A Blog by Jennifer Aulthouse


A heart for those who want more of God. A desperate plea for those who don't.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

For Your Christmas

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51 NIV)

“Jesus, knowing that they (the people who had just experienced the miracles of the loaves and fishes) intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.” (John 6:15 NIV, parenthetical explanation my own)


Not exactly the sentiments “peace on earth” and “glory to the newborn king” that I read and sing about in the cards and carols. Yet they’ve claimed my attention over the past 24 hours.

I’m one of these people who have just about all of the Christmas preparations completed somewhere around August 5th.....well, no, but they’re all done and they’ve been done for a couple of weeks. It’s one of the best gifts I give myself so I can simply enjoy the anticipation as the day draws near and immerse my spirit into the “true meaning of Christmas”.....which has become so muddled that, besides the obvious way to answer - Christmas Is About Jesus! – I ponder whether I’m considering this in the manner I’m called to.

In this area last week, 8 children were killed in car accidents within 24 hours, and just about every day since there’s been another traffic fatality. I know another family that has been through one trial and tragedy after another over the past few months, this last one just makes the grief seem unfathomable to me. There was a fire that displaced a few families in an apartment complex just a couple of streets away, and another fire that killed three family members.

Umm, peace on earth?

No, these particular things aren’t the result of human division, I guess, and this isn’t about what or who or Who caused them or why. It’s not time for that debate. Just......none of those things would suggest anything about peace, as the violent pain of loss ravages the hearts of those whose lives have just been overwhelmingly rocked. It isn’t peace as the world knows that we celebrate at Christians, which I suppose I would describe as the absence of conflict, but I think that’s the “peace on earth” we’ve actually been proclaiming is on its way and that we’re longing after as we sign our cards and sing our songs. Jesus said He didn’t come for that.

In my own house these days the atmosphere is quite different, as we’ve been spared thus far from such trial. As a parent, my excitement for Christmas has me about to burst! My children just cannot wait for the day, and I can’t wait to receive my gift of watching their happiness as they drown in the blessings of receiving, of being loved, of experiencing things they have longed for. The countdown is on, and it’s not simply about the gifts. They know there are treats prepared only for Christmas, and that favorite relatives are coming, and there is time off of school, and there is extra sleep and play time to be had in the mornings, and, and, and.....!

And I go through each day with the assumption – no, the demand – that this will all occur precisely as I’ve planned it to. It very well might, to which I should be thankful, right? Well, yes. But I’m missing the point.

I look at these two scriptures on Jesus. The will of God isn’t about our expectations. We need peace, oh how we need it. But maybe He wants me to stop focusing my attention on Him through the lens of my needs. I have dreams, desires, plans.....but maybe He wants me to stop seeing the potential fulfillment of these things as the greatest gift I can receive.

Jesus lets people down all the time, as we read through the gospels. He doesn’t always give what is asked, perform in the way He’s expected to, show up when He’s wanted. He bursts bubbles with His words, He flees from those who cannot see beyond their plans, especially their plans for Him.

It’s obvious that I should be thankful and grateful for my blessings, for His provision of all that I need, His provision of many of the things I want. He should be praised for those things. But I shouldn’t do this and just, only, simply go merrily along my way, watching Snoopy decorate his doghouse and sipping my hot cider.

For me this year, I don’t think I’m being drawn so much to ponder love, peace, hope, joy......these are the gifts bestowed on us as His children and they indeed should be treasured and celebrated. There’s something different for me this year, though. Instead of finding the meaning of Christmas in Him as a Savior who has met my existence-hinging need for peace.....communion with God and the joyful acceptance, therefore, of myself.......instead of finding the meaning of Christmas in Him as a King who reigns and provides for His people with blessings and dreams.....freedom and protection to pursue His will for my life......I see now that I’m being drawn to celebrate that I know Him. My supreme gladness should come from the abundance of relationship, above my very real and worthy needs and my very honest and pressing dreams. Perhaps Jesus just longs for me to be first and foremost celebrating that I know Him, no matter what else should happen. Maybe on the mountain that He withdrew to, fleeing the demanding wills and dreams of those who simply saw Him as the vehicle to get them to the lives they were panting for, He’s inviting me to sit and be with Him just because I’d like to. And I can.

The rest of the gifts – gifts that He delights in giving to us, by the way - will come as He should so deem. Not instantaneously, most likely. But it’s pretty amazing that He treasures and celebrates knowing us.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Blue and White......Oh, So Very Blue.....

I sat with a notebook today trying to make a chart of who has been affected by all the loss and tragedy and I didn’t have enough room on my page. One person. One person’s sins weaving into the lives of others and from there it bred like a bad virus, claiming so much promise along the way. What happens in Happy Valley, stays in Happy Valley – yeah, right. If this isn’t all a prime example of poor choices (to say the absolute least) affecting millions totally outside your stratosphere, I don’t know what is.

When I was starting fifth grade, my family moved from New Hampshire to Johnstown, PA, and among the first question asked to me by my peers was “Pitt or Penn State?”. Well, I didn’t really know what they were talking about. I hadn’t discovered the glory of sports yet. I remember saying “Pitt” because I knew the person who asked me liked Pitt, but it was only weeks after that my eyes were opened to truth and I saw the error of my thinking. (Pitt people, I kid. I’ve been to your campus and it is so amazing, really. I even have pictures of the panther statue.)

Anyway, for reasons I long ago forgot, I changed my mind and soon became an all-out Penn State fan. That year, baseball, football, and other sports became something incredibly exciting to me, and I’ve been that way since. September-December is my favorite time of year, and the excitement of the autumn sports season is one reason why.

My Penn State worship grew, especially in those glory days of a national title and big bowl games. That’s what it was, really: worship. No matter that we moved again, this time to New York. My heart stayed with Penn State. In my senior year of high school, I applied to Penn State for college, was accepted at Penn State, and then I went to and graduated from Penn State, earning a husband along with a degree. It’s just part of me, even if it hasn’t all been peachy-keen. While living on campus, I remember my annoyance being woken at around 6:30 on weekday mornings by the Blue Band practicing the Star Wars theme song in the field across the street from my dorm complex. Or the kamikaze squirrels that would just run right up to you on the walkways between buildings. I remember the fun we had going to volleyball games in Rec Hall and taking walks around campus on weekends, and how depressed I was my first semester away from home because of how big and impersonal and draining college life seemed to me. It felt a lot more like thorns than roses at first, but it became roses as time went on and I adjusted. Today I still look back and wished I had spent more time there, getting involved in things, not rushing through it all. It holds a very special place of beginnings to me; something I’ll always cherish.

As years went on, though, something began happening: Jesus. He began happening more and more in my life as He called me towards Him in such subtle ways that I can’t really even point to any thing that really happened except to say that He happened. And He shined light onto things that I never thought beforehand were all that dark to begin with. Beyond Penn State, I’ve been a big baseball fan and an NFL fan and a huge tennis fan, and I still am all of those things, but I saw how twisted my sense of emotional priority was, even just in this little corner of my life......how I was letting my time be prioritized around games and my sense of joy around who was winning and I began to see that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. I remember it was probably 7 or 8 years ago and God had gotten a hold of me. I sat in my living room, eagerly awaiting the Penn State game to start one Saturday afternoon, and the announcers kicked off with an analogy about the worshipping throngs gathering at their sanctuary, Beaver Stadium, to worship the god of Penn State football and its leader Joe Paterno, and I was immediately struck - and sickened because I realized he was right, and talking about me. And I shut the game off before it even started, and didn’t watch football for awhile after that, because the conviction of what sports had been to me brought me to a place where I had to turn from it in order to get its power out of me. I’ve had to do self-imposed sports fasts periodically to keep myself in check over the years. I remember watching Lindsay Davenport and Venus Williams in an unbelievable Wimbledon final years back and being so caught up in it that I wasn’t paying the slightest attention to my infant son. My infant son. After the match was over and I returned to earth, I was appalled at how devoted my attention was to something that provided only entertainment and nothing more. I didn’t watch anymore tennis for 6 months, skipping the US Open that I anticipate every year. I don’t tell you this for self-congratulation. I’m saying it because I know how easy it is to fall into the worship of anything that even slightly brings us a sense of fulfillment, however empty and fleeting it may be. There's a place for the things of the world that we enjoy, but the those things can't take a place any higher.


