I often think of and long to know the meaning of this cycle of life and death.
in the light of love of the Creator, who brought them all into being, who brought me into being, and you…It is part of the deepest longing of the human psyche, a recurrent ache in the hearts of all of God’s creatures.
I am reminded once again of Love.
Of Love that wants the best for us, regardless of the cost.
Of Love that walked this earth with us and died for us and then showed us how to have everlasting life.
Of Love that promises that this is not the end, these dying breaths, that promises that we have life.
As I open myself up once again to loving another baby, to making myself vulnerable to the possibility of pain that loving brings, I wonder long about meaning and whether any of this is truly worth it.
Yet even as I wonder, I know. I know that love is always worth it. I know, even in the ugly and the pain, that this life is beautiful because we are loved by One who gives Himself with no hesitation, no conditions.
I know because even though I don’t understand our God, even though I don’t understand this life or the next or how any of this works and fits together, I find yet that I know what it is about. I know what HE is about.
As long as we know what it’s about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.
And there is where the joy and beauty lie.
In knowing what it’s about even when we don’t understand.
This week’s post is the last guest post. I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from some other talented and wise writers! Next week you’ll be stuck with me again. 🙂 This essay was written by yet another old friend from my undergrad days at Harding University, Kelly Wiggains (known as Kelly Duncan back in the day). I am grateful that we have kept in touch over the years, as she is not only a talented writer (she writes regularly about words, books and beauty over at kellywiggains.com. You should definitely head over and explore her blog…you’ll love it! Go ahead and subscribe to receive her posts by email. While I’m thinking about it, you can subscribe to receive mine as well. Go on…I’ll wait…), but she is a wise and godly woman who is also a beautiful wife and momma. I keep her around as a friend because she is incredibly intelligent and can give me much needed advice. She’s also stinkin’ hilarious. I’ll admit that I’m not sure why she keeps me around. Enjoy her beautiful thoughts!
“Before I tell you what happened, where are you?” my husband asked. I replied, “Well, I’m sitting in the McDonald’s parking lot. Starbucks was too cold.” One night a week, I spend a few hours all by myself outside of the house to go and write, and my husband watches the kids. On this unusually windy and cold night, I was about to spend my time of solitude in the local McDonald’s, indulging in some coffee and the free wifi.
My husband continued with his story. He and the kids were spending their evening with some Papa Murphy’s pizza and Star Wars (typical “Writing Night” fare) when someone rang the doorbell. Tyler opened up the door to an older man, standing on our front porch with a Christmas gift bag. The man smiled and said, “Tyler?” My husband replied, “Yes.” The man handed him the bag, offered a quick, “Merry Christmas,” and left. Tyler mumbled, “Merry Christmas to you,” in return and walked back into the house.
The package easily weighed five pounds, a deceptive weight in a decorative Christmas bag meant for a bottle of wine. Inside the bag, Tyler found a book, a letter, and a quart-sized mason jar filled with change and small bills. Our family just received a little Christmas miracle of almost $100.
All too often, I’ve heard sermons about the amazing power of being selfless, how giving of your time, effort, money, talents to other people in the name of God’s glory brings joy to your life. We hear about how we should approach those acts of kindness in humility, never letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing. We should give generously, only seeking praise for our Father and not for ourselves.
I’ve learned how to give with love and without expectation. However, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a sermon about how to receive an act of kindness. How should I accept someone else’s sacrifice? Have you ever accepted help with no way to repay that help? Have you ever been the recipient of truly unconditional love and sacrifice?
I’ve seen this kind of love and sacrifice tangibly, vividly in my life several times. As a teenager, my dad fought a battle with cancer for about a year. I can remember my church taking up a special collection for our family. I wept at the sight of my church family readily grabbing at their purses under the pew or digging in their coat pockets for their checkbook. Not long after that, our family received another stack of cash, collected from the merchants of my hometown. My dad sat on his hospital bed in shock before his sister said, “How many times have you thrown in $20 or $50 like that for someone else?” I remember watching this unfold as a teenager. I remember being humbled by it, feeling a sense of gratitude, yet I did not feel the true weight of the sacrifice because I had no idea about the concept of money.
