Saturday, June 29, 2013

Jack's Struggle

He hadn't really known better. His father and older brothers were alcoholics. Jack was practically raised in a bar. Once, his father approached him sternly. “If I ever catch you drinking, I'll beat you.” Jack grimaced at the thick smell of alcohol on his father's breath. He hadn't felt like a fight, so he uttered an insincere “yes sir.” Despite his dad's gruff warning, it was clear that Physical Impulse was the king of the household.

Therefore, when Jack downed that first shot of hard liquor at his friend's house at the age of twelve, he hardly thought a thing of it. The other guys were laughing at the way his eyes watered when the liquid seared his throat. A few of them were already quite intoxicated. Someone offered him another. He hesitated slightly, then threw caution to the wind. He was wasted by the time the neighbors called the police.

Needless to say, alcohol became Jack's choice vehicle for a pleasurable escape. It was a fixture at every party he attended, his lonely companion after every hard day at work. In fact, keeping the fridge stocked and bar tab paid were two of the major reasons that he even bothered to hold down a job.

Everything changed that afternoon on the bus. His head was still pounding from the remnants of a bad hangover. The older man sitting next to him noticed Jack drumming his fingers.

“Nervous?” The stranger asked.

“Late.” Jack muttered, before wincing. “And late night.”

The older man smiled sympathetically. “Mike Hussel,” he introduced himself, offering a handshake.

Jack accepted and settled in for a conversation. Before long, Jack was explaining some of the difficult situations that plagued his life. Mike listened carefully and then began to ask some uncomfortable questions. Jack wanted very badly to end the discussion, but something stronger compelled him to keep talking. That Something was the Holy Spirit. Mike got off the bus when Jack did, and the conversation continued in a diner. Six hours later, Jack was converted.

Naturally, Mike invited Jack to visit his church. Jack became a regular attendant. The Spirit's work in his heart was evident by his enthusiasm and humble brokenness. Mike met with Jack weekly at the same diner where he'd first come to believe, to disciple him and provide encouraging fellowship.

One Sunday morning, Jack was startled by a Scripture that the pastor was reading. “Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God.” The pastor continued without pause, but Jack was no longer following the sermon. The same heavy guilt that had shadowed his heart at his conversion only a few short weeks before had settled over him again. His throat tightened as he considered the six-pack cooler that he carried in his car at all times. Church, work and the meetings with Mike had kept him from having time to attend any parties, but a crises at work the previous week had driven him back his stool at the bar. His newfound faith caused him to be more careful of his life and others'—so he'd patted himself on the back for walking home once he was drunk, and then walking back for his car in the morning. But now, sitting in the pew with the pastor's words ringing in his ears, the momentary conviction he'd had when ordering that second drink came back to mind. “...nor drunkards...shall inherit the Kingdom of God.” Tears stung the back of his eyes, tears he allowed to run freely during the musical worship which followed the sermon. Jack knelt at the altar. “God help me.

After a long talk with Mike in the church parking lot, Jack returned home. His spirit inflamed with righteous urgency, he raided the cabinets in his apartment for alcoholic beverages and emptied every bottle in his sink. His friends could call him radical if they wanted—he didn't care. Jack refused to be a drunkard any longer: he'd been bought with a price, and his body was no longer his own.

The next several weeks were miserable for Jack as he struggled to overcome his addiction. He changed his route home from work to avoid driving by his favorite bar and often had to change the channel on the television to avoid seeing commercials that made his mouth water. The invisible chains of alcoholism were suffocating in their pull. One afternoon, he lost his temper at the office. In his frustration, he took the old route back to his apartment. He did a double-take when he drove past the bar. The inward battle ended with a u-turn, and the next day began with a flood of remorse. He poured out his heart in brokenness to Mike that evening at the diner, and they prayed together. Jack fell asleep that night at peace with God, but little did he know that his struggle was only about to intensify.

The following Sunday, Jack was invited to a church fellowship potluck at the pastor's house. Although a little nervous, Jack was very pleased to accept the invitation. Once he'd started turning down invitations to parties where alcohol would be present, his social life had pretty much dwindled down to just Mike. He thought the potluck would be a great opportunity to really start getting to know the folks in his church. Perhaps he'd even be invited to one of the Bible studies he'd kept hearing being mentioned by different members of the congregation. “It's almost like a safe party,” Jack thought to himself as he carefully avoided the alcoholic section of the beverage aisle and grabbed a few sodas to bring along as his contribution.

He was greeted at the door by the pastor's daughter who was all smiles to see him. “Please, come in and make yourself at home!” She welcomed him, immediately taking his grocery bag and handing him a plastic cup. Jack suddenly blushed and refused the drink sheepishly. A flash of confusion dampened the young lady's smile and she pointed him to the living room where the men were seated. He nodded gratefully and scoped out a somewhat secluded seat in the corner. He didn't see Mike anywhere.

