Friday, June 24, 2016

Great

She feels restless in her seat, the church pew not quite deep enough for a good sit-down and not quite soft enough to be indulgent. The preacher's message rolls along in a rhythmic cadence peppered with all-too familiar words and phrases like "redeemed" and "washed in the blood." The learning of the Word fulfills her mind and no-nonsense outlook. The singing, though. That's where she feels. The words, lovely poetry like the kind she's always admired, resound with truth, their echoes hammering out assurance deep in her bosom.

Assurance. What a word. The assurance of her faith comforts her but for a time, the lack of it elsewhere left her feeling parched and dry. Years had passed since the babe left her after that fall. The disappointment, though many moons behind her, sometimes stings sharp and fresh, even still. Too, her precious girl--too soon to have been born, also long gone; never having said goodbye or even hello--haunts her deep within. But people don't talk of such things.

Years have passed. That prayer was whispered in the dark of her room months before. The same one as that Hannah woman whose longing was so familiar. "Lord Almighty,  if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life..." And then there was an answer...assurance from her God, given months ago. A smile crosses her lips.

She waits, patiently-impatient, for the prayer that will signal the piano player to rise and make her way to the front, accompanying the altar call with the gentle strains of a beckoning hymn. The bulletin's words tell her what song it is that will usher in that sacred closing. The moment comes and with tingling in her feet, ready to rise, she scoots to the edge of the rough pew. Standing quickly--as close to not jumping up as she can manage, she breathes in, ready to begin, waiting for the music minister to start the steady, even sway of his leading hand.

That song is her anthem--an adoration that she will forever cling to. He gave it to her the Sunday after. Singing those words, her spirit brightens within her. Musical praise of heavenward worship fills her, sharpens and strengthens her sweet soprano.
Great is thy faithfulness
O God, my Father.
There is no shadow of turning with thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not;
As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The pews need a good rubbing down with oil. He examines the joints of the boards, half listening to the sermon. Woodworking is something he can see himself doing in retirement years. But God will take him before retirement, of this he is certain. These words the pastor speaks, they are Life and Truth but they escape him. Just beneath the surface of things, he senses the ticking, whirring parts. It's those parts that fascinate him. The Creator was definitely mechanical and scientific in His approach. But the music will snap him back to the broader world. It can be overwhelming to feel what he feels when certain songs play. He wants to shove that down deep. Feelings are for women. Men work. Act. Remain steady. He is just a bit frightened of the unsteady he feels with those precious few songs he truly loves.

Unsteady. There have been years of unsteady. Men take wives. They work, they create families, they support those families. Rhythm. Tick-tock, moving parts. It works this way; until it doesn't. She fell and he couldn't catch her. The yet unborn life they'd created left them.  And then the daughter; HIS daughter. She was so small and so strange. It was too soon and there was barely a glimpse before they whisked her away and she too was gone. His hands ached for a child to hold, to mold, to be a father to. A long time had passed. He wanted a son. He was certain. "God, give me a boy," was the prayer. "He will be yours but please, Lord. Please. I want to be a father."

Glancing over, he catches that sweet, wry smile he loves so much it hurts. Her hand lays in his. The invitation is beginning and the strains of her favorite fill the sanctuary. They stand--she faster and he knows why. This song is her anthem now. Great has been His faithfulness to them. He sings, remembering his favorite, also a gift from the Almighty. On the day they found out, there had been church meeting that evening. One hymn only to open the meeting and it had been that one he had always liked best:
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder;
Thy power throughout, the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee,
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee,
How great thou art! How great thou art!
 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


How Great. How Faithful. Let their souls sing always.










Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Spiritual Lessons in Home Horticulture: Roots

My mom put a clipping from my spearmint plant in a small bottle of water to see if it would root. In the past 3 weeks, it’s vine-like stem stretched and curved upward as it grew centimeter by centimeter, unfurling small triangular mint leaves along itself, bending delicately toward the small space between my kitchen window and the curtain in front of it. Doing the dishes today, I glanced down and saw the thin, filmy tentacles of diaphanous roots stretching downward into the bottle. Roots.

The insignificant wisp of a clipping didn’t nourish itself to the point of regeneration with water it conjured from nothingness. The water was provided, much without its striving. All it had to do was keep it’s bottom-most point submerged in the life-giving stuff. The life was sustained; the growth born out of remaining submerged; the offspring brought forth as a by-product; the roots forged as anchors to hold it fast to its life source.