I’ve cried a few times since this Penn State story broke, which is unusual for me......a crier I am not. I can go months without shedding a tear, and I don’t say that as some sort of attempted display of depth and toughness. Sometimes it’s a commercial about puppies that breaks the streak (all right....well, not puppies since I find animals annoying, but just go with me on this). I just don’t cry easily. But this has shaken me, and it’s weird grief – weird, weird, layer-upon-layer grief. It’s grief for these children – most of whom are now grown men and have been carrying this invasion and betrayal through the toughest period of life. It’s grief for these families who felt the wall of powerlessness around them as no one listened and they watched the effects of what had been done to their children. It’s grief for the suspect, who must have been and continues to be tormented internally in unfathomable ways to commit such trust-breaking atrocities, if it’s all true. It’s grief for the people around this man who never had an inkling any of this was inside of him and don’t know how to process something we’re clearly not wired to. And it’s grief for the institution, that something so horrible could’ve been overlooked, and the overwhelming sadness on how badly the ball was dropped.

It’s grief for those who should’ve done more than the bare minimum, and the way I can only imagine this must’ve been haunting them over the years since and still today. The disappointment we feel about it is good – it means there’s still an underlying expectation that good naturally will come forth from those around us. But there’s sympathy, too, because as much as I hope to believe that I would’ve acted differently had I known, I understand that panicked feeling of trying to tally up how I, me, I, me will be affected when confronted with something that feels bigger than I can manage and whether it’s worth the cost. So I suppose some of my grief is also pointed in our combined failure as a people to live with the honor and integrity we assume we always do.

These institutions, these brands that we follow – whether sporting teams, movie stars, technological gadgets, whatever – so easily become idols. Our hope for personal victory and glory gets linked with them for whatever reason – maybe it’s a fear that we’ll never know it for ourselves otherwise. But idols fall. They always do. Sometimes, in God’s grace, it’s the only way to get our attention away from them.

A beloved figure has announced his farewell today. I’ve never met him; I only know what others have said about him and from what I’ve decided to believe about him from the pieces of experience that I’ve mentally put together. Long ago I realized he represented something bigger that was most unfair to pin on him: glory. I admire greatly who I think he is but in the honest truth I don’t know him and I don’t know what happened and I don't know what he knows and there’s just no getting around the stark truth to that. Idols will let you down every time, and not necessarily because they’re evil or any such thing. Simply because they’re human or they’re made by human hands or human minds, and when we look for ultimate fulfillment in anything but God, we will lose every time. But there's still such thick, pregnant sadness.....underneath the brand that is Penn State lies the reality that it is people who are Penn State, and all the people who are part of it in any way are suffering loss in a manner that has no category in which to comfortably package it up. So I grieve for this, too.

I don’t know what’s going to happen to my dear Penn State, and I let go of trying to figure out what the right decisions are to make here. But this I believe: beauty can come from this, it really can. Orchards full of the finest fruit can come forth, but not from shouting “We Are.......Penn State”. There’s an immeasurably important role for community in times like these, but not if we’re going to shout slogans together and then cut each other off in the parking lot on the way out, and be rude to Creamery employees, and drunkenly abuse ourselves and others at parties. Use the “We Are......Penn State” mantra as merely a bridge to a greater discovery: only God can bring the grace and healing and forgiveness we’re all longing for and need in this. And it’s already there if we’ll let Him show us.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Savoring II

October is my favorite month for many obvious reasons: the comfortable temperatures, the magnificent colors, the build-up to the holidays. But in turn, October also ends up being one of our busiest months as a family and therefore it all flies by without my usually taking any time to enjoy what I love so much about it. It all serves to remind me that I need to daily make the effort to grasp my joy. As God’s child, it’s there for me to claim at all times, but I must determine to hold it firmly.

I’ve struggled this month with keeping my joy. The tyrannical feeling of my family’s schedule easily assumes authority over those deeper needs that quietly press against our souls, yet seem to hold no rational argument when the debate comes as to how our time is spent. And in my fatigue and desperation to keep up, I too easily concede this authority. But I feel the gentle prodding telling me that a key element to the abundant life promised to me as one who believes in and receives Jesus is the redemption of my time.

How easily I tire these days. This constant hamster wheel of activity makes me feel as though I’ve entirely missed the point when it comes to desiring a meaningful life for our family. Is it really meant to be this day-to-day redundancy of experiences and temperaments? I’m not sure exactly how I’d make it different but it doesn’t feel satisfying the way it is. And yet, it is in these redundant moments that glory is birthed and revealed. It is finding His treasure and abundance whilst in the midst of chaotic monotony that marks victory, I think. He’s here, even as I fold sheets. But just as there is a time to laugh and a time to mourn, there is a time to fold sheets and a time to creatively design ministries and follow exciting callings. They all hold significance; one just requires more faith to believe it so.

My Bible study this week speaks of John the Baptist and His preaching that we were not born to be little mini-saviors (John 3). It really isn’t our job to make things grow. We scatter the seeds, and in order to scatter seeds there needs to be a certain awareness of the fertile grounds around us that are ready to receive in whatever way God chooses. So we share what has grown in us simply because we can’t help it; we see no greater gift to leave the world around us than the experience with love and grace and mercy that has beckoned us away from the ground we started off in. We responded as we were touched but we didn’t orchestrate our growth, and so we can’t orchestrate anyone else’s. I think as a mom I need to get my thinking off of the fact that I can put all the ingredients in place for true life and liberty to surround my kids as they grow, but I do not do the harvesting. They are God’s handiwork and He is the one glorified for His omniscience and sovereignty in passages such as Psalm 139, not I. How merciful He is to remember our human weakness.

So here it is, November 2, and I will not allow the authority to shift from joy to tyranny this month. These wonderful, good ways of spending time we’re engaged in and the expectation of our full participation in said ways may still be there but they will not take charge when the deeper need to deliberately tap into the quality of the moment makes its presence known. I must resist the heaviness and compulsion that drives me to strap the burden of coming through for everyone’s needs onto my back, pushing my eyes to the ground so that I can only see the imminence of my falling from what I have not been designed to bear. It isn’t about meeting the deadlines and getting the work done and ensuring that the to-do list is completed all the time, though these things are important. Can I look up from all of this and intentionally see the fertile grounds around me? Am I sensing my own soil needing nourishment? Am I scattering seeds?

More importantly, am I relishing the grace and mercy that affords me the joy in doing so? This is what my time has been redeemed for.



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Savoring

I’m sure it’s some sort of signal to me that my brain doesn’t have any more room to process life when I stand on my porch, fob in hand, pressing the unlock button, and wait for the door to open. Not a car door, my house door.

Still fighting to figure out what needs scraped off of my too-full plate. And I refuse to go the martyr’s way of forcing myself to manufacture a bigger plate. As I fight against physical obesity, I must also resist mental, calendarical, and metaphorical obesity, too. Too big to properly function. It’s a frightening thought, but the universe will go on without me in charge of it or even without me throwing my influence into every nook and cranny of my environment that’s clamoring to be filled. It’s hard to disappoint people, especially when it’s so gently clear to you that you have. But after weeks of fitful prayer, struggling against the terrible feeling that I’m quite successfully nailing the concept of mediocre living, I give up.

