The Importance of Abiding

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.

 

Imagine you are driving down a dark, winding road, far from any city or town.
Van Gogh Dark Road
You have been driving all day and the sun set an hour ago. You are tired and stiff, there is a hollow feeling in your stomach, and a stale, recycled-air scent in your nostrils. As you make your last turn, you catch a faint glow ahead of you and suddenly the stiffness disappears, your shoulders straighten, and your foot presses just a bit more firmly on the accelerator.
Home.
As you pull up in front of the house, windows glowing with a light that makes the darkness flee, the front door flies open and people run out to greet you. Your people. Their arms grab you and hug you, they tug you towards the open door, the warmth and light draws you farther in, and the smell of your favorite meal is an almost tangible rope that pulls you the rest of the way.
Home.
abide
It is the place where you live, dwell, abide. The place in which you are safe and joyful and comforted. The place where you live your mundane kind of life as well as the place to which you cling when trouble comes.
Home.
dwell
Jesus says that we must abide in Him in order to bear fruit, in order to be transformed into His likeness. That word, abide, is such a rich word, containing the ideas of peace, comfort, fulfilled needs, constancy, and close relationships, to name just a few.
Home.
John tells us in his gospel that Jesus used the word abide repeatedly during His last night with His disciples. Jesus spoke of abiding in Him, of abiding in His love, of allowing His words to abide in us. If we do this work of abiding, Jesus promises, then the Father will be glorified and we will bear much fruit. Fruit that, among other things, allows us to love one another in the same way that Jesus loves us.
We are, in other words, to make Jesus our home.
Vermeer
We are to make Him the place where we live out our ordinary, everyday lives and the place where we dwell in times of great storms. We are to make Him the place we remain every moment of every day.
This happens largely through the practice of the Spiritual Disciplines. Weaving these Holy Habits into our lives awakens us to the presence and workings of God all around us. Jesus promised that He would never leave us , but we are creatures who lean into our physicality more than our spirituality, and so the Spiritual Disciplines help us to be more aware of the ways in which Jesus fulfills His promise.
The more we practice these Habits, the more we move ourselves into a place where the Holy Spirit can work to transform us to look like Jesus. 
Then we will truly be Home.
Home
I have been learning about the Spiritual Disciplines in a two-year course in Spiritual Formation that I have just begun. I will continue, in the next weeks, to write more about what I have learned so far. I pray that it will transform you as much as it has transformed me.

Art Credits: Country Road in Provence by Night by Van Gogh; first home photo from www.oliverstravels.com; second home photo by Maria Langer from www.aneclecticmind.com; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer; Welcome Home by Thomas Kinkade

Living on Isaac’s Altar

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 awake each morning and climb onto Isaac’s altar.
Abraham Sacrificing Isaa-Adi_Holzer_Werksverzeichnis_835_Abrahams_Opfer
I feel much like I imagine that Isaac felt, fearful and yet trusting.
I trust that my Father knows. I trust that He knows what will happen and I trust in His love for me.
I trust that whatever He brings me to this day He also will bring me through.
I give this body that He gave to me, give it back for whatever His purpose might be.
Rembrandt_The_Sacrifice_of_Abraham
I am fully awake to the truth that it is only by His mercies that I am acceptable to Him. Only because of His sacrifice that I am made lawful for sacrifice. Only because of His grace that I am made holy, made pure and spotless as the ancient lamb.
Abraham_Sacrificing_Isaac_MET_DP856882
This death of myself leads to resurrection of self, myself as I was created to be. I am raised to live in worship, my life as worship to Him.
I climb off Isaac’s altar and onto the mountain of Jehovah Ra’ah. The LORD will provide. Like Abraham, I trust in the Lord’s provision. I trust in His promise that I will love Him and love others, trust that He will provide what I need to obey.
The_Phillip_Medhurst_Picture_Torah_114._Abraham_sacrificing_Isaac._Genesis_cap_22_v_12._Coypel
My body remains my sacrifice, my life remains my worship.
By His mercies, I belong to Him and I will not take that lightly.
I often fall off my altar, but I climb back on, and at the end of each day I sleep in peace, knowing that His mercies are new each morning.
Knowing that He will help me, when I wake up, to climb onto Isaac’s altar once again.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. ~ Romans 12.1

Art credits: The Sacrifice of Isaac by Adi Holzer; The Sacrifice of Abraham by Rembrandt; Abraham Sacrificing Isaac by Luca Penni; Abraham Sacrificing Isaac from the Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah

Sojourners Together

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.

 

We don’t belong here.
not our home
The longer we live, the older we get, the less we feel at home.
At home on this earth, at home in these bodies.
It doesn’t make sense, it goes against expectation,
unless we were made for something else.
longing for beauty
The longing we feel when we see or hear beauty.
The despair we feel when we hear of yet another way in which our world is broken.
The sadness we feel when our bodies begin to age and fail.
longing for love
All reminds us that the current state is not our end state.
The sword pierce of loss upon death or disaster.
The restless spirit searching for more.
The sense of separation from the God we want so desperately to know.
All reminds us that we are sojourners and that the best is yet to come.
Sojourners. It invokes a nomadic people’s sense of vagrancy, a praying people’s knowledge of estrangement, a thinking people’s intuition of sharp loss. Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
And yet.
This piece of earth is also home.
home
There are bits and pieces that feel dear to us. Familiar.
Hearth and garden. Meals with family. Light and warmth.
hearth and warmth
These remind us that we have a home.
We are not home yet. We must not forget.
This world and our bodies and our relationships are still broken.
waiting for restoration
One day they will not be.
One day they will all be whole, perfect, as they were meant to be.
One day this veil will be torn and we shall see Him face to face.
No more estrangement. No more longing.
Sojourners
Until that day, let us be kind and do all we can to help each other through this place and time that is so strange and yet not so strange.
Let us sojourn together.

Art credits: Earth photograph from NASA; last photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

The link to Annie Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, is an Amazon affiliate link. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

 

When You’ve had a Rough Week

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.

 

It’s been a rough week.
I had all sorts of things I wanted to write about this week: the idea of whether art can be Christian, how to reconcile Calvinism and Armenianism, the sacredness of everyday life.
IMG_7589
Yet here I sit, feeling weary and weighed down. All of those big and beautiful thoughts have flown and what remains is a muddled mess of ugly emotion.
Anyone else?
It’s been a rough week in the world.
Hurricanes and flooding in the south, earthquakes in Mexico, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
It’s been a rough week at my home.
Multiple kids sick, cranky and ugly attitudes in both kids and parents, downright meanness in the way my girls treat each other. I may have hidden in the nursery closet for a while one day while I was supposed to be homeschooling.
What do we do with these feelings? What do we who follow Jesus do when we are unsatisfied, depressed, weary, weighed down heavy with all of the ugliness in the world and in our lives?
It is not a flashy, feel-good sort of answer, but I believe that Jesus would have us…
take another step.
Whatever the emotion you have swirling around inside, we are simply to continue as we were.
Contiue praying, continue praising, continue in Scripture, continue in study.
Continue serving, continue caring, continue loving, continue working.
Continue.
Perhaps the good feelings will return soon.
Perhaps they won’t.
I don’t think it really matters much.
Jesus didn’t ask us to follow Him when it feels good.
He asked us to deny ourselves to follow Him.
He told us to obey His commandments and then we will abide in His love.
And that is all that really matters. Abiding in His love.
If we know that we are in His love, the same love as the Father’s love for Jesus, we can know that we will be okay.
We may not feel okay, but that is…okay.
If we trust Jesus’ words more than what our feelings tell us, we can know that He in all of His unsurpassable love is with us.
So simply continue.
Take another step.
Do one more thing to make the world more beautiful.
Trust and obey.

Choosing the Given

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.

 

Sometimes the life we are given is not the life we would have chosen.
Storm Clouds
We have plans that didn’t work out, dreams that didn’t come true, hopes that just didn’t happen.
Perhaps it is a career that became other than you expected.
Perhaps it is a relationship that feels as though it is failing.
Perhaps it is simply life in its sometimes drudgery that just feels
disappointing.
clouds1
Sometimes, too, the life we are given is more than only disappointing.
Sometimes it is terrible, full of pain and suffering and grief.
Those who know this sort of life understand that while God is love, His love can be a fierce love.
The love of a holy God sometimes blazes with a cleansing flame.
IMG_5382
We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be. ~ C.S. Lewis
Whether our life is disappointing or full of fire, this is the life we are given.
Is it possible to live a higher life than quietly resigned? Is it possible to accept with joy rather than fighting against what is?
Christ_Walking_on_the_Waters,_Julius_Sergius_Von_Klever
Jesus says it is.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
To live with joy a life that does not look the way you hoped, you must choose what is given.
Sometimes? Sometimes you must choose fiercely, with the kind of determination that will outlast this world.
You must choose to look only at the given rather than at the might have been.
You must choose to pay attention to the right now rather than to the used to be or the perhaps someday.
weasel
Annie Dillard compares it to a weasel gripping its prey with a grip that lasts longer than the life of the weasel itself.
A weasel that clutches its quarry with such nerve that its skull is found still attached to the throat of an eagle years after the weasel attacked.
Some days do feel that hard.
So hard, in fact, that it is only with the same Holy Spirit power inside of us that raised Jesus from the dead that we are capable of such fierce choosing.
Yet we do have that power.
We have that power and so it is possible to choose the given and to live as joyfully as Jesus means us to live.
I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will. ~ Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
Choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.
This is the way that leads to joy.

Art credits: storm photos by Kirk Sewell; fire photo copyright Made Sacred 2017; Christ Walking on the Water by Julius Sergius Von Klever; weasel illustration from Brehm’s Life of Animals

The links to Annie Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, are Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

The Burdensome Divide of Sacred and Secular

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.

 

Sacred and secular.
sacred
secular
It is a burdensome divide.
We drive to and from work and feel guilty for taking time away from godly pursuits to earn money to feed our families.
We spend our days disicplining children and wiping bottoms and wonder when we will have time again for God.
The secular pieces of our lives weigh us down heavy and we long to be lifted back up to the Kingdom.
parenting
cooking
What if this is not what God intended?
Do all to the glory of God.
All? Surely that is only hyperbole.
Paul seems to anticipate our hesitation. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do…
Eating and drinking to the glory of God.
When we look to Jesus and the life that He lived, we see the same. All that He did was pleasing to the Father. In everything, He obeyed the Father’s commands.
God meant for all of life to be sacred, for the mundane as well as the important to be done in a way that glorifies Him.
By doing the work that God gives us as excellently as we can, we are bringing His Kingdom rule into the space in which we live.
reading
gardening
When you are an excellent engineer, an excellent waiter, an excellent parent,
when you do yard work and clean toilets and cook meals excellently,
when you treat friends and store clerks and children excellently,
you glorify God and work towards bringing His Kingdom to earth.
kitchen work
road work
All those around you see the work that you do and they notice.
They notice when you have excellent work ethic and they notice when you treat others excellently.
People notice when a life is sacred. When all of the pieces of a life are woven together into a sacred whole, God is glorified.
Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament. A. W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God
To lift every act up.
laundry work
dirty toilet work
Even the act of cleaning dirty toilets.
This is what turns the whole of life into a sacrament.
And a whole life?
That is not burdensome at all.
It is exactly how God intended for life to be lived.
As sacred.

Art credits: Church photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

The links to A. W. Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God, are Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

Hope for this Hard Season

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.

 

Sometimes you live in a season of hard.
season of hard
season of gray
Weeks, or months, or sometimes years of walking through a gray kind of life.
Sometimes it is living through a crisis.
Cancer. Grief. Debt.
Sometimes it is simply day by day trudging through a wearying routine.
Loneliness. Parenting. Career.
hard life
You know that you cannot do this life on your own.
At least, that you cannot do it well on your own.
You pray for the Holy Spirit to help.
You plead for God to change your heart and produce fruit in your life.
You confess that you cannot do anything without Him.
Yet you do not become more gentle. You do not become more loving. You do not become more self-controlled.
hard events
You fast in appeal for a transformed heart.
You search the Word for guidance.
You beseech the Spirit for wisdom and discernment.
Yet you gain no understanding. You acquire no flashes of insight. You feel just as lost as before.
hard path
Sometimes you cry out to God in the middle of your season of hard.
Sometimes you cry out at God.
Sometimes you cry and shout in helpless anger.
I know that I cannot do this on my own, but I feel like I have to do it by myself. You promised to help me. You promised that Your Spirit would be in me, giving me the strength and power to do what I cannot do on my own. You are not keeping Your promises. I am trying so hard, and I cannot do it. I pray and I beg and I fast but You are still silent. This is not easy and Your burden is not light. I confess that I need You and You don’t seem to be with me.
hard moment
Sometimes, perhaps not very often, but sometimes God answers your cry.
Perhaps it is a phone call
or a card
or a text.
God brought you to mind and I prayed for you.
I specifically prayed for you in…
I feel prompted to share this verse with you.
God breathes hope
Sometimes God breathes a little hope in your direction.
Nothing changes.
Everything changes.
Perhaps not very often, yet perhaps it should be more often.
Perhaps we should all listen a little more carefully.
Perhaps we should all leave a little more space for promptings.
Sometimes God might want to breathe a little hope through us for someone else’s hard season.

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

Staying on the Path Matters

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.

 

This path of obedience we are called to walk is strewn with pitfalls.
path of obedience
difficult path
I forgive and the next moment am assaulted again by bitterness.
I gently navigate one confrontation with a child and the next finds me reduced to ugly shouting.
I am able to genuinely desire God rather than self to be glorified and then congratulate myself on the achievement.
This path is narrow and rocky. It is hard to choose this way moment by moment.
rocky path
I stumble and fall and it hurts to keep going and sometimes even the sight of the crucified Christ is not enough to lift me to my feet.
Sometimes I don’t even want to obey.
Reviewing wrongs done to me makes me feel righteous. Yelling is satisfying when I am angry. I enjoy taking the credit for a job well done.
Obedience is hard and I am often unsuccessful.
Yet I suppose it doesn’t matter whether or not I am successful. I am not, after all, trying to earn anything.
What matters is that I do not leave the path.
stay on the path
What matters is that I keep getting to my feet, regardless of my feelings.
it is a good path
What matters is God’s kingdom breaking through to the now and my choices aligning myself, and my own little piece of creation, with His kingdom rule.
All of my stumbling and falling, all of my failures, they don’t matter.
I am already beloved and I already belong.
What matters is that our wills begin to be oriented toward God, and that we show our gratitude for our free salvation by living as his willing children. ~ N.T. Wright, Small Faith-Great God
So don’t be discouraged and don’t give up.
When you struggle to obey, when you struggle to even want to obey, take heart.
Simply staying on the path matters.
obedience is our path
You’ll be able to keep walking someday.

Art credit: all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

link to N.T. Wright’s book, Small Faith-Great God, is an Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

Swimming with the Spirit

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.

 

We are told that the Holy Spirit is in us.
Holy Spirit
We are told that He is transforming us into Christ’s likeness, into who we were created to be from the beginning.
If we cannot do this work, then how does this renewal come about?
If we are saved by the blood of Jesus, before the metamorphosis takes place, how do we become like Christ once we have accepted God’s saving grace?
become like Christ
Do we sit back and let the Holy Spirit do all the work in us? Do we have to take it all upon ourselves and make our own selves into someone worthy of God?
A bit of both, actually. The first alone makes a mockery of the cross. The second alone makes an idol of our own selves.
Christianity is hard and requires constant work and watchfulness, but we do not have to walk this path on our own.
walk with Jesus
walk with the Spirit
Paul tells the Colossians, May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.
The word for ‘according to’ in the original Greek is the word we would use for something going down stream – according to the current of the river. The current carries the swimmer along with it. He or she has to swim too, of course, but with the help of the current the swimmer can go further and faster, and with less effort, than by his or her own power. And so it is when our weakness swims in the stream of God’s almighty power. ~ N.T. Wright in Small Faith-Great God
swimming
God's current
This is well-illustrated by a story that John tells in his gospel. After the resurrection, the disciples (not knowing what in the world else to do) went fishing. Keep in mind that John uses light and dark, night and day as a way to express truth.
John says that the disciples went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach…
fishing with the Spirit
Jesus tells the disciples to put their nets out on the other side of the boat and immediately their nets are filled to the breaking point.
Do you see it?
that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach…
…and we can feel instantly, behind those simple words, the whole weight of the knowledge that the church in the person of Jesus, has come through the night of condemnation and impossibility into a spring morning of joy and hope. Then, of course, the whole scene comes to life. What the disciples had been unable to do without Jesus they can do easily and highly effectively at his bidding. ~ N.T. Wright Small Faith-Great God
And so it is with us. We must obey, but what we are unable to do without Jesus we can do easily and effectively at His bidding. We must go through the motions, but with the Spirit inside of us we can progress further and faster, and with less effort than by our own power.
So swim with the Spirit. Swim in the current of God’s almighty power.

Holy Spirit

God's grace

See what beautiful things He makes of your life.
See how wonderfully He transforms you into His likeness.

Art credits: photo of Holy Spirit dove and photos of the rivers by Kirk Sewell; Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund; Risen Christ by David Teniers the Younger

links to N.T. Wright’s book, Small Faith-Great God, are Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

Discovering Who I Am

This is week two of sharing an archived post with you as I am deep into planning for our upcoming school year. Enjoy the memories!

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 recently stopped nursing our last little one, and it was harder on my emotions than I expected.
IMG_9506
IMG_1913
I expected that I would be grateful to have a little extra freedom. I expected that I would be glad to hand over some of the nighttime routine to my husband. I expected that I would be happy to have my body belong only to me again.
I did feel all of those, but only a little.
Overwhelmingly, rather, was a sense of loss. A loss of part of myself, of who I am.
It took me by surprise until I realized that for over nine years I have been either pregnant or nursing. No breaks at all.
Of course that would become a major part of my identity! Nine years is a long time. Almost a decade of being identified as a pregnant or nursing mommy is certainly enough to cement that into who I am as a person.
All of those big emotions (and I am normally not an overly emotional sort of person) made me pause and think hard about who I think I am compared to who I want to be.
Giger_OneYear-63
As a mom of four children, eight years and younger, it is so easy for that one piece of me to become my entire identity. I’m a mom. It’s what I do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even when I am away from my babies, my thoughts are still full of them.
Yet I recognize that I must be careful. Of course being a mom is and always will be a large part of who I am, but I need to guard carefully against it becoming all that I am.
Someday, after all, these babies will not be babies anymore, and being a mom will not fill up quite so much of my time. Or my house.
I must be careful to keep my heart close to God, to make sure that my primary identity is as His child. He is, ultimately, the most important piece of me, the One who is with me always.
I must take care to remain close to my husband. He will, Lord willing, be my dearest companion still when the children have homes of their own.
I must be mindful of my own self. I need to continue reading, continue learning, continue making my art, continue cultivating deep friendships.
Samantha-457
I believe wholeheartedly that if I lose myself in my children, I and they will be the poorer for it.
Yet that piece of who I am is so consuming that I cannot just drift along and expect to hold on to the rest of my self.
I must be deliberate about caring for the other pieces of me. The more I cultivate all of the fragments of me, the richer and deeper the whole of them will become.
I don’t often write about parenting issues, but I supposed that this particular struggle was one that was common to many. I pray that my written thoughts will spark your own heart-searching.
Peace.