Epiphany

And there it was – the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2: 9-11

Today is Epiphany – which means that the Magi of my liturgical action figures have finally reached the Child. Sam laughs at how I play with my Nativity set throughout the Christmas season. Early in Advent, I place the pregnant Mary, the watchful Joseph, and the tired donkey at the center of the scene – white and gray and brown on my white mantle, the Swedish star gently shining overhead. Behind the feather trees, also white and gray and brown, the angels are peeking out, watching over the repository of God’s grace and the hard-working carpenter who obediently cares for her, in spite of the tarnish on his own reputation. The shepherds, completely unaware of what is about to rock their world, are off on a different corner of the mantle, the trees creating a barrier between God and man – but a few angels, the ones who look the most joyful and giggly, are peeking out at them too. THEY know what’s coming and can’t wait to sing the good news to this motley crew. But not yet. The fullness of time has not come.

On Christmas Eve, the Child and mother replace the pregnant Mary. Instead of standing wearily, she kneels cradling the Baby, one hand reaching out as if to caress His perfect cheek – a gesture of all new mothers. The angels – all except a few kneeling by the trio – are off singing to the shepherds “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace…” In the morning (and I know this is not chronologically according to the story, but I like my tableau to have a few minutes in place!) the shepherds draw near, sheep and all, and worship the Infant. The angels pull back a little, except for the one that, in the big girl’s voice says, “Look, Baby Jesus, I brought you a puppy!” A few days after Christmas, the shepherds return, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told”.

So back to my Magi, wandering as far in the East as my mantle allows, guided by the soft glow of the wooden Swedish star, and the candlelight of one lone angel that walks backward before them, guiding, lighting the darkness, shielding the flame so a sudden desert storm won’t pffffft it out. Today they finally get to arrive. There is no dallying at Herod’s palace (for several years my children, with their Playmobile nativity, would set up Herod’s palace nearby – using the knight’s castle. There was a very cranky looking King Herod, accompanied by ominous guards, pointing the way. At least the children did not stage a Slaughter of the Innocents before I managed to put it all away!) My Wise Men push on knowing (by the trees moving out of the way) they are close. Today the little angel stops in front of Joseph, holding her candle over the Baby, and the Magi come and adore. The oldest and wisest (at least I assume he is – his long gray hair and beard attest to it) kneels the nearest with his gift for the King, the frankincense. He is followed by the Magi with the gold, his head bowed, while the third bears the myrrh looking upward as if he can see a cross. The camel just sinks placidly to the ground.

Tomorrow or the next day, I will pack it all away and relish the spare emptiness of a clean mantel. But what does it mean to me now? Why do I play with this Nativity throughout the whole Holy season? It’s not a toy – it is a lovely, and relatively pricey, set – enough so that I don’t allow anyone else in my household to move the figurines (at least not yet). I think that it is possibly the only way in this crazy busy upended time of year, the time when I promise myself “it will be different this year” but it never really is, that I pause. I breathe. I think about the ancient story of hope and love and grace and waiting, and for a few moments I can put myself into the scene – the ungainly uncomfortable mother, the anxious carpenter, the giggling angel, the sage travelers, the mystified frightened shepherds – and know that I am part of the story. Which is in itself an Epiphany.

Save

Save

Save

Holy Hide and Seek

Holy Hide and Seek

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jer. 29:13

Remember when you were a kid, and you would play hide and seek? Maybe you have small people in your house and you are in the midst of those years. “Mommy, let’s play hide and seek!” So someone dutifully covers their eyes (usually the Mommy) and counts to ten and everyone else scatters to hide. Frequently, the kids hide in plain sight, peeking out from behind some curtains, or feet sticking out from behind the couch. In my house, I sometimes took a very long time to count to ten. Sometimes even long enough to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and flick through a magazine.

There are many variations of this game: Ghosts in the Graveyard, Fugitive, Murderer, Assassin (why do these variants get more gruesome as kids age?). What is it about these hiding and finding games that are so appealing to children? If you are at all like me, you know why they are appealing to the mommy.

Part of it is the unknown. There is a little buzz when you open a cupboard door and are surprised to find someone in it. The thrill of discovery overcomes the trepidation of being scared by what is behind the curtain.

Isn’t it the same with God? Throughout Scripture we find reference to seeking. So many passages speak of seeking God with all your heart, and he will be found.

It’s the ultimate Hide and Seek game. But here is the catch. God isn’t hidden. He’s there in plain sight. This holy hide and seek is more like Marco Polo or Blind Man’s Bluff maybe – one in which the seeker can’t see and the sought-after is right there in front of you.

So why do we even need to seek God? If he is right there all the time, why can’t everyone see him?

In the garden, there was no need to seek God. He walked and talked and hung out with Adam and Eve. They frolicked happily around the grounds. Have you ever watched a two year old after their bath? There is no fear or shame, they sprint around the house naked as a jaybird, laughing their heads off while we pursue them. Until my niece was about five, whenever we were at the cabin she would contentedly strip down to her birthday suit to swim. Sometimes her only item of clothing all day would be her life jacket. I loved seeing those little white buns peeking out.

Then came the apple-eating incident. And the first game of hide and seek. Only it wasn’t so fun. There was no giggling in a cupboard desiring to be found. Adam and Eve hightailed it behind some bushes and tried to cover up their nakedness. In the cool of the day, God came walking in the garden and when they heard him they hid. He called, and when he got no answer, he went seeking. Because God is God, the game didn’t last long. Adam answers “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid…so I hid.”

This game happens in many homes today as well. How often has one of your spawn done something they don’t particularly want you to know about, and they hide? They either hide the broken object, or when they really don’t want to get in trouble, themselves. Isn’t it amazing that the human spirit reacts the same way today, millennia later, that the first folks did. We hide. We hide our sin, our shame, our brokenness. We don’t want anyone to find out what we really are, so we cover up.

