What is Family?

I am exhausted.  Dead dog tired.  My back hurts, my feet hurt, my legs hurt, my head hurts.  I have absolutely poured sweat today, seasoned fish for the first time in my life, run around in the pouring rain, and have eaten zucchini pie.

It’s been a great day.

Today we had a picnic with our sister church, Rising Sun Baptist Church.  Our church, Seaford Baptist, was invited by Rising Sun Baptist to join them in their annual church picnic.  Last spring, I was asked to join two other friends from my church to join their committee to help plan this event.

I love my church.  And I love the people of Rising Sun.  And I love it when our churches come together.

But, I will admit that when I think of picnic, I picture a 2 hour event, 3 hours tops.  Eat some hot dogs, some hamburgers, some delicious desserts and go home.  How hard could that be?

Well, friends, what I found out during our first planning meeting was that Rising Sun does not have an annual church picnic.  They have an annual church PICNIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Meaning…….

Set up starts at 8:00 am.  Picnic starts at noon and goes to 6pm.  And, this isn’t just hamburgers and hotdogs.  No, we are talking that plus chicken, crabs, fish, wings, and more sides and desserts then you can even begin to fathom.  Plus an amazing D.J., music, tug-of-war (be sure to check out the video above!), Bounce Houses, give-aways, decorations, games, face-painting, kettle corn, and I seriously can’t think of all the rest of the list at the moment.

It’s been a great day.

Sure, it was hot and sticky, then wet and rainy.  But who cares?

Because we were with family.

At one point, I paused long enough to take in what was going on around me, and I was amazed.  I shouldn’t be, though.  Because what I was observing was family.  It was brothers and sisters, in Christ, working together, playing together, laughing together, and doing life together.

It was Romans 12:5, put into action:  So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

One body.  In Christ.  Brothers.  Sisters.  Family

I saw this clearly worked out my own, little family’s life this week, up close.  My oldest son has wanted to enlist in the Navy after high school from the moment he joined JROTC his freshman year.  After 4 years of this dream, it became a reality for him yesterday, when he traveled to Fort Lee, VA and was processed into the military.

When we first started down this road seriously, it was a bumpy ride.  Not knowing anything about the process or what was involved, I was of absolutely no help to my boy.  I drove him one day after school to the recruiter’s office.  Tim was so nervous.  He wore his JROTC uniform and was a wreck.  And it wasn’t a pleasant experience.  In fact, it was downright discouraging.

I was at a loss as to how to help my son achieve his dream and goal.

In stepped a Navy Master Sergeant from our church family.  This man not only advised us on what to do, he got involved, walking Tim through every step of the process.  We learned so much from him that we would have never known.  And, after Tim scored extremely well on his ASVAB test at school, this MSgt. accompanied Tim back to the recruiter’s office.  When we ran into a medical bump alone the way, he explained the reason behind it and encouraged Tim to keep going.  Once Tim was medically cleared and his date for processing was set, this gentleman took an entire day off of work, drove up to Richmond to the processing center early in the morning and patiently waited for Tim.  I couldn’t be there because of work; but I wouldn’t have been any use to Tim any way.  Tim’s mentor was able to advise Tim throughout the job assigning stage, he was able to ask questions that I wouldn’t have even known to ask, and he was able to see Tim all the way through to his ceremonial swearing-in.

And, he has assured Tim that he will follow-up with the recruiter to make sure things keep moving forward.  He helped my boy achieve his dream–his calling.

That, my friends, is what church family does.   When there is a need that can be met, they step up to the plate.  When there is someone hurting, they are cared for.  When there is something to rejoice over, they join in that rejoicing.

And when there is good food to eat, they do that together, too.

Seaford Baptist has been family to my family.  Rising Sun Baptist Church has been family to my family.  Zion United Methodist Church has been family to my family (we live in their parsonage).  And Yorkminster Presbyterian Church has been family to my family.  And other churches, too.  And I pray that I and my crew have been family to them as well.

And Christ has been the foundation of it all.

And not just the foundation, but the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-20:  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

The whole structure….being joined together….growing into a holy temple in the Lord.  A dwelling place for God.

That is family.

Together We Point to Christ.

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The Missing Out: Who is Enough? (Plus a Fall Update on the Duffer Crew)

Mark soccer

Wow.

I don’t know about you guys, but September has hit our house with the force of a Cat 5 hurricane.  No joke.

School for my smalls and oldest girl, School supply lists, Work contracts, Fall Soccer Season, New classes at church, Christmas Musical rehearsals, Church Picnic, MEPs and Navy Enlistment for Tim, writing deadlines, Bridal Showers, Board Meeting work—and a zillion other things, from now through the end of the year.  It looks like someone has bled all over our calendar.