Lord, submerge me in Your life-giving streams, like a tree planted by the water. Let my spiritual life be sustained; my growth come from being submerged; the fruit I bear be the consequence of that. Let my roots go down, deep, anchoring me to the hope of who You are and what You’ve done. I am Your workmanship, born again in Your Son for the good works that will come when I remain plunged beneath the quickening coolness of Your mercy stream.


For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.-Ephesians 2:10

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Variations on the Theme of Healing

I love the season of Lent. While my salvation is secured by grace through faith alone, I find that Lent affords me a period of time in which I have the opportunity to fast from the everyday in-and-out. I've considered setting a more frequent Lenten period for myself; why confine it to just once a year when every day I draw breath can be one devoted to fasting from the clutter and morass of all my life's stuff? 

But that is a level of commitment and discipline I've not yet reached. I'm great at ideas on paper but the follow-through needs work. 

I digress...Lent; a few weeks behind us now, though probably one of the most impactful I've experienced. I was looking for a different sort of abstinence. Rather than go without something physical, I wanted to fill up on something spiritual; abstain from the usual go-to wonts of the season. So I decide to memorize some scripture--one verse everyday. I chose the eighth chapter in Romans based on its having 39 verses. My choice was that simple. I figured chapter 8 had quite a few buzz verses already and if all scripture is God-breathed, then it was off to the races. Oh how much we underestimate the work of the Counselor in our hearts and minds!

I found the memorization process challenging and exciting. And it thrilled me when I would hear a sermon or lesson that referenced these scriptures. I even began to recall them as relevant and cross-contextual with other scriptures. He was sowing seeds in me and troweling out the next row for planting all at the same time. And at the end of Lent, I had a treasure that's still with me. For a season that's usually known for self-denial, it was an exhilarating indulgence.

On Easter Sunday, I was asked if I would be interested in participating in a Bible/book study group dealing with infertility. It seemed apropos; an answer to prayer. Yes, of course I would. Jumping before carefully discerning is a hallmark in my life so this wasn't any different. 

The week prior to the first meeting, God peeled back a layer of raw that smarted unexpectedly. The first meeting happened and with the journey begun I figured, well, a few raw nerves near the surface needed dealt with before the final healing. This "infertility struggle" was old news. I had found a peace about no more babies. I just needed to remember it.

After that first meeting, there was a tremor inside that I felt coming. I was unsettled and much to my horrific surprise, I felt the blaze of envy, jealousy, resentment, anger scrolling through the myriad of new baby pictures on social media. 
I say this in the spirit of explanation and transparency; I have wounds that need the light of day and deep cleaning by the Great Healer. I am ashamed of my flesh response. Please understand that this is not aimed at anyone in any sense of the word but rather a symptom of my own struggle. 

Like Eustace Scrubb, my dragon scales were being peeled away and it hurt. In my confused pain, comparison was all too close and venom in the form of selfish words poisoned an entire day. In the aftermath of that, I dove into my resources on infertility, finally recognizing the festering pain for what it was. And God, in His faithfulness, met me there with a Word; one that I already had germinating in my soul...
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. -Romans 8:26:27
And again...
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? -Romans 8:24
And again...
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. -Romans 8:18

It is a prodigious thing to stand in the middle of something God-planned. These ebenezer moments overwhelm me; the realization of how deep His mercy is astounds and humbles me. It is the moments that I've labeled as mundane, lately, that have been the most spiritually monumental.

I took a picture of a knick-knack in my friend's bathroom. I liked the little blurb in the frame. To be honest, I received it with the intent of passing it on to others who could really use it to learn something. Silly me.


And again, more God-truth met me in the stories of other women who have walked this same path...
Barrenness, like nothing else, reminded me how far I was from believing the truths about God that I proclaimed, how far I was from leaning against Him the way I wanted a baby to lean against me.*
One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.        -Proverbs 27:7
I don't want to be a hungry soul just for a season. I want to live hunger. This is what draws me to Him. This is what fills every single bitter circumstance with the opportunity to know Him more. This is what brings me to the sweetness of His presence.*
My wounds are pangs of hunger, God-hunger that will find its deepest satisfaction in Him.
Over and over I learn that I don't need a physical healing to receive a heart healing.*
My heart is the most desperate healing I need. His healing comes like the sunrise, full and bright, coloring the sky with the warmth of its rays. Let me trade in lamentation for the hunger-satisfying presence of my Savior. Let me reach for Him in my pain, famished for knowing Him more deeply. He will meet me there with the satisfaction of His healing.



*Quotes from Everything Bitter is Sweet, Sara Hagerty

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New

It is a new day; new mercies, new opportunity to live and love for Jesus, fresh and clean. 

