Making Progress

I just get so frustrated.
Frustration
Failing
We often speak of deeper things via email so that we can linger long over ideas, drawing them more fully into ourselves before we respond.
I feel that after so many years of following Jesus that I should have made more progress, that I should be more like Him, think more like Him, speak more like Him. Yet I still struggle every moment to obey, to control my temper, to love others.
Struggle
Me too, Dad. Me too.
My heart feels heavy when I look at any given week and how much I have failed my husband, my daughters, my God.
I want so desperately to be like Jesus, to have love be my first response in any situation, to be grateful for everything that comes my way.
Yet day after day I lose my temper, I choose my own desires over the needs of those around me,
I forget to walk with God.
Forget
Guilt
Have I made any progress at all? It certainly doesn’t feel like it.
Yet God tells us that creating a new heart is not up to us. We are not capable of changing our heart of stone for a heart of flesh, but God promises that He will do this for us, that He will change us to look more like Jesus, to be who He created us to be.
Will I believe Him?
Will I trust what He says more than what my physical eyes can see? Will I trust the Word even when contrary evidence seems to mount up higher?
…. it is certain that the Christian does grow in grace. And though his conflict may be as severe in the last day of his life as in the first moment of conversion, yet he does advance in grace — and all his imperfections and his conflicts within cannot prove that he has not made progress. ~ Charles Spurgeon
As in so much of this walk with God, will I choose to trust His promises or my own imperfect judgement?
Conflict
Heart of stone
May we all push aside the guilt that we pour down on our own heads and say with the 17th century monk, Brother Lawrence,
When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. ~ Practicing the Presence of God
Believe
Trust
May we all trust God that much and give ourselves no further uneasiness about it.

Mary’s Soul

There is a stillness and a hush.
Stillness
There are words that shred her heart.
It is after the man of light, speaking words of miracle.
It is after the shepherds of dirt, speaking visions of angel army chorales.
It is after the star of God, shining spotlight on her baby.
It is after the scholars of heavens, laying rich treasures down.
Nativity
There is the temple and the sacrifice and the consecration of a baby.
There is a man who raises hands and speaks words of praise to God.
There are words that shred her heart.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.
There is a stillness and a hush.
And ever after, she lives and follows Him, trusting that God will keep His promises. She is faithful in her trust.
Three Crosses
And she stands at the foot of a cross, watching her innocent child as He is brutally tortured and murdered. As He is pierced with a sword.
And her own soul is pierced as well.
It cannot have made any sense at all.
The murder of innocents never does. Death itself never does.
There is a cross.
Cross
There is ugliness and pain and sorrow and grief.
There is beauty and rescue and hope and the promise of life for all time.
There is faithfulness and trust in a God Who keeps His promises. Always.
In the stillness and the hush,
Hush
In the joy of angels singing
Joy
as well as in the piercing of your own soul,

Pieta

Trust in our God whose Word never fails.
I pray for a joyful New Year for all of you, worshiping the God who makes all things beautiful in His time.
Beautiful Christmas
art credits: snow photo by Kirk Sewell; The Nativity by Correggio; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Cross photo by Asta Rastauskiene; Annunciation to the Shepherds by Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem; Pieta by Michaelangelo; Advent wreath photos by Elizabeth Giger

My Capricious Heart

I’m back.
Tentatively, yet determinedly back.
I’ve been a little paralyzed, waiting for the perfect post to form itself before writing. I’ve been a little hesitant, thinking I should have time to dig deep into books before pouring forth out of my emptiness. I’ve been a little prideful, believing that my troubles are not of value to others because they do not deal with death or poverty or persecution.
I will cast off these lies and write. I will write and pray that God will use what is inside of me whether or not it is perfect or brought from research or developed from great suffering.
Since when can God only use greatness for His purpose?