In spite of the busyness, the Duffer crew seems to be off to a good start to this new school year.  My college girl’s entire semester was paid for by a Pell Grant, including her books.  Which is great, because she is working full-time, stuffing in as many hours of school that she can this semester, and starting to talk about the “future”.  :)

My biggest boy goes to MEPs (Military Entrance Processing Station) in Richmond, VA this week to get his eyes checked and to walk like a duck (not kidding).  If he passes that process, he will unofficially “Swear-In” to the Navy Thursday and get his dates for shipping out to Boot Camp.  Yep.  Proud.

My Sophomore is off to a good start for the school year–seems to like his classes so far, especially AP Psych (kinda like his momma).  He has told me that he is smarter than everyone else in his World History class.  I have dutifully told him that he is full of himself and that God does not appreciate pride or gloating.  He, being 15, didn’t hear a word I said I don’t think, because he still thinks he is the smartest (which I plan to hold over his head when he brings home his first B or C in that class).  He started Fall Soccer today in 1,000 degree heat, and I also took him to practice driving today for the first time.

Um, yeah, about that:  It took both of us approximately 10 minutes to figure out that his foot needed to be pressing the brake pedal in order to put the car in drive.  Nice.

My baby had a rough couple of first days, but the end of the week seemed to go better.  She’s adjusting to life as a freshman, and has declared most of her classes as “boring”.  I’m sure she will survive.  Chorus is definitely her passion and highlight of the school day.  She pours hours into her music.  She’s so funny, though—she refuses to ride her brother’s bus, which picks him up right here in front of our house.  She says it’s not because of her brother, but because of her brother’s friends, which makes me want to chuckle.   Is she  supposed to ride that bus that picks kids up several blocks away from our house?  No.  But, hey, if it gets her to the high school and the bus driver doesn’t notice and I don’t have to take her, then all is well in the Duffer household.

We are well.  God is merciful.

Like you read above, though, Fall Soccer started today.  I am determined to use my time wisely during soccer practices to exercise instead of sitting and watching, bored (did I just say that?  Why yes, I did.  I love watching my boy play the game, but drills?  Not so much).  I took off walking in the miserable heat, around the fields that the smalls were playing on.  I rounded the line of fields, now walking on the back sides of the fields.  4 fields down, I approached my boys field.

He was standing there in his green t-shirt, tall, lanky, intently listening to his coach introduce himself and his passion for soccer.  I could see my boy was hanging on every word.  And, briefly, I lost my breath in a moment of intense grief.

You see, soccer has ALWAYS been a part of our life.  Always.  As young, new parents, we couldn’t wait to place our oldest in rec soccer as soon as she hit 3 or 4, or whatever the age was.  Signed her up the very first day.  Put her pink AYSO jersey on her, which was WAY to big.  We were sure we had our first soccer star.  Actually, she took to it like a fish takes to land.  She spent the majority of her first game sitting down in front of the goal with her new “best friend”, picking clover.  Not her sport.  Bring on gymnastics and swim team.

Our second, a son–surely he would be our soccer lover!  But, alas, it was not to be.  Tee-ball, yes.  Soccer, no.  Exercise-induced Asthma meant miserable practices and games.

But their father, who has a passion for soccer, (played, coached, and refereed throughout high school and college), was always their coach.  Always.  No matter what.  Actually–for all their teams (except gymnastics and a brief Upward Basketball Cheer-leading foray for my oldest).  Soccer, Tee-ball, Upwards Basketball, even assisting in Volleyball–he was always there for them.  Instructing, coaching, cheering, pushing, teaching.

And then the third child came along.  A boy.  And yes, he was given a soccer ball before we even left the hospital.

The difference is, soccer took with him.  Really took.  He loved AYSO.  He loved pick-up games with his friends.  He loves Youth Rec Soccer.  He loves kicking the ball outside up against the church wall or over our house, all by himself.

But, he misses his coach.

So, when I approached his field today and saw him listening to his latest coach, there was fresh grief.  Grief for what will never be.  For what he is missing out in the world of Father/Son experiences.  He’s had great coaches.  Amazing coaches, over the past 5 years since his father was incarcerated.  His first coach following that event was incredible, and we are still in touch with that family.  They met a huge need in his life at that time.  As have all his other coaches.

But he still misses his dad.  Coaching him.  Teaching him.  To dribble, to shoot, to do Algebra, to drive.  All those things that are not possible, because of sin.  Because of crime.

And I hurt for my boy.  And, in a strange way, for his father as well.

But you know what?  That grief is greatly overshadowed by real joy.  It’s true.  Joy in knowing that my boy could have said “I give up.  I want nothing to do with soccer.  Nothing to do with disciplining my body and perfecting my defense.”  He didn’t say that.  Yes, we had some HARD conversations over his deep sadness over not having his dad as his coach, and whether he was going to continue playing the game, in those early seasons.  But he chose NOT to give up the game he loves.