As he chatted with a couple of the men, Jack tried to shake the embarrassment that clung to him from that initial meeting with the pastor's daughter. “It was nothing.” He scolded himself. “Just avoid it and enjoy yourself.”

He'd finally relaxed a little when he heard a feminine voice address him. He looked up to see the most beautiful woman at church standing before him. Mike had told him that Stacy was single.

“Thirsty?” She asked, smiling.

He fought another blush as he took the glass she offered him. She didn't try to make small talk for very long before she went back to the kitchen, seeming a little offended by his discomfort. He couldn't help the sigh of relief that escaped his lips, as he set the untasted drink on the far end the little table beside his chair.

The pastor stood to bless the meal. Jack bowed his head in earnest, begging the Lord to give him strength in the face of temptation. The doors to the kitchen and dining area were opened wide, and the pastor touched Jack's shoulder. “Guests first!”

Jack felt a little nervous as he approached the beverages. The ladies were swarming the area, filling cups with ice and mixing tall pitchers. Jack took his time writing his name on his cup, his eyes searching the beverage table. He obviously must avoid the coolers, he calculated, serving himself from an innocent-looking punchbowl. He didn't make it to the food table before he was looking around desperately.

“Need something?” A teenage girl asked him kindly, looking a little concerned.

His eyes fell. How could he explain? “Um, I can't—uh.” He pointed to the cup in his hand.

“Oh. Here.” She took a step back, revealing the kitchen sink behind her. “But don't drink the tap water.” She warned before turning away.

He emptied and rinsed his cup, mortified at the display he must be making. He made his way back to the table, filled his cup from the water pitcher and determinedly marched ahead to make his food selections. Once settled at a table, he absentmindedly reached for his water. The odor stopped him before the liquid reached his lips. Tensing, he lowered his cup to the table. “The water is spiked, too?!” He stared at the tablecloth, bewildered.

A lady who was seated nearby noticed Jack's expression. “Can I get you anything?”

Jack shook his thoughts and smiled weakly, trying to think of how to answer. “Do you know where the sodas are?”

“There are a few different types of coke cocktails in the kitchen.” She suggested. “Just tell me what you like best, and I'd be delighted to get it for you.”

Jack felt sick. “No thanks,” he answered, returning to his meal. He left the party early, upset with himself and feeling a little disturbed. He was never so thankful to get back to the safety of his apartment. He collapsed on his couch, exhausted, with his Bible on his lap. He knew the football game would be on, but he didn't reach for the remote. He was not interested in being offered another drink.

Mike called the next morning to let Jack know he'd be out-of-state for several weeks and encouraged him to keep going to church and getting to know his brothers and sisters in Christ. “You're welcome to call me if the temptation feels unbearable, but don't forget God's promise that with every temptation, He provides a means for escaping sin.”

A couple of weeks later, Jack was offered more invitations at church. He dubiously accepted them all. Any hopes he had that the next fellowship might be different were usually dashed the moment he made it to the front door, and was traditionally greeted by one smiling lady after another—each offering an alcoholic beverage.

He felt his resistance wearing low, and was tired of leaving every home parched because there was not a single nonalcoholic beverage available. He knew what would happen if he started drinking again. Was there something wrong with him? All of these Christians drank and drank, around the clock, and didn't even seem bothered by it. Perhaps they all had a very high alcohol tolerance and moderation was natural for them. He knew that some of the fellowships would get rowdy towards the end, and a handful of the younger guys had gotten into trouble for drunk driving. But maybe most of the congregation was simply much more spiritual than he was? How could he tell these stronger brethren of his struggles? Would they not look down on him for being the drunkard that Scripture condemns?

After the service one morning, Jack was leaning against a column, watching the scene taking place in the field just beyond the parking lot. Stacy was playing with a group of children, causing them to shriek with laughter at her silly antics. The sun seemed to shimmer through her curls which tumbled over her shoulders when she fell to her knees to scoop up a little one with tickles.

“Jack.” The deep voice of Stacy's brother from behind startled him. Jack's attempt to casually redirect his stare was humorously obvious. He was relieved, though somewhat embarrassed, to find that Stacy's brother was grinning. “Jack, how would you like to come to our Bible study Tuesday evening?”

Jack tried to hide his excitement. “I'll be there.”

The worries that had typically begun to trouble him as he got ready to visit a church member's home were smothered by his elation at the idea of being near Stacy for the entire evening. He arrived at their house early, imagining himself standing on that same porch in the future, holding a bouquet of flowers.

Stacy answered the door. “Hey, Jack.” Her smile was marvelous. “Want a drink?”

Jack couldn't believe his ears. He swallowed and forced himself to keep his cool composure. “Sure, thanks.” He answered, taking the beer.

“Let's go to the kitchen.” She offered. “The rest of the study group won't be here for another hour.”

