This week’s guest post was written by a dear friend from my Harding University days, Josh Keene. He is the friend who taught me about the south, including how to talk southern (y’eady? aight. ‘sgo.) and all things country-fied, and it has been beautiful to watch him grow from a Louisiana boy just out of high school into a wise and godly man, husband, and daddy. I’m grateful that he is sharing some of that wisdom with us here. Enjoy!
This week you’ll get to hear from an old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (I knew her as Kelly Duncan back then). I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it! Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email. While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well. Go on…I’ll wait…), but is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma. Read on and enjoy her beautiful wisdom!
We read and talk about the “storms of life,” those times when life is pelting you with thunder sleet or hurricane force winds. That metaphor makes the trials of life exciting and eventful. After all, those kinds of storms even get their own names. Sandy, Rita, Ike. To talk about the trials of life as the same as experiencing a hurricane, well, that just sounds dramatic.
But the more I experience trials in life, I feel more like I’m slogging through ankle-deep mud in the middle of some random field.
Like I said, storms are exciting. Eventful. We expect big rises and falls, epic rescues. Live coverage at 5.
Slogging through mud doesn’t get a rescue, kind of like that family in the book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Every time the family faces an obstacle on their journey, they say, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. We have to go through it.” The oozy mud is no exception.
You take a foot out of the gross.
You stick it back in, only a few inches ahead.
Now the other foot. Out.
Day in and day out, you make snail-like progress. You hold a hand if it’s offered, and you plod your way to the other side. It’s tedious and exhausting. There’s a lot of waiting and standing around. There’s not much else to do until you reach better footing.
“We’ve gotta go through it.” Squelch. Squerch.
Trials in life involve lots of plodding through the mud.
Currently, my mom is battling breast cancer. When her diagnosis first hit, my family felt the blunt winds. We drove in the middle of the night once, racing to the hospital as my mom’s lungs unexpectedly filled with fluid. We shuffled my kids to relatives once a month, so that I could go help as much as I could at treatment sessions, doctor’s appointments, test results. We had updates and reports. We wrung hands and added her name to prayer lists. It was dramatic! Highs! Lows!
But lately, we’re in the mud. My mom tries a new hormone therapy. She listens to another doctor. She tries a new medicine. We get mixed reports: good news and bad news. Squelch. Squerch.
I know those winds can pick up again at any time. Cancer is a big bully, taking cheap shots at my family when it gets a chance. But right now, we squelch. We squerch. We take a step and then take another one, realizing there’s not much else we can do or control.
We hold hands. We pray. And we look to the horizon for dry land. We know the dry land will come. That’s the hope that keeps the squelching and squerching going. If you feel stuck in the mud, know that there’s beauty in those inching steps. There’s fight and there’s victory. Small steps, yes, but progress nevertheless.
This week’s guest post was written by Deb Knoles, a beautiful lady who has known me all of my life, even while I was an angsty teenager, and yet still loves me! She is my second-mama (because everyone needs a second mother…believe me on this) and I trust her wisdom. Enjoy these wise and beautiful words from one who knows.
When I left last November for a week in Canada, the roses were still flinging out vibrant petals of scarlet, coral, and that incredibly soft pink/white that looks and feels like carefully rouged and powdered old lady cheeks. Indian Summer teased us into believing we’d have plenty more days to celebrate the garden.
A week later, I returned to the park to find the roses hanging from their canes, ghosts of former glory, drained of color and turning brittle from a plunge into the deep freeze of a brutal cold snap. Who really believes that the air can move from comfortable 65 degree days to barely 15 in a short week? We do. We live in Illinois.
The dying rose beds set me thinking about the false illusion of seasons being the length we think they’ll be (a natural mistake for those living in a state that surely takes its weather cues from menopausal women). The seasons in my own life have tricked me, too. As one of those young shoots coming out of the ground I thought: I’ll never grow up. (That one is sort of true if we’re going to get into maturity issues.) I did grow (physically at least). I did not stay young forever. Eventually, I “flowered” into womanhood and found myself married to my handsome blue-eyed man. Children arrived and I found an entire world of new seasonal misconceptions geared to each stage of their development. My kids will never be potty trained. None of us will survive the teenaged years. The nest will stay empty. But every Season’s master illusion is this: THEN (in the next season), I’ll have time. SOMEDAY, I’ll have time.