God asks Adam and Eve, with what I imagine to be sorrow in his voice, “What have you done?” Then a lot of finger pointing begins. “Well, she…” “It was HIS fault…” The first game of hide and seek does not end well.

The game then turns. Once out of the garden, we became the seekers. We create a divide with God and this separation from him, caused by our sin, makes us feel like he is hiding. Really, aren’t we just seeking playing freely in the garden? Isn’t what was lost what our souls yearn for? But it isn’t the garden we are after. It is relationship with God. We blew it with our stupid version of hide and seek, and now we want it back.

God creates a new version of hide and seek for us. Over and over in Scripture he tells us that if we seek him, we will find him. “Hey guys… come look! Come find me. I’m right here…” And we sit on the couch and count to a bazillion and flick the pages of a cheap tabloid. God is eager for us to find him. Jesus tells a few parables about this: the pearl of great value, the woman who loses a coin.

If you seek him, he will be found 1 Chronicles 28:9

And those who seek me find me Proverbs 8:17

Seek the Lord while he may be found Isaiah 55:6

For it is time to seek the Lord Hosea 10:12

Seek me and live Amos 5:4

He who seeks, finds Matthew 7:8

He rewards those who earnestly seek him Hebrews 11:6

My kids, now teenagers, play a version of this game called Sardines. In this variant, one person hides – preferably in a relatively roomy space – and as the seekers find the hider, one by one, they crawl in with him or her and join the hiding until every last seeker has found what is hidden.

Isn’t this a little bit like seeking God? What he really wants is for all of us to be made right with him. So he hides in plain sight – feet sticking out from behind the couch, or the closet door left ajar. He wants us to crawl, one by one, in with him – back into the garden – to frolic unashamed with the Game-maker. To giggle with him until the others find us.

We are given games like hide and seek so that we learn the greatest Hide and Seek, one that is not a game but a pursuit of the Holy and the Creator.

Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:3-4

 

 

Save

Save

Save

The Rapids and the Reservoir

With joy

Jesus stood and said in a loud voice,“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.” John 7:37

Jesus tells us that he is the Living Water.  He invites us to come, drink deeply, let our thirst be quenched.  It is a continual process.  Just as we can only go about three days without water, so being disconnected from the source of Living Water will dehydrate our souls. The Living Water needs to flow through us.

But what about those of us who aren’t disconnected from that Source, yet aren’t riding the river?

I do the “right” things.  I read my Bible. I pray. I attend a life-giving church. I talk God-stuff with my Christian friends.

But I live upstream from a dam.  And sometimes I compare my dam to the free-flowing river and wonder if I’m doing it wrong.

Have I taken all of that Living Water, meant to be free-flowing, and turned it into a lake for my own pleasure? A place where I can swim or water-ski or sit with some friends on a party-barge and have a glass of wine? Or is that another way God uses his Living Water?

I know that dams serve a purpose.  They can be used to create energy, to provide recreational lakes, to conserve and control water flow.

Was the Living Water ever meant to be dammed?  I don’t know.  Any time you try to dam the Living Water it will still find a way to overflow the banks and spill out onto the land around it.  It never goes to waste.  Perhaps it’s reach is not as far as it could be? But perhaps it’s reach is deeper than it would otherwise be.  Because that is what happens when a river is dammed.  It creates a deep reservoir.

I’ll be honest.  Evangelism scares me.  Reaching out and telling others about my faith does not come easily.  It is not one of my spiritual gifts. But that doesn’t mean I can use that as an excuse.  Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations.  He doesn’t say: Hey you three over there, and you couple over there, and Sue and John and Amos, Go make disciples.” He is implying, nay, outright commanding all of us to do it.

How that looks will be different for each of us.  For some people I have a feeling it looks a lot more like rushing rapids.  God uses some to careen down the canyon, catching people’s attention, pulling them into the raft.  Rescuing them. He’s not asking them to be comfortable. They have a mission and he’s using them in splashy and exciting ways.

But for the rest of us, maybe God uses the serene reservoir. By damming up a river, a deep pool is created.  A pool that is calm, that creates a somewhat safe place where folks can relax and be in relationship with each other.  A place where we can be refreshed.

Isn’t that also a form of evangelism?  It may not feel like we are accomplishing much.  Those of us who have built reservoirs will probably never save thousands of people at a big revival event, but it’s not us doing the saving anyway.  It’s Jesus.  It’s the water.

Living Water is not meant to be contained, rather to flow freely.  But dams are also built to help control the flow of water, to help prevent an overwhelming flood downstream.  By letting out as much as the surrounding landscape can handle, it brings life to the landscape.

So here is the dilemma.  What is enough? I must be cautious of trying to selfishly keep the water to myself, to hoard it for my own future use, of creating a stagnant pool. Uff da.  I need to be careful here. The reservoir is meant to be shared.

There is a very fine line between stopping the flow, and letting the flow be controlled.  The control of water is actually managed by a different kind of structure called a floodgate.  While I may choose to build a dam, the Holy Spirit is in charge of the floodgates.  Maybe if I let the Spirit build the dam, instead of me, with floodgates installed, the reservoir becomes useful.

Another thing those reservoirs are used for is to fish. Jesus likes a good fishing story.  After animal husbandry (sheep), fish are one of the more common metaphors used in the Gospels.  Jesus hung out with fishermen.  His BFFs were fishermen.  Sometimes they had a good night fishing, and sometimes they came up with nothing.  Until Jesus, a carpenter for Pete’s sake, tells them where to throw their nets, and then the catch is monumental.

Fish need moving water, or they need to move in the water, to survive.  Even in a dammed up reservoir, the water moves. It’s when it doesn’t move at all that things die.

So water flows in.  A dam is built, but with floodgates.  A reservoir is formed.  And the water keeps moving.

Some are told to get in the raft and ride the rapids.  And some of us are told to ride the pontoon.  The point is that the water is being used.  That it is touching the lives of the people who are desperate for it.  It laps up on the shores, and it sweeps things away.  One is not better than the other. Just different.