Recently, my mom has been struggling with her own battle with cancer. In the past year, I’ve received cards in the mail from extended family with an unexpected check and a note of encouragement. We’ve only lived in our current city for about six months, yet I’ve had cash slipped into my hand after an embrace with a new friend at church. The only explanation? “A friend wanted me to give this to you. So you can go see your momma.”
Every day acts of sacrifice like this always point me to the The Cross. How much more is the sacrifice of our Father and his Son? Our Father allowed the sacrifice of His only Son to bring an avenue back to His people. Our Brother and Lord, Jesus, gave his life unselfishly for all of mankind. I’ve been taught about this sacrifice all of my life. The enormity of it only washes over me once in a while. Rarely, I can make a tangible connection to the unfathomable sacrifice of our God and his gift of grace to us. More than anything else this year, I’ve learned about the power of grace, unconditional love, and true generosity from normal, everyday, broken, amazing friends and family. There is nothing more humbling or more empowering than seeing this at work.
This week’s guest essay is written by another college friend, Tiffany Yecke (now Tiffany Brooks). Tiffany and I spent a semester together in Greece, where I learned how very smart and fun she is, and how beautiful her heart is. Tiffany is incredibly talented and works full-time as a writer, so I was very grateful that she agreed to write a little something for my blog space! If you want to read more of her musings, you can find her at Preach Write Act (www.preachwriteact.blogspot.com)
By Tiffany Yecke Brooks
Imagine and describe an animal you’ve never seen. Easy enough, right? We’ve all done that at one point or another in our childhoods. Now imagine and describe a food or dish you’ve never had. This one may be a little harder, since it involves having the figure out what the taste or texture or aroma might be in terms of mixing ingredients and mode of cooking—but it’s still doable with a little effort. Now, imagine and describe a color you’ve never seen. Whoa—what?
Go on, just give it a try.
It kind of boggles the mind once you start really thinking about it, doesn’t it? I mean, we’ve all seen the color wheel, which encompasses every hue of visible light. We have seen every color that exists, and we know from basic color theory what combining different colors will produce (blue and yellow make green; green and blue make turquoise or teal depending on how much white or black is also involved; blue and red make purple; purple and green make a gross, muddy brown, etc.). But the fact is, there really isn’t any way for the human mind of conceive of a brand-new-never-before-made color or color mix or shade or tint or anything else because we have already exhausted our ability to see color in all of its various hues. Such a thing as a “new color” simply does not exist given our finite spectrum of visible light.
Without going into a complex explanation of the anatomy of the human eye (mainly because, for some unknown reason, they don’t cover that in English major courses in college so I don’t really know that much about it myself), sight is possible through a complex series of rods and cones that absorb and reflect light onto receptors, which our mind then registers as colors. Human eyes have cones that register red, blue, and green as our primary colors, and then mix the intervening hues accordingly and automatically—almost like autocorrect on your phone or auto-formatting in text documents. If colors are opposite one another on the color wheel or visible light spectrum, like red and green, they render one another nil and instead of mixing, just descend into the dull, muddy family of browns.
[Side note: You probably learned that yellow is one of the three primary colors, not green. And this is true when speaking of a color as a fixed hue. But light exists as both a particle AND a wave, so yellow is the third primary as a particle but green is the third primary when it is a wave. Yeah, I know. I don’t really understand it either. We’re getting into some fairly complex physics here, but you can look it up on Wikipedia if you’re interested in learning more; just trust me that this is a very basic explanation of light theory.]
God invented the whole system of the inner-workings of the eye, and it’s pretty impressive. But here’s the thing: There are colors that exist that we can’t see.
I’m not talking about infra-red camera images or ultra violet lights in those fascinating-but-horrifying exposes about the hidden germs in hotel rooms or on shopping carts or whatever. I mean that there are colors that exist that the rods and cones of the human eye are not capable of mixing, such as red and green, but that are visible to other creatures with different ocular anatomy, such as birds. But that doesn’t make those colors any less real—it simply means that they do not exist on our spectrum of visible light.
There is a fascinating article, which you can read here, that explains this all much better than I can; but, essentially, in 1983, researchers Hewitt Crane and Thomas Piantanida conducted a study published in the journal Science wherein they were able to hold the human eye so precisely steady that the waves of both red and green light were able to hit the subjects’ eyes’ microscopic light receptors individually so that only red and only green as individual colors were registered, without any of the mixing and subsequent cancelling out that would normally occur and result in brown. As the above article states:
The color they saw was “simultaneously red and green” Crane and Piantanida wrote in their paper. Furthermore, “some observers indicated that although they were aware that what they were viewing was a color (that is, the field was not achromatic), they were unable to name or describe the color. One of these observers was an artist with a large color vocabulary.” . . . It seemed that forbidden colors were realizable—and glorious to behold.
Just stop and let that sink in for a minute. Can you imagine what that must have been like to witness a whole new realm of color for which your mind does not even have a category to express, let along to fully fathom?
I wonder if this was part of Paul’s experience, when he writes in II Corinthians, 12:2-4, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”
Maybe this is part of what John attempts to capture in his description of his vision of the heavenly city in Revelation:
He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal . . . The foundations of the city wall were decorated with every precious stone; the first course of stones was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh hyacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made from a single pearl; and the street of the city was of pure gold, transparent as glass . . . The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.
There is no way to know for sure, of course—not in this life, anyway—just what it was those men witnessed that transcended description in human words. But it is incredibly humbling, is it not, to think of the realm of the unseen, the magnificent and inexpressible splendor of the fullness of creation and God’s majesty? To behold the awesome, dazzling, indescribably glorious presence of God, unencumbered by the limitations of our earthly bodies and minds? To see with the fullness of the universe? And not just with the fullness of colors, but with the fullness of time, of possibility, of reason, of understanding? The completeness of God’s works, His plan, His love?
Let us cling to this knowledge—that there is a realm outside of our ability to glimpse or comprehend, but no less real—when all the possibilities of our visible lives seem exhausted. That is our hope and our salvation. That is our ultimate goal. As Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 13:12, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
This week’s post is written by Jason Wetherholt, who serves as the family minister at our church. Along with his ministerial role, he is also an accomplished musician and I have a lot of fun playing in a worship band with him for our high school service. He is an amazing leader and a godly man, one whom I respect and am glad to call a friend. I pray that he is still around, leading our family ministry, when my girls reach high school!
“God is preparing you for what he’s prepared for you.”
I heard a speaker make that statement somewhere around 50 times during a 30 minute presentation at a conference a few years ago. I didn’t really like it that much when he heard it. To be honest, I thought it was lame.
Enter the long list of platitudes that make us all want to puke. “The speed of the leader…if you can’t take the heat…people don’t care how much you know…blah, blah, blah.” So into the mental cache file it went, never again to see the light of day…or so I thought.
Fast forward a few years. Some friends and I decide to start a band. Because I work at a church [specifically with teenagers] and this band plays secular music at bars in the community, I went to great lengths to make sure this had nothing to do with my church life. I said on several occasions things like, “Now listen, if I were to build model airplanes in my garage as a hobby, would I need to invite students? Am I not allowed to do things on the side that have NOTHING to do with my church job?”
They’re totally separate from each other…well, I thought they were.
In case you didn’t know, starting a band and finding places for that band to play in the community…well, it’s like taking a crash course in small business management.
Marketing. Branding. Sales. Navigating the goofy rules Facebook has for pages. Getting someone to feel comfortable enough in a 3 minute phone call that they agree [without ever meeting you] to give you a little bit of money and a lot of time on a Friday night.
All totally separate from my church job…or so I thought.
Then all of the sudden, as a church staff we decide it’s absolutely time we address a huge “Communications” need we’ve known about for years but weren’t sure how we were going to handle. But we’re probably not ready to hire a full time person, and we certainly don’t have the money to pay them what they’re worth.
What we really need is someone who could shift their current role a bit. Someone who cares deeply about Communications. Someone who has been growing in the areas of Marketing, Branding, Sales, Navigating Facebook…
Wait…are you making the connection? You’re probably doing so a lot quicker than I did.
God…preparing someone for what he’s prepared for him.
I won’t bore you with all the other ways he’s been working in my heart and mind during all of my years of work…both before and during full time ministry…since about age sixteen till now. But it’s obvious when I look back that this is a season for which the preparation started long ago.
It’s been amazing to watch God connect about twenty ostensibly unrelated dots over a sixteen-year span into his plan for the next season of my life.
Might God be preparing you right now for what he’s prepared for you in the next season? How will you ever know if you don’t invest yourself fully and learn everything you can?