Jack checked his watch and stammered an apology. Stacy laughed and ushered him to the table. “My parents are actually out on a date tonight, and my brother just left for a last-minute trip to the store. But we could just hang out here and talk if you want.”

Jack didn't know how he scored so well, but was more than happy to get to know her a little better. However, the cold bottle in his hand was a major distraction.

Finally, Stacy cocked her head. “Don't you like beer?”

Jack didn't know how to respond, but he had no idea how to rescue himself from the situation without making a complete fool out of himself—again.

“Oh, oh yeah. This is fine.”

The expectancy in Stacy's face crumbled Jack's resolve. He had to take a sip, or she wouldn't believe him. He did not want to replay that awkward scene from the first fellowship meal. Swallowing his trepidation, Jack gave in.

That first sip was sweet relief after months of resistance. Stacy mixed herself a drink as they carried on a lively conversation. Stacy didn't refill her own glass, but offered Jack another beer once his bottle was empty. He was enjoying himself far too much to decline. Stacy seemed very pleased as she fished it out of the cooler. Conviction came with every sip, for Jack, but he kept shoving it down and focusing on the wonderful conversation he was having with this wonderful girl.

By the time Stacy's brother barged in the kitchen door with an armful of groceries, Jack knew he'd drank too much. He excused himself, saying that he suddenly remembered an appointment he had. Stacy seemed a little sad to see him go, but said she'd walk him to the car.

“No, I'm okay. You know, I'm great.” He answered quickly, grabbing his keys. He knew that if she came alone with him at this point, he might do something he'd regret. “I'll see you Sunday.” He had enough control to avoid slurring his words, but he scolded himself for stumbling a little on the way out to his car. Stacy's brother could not find out that Jack had been getting drunk while he was alone with his sister. Jack now felt powerless to fight this battle that seemed to stretch out endlessly before him. One his way home, he stopped by the liquor store. There was no peace to be found anyway: he might as well be satisfied.

Mike called Jack the first day he made it back to town, and asked to meet him at the diner. He noticed the conviction that was eating at Jack as soon as they sat down.

“What's troubling you, son?”

“I'm drinking again.” Jack confessed bluntly. “I can't control myself.”

Mike's brow pinched in concern. “Are you still praying and reading your Bible?”

“I'm trying,” Jack answered angrily, “but I feel so... so distant from God! I can't resist the sin that He hates—”

“There is always an escape with every temptation.” Mike gently interrupted.

“Where?!” Jack finally exclaimed, a clenched fist landing hard on the table. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. “I'm sorry, Mike. The temptation is just everywhere. I tried not driving by the temptation and emptying my cabinets of the temptation; I hardly watch television anymore and didn't even RSVP for the company party because I knew there'd be a wet bar—but, Mike, I'm drowning in temptation during church fellowship! I can't get away from it, even at the Bible studies. Every where I turn, someone is offering me a drink. Then when Stacy...” Jack trailed off, his shoulders falling at the recollection. “And now they're even serving alcohol in the building, before and after services.” He stared off for a moment, feeling awful. “I just—I just thought things might be different at church. Safe or something. I'm sorry. I must sound pathetic.”

Mike held up a hand. “No, Jack, I apologize.” He blew his breath and sat back, rubbing his jaw. “Jack, I understand you perfectly. Too perfectly. I'm not so 'spiritual' that having alcohol around all the time doesn't ever present itself as a temptation. In fact, I'm drawn to my pastor's home during my weakest moments—and even there, it's always present, beckoning me to drop my guard for just a moment. I struggled with alcohol too, when I was a kid. Real bad. The Lord delivered me from my alcoholism, and I remember finding a 'safe haven' with church folks. But, as you can see, times have changed.

“Don't get me wrong: this is a great congregation. They love each other, bear one another's burdens and are always delighted to talk about things of the Lord. You need to be in church, Jack, and around fine Christians like these. But these folks embrace what they believe to be their 'Christian liberty.' They rightly understand that there is nothing inherently evil about alcohol. You do understand that, right Jack? Sin comes from within a person—it's not found in any material substance. Alcohol is a gift from God and very useful for many things like sanitation and medicinal purposes. There's a debate in the church over whether or not God intends it to be enjoyed as a pleasurable beverage. I believe Scripture teaches that wine and strong drink can lawfully be enjoyed in the right place, at the right time, and in moderation. As you can see, this congregation also believes that alcohol consumption is lawful—but there's a real lack of boundaries, and thus, that one very distracting element to our fellowship. I'm often embarrassed to bring my struggling young friends along to Bible studies for that exact reason. That's why I'd never invited you before.”

Jack listened, feeling defeated. He'd hoped that somehow, once Mike was home, he'd be able to give Jack an easy solution. But Mike seemed as hopeless about the situation as Jack felt. “Can't you talk to someone?” Jack managed, pushing a salt packet across his plate with a fork.

