For All Who Wonder

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 I wonder.
Christ Carrying the Cross
I wonder if it is worth it to obey Christ?  He does, after all, say crazy, ridiculous things about giving yourself away and having trouble in this world and carrying a cross into the world’s darkness as He did in order to follow Him for love of Him and love of the world.
Starry Sky
I wonder if anyone is actually listening when I pray?  I have, after all, asked for many beautiful things that never came to pass, things that any sane person would want to occur, and have hurled words into the void of space, words that seemed to return home empty.
busy street
I wonder if God really does exist when much of the time the world around me and sometimes even my own heart says that He does not.
What do we do when we wonder?
Wondering
Take the next step.  Say the next prayer.  Obey the next time.  The only way to find out whether all of this is true is to try it, live it, do it.
Ask and you will be given.  Seek and you will find.  Draw near to Him and see if He will draw near to you.  Ask for Him and see if He will come to you in ways that you alone can comprehend.  Look for Him and see if you can see a light at the heart of this darkness.  This is the only way to go on.
Our Light
Speak your doubts out loud when your heart hears only echoing silence.  “God? Do You know me even though I don’t know You?” is still a kind of prayer.
We draw near to him by following him even on clumsy and reluctant feet.  ~ Frederick Buechner
Is this a turning away from faith?  Not at all.  It is only moments and days, and sometimes weeks and months, that come to all of us who believe.  This wondering is common to us all.
Adeste fidelis.  That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true.  Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light.  Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves.  ~ Frederick Buechner

Art credits: Christ Carrying the Cross by Joachim Beuckelaer; Planetary Nebula by NASA; Crowds by J. Solis

edited from the archives

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.

Reconciling God’s Promises with Life

 

I am deep into planning for our upcoming school year, so this week and next will be from the archives. 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.

 

God’s Words are often difficult to understand.
I don’t know why this is so, why God wouldn’t want us to easily comprehend 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 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.

My Absurd Worry

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Why in the world, why in this crazy, messed up world, is it so hard to trust in God?
He has never failed me, He has never let me down, so why is this trusting business so difficult?
worry
Years ago when Daniel and I returned to the States from a year of mission work in China, we had trouble finding jobs.
We waited for months, watching our hard-earned savings dwindle away, wondering why God didn’t step in to help us. After all, hadn’t we just returned from spending a year serving Him? Shouldn’t He take care of us in return?
trust
Looking back, He was caring for us all the time. He gave us family and friends to support us by giving us places to live, recommendations for jobs, and extra money that I know they could have also used.
And we eventually did find jobs. Good ones. We didn’t starve. We didn’t end up on the street. We were able to build our savings back up.
We’ve recently been hit with a series of very expensive home and car repairs and replacements, along with several doctor bills.
And I worry. I worry a lot.
Which is ridiculous.
Do I really think that God can take care of three repairs but not four?
Do I really believe that God can sustain us through home repairs but not our doctor bills?
I feel a lot these days like Israel.
Israel doubt
God, I know that you just parted the Red Sea and all, but feeding us in the desert is clearly too much for You.
Lord, I’m grateful for the manna and quail, but giving us water from a rock? I’m just not sure you can handle that.
I know I’m being absurd when I worry. I look around at the birds of the air and the lilies of the field and still wonder if God can feed and clothe me and my children.
learn to trust
O ye of little faith.
He speaks to me when He says that.
So I take a deep breath and breathe out a plea to help me trust Him.
And then?
Then I set my heart on Him and seek after Him and His kingdom,
and know (at least for this one moment!) that all those things will be given to me as well.
Therefore do not be anxious, saying “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Art credit: He led them by a pillar of cloud by Providence Lithograph Company (1896-1913); all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

Expecting both Crosses and Empty Tombs

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.

 

Crosses and empty tombs.
Cross
This is what life is made up of. Death and rebirth.
Life
Seeds that die in the ground in order to bloom glorious, winter death that must happen in order to burst into green, the dying to self that is the only way into joy.
Crosses and empty tombs.
Rembrandt
Empty Tomb
We are facing a couple of crosses in our family right now.
Really, just the possibility of crosses.
Although, as I sit quiet in candle-lit dark, it occurs to me that perhaps this waiting, this living in the possibility of a cross is, in itself, a cross.
What will I do when the cross looms large in my sight?
Where will I place these fears when all that crowds my vision is rough-hewn wood and sharp metal nails?
Will I continue to hope in the promise of an empty tomb at the end of the cross?
Death
I must. If I have to drop to my knees and beg God to help me, I must remember.
If I am to survive any cross, whether heavy or light, I must pray, I must fast, I must fling myself by any means possible into the hands of the One who bore the heaviest cross of all…the One who then emptied that tomb.
Jesus promised us crosses. We are to expect them. And He also promised us empty tombs in the end. It may not happen until the end, but He gave His word that He would make those tombs empty again.
So I must remember. I must remember that God broke into time to show us that the empty tomb will always follow the cross.
I must remember the times in my own story when God brought an empty tomb after a cross.
Hope
When I cannot see beyond my cross, when I cannot trust on my own, I must look to Jesus who proved that His power and love are strong enough to bring forth an empty tomb after every single cross.
I must remember
and hope.
Crosses and empty tombs. They always go hand in hand.
Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us. Amen. ~ from the Book of Common Prayer