Ah, yes. I’ll have time “then”. I thought for sure that would be true NOW. But just as I pushed back the borders of that completely illusive season of “having time”, I became a mother of toddlers again. This time my toddlers are 93 and 89. The term is literal. My parents toddle. Dad uses a walker and Mom uses my arm to counterbalance a back twisted by spinal stenosis, arthritis and scoliosis. They are darling toddlers. For the most part, they are gracious, respectful and endearing. Unless they are cranky, unreasonable and maddening. Pretty much like the younger version of toddlers. Well, really. It’s pretty much like all of us I suspect. It’s just more noticeable to the person who bears the mandate for being a caretaker.
Dead roses and sleeping trees. And my ridiculous notion that I’d someday have “time.” Interesting mind companions for a quick walk around the park. One of the perks of cold weather de-nuding the trees is that the structure of branches is thrown into sharp relief against the sky. You see a tree’s real character in the winter. With the leaves gone, I noticed a tree that has a branch that grew down, dug roots in the ground and then stretched skyward again.
I wonder what drove that branch down so deep. I wonder at the resilience that shot it back up toward the sky after its brush with the ground. What kept it from just hanging out down there and giving in to gravity? There’s a story there in the tree that I will explore “when I have time”. If I have time. The grand illusion still has me in its grip.
Trees have stories. So do people. It’s a little—no, a LOT–intimidating to think what might be revealed in me when the leaves of my younger self have all fallen away. What’s going on under all the foliage?
In my parents I see the structure of a lifetime of good habits. Their discipline to always put everything back in its assigned place means they still live in a clean, well-organized home. (Oh, how I wish that could be said of my home!) They are thankful, gracious people. They’ve built their lives on faith and prayer and considering other people’s feelings and well-being mostly at the expense of their own. Their character holds up even as their bodies break down.
If I were a tree, I’d have collected a good many rings on the old trunk.
While I’m still young enough to camouflage a few of the branches I like to keep hidden, I’ve noticed that some of the leaves in my life have already reached their autumn. The golds and reds are fading to brittle brown and will soon drift away and leave all those branches bare to the wind. Perhaps this season of being a parent to my aging parents is designed to prune out the branches, give some design to the plain limbs and stretch out the stunted growth on others.
If I could be done with at least some of my selfishness, some of my false sense of pride, some of my striving for goals that don’t matter to anyone but me (and certainly don’t matter to God), perhaps the pattern those limbs trace against the sky would spell out “Glory to God”.
It’s a hard thing to watch these people I love face the very real indignities of aging. Death so often is wielded as a malicious weapon. The golden cord is severed with cruel speed in the too young. But too often for the elderly, as bodies begin to die one part at a time, that thread of life stretches out to the most tortuous tension. It delays a happy homecoming with weary days of travel on unfriendly roads. Dignity gets lost in adult diapers and poor digestion, in weakness and failing vision, and in the frailty of paper thin skin and bones. And still we who love our aged blessings long for more time with them. One more golden memory. One more shared laugh. Is time ever “just enough” for us? I am grateful to know that when it comes, God transforms the sting of death into the most glorious life of all. We’ve just got to trust that His timing will accomplish all that needs to be done even when we vehemently (and mistakenly) think we might have a better suggestion as far as His clock management goes. He never stretches a season too long or ends it too soon for the harvest He reaps. I’m grateful, too, that He asks us only to trust and not to understand. Understanding His timing is so far beyond my grasp.
Whatever our season of life, we can let God use the challenges to shape us into a more beautiful pattern. We can embrace the moment (this one right here and now!), revel in the glories of our season, and live it well. Or we can cling to the deception that we are just marking time till “then” and refuse to trust the Timekeeper. Either way, the clock ticks, the hours pass and the imprint shows up on our souls. Eventually, it will be evident to all what was real and what was just Spring’s window dressing.
Today’s post was written by Amanda Wen, a dear friend whom I met while in worship ministry at our church. She is an amazing cellist as well as having the ability to write beautifully! We had the first three of our children within months of each other, which made it even harder when they moved away from us. She is wise as well as funny, which is a beautiful combination. I know you will enjoy these words from her heart.
What’s in a name?
Elizabeth, the wonderful author of this blog, posed a question recently to Facebook about finding a name for her fourth daughter. I don’t envy her task, as I was hard-pressed to find even one girl name I liked well enough to saddle my kid with it. But her question did get me thinking back to how I chose the names for my children, and the significance each has to me.
