Saturday, December 24, 2011

Son of God

The child who came to heal the brokenhearted
A baby born to reconcile the world
He came to die that we might know the Father
The arm of the Lord has been revealed

His sheep He came to rescue from the slaughter
And humbled Himself a Man that knew no sin
Mary's heart was pierced with deepest sorrow
As her baby Son was stretched upon the tree

Son of God
Has come to earth
Glory to the Father
The baby lies
Asleep in the manger
Born to die
Prince of Peace and Savior

We knew Him not, despised and forsaken
What good could come from Nazareth
From Galilee a King has risen
Born as a Man, Lord of all

At His name every knee will bow
Glory to God in the Highest
Every tongue confess the name of Jesus
Christ is the Lord, Christ is the Lord

Son of God
Has come to earth
Glory to the Father
The baby lies
Asleep in the manger
Born to die
Prince of Peace and Savior

You can hear the music that goes along with this poem and other Christmas songs at our Bandcamp page,

I hope you have a blessed Christmas celebrating our Savior's birth with your loved ones.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas: Our darkness meets the Light

I was listening to Christmas music on the way home from work today, and found myself selecting melancholy songs about winter and songs about the birth of Christ in minor keys.   And I wondered, why do I feel bad every Christmas?  Why does Christmas fill me with joy, and yet such sadness at the same time?

I feel like I end the Advent season every year feeling like, "Great, I missed it again."   I feel like Christmas is such a great opportunity to celebrate Jesus' birth and instead I'm confronted by many failures.

All it takes is a couple Christmas parties where I feel like my words could have been kinder, better chosen.  Recognition of my deep bitterness about cold weather and a complaining spirit.  And, don't get me started on my own personal materialism.  Walking through the malls I find gifts for others and a thousand desires for things I didn't even know I wanted.  My heart gets smaller with each shopping trip and my will to make donations gets weaker.

These things crowd out Baby Jesus so easily.  Christmas Day arrives and I wonder, is there room for Him in my heart?

As I continued driving down the expressway, slowly albeit with millions of red lights guiding me home, I wondered.  Maybe it's good.  Maybe this season reveals the darkest parts of my character because they contrast so starkly to the light that was born to redeem them.  Maybe it's important for me to realize all the Herod, Grinch and Scrooge-like qualities that fight in my heart and remind myself just how much I need Jesus.

Maybe a reminder of my weakness will help me remember just how important Christmas is.  Remember that Jesus came to earth to save a wretch like me.  A time to reflect on the purity of that sinless, newborn baby born into a world of sin and suffering.  A God who did not leave us helpless, but came to save.  That gives me hope and fills my soul with joy.

"For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  Isaiah 9:6

The Child was born to ransom our sinful hearts.  In our weakness we can rejoice that One came to rescue us, Jesus our Emmanuel, God with us.

"The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined."  Isaiah 9:2

May the light of Jesus fill your heart and soul with joy and comfort this Christmas and every day this year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

christmas eve

starry sky swirls and glimmers overhead
we slip quickly to the van
humming underneath the evening heavens
stamp our feet and watch our breath freeze

pull into the parking lot crunching last week's snow
we fall, we jump out each door
running, sliding to our well-lit church
shake the cold and thaw by candles

our family squeezes into the upper pew
we share the hymnals
singing ancient advent carols
"Christ is born," all my sisters sing

the message raised, the faithful smile
my sister sleeps upon my lap
the altos cry, sopranos soar
"and He shall reign forever and ever"

Monday, December 5, 2011

for such a time as this

5:45 a.m.  The alarm clock blasts into my ear.  Without feeling or sympathy it steadily beats until I slap it with my hand.  I roll back over and pretend the day isn't here yet, for a few more minutes.

I get up cranky and cold, wishing that the day wasn't here.  Wishing circumstances were different.  Wishing my day was going to unfold differently.  Wishing I had woke up feeling more rested and less crabby.

I read my Bible and pray.  Pray that God would make Himself known to me, and pray that He would make some changes.  Changes in my situation, changes in me.

I don't know about you, but sometimes I don't like where I am.  Sometimes (most times) its my current spiritual condition, sometimes its something more tangible like work, art, service, or relationships.  It is hard to be content.  It is hard to live in the moment, especially when you hate the moment.

