Clutching at Gold Stars

We’re moving, so I’ll be fetching from the archives for the next two or three weeks. Enjoy!

It is a difficult and forever-long process, this learning how to make everything sacred.
It is also beautifully rewarding.
Learning how to make all things in your life sacred takes focus. It takes the sort of focus that teaches me how to be single-hearted towards God.
She is good at being very focused and single-minded, my youngest. Especially when she needs something.
The dreaded event of all mothers everywhere, her special lovey simply had to be washed at bedtime one night. She just couldn’t understand why she didn’t have her bunny.
Washing bunny
“Bunny?” “Bunny is taking a bath, darling. I will bring you Bunny as soon as she is dry.” “O-hay.”
“Can I read you a bedtime story?” “Bunny?” “Bunny is taking a bath.” “Bass? Bunny?” “Yes, a bath. I’ll bring you Bunny when she is done.” “O-hay.”
“Let’s talk about our day, shall we?” “Mommy? Bunny?”
I sigh in frustration, yet feel a small stir in my heart.
What if I were that focused in my pursuit of God, my pursuit of making all things in my life meaningful?
What if I blocked out more of the mindless stories I read and the meaningless discussions I have online in order to pursue God? What would that look like?
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. ~ Isaiah 26.3
Have Mother, Will Travel
I read about a mother and daughter on a trip together through the world. During their journey, the mother speaks of a friend who accomplishes a marvelous amount of things during a day:
What’s allowed her to realize her dream where so many others fail, including me for many years, is how carefully and sanely she chooses exactly where to spend her time and energy…Kristin’s life illustrates that it takes more than passion and a lot of work to make a dream work–it takes focus. What you think about matters, a lot. Your thoughts drive your actions.
The mother continues to talk about the myriad of women who choose to please others, to accommodate others, rather than choosing to stand up for themselves and their families.
She says that many of us choose to be “good girls going for gold stars, instead of clasping tight the gold of our lives by living as we truly desire.”
This has the scent of truth that makes me pause. If I substitute “living as God desires”, this touches something deep in my heart.
How many times have I said “yes” to an activity, to a time commitment, even to a service opportunity, simply to please someone else or to create a certain image of myself?
So many times those “yeses” have cost me and my family. They have kept me from clasping tight the gold of obeying God’s desire that I should, for this season, focus most on these little disciples running around my feet.
My disciples
I want desperately to be single-hearted. I desire to chase after God, to pursue and focus on only what He has called me to do rather than to fritter away my moments on activities that attempt to please others.
What does this look like? How do you do this in your own life? How do you carefully and sanely choose exactly where to spend your time and energy?
Do you have a goal, a purpose or mission statement for your family? Do you have a lens through which you filter every request, every moment’s choice?
The mother in my book says that “change happens in the small moments, when a sliver of light finds its way through the cracks”.
To help herself to focus, “I wrote down every single thing I did in fifteen-minute increments for three entire weeks…I asked myself a thousand times a day before acting – and, miraculously, speaking – What am I creating with this choice right now?”
I want to see everything around me as sacred, to be single-minded in pursuing God and His desires for me. I want to choose with intention rather than feelings, excuses, or circumstances. I want to please God rather than man.
I want to clasp tight the gold instead of aimlessly grasping for gold stars.

Seeking Approval

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

Scripture is from Psalm 139

When Praise is a Sacrifice

Sacrifice is hard.
I suppose that is clear from the very definition of the word.
The idea of a sacrifice of praise seems a strange sort of concept.  We tend to view praise as spontaneous, as rising from our rising and joyful emotions.  How can such praise be a sacrifice?
Easy to praise
Easy to praise
That sort of praise is not such a sacrifice.  But what about the praise that comes from a woman who has just lost her child?  What about the praise from a man who does not know how he will feed his family?  What about the praise from Christ-follower who lives every day in fear of torture or death because of Who he follows?
Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name. (Heb. 13.5)
The praise of the one ravaged by cancer, the praise of the one dying inside from loneliness, the praise of the one who isn’t even sure that God is really there…these are a sacrifice.  These are that sacrifice of praise.
Suffered years of illinesses
Steph – Suffered years of illnesses and still chose to try to praise God
Kristina - died of cancer, leaving her husband and baby behind
Kristina – died of cancer, leaving her husband and baby behind, yet still sought God while alive.
But how?  How is it even possible to praise God while living through such circumstances?
Through Him
Through who?
Look back just one chapter.
…looking to Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb. 12. 2-3)
How?  By looking to Jesus.  By looking to the One who was able to offer up His own sacrifice of praise while enduring the physical pain of the cross, while enduring the emotional shame of the cross, while enduring the heartbreaking separation from His own Father.
Jesus - crucified, humiliated, abandoned, yet still offered praise to God
Jesus – crucified, humiliated, abandoned, yet still offered praise to God
By keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, and therefore off of ourselves, we are given courage and strength to do what we think is impossible.  We are kept from growing weary and fainthearted.
By fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we are able to continually offer up a sacrifice of praise.  An offering of praise that endures all time and all circumstance.  An offering of praise that is beautiful to God.

Art credits: Sunlight through tulips photograph by Kirk Sewell Photography; photograph of Jesus carrying the cross sculpture by Asta Rastauskiene

Be Right or Love the Person?

“Is it more important to be right or to be loving?”
I ask her the question as she stands with her hands on her hips, righteous indignation quivering through every inch of her little body.
It seems an easy question when put in such stark terms, but which of us answers it correctly in each one of our little choices every day?
Certainly not me.
I find myself struggling with whether loving the person or desiring to be right is more important.  I wrestle with the decision of whether having the perfect event or loving the person is better.  I fight hard against the desire to let my agenda, my task list trump the to-do of loving the person.
Love God.  Love people.
Love the Lord your God
It is that simple.  It is that hard.
Pride stands in our way.  Desire for an experience to be amazing puts up a wall.  Need to feel accomplished plants its roots.
Yet it truly is simple.  Will we obey our own desires or will we submit ourselves to God?
“To be loving.”  The answer barely escapes through her gritted teeth.  She doesn’t want that to be the right answer.
I know, my darling.  I know.  I, too, want a different answer.  I, too, want to protect myself, to protect my perceived interests and rights.
The trouble is that when you commit yourself to this God of power and love, you commit to letting Him defend you.  Your job is to obey.  In this case, that looks like love.
It is making yourself vulnerable in order to love the person.  It is making yourself nothing in order to love the person.  It is making yourself a servant in order to love the person.
Love God.  Love people.
Love your sister
It is that simple.  It is that hard.

Junky Art

We love a God of beauty.
We worship a God of art, of music, of literature.
Michelangelo's Pieta
Michelangelo’s Pieta
We serve a God of perfection.
We adore a God Who gives us only His best.
God’s best
Why, oh why, then do we consistently offer Him art that is, to put it bluntly, junk?
Why do we think that music that is dull and overly simple is what is best for inspiring our hearts to worship?  Why do we think that literature that is bland and is bad storytelling will turn our minds toward thoughts of God?  Why do we think that art that is commercialized and overly sentimental will cause our imaginations to soar to the heavens?
Perhaps this is harsh.  I will fully admit that there are artists (in the full sense of the word) out there who inspire awe in the hearts of all those who come across it.  But this is not the norm.  Not anymore, that is.
It used to be that Christians artists were at the top of their craft.  They were respected and admired throughout the world.  Think Bach.  Think Correggio.  Think Milton and Tolstoy.
It is not this way anymore.  The secular world no longer looks up to Christian art to lead the way.  Instead it sneers at Christian art and views it as subpar, something to be shunned rather than something to inspire.
To paraphrase James: my brothers, this should not be!  The lack of excellence in our art indicates to the world that we serve a God who is less than excellent.
Much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion. ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Oh, we could do so much better.  We could open ourselves up to the power of the Holy Spirit rather than to the power of the market.
Fellow artists, let God inspire you.  Open yourself to that which you cannot control.  Ignore the sale; ignore what you think people want.  Listen instead to the Spirit.  Listen to what God is showing you through your work: “my proper place is as a servant struggling to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently tries to teach me some of what it knows.” (L’Engle)
Let your art sing.  Let it soar.
Those who are not artists, be discerning.  If it is good art, if it inspires you and sets your imagination soaring toward God, then support it.  If it is bad art, don’t support and sustain it simply because it involved the name or image of Christ.
I know that my words do not reach many, but I dream of a day when those who claim to follow a God of beauty and excellence are once again those who  produce that art which leads the entire world in soaring to the heights, are once again those who produce the art which therefore points the way to God.