Before we even got pregnant with our firstborn, my husband told me, more or less at random, that he liked the name Caleb for a boy. I hadn’t thought about it at all, and as I had no particular objection to the name, it became the front-runner. The name became cemented early in my pregnancy, when a friend of ours, a young man also named Caleb, was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. At his funeral, our pastor explained that Caleb in the Bible was an optimist, a go-getter, a “we can do that” sort of guy. “We can do that” is essentially my father’s motto, and with that, I knew our son’s name would be Caleb. (The meaning of the name, “bold, courageous, whole-hearted” goes along with this nicely). His middle name, Matthew, means “God’s gift.” We chose it because a) we liked it, and b) I couldn’t find another Biblical name that meant “surprise!”
“Surprise” was an apt descriptor of my feelings when, just a few short months later, I learned I was pregnant again. Although it was not my plan to have children so close together, it was God’s, and now, with four and a half years’ perspective and experience with two little boys who, though radically different in personality, are best friends, I know that, yet again, He knows best. But, continuing with the theme of surprise, we chose the name Jonathan, which also means “gift from God.” His middle name, Christopher, is the one name that honors both sides of the family. Considering that half the family is from China, this is no small feat indeed! The name also means “Christ bearer.” Could there be anything better to wish for my son?
When we conceived our third child, I had a strong feeling it would be a girl, and I was proven right. Unfortunately, choosing a girl name proved to be far more difficult. I wanted to avoid trendy names while still sounding somewhat contemporary, and I also wanted something Biblical.
Then one day, while I was reading in Psalms, I came across the word Selah. As a musician, I’ve always been intrigued by this word. Is it a musical instruction? Some sort of note to the choir director? What could it mean? I did a little research and discovered multiple meanings, ranging from “rock” to “pause and reflect” to a word that is indefinable, that simply means the highest form of worship.
The highest form of worship. Wow. And I knew then that I had the name for my little girl.
At first, Selah’s middle name was going to be Mei, a Chinese word that, depending on pronunciation, can mean either “beautiful” or “little sister,” both of which we knew she would be. But fairly early on in pregnancy, I was finally diagnosed with depression. My depression is not severe, and most of the time I barely know I have it, but during times of hormonal flux, particularly pregnancy, I cross over the line. My depression was worse with Selah than it was with either of the boys, and my doctor finally prescribed some medication for me.
After a few days of taking the meds, I realized what a godsend they really were. God had used modern medicine to give me my joy back. Joy that had been missing for nearly four years.
And so Selah’s middle name is Joy.
The name had been decided when we went to the hospital to have her, and while I was waiting for them to run some labs, I spied one of the Bibles the Gideons leave hospital rooms. This Bible, rather than being tucked away in a drawer, was open on a table. To Psalm 21, the first two verses of which are as follows.
The king shall have joy in your strength, O Lord;
And in Your salvation how greatly shall he rejoice.
You have given him his heart’s desire,
And have not withheld the request of his lips.
Although God does not often give signs like that, it is so amazing when he does.
I am spending this week waiting on our newest little one to arrive, so enjoy this old post edited from the archives and pray for a safe and quick labor and delivery, please!
There is a paradox in God’s dealings with us that I have trouble understanding.
There is this:
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5.8
And there is also this:
The LORD your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. ~ Zephaniah 3.17
This is a hard paradox for me to accept: I am loved and delighted in by God AND I am why Jesus had to come and die.
It is all too commonplace around here for me to hear a thud followed by the cry of one of my little ones. Most often the culprit is a sister, who stands triumphantly clutching some coveted toy.
As I ask for wisdom to know how to teach my children how to love, I wonder how I can possibly teach my children this very thing that I don’t understand. How can I teach them that God created something wonderful when He made them while at the same time helping them to understand that their hearts are ugly with sin and they desperately need Jesus and His grace? How can I teach them to be confident and humble at the same time?
One without the other brings disaster.
If I teach only that they are beautiful and wonderful and children of the King, they become arrogant and self-centered, entitled to the best.
If I teach only that they are sinful and ugly in their hearts, they become depressed and mired in self-pity, losing all confidence in themselves.
How do I teach both humility and confidence?
I must learn it first.
Paul says this in Philippians:
…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. ~ Philippians 3.9
…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God. ~ Philippians 1.11
I am loved by God and He does delight in me…because He made me.
I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~ Psalm 139.14
I am pure and clean before God and He does see me as righteous…because of Jesus’ blood.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. ~ Romans 3.22
All is gift.
Seeing the One behind my righteousness creates humility.
Seeing the cross in front of my sin creates confidence.
All is grace.
I turn and see my eldest giving my littlest one a toy and then a kiss. I smile, knowing that God is teaching their hearts and mine what it means to live a life of both confidence and humility in and through Him.