Lately I have been reflecting on this, the problem of place.  Sometimes you don't get to choose where you are.  We go to college and are deluded by the idea that we just might get our dream job and live happily ever after.  We forget that many people don't work a job they love.  In fact, you often have to take whatever you can get.  Some times something even bigger than work steps in.  No one expects to battle terminal illness.  No one expects to have a child afflicted with a disability.  No one expects to be homeless.  No one expects to suffer.

Tragedy comes, whether we are ready or not.

Life has a way of throwing a wrench into the well laid plans of mice and men.  It's no wonder children become jaded as they get older.  Life under the sun is toil; life under the sun is heart breaking.

On Sunday our pastor preached on the book of Esther.  Esther, a beautiful young Jewish girl, becomes Queen of Persia.  I have to assume this is one of the worst jobs in the world.  You become the wife of a man with unlimited concubines, and he has the power to end your life whenever he feels like it.  You are married to a man you did not choose, and hopefully he loves you enough to visit you once in awhile.  Your life is not your own.  Talk about depressing circumstances.

A wicked man named Haman plots to kill your people, and your father-figure, cousin Mordecai says you have a chance to save them, you are the Queen.  You protest, the king could kill you for walking into his presence without being summoned.  Mordecai responds, "Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"  Esther 4:13-14

For such a time as this.

That phrase struck me as I sat in church.  As I sat thinking about how often I want to flee, run away from the tasks and trials set before me.  

Perhaps I have been placed where I am for a such a time as this too.

God knew what He was doing when He allowed Esther to become Queen.  It was part of His plan to save His people.  Esther was in a rather hopeless situation, and God used it to bring hope and life to thousands because she was willing to risk her life for Him and His people.

I think God wants to use all of us where we are to bring hope and the message of salvation.  A lot of our situations are pretty hopeless by the world's standards.  Losing a family member, fighting cancer, battling injustice, struggling with purpose, fighting depression, losing a baby, the list goes on and on.  We live in a world that is broken, a world that is not our home.  What better place to share the good news of Jesus?  Maybe God has called you for such a time as this.

"And now, O Lord, for what do I wait?  My hope is in You."  Psalm 39:7

May the Lord grant you strength as you face this broken world and courage as you brave many trials.  Let your soul be filled with the hope of His Son, and may you rest in the knowledge of His love.

Friday, October 7, 2011

poetry of the Spirit

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."  Romans 8:26

It's intriguing to me that I spend my time toying with words, trying to bend words into paragraphs and poems to explain the thoughts of my heart accurately... and that there are things in my heart that I will never be able to express accurately with words.

 Poetry is at its most beautiful when it can express the deepest feelings of human existence, the things we thought we couldn't describe.  The poetry of the Spirit must be mind-numbingly beautiful... "groanings too deep for words."

There are times when my emotions are so deep, or my confusion is so great, that I am at a loss for words.  That is where the Spirit can move and intercede for me.  And often, so often I forget that He is even here, dwelling with me.

I believe this extends beyond our own personal prayers.  I feel this conflict when I'm listening to someone.  Not the half-listening I'm prone to when I'm doing too many things at once.  The focused listening.  When I listen to someone that is struggling.  Struggling with sorrow, direction, depression.  When someone feels like the world is dark and cold.  Again, the confusion.  Lord, I don't even know what to say, let alone what to pray for them.

How do I pray?  How do we pray when we've run out of words?

I think we can tell the Spirit when we have no words and ask for His intercession on our behalf and on behalf of others.  And, because He is God and we are His children, I believe He intercedes even when we are not strong enough to ask Him to.

This makes me wonder.  How often do my thoughts turn to the Spirit?  The One who can express the inexpressible?

"Some souls think that the Holy Spirit is very far away, far, far, up above.  Actually He is, we might say, the divine Person who is most closely present to the creature.  He accompanies him everywhere.  He penetrates him with Himself.  He calls him, He protects him.  He makes of him His living temple.  He defends him.  He helps him.  He guards him from all his enemies.  He is closer to him than his own soul.  All the good a soul accomplishes, it carries out under His inspiration, in His light, by His grace and His help."  -Concepcion Cabrera de Armida

I often forget the Spirit, the One that is so close, the One inside me.  The One who speaks when I have no words.  What power would be present among the body of believers if we truly understood and communed with the Spirit that Jesus gave us?

I want to learn to seek the Spirit, not just when I am at my most desperate, but at all times.  I want to seek Him each day and communicate with Him always.  I want to be in constant conversation with the one who is closer to me than my own soul.

 "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him or knows Him.  You know Him for He dwells with you and in you."  John 14:16-17

Jesus has given us His Spirit.  He did not leave us alone.  The Spirit is our Helper in our time of need.  Let's learn what it looks like to live with Him together.

Monday, October 3, 2011

two guitars, a keyboard, and a good father

Sometimes I worry when I write (more often when I don't write), that I've lost it.  I'm going to sit down at the Mac and have nothing to say.  And that does happen sometimes.  The cursor sits blinking at me and I have to walk away.  But it's never completely gone, eventually there is always something to write.

Tim gently reminds me that God is not a bad father.  He's not always looking for a chance to steal a gift away from you.  A gift that He gave you.  Father's give gifts to their children, and they expect them to use them, not worry about losing them.

My Mom and Dad gave my brother, sister and I two guitars and keyboard for Christmas one year.  We were taking piano lessons at the time and my parents signed us up for guitar lessons with Charlie Daniels (no, not the Charlie Daniels, the other one who sold instruments in Fresno, California).

My Dad encouraged us to practice the guitar as much as possible, we even brought the guitars in the van and practiced on the way to a track meet.  I think he hoped we would start our own rock band eventually, but we were all a little too shy for that.

In the end, I didn't practice that much.  My brother is the only one of us who can play the guitar, and I took a shortcut and married a guy who could.

This reminds me of how God gives us gifts.  My parents chose to give us those instruments, and encouraged us to "use" the gifts.  The only reason I can't play guitar is because I didn't want it bad enough for myself (and the strings hurt my fingers).  My parents didn't take the gifts away from us, they gave them to us freely and enjoyed seeing us use them.

God gifted you uniquely and it pleases Him to see you use the gifts and talents He has given you.

I think we worry a lot about what God's purpose is for our life and worry what gifts we should pursue.  We lie awake for hours wondering if we should have been an artist, engineer, camp director, missionary, or veterinarian and don't do the simple things.

Love God and love people.  After that, play your guitar, crunch numbers, go fishing, work your job, write your stories, raise your children, and live the life God has given you.

Someday God may take the gift away for a time.  Or you may grow old and not be able to move with as much ease as before.  But that doesn't mean He doesn't have something else for you, something even better.

What makes you feel close to God?  I would imagine it is when you are communicating with Him, just like any good relationship.  For me, it is when I write to Him and for Him.  I encourage you to seek out those places.  Maybe it is when you sing, maybe it is when you are outside, maybe it's when you care for His children.

Revel in the gifts He has given you and thank Him while you work and play.  He's a good Father, you bring Him joy when you live the life He has designed for you.

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures."  James 1:16-18

Saturday, October 1, 2011

the impossible

Is anything impossible with God?

I don't think so, but I don't live that way.

I realized that there are many things I write off as impossibilities.

This week I talked about Jesus with someone, someone who was one of the last people I would have expected to have a conversation about faith with.

Last night I felt like God was present in the conversation we had at youth group, on a night when I expected that no one would show up.

Tim told me about a quote in the book "The Forgotten God" recently that really spoke to me.  Here it is:

"It's easy to use the phrase "God's will for my life" as an excuse for inaction or even disobedience.  It's much less demanding to think about God's will for your future than it is to ask Him what He wants you to do in the next ten minutes.  It's safer to commit to following Him someday rather than this day."- Francis Chan

I think God works mightily in the 10 minutes we are given at a time when we are willing to listen to the Holy Spirit.  The conversations and actions that make up each day are of use to our Lord when we are willing to give them up to Him.

I think the Spirit prompts us to speak to the lost around us.  I get caught up thinking about what I'm going to do for God in the future and neglect those around me, especially the difficult ones... the ones that seem so far away.

No one is too far from our God this side of death.

I am ashamed that I have judged some hearts as being "too hard" when I choose who I am going to share Christ with.  Somehow I have gotten into the habit of picking out what appear to be "spiritual softballs" and avoid sharing with the ones who are more abrasive, or seem more hard-hearted.

Since when was I allowed to judge an "impossible soul"?

Jesus didn't operate this way when He was on earth.  In fact, He seemed to get along quite well with the tough ones and struggled with the "righteous."  The upstanding people around him wondered what Jesus could see in His motley crew of redeemed sinners, and didn't realize that they were the ones whose hearts were hardened.

Jesus tells a parable about the sower, who threw his seed without partiality on the path, the rocky ground, amongst the thorns, and on good soil.  The sower did not judge the soil but gave the seed to each in good measure.  In the end, only the seeds in the good soil grow and they are a picture of the ones who "hear the word, accept it, and bear fruit."

Rather than being generous with the word like Jesus, I pre-judge the soil and make my own decisions.  Unfortunately, I'm missing the point.  I can only see the outward appearance and not judge the condition of the heart.

The hardest of outward appearance, even the hardest attitude toward God may be hiding a heart that is crying out for Jesus.

Far be it from me to judge who is ready and who is not.

"The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."  1 Peter 3:9

God wishes that all His people were saved,and I think I'm ready to share with them now.  I pray that God will lead all of us, the likely and and the unlikely closer to Him.

"For nothing is impossible with God."  Luke 1:37

Monday, September 19, 2011

happy anniversary tim!

Happy Anniversary my Beloved!  You are wonderful and I am so thankful that God brought us together. I love you more than I can say.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

the body He has made

"Then she came to a page which was such a blaze of pictures that one hardly noticed the writing.  Hardly-- but she did notice the first words.  They were, An infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals. "

The above passage is from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis.  Lucy is reading through a book of spells so she can reverse a curse, and she runs across this spell, a spell that will make her more beautiful than anyone else in the world, including her sister.  This  story is strikes home for me, and I'm sure it does for other women as well.

It's no secret.  I have a love-hate relationship with my body, that usually tends towards the latter.  I have struggled with my body image for a very long time.  Some days are better than others, most days are better than they once were, but I'm still not where I would like to be.

I change clothes and re-brush my hair hoping something will change.  Hoping that I will look at the mirror and be satisfied.  Hoping that one day when I pass a beautiful person I won't compare myself anymore.

This week I started reading a book called "Practicing Our Faith" a collection of essays about living out the Christian life.  It deals with many interesting and challenging topics, and one of the essays was titled "Honoring the Body."  In it the author, Stephanie Paulsell, writes about how God made us in His image and He made us beautiful.

I was particularly moved by a story she shared about a young woman who suffered from intense acne.  She could not bear to go out with her friends because she was ashamed of her face.  Her father asked her if he could show her a new way to cleanse herself.  He brought her to the sink and told her to splash her face once and say "In the name of the Father," a second time "in the of the Son," and on the third "in the name of the Holy Spirit."  Finally he said, "Look up into the mirror and remember that you are a child of God, full of grace and beauty."

I loved that.  Too often I look at myself in the mirror and critique all that I see.  I focus upon myself negatively and wish that I was different.  I forget that by wishing that I'm telling God He made a mistake when He made me.

God made us beautiful.  He made you beautiful.  He doesn't make mistakes.

I'm trying to change things up at home.  When I look in the mirror, rather than practicing spite and self-loathing, I thank God for making me.  I thank Him for being my Father.

I posted the following verse on our bathroom mirror:

"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony."  Colossians 3:12-14

I know my mornings would be different if I focused on clothing myself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and love instead of which jeans, t-shirt, sweater, socks, and shoes.

When Lucy finds the beauty spell in the magician's book she is tempted to read it as quickly as possible.  She sees pictures of herself becoming the most beautiful woman and all the kings of the world are fighting for her hand.

"will say the spell," said Lucy, "I don't care. I will."  She said I don't care because she had a strong feeling that she mustn't."

"But when she looked back at the opening words of the spell, there in the middle of the writing, where she felt quite sure there had been no picture before, she found the great face of a lion, of The Lion, Aslan himself, staring into hers.  It was painted such a bright gold that it seemed to be coming toward her out of the page; and indeed she never was quite sure afterward that it hadn't really moved a little.  At any rate she knew the expression on his face quite well.  He was growling and you could see most of his teeth.  She became horribly afraid and turned over the page at once."

It isn't pleasing to God when we hate the body He created for us, jealously desire beauty, or worship our bodies over the One who created it.

I know that my focus upon myself, though negative, is still a form of self-worship.  It consumes my thoughts and turns me away from my Creator.  I also know that my tendency to jealously compare is harmful to myself and others and disappointing to the One who created me.

You may not be like me.  You may be completely at peace with the body God has given you and be able to thank Him for His wonderful handiwork.  If you are like me, I know that coming to terms with what He has given you, to believe that it is beautiful when everything around you including yourself is telling you don't measure up, is very difficult.  Know that God loves you, and He fashioned you before the beginning of the world.  He knows your name, He knows every hair on your head.

God made our bodies, and He made them good.  And more importantly, He loves us, and He will love us forever.

"When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?  Yet You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor."  Psalm 8:3-5

The Lord has made you wonderfully, and He wants you, His child, to draw near to Him.

"Then her face lit up till, for a moment (but of course she didn't know it), she looked almost as beautiful as that other Lucy in the picture, and she ran forward with a little cry of delight and with her arms stretched out.  For what stood in the doorway was Aslan himself, The Lion, the highest of all High Kings.  And he was solid and real and warm and he let her kiss him and bury herself in his shining mane.  And from the low, earthquake-like sound that came from inside him, Lucy even dared to think he was purring.

"Oh, Aslan," said she, "it was kind of you to come."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

the waiting room

"Bob? Right this way please."
The nurse lead an elderly gentleman with a cane to his examination room.
There were seven people left in the waiting room.
"I told you Steve, I was in the meeting. Jefferson was very clear about what his expectations are for the next quarter. We are going to need every last sale in our territory. I'm working on fine-tuning our plan for the next two weeks right now," a woman in business attire with a bluetooth and open laptop continued her work day in a chair near the door. She was very distressed earlier when there wasn't an available outlet for her laptop.
A seat away from the business woman sat a construction worker with his arm in a sling. He had been injured recently on the job in a machine accident. Workman's comp paid his way. He was in for a follow-up. He was watching an Oprah re-run in between paragraphs about the NFL Lockout in a month-old Sports Illustrated.
Across from them sat a couple flirting. The man talked about his recent outdoor adventure; he had been hiking and canoeing for ten days near Lake Superior. He was wearing a black and red plaid shirt and had well-manicured stubble. The woman was blinking repeatedly and leaning in towards him with her arms folded under her bust-line. She occasionally interrupted his story with oohs and ahhs, and expressions of disbelief.
Close to the television sat a mother and her young son. Her son's nose was bright red and he sniffled in between sobs.
"Why don't you play with the Legos, Alex?" Alex shook his head and buried it in his mother's lap. Across from her sat a man with a bottle of hand sanitizer.
"I bet he has an ear infection. Little kids always have ear infections. I used to get them all the time." He squirted his hand with sanitizer and wrung his hands together several times.
"Do you worry about getting sick with something just by coming to the doctor?" the sanitizer man asked Alex's mother.
"No, not too much," she said. "Usually we are already sick, so I don't really think about it."
"Well, I'm not usually sick when I come. I just come to get checked on for my diabetes and asthma. I worry that I'm going to get the flu or shingles. I'm so afraid of shingles."
"Did you get chicken pox when you were little?" asked Alex's mother.
"Yes, it was terrible."
"Well, you don't have to worry then. It's unlikely that you'll get shingles."
"But you can get them. It's not a 100% guarantee. My cousin had both. You have a 20% chance."
"Well," said Alex's mom, "I guess you could get it, but I don't think you should worry."
Sanitizer man squirted his hands again and rubbed them together vigorously.
"You can never be too safe ma'am. Uh, what is your name?"
"Nice to meet you Cindy. My name is Gary. I'd shake your hand, but, you know."
Cindy nodded.
"How old is your son?"
"Alex, how old are you?" asked Cindy, encouragingly holding up three fingers. Alex buried his face deeper in his mother's lap, then turned his head to peer at Gary with one eye.
"Three years old, huh? I don't remember being three. I remember being four. I got sick and was in the hospital overnight. My mom stayed on the chair next to me and my dad brought me a teddy bear. I got stuck 8 times before they found a vein for my IV. I hated needles ever since then."
Cindy winced and looked down at Alex, hoping he just had an ear infection. "Do you use needles for your diabetes. I mean, to check your blood sugar?"
"Yes," said Gary, "I hate it."
"Alex?" called the nurse, "Mrs. Roberts?" Cindy started to get up.
"Well, it was very nice meeting you Cindy," said Gary. "Good luck with the ear infection Alex." Gary saluted the little boy and started to watch Oprah.
Gary pulled a notecard out of his back pocket. On the notecard he had scribbled, "back mole," and "insomnia." He looked over the card and rehearsed in his head what he would say to his doctor.
"Well Doctor, there is this mole on my back. I have been measuring it for the last ten years and I think it may have grown. Can we check and see if it is cancerous? Also, I have hardly been able to sleep lately and I worry that I am suffering from insomnia. Is there anything we can do to remedy these issues?"
Gary folded up his card and placed it back in his pocket and turned his attention back to the television. A new segment was starting on Oprah. She was going to interview a doctor on early dementia. They were going to talk about cases of dementia before the age of 50. Gary breathed in deeply. He had forgotten his sister's birthday last week. He pulled out his card and scribbled "dementia" under "insomnia."
The business woman and her bluetooth were called into the doctor's office. She huffed past the nurse and muttered something about time being money. The waiting room was much quieter now. Only the couple's flirting conversation could be heard interrupted at regular intervals by the construction worker's snoring.
Gary tried to relax and thought about buying a belated birthday card for his sister at the drugstore on the way home. He would probably need to pick up a prescription anyway.
The door opened again. The construction worker was called in and Alex and Cindy walked out. Cindy finished signing out and paying at the front and walked over to Gary.
"You haven't been called in yet Gary? You were here before we got here." Cindy looked concerned.
"Oh, it's okay. I come here so often they figure I can wait a little longer I guess. How's Alex?"
"You were right, Alex had an ear infection. The doctor gave us a prescription and said it should clear up pretty soon. How did you know?"
"I've seen it before, experienced it myself." Gary shifted uncomfortably. Alex had walked up to him, put his hand on his knee and was motioning towards the Legos in the corner.
"Well, I'm very impressed," said Cindy smiling. "We'll see you later Gary."
"Bye Cindy, Bye Alex. I hope you feel better soon."

Friday, August 19, 2011


I get my hopes up, too fast.

Let's back track a little bit. I love change. Yes, change is difficult. Having moved so many times growing up, I always missed what I had left behind, but I got this insatiable desire for adventure in return. Like Pa Ingalls, "My wandering foot gets to itching," and I'm ready to pack up and move on.

This thirst for adventure gets twisted up in my sense of purpose. Then I feel lost.

"Where I am going?"

"What is the point?"

"Is this it?"

I think about all the things I hope for, the people I want to minister to, the places I'd like to go, the books I want to write, all the things I want to accomplish...I take a look around me and I wonder if those things I hope for so desperately will ever happen. Because I just can't see it right now.

I worry that my dreams are not valid, not important to God. I worry that they don't really line up with His purposes.

I worry that if I do get to fulfill those dreams, I'll get to the other side and say, "That's it? All these years for this?"

I've already seen in my 24 years a pattern with the purposes of God. He may not give you exactly what you want, in the timing you want, or the way you want it. But it is always perfect, and better than what you wanted in the first place. So why worry right?

Easy to put on paper (or screen, I should say), much more difficult to put into emotional practice.

When the future husband, child, job, college, ministry... whatever it is you are hoping for consumes your thoughts constantly, it's not that easy to say "Lord Your will be done." We want to say, "Lord my will be done, please give it Your blessing."

Today, it dawned on me that I have been hoping for good things the wrong way. I hope to have children someday, hope to have a ministry to immigrants and the disabled, hope to live in a different context, hope to be a published author, etc. Are these things wrong and sinful? Not really. But the way I hope for them is.

I have been placing my hope in these things, rather than just hoping they would happen. How do I differentiate between the two? Like this:

When I place my hope in these things, every setback to their fulfillment leaves me hopeless. I feel empty, purposeless, and depressed. I question, "Why am I here right now?" and give myself an early morning pity party before work. I can't see God moving in my circumstances because I have placed all my hope in different circumstances.

I haven't placed my hope in God.

"For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." Romans 8:24-25

My hope doesn't rest in the unseen. I'm "hoping" in the things of this world, thinking that a change will make me feel happier and more fulfilled. That I will be more in line with God's purposes if I'm doing the things that I am passion about. These things are good, but I cannot place my hope in them... I cannot trust in them.

Even if I was in a dark prison with no food, waiting for my execution I could place my hope in God, in the unseen. I could know that His purposes, though inscrutable at times, were good and I would be with Him for eternity.

Though my circumstances stay the same, though my dreams continue to be dreams, and though all desires may not be fulfilled, I can place my hope in the God who created me and know that He is sovereign in this place. The place that I am today, whether that is the same tomorrow or fades away.

I pray that God would change my heart, that it would always long for the things He longs for. That I would dream about Him and desire His ways.

Instead of looking for the next big change, maybe God Himself is my adventure?

My hope is in You, Your will be done.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

has death won?

Yesterday I got a phone call from my mom two minutes into my morning commute. A couple had been shot close to our home in a car the same color as ours, and she called to make sure we were alive. We are, and I assured her Tim and I were safe and sound.

As I made a left onto the entrance ramp, listening to "Concerning a UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois," I saw a pigeon laying on its belly on the side of the road, slowly turning itself around. The last time I saw a bird like that was a robin I rescued when I was nine. I named him Robbie, and he died the next morning. I started to tear up, and forced them back so I could keep my eyes on the road.

Last night, we heard about the bombing and shootings in Oslo. My heart goes out to the people of Norway, to the country of our great-great-grandparents. May God comfort your souls and give you peace.

It is hard to think about death. A serious reflection on it usually brings tears and distress. What if I lose someone I love? What if I die violently? What if I never get to say goodbye?

Death is distressing because we were not created for it. We were made to live forever. But we sinned, and now death is the doorway to eternity, whether that leads us to separation from God or unity with Him forever.

Death cuts us off from everything we have ever known, from the people and community we love, the places we cherish, the joys we cannot seem to live without. But it also reunites us to the ones who have gone on before, to the One we walked with in the garden at the beginning of time.

I would be lying to say death doesn't scare me silly at times. I'm not very bereaved, and it is difficult to know that I will lose people I love. In some ways I think that is ok. Knowing that death will come sooner or later, I want to live life to the fullest now. More importantly, I want to share with everyone around me the secret to eternal peace, love, joy, and life. Jesus Christ.

That being said, I don't want to fear death. Death comes to all and I know Jesus, the Savior. He conquered death by rising again. And He will not allow me to slumber in the ground forever. I will be reunited with Him for eternity. The One who loved me and you so much He died a violent death to save us. I don't need to be afraid of death.

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7

Jesus will also make all things right one day. He will wipe away our tears, and there will be no more death- no more bombings, no more shootings, no more cancer, no more starvation, no more suffering. There will be justice, there will be peace.

His heart breaks to see us on earth, suffering under our sin and the sins of others. Suffering for things that we don't deserve, for things that occur because the world is broken not because we are being punished.

A boy in Brooklyn was murdered recently walking home from summer camp. It wracked me up inside as I thought about his little body in pain as he died, to think about his parents. His parents will never be the same. Everyday they are going mourn, everyday they will wonder why they didn't do something differently. I couldn't stop thinking about him, and worrying about the little people I love. And I want justice, I want justice for that little boy and his family. I want justice for the people of Norway.

I don't know where you are today. Maybe someone you love has just passed away, maybe someone you love is battling cancer, maybe someone you love was just diagnosed with autism, maybe someone you love is far from God.

Maybe you don't know how to reconcile yourself to God when you are surrounded by suffering.

Jesus understands. He walked on this earth. He loved those who were suffering, and suffered Himself. And He has conquered death because of His deep, unquenchable love for you. Give Him the burdens you are too weak to carry anymore. Give Him your fears about death. Give Him your suffering.

These are things I am working through. I need to give Him my fear, my worries, my terror, my suffering.

He can carry us. Death will never win, Jesus has already defeated it through the cross.

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:4

Thursday, July 14, 2011

jewel and dostoevsky

Last night Tim and I took a trip to Jewel for a few things. We quickly found our orange juice, couldn't find goat milk ( I think we are in the middle of a goat lock-out), and settled for almond milk.

We waited in line at the express self check-out, and walked out the automatic door. In the cart corral we were cut off by a little old lady with a do rag handkerchief on her head, a skirt, and white socks with dark shoes. She looked up at us in surprise, and Tim said "Hi!" She looked frazzled and hurried out with her cart and shopping bag.

As we walked to our car she booked across the parking lot at a suprisingly high speed, which prompted Tim to say, "She's making a break for it!"

We watched this old lady on the run with her cart, wondering if she would be caught, eyes darting from side to side, nervously checking the automatic lock wheel to see if it would stop her run from the law. We passed her on our way out of the parking lot, still trucking her away across it like an wild animal was chasing her.

