenly home where we will all feast around God’s table in perfect love and harmony.

The pieces in my fall table that I use consistently in most of my tables are: 

  • A large bowl for the centerpiece, purchased from an online site called Wisteria.  I find they have unique pieces that are reasonably priced.  I love this bowl because it’s lightweight (even though it looks heavy) and it can be used all through the year.  I just change what I put in it.unnamed-5
  • 18 inch tall candle sticks to go around the bowls.  My candle sticks are silver-plated, purchased from Pottery Barn a few years ago, but use what you like.  Pewter, terra cotta, brass…whatever you have will do or whatever your eye loves.  I’m sure Round Top has some doozies that would grace any table beautifully.  For those of you in Houston, MAI also has some nice ones if you don’t want to wait for Round Top.
  • 4 inch pillar candles to go on top of the candlesticks.  My candles are battery powered, and I purchased them from CostCo, but you can get them many places – Target, Lowe’s, Home Depot….or use the real thing.  Here in Houston, Accessory Place has a good selection of candles, as does Hobby Lobby or Michaels.
  • The votives are mercury glass purchased at Pottery Barn, but a website called Luna Bazaar usually has a good variety for an inexpensive price.  I always think that an uneven number looks best (go figure) so I have seven votives of varying shapes and sizes.  I think a variety of shapes and sizes is more interesting than having everything the same.  In some I have dried fall berries, in some little dried pumpkins (not sure if these are real pumpkins or seeds that look like pumpkins) and in some, I actually put a votive candle.  I purchased the little pumpkins at Round Top and the fall berries at an interior design store, The Accessory Place.  Most likely, you can find these or some that you like at other places like Hobby Lobby or Michaels.  Once purchased, you can place them in zip locks and save for the next year.
  • A runner for the center of the table.  This one is linen damask with leaves woven into the fabric, purchased at Williams Sonoma.  I’ve collected different runners over the years that I can change out, depending on the season.

The pieces in my fall table that change from season to season are:

  • The pumpkins in the bowl I bought at Whole Foods (a local grocery store), but Cornelius (a local nursery) has a large selection as well, with all shapes and sizes.  Put pumpkins in the bowl that have the size and color that appeal to your eye.  I also stuffed the bottom of the bowl with wadded up newspaper.  That way I had to buy fewer pumpkins.
  • The greenery comes from Hobby Lobby.  It is a garland made up of six different pieces, 26 inches total in length.  Purchase however many pieces you need for your table, and then weave the pieces between the bowl, candlesticks, votives or whatever other pieces you have.  I like this particular garland because it looks real, and Hobby Lobby always seems to have the best selection.
  • unnamed-2For the place setting I started with a dark woven oval place mat I purchased from Pottery Barn some years ago, which can be used with many different place settings.  The charger is a purchase from Hobby Lobby, a sea green color that goes with many of my plates.  The dinner plate and soup bowl were purchased at Marshalls, and the glasses are the taller french jelly glasses.  The yellow-gold linen napkins were purchased at Williams Sonoma years ago with pewter napkin rings purchased from Pottery Barn, using my everyday stainless silverware.

Most of the pieces have been purchased over the years and are things I use frequently for my table, but the key is to collect things that you love and use them for your table to create your theme, using your centerpiece to set the theme and chargers that set off the place settings.  Keep in mind that your table should reflect you.  There’s no right or wrong.  Just begin with what you have and add as you can.

The Thought – by Susannah

If I close my eyes, I can still picture the red sugar cookie tins from third grade Sunday School.  My grandmother was the Sunday School teacher (she taught third grade Sunday School for over thirty years), and each week, she made sugar cookies to take to our class.  The cookies were shaped as shepherd rods, stars, Christmas angels, fall leaves, or spring flowers and were used as the reward for those who had memorized their Scripture verse for the week.  The very first Scripture passage we memorized was Psalm 23, and if I am still enough, I can feel the warmth from her knees next to mine, see her gentle eyes under brown rimmed glasses looking at mine, quietly and lovingly helping me to remember the words.