You have said that You will pour out Your Spirit.
You have said that You will pour out Your Spirit on us.
Have I ever experienced an outpouring?
I know that Your Spirit dwells in me.
I know that Your Spirit speaks to and dwells in me.
Do I have any idea what that truly means?
When You pour out Your Spirit, we will prophesy.
When You pour out Your Spirit, we will prophesy and have visions.
Am I missing out or is this promise for a later time?
If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me,
If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me and gives me power,
Then why do I fail so often?
If You have given Your Spirit to all who belong to Christ,
If You have given Your Spirit to all who follow and belong to Christ,
Please teach me what it truly means to live by Your Spirit and not by my flesh, because I do not understand.
“Whom do you want me to release for you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”
And the people chose Barabbas.
I’ve always wondered why.
Why would they choose a murderer over a savior?
What would push them into making the choice of one who steals life over one who gives life?
We could talk about mob mentality; we could point out the way they lived under the sway of priestly authority.
We can never know for sure.
One thing we can know for sure, though:
They made the same choice that Jesus would have made, if the choice had been up to Him.
Jesus would have chosen to give Barabbas his freedom and his life, knowing that it would cost Him His.
It is what He chose for us.
It is hard to understand both choices: the choice of the crowd and the choice of Jesus.
Yet to understand both choices is to understand the gospel.
Frederick Buechner put it well when he said that to grasp both of these decisions is to “grasp what the New Testament says about Christ being our Savior and about people badly needing to be saved.”
God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
I sit at Panera, laptop open in front of me, staring out the window at snow drifting down.
I come from a morning full of harsh words and impatience, full of angry attitudes and frustrated responses.
I watch the fat flakes piling up and am struck by the beauty of the view, struck by the sacredness of a dirty world turning white.
I sift through my memories of this morning and wonder why I am unable to also see those parts of life as sacred.
It is easy to see the sacredness of snow. It is difficult to see the sacredness in a child’s anger.
When life is beautiful, when I gaze at spring flowers or at a little girl reading to her sister, I have no trouble in seeing God.
It is when my children fuss and yell, when they shove each other and bang angry fists on the piano and Mommy hollers back in return, that God seems to vanish.
Yet if I truly believe that there is no separation between sacred and secular, if I believe that the fullness of life is sacred, if I believe that there is no difference between kneeling before God in prayer and kneeling in service before a dirty toilet…
Then there is sacredness even in my child who is storming away from me in anger and frustration.
There is sacredness in a fussy toddler, in a stubborn preschooler, in a huffy elementary school child.
It is easier to react with impatience than to see God in these things. It is easier to speak harsh words in response than to pause long enough to search for the sacredness and speak words of Love in answer.
I am trying to figure out how to hold on to the truth that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the body and the soul. I am trying to figure out how to hold on to the truth that God made this world and made this life and uses every piece of both to bring me to Him.
I am trying to figure out how to “become more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”
(Barbara Brown Taylor in An Altar in the World)
It is this, this living of real life in the real world while focusing myself on God, that will change me, change my life, change the way I live my life.
Which, in turn, will bring me closer to God.
And that is indeed truly sacred.
Why is it so difficult to allow people to come in close?
I enjoy having friends, of course, but I still want to keep everyone at just a bit of distance.
Even my husband and my children. I will let them in closer than any others, but there is still a part of myself that I hold in reserve.
Why do we do this? Why is it so hard to be completely vulnerable with anyone?
Fear, I think, is the most simple answer.
We know how ugly our hearts can be. For myself, I know the arrogance and rage that can live inside and I want people to still like me.
We want everyone else to think well of us, so we let them in enough to show that we are human, but not far enough in to let them see how very human we really are.
We don’t want to see the shock and revulsion on their faces were they to hear the thoughts that go through our minds. We want others to like us.
It is often even hard to let God in.
Logically, I know that He already sees the deepest, most ugly bits of me, but I still have the desire to make everything look pretty before I show it to Him. You see, I want God to like me too.
Not just love me. Like me.
Love seems to be a choice, a way of treating someone. Liking, though, seems more enjoyable.
Love is what I do even when it is hard. Liking is what comes naturally when I enjoy spending time with someone.
Yet God went to extraordinary lengths to be with us. He tells us that He wants to sit with us over meals, that He sings over us and He wants to wipe away our tears. He calls us friends.
Such amazing grace this is.
If only I could believe it completely, I would have no trouble at all in letting others in.
God, help my unbelief.
Art credit: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt