She Facebooked her Friends and said “Rejoice with Me!…

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…for I have found the piece which was lost!”

Several sisters have asked about the lost dress. Facebook can be a huge umbrella of encouragement even in the mundane.  I know life’s not all about finding Cindy Colley’s heirloom dress, of all things, but I was truly humbled and amazed that so many of you cheered us on as we searched for and found a little dress that I very much wanted to put on BabyG2 next September.  Hundreds of you (literally) and many that I’ve never met have been the sweetest sisters a woman could ever have. I love Facebook for giving your encouragement to me. 

The dress was deep in a closet at Hannah’s (my daughter’s) house. It was in a garment bag hiding behind her wedding dress, which was in the back of that closet in another very huge garment bag. The funny thing was, I had everyone looking for a pink box in which I’d originally wrapped that dress for the gender reveal two years ago…the gender reveal that turned out to be for a boy. Thus, the dress was never opened at the reveal. 

What I had forgotten was that the dress had been removed from the box and used as an illustration at a ladies day in Middle Tennessee a few months after that reveal…the very weekend, in fact, that Ezra was due. (Thus the reason it never got out of my car at my house….It just went straight to Hannah’s house and got hung in a closet there because hospital luggage is not conducive to dress preservation.) That’s just where Facebook became very helpful. You found out I was looking and three of you remembered the dress. You identified where you saw it and the garment bag in which it had left the church building at East Main. In turn, I told my son Caleb (via his Facebook page) to stop looking for a box and start looking for a garment bag. Truth be told, I don’t think he’d done a whole lot of looking for either. (He’s a good egg, though.) But Hannah, being the faithful Facebook follower that she is, immediately saw that post about looking for garment bags. She had moved all the hanging clothes in that closet more than once, laid them on the bed and searched the back of that closet for a box. But this time, she rushed home and actually looked through those clothes she’d been moving  back and forth. She looked for a black garment bag. She found the dress and tried to call me…twice. Unable to reach me, she called her Daddy, who got in the car and drove across town with photos on his phone to spread the cheer.

When he walked in the kitchen door in the middle of last Tuesday, I was surprised to see him. 

“What would you give a man…?” he began. 

“You found my dress??!!”

“I think so. But what would you give a man?…Is this the dress?” He offered his phone and a series of photos.

“You found my dress!!!!” 

“Yes and you should call your daughter on that phone that I don’t even know why I pay for.…She wants to hear from you.”

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There are always lessons, of course. Here they are:

  1. If Facebook can find a lost dress, surely we can connect some dots and find some lost souls, too. Facebook is a more personal and encompassing kind of outreach than email or USPS. It’s the kind of networking in which you never know if a click that posts or comments may be the click that does click with some lost soul and opens a door to a relationship, a study, an invitation that could result in a saved soul.
  2. Facebook is a neutral commodity. You get to decide whether your use of it is for the Lord or for the devil. Now, finding a dress is not a work of the Lord. But encouraging each other, as Facebook friends did (and do regularly for me) through this medium, is a great way to get the most good out of something the devil loves to control.
  3. You’re never going to find what you’re looking for if you’re looking where it’s not. That dress was not in all those absurd places (like on top of way-up-there kitchen cabinet and in overflowing trunks where I would have never crushed that batiste and damp basement corners) where I was looking. Sometimes life is like that. We can’t find contentment. We look in all those hard-to-do absurd places instead of the obvious place where the “owner” of truth has put it in the first place. 
  4. You may be own, be picking up, carrying, and moving about the answer to all your dilemmas. But until you recognize that, open it up and really look inside, you won’t find what you’re looking for. Hannah did that with that garment bag. She moved it over and over as she looked other places, to no avail. That’s what we do with our Bibles. We lay them on the table beside our beds. We pick them back up and take them to worship. Sometimes we move them back and forth and back and forth without ever really opening and examining them. We move the book, but we don’t meditate on it, memorize it or mark it. There are many people who own a Bible but do not own truth. It’s very important that we show our kids the difference. The Bible is not a lucky amulet. It’s what’s inside that can bring us joy. But that joy exists for me only when what’s inside the book gets inside of me. Hannah had a garment bag that she was transferring mindlessly back and forth, while what was inside eluded us all. 
  5. Some people are so close to what they really want, but just not quite there. Jesus told a scribe as much in Mark 12:34. “You are not far from the kingdom,” Jesus said. I have many friends who are close to the kingdom. I hurt for them because, of  course, being close to the kingdom of God is not enough. Hannah was near that dress we were hunting each time we talked about it on the phone. It was sometimes right there in the same room with her. Close is not good enough. We have to give people the information they need to identify that for which they search. 
  6. Some news is so good, you want to personally deliver it. I love that about my husband. He loves to bring joy…not just to me, but to everyone in all circumstances. We have the very best news of all. When we understand the wretchedness of that from which the good news— the gospel—rescues people, we can’t be stopped. We are going to those people. We will move heaven and earth to reach them with the good news. In fact Heaven has already moved that they might have this good news. It’s up to us to make the move on earth. We simply must. We are going to tell them that we’ve found that for which they are searching. 

Gotta Find It or Gotta Quit Looking!

10379461_10152039422951384_3376662004697147690_oIt was just a little less than thirty years ago when I found out I was having my second child. I did not know until she was delivered that she was a “she”.  But, just the same, for nine months, I’d been working on a long white dress. I’d wanted very badly to buy imported Swiss batiste to sew this dress, but that was way out of my budget. My  great Aunt Rosa, who lived a very meager life in a very small, old and run-down mobile home had died during that year when I was expecting Hannah. I loved “Rosie” because she lived a totally simple life and she liked to play games and repeat funny rhymes with us. She lived without pretense and she love the same way. I was sad when she died. 

But Aunt Rosie left me (and every other niece and nephew) exactly one hundred dollars.  That was just enough to buy the batiste for my baby’s dress. And so I did. I bought a book from the Martha Pullen Company called “Sewing the Heirloom Dress” and I spent many hours designing and sewing that long white dress. I bought expensive (to me, anyway) lace and entredeaux and ribbon and even Victorian beauty pins for fastening it in the back.  As the days grew warmer and July approached, I could hardly wait. I think I dreamed at night about stitching lace to fabric and I know I dreamed about holding a baby in that dress.  There were lots of late night  hours to dream while stitching on that dress.  I’m sure it had lots of flaws, but still, it was the most complicated project I’d ever undertaken and it was also the most fun.  I made a pretty slip to go underneath it. 

After Hannah was born, I embroidered near the bottom of that slip: “For Hannah Lee Colley.  With love, from your Mother and Aunt Rosa, July 2, 1987.”  Hannah wore the dress on her very first Sunday when she was ten days old and several times during the first months of her life. Then her cousins…about five of them…wore the dress through the years. That sweet dress hung on my bedroom wall for years and I would often take it down and wash and press it. My good husband made a shaker-style wooden hanger and a peg-board for hanging it. Being the sentimentalist that I am, I’m sure I became far too attached to that dress. 

Now it’s time to pass the dress down to my Hannah’s first daughter. She’ll be born, Lord willing, almost exactly 29 years after the first little girl wore the dress. Of course, I’m all about adding her name to the slip, hanging her picture in the dress beside the one of Hannah. She can wear the same little gold bracelet and even the same tatted cap that her great grandmother, her grandmother, and her mother all wore. 

But, alas, when I went to find that little dress to give it a final press and wrap it in a box to give to Hannah on the night we found out that a little girl is coming, the dress was gone. It’s not on the wall where it hung for so many years. It’s not in the closet where I might have hung it when pressed and clean. It’s not in the box where I’d remembered wrapping it for the original gender reveal two years ago (when it turned out we were having a boy). In fact that box is nowhere to be found.  I’ve turned my house upside down and I’ve asked every friend and relative who might have a clue. I’ve racked my feeble brain and retraced weary steps. I’ve called a hotel and I even dreamed the other night that I found it. In the dream it was yellowed and had an unseemly texture, but I did not care. You know, it was a dream. 

Now, as I said, I know I became far too attached to that little dress. After all, it is a material thing and I know I cannot take it with me when I go. (But I think I’d just like to take it with me till then!) But because that little dress has traveled far and near to ladies days (as an illustration of redemption, of all things) and because it has been a decoration at a couple or more baby events, I just want to make one more internet hunt for it and then I’ll give up the baby dress search. If I should find it, I’ll do the Luke 15 thing and call my friends in, saying  “Rejoice with me, for I have found that which was lost.” If I don’t, I guess, I’ll do the Matthew 6 thing and stop being anxious about what (the baby) will “put on”. Here’s the dress from a 1987 photo. At the top of this page is the box that might contain it these days (it’s the pink chevron one), and, finally, here’s the poem about that little white dress. 

I know there’s a fine line between sentimental and obsessed…between frustrated and mentally ill. I think I’ve probably looked for this a little too long and hard in the last few weeks.  Still, if you have a clue…if you have seen either of these (the box or the dress) in the last two years,  I’d love to hear from you! 

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The Little White Dress
The little white dress was fashioned with care.
Each stitch was so carefully sewn.
Behind every one was a dream for a time
When the child who would wear it was grown.
She picked out a pattern so carefully
And traced every piece on the straight
Of the best piece of fabric that she could afford.
Each step took so long, but she’d wait.She worked with the scissors until at the last,
All of the scraps cut away,
She assembled a bodice with ribbon and lace.
She lined it so it wouldn’t give way.And soon she was busy gathering batiste
With delicate thread, but yet strong;
Attaching the bodice of ribbon and lace
To the skirt that was flowing and long.

As she waited for the birth of her little one,
She’d smile at the tiny white dress.
She was happy to know it was finished in time,
And to know she had given her best.

One warm summer day a little girl came.
She wore the little white dress.
The mother’s heart swelled with contentment,
But she knew it was not time to rest.

She worked with the fabric of the little girl’s heart–
Made sure it was soft and yet strong.
She knew it would have to be durable,
For some days would be trying and long.

She once again found the best pattern
In a very old book, tried and true.
She applied its instructions to the little girl’s heart
As she dreamed of the great things she’d do.

She carefully clipped away all of the scraps;
Sinstains and flaws thrown away.
She took the strong thread of God’s loving care
And carefully stitched day to day.

Stitches of holiness, meekness and faith;
Kindness and hope formed a lace.
Stitches so tiny and beautiful;
The tiny heart grew in His grace.

And finally the days were stitched into years.
The mother had seen the child grow.
She’d relished the coming of each little dream.
And now it was time to let go.

But the mother had carefully pressed and preserved

In a bureau, the little white gown.

And now, as they wait for a new little one,

The little heirloom is passed down.
Lying beside the dress, still full and white,
Its ribbons and lace freshly pressed,
Will lie the heirlooms kept in the heart;
And these heirlooms are the best;
For stitched with the hands of a mother
And patterned from truths from above,
They’re all bound together with heavenly thread.
These heirlooms are gifts of pure love!

Don’t Do the Bottom Dance!

 12961581_899337245299_646194236159384067_nI have to do one more graduation salute because my extraordinary niece, Miriam Sparks walked across that stage last Friday night at the North Alabama Christian School graduation. I could tell you how proud I am of her writing, but you can see for yourself here: http://www.tomorrowschurchtoday.com. (If you have teens or if you are a teen, you definitely want to be encouraged by this website.) I could go on about Miriam’s theatrical talent and the climactic end of her high school string of plays when she played the Velveteen Rabbit in a production by Carriage House Players. There were a few moments when I felt like I was on the front row of a Broadway production. She was seriously good, especially when they let her sing! I could add that she saved the day for me when she agreed to travel to Clarksville, TN last year to help me decorate for and prepare the rehearsal dinner for my son’s wedding. I did not even know how badly I needed her till we got that preparation underway. I could tell you about how influential Miriam has been as she has spoken in several spiritual venues for women and girls, even traveling to speak in a seminar in New Zealand. I could tell you about how she’s risen to the top among Lads to Leaders participants nationwide.  I’m proud that she’s been awarded at least three scholarships to Freed Hardeman University and that she will be rooming there with another very special niece, Song Nicholas, next year. So many doors opening and so many relationships about to happen. There’ll be tons of decisions in the next four or so years for Miriam, and sometimes she won’t even recognize the crucial moment when a decision will be larger than this life and have ramifications in eternity. 

My favorite thing about Miriam, though, is her perpetual optimism. Favorite phrases are “…but that was really okay, because…” or “…but it turned out better than we thought when…” or “…At first I thought ‘oh no!’, but then…” or  “…Wait, I’ve got an idea how we can fix this…”  She’s just never to be outdone. Satisfaction, for Miriam, is not contingent on circumstances.  Like Paul, she’s determined to be content in whatever state she finds herself (Phil. 4:11). Thus, her days have a happy soundtrack. She sings all the time she’s not talking!…and that’s not as much time for a melody as you might think!

My favorite Miriam story happened when she was just about three years old. I was keeping all four Sparks kids while their mom and dad were out of town. I explained to Miriam that I had to take Hannah to play rehearsal because she had to learn the dance for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Now, I really did not mean a dance at all. It was more like a skip and a hop and a turn-around on the stage, as I recall. But nothing gets past Miriam. She gave me a little sermon right then and there, in a very high pitched little voice with an added thick southern drawl:

“Well, I don’t think Hannah should prob’ly be learnin’ to dance. And I ‘specially hope that she is not going to do the bottom dance ( hear bahhhh-tum day-unce), because the Bible says that people should only do the ‘bahhhtum day-unce’ when they are in their own house with their own family. That’s what the Bible says.”

Well, maybe Miriam didn’t have the exact wording of any Bible passage. But somebody had been doing a pretty good job of getting a concept in her little heart about how some things are just not appropriate for Christians. Every time I’ve presented a lesson that encourages Christians to chastity, I’ve thought about Miriam. So here’s to a song on your lips through every act that’s the musical of your life, Miriam Sparks. And here’s to never doing the bottom dance, unless you’re in your own house with your own family! 

Just Monsters Under Your Bed

13226652_10153481188316384_2798949385439034883_nWe had six high school graduates in the congregation at West Huntsville this spring. It’s been great fun watching three of them grow up and getting to know the other three later in the game. They are all special to our West Huntsville family. Savanna is a pianist and vocalist. Ryan is a landscaper and a football player. Emma sings with her dad (and they are very talented!). Rachel likes to perform on stage and lead singing for women. Jacob is also a stage musician. Come to think of it, it was the year of musically talented graduates. They are all wonderful Christian people. 

But Nuris is a stand-out in some other ways. She’s thirty-six years old, a native El Salvadorian, and is the mother of four. You may remember reading about her baptism two years ago here: http://thecolleyhouse.org/crazy-happy. That weekend was even far better than this one. But still, this was a pretty special weekend for Nuris.  It was the culmination of years of studying the English language and then the geography, history and culture of the United States of America, along with some math and science. It took many days (years, actually) of searching, in a house with two small children, for quiet moments to study the materials needed for obtaining this high school diploma. I was there for a few tutoring sessions and we never found the quiet. We just yelled louder than the babies. 

I remember that day when Nuris first visited our services. She was one of those people who didn’t really “look like” a good prospect for conversion to Christ. After all, she could speak little English, she had a demanding newborn baby, her husband wasn’t with her, and she told me she did not want to study on that very first day I met her. Still, I gave her a card with my phone number and told her to let me know if she changed her mind. She did,

She changed her mind, her life, her religious affiliation, her marriage, her parenting and her spiritual family. She changed her eternal status from lost to saved. She was ultimately baptized into Christ for the remission of her sins, becoming a member of His church. Her daughters were given the gift of having a Christian mother. 

With the help of God and many people, now Nuris is a high school graduate. She is the one who received the standing ovation last Friday night at the North Alabama Christian School graduation ceremony. She is the one who requested the song “ They Word is a Lamp unto My Feet” for the music for her graduation slide show.  She is the one whose extra-curricular activities were not softball, guitar and Lads to Leaders, but diapers, dishes, bills and emergency C-sections. She is the one who is over-the-moon excited about a cap and gown.

People can change. They do it all the time. People can change minds, hearts, lifestyles, directions and destinies. Many who are reading the blog, though, do not need to change directions or make big lifestyle transformations . You just need encouragement to stay the course…to finish the race in some of the darkest spiritual days in American history. You need encouragement when you look at the presidential ballot, the restrooms at Target. the Boy and Girl Scouts, the Vatican, the Barna surveys and the pornography and gambling industries. You need encouragement as you empty the over-flowing Diaper Genie (in your sleep) or administer meds to the Alzheimer patient or explain to a four-year-old why you can’t go to the movie about his favorite super-hero. You need to be reminded of the inherent brevity of trials and the impending beginning of eternal perfection. The land of good and right and health and rest is just around the corner for all of those who stay the course. 

I know you have friends who’ve decided that the Bible is for the uneducated, that the old-fashioned religion is for simpletons, and that there really is no eternal truth. They make all kinds of claims about mistakes in the Word and errors committed by the Savior. They make personal accusations about your sincerity and motives as you try to reach out to them and others with the gospel. But be encouraged. The day is swiftly approaching when all of the mockers will bow before the God who put original life and breath in them (Romans 14:11). You will be there as he judges the living and the dead (II Timothy 4:1). You will experience the final victory when sin is permanently banished never to plague you again. 

