What to Do With Your Half-Finished Songs

I often feel as though I fall short.
falling short
No, that’s not quite true. I mostly feel as though I fall short.
I fall short in my marriage. My pride so often chokes me up.
I fall short in my parenting. My selfishness makes me stumble.
I fall short in my writing. My laziness keeps me from doing all that God desires.
It is enough to make me quit.
failure
This continuous falling short is enough to make me want to stop trying.
Why bother, when all of my very best efforts are never quite enough?
I am learning in my God-life, and I think that it applies to all of life (as all of life is and should be my God-life), that falling short doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that I do not give up.
What matters is that I continue to persevere.
Trying matters.
We live in a broken world and we inhabit broken bodies. We shouldn’t be surprised when our best efforts fall short.
We shouldn’t be surprised when the outcome toward which we are aiming doesn’t quite come to fruition.
But all of our failures don’t change a thing about who we are.
For we are God’s beloved.
And as I wrote earlier, nothing that we do for God is ever wasted.
nothing is wasted
We are a part of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, and even our failures are used to that end.
It is a beautiful truth that God uses our broken efforts to restore His broken world.
All of creation is aimed with all of her being toward her creator, giving of herself in praise, waiting with eager longing for her freedom.
This is what we are asked to work toward in our marriage, in our parenting, in our art, in our work.
…since creation is going to declare (his great faithfulness) either way, we might as well jump in with our half-finished songs and join the chorus. ~ Andrew Peterson in Adorning the Dark
Dear one, we must not let our failures keep us from trying.
God desires even our failures, especially our failures, for His kingdom purposes.
He looks forward to hearing all of your half-finished songs.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

We Are Slicing Off Ears Again

I made a mistake on Facebook the other day.
A friend of a friend posted something harsh about those who believe differently than she does about face masks, and I had had enough.
I responded.
I shouldn’t have, but I responded.
When she escalated, making comparisons to people in concentration camps, I realized my mistake. I am not going to change anyone’s mind on Facebook. I cannot not argue someone into a different viewpoint.
I can, however, love people on Facebook. I can show the unity and love of Jesus in the way that I interact with others. My comment, while not harsh or ugly, did not show unity or love.
I deleted my responses.
I expect harsh words and vitriol from the world. Christians, however, should never engage in that kind of vicious attack and nasty rhetoric.
As emotions become more volatile in this season of uncertainty, as choices about what to do next vary wildly, as words become our weapon of choice, I offer a word of warning, a plea, to myself as well as to you.
Satan wants this. This is a perfect opportunity for him to divide the church over this issue of shelter-in-place vs reopening the economy, over enforced face masks vs the freedom to choose.
I’ve already written of how important it is for us, the Church, to be unified.
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Not for us to agree on everything, but to love each other. To love each other no matter what.
This is so important that it was one of the last things Jesus asked of God before He was crucified.
Why is this particularly important right now, in this season?
As more and more people get sick with COVID-19 and die, as more and more people lose their jobs because of prevention measures, we become more and more afraid.
And fear causes us to do crazy things, both to each other and to those around us who are outside of the Church.
We are living in uncertain times. Our lives and our livelihoods are threatened. The illusion that we are in control has been stripped away.
We find ourselves fighting back against this invisible enemy by fighting with the people we can see.
We as a Church are good at fighting.
crusades
We have a tendency, when we are afraid, to lash out at anyone who disagrees with what we believe to be true. Rather than following Jesus’ way of loving those who hurt us, of being at peace with those around us, we strike out blindly at anyone near us in an attempt to fight the enemy we cannot reach.
This is what Peter did. He was terrified of losing Jesus, terrified of losing his own life, uncertain of what would happen next, and he reacted by pulling out his sword to start slicing off ears.
st-_peter_cut_slaves_ear_by_duccio
Jesus, however, picked up that ear, calmly placed it back onto its owner’s head, and walked quietly off to meet His death.
We have a perfect opportunity in this season to react out of love rather than out of fear. To treat those who disagree with gentleness, bringing peace rather than war. To show that we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love each other.
Jesus speaks over and over again about His kingdom coming through the humble, the weak, the foolish. He is adamant that the kingdom of God is not about force or hatred.
When Jesus gets down on his knees to wash the filthy feet of the apostles, he washes Judas’ feet as well.
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Everything we do to live out God’s kingdom here on earth must be done under the shadow of the cross.
Perhaps we should stop fighting to convince other believers that we are right and start figuring out how to work together to show God’s love to the sick and the jobless. Perhaps we should begin by humbly admitting that we don’t have all the answers and we might be wrong. Perhaps we should remember that God’s kingdom grows best one soul at a time through lives lived in quiet love and service, not through arguing angrily on social media.
Perhaps we should stop slicing off ears and instead begin the work of healing by dying to ourselves as we live as Jesus did. We can start by loving each other.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credit: Photograph of cathedral by Kirk SewellImage of the Croisés from 1922; St. Peter Cuts the Slave’s Ear by Duccio di Buoninsegna

Our Cry to the Creator and Covenant God

How long, O God?
This has been our cry from the beginning.
How long until you rescue us? How long until you set things right?
Rescue us
Our world is broken and we are broken and we need you to make all things new.
You created us and you promised us. Save us, O God!
All through Scripture, God reveals himself as Creator God and as Covenant God. He is the one who made us and he is the one who promised to restore us.
Over and over again, Israel cries out for rescue to the Creator God who has an obligation to his creation and to the Covenant God who has an obligation to be faithful to the promises he has made.
creation and covenant
The Psalms are full of the bringing together of these two aspects of God.
Psalm 19 begins by praising God for his power in creation, The heavens declare the glory of God, and ends by praising God for the beauty in his covenant law, The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
Psalm 74 begins by pleading with God to remember his covenant people, Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old and ends by reminding him of his power and ownership over creation, Yours is the day, yours also the night.
The covenant was given to solve the problems in creation. God calls Abraham and establishes Israel as his people to hold to the covenant. Through Israel, God will solve the problems of the world, bringing justice and salvation to the nations.
Creation is invoked by the prophets of Israel to solve the problems within the covenant. “When Israel is in trouble, and the covenant promises themselves seem to have come crashing to the ground, the people cry to the covenant God precisely as the creator.”
creation and covenant
It did, indeed, seem that the covenant promises came crashing down.
Israel was supposed to be God’s messenger to the nations, but instead tried to achieve a covenant status for itself alone. What did God do? Abandon the covenant and move to a vastly different Plan B in Jesus?
He most certainly did not. God remains true to his covenant, to his plan, even when man proves false.
“…he will require a representative Israelite who will be faithful…to God’s purpose not only for Israel but through Israel for the world…we see God’s covenant faithfulness operating through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. Precisely as Messiah, he offers God that representative faithfulness to the plan of salvation through which the plan can go ahead at last, Abraham can have a worldwide family, and the long entail of Adam’s sin and death can be undone through his obedience.”
It is through Jesus that the one who created us and our world is able to fulfill his covenant to restore us and our world.
creation
 covenant
We see this displayed beautifully in Isaiah 40-55, that great passage in which the prophet lays out God’s entire plan for rescue.
In chapter 40, YHWH is beseeched as the sovereign creator in whom Israel can trust completely. In 55, there is celebration of the way in which his Word will have the same effect of restoring Israel that the rain and snow have in making the earth fruitful.
Creation and covenant.
In between, in chapter 51, Creator God is declared to also be the Covenant God whose Word will rescue and deliver his people from the enemy.
The covenant will be renewed and thus creation will be renewed. When God rescues Israel, the nations will share in the blessing. And “the human blessing is the means by which God the creator, who made humans in his image to be his stewards in his world, will renew the whole creation itself.”
And all this, says Isaiah, through the Messiah. This Messiah, we now know, is both the Word of God and the one in whom all things were created. Paul tells us that the image of the invisible God, the true fulfillment of Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, both was the first born of all creation and in him all things were created AND was the first born from the dead and through him God reconciled all things to himself.
Jesus himself is the point where creation and covenant come together.
creation
covenant
Jesus is the means by which God has done what, “as creator, he has the power and right to do, and what, as the covenant God, he has the responsibility to do.” Through Jesus, God has set things right again. He has set in motion the restoration of creation and has killed sin and death on the cross.
Which brings us back to where we began.
How long, O God?
How long until you rescue us? How long until you set things right?
creation and covenant
Praise be to our God! Through the obedience of Messiah and the power of his Spirit, our Creator and Covenant God has already done it.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Credits: These ideas, and all of the quotations, come from N. T. Wright and his book, Paul. I have merely synthesized and condensed them for you. The painting of Peter drowning is an excerpt from a fresco inside the cathedral of Maria Saal in Austria. All photographs are mine.

Take This Chance to Start Over

Most of us have recently found ourselves abruptly forced into a strange new normal.
We were busily running around, bouncing from one activity to the next, spending our days and evenings driving from one event to the next, when it all came to a sudden, screeching halt.
starting over
Activities canceled. Events abandoned. Plans postponed.
We are spending more time at home than we ever have before.
May I make a suggestion? Perhaps I would even call it a plea.
When the world starts back up again, when activities and events begin to crank back to life,
please don’t rush straight back in without any thought or consideration for what you are giving up.
We have a rare chance to start over, to slow down, to make more deliberate choices for our lives.
What do you want your life to look like? Do you want more space in your life? Do you want more time at home as a family? Do you want your kids to have more time to play and just be…kids?
Be wise.
You do not have to leap back into every activity you participated in before.
Consider each one and together with God decide whether it is truly good and necessary for your family as a whole.
Space is good. A slower life is good. Making sure that there is regular time in your schedule to connect with God and with your family is very good.
make space
Most of us didn’t plan to live this way. Many of us added just one thing, then another, and another, and another…
until we woke up one morning with no white space at all in our week.
You do not have to go back to that life, to a life that is cram-packed to the brim.
You can choose.
You can choose which activities and events are life-giving to your family and which ones suck you dry.
You cannot be close to your loved ones, you cannot be close to God without time.
So while we have it, take time to consider. Be prayerful and wise as you begin to resume a more normal sort of schedule. Take this chance to start over.
Make the necessary and life-giving choice of space and time for yourself and your family.
We all need this.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credit: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith

Grief Is Weighty

Grief
Grief is weighty.
Even the word pandemic has
A heaviness contained within;
All those fat and rounded letters
Holding it down.

 

It is a collective grief,
Magnified world-wide, of
A million wailing voices straining
To push through the shattered shards
Of lives and dreams.

 

I turn away from news,
From podcasts and posts,
For who can bear this kind of weight?
One who, with tears tracing paths down his face,
opened his arms to bear it all.

 

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credit: Grief by Bertram Mackennal

This Deep Ache I Feel

This season of Lent into Easter always leaves me with an ache in my heart.
Lent
I ache as I sit in the heart-wrenching tension between what is now and what is not-yet.
This year my heart has been even more tender than usual.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God to fulfill His promise to make all things new.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God to return and set all things right.
It is tender with an ache of longing for God.
ache of longing
We have sat in silent mourning through Lent, grieving our sin and our broken world and longing for Messiah.
We have rejoiced in exultation on Easter, celebrating Christ’s victorious defeat over sin and death.
Now we wake up to a world that is still sinning. still broken, still dying.
We trust, on our best days, that Jesus’ defeat of sin and death really happened, that God will not forget any of His promises, that God’s Spirit truly dwells inside of us.
And our hearts ache.
We are filled, more on some days than on others, with an aching, homesick kind of longing for what is still to come.
This is good. This is as it should be.
We should not be satisfied with this world in its brokenness.
We should not be satisfied with ourselves in our sinful nature.
We should not be satisfied to be physically separated from God.
Listen to this ache, for we are not yet home.
Let yourself feel this tenderness fully.
We should allow this ache in our hearts to spur us on to seek God more, to love God more, to love those around us more, to do all we can to bring His kingdom to rule on earth.
It is good to have seasons in which your heart is more tender, in which that longing ache is closer to the surface.
It simply means the end is not yet here.
On the day when our earth is made new, when heaven and earth are joined together, when Jesus descends from the clouds and we run into His arms,
On the day when God will dwell with us and we will be His people,
On that day, this ache we feel will melt away.
We shall be home.

feel your ache

For now, learn to be still and truly feel this ache in your heart. Let it draw you closer into the arms of the One who will someday heal you completely. You can trust Him.
Easter has already come.

Easter

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2020

Living in Saturday

Saturday of Holy Week is hard.
Saturday
The disciples’ hopes are dashed. Disappointment and dread lie heavy in their stomachs. Fear is rising quickly in the face of an unknown future.
It feels right now as though we are living in Saturday.
Our hopes are dashed. Disappointment and dread lie heavy in our stomachs. Fear is rising quickly in the face of an unknown future.
Saturday is dark.
Yet – When darkness veils His lovely face, I’ll rest on His unchanging grace.
For we know something that Jesus’ followers did not.
Sunday is on its way.
Sunday
No matter what your fear in this time of Saturday, Sunday is certain.
For the sick, for the hungry, for the hurting, for the jobless, for the homeless, for the lonely, for the grieving, for the abused,
Sunday will come.
This is why we celebrate Easter, to remind us of the glorious Sunday that is still to come.
This is why, even in this strangest of Easters when none of our normal gathering will occur, it is important to celebrate, to feast, to fill our spaces with joy in whatever way we can manage.
It is important because we are living in the time of Saturday, and we need the reminder of why we do not despair, why we continue to work toward the coming Kingdom.
We need the reminder that no matter what happens on this earth,
Sunday is on its way.
And when the light of Sunday blazes over the horizon, all of the ugliness and horror that happened on Saturday will melt away like the morning fog.
This week, sit with your dashed hope, your disappointment and dread, even your fear on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, for these hard things are real.

grief

But on Sunday prepare to celebrate.
For Sunday is also real, more real than any of those other things, and Sunday will be more glorious than your wildest dreams can imagine.
Sunday is coming.
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.
Isaiah 50.10
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credits: Preparation of Christ’s Tomb by Vittore Carpaccio; The Angel Opens the Tomb of Christ by Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp; Rabboni sculpture by Gutzon Borglum, photo by Kathleen Cole

The Magic of Late Winter

I apologize for being late with my essay this week. I have no excuse other than the one that we all have these days, that of the world being turned upside down.
This week I am joining in a collaboration with several other writer friends from The Habit forum to search out the beauty that can be found (although sometimes one must look deeply and long) in this season of late winter and early spring.
magic of late winter
Click here to read my essay and then linger awhile to read the wisdom and goodness offered by my friends. Blessings on all of you in this Holy Week, my friends. May you sense the presence of our Lord in more tangible ways than usual.

The Magic of Late Winter, Part VII: Guest Post by Elizabeth Giger

My Psalm of Lament

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Where are you, Lord, in our affliction?
Why do you hide your face in times of trouble?
Where is your saving arm, your strong right hand
In the face of this microscopic enemy?
I am imprisoned in my own home,
Unable to escape from my children for even a moment.
I snap and yell, I stomp and fuss,
And then I know my guilt, for others
Are facing much worse now and in days to come.
Where are you, O Lord?
Why do you not rise up and stop this virus?
For the sake of your glory, for the sake of your name,
Make this vanish with a word, like the mist before the morning sun.
I am worried about my parents, my in-laws,
All those in my parents’ generation who raised me in their love.
I am anxious about friends who already struggle with their health.
I see people losing jobs and refugees losing even what small place they had,
I see the sick with no room at the hospitals and the lonely and depressed sinking lower.
This disease is coming, coming, coming, and none can stop it but you.
Why do you not come?
You of great love and great power, you alone have the means to deliver us.
Why have you removed your saving hand?
Where are you, Lord, in our darkness?
I see the answer when I gaze at the cross.
You are here.
Our tears are your tears. Our pain is your pain.
Our grief is your grief. Our suffering is your suffering.
You who have every right to the glory of heaven
Have chosen to be with us in all of our sorrow.
I see your presence in the face of my girls,
In the hands of my husband,
In the eyes of my neighbor.
I see your presence in the coming together,
In the surrounding each other,
In the laying down of what we once held dear.
Teach us, O Lord, what is most important.
Teach us to treasure what your heart treasures.
Help us to slow down and give up,
To give each other our time and full attention,
To be still and quiet with you.
Teach us to know that you are God.
We are your people, your very own sheep.
Help us to open our hands and let go
Of that which we have grasped too tightly.
Help us to rearrange our hearts and priorities until
They more closely align with yours.
Help us not to waste these days but
To use them to more fully love you,
To more fully love each other,
To more fully love those who don’t yet know you.
We trust your heart toward us.
With your strength, we will use this time wisely,
To number our days and gain wisdom.
We will give rather than hoard.
We will serve rather than weep.
We will search for you in the small bits of beauty
You have scattered all around us.
We will praise you and give thanks
In this as in the most perfect of times,
For you are our God and have promised to never forsake us.
You have promised that a day is coming when all of this pain will fade,
When all of this sorrow will disappear
Like the morning dew when the heat of the sun arrives.
We trust in your promise and will wait patiently for you.
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

You Still Have a Choice, Even in This Crisis

Despite this strange new normal in which we find ourselves, we are still in the season of Lent.
lent
The Church continues on with her year, regardless of what is happening around her.
Lent is a season of giving up, of denying yourself for the purpose of becoming more unified with the Spirit of Christ.
Most of us, no matter where in the world we live, find ourselves being forced to give up.
Give up freedoms, give up financial stability, give up plans and dreams for the next few months.
As with any time of suffering, I do not mean to imply that God caused this. We live in a broken world.
But He did allow it.
broken world
And, as with any time of suffering, He is asking us what we are going to do with it.
It is vitally important for our life-with-God to be still before Him. We must spend much time gazing at Jesus and being filled up by His Spirit through silence and solitude, among other things.
When we do this, we have His peace and His joy deep within us. We are sheltered in our Home, and we emerge safely on the other side of whatever grief and pain may come our way, though perhaps a bit battered and wind-torn.
Jesus spoke of suffering that is used by God.
In the parable of the vine, He said that every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
Andrew Murray writes that we should be moved by our abiding in Christ
to hear in each affliction the voice of a messenger that comes to call them to abide still more closely. Yes, believer, most specially in times of trial, abide in Christ…abide in Christ in times of affliction and you shall bring forth more fruit.
James, the brother of Jesus, also speaks of suffering that is used by God. He makes so bold as to instruct us to count suffering as pure joy.
What could there be, what could there possibly be in the valley of the deepest dark that could be counted as joy?
James does not leave us sinking into despair.
He answers with the answer we have been aiming towards from the beginning: our suffering, when we choose to continue to abide in Christ in the middle of it, leads to nothing less than being made perfect and complete.
What will be your choice?
We can choose.
We can choose in our pain to more fully make our home in Jesus or to step outside of Him. The way we choose to respond to suffering matters.
Over and over, Scripture tells us that the choices we make in this life ripple forward into the next.
What we do with the ebbs and flows in our lives matter. From interruptions to worries, from marriage to loss, every choice we make in response to our circumstances is changing us.
Changing the very essence of ourselves into something different than what we are now.
C. S. Lewis said it best.
Taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself.
Choosing to live out Holy Habits, daily activities like Scripture reading and prayer, solitude and silence, are how God the Holy Spirit transforms us into people of His Kingdom.
People who, by obedience and love, are helping the Kingdom, God’s rule, to break through here and now.
People who are at home in Jesus.
Choose time with Jesus
So may I make a suggestion?
We have all been required to give up most of our normal activities. By all means, fill up some of that time with books and movies, but perhaps take some of that time to just sit in silence with God.
This can be a frightening thing to do, especially in our particular circumstances. Sitting quietly with your thoughts and emotions can feel hard.
Yet God has promised to always be with us, to give us a peace and a joy that goes beyond any circumstance. But we must trust Him enough to give Him those thoughts and emotions, trust Him enough to be still before Him.
We do not need to pretend in our times with Him. We do not need to act as though everything were okay, as though we were okay, as though anything in our entire world were okay.
It is good to lament before the Lord.
We need to lament to Him when all around us feels as though it were falling apart.
Scripture is full of lament.
We are at a loss what to do, hence our eyes are turned toward you. (2 Chronicles 20:12)
My soul, too, is utterly terrified; but you, O Lord, how long…? (Psalm 6:4).
Why, O Lord, do you stand aloof? Why hide in times of distress? (Psalm 10:1)
In the next couple of days, will you find some time to go hide in a bedroom or take a walk alone outside? Just be still before God and try to be silent. Take a name of God that is meaningful to you or a phrase such as “Lord, have mercy” to use when you need to bring your thoughts back under control.
Try to make this a regular part of your routine.
Will you also write your own Psalm of Lament over all that you are experiencing right now?
It is an act of faith to pour out our fear and hurt to God.
If you want to share it with someone, I would love to read it. You can email me at Elizabeth@MadeSacred.com
This can also be just between you and God.
May God grant you His incomprehensible peace and His deep, abiding joy even in the middle of all that we are experiencing right now.
May He grant you what you need more than anything else – a real sense of His own presence.
May He grant you Himself.
Let God give you Himself
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

All photographs copyright Made Sacred 2020