Jesus promises us that if we come, if we drink deeply, he will turn us into conduits of Living Water.  His life-giving force will flow through us and bring blessing and growth in the world around us. We need to leave him in charge of the floodgates, and allow the water to move.

Save

Save

Save

Letting them spread their wings and fly

letting them spreadI just returned from putting the middle one on an airplane. She is traveling alone for THE VERY FIRST TIME! which strikes a chord in my bosom consisting of maternal pride, vague sorrow, and sheer terror.  She is completely ready for this, but I’m not sure I am! How did we get to the point where I could put my child on a plane and have complete confidence in her ability to navigate an unknown airport in another state on the other end?  Wasn’t it just yesterday I was wrestling her into her car seat, striving to fasten the straps while she arched her back?  Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and return your trays to their upright position…

I am so excited for her to take this trip.  I couldn’t wait for her to experience the rush of the airport, rife with possibilities.  I love traveling and I love the airport.  I pine for the days before terrorists ruined everything; the days when you could walk practically onto the plane (okay, the gate) with your people and watch it take off.  I loved that you could meet dear ones as they stepped off the plane, wearing crazy hats and playing kazoos.  The fact that they would walk right by as if they had never seen you before was immaterial.

Here is an awesome secret! (Most of you probably already knew this, but it was news to me!) If you have an unaccompanied minor traveling THEY LET YOU STILL DO IT!  All I had to do was ask for a gate pass, and with no argument whatsoever I was in.  It was just like the good old days.  Except I had to take off my shoes, and stand in a cone of silence while it scanned me for unwanted objects. And then show the TSA agent my ankle??!!!  Did it look somehow suspicious? If they are looking for unwanted objects they could have the jiggle in my thighs.  I certainly don’t want that, but I guess it isn’t really a foreign object.

The people watching. The moving sidewalks.  The information boards clicking off arrivals and departures.  I felt like a junkie that had fallen off the wagon.

Clearly, we do not travel by plane very often.  My dad did, and I know he grew to despise it.  But when it is a rare treat, it is a thrill to be there with all those anonymous people going to mysterious places.  Or Omaha.  It truly doesn’t matter, it’s the act of GOING that is magical.

However.  When you are taking a tall beautiful girl, and letting her go, ALL ALONE, it is a slightly different tale.  Okay, she is only going for a week, she is meeting good friends on the other end and spending a blissful week at the beach and Disney.  It’s not like I’m shipping her off to China for two years to perform hard labor. It just feels like it.  And I challenge any mother out there to look me deep in the eyes and say they would feel differently.  Deep in their souls.

But it is time.  She needs to take this next step on that road to independence.  I need her to take it.  It is part of my job to suck it up and let her go.  I did stand at the gate until the plane pulled away.  I could just see the pilots through the windows, and I Spock-like tried to brain-meld them to BE CAREFUL.  PAY ATTENTION.  GET THAT BIRD UP AND DOWN SAFELY.  Like that’s not their job.  Like there weren’t a bunch of other people important to someone on that plane.  But MY important person is! As I used to say to my sister-in-law when she would travel long distances with my nieces and nephew Drive carefully.  Precious cargo aboard!

I’m not one of those clingy moms who can’t let their kids go.  Really I’m not.  My dirty little secret is that sometimes I LIKE to see them go. But I still feel oddly bereft.  She will now have stories to tell us that we are not a part of. Stories that will be uniquely hers to tell. She is going to gain a self-confidence she never could at home.  An opportunity to prove to herself what she is capable of. Remember the first time I flew alone?

I said to Sam last night, I don’t want to go with her (well, maybe a little – not so much about her as my own wanderlust), but I wish I could creep on her just a little bit.  Peek around corners and watch as she sees new things, tastes new foods, explores new vistas. Thank heaven above for social media that will allow me to do just that, even if she has carefully curated what I see.

This is just the beginning of the end.  It’s not really even that – I’m being a wee bit melodramatic. We send one off to college next year, which I am already pre-grieving.  What a good use of my time that is! But this is what we had children for in the first place.  To grow up, and fly the nest, and be productive adults that please God.  That, and to take care of us in our old age. They are going to love that! Oh, and give us grand-babies.  No pressure.  Truly.

So my beautiful girl, fly!  Enjoy the journey.  We will be here in the nest when you come back, ready to listen to all your stories.  And just so you know, I stood looking out the window at your plane until you were in the air.

 

Save

Sanctification: The Ultimate Renovation

SanctificationSanctification.  The process of being made holy. God is holy, and he wants us to be holy.  The process starts when Jesus buys us back, but then we spend a lifetime having the rough edges sanded off and primed and sealed.

We are doing construction at our house, adding a complete second story, and so these kinds of metaphors are quite at the forefront of my mind.  We’ve reached the stage in this seemingly endless project where the contractor has completed what he so picturesquely termed “the vanilla shell” and left the rest of the job in our hands.  It is now up to us, literally, to do the finish work.  This, my friends, is called sweat equity.  Which is also the only way we could afford to do what we wanted to do, but that is another story.  (Have I mentioned yet that I don’t like to sweat?)

Our contractor, who conveniently happens to be my brother, is not abandoning us altogether, but is now in a strictly advisory role. In this metaphor, the creator has built the house, and we are making it complete.  The house is livable.  We abide in it but are constantly working on it to make it finished.

Get it?  Get the connection?  I want you to know, reader friend, that I have never thought about sanctification being like home building.  Ever.  (Of course, I’ve never built a home before, but whatever.) I had totally intended to go another direction with this post, but God brought this analogy to me right now while I was writing and THAT IS SO COOL!

Please note, I am not saying any of us are God in this scenario.  I am saying that we are LIKE God, to a certain extent, in this story.  And sort of like two of the three persons of the Trinity.  I can’t quite stretch the analogy to include the third in the case of our house.  I’m not quite sure how the Redeemer fits into the word picture.

Anyway. Sanctification. The process of being made holy.

The Bible says that when we are saved, the Holy Spirit starts getting our house in order.  In God’s eyes, ALL of our houses are Fixer Uppers.  Like Chip and Joanna Gaines (for those of you unfortunates who have no access/desire/interest in HGTV, this couple are the stars of a show called Fixer Upper.  They can really do no wrong in the house business, in my fangirl opinion.  Anyway… [Like Chip and Joanna Gaines]) who buy the worst house in a good neighborhood and make it the most beautiful home on the block, Jesus buys back the rundown neglected messy dirty house, that the Creator built, from the tenant that let it fall apart.  The Holy Spirit moves into the house and begins fixing it up. (I guess God let me find a way to fit the third person of the Trinity into the picture.  Or the second.  I’m not sure how or if they are numbered.  God’s ideas are SO COOL!  I effuse.)

It is a broad process at the beginning.  A LOT of demolition happens before reconstruction can begin.  Dumpsters get filled.  Face masks are worn. Sometimes some dangerous stuff needs to be dealt with.  Eventually the debris is cleared, the dust settles, and then the building begins.

IMG_7501I know whereof I speak.  Have I mentioned we have lived in this house during the complete process?  We have lived here through the demo phase and it is messy.  So it is when God clears out the unnecessary detritus of our lived-in lives.  It is not always fun, but sometimes it is.  There is something satisfying about pitching out the things that weigh us down, the needless muck that must go before anything new can be constructed.  As new Christians, we tend to be on a kind of high as our lives change dramatically.  Getting rid of the old is exhilarating.

But that wears off.  As time passes, and the construction process sloooooooowly continues, it is easy to get impatient, and irritable, and bored.  We live in disruption. Things move at a snail-like pace. It seems that nothing is being accomplished.  The Holy Spirit moves in and makes what feels like a mess.  The Spirit moves stuff around and rearrIMG_0823anges priorities and tosses out things we believed to be treasures.  Walls are moved.  Things don’t look the same. This part of the sanctification process is the least comfortable.  This is the time that God gently pries our fingers off trash we hold dear, and politely informs us that we really can’t afford marmoleum and we’d better pick out tile.  That the wall we wanted taken out must stay or the roof will cave in.

Reconstruction is both tedious and exciting.  New framework goes up.  The structure becomes defined and see-able.  Drywall is hung to create new spaces. The once-theoretical plan becomes evident and real. Sometimes it is a little like watching a child grow. You really can’t see any change but suddenly they are taller than you.IMG_1157

Some people live in this phase for a very long time.  Longer than is probably truly necessary.  I may or may not be one of those people.

Eventually, however, the finish work can begin.  Our house becomes far more usable.  There is sanding and painting and laying of tile and installation of sinks. Flooring is laid and doors are hung.  Spoiler alert – the house will never be completely finished as long as we live in it.  But it becomes useful.  God invites people in for intimate dinners and rollicking parties.  He makes it a comfortable and safe place to be. He uses the house to make others welcome and to do his work.  He reveals to the world his “Fixer-Upper.”

So to summarize, as I see this analogy.

God builds a house

That’s you and me. Pretty self-explanatory. We are born.  We live life.

We let it go to pieces by allowing in an unsuitable tenant

That’s sin.  Also pretty self-explanatory but just in case, let’s define sin as anything that separates us from God. This is a list that is too extensive to deal with in a blog post, but basically is anything we have ever done wrong ever no matter how big or small we may think it is.  This makes God crazy sad. We are trashing his house!

Jesus buys back the house

That’s salvation. Big concept.  Basically we have sold our houses to sin.  The wages of sin is death.  Jesus, who carries no debt, agrees to pay off the mortgage. He pays the price to redeem us back at the cost of his own life. He now owns us free and clear.

The Holy Spirit begins reconstruction

That’s sanctification.

First comes demo. The Spirit works at getting rid of the bad gunk in our lives, whatever that may be and it is different for each of us. It could be a nasty habit, an addiction, a toxic relationship, or simple negativity. This is transforming work.  We are pared back to the framework of our house.  Garbage left by the previous tenant (sin) hits the dumpster. A few walls get knocked down which creates the desirable “open floor plan.” The house is given a good cleaning and left fresh and sparkling for the rebuild. Those things that grieve God’s heart get addressed.

Reconstruction. Here the Spirit begins rebuilding our lives by spiritual disciplines.  We dig into God’s word.  We attend church and Bible Studies.  New walls are framed in – new habits and desires. We grow and get to know the new landlord better and better until he becomes a friend as well as the owner of the house. If you want to get really technical, he puts the Holy Spirit in residence as the general contractor to do the work.  We get to stay in the house while it happens.  The general contractor never moves out, because there is always work to be done. (Okay, this stretches the analogy a bit.  If my general contractor, who again, is my brother, were to move in permanently it would probably not be such a great thing.  But the Holy Spirit is different.  My brother, like me, is a sinful human being and that can only lead to dissension.  The Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is GOD.  Therefore perfect. Unlike me. No dissension.)

Finish work. Refining us so that we can serve God and others – for me this is constant – finding areas in my life that need to be sanded away so that no one gets slivers. In other words, removing from me those character traits that stand in the way of loving on others as Jesus loves them – traits like impatience, thoughtlessness, etc.  This will go on until heaven.

Once Jesus buys the house, it is his.  If we are wise, we let his tenant, the Holy Spirit, do the renovations necessary to make us the beautiful home on the block.  Then maybe, the neighbors will want to let our contractor reconstruct their dwelling.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Purpose

As part of my daily discipline, I have been reading through the Bible in a year. Currently, I am well into Ecclesiastes, and have just begun 1 Chronicles. The program I am following has me reading a wisdom/poetry book, and either an Old or New Testament book.

Purpose

Two very separate thoughts collided today. Ecclesiastes keeps reiterating that all is meaningless, good and evil, wisdom and folly. That within the confines of mortal life, every creature on earth suffers the same end, and the work they have done is forgotten.

