The year culminated this past weekend in Houston as Beth, her daughters Amanda and Melissa and the wonderful staff at Living Proof Ministries hosted a Siesta Scripture Memory Team Celebration at their home church - Houston FBC. I wasn't sure if I could go - I didn't know any other women going and I am NO city driver! Jesse came through! I was reviewing my verses on the tractor one day at the farm and he just looked at me and said, "You've worked so hard! I'm taking you to Houston!" So, we hit the road Friday, checked into the Hilton Garden Inn and went off in search of Mexican food before he dropped me off for Friday night's session. Jesse dropped me at the door and I felt a momentary (and completely uncharacteristic!) attack of shyness as I saw groups of women streaming into the church. Fortunately, one of the first girls I saw was Amanda - I felt like I was greeting an old friend!
I wandered into the meeting room (Beth's old Sunday School classroom, as it turns out) and found another woman who was on her own.
"Anyone sitting here?"
"No - please, sit!"
Her name was Karlys (pronounced car-less) and she was from LaPlace, La.! We became instant friends. She and her husband own a business that deals in pagers for church nurseries (kind of like the ones you get at restaurants! Cool, huh?) Another woman, Karen, sat nearby and we visited and "people-watched" before things got started. We were all close to the same age and were struck by how many "younger" women were there - it was a marvelously diverse group! I spotted one of my favorite bloggers, "Big Mama" (who is tiny and adorable) and couldn't resist introducing myself and chatting with her a minute.
When Beth came bursting in the room, the excitement was electric. She, Amanda and Melissa welcomed everyone and told us a few things about ourselves. There were 507 of us from 42 states (including Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada! Twenty-two denominations were represented!
Travis Cottrell led worship, which brought me to tears. Karlys and I talked later about the fact that sometimes the presence of God is so palpable and emotion is so thick and real you can't even sing. It was a relief to be sitting with someone who understood this. Sisters. So cool.
Then Beth bounded up on the platform to teach (not looking at all like someone who had endured a recent surgery/cancer scare). It was actually pretty reassuring to see her acting like we've seen her act through 11 Bible studies and numerous Living Proof weekend events. Funny, animated, touching, passionate - the Beth we know and love.
She taught through the weekend on Psalm 119 - 176 verses of an emotional roller coaster that every woman there could relate to at one point or another. Throughout the weekend, she constructed a "run-on sentence" summarizing the psalm and us as we relate to it. Here are some highlights:
I am a resident alien...We are sojourners, pilgrims, strangers on this earth. We're not supposed to be at home here. As much as we may try to put our security in some "place" or thing or person, we need to learn to exclaim with the psalmist "you, God, are my portion." (119:57) You are enough. Only you will satisfy.
...seeking direction...God is capable of leading us, guiding and sustaining - although the light He gives for our path may only illuminate the next step of the journey (115:105) even though we sometimes wish for a floodlight, rather than a lamp. God reveals Himself and His direction through His word and will open our minds so that we can understand. (Luke 24:25).
...in deep want of wonder..."Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." (119:18) We have a soul-craving for wonder - a deficit of this wonder creates a profound sense of disenchantment. The psalmist expressed passion, love, delight, joy and wonder in God and His word.
...in peril and need...The writer of the psalm is not afraid to cry out from the depths of despair ("I am laid low in the dust..." v. 20). He brought his valid lament before God and trusted in His power to revive. There are 70 different prayer requests in the 176 verses of Psalm 119. Beth pointed out how often the psalmist asked God for His favor "in accordance with your promise." Knowing God's word and His promises can give us greater confidence when we bring Him our requests - and our lament.
...troubled by humanity...The psalmist devotes many verses in Psalm 119 to telling on his enemies. The psalmist boldly asked God to deal with them (vs. 81-88; 118-119; 126). Beth gave a wise reminder that God will act - He will deal with the enemies of His people, but He "takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked." (Ezekiel 33:11).
-- especially my own --Let's be honest: our own humanity is just as troubling as anything we see on the news. Beth's reminder: "We are the redeemed. Let Him redeem you!" Let His chastisement refine us and make us even more passionate. Another good word - Biblical "blamelessness" is not perfection. It simply means to walk free of the dominion of sin - do not let it rule over us (119:33). It is for freedom that Christ has set us free - we can walk free and we must! Another encouragement - 119:9-11 - when we've hidden His Word in our heart, it will keep our way pure.
knowing that, to follow is the only free road...No way to improve on the words of 119:30-32 - "I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." I love that picture of a path that has been made smooth for us, so we can run with free hearts. Freedom is found on the path.
...for a straying sheep, longing to be found.I loved this conclusion. After all the declarations of love for Lord and His word, the psalmist had to confess - "I am a lost sheep. Come find me." How beautiful that we can always trust Jesus to come after us. Beth put it this way: "The only reason you know Jesus Christ is because He came looking for you. You may feel that you have temporarily misplaced Him - but He has not misplaced you."
Saturday, Karlys and I joined up with Melanie from Idaho (I met her the night before over Texas sheet cake!) and when it was time to break into twos and threes to share our memory verses, we headed outside for a patch of grass. It was such a fun time, reciting, encouraging (occasionally launching into a pantomime to assist a sister in need!). We high-fived and congratulated each other - and made a pact to continue on with Scripture memory throughout 2010 - holding each other accountable as we go.
When it was time to say goodbye, email addresses were exchanged, along with hugs between these sweet women and others I just barely met, but felt such kinship with. It was a unique experience...strangers becoming friends, linked by a shared love of Jesus and His word. It kind of felt like the curtain was raised just a bit, offering a glimpse of heaven.