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Empty Tomb ink drawing from Catholic Hymns, 1860

from the archives

House of Cards

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.

 

Why are we so defensive on God’s behalf?
Why do we become so frightened of hard questions?
Do we think the Bible asks us to defend God’s character, or is it deeper than that?
House of Cards
Not all of the time, but all of us do harbor a bit of the recurring agnostic inside. A tiny voice that says, what if it isn’t true?
What will become of me if it isn’t true?
This flicker of fear lingers so insidiously that when someone asks a questions to which we don’t know the answer, when someone expresses a doubt we ourselves have thought, we tend to lash out, to push away, to shame.
Remove one piece
If this piece of what I believe turns out not to be true, perhaps none of it is true.
Is God so fragile?
Is the God who flung the stars into space, who has the power to overcome sin and death so uncertain that one piece of the puzzle can bring the entire edifice crashing down?
Is our God a house of cards?
just one piece
what happens to the whole
If your God is a house of cards, you need a new God.
You need a God who is big enough to cradle all our questions, deep enough to hold all our doubts.
You need the God who shows His power through the universe we see, who reveals Himself through His Son in Scripture, who speaks to us through His Spirit within us.
When you know this God, you can let go of your need to defend. You can rest easy with, even welcome the doubts and questions of others.
will it crash down
When you are safe and secure in the LORD Almighty, you become a place for others to find rest. You become a safe place where people can sit with their questions and doubts without feeling shamed or guilty.
What if we as a Church became a place where people could question and yet trust, where people could doubt and yet worship, where people could wonder and yet love.
What if we welcomed the not-so-sure rather than driving them away?
What if we could be comfortable with the hard spaces, acknowledging that not everything has an answer we can know right now?
It starts with you and with me. Can we let go of our fear and trust that our faith is not a house of cards?
this house of cards
Imagine a church where people could worship even when they don’t have it all figured out.
Imagine a church where people could love and serve even in the times when they aren’t quite sure about it all.
Imagine a church full of people like…
Well, full of people like us.

More About My Book (and a second giveaway!)

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Thank you.
Thank you for all of the sharing and liking and subscribing that you have done over the past week. I’ve gained quite a few subscribers, and am grateful.
The Color of Hard
Let me tell you more about why I wrote this book.
As I wrote in last week’s post, my book is the story of how my sister-in-law, Kristina, battled breast cancer and lost, and how God met our entire family in the middle of it all. 
People learn best through story. Suffering is common to all who live on this earth, and I want to weave a beautiful story that unravels and reveals meaning.
I wrote a story that is honest and vulnerable about the ugly things in this life so that people can see themselves and can, through Kristina’s story, learn about who God is and what He does in the middle of our collective story.
Too often, people in our churches are afraid to be honest about how hard suffering and death can be, perhaps out of fear that they will be thought not faithful enough, perhaps out of fear that God may not come through after all.
If we are to be healed and comforted, however, we must be vulnerable with each other and with God about how dark this life can be.
This is why I wrote The Color of Hard. To tell a story that will help people heal. Not only people who have suffered from breast cancer, not only people who have watched a spouse suffer and die, but all who are on a journey through pain, whether that involves their own physical pain or the pain of watching a loved one suffer.
Will you help me to tell this story? The more you share this post, the more subscribers I get, the better my chance of being able to publish this story and help people heal.
The prize this week is a beautiful print with beautiful words created by a shop called Salt Stains. Go visit their website at https://www.etsy.com/shop/SaltStains and decide which print you would love to have adorning your home.
If you already subscribe to my blog and have followed me on Facebook and Twitter, you can still enter to win this prize! Just scroll down to the contest form and click on the entry tabs to let me know that you already subscribe.
And again, thank you.

Second Giveaway

I Wrote a Book

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I wrote a book.
writing a book
That is surprisingly difficult to say in so public a forum. I haven’t told very many people, yet here I am telling the world.
It’s a frightening and vulnerable thing to offer up your words to a critical world. Yet I feel I must at least try.
I wrote a book that was hard to write and is hard to read, but it contains a message that is desperately needed in this world of ours.
This book of mine is the story of how my brother’s wife, Kristina, battled breast cancer and lost, and how God met our entire family in the middle of it all.  It is the story of pain and loss, of how to reconcile the heart of God to the reality of how dark this world can sometimes be.
I named it The Color of Hard.
The Color of Hard
I wrote a book and I need your help.
The thing about books and publishers these days is that publishers want you to have lots of people who love you and will therefore most likely purchase your book before they will even think about agreeing to publish said book.
Translation? Subscribers. Lots of subscribers.
Which is where I need your help.
If you haven’t already, will you subscribe to my emails? Will you follow me on Facebook and Twitter?
Will you share this with all of your friends and help me get the message out? I would be most grateful.
And I will give gifts!  To sweeten the deal (although I know you would help a girl out anyway), I am going to give something away each week for the next four weeks. You can enter via the contest form below.
In the coming weeks, I will tell you more about my book so that you can know what I’ve been working on for so long.
Last of all, thank you.

First Giveaway

Crosses and Empty Tombs

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.

 

Crosses and empty tombs.
Cross
This is what life is made up of. Death and rebirth.
Life
Seeds that die in the ground in order to bloom glorious, winter death that must happen in order to burst into green, the dying to self that is the only way into joy.
Crosses and empty tombs.
Rembrandt
Empty Tomb
We are facing a couple of crosses in our family right now.
Really, just the possibility of crosses.
Although, as I sit quiet in candle-lit dark, it occurs to me that perhaps this waiting, this living in the possibility of a cross is, in itself, a cross.
What will I do when the cross looms large in my sight?
Where will I place these fears when all that crowds my vision is rough-hewn wood and sharp metal nails?
Will I continue to hope in the promise of an empty tomb at the end of the cross?
Death
I must. If I have to drop to my knees and beg God to help me, I must remember.
If I am to survive any cross, whether heavy or light, I must pray, I must fast, I must fling myself by any means possible into the hands of the One who bore the heaviest cross of all…the One who then emptied that tomb.
Jesus promised us crosses. We are to expect them. And He also promised us empty tombs in the end. It may not happen until the end, but He gave His word that He would make those tombs empty again.
So I must remember. I must remember that God broke into time to show us that the empty tomb will always follow the cross.
I must remember the times in my own story when God brought an empty tomb after a cross.
Hope
When I cannot see beyond my cross, when I cannot trust on my own, I must look to Jesus who proved that His power and love are strong enough to bring forth an empty tomb after every single cross.
I must remember
and hope.
Crosses and empty tombs. They always go hand in hand.
Lord, we pray we never find ourselves without hope, without a glimpse of the empty tomb each time we happen upon a cross. Help us begin our daily journey expecting both crosses and empty tombs and rejoicing when we encounter either because we know you are with us. Amen. ~ from the Book of Common Prayer

Art credit: The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Empty Tomb ink drawing from Catholic Hymns, 1860

He Has Made Promises

I lost a friend this week.
Jenna
Jenna After Prom
In high school, she was one of my best friends. We played and sang together. We did show choir and musicals together. We volunteered together. We even had secret names for each other. (Yes, we still did that in high school. We were nerds.) I got to be a part of her life when she was baptized. We lost touch over the years, but I still loved her.
Jenna Showchoir
I’ve lost three friends over the past year and a half. This weighs heavy on me.
There is nothing that makes this okay. Jesus Himself wept at the death of His friend.
Death and pain, sorrow and grief. These are not how life was created to be.
There is nothing that makes this okay. Only one thing makes this bearable.
Our God.
He has made promises to us that He will make it turn out all right in the end. He has made promises to us that when we see Him face to face, all the horror that came before will seem as insubstantial as a morning mist blown away by the rising sun. He has made promises to us that He will remain with us and in us until that beautiful day arrives.
How do I know He will keep His promises?
I know because God loves us enough to put on skin and come down to live with us, to suffer for us, to die for us. I know because God has enough power to rise from the dead and conquer death for all time.
He loves us enough and He has power enough.
I don’t know why God didn’t put it all right from the beginning. I don’t begin to understand why He places so much importance on human freedom of choice or why our sin and redemption are so closely intertwined with creation itself.
But I know He keeps His promises and I know that His promises are beautiful beyond imagining.
And for that I will trust Him.
Jenna Graduation
This one’s for you, Jenna. Until we meet again.

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.