It feels like a breath of fresh air after the dank and stale of yesterday. As much as I restate and restate the importance of defining the goodness or badness of day, not by individual good or bad events but as a whole, I think I can say, pretty certainly that yesterday was bad. It was one of those days when bouncing back wasn’t in the cards.

Refining comes with its fair share of discomfort. Harsh words reveal pockets of bitterness, selfishness, ugliness--like fire reveals the dross in silver.
Oh, I don’t mean to say that I’m some precious metal…no, I’m full of impurity and desperate for the transformation that my God, well-versed in His perfect alchemy, can afford me.

Knowing, I’m told, is half the battle. So now I know. These pockets, dormant for a time, needed the fire, the pressure to be exposed and curetted. 

All of this sounds vague…I mean it to be vague. Details are trumped by the truth that I am imperfect, a sinner in great need of the Grace that only Jesus can offer. In my imperfection, I can hurt, maim, and brutalize with that double-edged sword to which we wives fall prey too often. "I’m sorry" doesn’t seem enough but it begins forgiveness and any person made in the image of a Holy God is worth “I’m sorry," especially the one to whom I've bound myself.

We ask “why” when bad things happen. There are three possibilities: consequence of our own sin, hardship of living in a fallen world, or the work of our Adversary. The key is discerning which of these best fits our situation. It is an easy cop-out to blame all on the third option. Many, many times—let’s be honest; we’re down to brass tacks here—the first quite often has a huge lead on the others. 

But God in His goodness, when we belong to Him, doesn’t leave our side even when we screw up. The consequences of my obliterating tongue yesterday, reached into the corners of the day, tainting it. But in His goodness, He showed me that the words were born from a festering pool of bitterness, resentment, hidden wounds uncleaned. So He exposed them to me through the course of a bad day. They needed cleaned and today, are bandaged by His extravagant Grace. I can admit they still need rehabilitation. He will bring that in good time. 


Picture credit: http://stepsusan.blogspot.com

I sit here in the freshness of new, grateful for Grace and Jesus in my life; for His refining and healing work in me. Where I was not sure yesterday how to keep clinging to my confession or how to move forward in my life, today, He reminds me. 

I’m far from poster child--so, so far. But I am beloved child; forgiven child. I can rest in that. 


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Eating & The Sun

I’ve been meaning to write more lately…

Famous last words. Ha. My mind is a veritable mess of half-baked ideas and thoughts on this and incomplete diatribes and exhortations on that. And occasionally one (or several) of these comes floating to the surface. I suppose it’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel…the question then remains, at which fish do I point?

I recently listened to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity on audiobook. I love audiobooks. They give me the option of reading the way I no longer have time to do—two hours at a stretch. And since I also love to have not only fingers but also oftentimes full fists (and maybe even an arm) in all kinds of pies, audiobook lets me read while I’m doing other things that are unavoidable…like driving and dishes and cooking and bathing. But I digress.

C.S. Lewis. Mere Christianity.

Wow, did that one pack a punch. That man had a mind that just astounds me. And the irony of being a Christian apologist after half a life as a self-proclaimed atheist just stands out as God’s work. He had a way of subtly yet effectively blending logic and faith, the physical and spiritual. Evidence to me that God takes our weaknesses and transforms them, molds them to His purposes and His will—if we’ll only let Him...

It’s been cold here since mid-November; probably longer. The icy blasts of the polar vortices hit us more than once. The temps around here have fluctuated some, though, and we have days of bitter cold and days of damp cold and days of plain old cold. But it isn’t the cold that is a bother.

I have found an honest-to-goodness love for each season in its time. I love a good snowfall as much as a reddening maple, a hot blue sky or an undulating hill of buds bursting into bloom. But during the cold months here, I have noticed that there is one element without which I wither: the sun. Give me a day that’s 20 below and as long as there is sunshine, I’ll snuggle in with a warm cup of something and revel in it. Without the sun, I’m afraid I become gloomy, hermit-ish, achy, tired, unmotivated.

I won’t go as far as to malign the winter. It is no more the fault of the season for being what it is than it is the fault of a table made of wood for being hard and sturdy and the cause of a painfully stubbed toe. Also, as I am learning, God made it and what He made He called “good.” I can hate the way I feel when I don’t see the sun. But I have two choices: I can be sour: sour-faced, sour-spirited, sour-behaved. Or I can be thankful.

And if you’re dubious about thankfulness in the face of something you so despise, allow me to share my current favorite verse that flies in the face of rank ingratitude and teaches us a better way:


One who is full loathes honey,    
  but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.  –Prov. 27:7

I love all of the object lessons and allegories in the Bible built around food. Maybe it’s because I love to eat… or maybe because food and God both sustain and bring pleasure. There is something to experiencing a good meal and experiencing God. The very way He asks us to remember His son is by eating and drinking. The Bible talks about feasts in Heaven. One of the most poignant times Jesus spent with his disciples—his friends—was at a meal.

I, like you, am so limited by my physicality. We experience the world largely through our five senses. It’s one of the reasons I think spirituality can be such a difficult concept for us; maybe even why we lust so hard after doing—it proves something to us. If we can see it and hear it; taste, touch, and smell it then it IS and we have left our mark. But God is spirit. And if we want to worship Him rightly, we must worship in spirit and in truth.

If I am full, I am not hungry, and vice versa. When I am hungry, physically hungry—or, as the original Hebrew root tells it, famished—even something that I would consider mildly unappetizing or unsatisfying would satiate my hunger.  Remember that old guilt trip we heard as kids? “There is a child somewhere in the world who is starving right now who would love to be able to eat what you’re refusing!

We fed our 2 male cats a diet solely of canned cat food for a brief period. It was not the top shelf stuff. And the ramifications were disgusting. It was as if we were feeding them the cat equivalent of Cheetos and Taco Bell…everyday…for every meal. They gobbled it down like it was manna from Heaven every time we fed them. But their bowels were in a terrible state.

Filled up on contempt, rage, bitterness, ingratitude, & complaining like they’re rare ambrosia, we grumble, we judge, we mock, we hold grudges, we look for what we hate and we no longer desire the sweet and satisfying goodness that comes with joy & thankfulness. Our relationships suffer the spiritual waste products.

But the opposite is also true—filled up on joy and thankfulness, we see clearly all that we’ve been given and we feel joy, penetrating & steadfast. Sometimes, joy and thankfulness are bitter medicine. But in thanking God for what seems unthank-able, we find that the bitter becomes sweet. That sounds far simpler than it is. Immediacy is not the way of Heaven but constancy is:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  –I Thessalonians 5:15-16
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. -Hebrews 10:23
Pain is a constant, not a variable in this life. I know that. Yours and mine…they are different. I won’t pretend to know yours. But this way is a better way no matter the type of pain. I have glimpses and moments of an intense & enduring joy that is beyond my comprehension; thankfulness comes easy then. But the other end of that stick is being thankful when I haven’t seen the sun in days (weeks?) because God uses it to show me things about myself. And even the physical sun won’t help me if I don’t let the power of the spiritual Son be made perfect in my weakness. It isn’t pretending that something is good when it is not good but being thankful that God will use what is not good and make it something good.

Grousing is as easy as a 3-minute microwave dinner. But thanking through prayer and the strength of Jesus, though it costs an effort that is often greater than I can muster, presents me with a 5-course feast that leaves me filled and warm and content. This is my sunlamp til the gray-white world melts into the green-gold glory of spring.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Ministry of Tears

All of my days, I have been emotional. I come from good, hearty stock of emotional folks. There is good and bad in that. We are passionate about our callings and our choices and our beliefs. We are stubborn and strong-willed and, occasionally, far too sensitive in our day-to-day. The good and bad...melded.

Feeling deeply has led to some awkward moments--some laughable and some downright embarrassing. I have been known to cry during church--at worship, in prayer, during sermons. It is especially likely if I see someone else tear up. Whether from conviction or from awe, I see and feel God moving in others and I can't hold it in.  The moment often feels far too intimate for public consumption and I hastily wipe away tears, trying to make it look like an allergy attack rather than the work of the Holy Spirit. My husband will ask me if I'm ok and this just irritates me. "Yes, I'm fine! Stop staring at me!" And then there's this gem:


It's all fun and games until I get angry in public (maybe even legitimately) and then burst into tears. I'm taken a little less seriously then.

Because the deal is, we don't know what to make of deep emotions. We want to always be in control. Small tears may well up or perhaps even fall during socially acceptable times--a funeral, a wedding, a birth, a romantic movie.

If those are the rules, then I am doomed to be looked upon as someone who is a little unhinged. But I say it's time the rules were changed--maybe even tossed out.

In my current devotional, I am reading about the importance of reading my Bible. Seems pretty fundamental but firm foundations, a great building can make. On one of the days, the title of the devotional was "Engage It (the Bible) Emotionally." (I inwardly cheered.) The point the writer made was this:
While we cannot only approach scripture with our emotions (it is Truth, after all, regardless of how we feel or what kind of day we’re having), we are to approach it with our whole selves. In doing so, we can engage Scripture in a way that prepares our heart for devotion and adoration...My emotions can fuel a fresh desperation and desire for God and His Word...This is why we approach Scripture emotionally—that we would be restored to God’s best way of handling those emotions. That we’d bring our humanity under the authority of our Father because we’ve been redeemed by Jesus. God is good to take our humanness and not despise it, but to refine it and use it.
And so I have come to the conclusion that tears at hearing God's Word, at seeing others worship, in your own worship, in prayer, are a spiritual gift. Compassion to the point of crying brings a person low--out of the rafters, low; spiritually (and sometimes physically) falling prostrate before God. It is a low that allows glimpses of a truly Holy God.

Too often, I hold back rather than let the Holy Spirit wash over me like a wave and let the tears flow.
Too often, I hold back rather than lay myself prostrate at the feet of Jesus, surrendering my will, my plans, my designs, my life to Him.
Too often, I hold back rather than bend my knees on behalf of a world in desperate need of Him.

I want these words to be my life's cry:

"With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from your commandments!" (Psalm 119:10)

"And from His fullness, we have all received Grace upon Grace." (John 1:16)

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.'" (Romans 10:9-11)

"If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday, and the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail." (Isaiah 58:10-11)

Let my heart be moved by the likes of these and when my heart is moved, let my tears fall fresh.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dirty

Fire in the bones keeps my mind occupied as of late. Change, newness, service...all these things do too.  The fire burns this truth into my heart: be working hands instead of a talking head; go and do; bring justice in My name where there is none. But how, Lord?

The stirrings and desires don't lay out a 5-point plan. And it seems, just when I really see God doing something, not quite clear but a definite shadow on the horizon, it shimmers and disappears. I can wait. But I fear missing something in the waiting. I fear a lifetime of waiting and being forgotten. I fear senseless and stupid.

I truly feel like my voice, my work wouldn't be missed if it ceased. I'm not looking for an out. I'm clawing around in the dark for significance. I know the Sunday School answer. My significance is His. You make much of your life when you make much of Christ. You change the world when you live knowing He must first change hearts--namely yours; firstly yours.

All this begs me to ask myself why I do the things I do. Am I out for recognition? A place of prominence? Is there contentment and joy in being simply bone or sinew within the Body and not hand or foot?

Bodies are made up of cells, solitary cells that stick together to make the parts. So it is with His Body: the Church. That is significance. We become His body.

I am capable of stringing words together and even of saying good things once in awhile. I strive to use words to convey Truth. But I should be more than just a mouthpiece for Truth. How best do I do justice and love kindness?

What I'm doing always seems too small. There's more--so much more to be done. I want to do more than throw a check at it. Put me in the trenches, God! I want to get my hands dirty!

And there’s this book I’ve been reading...it resonates deep within me; with all of these musings. It reminded me that God has much to say to us concerning getting our hands dirty. And one of the questions put to me to write about when I signed up to receive an advanced copy was, “What is the next right thing to do?” This is the question that keeps me up at night; the one that keeps me searching for that one, all-encompassing task that would fulfill God's mandate telling us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. 

Except, there is no all-encompassing, singular, one task that can answer this call. Instead: Do justly to everyone and in every situation; love mercy for everyone and in every situation; walk humbly with Him always. I cannot sit on my duff, waiting for the bright and shiny of a unique, life-encompassing, titled task to fall into my lap. Feels like that would be serving with only myself in mind. Go and do requires that I get up; offer rather than wait to be served; advocate; let my life be filled with pouring myself out to those who need the Grace He's given me. 

Seems like pouring oneself out was mentioned by someone else, too...

"Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all..." (Philippians 2:17)

Then let me be a jack-of-all-trades in the way of service. Getting my hands in the dirt will look a hundred different ways. And this is still answering the call--I say this to remind myself. For too long, I misunderstood about going and doing. It was always within the context of vocation. The most important work you could ever do was in the one place God put you to work. 

Yet, who do I think I am to decide what is the most important work I'll ever do for the Kingdom? Or that the work I do is insignificant because it's not big enough for me? Only God can determine all that. My attitude should be that anything I do in the name of serving God is the most important work I'll ever do. And what I do should be governed richly and deeply by the charge:

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly. 

If it's not just, it's not of God. If it requires me to discard mercy, it is not of God. If it keeps me walking proud, it.is.not.of.God. 

So let me be dirt-covered. I will stick to the trenches because going down there is where I will find my purpose. Mercy is needed even there. Especially there. I will go with being just a drop of elbow grease in the work of the Body. It's not about me, anyway. 





Interested in reading Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker? Head over to here to receive special promotional pricing of 20% off!