“The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil,
For You are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”
Psalm 23:1-6

Thanks to my grandmother and her red-tinned sugar cookies, those words have followed me over the terrain of the last four decades of my life.  They have followed me through the valley of a broken engagement and two miscarriages.  They have held me through college years and child-raising years.  They have guided me through strong friendships and broken friendships.  They have nourished me through times of hurry and times of rest.  And they are now holding me through a season of watching a dear friend with cancer pass from this life to the next, leaving her three young children and husband behind.  Those words, perhaps more than any others in the Bible, have made the reality of the Shepherd’s presence near and almost tangible.  Why?

I think it is because the words of the Psalm create a table not out of the Psalmist’s troubles, but in the midst of his troubles.  This Psalm is a meant as a table in the wilderness for those who are on the way, rather than for those who have found their way.

And isn’t that what all good tables do for those who sit around them?  They do not so much eliminate people’s enemies as they make a place for people in the midst of their enemies.  That’s what my mother’s table did for me.  It didn’t take away the hardships of high school, but it provided a consistent haven in the midst of them.

Does your family and community experience regular nourishment and nurture like that around your table?  Do you open the doors of your home to weary pilgrims on the way who need a place to be refreshed from the enemies that war on their soul on a daily basis within and without?

The people around our table don’t so much need to know that we can make every enemy go away and vanish (you might think they need that, but they don’t).  What they need to know is that when the enemies of life come (and they invariably will), their place at the table is secure.

And if you have young children, the lessons they learn from your table now, in the present, will transfer to what they understand and know about the table of the Lord in the future.  There will be a day they will walk out the front door of your house to create their own homes and their own tables.  But the place you secured for them at your table will be a place they will carry for the rest of their lives in the hearts. And however they sat at your table will be the way they most easily and naturally sit at the table of the Lord.

Take a few moments today or this week to sit down and reflect on your table.  What are the messages most consistently communicated to those who sit around your table?  Are they messages of consistent, covenantal love…or conditional love?  Are they messages of mercy and forgiveness…or grudges and bitterness?  Are they messages of joy and peace…or anger and stony silence?  Spend some time this week thinking through how you can craft consistent messages of love to those who sit around your table, much as the Good Shepherd and Host of Psalm 23 has crafted messages of mercy, faithful, covenantal love for you at His table.  Here is a prayer to help you start:

Lord, the table You have entrusted to me is sacred space.  Around it, You have brought specific people who need specific, tangible reminders of your constant, unconditional, covenantal love when walking through the wilderness.  Give me the wisdom to know that every time I act as Hostess at my table, I am standing in Your shoes, giving people a taste of Heaven and of their Home to come.  Help me not to take my role lightly or to treat it flippantly, but to give great thought to the tone of my table, the love it communicates, and the healing it brings.  Don’t let me shun the role of a servant in my home, but enable me to take on the role of a servant, in order to make room for the Shepherd to heal and restore people’s souls.  Begin today with restoring my soul at Your table, so that my table may be used in Jesus’ Name to restore others. It is in Jesus’ Name that I pray, Amen.

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To receive further encouragement on the kind of tables we want to set in our hearts and homes, connect with me this week on Facebook.

On the Way

On October 3, 2016, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 2 Comments

Today, we have the privilege of hearing again from my friend, Margaret Austin, wife to Thomas, mother of three beautiful, young children.  To read more about Margaret from a previous post click here.  Otherwise, sit back and enjoy another perspective on hope when Jesus heals us maybe not as we had expected or hoped He would, but along the way of whatever road He has called us to walk, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

Jesus Cleanses Ten Lepers Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  When He saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice;  and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And He said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In a recent bible study, one of the writers highlighted those verses that read “and as they went they were cleansed.” I have been thinking over those verses all week. I’d never noticed them before – most sermons or children’s bibles highlight the importance of the one Samaritan leper returning to thank Jesus. While the lesson on thankfulness is surely a crucial part of the story, I cannot shake the line “and as they went they were cleansed.” Jesus could have healed the 10 lepers right there on the spot with a word, a touch, a look, or simply a thought. But He didn’t. He told them to “go and show themselves to the priests.” And based on my research, they didn’t even have to go all the way to the priests. They were healed “as they went,” or “on the way,” so they knew without a doubt that Jesus had done this thing for them. Why do these words resonate with me so much?

My husband works in a very uncertain business. The life of a professional football player is extremely uncertain, and the life of a football coach is only a shade less so. I recently googled Thomas when I was helping him look for a headshot for a school assignment, and this is the complete list of his transactions in the NFL – starting with the most recent and ending with his first contract with the Minnesota Vikings.

Waived by the Colts on August 31, 2014.
Signed by the Colts as free agent on August 8, 2014.
Released by the Colts on June 10, 2014.
Signed by the Colts to a reserve/future contract on January 13, 2014.
Signed to the Colts practice squad on December 26, 2013.
Released by the Colts on December 24, 2013.
Signed to the Colts 53-man roster on December 21, 2013.
Signed to the Colts practice squad on October 28, 2013.
Released from the Colts practice squad on October 1, 2013.
Signed to the Colts practice squad on September 1, 2013.
Released by the Colts on August 31, 2013.
Signed by the Colts as a free agent on August 1, 2013.
Released by the Carolina Panthers on July 22, 2013.
Signed to the Panthers 53-man roster on December 4, 2012.
Signed to the Carolina practice squad on November 6, 2012.
Released by the Panthers on November 2, 2012.
Signed by Carolina as a free agent on October 11, 2012.
Released from the New England Patriots practice squad on October 3, 2012.
Signed to the Patriots practice squad on September 1, 2012.
Released from the Houston Texans on August 26, 2012.
Acquired from waivers by the Texans on September 4, 2011.
Released by New England on September 3, 2011.
Signed by the Patriots on January 19, 2011.
Signed to the New England practice squad on September 29, 2010.
Released from the Minnesota Vikings practice squad on September 6, 2010.
Signed to the Vikings practice squad on September 5, 2010.
Released by Minnesota on September 4, 2010.
Signed by the Vikings as an undrafted free agent on April 25, 2010.

hope you didn’t miss that time he was cut on Christmas Eve! That was a dark day in our household and I didn’t have kind words to say about very many people. But I digress.

What does getting signed/released that many times in the NFL have to do with the 10 lepers? Our NFL prayers were never answered the way we thought they should be. Jesus didn’t just immediately touch us and give us success. Thomas never got a big contract, lots of playing time, or a fabulous platform to proclaim the name of Jesus. (Many of our friends in the NFL have that kind of platform, and I am so very grateful that they have it and use it for the glory of God.) But we never had that, and for awhile it really confused me. Were we sinning, that this was kept from us? Did we need more faith to attain success at the next level? If I’m honest, it felt like God was dangling a carrot in front of us and then would whisk it away at the last second, just as it seemed things were about to fall into place.

But as we went, we were cleansed.

God kept opening doors for Thomas in the NFL. And we kept walking through them, even though it felt ridiculous and uncertain and uncomfortable. And God used those times in our lives to sanctify us – to make us more like Him, to draw us to Himself, to cleanse us. We met countless believers along the way who opened their homes to us. I especially witnessed and learned the art of hospitality from more women than I could ever count (Susannah being one of them!).  Thomas watched men lead on the field, both good and bad, and took mental notes that will last him a lifetime.  He experienced many failures that have molded him and shaped him more than we may even realize.

We aren’t sure what God will lead us to after Thomas graduates from his masters program at Clemson in December, but I pray that we will continue to go forth as God calls us to be cleansed. Sometimes the cleansing scares me, because Jesus calls us to walk on down the road. We can’t always stay there with Him and just ask Him to simply touch us in order to heal us, even though that would be the more comfortable, preferable option. No, He calls us to move out in faith over and over again throughout our lives. But we cling to the hope that as we go, we will be cleansed.

How is God calling you to walk down the road in faith in order that He may cleanse you? Are there things that God is calling you to that are uncomfortable?

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For continued encouragement this week in continuing on in the way where Christ has asked you to follow, follow Susannah here on Facebook.