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

Whatever Is Necessary

What do we do with the truly awful things of this life? With a loss of love, with a deep constant pain, with a fear that pervades our depths?
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 Discouraged
 It is dangerous to attribute it all to our not loving God enough, although perhaps we could say that is often the case.
Our faith is, as CS Lewis once said, often only a house of cards.
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He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down. ~ CS Lewis A Grief Observed
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We walk around, believing that our foundation is solid, but in truth we are playing at faith. Our house needs a good breath of wind, for if it is never allowed to fall, it can never be rebuilt to last for eternity.
If my faith is only steady enough to endure this life, wouldn’t I want God to blow it down with whatever wind is necessary so that I can endure to the end?
I’m not sure.
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I think I want this, but fear holds me back. Fear of what God, in His infinite love and wisdom, might deal out.
He never promised to be gentle.
Is any pain at all worthwhile if it brings us closer to Him, closer to the sort of life with God that Jesus lived?
The given answer should be yes, but I hesitate and pull back at the brink of giving it.
Which means that I do not yet desire God above all else.
Not truly.
Do many of us?
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We give our hearts over to so many things other than God. . .As long as our happiness is tied to the things we can lose, we are vulnerable. ~ John Eldredge Walking With God
If God is truly enough, if He is what we need for happiness, for contentment, then we should be able to let go of those we love, endure that deep pain, rise above the pervasive fear, because we still have Him.
It is God who remains when all else is gone. It is God who fills us up with Himself so that we do not need anything or anyone else.
In truth, when we lose, when we hurt, we have more of Him than we have in the comfort and in the ease. That in itself should make us turn from the easy way.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. ~ Philippians 3. 7-12
If only I could believe that. Truly know it and live it.
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But without the pain of learning it.

The Weight of Holy

I am evangelical all the way down to my toes.
High Church
In many ways I am proud of my faith tradition. I will be the first to admit that we have our troubles, things with which I don’t agree, but there are many things I think we get right.
I am grateful for our emphasis on the Bible, our insistence on a personal relationship with God, our reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice to make us clean.
There are a few pieces of Christianity I think we miss out on, though.
Depth
One of those pieces is our loss of depth when we focus on individual relationship with God over communal relationships with God. This is a subject I’ll have to explore in a different post.
For this week?
We also lose a sense of the sacredness and holiness of God when we focus solely on a personal, intimate relationship with God.
Weighty
In our casual services, in our emphasis on God as friend, we forget sometimes how other God is. He is holy, which means separate.  Apart.
He is not like us. He is so far above us that we cannot begin to comprehend Him. We are not worthy to stand in His presence. We cannot meet His gaze. To see His face is to die.
Sacred
We attended a Lutheran church service a few Sundays ago.
I was struck by the ceremony, the honor and respect with which they treat all things belonging to God: in particular, the Word and the Lord’s Supper.
Every move was accompanied by a genuflect before the table holding the Bible and the Communion. There was a reverence to that portion of the service that was weighty.
Holy
Set apart
There was a hush of holiness over the proceedings that I do not see in my own tradition. As each person came up to receive the bread, they were looked in the eye and told “This is His body which was broken for you”. As each person came up to receive the cup, they were looked in the eye and told, “This is His blood which was shed for you”. As each child came past with their parents, a hand was laid on their head and a blessing given on them.
It was holy and it was personal.
As each server of the bread and wine came to their turn to be the receiver, they bowed before the Word and the Communion. Not in worship of those items, but in reverence for the One they represent. In a recognition that God is holy and has declared these things to be sacred.
Holiness

Reverence

Our whole lives are to be sacred. I recognize that there is no separation between sacred and secular in our everyday lives. That is the premise behind this very blog. Yet it serves us well to be reminded every now and then of the absolute holiness of the One who makes everything sacred.
Nothing is sacred without God.
Cathedral
Sometimes we forget how much more sacred is the Giver than the gifts.
Sometimes we lose the weightiness of holy and in that shallowness can float upward until we believe that we are closer to God than we truly are.
The weight of holy
…and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald…From the throne came flashes of lightening, and rumblings and peals of thunder…Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!

All photographs this week are by Kirk Sewell. You can purchase canvas prints of many of his gorgeous photograph artwork on his website: photographybysewell.webs.com

Exploring Goodness and Freedom

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

Is there such a thing as good?
Fall Colors
Light through Crocus
Not the sort of good that is only good because it results in some desired, practical outcome, but the sort of good that is good in itself.  Inherently good, intrinsically good.
Wildflowers
Fall leaf
It would be arrogant to think that such a question could be fully addressed in this small place, but perhaps this space is sufficiently large at least to begin the wonderings.
This is a question containing quite a breadth of meaning, so it is worthwhile to ask it again: is there anything that is good in itself, apart from any practical value it might have?
What would it look like if the answer was no? What would our world look like if we believed that there was nothing that was good apart from its practical value? (I hasten to insert, however, that belief of some truth is not quite the same as truth itself.)
If there is no such thing as good, then that which is good becomes the same as whatever thing that I want.
Fighting
When all that says “It is good” has been debunked, what says “I want” remains. ~ C.S. Lewis in Abolition of Man
If good is the same as I want, then we become nothing but bundles of desires chasing after what will satisfy.

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Freedom.
We in the United States love the idea of freedom, yet even that idea has changed over the years.
Freedom, for most of the time that the major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) have existed, meant the freedom to choose what is good; it involved responsibility and even the idea of self-denial.
If you asked most Westerners today, even those belonging to Christ, freedom means being able to do what pleases me.  It means doing whatever I want.
Trying to steal the scooter
Sword fighting
Trying to steal the trike
Those belonging to Christ might add “as long as I do not hurt others”.
Yet even that caveat seems to apply only to short-term harm and not to anything long-term such as caring for our earth and being committed to justice.
Look at our world and see the belief that there is nothing that is purely good, that freedom means the ability to follow my own desires.
Look at Christ, however, and see that if good does exist than freedom is the freedom to choose that good rather than being controlled by what is not good.  Freedom means responsibility and self-denial.  If there are things that are purely good, than those things should always be chosen for themselves and not for any practical value they might confer.
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Autumn tree
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Many of those who pursue freedom are not truly free at all.  They are controlled by their own passions and desires, forced to spend their lives chasing after what will satisfy, yet never finding it.
Those who freely choose to be controlled by Christ, however, are choosing to control their desires and to harness their passions in pursuit of that which is good.  They will be satisfied.
Once again, Christ turns the wisdom of this world upside down and gives the good gift of true freedom to those who voluntarily offer their own freedom to Him.
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

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.
Focus
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.

Best

God’s Words are often difficult to understand.
I don’t understand why this is so, why God wouldn’t want us to easily understand Him and His ways, but that is a wondering for another time.
All throughout His Word, God makes promises about what will happen when we approach Him. He makes promises about how He answers when we ask Him for something. He makes promises about what He will give if only we would ask.
Sometimes those promises seem to be contradicted by the reality we can see.
Jesus tells us that if we ask, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask together with others, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask in His name, we will receive.
Jesus promises that if we are just persistent enough, just have faith enough, just beg Him hard enough with our faces to the ground and our tears falling like blood in desperation, He will give us what we ask for.
This is not what we live.
This is not what we live when a young mother dies of cancer. This is not what we live when a child lives her life in chronic pain and then dies. This is not what we live when a family is torn apart by depression.
So how do we reconcile this? How do we reconcile the promise with the life lived in this world?
Because Jesus also made other promises.
He promised that we would have trouble in this world, that storms would come against us, that we would be hated by this world in which we live.
Did He lie? Is He crazy?
Or is there something deeper within His words that we have trouble understanding?
Is there something deeper that we cannot see from our place here on earth, tethered as we are to the physical, unable to grasp the spiritual all around us?
From one who is stumbling along in the dark along with the rest of you, here is what I believe based on what I read in God’s Word as a whole.
What God does is not always what I want. What God allows is sometimes more than I can comprehend. What God gives is often too hard for me.
What God accomplishes is always best.
Best for me, best for someone else, best for our world. Just…best.
Not painless, not comfortable, not happy.
Best.
I know from my own experience as a parent that best is often painful and unpleasant. My children often are unhappy (to put it ridiculously mildly) with what I decide would be best.
When Jesus tells us to ask in His name, rather than His name being a magical incantation to get what we want, perhaps it is a way of living, of remaining in Him as He is in His Father.
When Jesus tells us to ask alongside of others, rather than it being a way to coerce others into asking for what we want so that we can manipulate God, perhaps it is a way to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts in a way that cannot happen on our own.
I don’t know.
As my Papa would say, “Well, I’ll tell you.
I don’t know.”
Here’s what I do know.
When I look at God’s Word in its entirety, whether that be the whole of Scripture or the whole of Jesus’ life, I see a God who is ultimate power and who is ultimate love.
And I see a God who has a plan that makes absolutely no sense while in the middle of it all. A plan that seems, frankly, insane while you are watching it all unfold.
A plan that, at its ending, is better, is more beautiful, is more glorious than anything I could have imagined or asked for.
A plan that is best.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”…  And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.
I think perhaps that is why He gave us Jesus. To show us what the end will be even when the middle seems to be crushing the life out of us.
That end?
Best.

When This World Becomes Just Too Much

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Our world is broken. It is fallen.
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Infertility
Loneliness
Joblessness
Our lives are broken. They can be dark.
That there can be ugliness in this life is not questioned by anyone. No one would argue with the idea that we all go through times of darkness, times of weeping, times of where in the world, where in all of this hurting world are You, God?
If the question then is not will I suffer, then the question must be what will I choose when I suffer.
When I hurt, will I believe that God works for the best in everything or will I wonder whether God is working at all? When I ache, will I believe that God is most present when I am at the end of myself or will I wonder whether God is really in anything at all? When I don’t know how long I can hold on, will I believe in God when I cannot see Him through the dark or will I wonder if the darkness is all that there is?
What do we do when we are sinking, when we are drowning, when we are at the end of ourselves and are pleading for relief?
Paul
Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn. He begged God three times for release. The first two times? Heaven was silent. The third time? God said no.
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Jesus asked if there was any other way but the Cross. God’s answer? No.
Why do we think it should be different for us? Why do we think that we should be exempt?
If God is most present and works most powerfully when we are at the end of our own limits, then shouldn’t we want to lean into our suffering rather than try to escape it?
Paul chose to boast of his weakness, to be content with his hardship. He chose to immerse himself in his thorn in order to gain more of Christ.
We don’t have a choice about whether we will hurt.
Our choice is in how we will respond.
Rembrandt
Will we spend our time begging for respite? Will we beg God to take it away and then curse Him when He does not?
Or will we receive our suffering as a gift? A gift with a purpose, even though we may never know the purpose. A gift with a promise, a promise of grace and God’s presence.
When God says no, when God says My grace is sufficient for you, instead of arguing with Him about it, instead of fighting Him with all of your strength, ask Him to help you get to the place where you can receive your adversity as a gift from a loving Father.
A gift that brings you more of His grace. A gift that brings you more of Him.
I have learned to kiss the waves that dash me against the Rock of Ages. ~ Charles Spurgeon

Art credits: The Apostle Paul sketch from 1514 A.D.; Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Orazio Borgianni; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

Four Years of Writing

I have been writing here in this space for four years now.
Four years of writing and hitting “publish” once a week, every week.
Four years is a long time in the world of blogs. Not many make it this long.
To be honest, just last month I was afraid I would have to take a break.
This fourth baby has been, well, difficult.
This year of beginning to homeschool and being pregnant and then caring for an extra fussy newborn has threatened to sink me at times.
Since I couldn’t give back the baby (don’t worry…I didn’t really want to…mostly…except every once in a while at two in the morning…) or quit educating my child or let my house return to nature, it seemed as though my writing was the only thing I could let go.
Except that God wouldn’t allow me to let it go. There was always something in my heart that He wanted me to say.
Often it was pounded out in five minute spaces and published even though it didn’t feel polished or very well crafted. Yet every time I was obedient to hit that publish button, even when I felt the most inadequate, I heard back from someone about how those words were exactly what they needed to hear.
So I keep writing.
I keep writing and I keep publishing in this little space of mine.
Except it isn’t really mine, is it?
It belongs to God and has always belonged to God, so as long as He keeps asking me to write, even when I don’t have the time to perfectly craft each word to make it sing, I will continue to obey.
Someday I’ll have more time. Someday these little ones won’t be quite so dependent on me and I’ll be able to pursue those bigger writing dreams of mine.
Until then, I’ll be faithful in this season of my life. I’ll hold those tiny, sturdy, beautiful bodies extra close and then snatch a few minutes here and there to jot down what I have in my heart. I’ll enjoy this season of writing in between nursing and playing dollhouse and reading aloud.
I hope you’ll continue to read and be encouraged, even when the words don’t flow as well as they used to.
I’m grateful that God has chosen me to be their mommy and I’m grateful that God has chosen me to write in this space.
So here is where I live: trying my best to be faithful in all that God has given me.
I will end this year, as I have each year of blogging, with this:
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.

This is Easter

Easter.
Easter
Spring.
Spring
New life.
New life
It is an inevitable part of life that monochromatic winter begins to melt into spaces of bright color. Snow gives way to tulips and crocuses. Perhaps it is our necessary reminder that death is followed by new life. Our reminder of Easter.
It was our first Easter without Kristina.
On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left the figure of Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”
God made
Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.
On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sang, “The greatest day in history, Death is beaten, You have rescued me. Sing it out, Jesus is alive! Endless joy, perfect peace, Earthly pain finally will cease. Celebrate Jesus is alive! Oh, happy day, happy day…”
During a celebration after tragedy, hearts swell and overflow with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. We feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing.
joy
On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!
Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.
We all suffer. We all love and therefore all suffer because in our broken world, love means suffering. Those who do not love much do not suffer much. I would not grieve so deeply had I not loved Kristina so much. God loves our world and therefore God Himself suffers.
Such sorrow was felt over our first Easter without Kristina.
Kristina
We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God.
Our rebellion
And so we sorrow.
Our longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. We desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well.
Someday
And so we long.
Sorrow and longing.
At second look, we are reassured that these are what we should feel. After all,
Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis
At the end of it all, however, our hearts must return again to gratitude.
On that Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang, “You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.”
Just as we did in the middle of our ugly places, our hearts cry out “Why?” Yet this time, it is a vastly different sort of why.
This time we ask, why do You love me that much?
His love
You went to the cross to allow us to become children of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that we are? Why would You pour so much into molding us into people who look like You?
Let us fall on our knees in joy and with gratitude for such lavish love.
Lavish love
On Easter morning and beyond, let our hearts swell with both sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is truly alive, knowing that He has defeated death.

edited from the archives

art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

The Sacredness of Bad Attitudes

I sit at Panera, laptop open in front of me, staring out the window at snow drifting down.
Drifting white
I come from a morning full of harsh words and impatience, full of angry attitudes and frustrated responses.
Angry child
I watch the fat flakes piling up and am struck by the beauty of the view, struck by the sacredness of a dirty world turning white.
Dirty turning clean
I sift through my memories of this morning and wonder why I am unable to also see those parts of life as sacred.
It is easy to see the sacredness of snow. It is difficult to see the sacredness in a child’s anger.
Fussy child
When life is beautiful, when I gaze at spring flowers or at a little girl reading to her sister, I have no trouble in seeing God.
Acting in love
It is when my children fuss and yell, when they shove each other and bang angry fists on the piano and Mommy hollers back in return, that God seems to vanish.
Acting in anger
Yet if I truly believe that there is no separation between sacred and secular, if I believe that the fullness of life is sacred, if I believe that there is no difference between kneeling before God in prayer and kneeling in service before a dirty toilet…
Then there is sacredness even in my child who is storming away from me in anger and frustration.
There is sacredness in a fussy toddler, in a stubborn preschooler, in a huffy elementary school child.
It is easier to react with impatience than to see God in these things. It is easier to speak harsh words in response than to pause long enough to search for the sacredness and speak words of Love in answer.
Reacting with love
I am trying to figure out how to hold on to the truth that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the body and the soul. I am trying to figure out how to hold on to the truth that God made this world and made this life and uses every piece of both to bring me to Him.
I am trying to figure out how to “become more fully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.”
(Barbara Brown Taylor in An Altar in the World)
It is this, this living of real life in the real world while focusing myself on God, that will change me, change my life, change the way I live my life.
Which, in turn, will bring me closer to God.
And that is indeed truly sacred.