So for now, let’s praise him for the window of opportunity for change. Let’s ask people to study His Word with us. Let’s pray for His will in this place of our temporary citizenship. Let’s love the fellowship of His like-minded people. Let’s bask in the peace that passes understanding that comes as we turn our sorrows and petitions heavenward (Philippians 4:4-9). Let’s turn a bright light on our fears and realize they are just a child’s monsters under the bed. Our Father will come in and suddenly they will be gone. His Word is the great expositor of evil and the final rewarder of His own. Claim the joy along with Nuris. Sing her favorite Psalm today!

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Nothing will I fear as long as You are near. Please be with me to the end.”

From the Archives: A Bird in a Basket

images-1This past Saturday I spoke at a ladies seminar in the state of California. It was a great day–rewarding in lots of ways for me. It was a stormy weekend in my home state of Alabama, while sunny and calm in California. Sometimes it’s just a little serendipity when I get to slip away from the storms (in my mind and in the sky) and enjoy a space of calmness. I actually got to sit on a tiny sunny townhouse patio and visit with a sister I’d never met before. Two small birds live in a basket on that patio and I stood about two feet from Mr. or Mrs. Bird (not sure which) and clicked his/her photo. (I really wish I had brought along my Canon rather than just my cell phone.) I’m told that those birds come back each year and have begun to feel so comfortable in that basket that sits among some artificial flowers on a plant stand, that they don’t even bother to stir when people walk all around them. Before the evening was over, we had five people within a very few feet of the nest and no panic in the nest whatsoever. My host told me that one of that family of birds plucked one of those artificial flowers one year, took it around to her front yard and used it in the building of it’s own nest in a front yard tree.My host, Mrs. Maggie, knows a lot about the birds that feather that nest each year. But she cannot be sure it is the same birds year after year. She pays close attention to their patterns of nest-sitting. She knows that it is both a male and female that exchange places sitting, for she looks through her kitchen window (only a few inches away) and sees them swapping places. She knows that baby birds are born there each spring because there are a few fleeting days between the hatching and the flying when she enjoys watching them grow. All she has to do is keep putting the basket out for them year after year and they check-in as if they know their upscale room is reserved.

But did you ever think about how that God, from somewhere as far away as heaven and yet closer than that kitchen window does know whether it’s the same birds year after year? He knows whether or not the original nest sitters have survived the winter. In fact, he will know the exact moment that the bird in my photograph falls never to fly again.

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father (Matthew 10:29).

The passage goes on to ask the rhetorical question: “Aren’t you more valuable than many sparrows?” God knows and cares about the nest home of those birds and its inhabitants. He knows about my home and its inhabitants, too. He knows that one day, like the sparrow I too, will fall. But I am of more value than many sparrows and I, who have never before taken wing will, on that “glad morning when this life is o’er, fly away.” Praise the God Who cares for the tiny bird in the basket, but cares infinitely more for me.

I’ll Have Both

Unknown-1I’ve heard all too often, recently, statements like “We need to quit talking about the specifics of doctrine and focus on the tragic problems those around us are facing,” or “I’m choosing to be part of this church that doesn’t always get it right about worship, but they get it right about love.” This set me to thinking about the many situations in which we convince ourselves we must choose between two commodities, when, in reality, the situations are not either/or scenarios.  The two commodities are not mutually exclusive and, often, they are both  required.  Just think about a few things that might fit into a list of non-exclusives. You’ll be richer if you know you can have both. 

  1. Meekness and backbone are not mutually exclusive (Numbers 12:3; Exodus 10:26).
  2. Rebuke and longsuffering are not mutually exclusive (II Timothy 4:2).
  3. Conviction and compassion are not mutually exclusive (I John 5:2-4).
  4. Sound teaching and kindness are not mutually exclusive (Ephesians 4:15).
  5. The accumulation of wealth and favor with God are not mutually exclusive (Gen. 13:2)
  6. Equality and submission are not mutually exclusive (Ephesians 5).
  7. Salvation by grace and salvation by works are not mutually exclusive (Ephesians 2:8; I Peter 3:21)
  8. Benevolence and accountability to a work ethic are not mutually exclusive (Matthew 25: 31-46; II Thess. 3:10-13).
  9. Love and withdrawal of fellowship are not mutually exclusive (II Thess. 3:5,6)
  10. Security in Christ and experiencing persecutions/trials are not mutually exclusive (I Peter 1:3-9).