Just because life isn’t the way it should be or the way you want it to be, you have to keep moving.  My boy taught me that–something I needed to learn desperately.  He taught me perseverance.  And I am better because of the example that he has been, to me, in his passion for soccer.

But, even more than that, I find real joy in knowing my son is not alone.  He knows God.  And God knows him.  How many times have I prayed Psalm 68:5 for my crew over the past 5 years?

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation.

Mark has a heavenly Father who will never abandon nor forsake him.  Ever.  That’s not nothing.  And, God provides through men like his soccer coaches, who give him rides,  who push him to give his very best.  And men like our landlord from the church we rent from, who teaches Mark about mechanical things and has him go with him to mow senior adult’s yards.  And men like our student pastor at church, who randomly invites him to hang out with him and some college guys at Cook-Out after a church event.  Or men like my oldest son’s military mentor, who has walked with him every step of this enlistment process, and will be taking a day off of work this week to go with him to MEPs for his processing procedure.

That, my friends, makes the difference in a young man’s life.  Particularly when that young man is among the fatherless.  And there are so many who do not have that in their lives, who need it.  Desperately.  They are your neighbors.  Your friend’s friends.  Youth in your church.  Kids on the team you coach.  A “Good job!” or an invitation to mow a yard or hang-out at Quaker State goes a long way.

So, once again, I am in awe tonight.  In awe of God’s provision of grace for my crew and I.  For the way that He has not abandoned us, even in our darkest times.  Even in the nights that my children have asked heartbreaking questions for which I have no answer except for God.  And even though, at the time I know that’s not necessarily the answer they want to hear, in the long run, it is the answer they need more than anything.  Because He is who they need more than anything.  He is who I need, more than anything.

Jared Wilson, in “The Wonder-Working God” writes this:  “The miracles show us that Jesus is enough.”  Yes, true.  But I’d go one step further to say this:

Everyday, even the ordinary, dark, joyful, grief-ridden, exhausting, or exuberant days show us that Jesus is enough.

Matthew 16:15 reads: He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

I, and my crew, are learning to answer “You are enough.  That’s who you are, Jesus.”

 

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Miracles: The Current Beneath—A Book Review

Wonder Working God

What are miracles, really? Sure, we read about them in the New Testament–the healing of the blind, the resurrection of Lazarus, the casting out of demons–all performed by Jesus, the Son of God. And yes, the are striking. Astonishing, actually. But they tend, at least for me, to raise more questions than answers.

Such as “Why did Jesus use spit on a couple of occasions?” and “Why did He choose to heal seemingly selectively as opposed to every person during that time who needed healing?” and the biggie–“Why don’t we see such astonishing acts today?”

Jared Wilson, author of The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles, does exactly what his title suggests–he shows us the glory of Jesus, the Son of God, through the miracles that He performed. And it is a brilliant glory. Nearly blinding, in and of itself.

I received this review copy of this book from Crossway Publishers. I was unsure of what I was looking for in reading it. I found out that I wasn’t looking for something–I was looking for someone.

Wilson walks us through, chapter by chapter, several miracles. Miracles that, if you are familiar with Sunday School, then you’ve probably heard before. But Wilson also dusts off the accumulated layers of time and repetitiveness to offer a fresh look at not only the actual event, but the underlying current that courses through each event. No, he doesn’t add extra-biblical insight into these wonders. Instead, he points us to see what is truly there: Jesus.

In fact, His last chapter, titled “The Singular Miracle of the Eternally Begotten” is about the greatest miracle of all. Jesus, Himself. And as I read that chapter, I was woefully reminded how often I forget–or rather, do not even comprehend–the fact that Jesus is a miracle. The greatest miracle. And if we can’t grasp that, then none of his other miracles make any sense.

Wilson’s writing didn’t answer my “biggie” question, of why we don’t see such blatant miracles today that we read about in Scripture. But, then again, in reading his book, that question of mine actually shrank just a bit. Scripture is truth. And so I found my “biggie” question slowly overshadowed by the sheer awe of who Jesus was and is today, and who He will continue to be in the future. He is the Miracle of the Eternally Begotten. And as such, I was deeply convicted by this paragraph in Wilson’s Conclusion:

“Our boredom at any time, then, is a sin. Sin is, at its essence, a failure of worship, and failing to worship is failing to be astonished by the presence and activity of God in the world. Sin is a failure to marvel at and be motivated by the miracle of the gospel.”

I do not want to fall prey to boredom, ever, in regards to the miracle of the gospel. Being reminded of who Jesus is, and that God is a Wonder-Working God, prods me to worship and marvel. As it should be.

