Showing Up

This spring has brought me to the end of myself in so many ways. My book launch was exciting and amazing, but also intimidating. It’s hard to put yourself out there for people to judge! Then there was the general busyness of the end of school, compounded by a high-school graduation and an eighth-grade promotion. So many milestones, each of which had to be properly celebrated and mourned. As it turned out, I was also battling a vitamin deficiency that was making me more tired and fragile than usual. No wonder I wasn’t feeling quite myself.

So when our pastor said as a side note to a sermon on John 12 that Lazarus was a silent witness to Jesus’ power just be being there, I thought, that’s it! That’s where I am right now. I am weak and weary, and these days it takes everything I have just to show up.

Fortunately, sometimes just showing up is enough.

bruno-nascimento-249211-unsplash.jpg

There are times when we can be like Mary, who anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. Times when we are so filled with love for Jesus that we overflow in sacrifice and devotion. Times when we give sacrificially of our resources and our reputation to show our love. That is all noble and wonderful and satisfying, and it pleases God and draws people to him.

But sometimes we are more like Lazarus. All the passage says about him is that he was reclining with Jesus at the table, and yet the crowds came to see him. He drew a crowd just by sitting there; his presence was enough. They came not because of anything Lazarus had said or done, but because of what Jesus had done in Lazarus’s life. In fact, all we are told about Lazarus is that he was a friend of Jesus and he died after a brief illness. But that was enough. Jesus used him to reveal his resurrection power when he called him out of the tomb.

That’s what Jesus does for us, too. He calls us out of death and into life, out of darkness and into life, out of stagnation and into purpose and joy. And just like Lazarus, it isn’t about anything we did. We can’t call forth life in ourselves—we are dead in sin, and Jesus is the only one who can breathe life into our old bones.

If you belong to Jesus, you have a story to tell about his power. He has shown up in your life, and now you can honor him just by showing up for someone else. Maybe that means summoning your energy to go to church in the midst of chemo or depression or a devastating personal tragedy. Your presence there will encourage someone else--and you! Maybe that means sitting with someone who is suffering—comforting them with the comfort you have received from God. Maybe it means making a phone call or a batch of cookies or taking the kids to the park. Or maybe it means facing down the blank page and blinking cursor to write. 

ben-white-194220-unsplash.jpg

I don’t know where you are right now, but if you’re feeling empty and at the end of yourself, know that you can still testify to Jesus’ power. Just by lacing up your shoes and showing up.

Isn’t that great news? If it takes all you have just to show up today, that’s enough. Jesus can use your silent presence to draw others to himself.

You want to know what made me finally write this blog post that’s been on my mind for a few weeks—what gave me the courage to show up? Someone I’ve never met who read my book wrote me a little note of encouragement. Isn’t that sweet? She showed up for me, and now I’m showing up for you. Whom will you show up for?

constantexchange.png

Margaret West Taylor

We lost a saint this week, a nearly 101-year-old woman who was variously known as Ken Taylor’s wife, Mrs. Taylor the mother of all those kids (there were 10 of them), mom, and, to more than 100 of us (28 grandchildren, their spouses, and 79 great-grandchildren), Grandma Taylor. There are a lot of things I could say about Margaret West Taylor and her very full life of faithfully following her ever-faithful Savior, but to me the thing that keeps coming to mind is all the ways grandma showed me what my job is—as a wife, mother, church member, and friend. Her quiet example of daily, grateful obedience to her Savior taught me more than any number of well-meaning books ever could.

MWT on 99th b'day.jpg

My own mother modeled a lot of these same things, but somehow my path has more closely followed the well-worn trail of grandma’s life. For one thing, my husband has spent his career in the publishing company Ken and Margaret started. For another, though I have half as many kids as she did, somehow the large-family stories still seem to apply. We read the other night in an old Christmas letter about the vacation to Prince Edward Island on which they had to make daily stops at the hospital for rabies shots due to a skunk bite one of the children had contracted. Perhaps my tales of camping on PEI while fighting several cases of lice pale in comparison, but I feel I can relate. We also read about the time they found the vacation house locked so they sent a child in through a window. I’m pretty sure that exact thing happened to us.

I married into the Taylor family 20 years ago, so I guess that would make grandma about 80 when I met her. But through her vivid stories (she was one of the best story tellers I know!), I also knew her as a young woman, a mother, and a working woman. Here are some of the things I learned from her example.

 

1) What it means to honor your husband.

Ken Taylor, Margaret’s husband, had a lot of big, God-given dreams. Some of those dreams interfered with having a stable income. But Margaret joyfully supported her husband and shared in the ministry God had given him. When he left his stable job at Moody Publishers to start his own company, she became an expert in whatever needed to be done to keep his dream afloat. There were some lean years, and as the homemaker the bulk of finding creative ways to provide for the family fell to grandma. Nevertheless, she didn’t belittle or question grandpa’s plans. The result was a flourishing publishing company and many best-sellers, most notably the New Living Translation. Countless millions of people have been touched because of the humble, behind-the-scenes support of a loving wife.

KNT.MWT in 1970s.jpg

2) How to prioritize but not pamper your children.

Margaret always said her children were her number one priority, and I think they knew that. But she also knew how to let kids be kids. I have often needed the advice she gave one of her daughters-in-law: “well, if you don’t want to see them climbing trees, don’t watch!” I’m not willing to go as far as she did and allow my children to investigate, boil, and reconstruct for a science project the carcass of a cat, but nevertheless I do try to relax and let my kids grow into themselves without too much interference.

MWT, John, Peter, Becky, Marty on buggy.jpg

I also learned from grandma that you can have a full life after kids, a vision I need as I start watching my children leave the nest. Grandma did a lot of adventuring in her long life, and much of it was after her 10 children had grown up. This gives me hope that the next stage of my life can also be fulfilling and fun.

 

3) How to balance thrift and generosity.

I know a lot of thrifty people, and I know some generous people, but finding someone who is both is a rare treasure. No one knew how to pinch pennies like Margaret did—I remember her soaking the stamps off of reply envelopes to use for her own correspondence. Most of her possessions came from thrift stores. You would never guess from Ken and Margaret’s lifestyle that they had quite a bit of money. But they did, and they were extremely generous with it, giving huge sums of money to the Lord’s work around the world even before they cared for their own needs. Their legacy lives on today through a charitable foundation they set up more than 45 years ago to give away all the proceeds of The Living Bible and the New Living Translation. 

 

4) The true meaning of hospitality. 

Perhaps most of all, Margaret’s example of hospitality inspires and challenges me. Even in her later years, when she could no longer stand in the kitchen and had to scoot a little stool around the kitchen while she cooked, grandma still hosted people in her home weekly. And she did it even in the lean years, when there was barely enough to feed her own family, let alone guests. I don’t think people in my generation understand hospitality—the generous treatment of strangers or guests—the way grandma did. She joyfully welcomed in all the people Ken invited home, even if the planned meal was very simple and perhaps not quite enough. In those cases it was “family hold back.” I can’t even count the number—and variety—of people who have told me, upon hearing that we now live in the old Taylor homestead, “I was in that house once. Margaret had me over for dinner . . . or a shower . . . or (most likely of all) a prayer group.” We need more of that type of kindness in the world, the kind that invites others in and allows them to see the mess of a busy life and enjoy a simple meal served with love.

 

The verse Margaret chose for her gravestone is

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others.” (Mark 10:45)

What a fitting summary of her life, and may I and those of us who knew her and loved her continue to be inspired by her example of humble service to the glory of God.

Margaret West Taylor in the pink shirt, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. For those who are into math, this group is projected to number 600 by the year 2040.

Margaret West Taylor in the pink shirt, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. For those who are into math, this group is projected to number 600 by the year 2040.

10 Characteristics of God's Voice

10 Characteristics of God's Voice

We all want to hear from God. The very idea that the maker of the universe would want to have a relationship with us and speak to us is incredible! Of course we want to hear his voice. But it’s sometimes confusing. Am I hearing God’s voice, or is it my own inclinations (which are often sinful), the voice of the world, or worse yet—the voice of Satan? Here is a brief list of what God’s sounds like.

Read More

Unfinished

Unfinished

There is an end. I will one day finish my race and receive a new, perfect body. All the struggle, all the heartache, all the sin has an expiration date. Best of all, the result, this perfect finish, does not depend on me, but on God whose steadfast love endures forever. He will complete His work in me. Just as a diamond is formed through the combined force of time and pressure, so the pressures of life are a force He will use to make me beautiful.

Read More

Noses and Nostalgia

The air is heavy today with the scent of rain and fall. It’s funny how our sense of smell can instantly transport us to another time and place. One whiff of hedgerows and roses and I’m back in England. Salty sea air wafting on the breeze transports me to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Scotch pines swaying in the breeze take me to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. A particular cologne brings back all the feelings of young love because that’s what my husband wore when we were dating. The smell of cedar brings me back to days of playing in our walk-in cedar closet as a child. Gasoline and lawn clippings and burgers on the grill are all the best scents of summer. Maybe it’s no mistake that the words nostril and nostalgia are so similar.

shawna-dunsmore-237252.jpg

The funny thing is, we can’t really describe a smell the way we can describe a sight or taste or sound or feeling. It’s something you have to experience for yourself, and it’s not always an experience we choose. Scientists tell us that the sense of smell is the most direct of all our senses. As we breathe in, tiny nerves transmit information to our brains. The effect of a smell is instantaneous, unedited, and visceral. And the information that enters our brains through our noses lodges in the long-term memory section of our brain. The effects of what we breathe in without even knowing it are long-lasting and inescapable. That is why smells have the power to bring up long-buried emotions of joy or sorrow, reduce our stress, and improve our cognitive performance.

mira-bozhko-175016.jpg

Perhaps the power of scent was on Paul's mind when he wrote, “we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16). Christians have a unique smell about us. We carry with us and in us the life of the Spirit, and he creates in us rivers of living water, which carries the scent of life and growth and hope. The promise of true life.

The scent of a Christian is interpreted differently by different people, just as the smell of grass clippings makes one person think of happy summer days and another think of miserable allergies. Those who are being drawn to life in Christ know that it is the aroma of the life-giving love of God, and to them it is the smell of life. The presence of another believer transports them to the glorious home they will one day share as they live in God’s presence. It is a tangible reminder of the worldwide family that we became part of when we believed in Jesus.

roya-ann-miller-110092.jpg

Those who have turned their back on God associate Christians with judgment because a Christian’s life of love and obedience to God makes theme realize that their own life stinks of death and destruction. To them, Christians reek of death. Maybe they are not too far off, because after all we are carrying in our bodies the death of Christ, the death which brings life.

There is another aspect to the scent of a Christian—we are, in our very existence as well as in our acts of love and worship, a fragrant offering to God. The prayers we breathe out and the good deeds we do for others are like the sweet aroma of sacrificial incense wafting up to him (Leviticus 1:17). We are “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). In these ways we imitate Christ, who “has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Ephesians 5:2). Regardless of how we are viewed by those around us, the scent of life and love that clings to us as believers is pleasing to God. It is a sign that we are a living sacrifice to him, that we have offered ourselves, body and soul, in worship to the Creator.

So the next time a scent takes you by surprise and transports you like a magic carpet to another time and place, think of the aroma of your life. Are you letting Christ flow through you so that you bring the scent of life to those around you? Are your attitudes and actions a sacrifice of praise that releases a sweet aroma pleasing to the Lord?