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Cutting for Stone

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Entries in Joshua (17)



Impermanence means the property of not existing for indefinitely long durations. Everything in this world rises, and everything passes. 

Ecclesiastes says it differently: 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born , and a time to die ; a time to plant , and a time to pluck up that which is planted ; A time to kill , and a time to heal ; a time to break down , and a time to build up ; A time to weep , and a time to laugh ; a time to mourn , and a time to dance ; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace , and a time to refrain from embracing;  A time to get , and a time to lose ; a time to keep , and a time to cast away ; A time to rend , and a time to sew ; a time to keep silence , and a time to speak ; A time to love , and a time to hate ; a time of war, and a time of peace.

I want to fight for permanence. 

The other night I worked over the stove busily preparing our dinner. I use a black iron skillet because, well because is another story. I had about four things cooking on the stove, and I needed to take the top off of the skillet. I reached for it and hastily placed it on our island. Our kitchen island is a butcher block reminiscent of the one I grew up around. It is made of birch and beautifully calls all visitors to come round and partake of rich food and fellowship. 

Later while cleaning up after dinner, I lifted the heavy top to find a perfect black ring on the butcher block. The rest of the night my stomach knotted around a nauseated center. I even said the word out loud. “Impermanence.” I said it softly like some magical mantra could raze the stain. 

Often God uses these daily consternations to teach me something. I thought now I am going to have to go around this island the rest of my life with this stain because I was in a hurry and careless... among other things. I tried several things to erase the stain. That stain was permanent. I told Matt. He took it pretty well. Josh and Sam came in to look at it and add their two cents. We discussed the rest of our lives with the black circle hawking all the attention from the beautiful wood. 

Before bed I tried one more remedy. Lemon juice. My mama taught me a lot about laundry. If lemon juice will take a stain out of white linen, maybe I have a chance with this wood. 

In about 45 minutes the circle was broken. I came in to the kitchen to see the beautiful wood without the disfiguring circle. 

See, I want what I want. I’d like some things to be permanent and some to change. I think God gets a good laugh at my bossing from down here. And I’m grateful for the lesson on impermanence.


full heart

They grow up fast. 

This may be the understatement of all understatements. For the first time in weeks, I have all my boys under the same roof. Since they are spread out from ages 22 (Matthew) to 13 (Joshua) to 7 (Sam), we get to see our parenting change. We get evaluations from time to time from Matthew. Last night at dinner, we had an opportunity for feedback. 

Matt grilled salmon. I had agreed to cook pasta for Sam since he is not a salmon fan. We tried to convince him since it is so close to his name: Sam-man. Nonetheless, he broke down like a kid exhausted from the first week of school. 

I said, “Tell him, Matthew, what would have happened to you if you had refused to eat what we cooked.”

“Well,” he began in the seasoned voice of a story-teller, “I would have been told to eat the fish or go to bed hungry.” This did not comfort Sam at all. Still hiccupping tears, he softened his daddy. Matt agreed to cook the pasta but said it would take 15 minutes. Matthew’s brows furrowed. 

Joshua said, “Just try it, Sam. It’s been a while. You haven’t tried Dad’s grilled salmon.” 

Sam cut the tiniest piece and plopped it in his mouth unbelieving. “Bad,” he spit. 

Undaunted, Joshua said, “That piece was tiny! You need to try a bigger piece to get the taste!” 

Sam didn’ t argue but quickly scooped up the rest of the fish on his plate. Joshua screamed, “You like it!” A big grin stole Sam’s face. He could not resist the delicious fish even at the expense of his pride. 

“I knew it! You didn’t argue about eating a second bite!” Joshua said. 

We laughed exhaling relieved by a resolution to the dinner drama. I felt spared of a failing parent grade. And I relished this moment like Mary treasuring it in my heart.

Later several of Matthew’s buds came over to play a board game and then hit Nashville. I hadn’t seen these young men in some months. They kept us up with their loud hoots and occasional music streaming through the open doors when someone sneaked downstairs for one more helping of blueberry crumble. 

This morning at the busstop Sam found a leaf bug. He named it Cornbread Maxwell. Sam is the Finder at our house. If something is lost, this kid can round it up.  For the next 20 minutes the bug delighted all the kids at our busstop climbing over Sam then fluttering off to someone’s backpack. Once the bug flew over to a bike tire and nearly met an early death. Sam rescued it and held on to it for dear life. 

Guess who had to take the bug when the bus came? I happened to have chosen a green coffee mug that morning. Cornbread rode home in the mug.

Then I carefully staged a home for him in an old salsa jar. Finding the right size shell for water and putting some leaves in for food enchanged my inner child.


  This afternoon we will likely let Cornbread loose. But the beauty of the moment will live in our hearts. Is that too lofty a purpose for Cornbread? For a bite of salmon? For laughter of 20-somethings? I don’t think so. 

We are told, after all, to consider the lillies

Beauty is all around me. If I don’t open my eyes to His Presence in the Moment, I am likely to miss it. I have to open my soul to find the beauty sometimes.

Don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more. Has anyone by fussing before the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? If fussing can't even do that, why fuss at all? Walk into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They don't fuss with their appearance - but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the wildflowers, most of them never even seen, don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? "What I'm trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don't be afraid of missing out. You're my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself. Luke 12: 22-32


wait and hope

This morning, Monday, I got up and prepared for work. Scrubs on and ready to walk out the door, I received a text that my first patient had cancelled. Now I am waiting. Swim practice is cancelled for Joshua and Samuel. Our family has a tinge of cabin-fever. We have exhausted our inside activities. Boys are loud and boisterous. The picture above shows our favorite indoor activity. We are stuck inside. Again.

Wait is a four-letter word. Waiting more than any other activity shatters my illusion of control. Perhaps that is why fast-food, drive-throughs, mail-order and many other hyphenated nouns developed. We hate to wait. I hate to wait. We are parked in a holding pattern as Matt is considering a career change.

At church we are going through a series on wisdom. Yesterday we listened to Psalm 119 being read aloud by 22 different recorded voices for each of the stanzas. When Bill Wellons first mentioned his plan to have this psalm (the longest chapter in the Bible) read aloud and that it would take 15 minutes, I admit to wiggling in my chair and planning a bathroom break. But once the voices started reading, I felt riveted to my chair. They began in the soft speak of children and ended with the wisdom of older voices. I had to resist the distraction of figuring out whose voice it was on the audible. In the end, I am reminded of the water of God’s word slaking the thirst of those panting for Him.

"Wait" is used 6 times in Psalm 119. One phrase captured my curiosity: Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes (verse 83). What? 

With just  a little googling, I came to understand that phrase better. A wineskin was the skin of an animal, maybe the actual stomach, used to store wine. Gross, right? But they didn’t have the glass or Tupperware we have today and the skins worked dandily. 

If a skin was left in smoke too long, it became covered in soot, dried and shriveled. It lost its elasticity. The tents they lived in and cooked in often were filled up with smoke. To a Hebrew this made instant sense. 

David, the alleged author of this Psalm, is describing the struggle with waiting on God. The verb “to wait” is the same as “to hope” in Hebrew and in other languages like Spanish. This psalm uses both to wait and to hope in English. But in Hebrew it is the same word. Hope and wait are used almost interchangeably.

Waiting makes me feel useless, dried up, shriveled. I lose my flexability the longer I wait. Yeah. Kind of like a wineskin in smoke. 

Today I realize that waiting is more terrifying than anything. I am more afraid of waiting than I am of preparing to live in a third world country or of actually living in a third world country. I had a mission. I had instructions. I was buoyed by the illusion of feeling important. 

In waiting, I come face to face with my creaturehood. And in waiting, I am forced to decide my source of hope. 


hold fast

In the glorious 80s, I had an XXL white t-shirt with the words “CHOOSE LIFE” in bold pink covering the entire front. This phrase impacted me then as a wee Christian and now in my forties, it comes home to roost. 

Moses uttered these words to the Israelites in Moab at the end of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness as they are poised on the threshold of the Promised Land. It is called the Deuteronomic covenant or so Google tells me. And so for thousands of years, these words have been a sign post even to valley girls in the 1980s.

The passage says, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now CHOOSE LIFE so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His Voice and hold fast to Him.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I wonder how many times a day God sets before me life and death, blessings and curses. I cannot think of anything I want more than to love Him and listen to His Voice and to hold fast to Him. I want to live. I want my children to live. 

The word for hold fast is one Hebrew word - qbd or dabaq. It means to cleave. It’s the “cleave” of the old leave and cleave verse in Genesis 2:24. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” It means to cling to, stick to, stick with , follow closely, catch, keep close to, join to. 

The joining up in this case refers to the way our body parts are joined. It’s not just two things stuck together like I had thought. It is more like the way my arm is joined to my shoulder. 

Today I needed to be reminded to cling, to cleave, to hold on.

Hold. Fast. To Him. 


ordinary days

What if our days are strung together by memories hanging side by side to make a life?

This past weekend we traveled to Knoxville for a soccer tournament for Joshua. His good buddy F traveled with us. This could have been just another weekend of soccer away from home. 

Matthew lives there and attends University of Tennessee. He is finishing up his junior year. My garage is full of coffee tables and dishes he will need soon enough. This average weekend brightened considerably by his presence with us.

On Sunday after both Joshua’s and F’s teams lost, we veered off our path to show F Neyland Stadium in the heart of UT’s campus. In the south football is a religion. Neyland is the third largest stadium in the country. Now F is a die-hard Tarheels fan. We secretly committed to changing his loyalty. Who could resist this kind of devotion to football?

As we neared the stadium, we realized the gates were not locked. Quickly we ducked in. The sun shone brightly from a bluebird sky and warmed us as we sat in awe. Tennessee weather could not decide if spring or winter ruled the day. We reminisced football games of the past and how the McMurrays have already left a mark on Neyland Stadium.

At the top, we peered over the orange (what other color is there?) bars to see the ground far below. Joshua commented how easy it would be to climb those orange bars and take out on the larger steel beams. If I was Catholic, I would have crossed myself at the thought. 

“Please!” I begged, “y’all don’t ever do that.” 

They looked at me like I was crazy. I reminded them that just last summer one of them had gotten out on a roof and jumped from balcony to window. Raising boys is not for the faint of heart. 

Someone lamented that if we only had some paper we could fly paper airplanes off the top. Another spotted orange flyers from the Orange and White game of the day before. We grabbed up eight or so pages and went to folding. 

Matthew’s design - simple yet sophisticated - won the best air time. The jets dove straight down for the concrete sidewalk. One stealth design flew all the way over to the parallel roof. 

As I reflected on the weekend, this moment stood out for me. Releasing those paper flying machines off Neyland held hope and play. It was an unexpected adventure built by togetherness and creativity. 

I think it is a moment we will store in the scrapbook of our hearts. A moment strung next to the others making life.