Savoring denotes an intentional slowing down, in order to let whatever beauty has entered my environment have its moment to unfold, appreciating what it’s offering me. Children. Friends. Marriage. Silence. Books. Music. Serving. The Lord.

It’s the savoring that’s been missing. Instead it’s all seemed like each day is the beginning of a 16-hour race through the checklist, the end of which I collapse into an exhausted heap. And I think it’s good to feel tired at the end of a hard day of work, but there’s quality tired and empty tired, when you look back and can’t really understand what the point of the day was, except to move one step closer to the next day. I’m not settling for this anymore. The day will come when there isn’t a next one for me.

So I’m turning my back on the jury in my head who constantly reviews the evidence the world around me presents that suggests I’m failing to come through in carrying my share of the load. I can’t forget that I have an Advocate speaking for me, and that He has designed for me the best life I can have. Time to listen. Time to listen. I’m not wiser than He is. How absurdly arrogant I let myself become!

I took a step of faith yesterday in two ways, one that made no sense to me and one that made perfect sense to me but was risky to chance, because I was leaving something precious to me on the altar and out of my control. I was met with grace in the first and grace and tender compassion in the second, and the light is shining a little brighter on my path today. I know where to go. It’s a little clearer now what needs scraped off my plate. A couple of tangible things, yes. But really, what needs scraped off are the burdens of performance and expectation and the failure to meet them that I’ve allotted far too much space to: any space at all.

New mercies every morning.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

On Writing IV

Usually I find a great sense of personal joy in the fact that I’m atypical. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering with great longing what it’s like to be normal. To finish the tangible workings of the day, sit on the sofa as evening transforms into night, drowning my attention into television, and feel no aching sense of pursuit inside that would tell me there’s so much more potentially to be discovered and experienced, yet leaving no promise that I’ll ever find any of it. I’ve clearly gone off the deep end.

I feel like I’m stuck in a Choose Your Own Adventure story......wait; no, there’s more. I’m not only stuck in it, but I’m being held responsible for whatever choice I make in regards to how this story ends, without seeing what the other options are. And bearing the weight of this decision has become such a burden that I’m crumbling underneath it.


Basically, I’m desperately, deeply desiring permission to walk away from something – something in particular hovering over me that is at times intoxicating and other times loathsome. I’m longing to be freed from it because of the looming sense of failure always accompanying its presence as I continually live in strife to incorporate this something within my life in a meaningful and fruitful way. And never quite seem to do enough. Or never seem to reap any sort of harvest when I can meet its preposterous demands.


Of course, as desperate as I am to walk away from this maddening and laborious thorn, I am equally terrified that I’ll be granted such permission. Then what? This intrusive burden has wedged itself into my life over the past few years, bringing to me with it an ownership of my giftedness, a bleak realization of the infrequency in which opportunity arises, small glimmers of ecstasy when brilliance, timing, and opportunity collide, and large enough quantities of psychological torture that would warrant UN involvement, all teasing me with what could be in the way I was drawn to the sensitive, artsy/musician, pony-tail bearing types in my younger years. They never ended up being as sensitive and artsy and pony-tailish as they advertised.


If you’re a writer, is it possible to break up with Writing?


We have such a connection, myself and Writing. I’ve never felt such a sense of purpose with anything else. But we’re clearly incompatible. I don’t think I can ever meet its demands. When I fight to create time and space for Writing, Writing just doesn’t seem to come through for me in the manners in which I believe it should. And everything else suffers because of the amount of mental attention Writing consumes of me. And yet, everything else suffers when I ignore Writing, too......


I think I just want to separate for awhile. Do the whole devoted mom and wife and community-service thing, and end each day with goals met and nothing beyond that moment pressing me for more. Let Writing go and watch it walk away, turning to focus on the here and now and nothing more. But we’ve been together long enough now that I know letting Writing walk away would be trying to force myself to fit into a life that wasn’t designed for me....and I’d never fully turn my focus. I’d always be watching the path to see if Writing might come back.


Well, I’m tired of feeling like I’m leaving something behind. I can’t give all parts of my life right now the attention they all deserve. And it can’t be Writing that’s broken up with, even though that’s the one whose absence will leave much more mental, emotional, and tangible room for the rest to be attended to. It’s the biggest psychological pain in the tuchus to me; but it’s who I am......a psychological pain in the tuchus.


I’m at a point in the story where I have to choose what page I’m going to go to. I can’t keep experiencing life as a to-do list, in a just-do-it-good-enough-to-get it done mindset. Something’s going to have to go. A few things are going to have to go. A few things that I don’t want to let go of are going to have to go. A few things whose absence I will mourn.....but I trust will come back to me some day. So I will spend some time in prayer, assuring that what is cut is what is meant to be cut, regardless of how painful or nonsensical it all seems to me. I can’t break up with Writing and Writing can’t break up with me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Discerning Wastefulness

Well, I’ve arrived at the oasis spoken of in my last posting. And so now here I am, sitting in solitude in my home in the afternoon on a Wednesday, enjoying the sound of nothing but fingers hitting the keyboard, watching my cat sleep in an incredibly awkward-looking position. What a haven this is for me, an introvert who – though she adores being with her friends and can speak in front of most anyone - is by far most comfortable tucked away amidst her books and furniture.

I’ve been waiting for this day to come.....now what will I do?

I feel a great desire to live only among possessions that have an intentional, fruitful purpose to their being here, and therefore to simplify by removing all the excess. But not only do I need to do that with our stuff, but also with the choices made in how I/we spend our time. I’ve been so convicted of my wastefulness – wastefulness in so many areas of life – and I’m tired of being entangled by things that have little to no purpose. So I’m determined that with these few hours of free time afforded to me, it is going to be spent on things that will produce an abundant harvest......exercise and quality rest some days, reading and writing some days, serving in worthwhile, spiritually-invested manners some days, and genuine relationship-building on others. At the end of each day, I need to be able to evaluate what I’ve done and see that there is only waste where there is a call for waste. After all, Jesus honored the woman who anointed Him with her expensive perfume that could’ve been used in so many practical, need-meeting ways......the point is, she was so intentional and pure in motive with her waste, it wasn’t considered waste at all in Jesus’ eyes. This isn’t about being stingy and rigid. It’s about being intentional and thoughtful, which may mean letting go of something valuable to me - or something I feel I bring great value to - and instead pouring it over Him in worship and watching the drops spill all over the place with no possible plan in place to retrieve them. Here, we're shown that waste isn't waste at all.

I think I would define to waste as not using something to its fullest known potential, and that gives me a framework in which to measure my stuff, my time, and my inclinations. It isn’t meant to bring any sense of perfectionistic pressure, but merely it serves as a call to realize that each moment was intentionally created to bear fruit for the gospel, and so then I can check my motives in any moment and ask myself if whatever I’m about to pursue will aid in producing the harvest the Lord is due......and is expecting.

I haven’t taken this seriously enough. I’ve let so many moments go by – so overwhelmingly too many to grasp – that I cringe in distress over how self-absorbed and/or oblivious I’ve been in my walk over the years, as one who should and does know better. But as quickly as I typically fall into self-defeating melancholy and then dogged in shame, I hear a gentle reminding that “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”, and that my calling is not to appoint myself as a junior-grade Holy Spirit and get to work on myself and all the ways I come up short, but simply to be with Jesus. He does the changing work.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Conflict

My feet broil as they struggle to press and form against the fiery inferno of sand. I clamor for each breath, though the dry air does not satisfy my exhausted frame as I desperately hope. The sun, eternally present and stubbornly consistent, bakes me until the point of near collapse. But then I see it! Off in the distance.......I see the sparkling reflection of sunlight, teasing that there is relief, sustenance, life-altering change ahead......I’m almost there! I can make it!

It’s school! Yay, oh yay, oh a thousand yays!!!!!