“I tried, Jack. It's just... it's an uncomfortable topic of conversation. The women, they're the ones that insist on serving alcohol at every event. Every time a husband or father confronts them, they answer from a list of catch-phrases. They bring up Christian liberty. They demand to know who's struggling with it—as if such a weakness is pathetic or alarming. They claim that hosting dry parties is like a crutch for weaker brethren who just need to get over their addiction and learn to fight their sinful urges. When the word 'temptation' is brought up, they just say that those people shouldn't drink or just shouldn't come. I'm sorry Jack. I could try helping you find another church, but you'll run into the same problem most anywhere else. And this really is a great congregation...”

“So what can we do?” Jack dropped his fork in frustration, sitting back with crossed arms.

Mike thought for a moment before blowing out a hard breath. “We keep our heads down and just keep praying for mercy.”


What is your judgment on the congregation in this story? Is Jack really “pathetic” for struggling in the face of so much temptation? Or should the church provide a “safe haven”, bearing with the weaknesses of her members, endeavoring to encourage them towards faithfulness instead of carelessly dropping stumbling blocks in their path?

“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” Romans 14:13

“It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” Romans 14:21

“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” Romans 15:1,2

“Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.” 1 Corinthians 8:13

“Then He said unto the disciples, 'It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” Luke 17:1,2

The verdict is clear.

Of course, this story might sound a bit bizarre. Indeed, I know no congregation that is so forthcoming about their enjoyment of alcohol that they serve no other beverage, even going so far as to spike the water. (Ew?) But this story is merely an analogy. In reality, while Jack the Repentant Alcoholic would find a blessed oasis in every congregation that I know, Jack the Repentant Adulterer (Matthew 5:28) would not.

That's what this story is really about. Modesty.

Picture it now. Instead of being greeted at the door by a smiling pastor's daughter holding a solo cup of moonshine, her shirt is unbuttoned to reveal a lot of skin upon which the sun shouldn't shine. The kitchen is swarming with ladies, not who are mixing tantalizing drinks, but instead who are sporting tantalizing curves. The girl he intends to marry attracts him with her radiant character, but then entices him to crack under the pressure of trying to please her, and he allows himself to drop his guard and lust after everything she's showing him prematurely. Even a 'cold cup of water' in the form of encouragement often comes with the temptation to let his eyes linger, his mind engage, his flesh react. For this Jack, the battle rages at the potlucks, kids' parties, Bible studies—he can't even find rest on the Lord's Day!

This. Is. Tragic.

Fact: Just like there is nothing inherently evil about alcohol, there is nothing inherently evil about any part of the human body. God placed Adam and Eve in the garden without a stitch of clothing, and proclaimed His creation to be “very good.” Man is a fallen creature, but Christ rose again in the flesh, triumphing over the material as well as the spiritual. By His grace, a woman's body can be displayed and enjoyed lawfully—but it must be done lawfully.

Fact: Just like alcohol has a lawful purpose (hold the debate—this article really isn't about alcohol), so a woman's unclothed beauty has a lawful purpose. Just as alcohol can lawfully be consumed (I said hold it!) in moderation, a man can enjoy unclothed beauty only inside a covenant relationship with his wife. Just as there is a time and place for alcohol (Presbys, read: probably not when greeting a new convert at the door. Baptists, I can feel that many of you are about to explode at request to “hold it.” My sincerest apologies.), there is a time and place for unclothed beauty.

Fact: Just like alcoholic consumption should be avoided when weaker brethren are known to be present, unclothed beauty should be avoided when any brethren are known to be present. Yes, I realize I'm being redundant.

Fact: Christian women in America, by and large, seem lost on the previous point. That's why I'm being redundant. I understand that newly converted ladies must be discipled. But there are many, many ladies who know better and yet push the line (or erase it) anyway. This includes myself.

Fact: Just as there are many Christians who have history of alcoholism, there are many Christian men who have a history of pornography. Every Christian man has probably struggled with resisting double-takes at least once in his life—and these guys rarely get to leave the battleground.

Fact: Unlike alcoholism, lust is a struggle for all men.

Fact: Unlike alcohol, immodesty is something that few American men can realistically avoid (and those guys are probably living in a secluded cabin in the woods somewhere). Sadly, this includes Christian fellowship.

Fact: Unlike alcohol, low doses of unclothed beauty affect men in powerful ways. A drop of alcohol won't make a man drunk even if he wanted it to, but even a hint of a woman's form can solicit a lustful response from an unguarded man. Sisters, are you wisely cautious of alcohol, knowing that it's dragged down even the greatest of men into a pit of groveling foolishness? Your body is potentially more fatal than even the bottle, and you are responsible for the way that you are dressed.

Fact: Paul didn't think that becoming a vegetarian in order to avoid cause someone to stumble was giving the weaker brother a crutch (1 Corinthians 8:13). Would he think, then, that Christian women whom are striving to dress in a manner that wouldn't cause their brethren to stumble are giving their brothers a crutch? Eating meat isn't even a sin: dressing immodestly is.

Fact: Girls have a hard time seeing the way that men do. However, men are willing to give their advice to their female family members when they know that the girl won't retaliate defensively. Ask your father and brothers about your clothing. If you approach them in sincere, godly humility, they'll help you understand what causes a guy to stumble. You can also get inside the minds of over 1,600 Christian guys by checking out the Rebelution Modesty Survey

Fact: Our brothers in Christ are overwhelmingly appreciative of our attempts to dress modestly for their sakes: To My Sisters in Christ—From a Grateful Young Man & A New Kind of Modesty  

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel...” 1 Timothy 2:9

Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” 1 Timothy 2:9,10

Quite obviously, we live in a sexually irresponsible culture. What doesn't seem to be so obvious to many young ladies is the fact that the church is primarily responsible for said culture. No, we aren't walking around like Victoria's Secret models. (Well, unless we're within 100 yards of water.) But, unhappily, most of us seem to be spending a lot more time finding ways to reveal our figure “without crossing the line” than we are trying to love and edify the brothers we have who might be struggling.

Why? Why do we do this? Why would we insist on using our Christian liberty as a license to sin by dressing immodestly, to the point of making every struggling Jack we know miserable? How can we demand that he look us in the eyes when everything below neck level is competing for his attention? How can we ignore the fact that he spends almost every moment when out and about, striving hard to fight images that jump at him from screens and advertisements, adverting his eyes from the strange women that invade his view—only to come to church fellowship and face the same battles all over again, only this time surrounding the girls with whom he would really like to just befriend? Our brothers in Christ, these valiant warriors of the faith who are rising up to defend us from the dragons of the world. Can't we be there to give them a cup of cold water without “spiking” it?

Don't we love them enough for that?


And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him,

There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.

And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan,

As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

And Nathan said to David,

Thou art the man.

~ 2 Samuel 1:1–7a ~

[[To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.]]

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness: according to the multitude of Thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest.”

~ Psalms 51:1–4 ~

For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people: He will beautify the meek with salvation.”

~ Psalms 149:4 ~

~ Grab This Post ~
Jack's Struggle

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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Story Behind the Name

Cauley models one of her best-selling drawstring bags, perched in our Thinking Tree.

The gnarled limb was the perfect shape for a seat. The climb over to it was a bit precarious—I still remember that first adrenaline rush when I finally mustered the courage to take my foot off of the solid branch below and trust my arms. My heart beat wild as the bark dug into the crook of my elbow where it was hooked tightly around the “armrest” of what I imagined to be an exotic throne. Eventually, I mastered the maneuver with a book tucked under the arm that had once clung cautiously. Cauley's “throne” was on a slightly lower, more accessible limb.

“I like this spot better than yours.” she'd say decidedly after declining the half-invitation-half-dare to cross that daunting distance, “I like it better because it has this little baby branch growing out of it. It needs me to take care of it. Do you see it, Shelby?”

I saw it, but still thought my spot was better. Cauley tenderly nursed and sang to that baby branch as the summer rolled by, protecting it from the chubby grasp of our little brother who was in danger of crushing it as he made his first nervous journey up.

The verdant berries that lead us to mistakingly refer to our fortress as a “chinaberry tree” hardened into black hulls, then split open to reveal a cluster of pure white beads. Cauley and I thought that it looked as though our tree were donning a wedding gown. Our little china tallow then exchanged it's gay canopy of green for brilliant hues of scarlet and yellow laced with brown. The splintery bark made runs through the new gloves which we were delighted to wear during the first cold snap of Fall, as we pulled ourselves up to enjoy the rare autumnal colors that graced our yard. Before long, the tallow began to drop leaves which we mound into piles over the roots that ran on top of soil. “Just in case someone falls.” I explained to my siblings when they grumbled at the idea, without a thought of what would've happened had we lost our balance in the summertime.

adorable plush owl nests just above our imaginary "throne room" of yesteryear

Cauley's baby branch was among the first to lose it's leaves.

“I think it's dead.” She declared with deep emotion.

“Maybe you touched it too much.” Said I, ever ready with some wise-sounding explanation.

We were banned from playing on the tree during the Winter, when the strengthening sap had been withdrawn from the brittle limbs.

“Just wait 'til it has some green on it again. Then I'll test the branches and let you know when you can play on it again.” Dad promised.

In due time, the butterflies had emerged again and played among long green tassels that hung from the tallow where young leaves formed thick bunches. As soon as we were allowed, Cauley and I excitedly pulled ourselves up to our atmospheric palace. Imagine the delight that shone in my sister's eyes as she discovered that her baby branch was putting on new leaves!

“Okay, but I still think you shouldn't touch it as much this time because I've heard that can kill 'em.” I instructed.

It was one of those picturesque experiences that should have a place in every childhood: sisters spending lazy blue-sky summer days in that perfect treetop spot where we're compelled to peek through the dancing leaves and exclaim in wonder, “you can see everything from here!” Barefeet dangling carelessly as we crunched the apples that we pretended we'd picked whilst defending our decision to change our favorite animal or planning our next birthday party. Hauling our library books in backpacks to “do a little studying.” It was there that I penned in a green spiral a short story about a troop of Girl Scouts who were sent on a dangerous mission by the King of France. It involved crocodiles. It was my first written piece and, to me, it was quite the thriller.

As the Summers passed and our imaginative games became fewer and farther between, we began to claim the limbs of that tree as the special place we went “just to think.” There we could have a peaceful place to ponder and pray. And, of course, this is how our beloved Thinking Tree got its name. The books we hauled up got thicker and our arms became stronger. Pretty soon, there was not one branch which could support our weight left unclimbed. (Even one branch that couldn't support weight let me know it the hard way. Despite the fact that the season hadn't yet afforded a cushioned landing, I escaped with little more damaged than my pride.) Our conversations matured from planning our birthday parties to planning what we would do once we grew up.

from our bedroom window
And grow up we did. The Thinking Tree's growth was slower than ours, and it wasn't long before our spacious throne room was too crowded for the both of us. I could no longer fit comfortably in my spot and Cauley's baby branch had grown so thick and full that it shielded us from each other, rendering conversation difficult anyway.

These days, much of the conversation that used to take place among the leaves of the Thinking Tree now happens in its shade, for this tree stands just beyond the big window of the bedroom we share. We still enjoy gorgeous silhouette leaves against the deep azure of evening and marvel at the glorious display of autumn colors while sipping pumpkin spice lattes in bed. We still talk about the future, trading childish dreams for Kingdom-advancing pursuits, often wrestling over decisions and contemplating what kind of consequences our choices will have for posterity.

Our business was conceived during these kinds of conversations and designed at a blue writing desk that looked toward the Thinking Tree. We decided to name the business to be reminiscent of the days of childhood, a time when play was exhilarating and we looked toward the future with wonder-filled eyes, a time when we first made the discovery that 
life is beautiful.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

And the winner is...

of the Seven Sisters!
(entry #4)

Congratulations, Jessica! Thank you so much for entering the give-away!
We'll be sending you an email shortly. :)

{Winner determined using}

Monday, June 17, 2013

Little Tait's Preemie Fundraiser: A Beautiful Success!

Isn't it wonderful to be a child of God?

To pray and then sit back with a smile, knowing that He Who owns the cattle on a thousand hills has heard your petition because of Christ and looks favourably upon His children?

A little less than a week ago, I learned that Tizzle Top decided to donate all proceeds to Little Tait's Preemie Fund. I remember wishing there were a way we could help. I wandered down the hallway to ask Marmy if we'd be able to purchase a little something from Tizzle Top. She handed me some bills as she answered, "As a matter of fact, your Daddy wanted you to send this to the Zimmermans."

Thrilled, I rushed the cash to the bank. Well, Lord, this is what You've allowed us to do. I'll continue to share about the fund and then let it rest in Your Hands. I know that You're able.

Once I returned home, Marmy was still going on about what a great concept Tizzle Top had in donating proceeds from a home business to useful causes—what a great way to advance the Kingdom! I thought it all over as I washed the dishes, pondering my father's words regarding the fund: "This is where the Church should be." I agreed.

If the Church put money where her mouth was; if She was willing to forego little luxuries in order to fully bear the burdens of the members of the Body—perhaps then we could win this war against socialist humanism. This is the answer, I thought as I replaced the lukewarm dishwater with a fresh, piping hot stream. And He can do this thing. He can provide through His Church. And I believe He intends to.
"For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." {1 Peter 2:15–17, emphasis mine}
ObamaCare won't be defeating by making jokes about our president. No, the first step to overcoming socialist health care is to exercise our freedom to take care of our fellow Christians through private, voluntary, God-glorifying means. The first step to overcoming socialist health care is to refuse pushing our monstrous bills through Medicaid {thus forcing our fellow countrymen to pay for our medical expenses at gunpoint}, but to instead bravely trust the Lord to provide. 

A week ago, they still needed to raise over $20,000. Doubt played at the edges of my mind. After eighty-something days of fundraising, one would think they might be scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as contacts go. This campaign had been going for a few days shy of three months and they still needed $20k. How?! I began to think through my own contacts. Who did I know that had that kind of money and would be willing to give it to this family, for the cause of Christian liberty in privatised welfare?

I blushed a little when I considered my own question. I certainly do know Someone. I asked Him if there was anything He'd like for me to do?

There was. Ideas for the give-away began to flood. I had to be careful not to break the plates as I dried and stacked them, eager to begin. Cauley donated the necklace of my choice. Madison {Dolly Madison Designs} was online. Would she like to donate a product to the give-away? Oh! She'd be willing to offer her graphic design services as well? Splendid! She jumped in wholeheartedly with a host of ideas. This little effort couldn't have happened without her. She tirelessly worked late into the night with me as we got everything together. Shiloh {Lilla Rose} and Hannah {Damsel Made} donated two beautiful prizes. Our give-away was shaping up quite nicely. 

The order of business on the following day was to promote, promote, promote! Only life kept getting in the way. As Maddy was busily getting the word out from her corner of the web, I was struggling to prioritise. Could I watch Noah for a little while? Gracey needs a snack. The phone is ringing. What were we getting the twins for their birthday? Company's coming tomorrow—would I please clean our room?! And could I do so-and-so a quick favour?
Baby Noah {Little Man}

My natural tendency is to stress out when life collides with my plans. Wasn't this fundraiser a Kingdom-advancing pursuit? Yes. But so is my home—and my family is my first responsibility. You orchestrate all things. You control the cash flow. I can do nothing, but Your very Name is Almighty. Once again, I surrender my schedule to You. I know that interruptions are Divine appointments. Order my steps, by Your grace.

Yes—I am supposed to be actively working towards the goal as I pray. But sometimes, the Lord brings me on detours that I wasn't quite expecting. Running headlong into the battle that I see stretching out gloriously before me, I trip on a load of laundry. Immediate, mundane duties demand my attention. Will I grumble at the pressing duties described in Proverbs 31:13,14,15,16,17,18,19,21,22,23,24,25,26&27 because only the ministry work described in verse 20 sounds very fulfilling? 

Standing up with some pretty amazing people to help a family raise $100,000 as a testimony to the power of Christ through His Church sounds exciting. And it really has been. But while it is important to say "no" to socialist welfare—it is just as important to say "yes!" to familial welfare, if not more so. Just as it is important for the Church to put money where Her mouth is on a large scale by privately and voluntarily helping a family pay off a giant debt, it is important for this Christian to put her time and energy where her mouth is by cheerfully volunteering in the day-to-day household operations of providing private education, daycare, transportation, medical care, food programs, etc., to the members of her family. 

Daddy has been teaching me a valuable lesson: if Christians don't embrace their responsibilities with love for God and each other, God will not take their liberty-loving-lipservice very far. There has to be real obedience and self-government to truly empower our talk of Christian liberty. {James 2:14–17}

In other words: the Lord helped me to chill out and get my priorities straight. Every time I'd feel a tug-o-war between my responsibilities to my family and my desire to get back to the abounding opportunities in online ministry, I would surrender to the Lord of my schedule. There was peace and obeying Proverbs 31:26 became possible, by His grace. And I would learn, once again, that the answer to the epidemic of stress is not found in a fad diet or stealing away for a few moments of "me-time" or in anxiously protecting that perfectly laminated schedule that adorns the front of my homemaking binder. It's in saying "amen" to God, no matter what His plans may be. It's in embracing the responsibilities He's currently given me instead of whining about all of the If Onlys... 

So, I didn't have time for this, really. There were chores and errands and a fellowship lunch and a daddy date and babysitting and more errands and phone calls and freelance work and the twins' birthday party and meals to cook and dishes to wash and loads of laundry to process and grocery shopping to do and millions of little life-things in between. But the Lord doesn't need me to hold everything together. That's His work. {Colossians 1:17} I was called simply to obey and have faith.

I was called to stand fast at my post and diligently work at my responsibilities as I watched Him lead the battle at large. And now, I am blessed to join the cry of thanksgiving that has arisen from the Lord's Army this day as our King secured another victory! From

I first saw the news this afternoon as I was pushing a grocery-filled shopping cart toward the checkout line. My heart lept and my face beamed and the doxology filled me up.

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above ye heav'nly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

With a song on my lips and a sleeping babe on my lap,

Lord willing,
the winner will be announced tomorrow
and we'll have the vouchers sent out shortly.

A great big "thank you" to all who contributed, entered and shared!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Little Tait's Preemie Fund Give-Away! {Closed}

Have you heard about this little guy? His name is Tait Zimmerman Jr. He was born premature four years ago. You can read all about Little Tait's story here.

According to
Preemies are expensive. (But totally worth it, of course!) Just the cost of using a single bed-space in the NICU runs around $3000 a day. Little Tait was pretty much literally a “million-dollar baby,” before any reductions were made on his bills. At this point, by God’s grace, and through the help of so many people, all of his bills are taken care of … except the big one: the hospital bill.
Over the past few months, they have been working to raise $100,000 dollars. If they can raise this amount of money by Monday, the hospital will settle Little Tait's account. So far, they have a little over $77k. But time is running out.

There are only five days left to raise a little over $20,000.

Dolly Madison Designs and The Thinking Tree are teaming up to help the effort by hosting a give-away!

Do you need a new banner for your Etsy shop? A new blog header or sidebar button? What about a cover graphic for your Facebook page? Perhaps an advertisement of some sort?

Whatever your custom graphic need, I (Shelby) or Dolly Madison Designs will tackle the project* if you donate any amount to Little Tait's Preemie Fund and then comment on this post. You'll be able to decide which one of us you'd like to handle your project when you comment below.

Every single person who donates and then comments below will receive a voucher for one free custom graphic*.

Check out our portfolios:

Apparently, I enjoy teal. And red.

And now, enjoy perusing the work of my dear friend, Dolly Madison:

I love her work—especially that Vintage Treasures banner. Pretty, pretty.

If you donate to Little Tait's Preemie Fund, you can decide which of us you'd like to undertake your custom graphic project!

But that's not all!

Everyone who donates and comments below is automatically entered into a give-away to win an amazing bundle of prizes!

First, from The Thinking Tree Store on Etsy

Vintage Key Blessed Necklace with Clay Rose
This necklace, made classic with a vintage jewelry box key and handcrafted clay rose. Also, handmade ''Blessed'' charm placed on a bold dark brown leather cord. Simple and unique. 
Length:16'' with a 3'' extension

Next, from Dolly Madison Designs

Sunshine Blossoms Polymer Clay Buttons (Set of Five)
So tiny! These adorable little buttons will bring a dash of cheer to all sorts of crafts and house decor! I love to use these as jar fasteners, but there are so many adorable ways to employ these buttons. Use them for decoration, appliques, quilts, purses, needle-books, and any matter of little whimsies!
Painstakingly handmade, these buttons are a one-of-a-kind work of art. No molds, patterns, or kits used. The average button set takes three hours in total of hands-on labor. Truly a one-of-a-kind treasure!
Dolly Madison Designs on Facebook

Plus, we have from Hannah at Damsel Made

White Knit Earwarmer/Headband/Cowl
This versatile accessory can be worn three different ways!
1) Wear it as a cute ear warmer over your hair, 2) or a charming headband underneath your hair, 3) or a mini cowl on your neck.  
Super cute, stylish and warm! Made out of 100% acrylic yarn in white. Measures approximately: 4" wide and 16" round (without stretching). One size fits most. Makes a great gift! Made in a smoke free and pet free environment.
Damsel Made on Facebook

Finally, from my favourite Lilla Rose consultant, Shiloh Ariel

Spring Bouquet Mini Flexi
Women who use the Flexi Clip say is is so comfortable, they forget they are wearing it. The beaded wire really does flex around the hair. Clients often declare how they are stopped by women asking, "Where did you get that beautiful hair clip?" Our repeat customers are singing praises about the strength and longevity of their Flexi Clips. 
Celebrate the brilliant colors of spring with this lovely bouquet of flowers. 2" clip.
Lilla Rose ~ Shiloh Ariel on Google Plus

Step-by-Step Overview

1) Donate any amount to Little Tait's Preemie Fund:

2) Post one comment letting us know that you donated.

3) We'll need your email address in order to send you a FREE CUSTOM GRAPHICS VOUCHER*. You can leave your email address in the comments OR send it to ladylrae [at] If you don't give us your email address, we won't be able to send you your voucher.

4) By posting a comment, you'll be automatically entered into the give-away to receive the prize bundle which includes:

  • Vintage Key Blessed Necklace {The Thinking Tree}
  • Set of Five Sunshine Blossoms Polymer Clay Buttons {Dolly Madison Designs}
  • White Knit Earwarmer/Headband/Cowl {Damsel Made}
  • Spring Bouquet Mini Flexi {Shiloh Ariel at Lilla Rose}

How is that for an offer?

Why all of this for Little Tait's Preemie Fund?

To me, Tait and Lauren Zimmerman are two very courageous parents. Sending the humongous medical bills through Medicaid was an option, but they refused the socialist handout. They have faith that Christ can work through His Church to provide the funds necessary to pay the hospital.

Little Tait, age 4
Daddy has pitched in a couple of times over the past few months, and I've watched the fund-raising progress closely. Now, with only five days left to finish raising a little over $20k, I've finally had a chance to join the last hurrah. I'm very passionate about the Church putting money where her mouth by faithfully stepping up and showing the civil government that socialised welfare is not necessary.

That's why I'm doing this. Dear sisters in Christ, please join me. In addition to blessing the Zimmermans, you'll be able to work with the graphic designer of your choice on one free project and automatically have the chance to win a bundle of four great prizes. Whatchya waitin' for? Click here to donate.

*Shelby @ The Thinking Tree and Dolly Madison Designs reserve the right to decline graphics projects due to conscience. If for some reason we cannot help you with the first project of your choice, we'll work with you to come to another agreement. 

More efforts for Little Tait's Preemie Fund:

Click here for more great giveaways!
Like Little Tait's Preemie Fund on Facebook!

Give-away ends June 17th.
Due to shipping costs, only U.S. residents can enter the give-away.