Gracious Goodness

:Gleanings from the Book of Ruth:

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. -Deuteronomy 24:19-22

I am working through a study of Ruth with the ladies in my care group, and we are using Kelly Minter’s Ruth: Loss, Love & Legacy.  I previously worked through this same study in the summer of 2012 with my dear friend Kristin and along with Beth Moore’s “Siestas.” I am really enjoying a second reading and finding new insights and ways to apply scripture to what is going on on my life right now.  Needless to say, the landscape has changed a bit since 2012!

As I am going through the study, I am finding all of these neat little nuggets that are really sticking with me and changing the way I see things. I love it when God opens my eyes to new ways to apply his Word, and I want to share some of those with you. And so in the same way that Ruth gleaned in the fields and shared her small harvest with Naomi, I want to pick up the gifts that God is leaving for me through the study of this book and in turn share them with you.

Recently, a bit that stood out came from chapter two of Ruth. And for some background, the verse from Deuteronomy lays out God’s law for leaving behind food for the less fortunate of society during a harvest. At this point in the story, Ruth has gone out to glean in the fields owned by Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law.

Kelly says this:

Although [the law] should have been well followed, Ruth stated that she hoped to find someone in whose eyes she could find favor. This may mean she was unfamiliar with Jewish law, or it may simply mean that because God’s people don’t always hold to His commands she was hoping for someone who wold actually honor God’s law of allowing a foreigner to glean. It’s very possible that there were selfish and hostile landowners who wouldn’t have wanted a widowed, Moabite woman on their land. Either way, Ruth was looking for someone gracious.

That line, Ruth was looking for someone gracious, really struck me. So often, that’s what people are looking for- someone gracious.

And reading on, we see that Boaz asked one of his employees about Ruth, and then he himself spoke to Ruth and instructed her to stay in his field and follow along with his female workers. He also told his workers to leave more of the good grain among the sheaves for Ruth to gather.

Boaz was a landowner, a wealthy man, and a man of good standing in the community. And we meet him smack-dab in the middle of the harvesting season. If Boaz had been an accountant, this story would have taken place in early April. This was his busy season, and he was a busy guy. So it really struck me that he even noticed Ruth (surely there were other women who came in and out of the fields to glean), much more that he took the time to ask about her and then to speak to her himself. 

What a gift that must have been to Ruth! To be noticed and then cared for. Boaz could have sent Ruth instructions on how and were to glean via one of his workers, but he didn’t. He took a few minutes out of his busy day to show kindness to Ruth. A few moments for some gracious goodness that made all the difference. 

I imagine it really wasn’t a huge sacrifice on his part, but it meant the world to her.

Not long ago a friend called me to ask me to do a favor for her. I’ll be honest here and say that I don’t always answer my phone… sometimes it’s because I’m busy and sometimes it’s just because I don’t feel like talking. But on this day I answered and listened as she asked her favor and then apologized for bothering me (don’t we always do that?). As it so happened, I was very close to where she needed me to be in order to help, and the actual favor took all of about two minutes. 

This little favor was such a small thing for me to do, one of those things anyone of you would have done, and it cost me no time or even real effort. But it made such a huge difference in her day, and with the project she was tackling. 

I was so convicted afterwards by the fact that I so often get caught up in my own busyness that I miss opportunities like that, opportunities to bless someone through small acts of service. I miss out on the chance to share some gracious goodness because I can be so selfish and inward-focused at times. 

And aren’t there days where just a little gracious goodness could go a long way in helping us get through?

Lord, open my eyes to see more opportunities to share your love by being gracious with my time, and open my hands to be freer so that I am living by your Spirit rather than my schedule. 

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Proximity

It was our last night in the hotel.

The thunder woke me before she could, but I could hear her walking over in the dark. And then there she was, standing next to the bed. The lightning was barely visible through the thick hotel curtains, but she saw enough to insist that she needed to sleep with us.

I reminded her that we were all sleeping in the same room, so there was no reason to be scared. She wasn’t having it.

I woke Tim up, thinking he should just go ahead and get in the bed with Sam since it was only a matter of time before we had two afraid & wide-awake children on our hands. He obliged, and before long they were all asleep. Except me, of course.

Charlotte’s head barely had time to hit the pillow next to me before she was out, in spite of the fact that the storm was still thundering away. I thought how silly it was that she was suddenly able to sleep even though the storm had not changed.

No, the storm had not changed, but Charlotte’s proximity to me had changed. She was nearer to me than she was before, and that was all she needed to be at peace and go back to sleep.

I thought of how so many people have commented over the years on how at peace Tim and I have been through all of Charlotte’s surgeries and health struggles. Of course we don’t have some magical formula. We haven’t tapped into some deep well of inner peace that we conjured up by our own will. Our “secret” is no secret at all… it was all in our proximity to Him.

I don’t know what your particular storm is right now. Maybe you are in the midst of one, or maybe you see the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. Maybe you’re on the other side of a particularly bad storm, and in the aftermath you realize you spent the entire time worried and afraid.

I can’t promise that your storm will resolve the way you want it to. I can’t guarantee that the destruction caused by the storm won’t be worse that the storm itself. I can absolutely promise you that closing the gap between God and you will bring unspeakable peace in the middle of it all.

Your storm may not change, but when your proximity to Him increases, you may rest your head in peace.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.
-Psalm 73:28 {NASB}

 

El Roi {Act II}

Five years ago {yes, five!} we found out about Charlotte’s heart defect.

That was the day that, in a dimly lit ultrasound room, Dr. Milazzo said to Tim, “Mr. Tousey, why don’t you have a seat next to your wife?”

I won’t relive the whole day for you, but that began a journey of faith the likes of which we had not seen before, and certainly were not expecting.

Faith, yes. But not some sort of forced faith that we conjured up on our own. A friend remarked a few years ago that it was evident God had given Tim and me a gift of faith, and I agreed wholeheartedly. It became obvious that God had been planting his strength in us along the way so that when we got the sucker-punch of our lives, we weren’t knocked over. Brought to our knees, yes, but not felled.

As Dr. Milazzo’s medical terms and descriptions began washing over us, so did an immense peace; it’s called “the peace which surpasses all understanding” for a reason. That peace did protect our minds from going to a dark place, and it kept our hearts from despair, even as we were receiving a diagnosis that could spell death for our daughter.

Another reason I see our faith as a precious gift is because Tim and I have been of one mind with this special circumstance since that February day five years ago. We have been in agreement that God has a special plan for Charlotte, regardless of how many days she has on this earth. We did not fear, because we knew God loved Charlotte more than we ever could, and we didn’t want to hold on to her so tightly that we crushed God’s will from moving freely.

I believe this Charlotte bit is what really cemented my affinity for Hagar. Being a mama facing uncertainty at best, and at worst, death, for her child makes one appreciate the slave’s second trip out into the desert.

As we revisit Hagar’s second act in Genesis 21, we see that Ishmael is older, and Sarah has given birth to Isaac. Sarah becomes determined that Isaac will not share his inheritance with the slave girl’s son, so she demands that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away. Abraham hesitates; there is no doubt that he loves his first son, and he does not want to send him away. But God tells Abraham that it is okay to send Hagar and Ishmael away, that there is a plan for Ishmael’s life.

{How often do we overlook the fact that Abraham laying Isaac on that altar was the second time he had shown a willingness to obey God above holding tightly to his son?}

And so once again we find Hagar in the desert. Only this time she is not alone; her son is with her. The text suggests that he is most likely a young teenager, although we {okay, I} tend to picture him as a baby. Soon after their food and water run out, and Hagar falls into despair. She sets her son off in the shade of a bush; presumably they are both weak from thirst, and she can’t bear to watch him die.

Just as Hagar is at the end of her rope, the angel of the Lord appears to her again. He reminds Hagar of the promise made to her the last time she was out in the desert. She forgot, but God did not. Scripture says that God opened her eyes and showed her a well of water, and they lived happily ever after…

Okay, I made that last bit up. But God did show her the water where she and Ishmael drank and later God’s promise to Hagar was fulfilled through her son.

I just love how God cares for Hagar in these two accounts; first by affirming that she mattered to him, and then by caring for her son.

I can relate on so many levels. So many.

And I will be completely honest and tell you that I have not always done a spectacular job of remembering God’s promises to me. You get me in the desert and I am just as likely to forget what it was he said to me the last time I was out there.

But this is where my story and Hagar’s part ways. This time, in that desert, I remembered. I remembered that God had seen me so many years before, that he sees me every day, and that his care for me extends to those whom I love.

And while Tim and I had no idea how the future would look for our little girl, we did know unequivocally that God had a plan, and that he was working it for our good.

When shadows fall on us 
We will not fear 
We will remember 

When darkness falls on us 
We will not fear 
We will remember 

-David Crowder

Sunday

I just wanted to share a few thoughts from church this morning. One thing that I so appreciate about our pastors is that no matter the book we are going through or the topic we are studying, they always bring it back to the gospel, to the cross. We went through the book of Genesis several months ago and every single Sunday, without fail, they showed us how what we were reading pointed to Christ.

So here is some of the good stuff from today from our pastor, Chris Silard:

In looking at Exodus 33:12-16 where Moses was speaking to God we see that without God’s presence, life means nothing.

Moses, the mediator for the Israelites, pointed to a greater mediator who was to come . God stayed with his people because he accepted their mediator (Moses), and he stayed with us because he accepted our mediator (Jesus).

Our pastor also pointed out the danger of being satisfied with having God’s truth without his presence.

Another pastor, Albert Turner, who was leading music today spoke a mighty truth as well. He reminded us of the paradox of thirsting for Jesus: the more we have of Jesus, the more we want; we will never be truly satisfied this side of heaven.

If you are not experiencing any thirst for Jesus, then you really need to examine your heart and your relationship with him. Are you truly following Christ and making him a priority? Are you spending time with him, seeking his presence?

I hope you had a refreshing Sunday, and that your week is fruitful!

New Shoes

On Monday afternoon we headed over to a local outlet mall to shop for new shoes for Tim and baseball cleats for Sam. When we got there we were shocked at all the cars! I am sure that Black Friday was not as crowded as Labor Day. But like the good American consumers that we are, we pressed on, weaving through aisles of cars to find a parking space.

We pushed through crowds at Nike and Adidas to sort among messy piles of boxes and tangles of laces.  No luck on either front, and so we headed out of the sticky heat and back home.

Yesterday as I was sorting through the mail I came across an envelope that brought a smile to my face:

Inside was a letter from Pradeep, the first child we sponsored through Compassion.

Pradeep is 11 years old and lives in a rural part of India. He was only eight when we began sponsoring him, and at the time he couldn’t write, so his older cousin would write letters to us for him.

This letter was handwritten by our boy. He was thanking us for a recent birthday gift (25 US dollars) we sent, and he shared the items he selected with the money:

I have received your birthday gift with which my father bought me one pair of footwear, umbrella, jeans… and shirt. I don’t have good footwear and umbrella. Because of you I could [buy] it.

So Pradeep had been shopping for shoes, too. I am guessing his shopping trip was a little different from ours.

Don’t worry, this is not a post to make you feel guilty for owning stuff, nor is it a post to make you think that the Touseys are so great.

We’re not. We really don’t do all that much. But the little bit that we do helps Pradeep and his family a whole lot.

You can help someone a whole lot, too! This month Compassion International has the audacious goal of finding sponsors for 3,108 children. That sounds like a lot, but I believe we are going to not just meet that goal, but exceed it.

Why?

Because eventually we all come to that place where we look at how we are spending our lives, and realize we could be doing so much more.

We realize that God is calling us to join him in a story that is much greater than the one contained within the confines of our comfortable and relatively easy lives.

You can help change the trajectory of a child’s life, and in doing so, change your own.

Thirty-eight dollars a month. That’s it. That’s the difference between an education and life on the street for some, the difference between being allowed to stay at home or being sent away to a life of slavery, the difference between a hot meal each day or going hungry for others. For all of the children, it’s the gift of knowing that somewhere, someone loves you enough to care about your life.

Will you be that person today?

Will you at least head over to Compassion’s site and pray for the children you see there? Click through, find a child with your birthday, or your child’s birthday, and pray for them. Pray that God will bring them a sponsor.

It’s about so much more than shoes! It’s about changing lives. It’s about releasing children from poverty, in Jesus’ name.

{September is Blog Month for Compassion. I will be writing each week about Compassion and how you can help children around the world know that poverty does not define them. Stay tuned for more posts and some cool giveaways! Please let me know if you have any questions about Compassion, and I would love to hear if you sponsor a child this month!}

Look up.

It was Halloween night and we were in New York City.

We were there to visit Tim’s brother, Jeffrey, and to view the NYC Marathon in person.

The three of us took the subway through various stops to get to the parade route, and as we came up from the underground we were immediately routed onto a sidewalk. There were barricades set up and only one way for us to go. There were so many people there, all decked out in their Halloween finest. Jeffrey was dressed as Where’s Waldo, which would become painfully ironic later.

We started working our way through the crowd, trying to get a better view of the street. I have no idea what happened next, but it seemed as though everyone began pushing to get out of the crowd at the same time. Jeffrey, Tim and I became separated from each other and the crowd began pushing in more frantically. I had a moment where every bit of my brain wanted to panic and I thought I was going to throw up. And then I remembered something I read somewhere about crowds and stampedes: the reason people get killed in stampedes is because they try to run with the crowd and inevitably trip and fall. The best thing you can do is lift your feet off the ground and look up.

So I did. I had a moment of clarity where I understood that puking and panicking would not do anyone any good. I lifted my feet and looked up to the night sky. And the crowd carried me along for several yards until it began to thin out and I could safely walk again. I spotted Tim and Jeffrey down the block a little ways and we shared a joyful reunion.

This summer has been a tough one; there have been several occasions where I wanted to panic, to puke, to pass out. I have felt pressed on every side, like our own family and several dear friends have been under attack. It’s just been a hard summer.

A few Sundays ago I was feeling especially defeated. My soul felt tattered and I could feel a darkness creeping in around me. I was headed to church alone (Charlotte was sick, again) and I contemplated not even going. But I am so glad that I went. Midway through our singing time my pastor, Chris, got up to share a word.

{It is so precious to belong to a church where the Holy Spirit is at work, and to be lead by a man whose heart is aware of and responsive to that voice.}

Chris shared from 1Peter, chapter 1 and then he said that if anyone was feeling defeated or pressed or crushed to look up. Look up to see Him. He is there, interceding for us.

That tattered feeling, the crushing darkness, that came in because I was trying to push my way through, to fight the pressing crowd on my own strength. I shifted my gaze down, trying to keep my own feet from tripping. In losing sight of Him I also lost sight of what I knew to be true…

…this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Cor. 4:17 & 18

Maybe you’re feeling crushed today, anxious and panicked because it’s all so much and it’s coming so fast and you are feeling as though any minute you might be trampled under the weight of it all.

Friend, pick up your feet. He will carry you.

Look up and see His face. Lift your eyes and look to the One who died to free you from all this. No, He didn’t come and die to free you from hardship, but to liberate you from being destroyed by hardship.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus,so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. -2 Cor. 4:7-11

Sorrows Like Sea Billows

“The kid in the book has a brain like mine,” he says.

“Oh yeah? How so?”

“Her brain takes pictures, just like mine does.”

That really explains so much. Sam doesn’t forget anything; he still remembers things about our first house that I have forgotten. We moved out of that house when he was two and a half.

I would never claim a photographic memory, but my mind has latched onto some memories in startling detail.

Like that April morning my kindergarten year, when I walked into Mama and Daddy’s bedroom to find my grandparents sitting on the made bed. They sent me into PJ’s room, where I found Mama tucked under the sheets with the band of rainbow stripes. “I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said.

How does a mama give terrible news to her six-year old? There’s no easy way to say it, no buffer that will take away the sting of the words.

I know it may sound crazy, but I was thankful for that memory this week. I knew that Sam would remember where we were sitting, the couch and the striped quilt, knew he would remember how we told him that his beloved Mrs. Joannides had died. I wanted it to be a peaceful, even if sad, memory.

This death really knocked the wind out of us; no Jan Joannides wasn’t family and we had only known her a year. But she was Sam’s kindergarten teacher, that special kind of teacher who sets the bar and lays the foundation for all future teachers. Who doesn’t remember their kindergarten teacher? Sam spent nearly seven hours a day with Mrs. Joannides, and she gave every bit of herself to the children in her class. As we heard yesterday at her memorial service, she never taught a class the same way twice. She tailored each class to the needs of the individual students that she taught, and that level of care showed in the things they learned and in the way she communicated with parents. Jan knew our kids, and she loved them. Goodness, she even loved Charlotte. She always welcomed Sam’s little sister into class for special events and brought her a chair into the gym so she could sit with the class during hot lunch.

 

I was thinking this week about the parallels between me losing my daddy in kindergarten and Sam going through this. I had the initial thought that this was a full-circle moment, but then I thought again… “full-circle” implies a closing, and there was no closing here. Rather, I think these life experiences are more like a gentle spiral, winding around and taking us back by old places, but in a new way. And always winding up and up, taking us closer to God with each pass.

Yes, there was a funeral my kindergarten year, but there was also a wedding. My teacher got married that year and invited all of her students to attend. I still have a photograph of several of my classmates and me sitting with her in her wedding gown; it was a special day and remains a special memory.

There was a wedding of sorts in Jan’s passing, too. We are confident that in her death she came face-to-face with her Bridegroom. And if her reputation here is any indication, then her presence there will certainly add color to the wedding that is to come.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
-1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Thank you Father, for the hope we have in you.

Toe in the water…

I thought I would go ahead and post a video. Of me. Talking.

Gah!

You will be able to tell that I made this one a while back, since my hair is considerably longer in the video. Sanctus Real had asked fans to make three-minute videos about their redemption stories to be shared on their website. I don’t know what possessed me, but I did it…

They never did post any videos over there, but I figured there was no point in wasting all the time and retakes. Ha ha.

Let me know what you think… but please be nice!

My Coachella

I spent last weekend on another planet. I was blissfully separated from any “real-life” distractions (I’m talking things, not people) and I was able to sit and listen and take in and be refreshed. I was also able to spend the weekend with Mama and my sweet friend Meredith. Oh, and I did do a tiny bit of talking myself.

I was at the annual She Speaks conference in Concord, North Carolina. This conference is a speakers and writers conference put on by Proverbs 31 Ministries. I had been six years ago, but goodness that was a lifetime ago. The last time I went for work; I had a reason and a purpose for being there. It was an amazing conference then, but it was a little easier on me personally since I was seeing everything through the lens of working and speaking for a pro-life college ministry.

This time I did not have that lens.

This time it was just me, hands open, asking God to show me how he wants to use this gift in my life.

This gift being the gift of speaking. Some people are blessed with the gift of singing; God has allowed me to praise him with my voice, too, but without the added pressure of staying in tune! I don’t think of this as a special or extraordinary gift because we all have voices and we all have stories that the world needs to hear. Frankly we should all be “speakers” at some point or another. The special (if you want to call it that) part is that I do believe God has made speaking publicly part of the calling He has placed on my life.

I had been speaking more frequently before we left Raleigh, but I put that on the back-burner when we moved. Over the past year or so God has been subtly moving in that area again in my life, opening a door here and a door there, and then using people here to confirm my calling. But still, I was letting fear hold me back from really embracing again the idea that I could be a speaker.

Then I found myself reading Brooke Fraser’s website one day. She is a singer and songwriter, most notably for Hillsong. She had been on a physically and emotionally draining concert tour a few years ago and she took some time off and just stopped writing and singing for a bit. But while she was at this huge music festival, Coachella, she had this revelation:  Then the other voices joined his and it all felt so human and honest; I and everyone around me was enthralled.  We were all being spoken to, and we were all listening. It was a moment where I remembered the power of music as a language, a connector. I remembered that I’ve been given the gift of speaking a particular dialect of this language and realised I didn’t have the option of being resigned to silence and I didn’t want it.

When I read that last line, something clicked in me. I don’t have the option of silence.

And in so many ways, She Speaks was like Coachella for me. Being there among over 600 precious women, each with her own unique story and voice, reminded me why I started speaking in the first place. And I was reminded of why it’s important that we speak and that we write. There is a whole world out there dying to know that Jesus loves them. And there are people to whom only I can speak. Not because I am so special and spectacular, but because my God is, and He has done things in my life that only I can speak about.

I am still processing most of what I learned; there were so many spiritual lessons as well as practical ones. (Eye contact!) I will most certainly be processing a great deal on here. I may even throw together a little video blog or two for you…

“But God…”

I was reading through a portion of Ephesians yesterday in the ESV Study Bible. I love this particular Bible because there is so much good stuff in there by way of deeper study as you read through the verses. I find this particularly helpful when I am not doing a guided study but rather reading through portions of scripture on my own. And the thing I love about this book is that the notes are not just reference points or information on the original Greek or Hebrew translations. So many of the notes read like little devotions themselves, and I have been blown away more than once as I scan the study section after reading a particular verse.

I was especially blown away yesterday after reading Ephesians 2:1-5. Here is a section, starting in the latter part of verse 3:

…[we] were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—…

As I read the notes for verse 4 I came across this gem:

2:4 But God. No hopeless fate looks any grimmer than that which awaits the forlorn company of mankind marching behind the “prince of the power of the air” to their destruction under divine wrath. Just when things look the most desolate, Paul utters the greatest short phrase in the history of human speech: “But God!” 

I am so humbled by the knowledge that I am no longer a child of wrath. Doesn’t it make you shudder just to think about it?

But God… made us alive together with Christ. 

Amen.