1 Chronicles begins with a long list of names, a genealogy from Adam until the writer’s time. Chapter 4 contains the “Prayer of Jabez”, a cry to God for an increase in territory, God’s hand to be on Jabez, and to be kept safe from all pain and harm. This prayer has received a fair amount of press in Christian circles thanks to a book by Bruce Wilkinson.

The juxtaposition of these two readings intrigues me. Both seem very focused on the four-score-and-ten existence that we are given on this earth, without drawing any real conclusion for the reason behind it all.

The long list of names found in 1 Chronicles is one of those passages in the Bible that I find myself skimming over quickly. Many of the names mean nothing to me. I have no information of what they did beyond being a stepping-stone to an important character in God’s narrative. And yet they were each real people, with real lives, and real struggles and triumphs. Just like me. (Only I think many of them lived in a tent. I am very grateful to not live in a tent.)

In their time here on earth, all that we know of many of them is the name(s) of their children. We are told nothing about their individual gifts, careers, passions, hobbies, favorite foods, quirky habits – all those things on which we focus our relationships. Yet they are named in God’s word, and therefore must have lived lives of some kind of import.

Our culture is consumed with fame. While I believe there has always been some of this – we do have histories and legacies left by significant people, mostly preserved in written word – there seems an unholy desire in our time to be known. People bare their very souls on television, to millions of enthralled viewers on a regular basis. We don’t see just the good whitewashed exteriors, but revel in the dirty awful corners of people’s lives. Misery loves company. And frequently gives us a sense of superiority.

I think humans have always wanted to be known. I think we are wired to be known. And like all good things of God, man has perverted that desire. What I believe we are wired for is to be known by God. We desire relationship, and intimacy, and purpose. We just misplace where we seek these things and grasp at them anyway we can.

But nothing is new under the sun, the writer of Ecclesiastes tells me. So neither is this search for meaning. There is an incompleteness in us that longs for, passionately, purpose.

I recognize it in myself. I vacillate between knowing that what I do matters, and feeling like none of it does. Like I am walking in the will of God, and that it is never enough. That I am in relationship with God and others, and that I am totally alone. That I want my life to have lasting purpose and meaning, and feeling like I live in vain. The sheer insecurity of my existence brings me dis-ease and confusion. Some days I live in the confidence and security of knowing I have a Creator that has a purpose for my life, and other days cry out like the Ecclesiastical writer that all is “meaningless.”

So what do I do with all that? How do I live my life with that constant tension between “it’s all good” and “what’s the point?”

I don’t know.

I have theories.

I could condense it all into a pat little answer that all I need is Jesus. Which is true. All I really need is Jesus. As the old spiritual says, “You can have all the rest, give me Jesus.” I know this is true. I cling to this with all my might. This is what I seek after.

But really, sometimes it is hard. Sometimes I let go of that life-ring and forget. It’s a good thing Jesus doesn’t forget and holds on when I don’t and start floundering. For those times when I’m not walking on water, but sinking fast.

What is particularly odd to me is that in the difficult times it is easy for me to cling to the life-ring. Why is so hard in the everyday living in the land of milk and honey?

Which brings me to Jabez. Jabez prays for three things: to have an increase in territory, to have God’s hand of protection, and to be safe from pain and harm. This prayer comes in the midst of the long list of genealogy, and we know nothing about Jabez except that he was more honorable than his brothers, his mother bore him in pain, and that God granted his request. I couldn’t even figure out precisely where he fit in the genealogy, but I am also not a biblical scholar. This passage appears as a complete non sequitur.

Why is it there? There has been a movement to grabbing hold of this prayer and making it our own, which has received both good and bad press. That is not my focus – if you google it you will find plenty of arguments for both sides of the equation.

What strikes me about Jabez is that he has the audacity, the courage, to ask for exactly what he wants. It is simple, and it is direct, and it is with purpose. If we read between the lines, (and even within them) Jabez was a man who walked with God. Who was in relationship somehow with God. He states his desire openly to God, and in the answer receives not only what he asked for but also a meaning or purpose for his life. Nowhere in the text does it say that if we pray this prayer, it will give meaning or purpose to our lives. This one is for Jabez.

I would love to know what Jabez did when his prayer was answered.  What was his response in the land of milk and honey.  Did he find meaning and purpose in the answer, in how his life played out post-prayer?

We don’t know.  The Bible is curiously silent on that topic.

I think we can infer from this prayer that if we ask for meaning and purpose from God, it will be granted, because by our sheer existence we serve a purpose in God’s great plan. Because of our redemption through Jesus (give me Jesus), the purpose is being served. The purpose may not be fame or notoriety. We may be one of those quiet in-between names that are skimmed over in history. Probably we are. But that doesn’t make us any less important in the great narrative. Our name is there for a reason, EVEN IF WE DON’T SEE IT.

Maybe that is our problem. For the first time in history, we have the time to spend navel-gazing. We have the time to be all-consumed with our own purpose and our own importance and so we actually miss what that is. The Teacher of Ecclesiastes comes to this conclusion: Remember your Creator. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. This is our purpose. What or how we do this is less important. Our purpose is to, however we do it, to follow after God.

Save

Respecting our teens

Respecting our teensI just read a great blog on inCourage entitled Respecting our Children by Sarah Mae.  Here is the link if you are interested: http://www.incourage.me/2016/07/respecting-our-children.html.  If you are not familiar with inCourage, I highly recommend you take a look.  The whole purpose is to encourage women to be “in Courage.”  This particular post highlighted how to respect our children in various ways, and it got me thinking.  Sarah Mae’s essay was directed more at families with smaller kids, and since mine are older, the focus is different.

I have teenagers – 13, 15, and 17.  We are staring down the barrel of young adulthood.  We have one more year with our oldest under our roof, and my tendency is to try and hammer home every lesson I feel he needs to learn before adulthood.

NOT A GOOD PLAN!  Because here is the deal.  Nobody likes to be hammered upon.  And, if I have been doing my job (which I sometimes question, but that is another blog), I should be able to start letting go and trusting my children.

I have great kids.  They are responsible, trustworthy, kind, funny, and bright.  But they are kids, which means that sometimes they do things that leave me wondering about their future survival.

And yet, in one short year, the oldest will more or less be responsible for himself.  I won’t be there to do his laundry (he knows how), or make sure he has done homework (I stopped checking years ago.)  Or even that he gets himself up and to class.  That will be his bailiwick.

He is our practice child.  You know what I mean.  He is the kid on whom we have tried all our cockamamie parenting ideas.  His sisters benefit from the fact that we don’t continue the ones that don’t work.

I know, I know.  Each child is different.  Boy howdy, are they different.  And so no one parenting practice will work.

Except this one.

Respect.

Respect each child.  Respect the gifts that God has given them, and help them to develop into what God has created them for.

The oldest child, the practice one, begged to be allowed to play football.  I, in my wisdom, said “Uh, NO!”  I like his brain.  I like it un-concussed and intact.  Besides, I find football incomprehensible and mind-numbingly boring. So I suggested cross-country as a viable alternative.  Except my child is not built for speed.  He is built for strength.

Here is how all that played out:

First day of cross country.

Me:  How was it?

Boychild: I hate running.

Second day of cross country.

Me: Did you make any nice friends?

Boychild: It’s hard to talk to people when you are dead last and they are miles ahead of you.

Third day of cross country.

Me: So how did it go?

Boychild (forlornly): I wish you would let me play football.

Hmmm.  He tried something based on my desires.  He really didn’t like it.  So I took a long walk and had a talk with God.  What God said back to me, over and over like a broken record in my head was, “Train up a child in the way HE should go…” (Proverbs 22:6, emphasis mine).

Ouch.  Not the way I want him to go.

God gave my kid specific gifts.  They aren’t the same gifts that I got, or Sam got, or the girls got.  He is unique and different, and God wants to use him in a unique and different way, and I need to RESPECT that.

I need to respect that my son is strong, not fast.  That he is a big picture guy, and hates the details.  That he is social and relational, and needs very little time alone.

And I need to get out of the way.  My job is to guide and to coach, not to boss (oooooh, is that one hard.) I am to set reasonable boundaries, and then let my kid make his choices within those parameters.  And the older they get, the bigger the boundaries need to be.  So that when my arbitrary boundaries are removed, my kids know how to set their own.

So I said to my boychild: Fine. Call the school.  I think it is probably too late to join (they had already been practicing for two weeks), but if they let you in, and it’s REALLY what you want to do, you can do it. Wasn’t I oh-so-gracious about it?

They let him in.  As a matter of fact, the school called ME to tell me how mature my kid was in handling the whole matter.  Respect.

IMG_5515

Football is one of the best things that could have happened to my kid in his high school career.  Instead of the locker room mentality that I feared, he found some fantastic friends, Christian and otherwise.  He has learned how to stand up for his faith.  The coaching staff focus not on winning, although they like to win, but on creating men of character.  (And what mom doesn’t want THAT for her kid.  And to let someone else teach it?  BONUS!!!) He has learned that it doesn’t matter if he starts and is the big hero of the game (he doesn’t and isn’t), perseverance and hard work are worth it.  Football is helping make a man out of my first-born, using different tools than what we have at home.  It has created some great dinner conversations about choices, and ethics, and how to treat other people who aren’t always nice to you.

In her blog about respecting our children, Sarah Mae uses the text “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31) as the thesis for her essay.  Isn’t that what we all want?  Do I do that with my teenagers?  Isn’t that the basis for respectful parenting?  My kids just want the freedom to explore their gifts.  And so do I.  Should I not afford them the same respect that I ask of them?

Sometimes I think we forget that our children are the “others” that Jesus talked about.  It’s a good reminder that loving our neighbor might just mean the teenager in the next room.  As my kids grow into young adults, it’s important for me to remember that they need to be afforded respect, listened to instead of talked at, and allowed to make their own decisions.

Save

8 Fixes for a Bad Attitude

8 Fixes for a Bad AttitudeYesterday was not a good day.  It started out okay, and really spiraled downward in a great big vortex of awfulness.

Here’s the kicker. I brought it on myself.  It started with an innocent text from someone very dear to me, and I did what I caution my kids against all the time: I read between the lines.  I created subtext that may or may not have even existed and without giving the sender the least benefit of the doubt, I created a whole dreadful dialogue in my brain in which I came out as the pathetic loser.

And since that really wasn’t enough, I spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself for every perceived wrong in my life that I have ever committed, and how the whole entire world was against me, and really, in general, behaved like an irrational premenstrual adolescent.  It was not pretty.

I reveled in it.  I wallowed in it.  I even cried.  Three or four times throughout the day.  I hate crying.  Everyone says it’s cathartic and will make you feel better, and THAT IS A LIE!  I just end up feeling itchy-eyed and puffy. And a little bit snotty.  It is truly unpleasant.

What is particularly horrifying about this shameful episode, is that there is no reason on God’s gorgeous green earth for me to EVER feel sorry for myself.  My life is sweet.  I am smart, healthy, and well-educated. I have a supportive husband, brilliant funny kids, a nice house, plenty to eat, a car that runs… basically I have every amenity and blessing that this country has to offer.  We’re not rich by any first world means, but by golly, we have MORE than enough.  And more important than any of that, by the grace of God, I am his child.  He sent his Son to make things right for me.

All true.  But in the whirlpool of emotions, I forget.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this.  I suspect that almost all of us sink into this abyss once in a while.  It is not something to be proud of.  But maybe there are a few things we can do to try to offset our bad attitude and “turn that frown upside down!”  (Does that make anyone else want to gag as much as it makes me want to?  I HATE strongly dislike platitudes.)

May I humbly suggest:

 1.  Take it to your knees. This should really be the first thing you do.  But why so often is it the last?  Why do I always seem to wait on this one until I’m sobbing for forgiveness, rather than begging for help?  The truth is, that if I would just grab my Bible, open a Psalm, pray it, cling to it, write it on a piece of scrap paper and carry it around, my whole worldview would probably come back to where it belongs.  Nothing like a little love of Jesus to re-orient priorities.

2.  Tell Satan to take a hike.  Jesus tells us that the thief (Satan) comes only to steal (my inner thoughts) and kill (my happiness) and destroy (my peace of mind) John 10:10 (parenthetical remarks are mine.  Any good thing could be put into the parentheses).

Satan loves to first bring us down, and then kick us while we are there.  Ever have a thought that goes something like this?

“I can’t do anything right. I am totally useless, fat, ugly, stupid, worthless.  Nobody could ever love me.  Not even God could love me.  I’ll never amount to anything ever. I suck.”

Ever had those thoughts?  I have.  Yesterday.  These are lies.  These are lies that Satan delights in whispering in your head and getting you to believe.  Satan is a liar.  Jesus is the truth-teller.  Listen to him.  He calls Satan on the lies.  Put Jesus in front of you, the armor of God on you, and tell Satan to bug off.  The only thing that should suck is your vacuum cleaner.

3.  Go for a walk. Or a bike ride. Or a run. Or the Ben & Jerry’s.  All the experts tell us that exercise releases all kinds of feel-good endorphins that will completely revolutionize our outlook on life.  Unless of course you hate to sweat.  Like me.  But if you are one of those people, just do it!  Even I, who hate to exercise and would only run if a madman were chasing me with a knife (and even then I might just lay down and let him get it over with), find that a walk sometimes helps.  And when it doesn’t, dipping a spoon into a pint of Chubby Hubby might just do the trick.

4.  Speaking of Chubby hubbies…  if the beloved of your heart is not the cause of your distress, or even if he is, maybe especially if he is, a little action on that front might work some wonders.  (Trying to keep it clean, people. My children might read this.  Nah.  But maybe my mom.)

5.  Rework the internal dialogue.  Even in my most pathetic moment yesterday, I started to laugh a little at myself because it was so ridiculous and I knew it.  It was when I reached the “how could God even love me” phase that I knew I had sunk to new lows.  What I should have done at that moment was turn the narrative around.  Which I did albeit a few hours later.  This is a good time to start counting all the graces in your life.  Fix your mind on what is true, and noble, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable, and excellent, and praiseworthy. (Phil 4:8)  When you think you are ugly, amend it with “but at least the hair on my legs is blonde.” Or “I may be fat, but at least I own some stretchy pants.” Once you start down that path, you realize pretty quickly how ludicrous the negative statements were.

If you are fighting in your head with your spouse/child/boss/neighbor, rewrite the dialogue so that it is positive.  The truth is you really don’t know how they would respond to your accusations, so try to put the best-case scenario into play.

6.  Get in your car, roll the windows down and crank the Country Western music.  Let’s be honest.  Either you will totally relate to the lyrics and derive some comfort there or you will laugh your head off.  I don’t CARE if you despise country western (I’m an opera singer for pity’s sake), it is the most highly cathartic music ever written.  And you can even sing along because it is entirely predictable!

7.  SLEEP!  Sometimes that’s all you need.  A good night’s rest.  If brain chatter is keeping you awake, have a warm bath and some warm milk.

8.  Get some help.  Here is a truth.  Sometimes life is hard.  Even if we bring it on ourselves.  You don’t have to go this alone.  Call a friend.  Have her join you in any of the above steps. (Except for number 4.  That would be immoral.  And creepy.) When things are overwhelming, find somebody you can talk to.  If you really don’t feel like you have anyone, wander into your local church.  They are in the business (or should be) of listening when things are tough.  If you are truly in the pit, not just visiting for a day, then talk to your pastor or a Christian counselor.  My suggestions aren’t meant to deal with true depression.  Just an occasional bad day brought on by a bad attitude.

May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. 2 Thess. 3:16.

Save

Heeding the call

Heed the callSo when I was a child, missionaries would regularly visit our home church while on furlough to talk about their work.  Generally these folks were from what was then the Congo or Japan or Ecuador, and they would show slides (yes I am dating myself) of the churches they served and the homes they lived in, and would talk about being CALLED to be a missionary.

I would sit there, I kid you not, praying that the phone would not ring. I lived in fear that I would answer and a deep voice would tell me to pack my bags for Africa.  Isn’t that how it works? I had absolutely no desire to 1) live in another country in apparent squalor (sometimes those people even ate BUGS!) or 2) speak PUBLICLY about my faith. I would squirm just thinking about it.

Of course, I was in like, the fourth grade.

It never once occurred to my 10-year-old mind that if God wanted me preaching his gospel in a foreign country, he might give me a heart for that.  And the skill set.

I am not saying that we aren’t ALL called to work for the kingdom.  Christ makes it very clear in his great commission that we are to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15) And sometimes it is very easy to get a little too comfortable in our own milieu and think that this mission business is someone else’s job.

But what is our mission?  We aren’t all called to head for Ghana.  Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to go into all the world and preach the good news.  It is not specified exactly how that should play out.  And we ARE given a choice. We either obey the summons, or we don’t.  In the book of Esther, she must choose – does she go before the king and risk her own death, or does she do nothing and allow genocide of her own people on a mass scale?

Obedience must come from love, and respect, relationship and trust.  Do I love and respect God? Am I in relationship with him? And if I can say yes to the first three, do I trust God to use me to forward his mission in this world? Do I trust that he will give me the necessary tools to do this? Or should I stick my fingers in my ears and sing at the top of my lungs so that I can’t hear him talking? Or worse, do I let the call go into voice mail and listen to it in my own sweet time?

We don’t have to listen to the still small voice telling us to write a note to a distant friend.  We don’t have to volunteer at the local thrift store.  We don’t have to sit with a grieving friend that has just buried his infant son.  But isn’t this as much God’s call as living in Thailand? And maybe that is  how God calls most of us to evangelize.

I think it is time to stop feeling guilty that I am not hopping on that plane.  I think it is time for me to accept that God uses me – us – in ways that are as unique as we are.  Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. “So the body is not one part but many.  If the foot should say, ‘Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,’ in spite of this IT STILL BELONGS TO THE BODY.” (1 Cor. 12:14-15.  Emphasis mine.)

I’ve always viewed this extended passage as an admonition to not think that some spiritual gifts or jobs are better than others and therefore feel that my job is more important.  Wouldn’t want to get a big head!  But can’t it also be viewed in reverse?  What I am called to do IS important, AND it still makes me part of God’s kingdom work.  So I shouldn’t feel like I’m missing some spiritual boat if I’m not on one to Tanzania (or is that land-locked?  I’m a little foggy on the geography of sub-Saharan Africa.  Hey, I just looked it up – bless the Internet – and I could take a boat there!  Google really is a blessing to the mind of a mother of teenagers.  But I am off track.  Which is also not uncommon to the mind of a mother of teenagers.)

What Paul really wants to emphasize is that whatever we do, we need to do it out of love (1 Cor. 13 – the whole thing!).  Not out of guilt or shame or fear of a phone call.

Aren’t all the following examples of heeding the great commission call?

A group of women help a single mom pack up her house to move, a job that, if done alone, might leave her rocking in a corner in the fetal position.

A bunch of teenagers band together to rake an elderly woman’s yard.

A pastor makes it his private little mission, in addition to all his other duties, to make sure the ice-cube tray in the church kitchen is always filled.

A couple of elementary school kids hold a lemonade stand – free lemonade but donations gratefully accepted for the local food shelf.

A neighbor’s pet dies, and my husband and son help bury it.

A caravan from the church heads to a reservation to help mend roofs and teach VBS.

My middle child, unasked, unloads the dishwasher for her sister.

An introverted mom-to-be stands up in front of the congregation to tell her story of miscarriages and God’s faithfulness.

The call to mission comes in many different ring tones.  As many as there are of God’s children and their inherent gifts.  So we shouldn’t fear to answer. God doesn’t cold-call. God only calls those he loves best.  And he loves us all best.

 

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Contentment

satisfy us

A good friend once said, “You know what’s great about us?  (love her!) We are content but not complacent!”

This was a long time ago. We were young – so young in fact that we still had beautiful skin.  Even then I loved the idea.  To be content, to be comfortable with my circumstances whatever they were, but to not be so comfortable with the status quo as to stop moving.

Contentment, it seems to me, is a choice.  Just as I choose to love my husband (love is a verb, in my humble opinion, not a feeling), so I can choose to be content.  But, uff da, our culture makes it hard.

One of my favorite vices is to watch HGTV.  I have my favorites (Chip and Joanna Gaines can do no wrong), but pretty much I’m a junkie and will watch whatever happens to be on.  Before you judge, let me first state that in our house we have no cable, and so my addiction can only be satisfied in hotels or other people’s homes. Okay, and occasionally an old season on Netflix or Hulu.  I love watching HGTV.  I love that these experts can take a lump of coal and create a diamond.  In one short hour!  The distress at the beginning of the show is resolved in tears of joy at the end.  I might mock it a bit, but the truth is I love seeing people discover what is “home” for them.

For 20+ years, I have lived in the same little rambler.  1800 square feet of inefficient space.  It was awesome for a single person, great for a young married couple, swell to bring a first baby home to.  After that, it started getting tight, and for years it has housed 5 adult-ish sized people, two dogs and a small menagerie of additional pets.  With the occasional guest. It started with three bedrooms and one bath.  We added a fourth bedroom and 3/4 bath when we finished the basement.

I have a strong sense of place laced with sentimentality.  I loved that little house.  I brought my husband and all my children home to it.  We have pets buried in the woods.  We built a chicken coop in the backyard, for pity’s sake.  It is our little acre of Eden.  I have been incredibly content in this house, but clearly not complacent.  We have adapted it to suit our needs for as long as was possible, but we’ve outgrown it plain and simple.  It is no longer bringing the peace and sense of home that I crave for my family.  (Am I in danger of being discontent?  Or is this just another example of lack of complacency?  Heart question!)

So we house shopped.  I felt just like one of those couples on House Hunters, except I never commented on paint color.  Come on, people, that is an inexpensive fix! We found nothing.  Everything we looked at needed so much work.  Or wasn’t as nice a location, or or or…

To any good HGTV crackhead, the only logical choice is to add on.  Which we have done.  Or rather, are doing.  I’m sure, gentle reader, you will hear more about the process in a later rant.  It is an ongoing process as we are doing most of the finish work ourselves. I love me some sweat equity! But for now, here are the specifics.

We have added a full second story.  And lived through it.  By living through it, I mean that we have STAYED IN THE HOUSE even as the roof was ripped off over our heads.  In November.  In Minnesota. We survived  dry wall dust, strange men waltzing in and out of our house at all hours, shared bedrooms, a truly “open living concept” – when there are no walls, you are definitely living in the open!  If I could have a nickel for every time someone commented on the insanity of that, I could have paid for the renovation!

But here is the thing.  We are content, but not complacent.  Living through this process has really been more of an adventure than a trial.  Much of it has to do with how you view your circumstances.  We can spin almost anything anyway we choose.  We can see a catastrophe or an opportunity.  We have a roof (now) over our heads.   We GET to experience the mess, because we have the means to add on.  We GET to learn new family coping skills, because we have a place to stay.  Sure there is dust, and chaos, and I have absolutely no idea where my summer sandals or wok have been stashed. But really, does it matter? As Paul so wisely put it, “I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11).  I don’t have this down perfectly.  I have my moments.  But mostly, I am content.

AND THIS IS THE REASON:  I am satisfied, anew every day, with the unfailing love of God.  Not with the condition of my living room.  Not with the relationship with my teenager.  Not with whether or not my skinny jeans fit.  I am satisfied with the unfailing love of God. This does not come through my own power, or will, or hard work, or attitude.  It comes from God himself.  It is enough.

 

Save