Moving

Packing

Still Packing

Unpacking

Swimming in Packing Paper

Drowning in Packing Paper

Moving is hard.
There is a loneliness that comes from knowing that deep, local friendships lie months, even years away. There is fear in the understanding that your introverted self is going to have to be bold and take risks in order to find those new friends. There is a sadness when grieving the friendships you left behind.
There is the ache of watching your children struggle, seeing them cry before trudging off to a new school and holding them when they rant and rage with an anger that is really stress they don’t know how to handle. It hurts to hear them talk about what they miss from our old home.
There is the exhaustion of too many sleepless nights. Sleepless from a six month old baby who still wakes up multiple times a night, sleepless from older sisters who wake with nightmares or because they can’t find the bathroom in their new place, sleepless from your own desire to unpack just one more box and try to make this house a home.
And?
Moving has within it a hope for future grace.
There is the freedom of a house in which your children have the space to spread out a bit, a house big enough to host a gathering without sitting in each other’s laps, a house with room for you to grow.
There is the excitement of a town you know you can enjoy, a town that’s just the right size for you, a town with potential for serving and for fun.
There is the joy of being near my brother and his family, the joy of good neighbors who might become good friends, the joy of a job my husband enjoys and doesn’t dread every day.
Underneath it all there is the peace, when I look for it, of knowing that we are where God wants us to be. My heart is capricious and ever-changing; the loneliness and grieving will not always be so strong. Until my emotions catch up, I will know that God has purpose for us here. I will know that He will use us in beautiful ways we don’t yet see and that this is what will make us happy.
Until that happens, I will trust Him and cling to Him even when my heart would tell me otherwise. The joy and peace will come. This I know and this I hold on to.

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.

Letting You In

Why is it so difficult to allow people to come in close?
Letting you in
I enjoy having friends, of course, but I still want to keep everyone at just a bit of distance.
Even my husband and my children. I will let them in closer than any others, but there is still a part of myself that I hold in reserve.
family
You too?
Why do we do this? Why is it so hard to be completely vulnerable with anyone?
Fear, I think, is the most simple answer.
We know how ugly our hearts can be. For myself, I know the arrogance and rage that can live inside and I want people to still like me.
I want you to like me
We want everyone else to think well of us, so we let them in enough to show that we are human, but not far enough in to let them see how very human we really are.
We don’t want to see the shock and revulsion on their faces were they to hear the thoughts that go through our minds. We want others to like us.
I want everyone to like me
It is often even hard to let God in.
Logically, I know that He already sees the deepest, most ugly bits of me, but I still have the desire to make everything look pretty before I show it to Him. You see, I want God to like me too.
I want God to like me
Not just love me. Like me.
Love seems to be a choice, a way of treating someone. Liking, though, seems more enjoyable.
Love is what I do even when it is hard. Liking is what comes naturally when I enjoy spending time with someone.
Liking each other
Yet God went to extraordinary lengths to be with us. He tells us that He wants to sit with us over meals, that He sings over us and He wants to wipe away our tears. He calls us friends.
Such amazing grace this is.
If only I could believe it completely, I would have no trouble at all in letting others in.
God, help my unbelief.

Art credit: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

Tolerance or Love?

Listen to them argue. Watch as each shakes her head and smiles condescendingly while the other is speaking passionately about what she thinks is right. It often seems that surface level respect doesn’t go very far. Those who support each group seem to vilify the other, speaking out ugly words of disrespect and hate. There will always be someone with whom we disagree, someone we are vehemently sure is wrong.
Angry
Arguing
What do we do with this? What do we do when we disagree, both with those we call brother and sister and with those who do not believe? We are exhorted by our leaders and our culture to be tolerant to those around us. Everywhere we turn we are pleaded with to show tolerance to anyone who is different, anyone who thinks or behaves differently than we do.
And what does that tolerance look like? We are told by our world that we are to stay open-minded, that we are to live and let live, that we should not put up any claim to truth. We are told by the world surrounding us that we can disagree with anyone we want, can believe anything we like, as long as we keep it to ourselves.
Disagreeing
This is what our world says. But what about us? Is this what we who are Christ followers are called to be? Tolerant? Is this really all that we can manage, all that we can aspire to do? Tolerance is easy. It doesn’t require anything of either party. It relieves us of all responsibility. It costs us nothing. Tolerance shrugs its shoulders and walks away, leaving you to your own devices. Tolerance doesn’t care.
“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” ~ Matthew 22.39
Love is much harder. Love costs our comfort and our time. Love affirms the reality of the other person, culture and way of life. Love takes the trouble to get to know the other person and find out what makes them beautiful. Love wants what is best for that person or culture.
Comforting
Consoling
Helping
Knowing
It was love that brought the world to oppose an apartheid regime in South Africa, not tolerance. It was love that lead Martin Luther King to pursue civil rights, not tolerance. It was love that drove William Wilberforce to lead the British parliamentary campaign to abolish the slave trade, not tolerance.
It was love that sent Jesus to the cross on our behalf, not tolerance.
We live our lives in contact with people who are different. We are surrounded by those who look, dream, think, and believe differently than we. We therefore must pray for strength to choose the harder way. If we are to be Jesus to those around us, if we are to make a difference for Him in this world, we must have the strength to choose love rather than tolerance.
“Love must confront Tolerance and insist, as it has always done, on a better way.” ~ Tim Keller in Generous Justice
Why is love so much harder than tolerance? Why does it require more from us? Part of the reason is that love is asks us to be discerning. Love sometimes asks us to work toward change yet sometimes asks us to see the gray in others rather than viewing the world in black and white alone. It is difficult to see in gray. 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.
Black and White
Adding more shades
Seeing in gray
The more we meet people who were raised differently and the more we read authors from other places and times and faith traditions, the more we begin to catch a glimpse of how much our view of God, of the Bible, of the world around us is colored by our 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.  Tolerance allows us to be lazy, to choose what we believe and let others walk on their own path. Love requires that we listen, that we look at those before us with wisdom. As we take the time to know another and love them, we begin to realize that there is something 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 us being the enemy, being one who is deliberately misinterpreting God’s words, being one who picks and chooses what they will believe, those who see things in a different light are mostly just trying their best to follow Jesus.
Just like we are.
Words
Perhaps they are interpreting Scripture incorrectly, but perhaps we are the ones who are wrong. Grace.  It is easy to receive and devilishly difficult to dole out freely.  We spend so much time either being determined to get it right at the expense of our relationships or trying so hard to tolerate the differences around us that we quit looking at the person with whom we differ.  Yet when we look closely and intently we can see the gray shades of Jesus in the face of the person before us.
And then it is easier to love.

Edited from the archives

When It Is Hard to Believe

I am wrestling with the difficulty of believing God.
God's Words
I suppose it would be more accurate and honest to admit that really I am wrestling with why I don’t believe God much of the time.
This struggle to believe manifests itself in different ways at various times and seasons in my life, but currently I am noticing it in two particular ways.
Trusting Him with my girls
One struggle I have is in believing that God truly loves my children.
I know.
When I say it like that, it seems ludicrous.  We are talking, after all, about the same God who gave up His only Son so that my children could be with Him forever.
Trusting His plans for them
Yet I worry about my babies.  I worry about their safety, about whether they will survive to adulthood (although sometimes I think that it might be me who causes them not to survive), about whether they will suffer some horrible trauma along the way.  I worry about whether they will learn to love God most of all and whether they will love people.  I worry about my children…which means that I am not believing God.
God has promised that He loves my children even more than I do.  He has promised that He will do what is best for them and that He will give them what they need.  But I still worry.  Why?
Part of the trouble is that I don’t trust in what God’s best is.  I know that sometimes His best is painful and even when I can trust in that for myself, I often want to protect them.  It is truly ridiculous that I would want to protect my children from God, but there it is.  Deep down inside, I sometimes believe that I know better than God, that my goals for my children are more important than God’s goals for them.
I don’t know why I wrestle with this.  When I state it so plainly, even I can see the foolishness of it.  It should be easy to believe.  Yet it is not.
Holy Spirit
The other struggle I currently have is in believing that God’s Spirit will truly guide me through life.  I have trouble believing that God is interested in all areas of life.  Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to guide me in my parenting?  Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to show me the best way to train, disciple, even educate my children?  Does God’s Spirit care about a business, a household, a career?
Method Books
I don’t believe it and so I want to rely on books, on methods, on other people to tell me how to raise and teach my babies.  Yet if Jesus is before all things, if all things hold together in Him, and if Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to us to guide us and teach us Jesus’ truth, then He truly is interested in showing me how best to live my life.  All aspects of it.
Why is that so difficult to believe, so hard to rely on?  It seems like it should be simple.  God has never broken a promise; He has proved over and over that His way and His love is best, that His Spirit is faithful to show us truth.  I am foolish to doubt the faithfulness of such a God.
The Israelites Doubting
Yet I do.  I am like the Israelites who refused to believe that God would provide enough manna on the sixth day to provide for the seventh or that He would provide enough harvest bounty in the sixth year to provide for the seventh year of Jubilee.  I doubt and I worry.  Yet even through the doubt and worry I still keep plodding forward, step by painful step, begging for God to help me trust Him, desperate for more of His Spirit.
I trust that He will.  “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Art Credit: The Golden Calf by Esteban March

Temptation

Temptation.
It swirls around me like a hurricane
sending my intentions spinning into the blackened sky.

 

I hear the voice of God
I hear Him tell me what is good
Why can I not obey?
My consistency is that I fail to listen
My constant is that I continue to fall.

 

The ugly truth?
I don’t believe God.
I don’t believe Him when He tells me what is best.
If I believed, I would obey.
If I trusted in God’s goodness, His love, I would always do what He asks.

 

I would choose love instead of anger.
I would choose compassion rather than bitterness.
I would forgive instead of clinging to my grudge.
I would assume the best rather than enjoying my irritation.
I would think of others and forget about myself.

 

How can I obey,
how can I root out this ugliness that is deep inside my heart?
I cannot listen when I will not trust.

 

And yet I remember.
God is mercy and God is grace.
He changes hearts and He captures our gaze.
He is faithful if we ask;
His wisdom He delights to give.

 

Christ stayed in the wilderness
He faced down our sin
He trusted in God
Trusted God’s love and goodness
Christ conquered to make me a conqueror.

 

Grace.
It captures my heart and teaches me to trust
changing my nature so that I am now able to believe what God says
And obey.

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Living Generous

It is often difficult to be generous.  It is hard to give freely of our time, our resources, our hearts.
Giving Freely
It is often difficult to trust.  It is hard to open ourselves to others, leaving ourselves vulnerable to betrayal.
Staying Vulnerable
It is often difficult to see the abundance that is in God, and perhaps this is why it is so difficult to give it all away.
The Widow's Mite
The widow whom Jesus noticed giving up her last coins in the temple could see this abundance.  She saw how beautiful and full living in God’s life could be.  She saw what we must open our own eyes to see: that we can only be generous and trust God with our lives when we see that our life in God, this kingdom of God here on earth, is abounding in life and love and joy.
Yes, we live in a broken, fallen world, but we don’t have to wait for the end of all things for God’s rule on earth to begin.  Something occurred in creation when Jesus was raised from the dead.  Something began at the resurrection that begins to bring God’s new life to this earth here and now.  Paul speaks of us, among other things, as a new creation in Christ.  I am not a theologian, so I do not pretend to understand how this happens or even exactly what is occurring.
Live Generously
Yet perhaps part of what this means is that we are called to bear witness to the perfect life in God, the perfect life of Genesis 1 & 2 and Revelation 21 & 22.  We are called to live life in a way that bears witness to the perfection that we as well as all of creation will become, and perhaps simply living a witness kind of life is the way in which we are right now bringing God’s kingdom to fruition in our world.
When we act, as followers of Jesus Christ in the world, as if the limitations of this world set the boundaries for how we can act, then we are…failing in our witness to the cosmic redemption that has been accomplished in Jesus Christ ~ Jonathan Wilson, author of God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation
So let us live lives full of generosity and trust, opening our eyes to the abundance of life around us.  The very same abundance that is ours in a witness life in Christ.

Art Credit: The Widow’s Mite by James Tissot

Our Jealous God

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is God speaking to us, revealing Himself to us so that we can know Him, know how much He loves us and so that we can learn how to love Him in return.
Word of God
This Bible of ours is a beautiful book of love.  And there are parts of the Bible that are downright disturbing, parts that don’t adhere to our black and white notions of God.  We like to gloss over these, to skim over them so that we don’t have to think about them, but they just won’t go away.  There are parts of God’s Word that don’t fit the image we have of God.  They don’t fit the sort of God we want God to be.  Even God the Son does and says some absurd and strange things.  Like the cursing of the fig tree.  Who, for the love of God, would curse a tree because it is not bearing fruit in the winter?  How could that action possibly have been done for the love of God?
Another of these disturbing pieces is God as a jealous God.  We tend to think of jealousy as weak, as petty, as fear.  We think of it as wishing that we were and had what we are not and do not.  But God is in everything and by Him everything lives and moves and has its being.  How can both of these be true?
Unfocused
We don’t always get a resolution of the images of God that don’t fit, these pieces of God we can’t make sense of.  This one, though, has become clearer lately through reading Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris.  She speaks of the jealousy of God as mother love, as a lion or tiger protecting her young with passion and fierceness.  This jealousy of God is the kind of jealousy that protects her vulnerable children from all that would hurt them, from all that would steal their joy.
Ten Commandments
It makes sense, then, that one of the times this image of God is given to us is in the first of the Ten Commandments.  These commandments were meant to show us how much we need God, to teach us how life works and the way we will be most happy.  So if God is jealous to keep false gods away from us, it is the jealousy that wants to protect us from all that would harm our souls.
God’s jealousy allows us to trust Him.
Who, after all, would trust a God, a parent, spouse, or lover, who said to us, “I really love you, but I don’t care at all what you do or who you become.”?  ~  Kathleen Norris
It is resolutions like this, resolutions that show that what seems disturbing is all somehow out of love and holiness, resolutions that help us trust for the unknown, disquieting pieces.  They help us trust that God is holy and is love and is working to make all of us and all of this world into what it was created to be.
Perfect World
Resolutions like this help us trust that God is a jealous God, “who loves us enough to care when we stray.  And who has given us commandments to help us find the way home.”  ~ Kathleen Norris

Art Credit: Moses Smashing the Tablet of the Law by Rembrandt