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When Freaky Things Happen: No Place to Hide

Walgreens

I had the creepiest thing happen to me Thursday night.

Actually, it wasn’t THAT creepy.  I’ve definitely had creepier things happen.  But for some reason, this freaked me out.  Just a little.

It was a little after 8:00 pm, and I was driving home after a Picnic planning meeting.  My mind was a thousand miles away, though.  It was definitely not on driving.  I was in extreme Auto-Pilot mode.

I turned the corner off of Highway 17 onto the road that leads toward my home in Seaford.  The car was silent.  My thoughts were blaring.  But a noise cut through those blaring thoughts.  A notification from my phone, which I had carelessly tossed into the passenger seat for my drive home.  But this notification sound was unlike the ones I am used to hearing—for incoming email, or calls, or tweets, or from MapMyWalk, as friends post their exercise.  Nope, this notification I had never heard before, and–admittedly–I jumped just a bit.

I grabbed by phone to see what created that obnoxious sound (Yeah, I know.  No lectures about not looking at my phone while driving, please).  I saw that it was from Walgreen’s (the pharmacy) of all things, and I tossed it back into the seat next to me.

When I got home, checked the notification.  What in the world did they want?  I didn’t have any prescriptions I was waiting for, and besides, I get texts when they are ready for pick-up, not notifications from Walgreen’s directly.

The message I read went something like this (I wish I had somehow saved it, so you could get a sense of its “creepiness”):

We notice that you are near a Walgreen’s Store right now!  Why don’t you stop by and see what savings and good value we have to offer you tonight!”

Whoa.  No one knew where I was.  I don’t even think my kids knew where I was Thursday night, except that I had to go to a meeting.  But Walgreen’s knew.

That’s Twilight Zone stuff right there, my friends.

Later that night, when I crawled into bed after an exhausting day of work, parenting, committee meeting, and all the other “stuff” that comprises a day, I got to thinking about that notification.  And I got to thinking about my life.  And, I got to thinking about my God.

Like I said, there are times in life where nobody knows where I am at.

Where I am at physically:

  • if I go for a drive
  • when I’ve hiked alone to deserted beaches in Hawaii
  • times that I’ve gone for walks at the park alone

Where I am at mentally:

  • times of fear
  • times of despair
  • times of thinking I am a failure

Where I am at Spiritually:

  • times when I have sinned against God and others
  • times when I have doubted His goodness
  • times when I have stubbornly and sinfully held on to unbelief
  • times of silence from God
  • ….but also times when I have been overcome with gratitude for His grace
  • times when I’ve been so overwhelmed by His presence, protection and provision that it has wrecked me

All these examples of times when no one else knows where I am.  And yet, there is one who knows and sees it all.  My God.  The God who Sees and Knows.

And, honestly, sometimes that bothers me.  It really does.  Because sometimes it would just be easier, or it seems safer, or SOMETHING—I can’t quite find the words—but to have the ability to hide from God.  To have an Invisibility Cloak, like Harry Potter.   Oh, I am self-centered enough to want Him to see and know my pain and to fix it.  But what about the times that He doesn’t fix it?  In those cases, I wish He didn’t see it, because then I find myself asking “Why??  Why God, if you see the suffering of this world, why don’t you FIX IT??”  And what do I do with that??

Or, worse still, what about the times that I openly or secretly sin against Him?  When I am ashamed of myself; of my behavior.  When I find myself shouting “Yes!” at Paul’s statement in Romans 7:15:  For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

But that’s not who God is.

And, if it was who God was, He wouldn’t be worthy of worship.

You see, it is precisely because He is a God who Sees and Knows, that I know He loves me.  That He loves me so much, that He gave His son for me.  That He gave His Son for the forgiveness of my sins–both those that are blatant and those that are done in the depths of my heart and mind.

Exodus 2:25 says this:  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

This very same God who Saw the people of Israel in their suffering and Knew, sees me in my suffering and Knows.  He Knows.

  • My deepest fears.
  • My deepest sins.
  • My deepest dreams.
  • My deepest longings.
  • My deepest needs.

A key moment,  among many key moments, in my journey toward trust and faith in God, was the realization that He Knows my name.  He knows who I am!  That fact, alone, wrecked me.  For so long I had thought that if—IF there was a God, He certainly did not know who I was.  But He does.  He knows my name.  He knows me thoroughly.  As in Psalm 139 thoroughly.  He has searched me and knows me.  And He knows you, too.  And loves you.

That, my friends, is a God who sees and Knows—and loves.

I turned off the location finder thingy on my phone.  I don’t want Walgreen’s knowing where I am.  But I will continue to fight the urge to hide from my God.  That’s a futile attempt, anyway.  A waste of energy.  Instead, I will rejoice that I am Seen, Known, and Loved.  And Forgiven.

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