Missing The Goal

My older two girls have been a little crazy lately.  Their emotions have been all over the map and they bounce from playing beautifully together to screaming and crying and hitting in less than a nanosecond.  I’m not sure why it has been so extreme lately, but one thing I’m learning as a parent is that often the thing behind the wildly veering emotions is their goal for the moment.
A child’s main goal, as well as a major goal for the rest of us if we are honest enough to admit it, is to please themselves.  They haven’t yet learned the paradoxical truth that when playing with others, if you want to keep the pleasure of the play, the goal must be pleasing the other person.  If a child continues to aim toward their goal of pleasing themselves, they instead begin aiming crazily at different targets every few minutes, and end up not hitting any of their goals but hitting their sister instead.
It seems as though staying focused on your main goal in life should be easy.  Yet as often as we adults act like children, we quickly discover that it most definitely is not easy.  Instead of continually aiming at the goal of pleasing God, we aim instead too often at the pleasing of ourselves and begin careening from thing to thing, from emotion to emotion, and we end up hitting those we love best.
Sword Fighting
I love how one of our Church Fathers, Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296–298 – 2 May 373), describes this as a charioteer who forgets where he is supposed to be driving his horse and instead simply drives as fast and as hard as he can.  He says that such a charioteer would “often drive against those he met, and often down steep places…thinking that thus running he has not missed the goal – for he regards the running only, and does not see that he has passed wide of the goal.”
Athanasius says that this is the source of all evil: the changing of our goal.  We turn away from God and drive ourselves toward other things, often not even seeing that we have missed the way.
When I am careening from one activity to another, seeking after success for my children; when I am veering from one emotion to the other, leaving my family as casualties in my wake; when I am uncertain of what I should do next, then I have changed my goal and am not even aware that I have done so.

Stealing the Toys

I am more like my children than I like to admit.  I have trouble keeping to my goal, to my purpose in life, but often I can see the signs and often those signs help me to raise up my head, look for how far away from my goal I have strayed, and ask God to carry me back into the race again.
The True Goal
Hopefully I can teach my girls how to do likewise.
I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  ~ Philippians 3.12-14

Living in Tension

We all live in a tension between seeming opposites, sliding between one extreme and the other as though we were children sliding back and forth across the kitchen floor in our footie pajamas.
We want to accomplish much during our day, and we wish we could curl up on the couch with a book or the remote.
Accomplishing Much
We plead with a good god for help when things fall apart, and we wonder how any god but the cruelest sort could watch while life disintegrates.
Life Falls Apart
We would die for our children, and we feel a strong urge to toss them out any nearby window.
We long to dream big and serve those who are suffering and downtrodden, and we despair that anything we could do could possibly make any difference.
We desire to follow after Christ with all that we are, and we secretly speculate whether He even exists.
Emotions are fickle and are often the source of these tensions that send us skidding back and forth in an attempt to live well.  Even on our best days when we yearn to serve God with all of our heart, we feel unsure of what that really means.
One day we think that perhaps we should sell our home and move to the inner city.  The next we think that perhaps God wishes for us to love our right-now neighbor whose cat has just dug up our roses.
Should We Move?
One day we think that we should create something beautiful that will point millions to God.  The next we think that we should write a letter to our uncle who needs to hear about love.
Should We Write?
One day we think that God asks us to sacrifice much and preach gospel to those who despair.  The next we think that God asks us to be obedient in small ways with the family and friends He has placed around us.
Should We Obey?
What do we do with these tensions?  What do we do with these competing wishes and desires?  Does God ask for big dreams and risky sacrifices or does He smile upon small acts of faithfulness and childlike demonstrations of obedience?
I am learning that He gives varying numbers of talents to different people, even varying tasks to the same people in different stages of their lives.
I am learning that He asks us to wait patiently for His call, to take one step of faith at a time, to carry out one obedient act that may lead to more.  I am learning that He asks us to continue living in tension, knowing that those who get comfortable are not as easy to move, knowing that those who feel most at home in this world are not readying themselves or anyone else for a perfect home.
I am learning that just living in peace with this tension, taking each next step as He guides, is what we are meant to do, even when it doesn’t feel like quite enough.

How to Give Yourself Grace

I’ve written about it before in this space, but since I will never act perfectly until the day I see my Lord face to face, I will just have to continue to write about it in hopes that this act of writing will somehow help me.  Perhaps it will help someone else as well.
I want so desperately to follow Jesus without having to fight against myself; I want to do the right thing at the right time without a raging internal struggle; I just want it to be easier for me to obey.  Will you join me over at Embracing Grace to talk about the grace God gives us even when we can’t give that grace to ourselves?  I’d love to meet you over there.

