When This World Becomes Just Too Much

ISIS
Ferguson
Tunisia
Greece
Our world is broken. It is fallen.
Cancer
Infertility
Loneliness
Joblessness
Our lives are broken. They can be dark.
That there can be ugliness in this life is not questioned by anyone. No one would argue with the idea that we all go through times of darkness, times of weeping, times of where in the world, where in all of this hurting world are You, God?
If the question then is not will I suffer, then the question must be what will I choose when I suffer.
When I hurt, will I believe that God works for the best in everything or will I wonder whether God is working at all? When I ache, will I believe that God is most present when I am at the end of myself or will I wonder whether God is really in anything at all? When I don’t know how long I can hold on, will I believe in God when I cannot see Him through the dark or will I wonder if the darkness is all that there is?
What do we do when we are sinking, when we are drowning, when we are at the end of ourselves and are pleading for relief?
Paul
Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn. He begged God three times for release. The first two times? Heaven was silent. The third time? God said no.
Christ
Jesus asked if there was any other way but the Cross. God’s answer? No.
Why do we think it should be different for us? Why do we think that we should be exempt?
If God is most present and works most powerfully when we are at the end of our own limits, then shouldn’t we want to lean into our suffering rather than try to escape it?
Paul chose to boast of his weakness, to be content with his hardship. He chose to immerse himself in his thorn in order to gain more of Christ.
We don’t have a choice about whether we will hurt.
Our choice is in how we will respond.
Rembrandt
Will we spend our time begging for respite? Will we beg God to take it away and then curse Him when He does not?
Or will we receive our suffering as a gift? A gift with a purpose, even though we may never know the purpose. A gift with a promise, a promise of grace and God’s presence.
When God says no, when God says My grace is sufficient for you, instead of arguing with Him about it, instead of fighting Him with all of your strength, ask Him to help you get to the place where you can receive your adversity as a gift from a loving Father.
A gift that brings you more of His grace. A gift that brings you more of Him.
I have learned to kiss the waves that dash me against the Rock of Ages. ~ Charles Spurgeon

Art credits: The Apostle Paul sketch from 1514 A.D.; Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Orazio Borgianni; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

We Are All Lizzy

Trying something new. Needs a little work. That’s what practice is for, right?

It was a dark, closed-in space, dank and dingy, and Lizzy wasn’t at all sure how she had ended up there.
It had started with a teensy spot of envy – wishing that she owned what someone else had – and had ended up with robbery and murder when the owner had walked in on her.
She stared at the wall, hardly able to comprehend why she had done what she had done. She wasn’t a bad person. Sure, she could be prideful and sometimes got angry when she shouldn’t, but there were lots of people who were worse than she.
The door clanged open and she was led down the hall to the courtroom in chains. Chains.
It was humiliating to stand there in that orange suit, shackles on her wrists and ankles, knowing that she deserved to be there and hating that now everyone else knew she deserved it too.
The judge came in and sat, looking at her for a long time.
Out of the corner of her eye, Lizzy saw another figure in the same orange jumpsuit, with the same shackles, shuffle up and stand next to her. She turned and saw it was a man. A plain, rough-hewn sort of man. He glanced down at her and gave a small smile. She turned away, embarrassed.
She looked back at the judge who had begun to speak.
“Lizzy.”
There was disappointment in the voice, but there was kindness too.
“You have been found guilty of robbery and of murder. Your sentence is death.”
Lizzy lowered her eyes and felt the breath explode out of her. She knew she deserved it. She waited to be led out again, back to her cell, but the judge kept speaking.
“Lizzy. You will now be released.”
Lizzy’s eyes shot up again, widened in disbelief. That didn’t make sense!
“My son has volunteered to take your place. He will die and you will be released.”
It happened so quickly that Lizzy hardly understood. Her chains were taken off and that man who had stood beside her was led away to be put to death. With dizzying speed, she found herself outside the courthouse – free.
As she stood there, dumbfounded and bewildered, breathing the fresh, clean air of the outdoors, a voice said her name.
“Lizzy.”
She looked up and saw the judge standing beside her.
“You must be hungry. I know that it all happened very quickly. Will you come to my house for supper?”
She stared into the somber, kind eyes of the judge and, despite herself, despite her embarrassment and bafflement, found herself nodding yes.
After a meal of the most delicious food she had ever tasted and the most absorbing conversation she’d ever taken part of, the judge looked at her with a look of the most raw and naked love she had ever seen.
“Lizzy. I love you. I love you with all that I am. I want to adopt you as my own child. I want to be your Father, your Daddy. Everything I have will be yours. I want to give you a home, give you my name, give you my love. Will you have me?”
The judge who had delivered the just sentence of death for her crimes, the judge who gave up his son to take her place, that very same judge now also wanted to adopt her and give her all of him?
Lizzy could do nothing but fall to her knees with her face to the floor and weep.

Seeking Approval

Is there anything quite like the level of desperation we feel when seeking the approval of our parents?
I can remember as a child not being willing to go to sleep until an argument had been reconciled, even creeping out of bed at night to make sure Mom and Dad weren’t angry with me anymore.
Even as an adult, those feelings have not diminished in the least. In fact, since the situations I encounter these days are a bit more important in the realm of the eternal (raising small humans rather than being late for curfew), perhaps my desire for my parents to be proud of me has even grown.
What is this longing we have for those in authority over us to approve of us?
Even those who have had too many authority figures abuse their power have only pushed those yearnings deep down rather than never having had those feelings in the first place.
It must be something placed inside of us, something sown in the soil of our hearts.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
It must be a need to be who we were created to be, a need for the One who made us to approve of what we have become.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well…How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
The desperate hope that I will be able to please my parents must be the natural outflow of my hope that I will be able to please my God.
And just as my parents guided and taught me to do the things that pleased them, so God will teach me how to please Him, and I yearn in my deepest places for Him to do so.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
I have caught a glimpse of the beauty that we can become, and that glimpse drives the desire for God to judge our hearts and help us to look more like Jesus. I want Him to judge me so that He can help me become who He created me to be.
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
May God, out of His infinite grace, judge us all.

Scripture is from Psalm 139

I Long

I long.

 

I long for the day
When it all falls away and
I rest.

 

When I rest in His grace
Or I gaze at His face then
I know.

 

I will know He is love
That all light comes from that love so
I trust.

 

I will trust that someday
All these clouds will roll away and so
I long.

What I Want from God

I expect God to reward me.
Expecting
Perhaps that is a bit candid, but I suspect I am not the only one.
I expect that when I do something for God, give something up for Him, that He will reward me appropriately.
I think that I can control His response by what I do.
Perhaps this is extreme, but I don’t think so.
Before our children came along, my husband and I went to China for a year to work with a house church that had been established the year before.
Missions
Travel
Serving
When we came home, we didn’t have jobs.
A month went by and we still didn’t have jobs.
Our savings started dwindling, and another month passed with no sign of gainful employment.
When work finally did come? It was a temporary position at a university. Not exactly what we had dreamed and hoped.
Through all of this, there were a lot of prayers hurled at God.
There were a lot of accusatory, “we served You!”, and “why are You deserting us?” sorts of prayers heaved toward God.
We think that if we do something for God (give up our life, give up control, do x number of acts of service), we should gain something from God (love, happiness, more than enough to live on).
Yet if God is holy, if He is worthy, if He is perfect beauty, than to see Him is to bow, to worship, to understand my own unworthiness.
God is offering us so much. He gives us His Son. He promises to make us like Him, into who we were created to be. He promises us His presence, promises to be with us, to never leave us.
So I suppose we do gain when we give up something for God.
Not houses and travel.
Home
Not adoring family and deep friendships.
Family
Not healthy body and intelligent mind.
Intelligence
None of this is promised.
What, then, do we gain?
Nothing less than God Himself.
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ~ Revelation 21.3