But seriously.....it isn’t that I want to be away from my kids. It isn’t that at all (okay, well, a little alone time each day is a very sacred thing to me, so it wouldn’t matter who you are or how wonderfully pleasant you’d behave, I’d still value that solitude). It’s just that they decided weeks ago they were sick of the sight of each other and they were not going to honor my request that we live in peace and treat each other as gifts to be enjoyed. Instead, most days they have chosen to create an atmosphere of turmoil and chaos, treating each other as human piƱatas. I’ve been running around like an under-caffeinated bouncer, trying to grab the sticks before someone is pounded. And that’s my job. We’ve had some very special moments this summer that are already banked in the treasured memory department of my heart, and I continually renew my daily commitment to do my part in creating environments where more of these special moments can thrive.

But only so much of it is up to me.

It’s sad to me to see how terribly my children really can treat each other, though I know it’s nothing to be surprised about. Just serves as a reminder in a greater sense of what we miss out on by insisting on focusing on (what we see as) the worst parts of each other and letting that ruin the atmosphere for ourselves and everyone else around us, instead of accepting that they’re part of the package. I’m glaringly guilty of this, and I’m troubled to think of God arranging so many environments in which we could be sharing in something truly edifying together but instead we can’t get past our gripes, petty or completely legitimate. Some personality types just don’t match up, I guess. Even Paul and Barnabas had a sharp dispute and needed time away from each other. I shouldn’t expect otherwise with my kids, as they are radically different people.

I hope my kids can be great friends and support systems for each other one day. However, there’s no way for me to force this to happen, and there’s no way for me to force it within my own relationships with people that I want something deeper and stronger with......or at least something different. So the answer, then, is to submit whatever bond is there to the glory of God’s plan and let Him use it and change it as He so chooses. I’m in the midst of that now with a few relationships – one in particular; while I’m sad that it doesn’t seem like it will ever be all that I envision it could be, I trust that whatever God wants of it will be better than anything I can conjure. Even if that means I don’t necessarily feel any personal enjoyment.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the few hours of solitude coming each day, and make the most of this time to grow closer to God in heart, mind, spirit, soul, and in deed, and in doing my part to create and sustain environments where the best of each person in my orbit is invited to come forth. And I guess that means I’ll also keep grabbing the sticks out my children’s hands.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Invading the Bubble

Here in my insulated world, I am generally in charge of planning my day and who I come in contact with and when, and so I can determine how I spend my time as I so choose. But it’s an element of control that I realize has become an idol, and therefore, it must be laid down.

Confessing the desire to lay such things down and requesting the help to do so are requests that God will always, always grant, because they are based on wanting obedience to His will more than wanting anything else. Releasing our imagined authority over dictating how God will provide the help and bring about the change we are desiring to see in ourselves – and in turn, conforming to His chosen way of doing so by being obedient – is probably the hardest part of crossing into the deeper, more challenging, yet abundantly richer Life that has been promised to us when we actually work to make Jesus our Lord. As opposed to just singing these words aloud in church on Sundays and then go about tending to the security of our bubbles in whatever manner we want to.

I can’t begin to tell you how much more I want of the tastes of spiritual abundance I’ve had when I’ve dared to wildly abandon my own plans in favor for those that I would never, ever of my own choosing dream up, let alone giddily participate in. But I’ll tell you, those tastes have been worth a gazillion times over the fear and discomfort I had to endure and continue to endure because of my obedience. In fact, compared to the absolutely horrifying circumstances people in basically every other place in the world have to exist in, what I’ve endured can barely even register a blip on the radar screen of difficult situations. Yet for me, in the infancy of my journey, they were very real and very hard, which speaks more of my spiritual immaturity than of whatever integrity-driven brazenness it may appear that I’m trying to convince you I had. Anyway, regardless of where we are physically located in this world or spiritually located on our walks, I can’t ever stop reminding myself that the abundant life is worth it when the temptation to back down, insulate, isolate, and remain bubbled screams at me.

So my bubble, now, is being invaded, and it’s being invaded in a way that is brimming with opportunities to be part of sharing the love and mercy of Christ.....but in a manner which is uncomfortable and unsettling to me. Nonetheless, I am asked to do so. Because I asked Him to help me do so. And I asked Him to put me in a position where I am stretched towards doing so, because I don’t want to be the one who doesn’t live what she speaks. I would bet that for many American Christians, our bubbles likely have transformed into idols, and sometimes that sharp, pointy, nuisance of a thing that is interfering with our desire to live out our plans in the ways we want to just might be God’s loving way of not letting us worship at that idol’s altar any longer.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Being Filled

My tank is near empty, and as it continues to approach the Big E, suddenly an abundance of unforeseen things have appeared that ask for something more. Things I used to count on to act as a cushion I see now being shifted out of place so that I can’t look around and find them in their usual position, ready for me to fall on them, desperate for the rest I turn to them to provide. If I could have any superpower, right now I would wish for the ability to suspend time. I could sleep and sleep and sleep and recharge, without feeling like I’m letting anyone down by not coming through. Even the cat serves as a reminder that I’m not fulfilling my privileged duty as his grateful concierge when he doesn’t receive his daily massage! He’s laying on the floor in front of me, giving me a dirty look right now.

But the point of this is not to complain about feeling like a human colander, where all the energy and vivaciousness that is within me feels like it’s draining out and all I get to keep are the calories. Just that I need to keep my eyes open for the ravens and all the other myriad ways God is trying to get my attention with each day to let me see that there is rest in some form provided wherever I need it. Read 1 Kings 17-19 with your heart tuned in to how gentle and attentive God really is to Elijah. I’m not going to pretend my load is as his was, but it’s a load nonetheless. However, determining how heavy it feels to me is largely, if not wholly, my responsibility in the way I choose to distribute the weight. If I’m paying attention to scripture and choosing to live the way I declare to others that I already do, I would see that I’m invited to dump the heaviness of what I’m responsible for onto the outstretched arms of the Lord, taking the rest He invited me to, and start attending to the idea of being a raven for someone else, purely out of joy, because I am then rested in spirit, mind, and body. My ravens and the other agents of grace that He has so abundantly planted in my world come bearing nutrition and rest because they are His, they’ve been with Him, and they’ve taken what was offered to them and brought it where they’ve been told to go with it. I can’t be too proud or too busy or too distracted or too unaware to not notice this and take it for myself.

So this morning I was awakened a little before 4:00 - two hours before I wanted to get up - and I’ve got a full day ahead of me, with a lot of people who are going to want and need me for something that doesn’t feel like it’s of any importance unless I don’t do it, some who will want or need something that I know is important but the fatigue I’m dealing with will attempt to strip away my enjoyment in fulfilling this need, and a few people who will want nothing more than to share in something Awesome with me, because we’ve recognized what Awesomeness there is to share. They all are and must be valued because they are all valued by the Author of my story, who has left enough empty space between the words and in the margins for the story to come together.

Guard it, take it, and give it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Todayness

There’s a change going on in me.....I’m realizing that I’ve become more okay with being in transition: my house in transition (in that there is always something not done and my goal does not have to be having a completed checklist each day), my writing and speaking pursuits in transition (in that it’s okay that I’m not a bestselling author, being that I’ve been doing this for, oh, maybe a year and a half), my body in transition (in that I know I’ve put on weight but I’m on my way to losing it, so I may as well enjoy being squishy in the time being), and my me in transition (in that, despite my half-hearted but well-intentioned efforts, I’m still a pesky human being, prone to do pesky human-being-type things). It’s a strange phenomenon I don’t think I’ve disciplined myself enough in times past to experience: contentment.

I’ve prayed recently to find the joy and beauty of todayness, meaning that I would recognize the impact of the seemingly small choices made in any given moment and what they could mean to my present and future – with food, with conversation, with anything that feels like it doesn’t matter a lick. Like flossing.

