This One Is for the Ugly 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.

 

There are some days when it is easy to love.
Loving each other
Happy Baby
I am able to surrender to the Spirit which causes peace to fill me up and overflow into the hearts of my daughters, my husband. I have the supernatural strength to stay calm in the midst of tantrums, kind in the midst of misunderstandings, and joyful in the midst of hurt.
Then there are days like today.
Yelled at by Mommy
Days when something ugly wells up inside of me. Days when I want to be mean. Days when I feel resentful towards those I love best.
I hate these days.
What is this darkness, this nastiness that overwhelms me and threatens to spill out into the hearts of those I love?
Sadness
Tantrums
Anger
Defiance
My daughters cry to be held, fuss about wearing clothes, throw tantrums because school is hard, and my desire is not to comfort them but to scream like a crazed woman with fire in my eyes.
My husband makes an innocent comment and my desire is not to hear his loving intentions but to deliberately misunderstand and hiss a disparaging remark.
I intentionally fight against the changing of my mood. I want to savor, to wallow in my blackness.
I hate these days.
I get so tired of fighting this battle within me. I get so weary of fighting my very self. I long for the day when I finally look like Jesus, when my desire is to love rather than hate, when my heart is all light with no shadow at all.
As ugly as my heart can be, I am grateful that God refuses to give up on me. I am thankful that He does not save me and then leave me as I am. I am astounded that He is filling me up with Himself, crowding out the ugliness until there is nothing left but Beauty.
I try not to feel impatient.
Yet I know. I know. I know that I belong to Jesus. He gave Himself for me and therefore sin has lost its hold on me. I can hold on to that knowing even when I cannot feel it. Little by little, sin’s grasp is slipping away because Love has taken hold and nothing dark can hold on in the light of this fiercest Love.
As the recent hymn, In Christ Alone, says, “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand; ‘till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
No scheme of man. Not even my own schemes. Nothing can separate me from Love Himself.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Amen.

edited from the archives

When You Are Desperate to Understand

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.
There is much that I don’t understand about this life we live.
IMG_3029
I don’t understand why good prayers often go unanswered. Prayers that even an indifferent parent would grant.
I don’t understand why young mothers die horrible deaths or why four year old little girls suffer abuse.
IMG_7589
I don’t understand why God often seems so distant, especially in our darkest moments.
I simply don’t understand.
Yet this thing I know to be true, even if I don’t understand why:
Sometimes God asks us to choose between understanding and Him.
This is the story of Job. Horrific things happened; God was silent.
Job’s friends offered their limited understanding; God offered the fullness of Himself.
And that’s the thing about understanding, you see. When we demand it, we usually don’t get it and in the demanding we lose the grace that God offers to us.
IMG_7588
If you choose God, however, you gain what you need most of all.
We will all receive understanding someday, whether on this or that side of death, but we need God now. Always.
If you have to choose, choose God.
Supernova
That was Job’s choice. He admitted his incomprehension and bowed before the God he had seen. And he was satisfied, ending his life full of days.
When we choose God, we receive the gift of His presence and that will satisfy us more than any understanding ever could.
We need God desperately. More than we need anything else.
IMG_4043
If you choose God, you will eventually gain understanding. If you demand understanding, you may lose the presence of God and yet never receive the understanding you gave up everything to gain.
If you have to choose, choose God. It is this grace that will get you through the hard thing you do not understand.
This grace that is the presence of God Himself.

Art credit: Photo of space by NASA

When You Have Trouble

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.

 

God promised that this life would be hard.
IMG_3404
IMG_3393
It is part of what draws us together as humans, this trouble that comes to us all.
Whether the trouble is harming you directly or whether you are hurting while you watch one you love suffer, trouble is promised to us all.
Trouble is promised, yet Christ asked us to take up our cross if we want to come with Him, implying that we have a choice.
IMG_4355
IMG_4362
If trouble is not our cross, if we are guaranteed trouble no matter what, then what does it mean to take up our cross?
What does it mean to share in the sufferings of Christ, as Paul encourages us to do several times in his writings, and how can that bring us joy? This is, after all, trouble we’re talking about, not fun and relaxation.
As I read through the Bible, God seems to tell us that we have a choice. That when trouble arrives, as it invariably will, we have a choice of how to respond.
IMG_4364
If we look to Jesus as showing us how to live life as we were created to live, we can see Him having to make the same choice and showing us which choice to make.
After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus is telling the disciples that He will have to die in order to be honored and glorified.
Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!
Do you see His choice?
His heart is troubled as He looks ahead a few days to His crucifixion and He sees His choice clearly.
It is the same choice you have.
Will you run away from your trouble, trying your best to escape it?
Or.
Will you make the incredibly hard choice to accept your trouble, asking God to glorify His name in it?
Will you try to escape your cross or will you take it up?
Now, I certainly don’t mean that it is wrong to pray that God will take your trouble away. Jesus asked that of God in the garden when He asked for this cup to be taken away from Him.
Gethsemane_Carl_Bloch
I do believe, though, that the greater portion of peace and joy can be ours if we ask for God to be glorified in whatever we are facing.
This is what it means to be partners with Christ by sharing in His sufferings. This is what brings beauty and meaning to our own suffering. Suffering that will happen regardless of how we choose to respond.
It is hard to wrap our minds around this idea that suffering can be redemptive, bringing hope and healing to the world. Our world reacts so strongly against any kind of discomfort at all. Yet the entire life of Jesus shows us how grace and suffering can fit together.
IMG_6549
IMG_6546
This language that combines suffering and joy is all over Scripture. Jesus endured the cross for the sake of joy, Peter tells us to rejoice as we share Christ’s suffering.
Trouble comes to us all. The astounding piece of this is that God chooses to use us, if we will allow Him, for the greater good, for the healing of all around us.
So for you who don’t know how you will pay your bills next month, for you who lost a child, for you who can’t imagine an evening without a fight, for you whose heart just broke in two, for you who are walking through the crippling loneliness, depression, physical pain, doubt,
ask God to help you make the choice that will bring the most peace and joy, the choice that will bring healing to those around you.
Ask God to glorify His name through your trouble.
IMG_6555
In this, you will be like Jesus. And God will grant you what you ask.

Art credit: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch

There Are Times

I took a short break from blogging after experiencing some very difficult times related to my writing, and I’m glad to be back in my writing space. As I searched for the way to be obedient in what happened, I discovered that I don’t believe God has released me from writing here in this space, so I published a couple of essays from my archives while I prayed and thought and wrote. Here is what I wrote in the aftermath of my troubles. I pray that it will give a small bit of help to you.
 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.

 

There are times when I feel desperate for God.
Times when my path forward seems dark
as the hour before dawn.
IMG_8834
Times when the darkness seems to creep into my soul and
times when it wants to burst out of my heart and
threaten to hurt those around me.
IMG_5370 - Copy (2)
I always know in a cerebral sense that my very being depends on God, but
there are times when I know it in a deep, carnal way.
These are the times I see clearly into my own heart and
tremble with fear for the rage I see there.
IMG_5316
These are the times I am asked to forgive, to
turn the other cheek in a real and painful way.
These are the times I find I must return something
to God that is precious to me and find that my deepest self
wants to turn away from Him instead.
IMG_7339
It is in these times that I fall on my face and
beg Him to surround me with Himself.
It is in these times that I lift up my eyes and
plead for Him to heal me from the inside.
It is in these times that I know with a gut-wrenching certainty that
I am, indeed, desperate for God
in all times.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee.
Oh, bless me now my Savior,
I come to Thee.

Surprised by my Ugliness

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.

 

I am always surprised when ugliness shows up in my heart.
Ugliness
Did I just think that?!
How could that have just flashed through my mind?!
I am shocked and horrified when my frustration makes the thought of running away from my family seem momentarily desirable.
I shouldn’t be surprised. There is something inside of me capable of deserting those I love.
It is inside of you too.
There is something inside of me capable of murder, adultery, theft.
It is inside of you too.
When I am shocked at the kinds of thoughts that can fly through my head, it is a kind of pride. It is a pride that thinks I am better. Better than those who fill our jails.
I am not.
Darkness
This kind of shock is not a sorrow which leads to change. This is only a sorrow that I was not as good as I and others thought. It is a shock and sorrow that I am as weak as other humans.
True sorrow involves no surprise. It is not surprised at the depths of darkness in my soul. True sorrow is impossible to find on my own. It can only come from God.
Only when God looks at me can I know my own weakness and brokenness.
In the end, it is God looking into the sinner’s face that matters. ~ Henry Drummond (British revivalist and preacher, 1851-1897)
Only when God looks at me as He looked at Peter at the crow of the rooster, can I turn around and be changed.
Only when we come to our Father in response to His waiting look can we be freed and forgiven. ~ Henry Drummond
So stop being surprised and be sorrowful instead. Stay where you are and let God teach you.
Look into the heart of God and be broken.
Only then can we be truly changed.

Art Credits: Let Him Be Crucified by James Tissot; Jesus Scourged, a Bowyer Bible print

Not About Me

It is not about me.

What?!

No way!

For real?!

This is disappointing. I want it to be all about me.

Please?

Come on!

Are you sure?

I want all that happens to be for the sole purpose of making me happy, comfortable, and a better person.

It's about me!

But it’s not.
When darkness fills my life, when loneliness weights my soul, when grief deadens my heart,
it’s not about me.
Yes, God loves me and wants the best for me, but what is best for me is not that everything (or anything at all!) revolves around me.
When circumstances occur that I don’t like, when hurtful or even ugly things happen, will I try to make it about me or will I let God use it to glorify Himself? Will I be able to let go of my own self long enough to let God use it to bring others to Him and bring His kingdom closer to fulfillment?
Huh. God glorified, loved ones brought to Him, His kingdom brought close to earth? As I think about it, this all benefits me.
Even though it’s not about me.

Hooray!

That's great!

Huzzah!!

Funny how God makes that all work out.

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.

Surrounding Ourselves with Quality

I have inadvertently begun a small series on faith and the arts. I think that this will be the last essay in the series. Of course, I didn’t think that there was going to be any series at all. So, we’ll see. If you missed the first two, I would love for you to read about how ethics helps us live like a great jazz pianist and about some of the things that music teaches us about God. Today I’m moving away from music and toward the visual arts. Specifically, architecture.

 

 

If you would like 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.
Are facts and logic the only things that point toward truth, or can beauty and good artistry move you toward the same truth?
Formula
Nativity
Does what you surround yourself with eventually affect your character, moving you closer to or farther from godliness?
Building a Timeless House
Brent Hull, author of Building a Timeless House in an Instant Age, believes so. Hull is a master house builder, trained in the art of historic design and museum quality preservation. He believes that the home you build communicates something about who you are.
The reason we study the pyramids in Egypt is that they tell us about Egyptians, leading us to an understanding of what they believed, what they valued, how they lived…The process of homebuilding has been so commoditized that we don’t recognize the fact that our choices reflect our values…The decisions we make for our homes weave a tale of our character, value, history, and heart. What happens when we examine our homes and lives with the same lens of discovery we place on the Egyptian pyramids? What do our homes say about us?
Beauty
Regardless of the kind of task that is currently in your focus, is your aim to create beauty or is it on the bottom line? Are you more concerned with creating something timeless or with getting the most for your dollar? Are you dishonest about what impression you present to the world while being content on the inside with cheap imitations?
Timeless
Notre Dame
These are weighty questions, questions that contain ideas that relate to more than just house building.
I don’t plan to build a house any time soon, but even as I furnish and change the inside of my home, what am I teaching my children? Am I teaching them that craftsmanship and quality furnishings that take time to create or to save up for are worthwhile or am I teaching them that it is better to buy cheap things that will soon break just so that I can gather more stuff?
Craftmanship
Quality
As I create our home, whether I’m building something or just purchasing a sofa, how can I communicate the values of honesty, integrity, strength, and wisdom to my children?
This is something I’ve pondered before in a broader sense, wondering what has happened in the Christian art world to the quality of our art. If God is creator and if beauty points back to Him, then Christians should be leading the world in the quality of our music, our literature, our visual arts, and yes, our homes as well.
Lovely
True
Why would you build an ugly home?
Hull writes that many authors from the Renaissance through the early 1900s wrote about character in buildings. The character of buildings and the character of community were thought to be closely tied together. Build honest homes and you will get honest citizens.
Don’t I want my children to chase quality rather than chasing price?
Emphatically yes.
And if the home is the place where we spend the most time, the place we want our children to return to, the place that is meant to be a safe haven from the world, then home is the place where we should put beauty and quality above all else.
Cathedral
Dome St Peters
To build a timeless house today, we need to desire beauty over cost. We need to wonder if building cheap houses doesn’t cause us to become a cheap culture. Now is the time to examine ourselves, our motives, and our hearts. When we do, the rewards are immense; high quality and meaningful design in our homes are but two of the many benefits. They endure even after we are gone. They enrich our lives for generations. ~ Brent Hull, Building A Timeless House in an Instant Age
May we, in all that we do, seek to enrich lives for generations.

Art credit: all photos of cathedrals by Kirk Sewell of R.K. Sewell Photography; Adoration of the Shepherds painting by Charles LeBrun

The Brilliant Colors of Jesus

Autumn is my favorite time of year.
Autumn
Colors
The cool, crisp air striking your skin, the blazing bonfire scent filling you up with every breath, the crunch of leaves underfoot. Most of all, the leaves. The dazzling display of fiery colors that fill your sight in every direction.
Dazzling
Those radiant colors that inspire poetry and art are, I recently discovered (or perhaps rediscovered as I feel sure I probably learned this at one time during my elementary school career), actually the true colors of the leaves. The green that we see for most of the year, the green that fills up our springtime and summer, is just the tree-feeding chlorophyll covering up the brightness. It is not until the tree is no longer making food, not until the leaves are beginning to die, that their true colors blaze out.
Green
I want that.
Changing
Oh, how I desperately want that.
Becoming
As I age, as my body moves closer to death, I want for the colors of this life to begin to fade away and the colors of Jesus in me to blaze out.
Beginning
From the moment we choose life in Jesus, we are changing.
Fading
Little by little, day by day, the green of this world starts to fade.
Shining
Little by little, choice by choice, the light of the life to come begins to shine.
Light
The older I become, the more I want people to look at me and see Jesus. I want the colors of me, the colors of my natural self, to fade away. I want the brilliance of Jesus to take over.
Brilliance
At the end of my life, my body will be bent and wrinkled, dry and withered. My prayer is that by then my own self will be so one with Christ that when people look into my eyes, they are taken aback with the dazzling display of Jesus that fills their sight.
Dazzling
What are some of the lessons that Mother Nature is teaching you about our common Creator? She speaks loudly if we will only listen.
Beauty
Creation
Nature
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. ~ Romans 1.20

Some Days Are Just Ugly

There are some days when it is easy to love.
Loving each other
Happy Baby
I am able to surrender to the Spirit which causes peace to fill me up and overflow into the hearts of my daughters, my husband. I have the supernatural strength to stay calm in the midst of tantrums, kind in the midst of misunderstandings, and joyful in the midst of hurt.
Then there are days like today.
Yelled at by Mommy
Days when something ugly wells up inside of me. Days when I want to be mean. Days when I feel resentful towards those I love best.
I hate these days.
What is this darkness, this nastiness that overwhelms me and threatens to spill out into the hearts of those I love?
Sadness
Tantrums
Anger
Defiance
My daughters cry to be held, fuss about wearing clothes, throw tantrums because school is hard, and my desire is not to comfort them but to scream like a crazed woman with fire in my eyes.
My husband makes an innocent comment and my desire is not to hear his loving intentions but to deliberately misunderstand and hiss a disparaging remark.
I intentionally fight against the changing of my mood. I want to savor, to wallow in my blackness.
I hate these days.
I get so tired of fighting this battle within me. I get so weary of fighting my very self. I long for the day when I finally look like Jesus, when my desire is to love rather than hate, when my heart is all light with no shadow at all.
As ugly as my heart can be, I am grateful that God refuses to give up on me. I am thankful that He does not save me and then leave me as I am. I am astounded that He is filling me up with Himself, crowding out the ugliness until there is nothing left but Beauty.
I try not to feel impatient.
Yet I know. I know. I know that I belong to Jesus. He gave Himself for me and therefore sin has lost its hold on me. I can hold on to that knowing even when I cannot feel it. Little by little, sin’s grasp is slipping away because Love has taken hold and nothing dark can hold on in the light of this fiercest Love.
As the recent hymn says, “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand; ‘till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”
No scheme of man. Not even my own schemes. Nothing can separate me from Love Himself.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Amen.

The Stakes Are High

From my high school band director days:
Mrs. Giger! My bassoon solo actually sounds good now!!
Well, I’m glad. What did you do differently?
I finally followed your advice to practice the song. And it worked!!
Aha.
It is something I’ve been trying to teach my seven year old. Working hard at a challenging task brings such a sweet reward.
Any excellent and beautiful ending is the result of working hard at something difficult.
We know this in our adult lives ~ we feel most satisfied after a day full of meaningful challenges that we tackled wholeheartedly; challenges that ended with accomplishment.
Why do we think that life should be different?
If this life is preparation for the life to come, why would we expect it to be easy? Shouldn’t we expect it to be more like boot camp?
…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope
We think that life should be comfortable, full of the things and people we desire.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
We are offended and outraged when things don’t go as planned.
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.
We decide that this is too hard.
Life is too lonely, too full of hurt, too saturated with grief.
True.
And this loneliness, this hurt, this grief can have purpose.
For it was fitting that (God), for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Eternity is high stakes. We shouldn’t be surprised that the preparation can be grueling.
Each day we have a choice. We can choose to accept what we are given and let God use it to mold us or we can dig in our heels and choose to look for the easy way, the way of least pain and effort, the way of bitterness and discontent.
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And 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. ~ C. S. Lewis
Life is. We can fight against it and live in a state of war. Or we can surrender to God and be molded into someone who is perfectly ready for eternity.
The stakes are high. Are you ready for the challenge?