When You Can’t See Your Next Step

We wander around in the dim light.
Dim Light
Lost in a twilight we hope will end in glorious dawn yet are frightened may only lead to utter darkness, we stumble around and squint about us for a path.
We can ever only see the next step, sometimes two, but we still strain our eyes towards the horizon, searching for a ray of the sun.
Twilight
Other shadows stumble near us and we are as likely to swing out clumsily to protect our frightened selves as we are to welcome them as companions on a journey.
All we can do is cling to Jesus, to that name, whatever it means to each of us. We cling to the Word and are disappointed that it is a lamp and not a floodlight.
lamplight
Yet as we stumble and search, if we keep our eyes on that dim pool of lamplight, we find that it is enough. We find that a circle of candlelight is enough to keep us from falling flat on our faces if we will only keep our eyes on our own path instead of casting them around farther ahead or behind.
candlelight
Asking for our daily bread keeps us crying out that we need Him every hour rather than only every week or so.
And so the dim light helps rather than hinders. It keeps us clutching the One who knows where we ought to be rather than stubbornly crawling off the edge of a cliff because we have the right and freedom to do so.
Perhaps the searchlight of God would be enough to turn us to stone and make us beg for the soft familiar lamplight again.
soft guiding light
We all wander around in the murky light.
And if we can only remain content in our small circle of candlelight, then one day we will see, perhaps only out of the corner of our eyes at first, the first rays of Him who is the Light of the world breaking through our mist and burning it all away for a glorious dawn.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

A post from the archives due to a week full of holidays, family moving, end of the year field trips, and big decisions.

Four Years of Writing

I have been writing here in this space for four years now.
Four years of writing and hitting “publish” once a week, every week.
Four years is a long time in the world of blogs. Not many make it this long.
To be honest, just last month I was afraid I would have to take a break.
This fourth baby has been, well, difficult.
This year of beginning to homeschool and being pregnant and then caring for an extra fussy newborn has threatened to sink me at times.
Since I couldn’t give back the baby (don’t worry…I didn’t really want to…mostly…except every once in a while at two in the morning…) or quit educating my child or let my house return to nature, it seemed as though my writing was the only thing I could let go.
Except that God wouldn’t allow me to let it go. There was always something in my heart that He wanted me to say.
Often it was pounded out in five minute spaces and published even though it didn’t feel polished or very well crafted. Yet every time I was obedient to hit that publish button, even when I felt the most inadequate, I heard back from someone about how those words were exactly what they needed to hear.
So I keep writing.
I keep writing and I keep publishing in this little space of mine.
Except it isn’t really mine, is it?
It belongs to God and has always belonged to God, so as long as He keeps asking me to write, even when I don’t have the time to perfectly craft each word to make it sing, I will continue to obey.
Someday I’ll have more time. Someday these little ones won’t be quite so dependent on me and I’ll be able to pursue those bigger writing dreams of mine.
Until then, I’ll be faithful in this season of my life. I’ll hold those tiny, sturdy, beautiful bodies extra close and then snatch a few minutes here and there to jot down what I have in my heart. I’ll enjoy this season of writing in between nursing and playing dollhouse and reading aloud.
I hope you’ll continue to read and be encouraged, even when the words don’t flow as well as they used to.
I’m grateful that God has chosen me to be their mommy and I’m grateful that God has chosen me to write in this space.
So here is where I live: trying my best to be faithful in all that God has given me.
I will end this year, as I have each year of blogging, with this:
Whatever the reason for my writing, here I am in this space.  I will continue to obey, even though it is hard and often causes my heart to feel fear.  I will write.  God will listen.  I pray He will continue to be pleased.

Choosing Our Activities

Our world is a busy place.
There is a lot of pressure on young families (very likely on those in other seasons of life as well – I can only speak to what I know) to keep our children as busy as possible. We are presented with a myriad of activities for our kids and are given the impression that we deprive our children if we choose to opt out.
Sports
Your kids won’t be well-rounded! They will fall behind their friends! They won’t learn as much, be as good, become as successful!
Whether the reference is to sports, the arts, languages or STEM, the implication is that if we love our children, we will give them as much chance for success in their later life as we possibly can.
If God is in all things and in Him all things hold together, if we are to view all pieces of our lives through a Christian lens, if there is no separation between sacred and secular, then even the activities we choose for our children should be considered carefully in light of our faith.
Keep them home?
Send them out?
I have heard much lamenting from Christians recently about the busyness of our families, about how we should spend time together in our homes building character into our children rather than ferrying them around from activity to activity.
The argument is that it is much more important for our kids to know and love Jesus than to become successful in the eyes of our culture.
I don’t disagree at all with the impetus behind the lament. I fully believe that to know and love Jesus is the most important thing we can teach our children.
I also believe that it is important to teach our children to show Jesus to the people in their circle of influence.
And there is my dilemma. If the people who see us view us as failures, can they be receptive to what we have to say about Christ?
Science
Art
If God created arts, if philosophy and math are ways of looking at the world He created, shouldn’t we be helping our children to become well versed in such things?
For people who do not know God to respect what we have to say about God, they must also respect us. Yes, much of that will occur when they see how well we love them and each other. But some of that also comes with how successful we are in whatever tasks we set ourselves to accomplish.
So what do we do? What is most important?
Do we keep our families at home, focusing completely on helping them to love God and each other?
Do we sign our kids up for multiple activities, helping them to become successful and thus securing a foundation for their future witness to those around them?
Learn at home
Learn while away
Perhaps the answer lies in a balance between the two. This is often the case in our lives in Christ. We are not often asked to do solely one to the exclusion of the other; maybe that is true here as well.
If we are deliberate about carving out time to spend together as a family, being sure to be intentional in how we teach our children in that time, and also are intentionally wise in choosing a few activities for our children, being sure to consider the God-given passions of each child, then we should be able to fulfill both tasks set before us.
We should be able to help our children both to love God and those around them, and to gain the respect of their future friends and colleagues, laying the foundation of their ability to show Jesus to those around them.
Will you take a turn and share with me? What ideas do you have for not staying too busy as a family and yet at the same time helping your children to succeed?

Using My Mistakes

I am very good at parent guilt.
Parenting
How to parent?
I can second-guess with the best of them.
I have no idea what I'm doing
I enjoy planning out our days (okay, okay, our years), and no matter what decisions I make, I’m usually half convinced they were the wrong ones.
Often I reassure myself with the notion that God can make up for my mistakes, that He can help my precious ones survive in spite of all the poor choices I make.
Yet recently I was struck in the heart with a very different perspective.
God loves them
God can use my mistakes to make my girls into the women He wants them to be.
The idea that God already knows the mistakes I will make with my children and already has plans to use those mistakes to mold my girls into beautiful women who love Him and love others??
Using me
Well.
Using my mistakes
That is beyond beautiful.
It is grace. Pure grace.
It is a breath of freedom, a release from the lie that I have to parent perfectly in order for my children to grow up loving God. Ensuring the end for my children is not my job. My job is to be as faithful as I can and then to relax, being confident in God’s love for my girls.
A love that works for the best for them. A love that not only wants the best for them but is powerful enough to achieve that best.
Loving them
It allows me to be present and just enjoy my girls without having to worry about their future.
Ah.
Let’s go play.
Let's play
I am not sovereign over my children – God is. And God will use every aspect of my human parenting, even my sins and failures, to shape my children into who He desires them to be, for the sake of His kingdom. (Parenting is Your Highest Calling and Eight Other Myths… by Leslie Fields)

What Is Found in the Dark?

Dark.
There is darkness outside at three in the morning and there is darkness inside of ourselves from which we cannot escape.
Dark.
There is darkness in the middle of a storm and there is darkness in the destructive aftermath when the sun is shining.
Dark.
Darkness
There is danger in the dark and there is fear, but is it the darkness that we fear or is it whatever lies within the darkness that we cannot see?
We light candles and we plug in nightlights and we busy ourselves to do whatever is necessary to hold the darkness at bay.
Lighting Candles
What are we really afraid of? Are we afraid that God is not there in the dark? Are we afraid that God is only in the light and if we enter into the darkness, whether it be the darkness of loss or of sin or of depression or even of death, we will lose the glory of His presence?
Yet in the darkness was where the glory of His presence was found, within the dark cloud over Mt Sinai when He made His covenant with His people Israel.
Yes, there is death in darkness.
And
There is new life in the dark.
New life
In fact, life can only begin in the dark. A seed sprouts underground and a baby grows in the womb and even Jesus was raised into His new life in the dark.
In the darkness of a cave.
We see the afterwards of the resurrection, the earthquake and the angel and the glorious, blinding light.
But the resurrection itself?
It happened in the dark.
It happened in the dark, in the silence, with the smell of damp earth and the roughness of rock all around.
And if new life can only happen in the dark, well then,
instead of doing all we can to avoid it, perhaps we should lean in to the darkness, lean in to our fear.
Perhaps if we do, we will discover a new life that could not have been found otherwise.