Sunday, April 29, 2007

Dwelling Together in Unity

They've scarcely walked out the door, and I am tearfully wishing them back. We all have friends like this, I am sure (if not, I am only too sorry for you). Friends that you start on the same page each time you get together, and pick up reading the chapter you had been reading together before. Friends whose growth challenges you, and whose speech is peppered real questions and insights. There is also a level there that people scarcely reach together -- wherein your familiarity gains you ground to be utterly real, utterly comfortable, never even thinking of trying to impress, only share in gladness and joy together. Truly, this level is so ideal for Christian unity that it must reflect the glorious unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I am speaking of our dear friends Jam
es and Christen Taylor who have been with us since Thursday for an amazing visit. James ran the Derby Marathon yesterday, which is worth reading about on these 2 links. I'll merely say it was a great deal of fun to watch, and quite inspiring to my own fitness goals. Josh and I are planning to run a 5k at the end of the summer, which is such small potatoes compared to this! We were so blessed with gorgeous weather and well-behaved kids being dragged around every which way.

Today we were able to take our friends to our beloved new church, Clifton Baptist. We simply adore the caliber of worship we enjoy there, and we were quite sure James and Christen would appreciate it as well. We're so blessed that Daniel and Hannah are so used to visiting churches from being out on deputation that they immediately immersed themselves into the church as well. Daniel had a "twin friend" (same sweater), and Hannah wanted to know if she could sit by some of her friends at lunch (unfortunately, just us at lunch).

I must say, though, the highlight of these hours together was what it always has been -- long talks, doing nothing much of anything but enjoying one another's company. Christen and I had 2 lovely afternoons of sitting outside just chatting and sharing -- how pleasant to get right down to real things without any formalities of small talk -- while the kids played. I thank Jesus -- my Best of Friends -- for understanding the true pleasure we frail humans might take in being with a friend. What a slice of Him we might know by enjoying the company of a person who understands and accepts us in our weaknesses, while all the while helping us improve our faults. I do so appreciate Christen's sensitivity to gossip and slander -- a sin I guiltily pet and entertain in my own life perhaps more than any other. How refreshing to have a conversation in which you do not ever once tear another person down.

I had a blast playing with the kids, too -- for those of you who know me, my "kid cup" needs filled pretty regularly, and can hold quite a bit! Daniel and I played outside together yesterday while Hannah napped, and swapped jokes that made absolutely no sense (many of the funniest things do not!). It's great to see someone growing up, and becoming more of the person the Lord is making them to be (does that make sense?).

My cup runs over. I am only too blest.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sun-soaked Worship

Today I wish to eat the sun.

I have immersed myself in its rays as much as possible, not caring a fig for other matters that might occupy my time. It seems to have poured into my bones, giving me unusual energy and a drive to further embrace the radiant orb. I nearly wish to be pulled up to it by the strong beams it emits, making me not only feel the sun's effects with my body, but to somehow know it in my mind and soul.

I tread on borderline idolatry by saying this -- dangerous ground, I know -- but the Lord knows my heart is worshiping Him that I cannot see, while enjoying His creation that I can. The sun is such a glorious parallel to Him: central to our universe, essential to sustaining all life under its beams, drawing forth life unto itself, making all the colors and textures of earth more vibrant and detailed because of its beautiful light. I take a sunny day personally, knowing that my God whose glory shines white-hot knows that my soul sends upward an unutterable "thank you" whene're the warm beams meet my brow.

"The Heavens declare the glory of God,
the skies proclaim the works of His Hands.
Day unto day, uttereth speech,
Night unto night, showeth forth knowledge."

I always loathe it when a cloud covers my belov'd star even for just a few moments. I am patient to wait for it to reappear, and I am never so happy as when it does. So with my Father of all celestial galaxies: I cringe, shiver, and pine when His face seems to be hid from view. . . but when He shines through -- lighting me body and soul with heavenly love -- I stretch out my arms and meet Him

. . . longing to feast upon the glow of His glory

. . . and longing for those beams to pull me closer.

Friday, April 27, 2007

A Friend is Like a Good Book. . .

"Never trust anyone who has not brought a good book with them. . . " ~Lemony Snicket

Our dear friends James and Christen have come to see us! Within the first hour of catching up, we exchanged books we'd been saving for one another. I'd gotten Christen Valley of Vision, and James What Jesus Demands of the World by John Piper. They have spring birthdays, so it was a given I'd be pulling out literature for gifts. But Christen completely surprised me with a copy of The Journals of Jim Elliot autographed by Elisabeth Elliot! I'm building a collection here.

We took them out to Sweet Peas (which seems to be the place to go when we have visitors) for supper. Above is the picture Daniel took of Hannah and me in front of the BIG rooster painting. It's worth a trip to Sweet Peas just to see the huge painting (and to dine upon succulent mac and cheese!). The owner gave the kids Sweet Peas t-shirts and was so kind to them, I'm happy to put in a little plug here.

Tonight we're heading out for a big carb-filled dinner, because tomorrow James is running in the Derby Marathon, so it should be an exciting weekend!

I feel the same way about James and Christen's visit as I do a terrific book with a compelling storyline: I just never want it to end (but I know it will, and then I go back to real life).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Strong Femininity

I am always so awed when I have spent time with women who are very feminine and very strong. I was thinking that thought this morning after having an impassioned conversation with Jodi Ware about our favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot. That conversation, and those musings whet my appetite to enjoy all things girly, as I did this evening with the Pendergraph Women's Ministry. They had a spring fashion show, and I was asked to be in it. Here is a picture of me with Jaime Zetterberg (formerly Zaijcek), a girlfriend from high school who was also in the fashion show. I had looked forward to this evening because I like clothes, and I enjoy girly things like this, but I was widely impacted by the focus of the event -- inner beauty, and an outward appearance that glorifies God. Katherine Magnuson spoke about inner beauty and her friend Kenna who is going through her 4th fight against cancer. She shared how Kenna is so beautiful in her disease as she exults in her infirmity and chooses gladness in Christ. Women like that are incredible to me, and make me so proud of my gender. I know, however, that the root of strength I admire in someone like Kenna, or even someone like Debbie Kaufman -- who tonight so gleefully and glibly told me that she doesn't care what her husband decides to do after he graduates, she just wants him to be happy and fulfilled in what the Lord has for him -- is the hope they have in our Almighty, Sovereign God.

Here's a quote from an article by John Piper ("The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission"):

"The deepest root of Christian womanhood mentioned in this text is hope in God. “Holy women who hoped in God.” A Christian woman does not put her hope in her husband, or in getting a husband. She does not put her hope in her looks. She puts her hope in the promises of God. She is described in Proverbs 31:25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” She laughs at everything the future will bring and might bring, because she hopes in God.

She looks away from the troubles and miseries and obstacles of life that seem to make the future bleak, and she focuses her attention on the sovereign power and love of God who rules in heaven and does on earth whatever he pleases. She knows her Bible, and she knows her theology of the sovereignty of God, and she knows his promise that he will be with her and help her strengthen her no matter what. This is the deep, unshakable root of Christian womanhood. And Peter makes it explicit in verse 5. He is not talking about just any women. He is talking about women with unshakable biblical roots in the sovereign goodness of God—holy women who hope in God."

Being able to "laugh at time to come" (like Debbie), or gladly wage war with cancer (like Kenna), or just not take my appearance so seriously because strength and dignity are my clothing, is possible because I delight in the mercy of knowing Christ, and long to know Him more deeply -- whatever He may bring.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Good Times Weekend

So far, the less than 24 hours this weekend has been so far, we have had quite a good time. Last night, some of us had a hankering for some Krispie Kremes, and even our friends Shane and Lana were persuaded to bring their 2 girls out in their jammies to snarf up some fried goodness (Krispie Kremes taste so much BETTER at midnight!).