Todayness is acting in faith that God has intention built into every moment. Sometimes that intention is simply to laugh or rest, but it is intended nonetheless. There was a purpose in place for the breath you just took, saturated with God’s desperate anticipation that you would consciously and deliberately connect with Him in it. This may sound burdensome, but if you know God, well, then you know it isn’t.

This week, I am starting something new to improve my health, and over the past several months as I’ve reflected more on what it means to the Lord for me to honor my body with the way I treat it, I’ve realized that even eating is an act loaded with intention. I want to start making food consumption an act of connection and worship, which does not necessarily mean a life filled with broccoli......as there is a time to celebrate, as I paraphrasinglyish refer to Ecclesiastes......but it does mean a life filled with realizing how valuable my existence is to the Lord, and doing my part to offer every aspect of myself to be ready for His disposal, out of love.

Todayness believes that all things matter, and so therein lies an abundance of opportunity to honor Him, to His pleasure and mine. It isn’t worried about the future because it knows that if I’m connected to Him in each moment now, the future is already squared away. So I will aim at being content while in transition, and transition into greater contentment as He is searched for in each moment, while more and more of me is refined simply by being in His presence.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Writing III

Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to stare up at the sky someday and see an enormous human form dressed in a lab coat hovering over, gawking, reaching for me with tweezers or something. Because with the extreme weather we’ve experienced in recent years I’m starting to suspect that our lives are mere experiments in living inside kitchen appliances: in the winter, go outside and you’re suddenly in a freezer. In July, go outside and you’re baking in an oven. Seriously, with this heat, you can brush a layer of butter and some spices on me and I could star in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon as a juicy chicken leg. When will autumn be here?

But besides the lake-of-firish temperatures – with which I am determined to not let morph into some sort of catastrophic burden in my attitude – July has been fun. Physical changes, a big step forward in what I know to be my purpose, and a lot of growth in many ways.

And about 57 opportunities lie in front of me, it feels like, and I have a great desire for clarity in determining what’s supposed to come next.

If there’s anything that’s been confirmed to me more in the last week since I took my big step it’s that, shockingly (not really), I’m a writer and a communicator, and living this out is in fact living out God’s ideal for me. It is the first gift I’m created to serve with, and after caring for my loved ones, this first gift must be guarded.......I can’t get trapped in choosing good ways to serve over choosing the best way to serve. So how do I come to a balance in which the best has room to bloom and sustain in the midst of a life filled with very good things that nonetheless threaten to choke out what’s best?

I can’t help but wonder if this is a test: a test to determine whether I can make the gutsy choice of saying no to some good things and risk that horrible feeling of, therefore, not being understood, and go on faith that the margin I need to protect and preserve in order for the writing to take root in will, in fact, produce the fruit I am being challenged to believe is not only possible but inevitable if I do. I cannot write without first studying and reflecting. I cannot reflect without the quiet stillness available for one thought to connect to another in a cohesive, uninterrupted intentionality. I cannot connect my thoughts without the time and space to do so. I will not have that time if I do not voraciously create and protect margin. So I need to say no to good things in order to provide for the mere outside chance that the best might be birthed in their place?

Maybe so, if that’s what I’m being led to. It is obedience that God values, not misguided busyness, however altruistic our intentions might be.

May you have the courage to walk right by what is good and seize what you know God has told you is best.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Changing Battles

There are some prayer requests that you know God will grant you every time.

Of course, they’re usually not the ones we instinctively hope for, like safety, health, wealth, and happiness. He does grant those requests without fail, however. He grants them spiritually. He’s all too eager to lavish those spiritual promises onto anyone who sincerely prays for them, and scripture reminds us of this all over the place. But I suppose I’m suspicious regarding whether they are really the prioritized cry of a desperate heart for most Christians. Most of us would likely prefer the promise of physical health, safety, and provision over the probable pain included in having an awareness of spiritual wealth cultivated in us.....usually because we cannot know spiritual treasure without having something of the tangible world that we treasure removed from us, at least for a time, in order to give us the impetus to search for Treasure that cannot be taken away.

What I’m discovering is that prayers that are always answered are the ones that come from the truly broken person, desperate to grow closer to God before all else, in godly character purely out of a desire to know Him more, and see His will prevail regardless of the pain endured, without any conditions on how God should choose how to develop these things. I don’t think God can resist granting such requests. It’s what He desires more than anything from His beloved creations.

I’m seeing evidence of this in my own life, and it’s more than a little unsettling. Oh, how this battle between the new creation I am in Him and the desire of the dead flesh rages on and on. I’ve found myself over the past year praying with more and more fervency for a desire to know God in waters that are over my head, to be used in ways that necessitate me coming out of my comfortable suburban bubble, and that lay all my abilities to use on the altar regardless of the personal cost, whether in material, or emotionally or egotistically vulnerable ways. Each time I have done so, He’s been so quick to show Himself at work, and while this thrills me in spirit it terrifies me in flesh. But I again remember that “the purpose of life is not to arrive safely at death” (Mark Batterson, “Wild Goose Chase”). It is not to blockade ourselves against being hurt. And it is not to anoint ourselves warriors in the passionate battle against whatever forces block the fulfillment of our wills.

Daily, this is the battle I am lured into joining. Daily, though, stronger grows the nagging voice in my soul calling me to that which is most unnatural, and that is to a life of total abandonment to His will and His will only. The ideas that have flooded into my mind over the last year are decidedly not me in character and yet an indescribable yearning grows to see the come to fruition; they are all anchored by an intense pursuit to have every aspect of my life entirely devoted to His uses for me and my family.

A few times, I’ve harnessed the strength deposited in me and vocalized in voice and spirit to God the desire for these to be infinitely more than just Christian-sounding longings.

These prayers, I am certain, will be more than merely heard....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Writing II

Like many other parts of me, I feel like my writing is way too flabby. It just wants to lay on the couch and be non-productive out of the sheer exhaustion of not being used, and yet I have absolutely no idea how to get it the continual exercise and training it needs to be in shape and ready to turn literary cartwheels should the opportunity arises. I suppose in most cases, I would tell myself that this is okay, I am a mom to young kids and I serve in many other ways, too, and I shouldn’t feel badly that I can’t devote whatever time and energy is needed to this writing thing. And there are nuggets of truth in this, but the fact is, even though the timing makes extremely little sense to me in this stage of my life, I’ve received a calling and somehow, it all needs to fit together.

So my writing has been laying on the sofa doing nothing, and this is a problem for many reasons: the biggest in my mind is because I have a word marathon coming up in the form of a speaking opportunity, and I need my writing to get its uninvolved behind off the sofa and put in the miles I need it to in order to present a good race. But there just aren’t enough conscious hours in a day left for me to tug and tug on its arms and get it off the sofa and prod it out the door and see where it goes.

Thus, I am beginning to panic. No, that’s not true. I’ve been panicking. Well, I’ve been alternating between panic and denying that I’m in panic. And there’s also a bit of euphoric delusion thrown in with the idea of having it come to me, say, the night before and just gleefully going in rogue, as opposed to having it written and practiced and polished until every last syllable is perfect.....my very vocal left-brained side had it all planned for it to play out this way. But I hear my heart remind me that God hasn’t called me to be a polished speaker......He’s called me to be an authentic communicator. That doesn’t excuse me from being unprepared, but it does require me to wait for His message to come and present it in the manner He wants, and if that’s raw and unencumbered by the desire to appear flawless, well, I have to submit to it.

So I will continue in prayer for the words to come, give as much time in front of the laptop as I can in anticipation for them to come, and also pray that I can rest knowing that God will not fail to provide. As well, I will force my lethargic writer persona to snap out of it and run some laps, in whatever manner I can.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Plea

“Good for nothing.”

My son thrust a piece of paper at me with these words on it, etched by his own hand, tears in his eyes, speaking of himself.

He’s 7.