Two Years of Writing

I am a writer.
I think I can say that now.
I have always been an artist and I have always been a reader, but writing?  Writing I have only toyed with.  Until now.
Two years.
Two years of steady writing.
Two years of writing several times a week, sharing a new essay or poem every single week.
I have worked hard and have come a long way in the practice of my craft.  I still have a long way to go.
I began this blog as a result of a stirring of the Holy Spirit.   I felt that God was asking me to write and to share what I wrote.  I don’t yet feel released from that request, so I will continue to share what I write.
Besides, it’s kind of fun.
I love words and I love visual art, and I love crafting the two together to form my own kind of art.  I also love studying and learning.
So I will continue to write for myself.
I love when what I write connects with someone else.  I love when I hear that I have touched someone or helped someone with the words that I have put down.  We are made in the image of a relational God.
So I will continue to write for others.
I love that this studying and writing process has helped me grow closer to my God.  I love how much I have learned about Him and how my learning makes me fall more in love with Him.
So I will continue to write for God.
I still have much fear in my heart.  I am afraid that my writing is not very beautiful.  I am afraid that people will not like it or, perhaps still worse, will not even read it.  I am afraid that I will get something wrong and God will be disappointed.  I am afraid that I will reveal my heart and people will turn away.
This kind of fear is not from God.
I still have big dreams.  I have dreams of publishing articles.  I have a book written that I don’t know what to do with.  Yet my time is mostly taken with these little ones that have been entrusted to me and there is little time left after my writing to pursue publishing.  So perhaps this is a season of practice, of preparation.
Chances are that God has something in mind for me.  Chances are that it is not what I expect.
This is where I am after two years.  Still writing.  Still hoping that my writing will help others.  Still pursuing God through my writing.
I will end this second year as I began:
Whatever the reason for my writing, here I am in this space.  I will continue to obey, even though it is hard and often causes my heart to feel fear.  I will write.  God will listen.  I pray He will continue to be pleased.

God Laughing

I recently made a slightly startling discovery about myself.
Of all of the many ways I imagine God, of all of the variety of emotions that I attribute to Him, I don’t ever imagine Him as happy.
I don’t imagine Him laughing or smiling widely. I don’t imagine Him with eyes twinkling or Him speaking with such joy evident in His voice.
I have, in the past, imagined Him as serious, holy and unapproachable. I have imagined Him as gently gazing with love on His people. I have imagined Him fierce with righteous anger. I have imagined Him sad, heart breaking as we disobey. I have imagined Him in full brilliant glory, all around Him bowed low to the ground.
But I have never imagined Him laughing in delight.
Then I heard David Suchet reading the Jesus Storybook Bible. (David Suchet? You know, Hercule Poirot.)
Anyway, I listened to David Suchet read the story of creation and heard such laughter and exhilaration each time God looked at His artistry and said “You’re good!”
I heard the amazement and joy in His voice when He looked at mankind and said “You look like me! You’re perfect.”
I heard the excitement and merriment when He got to tell Abraham, “Guess what?! I will give you so many children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, you won’t be able to count them any more than you can count the stars in the sky!
Why have I never imagined this before?
Even when I read things like If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! I didn’t imagine the excitement and fun twinkling in our Father’s eyes as He gives gifts to His beloved children.
You know. The same delight that sparkles in your eyes when you give a gift that you chose specially for someone you love.
IMG_4826 - Copy
Yes, God loves us.
But it is even more than that.
He delights in us. His eyes light up with amazement when He sees how perfectly He made us. He laughs out loud with joy at the miracle of who He created us to be.
Will you believe that?
You, sister, who have been told by the church that you must look a certain way or behave in a particular manner in order to be beautiful or accepted by God, that you can only be defined by marriage or motherhood, see God gazing at you, mouth smiling wide with joy, eyes sparkling with pleasure and satisfaction as He sees your heart and your outward appearance. You are lovely because you are loved by Him.
You, brother, who have been told that you must enjoy certain activities or conduct yourself with a certain demeanor in order to be truly a man or to fulfill God’s purpose for you, hear God laugh loud in utter delight at the way your personality mirrors some aspect of His own, see His arms flung wide in joyful abandon at the sight of you trying to be like your Father. You are admired because you were created by Him.
You, dear one, hear God laughing over you with radiant delight, see Him grinning wide with eyes gleaming, feel His joy wash over you in absolute approval.
You are perfect just as He created you because He loves you.


Art credits: Creation of the Sun and Moon by Michelangelo; Woodcut for “Die Bibel in Bildern” by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld