Surprised by my Ugliness

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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

Caught

We are in the middle of moving, so I will be fetching from the archives for the next two or three weeks. Enjoy!

I am caught in this world and cannot seem to escape it.
Kitchen
Home
Books
Toys
Technology
Car
I cling to the security of our money, not wanting to give up our extra even to help one who is hurting.  I cling to my anger, not wanting to give it up even for the sake of my child’s heart.  I cling to my idea of success, not wanting to give up the possibility of my daughters’ successes in the world even for the sake of their love for God and neighbor.
I am helpless, mired, enmeshed and enslaved.  I cannot even turn away from sin on my own.  I am incapable of seeing my sin for what it is.
Rembrandt
I am like Peter in the courtyard, having just betrayed the One he saw raising the dead and being transfigured, having sworn and cursed that he did not know Him.  Peter, too, was unable to turn, unable to grieve over his betrayal, until…
Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him…And he went outside and wept bitterly.  ~ Luke 22.60-62
Tivart
Peter not turn first, Jesus did.  When Peter was right in the middle of his sin, when he would have preferred to look anywhere else other than at Jesus, Jesus turned and looked at Peter.
Milan
I cannot turn from my sin unless Jesus turns to me first.  I can, perhaps, feel frustrated at my inability to obey, but this is not the kind of sorrow that bears any kind of lasting fruit.  This is only a kind of twisted pride.  What I cannot do is to understand my own helplessness and the depths of my sin.
If I have any repentance at all, any true turning of my heart to God, it is only by the grace of God turning to me first.
Sorrow over our sinful condition is…God’s attribute above all. Sorrow over sin does not finally belong to us humans; we ourselves are not capable of it.  ~ Martin Luther
It is amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.

Art credits: St. Peter’s Denial by Rembrandt; Peter Denying Christ by Daniel Tivart; Church of Santo Sepolcro in Milan Italy

Be Right or Love the Person?

“Is it more important to be right or to be loving?”
Angry
I ask her the question as she stands with her hands on her hips, righteous indignation quivering through every inch of her little body.
Frustrated
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?
Stubborn
“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.

Unable to Turn

I am caught in this world and cannot seem to escape it.
Kitchen
Home
Books
Toys
Technology
Car
I cling to the security of our money, not wanting to give up our extra even to help one who is hurting.  I cling to my anger, not wanting to give it up even for the sake of my child’s heart.  I cling to my idea of success, not wanting to give up the possibility of my daughters’ successes in the world even for the sake of their love for God and neighbor.
I am helpless, mired, enmeshed and enslaved.  I cannot even turn away from sin on my own.  I am incapable of seeing my sin for what it is.
Rembrandt
I am like Peter in the courtyard, having just betrayed the One he saw raising the dead and being transfigured, having sworn and cursed that he did not know Him.  Peter, too, was unable to turn, unable to grieve over his betrayal, until…
Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him…And he went outside and wept bitterly.  ~ Luke 22.60-62
Tivart
Peter not turn first, Jesus did.  When Peter was right in the middle of his sin, when he would have preferred to look anywhere else other than at Jesus, Jesus turned and looked at Peter.
Milan
I cannot turn from my sin unless Jesus turns to me first.  I can, perhaps, feel frustrated at my inability to obey, but this is not the kind of sorrow that bears any kind of lasting fruit.  This is only a kind of twisted pride.  What I cannot do is to understand my own helplessness and the depths of my sin.
If I have any repentance at all, any true turning of my heart to God, it is only by the grace of God turning to me first.
Sorrow over our sinful condition is…God’s attribute above all. Sorrow over sin does not finally belong to us humans; we ourselves are not capable of it.  ~ Martin Luther
Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.

Art credits: St. Peter’s Denial by Rembrandt; Peter Denying Christ by Daniel Tivart; Church of Santo Sepolcro in Milan Italy

I Cannot

I hate admitting that I cannot do something.  I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
clenched fist
The one notable exception is raising children.  I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis).  This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith.  I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
Tower of Babel
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
Worshiping Self
God, however, is quite clear.  We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.  
Coming Down
This is folly and this is scandal.  It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence.  This is offensive.  It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height.  The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God.  I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday.  What is His goal and where does He end His descent?  He ends where we belong.  In Hell.  Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Fires
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it.  He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God.  It is the only way.
Reconciliation
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
I will confess: I cannot.

Art Credits: Construction of the Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

The Beauty of Gray

The older I get, the more gray shades I see in our world.  An expansion of colors, a deepening of my perceptions, these nuances that make my life richer are a bit astonishing.
It was much easier when the lenses I wear saw only black and white.
Lily Black and White     Analise Black and White     Cross Black and White
Life gets harder when you see things from other points of view.  Straight lines get hijacked and carry you off to the unknown.  Solid perspectives grow a little blurry and you begin to take a softer view of those you disagree with.
The more I meet people who were raised differently than I was raised and the more I read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more I begin to catch a glimpse of how much my view of God, of the Bible, of the world around me is colored by my own place and time and faith tradition.
Just as with every place and time and faith tradition, there is truth to be found and there is misunderstanding.  There are many issues of our faith that I have been rethinking and restudying lately, asking God once again to teach me His way.
Issues like the role of women in the church and in the family, homosexuality, how science and the Bible fit together, what the inerrancy of the Scriptures really means.  On some of these issues I am changing.  On others I remain.  Yet on all of these issues and more, as I read and study I realize something that is even more important than figuring out what is right and what is wrong.
No human here on earth is my enemy.  We who claim the name of Christ are all trying to love Jesus and obey God’s words.  Rather than those who disagree with me being the enemy, being the one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being the one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like I am.
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps I am the one who is wrong.
Grace.  It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely.  I spend so much time wanting to get it right, sometimes from good motivation and sometimes from pride, that I quit looking at the person with whom I differ.  I see black and I see white, and the sharp edges of truth keep me from seeing the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before me.
Lily Four Shades     Analise Four Shades     Cross Four Shades
It is easier to look at the black and white of an issue, because to see the gray of a person is to see Jesus.  And seeing Jesus is always hard.  Looking at the face of Jesus has a way of changing you deep down where it hurts.
There is a reason why Jesus said that the most important thing is to love.  Loving God and loving people is more important than getting it all right.  He didn’t say it was the easiest thing.  Most things with Jesus aren’t.
Loving others has a way of hijacking the straight lines of your life and carrying you off to the unknown.  Loving Jesus has a way of blurring your sharp edges and softening the contours of your heart.
It is painful and it is frightening.
Lily All Shades    Analise All Shades    Cross All Shades
And those gray shades are beautiful beyond words.

 

Thanks to Kirk Sewell for turning the colors of my photographs into various shades of gray.  You can see more of his work at http://photographybysewell.webs.com

Never! Said I

I would never do that.
No, never! Said I.
Horrified, confident, righteous within.

Never? He said
with a gleam in his eye.
Perhaps, yes perhaps, and yet.

This little thing?
What about this small little thing?

Oh, that? That’s nothing.
Said I with a grin.

That surely won’t matter
in the vast scope of life.
So yes, I’ll do that and enjoy.

Well, what about this?
Just a teensy bit larger.
And the pleasure is much larger still.

Oh, that? That’s still nothing.
Said I, standing tall.

This too, doesn’t matter
it surely won’t hurt
those around me or go against God’s will.

Said he with the gleam
You’re so close, just look
at what could be savored and gained.

I turned ’round
and suddenly saw with despair
my righteousness lying in shreds.

I did it, yes did it.
How could I? Said I.
with shock and confusion within.

Your confidence blinded.
Said he with the gleam.
You trusted in self not in Him.

Why You Should Make Mistakes With Your Kids

Our middle daughter (can I say “middle” when the youngest is still inside my belly?) turned two years old this week.

As I watch her and her four-year-old sister growing up so incredibly quickly, I sometimes start thinking about how much of what I do, both with them and in front of them, influences who they become.

This thought almost makes me start hyperventilating. I start feeling almost physically weighed down with the pressure to do things perfectly with my children.

I was recently reminded, however, of how much God loves these girls. He loves them even more than I love them. That idea is difficult for me to wrap my mind around, considering how deep is my love for them, but it is truth. 

God loves my girls more than I do, and He wants them to fall in love with Him even more than I want that to happen. 

And if God wants something to happen, well…

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? ~ Romans 8.31-32

This is, like most issues in my life, a refusal to trust, a difficulty in letting go of my pride. I have to trust God with the hearts and lives of my children and I have to realize that I am not the most important influence on them

God is more than able to make up for my myriad of mistakes.

In fact, I am learning that it is good for me to make mistakes.

When I make mistakes with my little ones, when I mess up in front of them, I have the chance (if only I took it more consistently!) to show them how to make mistakes. I have the opportunity to teach them how to apologize, how to ask for forgiveness, how to ask God to change your heart and help you to do better.

How to do this, how to wisely use this chance, is something that is indelibly imprinted in my heart: it is the image of my dad asking me (a tiny, humble kid!) for my forgiveness. His actions taught me a beautiful lesson.

By messing up in front of my girls, I can show them that God loves them no matter what they do

My eldest is already learning this lesson. Every night, as part of her four-year-old routine, she says, “Mommy? Did you know that God loves you even when you disobey?” And I respond “Yes, darling. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?”

This is what I want to teach my girls. That God loves them no matter what. That we can’t ever be good enough and that is why Jesus came to rescue us, why the Holy Spirit has to work in our hearts to heal them. I want them to rest secure in God’s love, enjoying His presence and loving Him right back.

I sit in awe and praise God that in His mercy and grace, He uses my mistakes, my imperfect and messed-up self, to show my girls just that.