Thanks to Kevin
for photo-journaling the whole event. My favorite pictures are the ones he took through the donut hole. It's such a lovely frame for the photo.

This last picture is me teaching Shane's older daughter to do my signature "scary face". My sister and I have done that one since I was about 8 and invented it. We used to give each other nightmares!

Then today, Josh and I drove up to meet our former youth group to watch them participate in the regional Teens Involved Competition. It was so encouraging to be with them all, and to see them excel! My sister Nancy did a fantastic job on her special presentation (sort of a dramatic monologue). She was very well prepared, and she is gifted in public speaking. Not being shy at all has its merits! Unfortunately, my camera batteries ran out before Nancy's presentation.

I uploaded the videos of my other 2 littl
e sisters singing their solos. I was so happy with their song choices, and I just love hearing their beautiful sweet voices. Mostly, I was thinking I wanted Christen to hear what they sang, but anyone is welcome to watch my little videos here!

My favorite part of the competition, however, was the drama that the senior high team put on. I adapted John Piper's poem "The Innkeeper" to be done as a reader's theatre last Christmas, and it turned out very well. I was trying to tape their performance today, and that is when my batteries died (sorry Nanc!). I will just say that is was the best they had done it, very dramatic and rich with meaning.

Finally, Josh and I topped off the evening by watching "Thunder over Louisville" fireworks on the rooftop of Ray Parella's (Italian Restaurant where Josh works). It was lots of fun. You could see the skyline of Louisville in the distance, and the fireworks were quite lovely.

How much fun can one weekend handle?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Who wants to come?

This is a flier for the project I made for my Leadership class. It is a fun idea, but some of the info is sort of projected into the future.

Around the World in 18 Hours

A refreshing and inspiring get-away for Women

Calling ladies of all ages! Want to travel the world, experience new cultures and grow in unity with other women as you worship the God of all nations together? Then plan to attend “Around the World in 18 Hours”, an interactive, God-centered, and culturally-enlightened ladies retreat. See Gretchen Neisler to buy your passport right away!

Retreat speakers:

Misty Ferguson has worked internationally in China, Russia and most recently, Spain, where she teaches English and reaches out to Muslim immigrants from North Africa. Misty’s heart is for women and understanding world cultures. She loves art, music and food from around the world, children, coffee and used bookstores.

Julie Gunter serves with her husband Scott and twin daughters among Hindu peoples. She loves women and children and living like Christ among other cultures. She has traveled in East Asia extensively. She delights in being a mother and wife, and enjoys healthy living.

Christen Taylor is a 3rd generation missionary. She and her husband James, and their 3 children Daniel, Hannah and Jeremiah serve in Florianopolis, Brazil. Christen loves the Brazilian people and culture – including soccer! Christen will be our worship leader for the retreat.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Life is a Vapor

Life is short. . .

Today is my precious little niece's 1st birthday. She is the only grandchild in the family, the only niece I've got, and her life has been very attentively watched by at least 20 thrilled eyes . . . our little darling. . . our pride and joy!

Yet this year has fairly flown by. Just days ago, it seems, Josh and I wondered aloud to my brother and his wife "there's another person living here now!" (Have you had a similar thought, perhaps? There was not that person yet -- and then suddenly there was!). It was the biggest excitement when they would bring her down to our house (we used to inhabit the same apartment building), and she was a wonder, just by her existence. . . now she is able to create her own excitement with words, a step or two, or a laugh. I remember being utterly taken by the fact that she was a red-head -- making her special, of course! -- and now we are constantly taken by whatever outfit she is decked out in, or her hilarious expressions (the better to entertain you all with, my dears).

As amazing as it is, the next year will be even more so, bringing a birthday where the special child can speak to her guests, sing happy birthday to herself, rip open the gifts of her own accord. And then on an on. . . the birthdays will come . . . they will fly by. I know this, because I can fairly see my now 17-year-old sister Emily at her first birthday, and much like my niece, she charmed our socks off. Now Emily is grown, almost, getting ready to graduate high school, and I think to myself "where in the world has the time gone?" The little grow. The young age. It never stops, never even pauses, much as we long for it to, sometimes. If we only had it in our grasp to push pause and just bask in the beauty of how good it is right now.

It is natural for us to long for forever unchanging. We are creatures created for eternity. Our hearts fight against the pain of change, the pain of leaving things behind, because deep deep down we have such a longing for the Great Unchanging One. The Immutable Rock.

I have to tell myself not to grasp at the vapor. That's not the answer. Certainly -- squeeze that little one to pieces, and kiss her darling cheeks (whether she is 1 or 17), tell her she is precious, and beautiful and dearly loved, and embrace the blessing of the moment. But let your heart and mind rest knowing that one day . . . oh yes, on that Great Day, it will be the best. . . and He will never go away.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Delightful Invitation

Today my co-worker Shane told me that his wife got an invitation to be on the board of Pendergraph Women's Ministry. I have written about going to Pendergraph before. I appreciated the organization thoroughly and applied to be on the board next year after my first meeting. I didn't even know that Lana (Shane's wife) had applied, so I was jealous at once!

Then I came to my senses and ran to check my mail, where, I did indeed have a letter waiting for me that began: "Dear Gretchen, it is my pleasure to extend the invitation to you for the position of Hospitality on the Pendergraph Women's Ministry Board for the upcoming year!"

I was delighted! They wanted me! And Lana and I were both on the board, so I not only already knew someone there, but now I would for sure see Lana regularly, and I like her very much. Only later, reflecting on my invitation, did it don on me that it was pretty selfish of me to be jealous of Lana's good fortune in getting the position she wanted just because I didn't know if I were as fortunate. Pretty great friend, huh?

It's always a shocker when a tiny thing like that comes from your heart with no premeditation whatsoever. Last night in our small group we discussed the passage in Matthew 15 that says "what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and this defiles a person". Yikes!

My prayer of repentance comes from the Valley of Vision:

Searcher of hearts
It is a good day to me when Thou givest me
a glimpse of myself.

Sin is my greatest evil
but Thou art my greatest good.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Feeling Like Spring

I am so excited for spring this year. I think it's because we got a little taste of it, and then winter came back, making us appreciate what we had!

Last weekend we spent in Illinois with my family -- which was wonderful (that is me with my sister Emily). I dug out our stored away summer clothes and boxed up the winter sweaters while we were there, glad for the extra organization I had put into storing all those summer skirts and dresses (each one on its own hanger, hardly folded in a huge rubbermaid container -- it was priceless to simply lift them out and hang them up).

Now I am getting all inspired. Pretty soon I will be down to just one full-time job, so I am turning my focus to my other full-time job -- being a keeper of my home. This article from Girl Talk (and the subsequent articles following about organization) inspired me to jump right in and make it beautiful here! Holla back if you just LOVE getting everything ship-shape in the spring!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Read Aloud Award Winners

Every March, the most well-known awards are given for children's literature: the Newberry Award and the Caldecott Award (awarded for excellence in literature and illustration, respectively). I have had mixed feelings over those awards -- I rarely think the winners are the best books of the previous year. However, a somewhat new award does select tip-top reads, and that is The E.B. White Read Aloud Award.

Every year this award chooses one picture book and one chapter book that are the year's best read alouds. Anyone who knows me in the context of relating to children, knows that I am a HUGE fan of reading out loud. I have an enormous library of chapter books that I have read out loud to children of assorted ages and genders -- Roald Dahl, Skinny Bones, Hundred Dresses, Narnia, etc. I have been delighted with previous E.B. White award winners, and I'm hoping this years' winners will prove to be equally as excellent. The chapter book is Alabama Moon, and the picture book is Houndsley and Catina. As much as I love Amazon, I encourage you to support your local bookstore if you decide to check out one of these titles -- especially if you live in Illinois -- little plug for Julie here!

Last year's chapter book winner, Each Little Bird that Sings, was one of the best children's books I have ever read. I heartily recommend it for either the moms and dads that read my blog who might be looking for a fantastic story with a moral that will cause even you to reflect, or for my grown-up readers who like to recall those bittersweet childhood days.

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lent, Passover and Resurrection Day

I simply love the joy of Easter morning -- that long'd for day where we celebrate the end of the holy season. The sacrifices of Lent fade away, seeming tiny and hardly sacrifices at all. Passover has been observed, the Lamb wept over, the wine and bread savored, and the leaven purged. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have presented us with the face of Jesus -- bruised and groaning, bearing all the wrath of God in his body. The tension this build-up causes is difficult to bear as we wait for the end of the story.

And then Light breaks through the darkness, crushing the serpent's head with His Heel, victorious, alive, and risen!

And now that the fanfare fades and the daily grind resumes, I begin to feel about for the niche I ought to inhabit now that the deep soul-searching and self-sacrificing days have reached their conclusion. I am free now to surf blogs as long as my conscience allows -- how do I find the balance of how long that ought to be? I resent leaving the ease of a legal system to determine how I ought to spend my time -- and I don't want to fall into the trap of getting addicted to my internet time as I came dangerously close to doing before Lent began. I do, however, want to enjoy the freedom I have in Christ.

This is the question, isn't it? In any area of Liberty -- where does the balance lie?

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Honey That Drips

I wrote an e-mail to my friend Misty that I felt summed up my spiritual thinking right now so well that I didn't want to attempt to rewrite the same thing, but instead just put it here in its fullness:

"This morning's church was so brilliantly wonderful. I felt like I tasted a drop of the "honey that drips" -- the sweetness of knowing the Lord. I read that Sarah Edwards had moments when she was taken up in spirit into such communion with the Lord that her family and all around her could just see her bliss. It was not a life-long, ongoing thing, which makes me think that there must have been times that she LONGED to have that experience again -- but maybe she was just so contented by the time she truly savored the sweetness of Jesus that she was satisfied with the hum-drum in between. I feel like that is a bit where I am at right now. I don't mean huge, emotional "experiences" (though there certainly is emotion), just a period where the veil is lifted a bit and it all becomes so real, and Christ so precious, that the shadow land seems far away, and you can't even believe that you are brushing your hair out of your face, because why would it matter? Besides today, I had another one of those moments this week during chapel when Piper was speaking. I heard him on Tuesday, and it was great, of course, but on Thursday, the Holy Spirit was just bearing witness to my spirit and the truth was speaking such Rameh to my soul. As we were walking out, Kevin said "I feel like I was just in a trance" -- EXACTLY.

You might assume that such moments might make you utterly dissatisfied with the rest of life, and I admit, I did feel like "I want to go back to Thursday" a couple times since then. But actually, I think that the preciousness of communion with the Spirit is the fact that you feel so committed to counting all things as trash in your life except for Christ. It gives such perspective that it does, in fact, lift the load a bit in the days to follow. HE matters. And really nothing else. So the sun shining down is His kiss upon your head, and the petals falling from the trees are His lashes on your face. He is so real, He is almost touchable. Even now, as I write this, the thought pricks my eyes a bit. I think this is what is meant in the song "I want to know you". Not "know" in an intellectual way -- like "knowing Theology" somehow compares with "knowing GOD".

I have been wanting to write about this to you. Not that I have anything I need to hear back from you on it, but because I just wanted to talk about it somehow."

I feel the same with you, my blogging friends. I wanted to write about this not to have to hear feedback, but just because I wanted to talk about how precious my relationship with Christ is (do you know when you are infatuated with somebody romantically and you just are happy to have anybody listen to you talk about him/her? It's sort of like that). The quiet calm that contents me as I consider Him in His beauty is like "the honey that drips" -- a taste is so sweet, it truly satisfies.