I pulled him down to where I was sitting on the sofa and asked him to please tell me what caused this to come out. Not feeling like he’s as good at things as he should be; feeling like he’s always in the way when he just wants to help; feeling like he makes too many bad decisions.

This isn’t about parental guilt. I certainly took the time to reflect on what messages I’m sending him with my attitudes and responses. There are things to adjust and repent of, for sure. But this broken-hearted outburst wasn’t directed at me. Rather, he was coming to me desperate to know that what he’s hearing internally from the darkness in the world isn’t true.

As best as I could, I tried to give my boy both a soft place to land in his pain and the assurance of his worth, which I found myself more desperate to give than I think he was desperate to receive. We talked about the remarkable ways he’s gifted, how as he grows he’ll discover more things about himself that reveal God’s plans for him, and that there is certain to be things he’s just not going to be very good at but that this is okay. We also talked about intentionally doing something that bothers or hurts someone else and understanding that the reaction he receives because of his actions is based on those actions, not on his worth as a person. That if someone says or does something mean just to hurt him, it’s because she isn’t feeling very good about herself and making someone else feel bad is the only way she knows how to feel better. And that, unfortunately, we all do those things.

He felt better. He walked away smiling. I told him he needed to come back and do something with the paper he had written on: rip it up and dispose of it.

I sat there thinking about how a kid as bright and loved and gifted as he is can question such things; while he’s had a small handful of relational stinkers in his young life, he is surrounded with love.

A little while later, he said he wanted to give me a gift to show me that he loves me. He asked if I wanted some of his (still-not-finished-yet) Easter candy or if he should buy something for me. I took his face in my hands, and what I found myself saying to him was that “the best gift you can give me is for you to believe you are loved”.

Because if he believes it so, he won’t question my motives when I tell him not to do something that he wants to, or say something to him that in his mind contradicts what he understands to be true. He won’t wonder if I really have his best interests in mind, or if I’m carelessly dismissing how important something is to him even though maybe I won’t let him have it. When he hears adversarial messages telling him that he’s “good for nothing” and isn’t worth taking two steps for, he’ll know that those messages don’t have a shred of truth to them and that their origins are of darkness. He’ll know that when he has acted out of selfishness and rebellion, the discipline meted out to him is because I love and believe in him too much to let him think for one moment that this destructive behavior has anything beneficial to add towards producing the fruitful life, rich in character and spiritual abundance, that I envision he could have. That there’s a greater plan that’s bigger than his wants, and while maybe it’s hard for him to see why what he does is of any significance one way or the other, he’ll believe it so and order his life accordingly.

And because I’m human, he’ll know that when I fail to put committed parenting as a priority over something else that shouldn’t be, it’s because of my sinful choice, not his failure to be lovable.

He bears the responsibility to believe he is loved. I can tell him non-stop of my love, night and day, in countless ways, but he must make the decision for himself to be purposefully aware of what’s surrounding him. Including the unseen. Even if he can’t understand at the moment how any of what’s happening could possibly be out of love.

“The best gift you can give me is for you to believe you are loved.”

I don't think that came from me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Compassion in the Face of Ridicule

A Short List of Things Not to Put Me in Charge of......or Really, to Have Me Included With in Any Way:

1. Arts & Crafts
Still learning how to utilize perforations without tearing the rest of the paper

2. Decorating Cakes
Or really any Event-Driven Cooking (i.e. besides dinner for my family and friends or anyone else who will still love me anyway)

3. Animals
I can handle a cat. Probably goldfish. Beyond that, you’ve got an Urkel episode waiting to happen.

4. Driver’s Education Classes
Well, I’m almost 35 and I still avoid backing into parking spaces

5. Teaching a Group of Children
I’m more than a fish out of water here......

6. Photography
Somehow the shot will be ruined. Blurriness. Red Satan-eyes. Poor lighting. Years ago I visited my friend in Tampa and she took me to the beach one day. Sooooooo splendidly splendidy splendid. There was a parasailer out over the water. I grabbed my camera, enthralled by the sun sparkling off the water, sailboats in the distance, and the parasailer soaring through the air. All of these items were captured in the shot, and they beautifully framed the metal garbage can sitting on the beach that ended up being the star of the picture.

7. Being Photographed
Since puberty, I have had approximately 7 good pictures taken of me, thanks to either unruly hair, facial volcanic eruptions, incessant blinkage, or just plain goofy expressions.

8. Gardening/Plant Care
I loathe getting dirty, first of all. But when I was at my last job, I had a little cactus on my desk. It lasted for a good while, and I’d either forget to water it for, oh, weeks and weeks, or I’d forget if I had watered it and basically water-boarded the poor thing. One morning when I came in I found it lying on the floor, pot broken in 3 places. My coworkers decided it must’ve just finally had enough and plummeted.

9. Gift Wrapping
If the packaging isn’t a perfect square, it’s hopeless.

And one last:

10. Predicting the Rapture

And while I have, at times, either adventurously voluntarily or by some sense of interpreted indirect peer pressure/societal guilt-trip attempted most of these things, not the last one. This one I am certain God has not chosen me for. Or any of us, as the Bible makes pretty clear.

That being said, I found myself saddened this week by the tone of, well, just about everyone who on the Internet anyway had a sarcastic or snide or cruel remark about this whole doomsday thing. I don’t really know anything about Harold Camping or his followers besides what was reported on this past week, and I found myself wondering whether all this was a deliberate hoax for financial or egotistical gain or if this is a man who truly believed all that he spouted out about Jesus returning yesterday. And if the latter is the case, I can’t imagine the overwhelming sense of failure, disappointment, and guilt he must be experiencing.

There were several discussions about this on Facebook this week, and one woman (who I do not know) had what I found to be the most relationally warm and spiritually insightful remark that I’ve seen or heard. I can’t quote her because I don’t remember it word for word, but basically, it was that the church has to be ready to lovingly embrace this group when the predicted events do not happen (assuming it wouldn’t......because after all, Jesus said He’d come back at an hour we don’t expect and what perfect timing that would be when all the rest of us are spouting that we are certain He won’t return then because it would be expected......) because the bewilderment and loss they will be immersed in will be spirit-crushing. That sounded more like something Jesus would say than anything else I’d heard on the subject. I found the public mockery, which escalated from being about Camping and his followers to basically the whole concept of Jesus coming back at all, ever, to be just as saddening as the predicting itself.

What I can take from all this in regards to spiritual growth, then, is a lesson in sensitivity and compassion. In knowing the Bible and what it says, certainly. And faith. Because even though I believe all of this was clearly against scripture, some of these people performed monumental acts of faith in their own lives in preparation in regards to their finances, livelihood, relationships, etc.

Can I reflect on my own life and see any sense of peace-filled, joy-driven, love-inspired urgency to live a life of worship and growth and readiness for Him?



Friday, May 13, 2011

Fear

While out for a walk on Sunday, one particular street, in which I will be carefully avoiding from then on, was lined with many homes that shared one conspicuous aspect in common: a large dog barking its head off at me as soon as I came into view. And as I strode by, trying both not to look too tasty and not to look like I was in the least bit bothered by the canine symphony echoing through the air, a front door happened to open and an even-larger black lab came bounding towards me – frantically barking too, of course – and leaped through the air. And then stopped when he realized he was at the edge of his lawn. I had jumped roughly 37 miles in the air myself by that point, and the door-opening homeowner bleated out a half-laughing “sorry”. Yes. Hysterical.

Sadly, this is not an isolated occurrence, and it's one reason why I don’t like dogs.

I also have a fear of fire. When I was 18-ish, one morning as I groggily transitioned into a conscious person, I looked over to notice that the outlet by my bed had suddenly burst into flames. I froze for a moment and then started to run out of my room, only to watch the fire go out as quickly as it started. And when my son was a baby, I had him in the kitchen in his highchair with a snack as I washed some dishes. I soon felt myself being pelted in the back with said snack, and after a few warnings he still refused to stop. So I got him out of the highchair and decided to put him in his playpen in the living room. As we walked through the dining room to get to the living room, I noticed that a simmering potpourri pot I had lit was completely engulfed in flames. I quickly put my son in his playpen and then panicked and grabbed a glass of water sitting nearby and threw it into the flames. This instead caused the fire to make some sort of exploding noise and shoot up to the ceiling......and then all of a sudden it went out. And I sat in a chair for about an hour startled and twitching by what had happened.

There have been a few more instances with fire, too. That’s why I don’t like fire.

There are other fears, both the practical kinds that are not so hard to talk about, and the intensely personal kinds, such as the ones that drive how we relate to each other. Those fears, for instance, are tied into how we measure our sense of value or whether we’ll be accepted for who we are.

Regardless, though, they all have to do with unpredictability, which in turn is rooted in our desire to control our environments, which in turn is rooted by a drive towards experiencing certain feelings – safety, for instance. Approval. Comfort. Freedom. Painlessness. When I am not in control of my environment, the existence of these unspoken longings that are at the heart of my daily pursuit is threatened. A fear is merely the potential loss of a desired feeling or the potential experience of an undesired feeling.

There are many fears making their presence known to me lately as I forge forward in the writing process, and I continually have to dig below the surface and understand as best I can what it is I’m so afraid of feeling or not feeling. Whatever the particular fear is about, the answer is always remembering who I am in Christ and Who He Is. The fear may not lessen in how I feel its intensity, but a peace washes over me, reminding that His plan is worth whatever feeling it appears I may lose in being obedient. I need this today. I need this every day.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Gift of Spiritual Friends

My friend called me “weird” last week and I’ve relished that ever since. She stopped by for a visit and she happened to mention how her grandson has gotten interested in the Titanic. Unbeknownst to her, I’ve been a Titanic buff for years now, ever since Leonardo DiCaprio uttered “No one puts Baby in a corner!” to Kate Winslet’s spirit-crushing family and family-to-be. Okay.....wrong movie, same theme. Except for the boat part.

Anyway, as she was getting ready to leave, I showed her just a bit of my titanic collection of Titanic collectibles. In college, I wrote my senior thesis on the Titanic and the various ways the public has chosen to remember the sinking, and how those remembrances have affected us. I have many, many books and knock-off memorabilia, but the “weird” comment was spurned from a book in my possession which is in essence a Bible study based on spiritual lessons we can take from the Titanic. I showed this to her with great enthusiasm, which led to her response of “you are so weird!”

It was said with delight because of her love for my unique idiosyncrasies. Since, I’ve found myself very grateful for the handful of people I have in whom I know get my "out-there" tendencies. They understand why I’m drawn towards what I’m drawn towards, and even if they don’t always share those tendencies themselves, they’ve come to appreciate their value in my life and to the world.

What a marvelous gift it is to have people like this in our lives. They are each a different spice in my spice rack, bringing a unique flavor I could’ve never conjured up on my own but would never want to be without in my kitchen of life.

I spend a lot of time studying people and what makes us tick from a spiritual and philosophical standpoint. Anytime I read an applicable Bible passage, I cannot help but notice the supreme importance placed on spiritual friendship and how desperately we need honest, loving people who see our great value in God’s eyes, and are willing to be inconvenienced by being warmly involved, as called, in our daily monotonies. Yet they are also willing to challenge and disturb us when necessary because they love God more than they love us and they want to see Him glorified in how we live. They are miners, traversing the dark, dirty, unsteady terrain of our human condition because they know there is treasure to be found. We need those people and we need to be those people.

Authentic spiritual connection between God’s children provides now but a glimpse of the glory of eternity. I’m grateful for this revelation and the perspective it’s afforded me, and I’m sweetly humbled by those who have found the hard work of mining me worth the time. What a wonderful example for me to pursue as I relate to others.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Tears of Justice


There’s a specific person in this world whose sins have affected probably millions of people and maybe more, though there’s no way any earthly being could keep a count of something so visually intangible. I can say this because I believe that sin is a seed, just like faith, and has the potential to grow and infect others due to the devastating relational, physical, emotional, mental, etc., wreckage left behind from its destructive havoc.

I’m talking about myself.


If I added up every selfishly-motivated thought, word, and deed, that I’ve breathed life into simply out of a desire for my will coming first.......the thought causes me to tremble inside with a sadness and remorse that in all appearances feels insurmountable. I don’t want to be that kind of person. And “grateful” doesn’t begin to describe the joy and peace and flooding of emotion I have spilling out of my heart because I know Jesus is refining me into one who, one day, won’t be that kind of person, and who has the power right now to not ever be that kind of person again.

So I’m having a little trouble today celebrating a death, even if it is the death of a terrorist who deserved his demise. While I’ve never nurtured and relished a plan to crash airplanes into buildings and kill people purely because I don’t like what they represent, it would be blatantly false to say that I’ve never been driven internally to some degree by the root of the same sentiment, to imagine and dare I even say hope that someone who for whatever reason has wronged me – whether that sentiment is real or imagined - would face devastation in his or her life as payment for whatever directly or indirectly negative element he or she has brought to me or to someone I care about.

I appreciate and embrace as much as an outsider can the sense of justice that must be swelling in the hearts of those whose lives were devastated by the evil this man unleashed. I, too, am swept into that sense of national pride that a terrible wrong has been confronted, and I exhale as well into the collective sigh of relief filling the atmosphere of the allied world. There is a perfect beauty that blossoms from justice, one that confirms our sense of hope that the future of a harmonious universe isn’t lost.

But another image captures my mind, and it paints tears falling from the eyes of the Lord for the life that could’ve been, for one that was also created in His image and found worth it to die for, and, as far as my simplistically limited perspective can attest to, chose not to believe it so. So for this I mourn.

I wonder if something is terribly wrong with me that I don’t feel filled with the joy that seems to be rightfully saturating everything around me, like somewhere I’ve taken a detour that’s too touchy-feely on my spiritual walk. But what I sense now is that the beautiful sense of justice and the lamenting sorrow that fill me are not opposites that can’t co-exist. Somehow I know that the wrong I’ve done has caused the same tears to fall from the eyes of the Lord......but I also know that the revolution I’ve become because of the heart-piercing, life-creating sweetness His grace has created in me has also produced tears in Him of an entirely different sort.



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On Writing

I went to a writers conference in February and one thing that was insisted upon by the very experienced and successful writing faculty is that there is no such thing as writer’s block. You just make yourself sit there and sit there until something comes forth.

And this is why today I am writing about how hard it is to write, because, frankly, that’s all that’s coming forth. Sometimes I don’t think my well of ideas has been dug very deeply.

I think this is one reason why I had questioned for so long whether this writing thing really is what I am made for. I always envisioned a real writer as one in whom there is a great element of internal control over the vibrancy of the writing process. When it is time to write, he simply sits down, and the ideas and language flow forth as if he merely turned on the faucet of verbal brilliance. Words spill over, filling the blank pages as if a dam had burst, bathing the dry land. When it’s time to stop, just as quickly, a good ending point is found and the faucet is turned off, words filed carefully away in the highly organized recesses of the mind until he has time to write again.

My mental filing system is a mess and my faucets are clogged or something.

But it has got me thinking about my writing habits, and perhaps all of this is pointing to something that God is trying to get my attention in regards to, and it’s not necessarily that I “should be writing more often”. What I’ve noticed is that I seem to work at a much more slower pace than other writers I know. That isn’t to say that the process isn’t as frustrating to them, or that the reason behind my comparative slowness is that others are far more seasoned in their writing experience than I am......I’m sure there’s at least some truth to both.......but it’s hit me lately that the mental processing needed on my part in order to bring the sense of clarity in my words requires a length of time that seems agonizingly slow to me when compared to the amount of writing I feel like I’m supposed to be doing and need to be doing. Somehow you can develop an equation which takes the available time for writing measured by what my output should be and I know I would come up extremely short of whatever number the equation would spit out. And here’s where I think God’s talking to me......

I consistently miss the point. I’m so often running around attacking life like an over-caffeinated drill sergeant, feeling the fire-breathing tyranny of the calendar breathing down my neck, as I cross items off a never-ending to-do list of whatever monstrously important tasks must be taken care of this week and then quickly perish from any memory of existence, most of which don’t feel like they hold any significance to the grand scheme of things and yet will cause countless things to fall apart if they aren’t completed. I tend to measure my sense of productivity each day by how many things I can get crossed off that list (sometimes I add things on that I’ve already done, just so I can see more things crossed off.......neuroses, anyone?), and I carry around the burdensome pressure when I’m far behind on said tasks. I approach writing as one of those tasks. I’m doing it right now. It’s not fun, and it’s coming slowly. And I’m thinking of all the other things I could be doing with the hour and a half it’s taken me to put this together and it’s not even anything deep or brilliant (another mark of writing productivity, in my subjectively deceptive estimation of determining success).

So now I begin to clearly see the purpose of SLOW. It is refinement, training me to measure myself in the economics of eternity, where time, value, and productivity are altogether different creatures than we experience them to be in worldly systems. He is not counting my words (though He knows every one). He is not primarily concerned with me building my resume or my platform (though that may be a small part of His plan). It’s not supposed to be about writing, writing is merely one mechanism through which He’s given to me to grow in Him......and to share that growth.

And if it takes all week.....imagine it only taking a week!......for one simple impurity to be burned off of me through the Refiner’s fire, and that happens through what is revealed to me during the process of writing one sentence and one sentence only, it’s been a most successful writing week, indeed.

The words will come forth when they are meant to, if I am faithful to take up the pen when called. This hovering urgent pressure to “complete” is not the abundant life promised.



"Psalm 23 Antithesis" - Marcia Hornok

The clock is my dictator, I shall not rest;

it makes me lie down only when exhausted;

it leads me to deep depression and hounds my soul.

It leads me in circles of frenzy for activity's sake.

Even though I run frantically from task to task,

I will never get done, for my "ideal" is with me,

deadlines and my need for approval, they drive me.

They demand performance from me,

beyond the limits of my schedule.

They anoint my head with migraines.

My in-box overflows.

Surely fatigue and time pressure shall follow me,

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the bonds of frustration forever.

Monday, April 18, 2011

When the Child Holds a Mirror to the Face of the Parent

My son has been created with a tender heart towards suffering. He cannot turn away from it. The reality grips him and he is driven with a need to help. It is a clear mark of his formation bearing God’s image, and his sensitivity – and His sensitivity – blows me away when I am chosen to observe it in action.

He is only 7.

I can already envision the ways God may use him as an agent of healing in this world. And I can also envision ways in which this tender heart of his may be immersed in pain as he’s continually confronted with such sorrow. But I have to want it for him, if it is indeed what his life is created for, as much as that may bring a differing sorrow to me.

He also must confront the sinful, selfish nature equally driving him (and all of us) in order to live in God’s purposes. His failure to do this, I know, will create a measure of sorrow far more devastating than whatever pain his obedience may bring.

My sweet boy. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit right around his birthday. He had been saving up his money - $67 thus far – to buy a Nintendo DS. One evening, my husband showed him some pictures of the devastation......homes, vehicles being overtaken in the waves......people crying out in terror......and explained to him what had happened. After the kids were in bed, my husband came down and told me that our son was so overcome by what he saw that he said “I think they need my help more than I need a DS”.

I can still picture what I know his little face must’ve looked like. I’ve seen that look before, like last year, when he gave what he had to help the people in Haiti after the earthquake hit there.

There’s so much beauty to behold in his example.......the selflessness of giving up his dream to help another.......his belief that what he had – whether little or much – in God’s hands, could stretch in ways that we could never fathom. I forcibly resisted the protective parental urge to tell him only to give some money and keep the rest for himself, as I also longed to see him reach his goal and be happy. How dare I even consider quenching the gift of giving that has been planted inside him!

Immediately, though, I felt an even greater longing inside to find some special way to bless him for what he wanted to do, and I began sharing with nearly everyone about the wonderful way my son wanted to help. A friend was touched; she felt the desire to give her daughter’s DS that she no longer used to my son as a way of encouraging his giving spirit, and I started seeing how the domino effect of freely giving was taking shape because of his spark. I decided not to tell him of this.....that he should feel the pain of loss for a couple of days in order to truly absorb the overwhelming magnificence of timely blessing when he was given the DS. My husband and I then decided that we would let him pick out two games he wanted and we would pay for them, as our own way of blessing him for his incredible selflessness. I couldn’t wait for all of this to unfold.

And then something very awkward happened.

My son changed his mind. He said he only wanted to give $15 now. He really wanted a DS.

But it wasn’t the awkwardness now of potentially having to retell the story when asked that saddened me. It was the realization that his initial inclination to give was an act of obedience. He felt a call in his heart towards giving all he could to alleviate the suffering he saw before him, and the serpent’s voice had spoken to him in the two days that had passed, reminding him of what he would be missing out on if he actually, really gave all. And that is the voice he chose to listen to. As we all do. Every so often we have to stop seeing our young children as our children and look at them as fellow believers, struggling on their own journeys.

We thought deeply on how we should handle this. I was determined to not at all attempt to make him feel guilty. If there’s no joy in giving, it really doesn’t mean much to God, and I did not want him to feel compelled to give anything. This had been entirely his idea from the get-go. And his still wanting to give some of his money was very generous and something that not all people would be willing to do, but this wasn’t about the specifics of what he wanted to give. It was about following through on a calling. I knew he needed to understand what had happened inside of him.

Delicately, I asked him to go back to the moment when he felt the desire to give......to remember the images he saw and the feeling inside he had that prompted him to want to help. I told him whatever he felt he should do in that moment is what he should do now. And then I told him that no matter what he decided to do, I would love him and I was proud of him. I did not tell him about my friend’s DS that was on its way into his life. I didn’t want his decision to be based on what he might potentially receive for his actions.

After a little while, he came out of his room and told me he still was only going to give $15. He really wanted a DS. And then he backpedaled and said that he never really meant that he was going to give it all. But we knew better. We knew what he said. We knew the sadness that struck his face when confronted with the horror of loss. I told him that if that was his decision than that was fine, and that it was a great thing that he wanted to help. It was then that I told him about my friend and her DS and how she wanted to bless him for giving. The light inside him illuminated the room. I told him then, though, that he had to be honest about how he changed his mind if he was asked. He said he would throw in another $10 now, since he didn’t have to save up for one anymore. How much easier it is to give when we already know what our benefit will be if we do so.

So Sunday came, we went to church, and my friend told me that she brought the DS. I told her what had happened and that our son was to be honest with her if he was asked. She still wanted to bless him, though, for his wanting to give. Her daughter approached him with the DS, told her how proud she was of him for giving, and he smiled a hero’s smile the rest of the day.

And later, we took him to a store and he used his leftover money to buy a charger and a game, and that wiped out his savings.

We never told him of our intent to purchase two games for him. He’ll never know how he would’ve been blessed for his full obedience.

That was my lesson.


Our duty as parents is not to work for and place our hope and happiness into our children’s dreams being fulfilled in their lives. It is to do what we can to encourage and prepare them to joyfully abandon their own dreams, and wholeheartedly choose God’s dreams for them in their place.

That I would have the strength to leave my son abandoned on the altar, moving however far away God calls me to in order to allow Him to use my boy as He would so choose and not interfere. That my son one day will willingly climb upon it himself.