Bibles for Seniors

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About 2 years ago, the Youth Director at our church (and my podcast buddy) A. J. Farley discovered a new way of getting the entire church involved in the lives of the teenagers in our church body. I’m pretty sure he’d say that it is challenging to find volunteers for that age group. I would counter that it’s difficult to get volunteers for any ministry–which explains why I’m always begging for help with staffing the Welcome Desk and setting up Communion. (Feel free to “comment” if you’d like to join either of my ministry teams!)

A. J. came to our Life Group meeting one day and presented his adopted idea: more-mature believers would carry Bibles for 2 years, making notes as they studied. Each carrier would also commit to learning about and praying for the student whose Bible he or she carried. At the end of the two years, each Bible-carrier would present the marked book to its owner during the recognition of the graduates. Hopefully we would all have kept this a secret, and the high-school graduate would be surprised.

This idea appealed to me on several levels.

  1. It would force me to get to know someone I might otherwise not have ever encountered.
  2. It would make me accountable to more than just God and myself for keeping up with the church’s daily Bible readings.
  3. It would give me an excuse to buy colorful pens!

The first thing I did after receiving the Bible that day was go to a craft store and purchase archival-quality pens. These would not bleed through the rice paper (in theory), would never fade, and gave me the ability to classify my notes. I designated blue for sermon notes, green for personal notes, and so forth. I liked the idea of my student knowing whose thoughts I was recording. I wanted her to be able to give more weight to what a Sunday-morning speaker would say about a passage than to what I wrote in the occasional 5:00am, blurry-eyed personal study.

Morgan was thrilled with her Bible. And not overly surprised at my over-the-top commitment to this project. She heads off to college in Washington state in the fall, and she takes with her my affection and continued daily prayers.

A. J.’s plan has worked. The first Monday after I gave Morgan her Bible (and the colorful pens), I emailed A. J. for my next student-assignment. I am already enjoying studying and praying for my 2015 graduation, as are many of the adults at NHC.

No Such Thing as a “Proverbs 31 Woman”

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This post was first published at HearTheVoice.com.

I first heard the phrase “Proverbs 31 woman” when I was in high school. I had a male friend who liked to call me that. He intended the moniker to compliment the evidence of my faith, the products of my kitchen (he loved my Magic Cookie Bars), and the way I cared for others. Five years later, after we’d both graduated from religious universities and more thoroughly studied the Old Testament, he confessed that in high school he had no idea of the context of Proverbs 31, and that I was not in fact like the woman described in that chapter. It wasn’t an insult–I agreed with him completely. I am not, and will never be, a “Proverbs 31 woman.”

Today Proverbs 31 is trending in popular Christianity. There’s a company by that name, there’s a women’s ministry that claims it, and I hear my own girlfriends quoting vv. 10-31 as some lofty goal they have for their lives:

Who can find a truly excellent woman? One who is superior in all that she is and all that she does?
    Her worth far exceeds that of rubies and expensive jewelry.
 She inspires trust, and her husband’s heart is safe with her,
    and because of her, he has every good thing.
 Every day of her life she does what is best for him,
    never anything harmful or hurtful.
 Delight attends her work and guides her fingers
    as she selects the finest wool and flax for spinning.
 She moves through the market like merchant ships
    that dock here and there in distant ports,
    finally arriving home with food she’s carried from afar.
 She rises from bed early, in the still of night,
    carefully preparing food for her family
    and providing a portion to her servants.

She has a plan. She considers some land and buys it;

    then with her earnings, she plants a vineyard.She wraps herself in strength, carries herself with confidence,
    and works hard, strengthening her arms for the task at hand.She tastes success and knows it is good,
    and under lamplight she works deep into the night.

Her hands skillfully place the unspun flax and wool on the distaff,

    and her fingers twist the spindle until thread forms.
 She reaches out to the poor
    and extends mercy to those in need.
 She is not worried about the cold or snow for her family,
    for she has clothed them all in warm, crimson coats.
 She makes her own bed linens
    and clothes herself in purple and fine cloth.
 Everyone recognizes her husband in the public square,
    and no one fails to respect him as he takes his place of leadership in the community.
 She makes linen garments and sells them in the market,
    and she supplies belts for tradesmen to carry across the sea.
 Clothed in strength and dignity, with nothing to fear,
    she smiles when she thinks about the future.
 She conducts her conversations with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is ever her concern.
 She directs the activities of her household,
    and never does she indulge in laziness.
 Her children rise up and bless her.
    Her husband, too, joins in the praise, saying:
 “There are someindeed many—women who do well in every way,
    but of all of them only you are truly excellent.”
 Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last,
    but a woman who reveres the Eternal should be praised above all others.
 Celebrate all she has achieved.
    Let all her accomplishments publicly praise her 
(The Voice).

I share these goals with my girlfriends. I want to be a woman my husband honors, a woman who is good at everything she does, and a woman who is godly. (Who doesn’t?) But God did not include this passage in the canon to command that of me, as current popular Christianity may indicate; the Teacher of Proverbs didn’t slip this poem into the book to give me a checklist of everything I’m required to do as a woman. However, I fear most Christian women interpret the passage as such a checklist today.

Whenever we read a portion of the Bible, we should consider the context of the passage.

Proverbs is a book written for young men by the “Teacher,” an unidentified older scribe. The purpose is to encourage students to seek God throughout their lives, and much of the book is concerned with the dichotomy between Wisdom and Folly. These traits are personified in Proverbs, rendered in The Voice translation as “Lady Wisdom” and “Lady Folly.” Men are encouraged throughout Proverbs to follow the path of Wisdom, which leads to God. Lady Wisdom is depicted as an unmarried woman reaching out to young suitors. She is challenged by Lady Folly, who reaches out to the same men in insidious ways. The virtues of the former and vices of the latter are emphasized in Proverbs.

The conclusion of Proverbs–this very passage my friends (and I!) claim as personal goals–is actually the conclusion to the struggle between Wisdom and Folly for the hearts of men. Here, Wisdom is pictured as a married woman; she is the winner of the struggle with Folly. The Teacher is emphasizing to his students the perks of following Wisdom: safety, success, wealth, progeny. Wisdom leads to happiness.

Ladies, Proverbs 31 is not a checklist of what we should do as married women. It is a depiction of the benefits that can come from choosing Wisdom over Folly. When you read this passage, please don’t interpret it as an unattainable goal for your life. Understand it as a vision for the life you could have when you choose Wisdom over Folly.

Anna’s Cherry Blossoms

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I’ve been away from my blog for a while. Please forgive me. As I mentioned in a previous post, Spring 2013 has been remarkably busy. The Haley family married off a brother and a sister! It’s been a season of joy–and incredible fatigue. I’m currently recovering and looking forward to the next 3 months when I’ll be finishing my manuscript for HarperCollins. (Stay tuned for that!)

The biggest project of my spring was Anna’s wedding. I know I’m not the only Haley who is saying this. She and Victor decided to get married at my church, so David and I felt responsible for making it the perfect venue for her. We are blessed with a beautiful home-away-from-home in New Heights Chapel, but any sanctuary can be improved for a wedding, right? If NHC’s sanctuary has any problem, it’s the space next to the windows over the altar. I take it back: the space isn’t a problem; it’s an opportunity!

It took 80 hours to make 5,000 cherry blossoms.

Months before her wedding, Anna had expressed a desire to have an outdoor Spring ceremony. This wasn’t practical for many reasons, but I wanted to give her that feeling even indoors. I found a blog on how to make Cherry Blossom Branches and thought I would super-size the project. It took 2 months but cost only $35 for a large hole-puncher and polyurethane.

I started by ironing  tissue paper and cutting it into 5,000 rounds. Then I took each round and rolled it into a blossom.

It took the trees about 2 hours to dry after I sprayed them
with boat-grade polyurethane.

With David’s help, I cut limbs that ranged from 7′ to 12′ tall off the trees at the back of our property. Then I pruned the limbs, set them out to dry until the leaves fell off, and sprayed them will polyurethane.

Mama graciously loaned us “Sue,” her new Subaru Outback. We laid down the seats, covered them in tarps, and took the limbs to our chapel. There David and I spent a Saturday burning our fingertips with hot glue.

The 5,000 blossoms took about 25 hours to glue onto the tree limbs.

David spent 12 hours helping me glue 5,000 blos-
soms the weekend before Anna’s wedding. What
 a husband! What a brother! What a trooper!

The result was worth the time and trouble. The finished trees were a big hit. Not only was Anna pleased with the sanctuary, but the 3 subsequent brides at NHC asked that the tress remain for their weddings. My labor of love turned into a blessing for many. What more could I ask?

A Gift of Life

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My most recent cuttings in hand-painted pots.

Today I went to a baby shower honoring a young woman at our church. The ladies of New Heights Chapel did a beautiful job decorating the party and making the soon-to-be mom feel special. She received tons of gifts, and her little boy will come home to a well-stocked nursery. I am at that point in life–early 30s–when it seems almost everyone I know is having a(nother) child. This is joyous and so much fun, but practically, babies can get expensive for us gift-givers too!

When David and I married, I bought a Jade plant. I had the idea to start a new plant from ours for each of our children. Jade plants can bloom when they reach about 30 years old, so I thought my children would look at the blooms when they turned 30 and remember how I love them and have cared for them (and their plants). This seemed doable since Jade plants are famously easy to grow (I water mine about once per month, if I remember), and are even easier to propagate. You literally pinch off the top of a branch and poke down in the soil. It roots in a couple of weeks, and voila! You have a new plant.

I still think this is a great idea, so I’m imposing it on my friends’ children. This is an economical and special gift. For each child I spend a little money on a tiny pot and paint it with his or her name. The pots probably won’t survive 30 years, but with just the right amount of neglect, the Jade will bloom for my beloved kiddos when they (or maybe their wives!) are just old enough to appreciate it.

Celebrate with a Wreath

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Jess and Thomas aren’t the only couple I know using burlap and a farm theme for their wedding. Two of my three cousins getting married this summer are doing the same thing. My mother hosted separate bridal showers for both ladies, Meagan and Beth, and decided to decorate her home using their colors–burlap and all.

I was aware of the sudden trend in burlap decor, so I told Mama I’d make a wreath for her to use at the showers. I don’t think it had occurred to her to put a wreath on her door for the events, but why not? Wreaths are symbols of celebration. We use them at Christmastime to celebrate Jesus’ birth, the Greeks awarded them to Olympians when they won competitions, and Kirsten taught us to wear them in honor of St. Lucia’s Day. Why not celebrate coming nuptials with a wedding-themed wreath?

My burlap-and-hydrangea wreath

You don’t have to search the internet very long to find instructions on how to make one of these. I ended up following the instructions in this blog. Meagan’s colors are “burlap and coral,” so I thought this was a fitting welcome into Mama’s house. The ladies loved it, and Mama used it as-is for Beth’s shower too. That time she placed it on the inside of the door into her sunroom so we could really enjoy it!

Back at my house, the silk-flower wreath I’d used on the front door for the past 5 years during spring was looking faded and sad, so I knew it was time for a new one. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any money to spend on one. I started searching for inexpensive wreath ideas and found the coffee filter wreath. We had recently changed from our beloved KitchenAid coffee maker to a Keurig machine, so I had tons of white coffee filters in my pantry just getting dusty. Reduce clutter and decorate on the cheap? Yes, please!

No need for coffee filters to go to waste.

The whole project took less than a day and cost me about $3. I started with the instructions at Fox Hollow Cottage, and then I did my own thing. I made one trip to Hobby Lobby where I bought a $2 spool of ribbon (to make the bow and to hang it by) and a $1 embroidery hoop (to glue the filters to). When I got home, I dipped some of my coffee filters in yellow food dye I already had and let them dry. That night while Daddy and David were at a Predators game, I sat in my living room floor, watched a chic flick, and made the wreath. Voila!

This spring creation is just soft enough to work for Emmalee’s baby shower, which I’m hosting here in May. I hope this wreath is as big a hit as the burlap wreath was!

Adventures in Pruning

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Stay tuned to see if I can successfully transplant these
around our new deck before Emmalee’s shower!

Last night David caught me in a rather silly situation. He was mowing the lawn–in an impressive diagonal pattern he learned from my father–and I was cutting some lilac blossoms to arrange in our house. He shut down the motor as he walked past to give me a kiss and a grin. He got a laugh instead: I was singing, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” There were no “kids jingle-belling,” and no one was yelling, “Be of good cheer!” But to me, it is the most wonderful time of the year.

This was the first chance I’d had to really enjoy spring, although it wasn’t my first chance to prune blossoms. Two days prior to my brother-in-law’s wedding, I received a frantic call from my mother-in-law requiring my help decorating the ceremony site of his wedding. Something had happened regarding the florist; just what that was remains unclear today. I committed to bringing potted hydrangeas and cuttings of blooming Red Bud and Hawthorn trees. There our adventure began.

The day of the rehearsal dinner, David and I got up early. The night before we’d had a significant storm, and hail had not been kind to my young Red Bud and Hawthorn trees. My plans of decorating Thomas and Jess’s wedding site with our own cuttings was history. But blessed with a Master Gardener named Kristin in our church family, I had an idea of how to solve the flower crisis. Kristin is one of the kindest people I know. The success she has cultivating her beautiful gardens (and even more beautiful family) must be due to her own sweet spirit and to her beloved Holy Spirit. She offered us her blossoms. She trusted us to prune from her trees while she was at work. I am eternally grateful.

Hawthorn and Tulip Magnolia cuttings now resting–and wilting–in the trunk of our Civic, David and I set out to find blooming hydrangeas. Silly me thought this would be easy. WRONG.  We went to every home improvement store in Murfreesboro and 2 nurseries. No hydrangeas. Apparently we were 2 days too early. Plan B? Grocery stores. Publix had them, so we hit 3 different Publix stores and bought all they had.

Hawthorn cuttings? check.

Potted hydrangeas? check.

The bucketful of cuttings took my usual place in the
passenger’s seat.

Red Bud cuttings? David had an idea with which I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable. He dropped me and the accumulated flowers at home, and he set off for the country. I’m not exactly sure where he went, but 30 minutes later my hero returned with more Red Bud blossoms than our entire tree had held the night before the hail storm.

Three hours early, David and I went to the rehearsal dinner. He drove 30 minutes with branches poking him, and I sneezed my way there surrounded by hydrangeas and fighting car sickness.

My centerpiece for the Rehearsal Dinner, styled by Rebekah.

Our work was worth it. Even Thomas said that the prettiest part of the Rehearsal Dinner was the centerpiece that didn’t cost him any money–unlike those pesky $400 chair rentals! David and I stayed mum about our adventure. 🙂

Congratulations and Best Wishes to Thomas and Jessica! I am oh-so happy to welcome Jess to our family.

“All the Matriarchs Were Infertile”

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Originally published at HearTheVoice.com.

My elder said it, my best friend said it, and—to her absolute horror today—my mother said it. Before I struggled with infertility, I have no doubt that I cavalierly said it to some of my friends, too: “Sarah was ninety years old before she had Isaac.” That seems to be the gut reaction whenever you tell your Christian friends that you’re having trouble getting pregnant. To be fair, there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better. All your loved ones want to do is bolster your faith by reminding you that you’re in good company, that the heroines of our faith had the same heartache that you do.

Consider some of the women in the Bible who struggled with infertility: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth. What do all these women have in common? God “blessed” them with children. And that’s great. In most cases it was miraculous! God looked down from heaven, saw their struggles, loved them, and blessed them with children. Sons, in fact. They all get the happiest of endings in the time it takes to read about three verses of Scripture. This is inspiring, right? This is why our loved ones reference them so readily.

The next time someone tells you about Sarah or Hannah, try to remember that response is coming from a place of love. Then smile tolerantly and forget it! The Bible was not written by women. If it had been, then we’d know more about these women’s day-to-day struggles and not go straight to the resolution of their stories. The matriarchs are minor characters in God’s redemptive story. The miracles of their pregnancies have more to do with the babies they had than the women they were. As a result, their stories don’t offer us modern infertility patients very much help.

The most inspiring woman in the Bible, to me, is granted three verses of Scripture. Anna was the wife of a temple priest, and she did not have children. She went to the temple courtyard every day, and she prayed. Because of her faithfulness, God promised she’d see the Christ child before she died. At eighty-six years old, Anna was doing her habitual morning prayer when Mary and Joseph walked in with eight-day-old Jesus. She saw (or maybe held?) the baby, she blessed Him, and then she died. That’s all we know!

At that very moment, an elderly woman named Anna stepped forward. Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for seven years before her husband died and a widow to her current age of 84 years. She was deeply devoted to the Lord, constantly in the temple, fasting and praying. When she approached Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, she began speaking out thanks to God, and she continued spreading the word about Jesus to all those who shared her hope for the rescue of Jerusalem.  (Luke 2:36–38, The Voice)

Just like the matriarchs’, Anna’s story isn’t about Anna. Luke didn’t put it there so infertile woman could identify with her. Her story is in the gospel because she identified Jesus as the Messiah. The fact that she was childless is ancillary. I wish I knew more about her. I wish I knew how she survived month after month of disappointment. I wonder if she was ever pregnant. Did she have a miscarriage? Did she have a baby and then lose him or her to illness?

Anna teaches us something very important. Her three verses of Scripture prove that children are not a reward for a woman’s faithfulness to God. That may not be the primary point of the Scripture, but I know the Holy Spirit slipped the detail in there to give me hope when I needed it most.

A Fishy Saturday (Part 3 of 3)

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Daddy loved the oysters almost as much as
being served all night!

The problem with seafood meals is that you must eat everything as it is ready. You can’t keep fish warm without overcooking it. That means fish isn’t the best thing to serve when you have company over if you want to be a part of the party. My parents arrived about 5:15, just as David put the oysters in the oven and I was making the roux for the chowder. Daddy sat down at the table and chatted while Mama ran around helping us. We wouldn’t leave the kitchen for the whole evening.

The dinner was haphazard but delicious. After every course I’d jump up from the table and run to the kitchen to plate the next dish. The chowder took longer to cook than we anticipated, so we ended up having our soup after the main course. Nontraditional, sure, but it allowed us to eat everything exactly when it was ready.

By the time we’d finished eating about 7:15, none of us wanted to move.

So we stayed there…and played Canasta! Mama and I dominated for the first 4 rounds, but the boys had a major comeback on the last hand and won it all. At the start of that last hand, we ate Mama’s Chocolate-Cheese Pie. Amazing! It was a brownie-cheesecake hybrid cooked in a pie plate without a crust. It helped sooth our unexpected loss of the game and capped off the evening perfectly.

A Fishy Saturday (Part 1 of 3)

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Today has not gone as planned. David and I like to head to our favorite local coffee shop, Jozoara, and hang out while I do a little blogging and he reads…over my shoulder. It’s become a nice Saturday tradition that I look forward to. Oatmeal, their Local Latte, and writing.

Before we could go to Jozoara today, I had to stop by Reel Fish. This company is a fresh seafood supplier to many restaurants in Middle Tennessee, and on Fridays and Saturdays the public can buy from them too. Yesterday I went in for red snapper and little neck clams so I could make David and me a fancy dinner tonight. Their credit card reader was down, so the owner let me take the fish with a promise that I’d bring a check to him.

When we arrived check-in-hand this morning, the owner was the only person there. We chatted for awhile about our mutual love of fresh fish, and I paid him for yesterday’s food. As David and I turned to leave, he yelled, “Do you like oysters?” Duh. He went into the refrigerator and came back with a bagful of oysters and another bagful of this:

David making “spoon fish” from mahi mahi.

That’s 2 mahi mahi carcasses. He had sold the fillets of those fish to restaurants, and he planned to make “spoon fish” out of what was left. He told us to take the carcasses home and use a spoon to scrape the remaining flesh from around the spine. It would be enough meat to make “about 2 sandwiches.”

We took our smelly treasure with a smile–and a little trepidation. What on earth were we going to do with all this fish? We now had too much fresh fish to consume in one evening. Impromptu dinner party with Mama and Daddy Womack? You bet!

Stay tuned for part 2 of our culinary adventure!

Citizen of Smashville

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Daddy and me at a Predators play-off game.

I’m a lucky charm. Ask any fan in section 316 of Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, and he’ll agree. (It’s mostly hes there.)

Four years ago, my daddy went in with some coworkers and bought 2 season tickets to the Nashville Predators. I’ve always enjoyed hockey–because of The Mighty Ducks movies and a girlhood crush on Joshua Jackson–but going to the games was not much more to me than a chance to bond with Daddy. He loves almost all organized sports, but I’m more “discriminating.” Like my mother, typically I’d rather stay home and cook something fancy. Or sleep.

But I love hockey now. I can throw around terms such as icing (not on cakes), charging (not on a credit card), boarding (not on an airplane), and hip check (not my move in an Ann Taylor 3-way mirror) just as well as all those big guys in jerseys smushed into the tiny chairs all around me. I have not, however, adopted their foul language and generally sour attitudes toward the refs. I’m a very ladylike hockey fan. I just sit there quietly, biting my nails until the Preds score. 🙂

Predators v. Red Wings

I think all the fans of 316 are thankful whenever they see Daddy walk in with me instead of with my husband, David. This is for two reasons: I don’t have to “smush” in between them as my 6’1″ husband does, and more importantly, the Predators have NEVER lost when I’ve been in the audience. Yes, there have been a few close calls in OT, but they’ve always pulled it out with the incredible goal tending of Pekke Rinne.

We tested my powers once last year. Daddy and David were at the game, and I was home doing laundry. (I bet Mama was cooking something fancy or sleeping…) The game came on a different channel than usual, so I was watching a movie and ironing, thinking it had been blacked out. David called me just before the 3rd period to tell me that they were losing. Badly. I hunted for the channel, eventually found it, and watched from home. Apparently my superpowers are affected by distance. I was able to will them to a tie that night, but not a win.

This begs the question, Why does Daddy bother taking anyone other than me with him?