I kind of wish in hindsight that I had gotten out of the car and asked her if she needed help, or a ride to get home. But I didn't. And I wonder how she and the cart are getting along today.

The old lady reminded me a bit of Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. He plotted out his crime so well, he would never be caught. But the guilt of it weighed him down and drove him insane. I read that book my first year at Trinity for Modern European Literature with Dr. Baxter. After class, before soccer practice I would read a couple chapters on my bunk bed, and then fall asleep. I don't think it was eye fatigue or laziness (that happened with other books), that book was laced with so much suffering and guilt it made you feel hopeless, like you were Raskolnikov's accomplice in the pawnbroker's murder. I fell asleep from the mental burden of it all. I like to re-read books, but I don't know that I will re-read that one again any time soon.

Over 4th of July Tim and I saw "Tree of Life" at the movie theater. I don't really want to give away anything about it in case you haven't seen it, but I will say that I loved Malick's portrayal of guilt. In the movie the boy does something he is ashamed of, and as he walks home his mother is standing outside waiting for him. She says nothing, only looks at him. He looks at her and walks to the house. He says he wants to be like his brothers again, to feel innocent. That whole part gave me chills. I know that feeling. I know what it is like to be guilty, and to feel like everyone knows it. To feel alone, and exposed. To feel afraid. To long for innocence.

My favorite song in high school was Switchfoot's "Innocence Again." I wanted to be pure. I wanted to be free from my guilt riddled mind. I was always good at confession and beating myself up over sin, but not so good at accepting grace.

I think there is some grace in guilt itself. If we never felt guilty for stealing grocery carts, harming others, impure thoughts, or disobeying our parents, we would never feel the need for a Savior. We would feel as though we had it together. Feel like we could make it on our own. As people we would hurt each other more than we do now. Guilt keeps us from committing sins that we won't get caught for, because the burden is still there. The punishment is a tormented soul.

But we can't stop there. We aren't meant to live in guilt and self-hatred. God will forgive us and extend His grace to us. He is merciful, and He wants us to be re-born in Him. We cannot earn that forgiveness through self-inflicted brow beating. It's free because of Jesus, because He loves us.

Jesus loves you. And He doesn't want you to carry around your guilt anymore. Drop it at His feet, confess and walk in His love. He wants you to be free from sin, and live in Him.

"And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." Isaiah 6:5-7

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

bicycles, climbing trees, and cassette tapes

I think about being a kid sometimes. Some things make me think about being a kid. An old home, an old album, and a bike.

Tim and I started riding bikes, again. I say again because in the past we were both avid bike riders, for me that was about 14 years ago. My friends, brother, and I would ride back and forth on a frontage road by our old farmhouse. I don't remember why we didn't get bored riding that same path to and fro, but I know we loved to ride. I recently recalled a memory I blocked out from embarrassment. I had learned to ride with no hands, and decided to ride with my eyes shut as well. Within seconds I was in the ditch with fresh scrapes and bruises. Nobody knew why, I would never tell.

We've been riding our bikes on the lakefront path. It makes me feel like a kid again, the cool breeze whipping round my face, teasing out my flyaways as we pass walkers and runners- and get passed by more serious bikers with spandex shorts. Your heart feels full from the intoxicating blend of wind, sun, and movement. Once again, I love to ride my bike.

A couple weekends ago we visited the old farmhouse where my grandparents still live. I hadn't been there in the summertime in years. We climbed the old tree, and I marveled at our ability as kids to scale it. Sure, it has gotten a little taller, but so have I. My first time in that tree I was afraid and called out to my mom for help. She instructed me to jump and assured me I would be just fine. The landing sent shockwaves up my legs, but they wore off quickly enough. Soon we were climbing that tree everyday, hatching plans and forming clubs. Tim and I sat in that tree together, and I wondered at the passage of time.

That house always makes me happy, and it's bittersweet. I love to be there. Every sidewalk crack, bush, and room has a thousand stories from childhood. I love to remember, and I grieve. I grieve the days when I was small, when I was child in my family, when the days were long and full of tiny adventures. And I'm happy, happy to remember those days and grateful that they ever were. Grateful to be with my family, my grandparents, and share those memories with my husband.

The other day I was shuffling my iPod and a song from Jars of Clay's first album played, Worlds Apart. I was immediately transported back into the family van, driving around the college town we lived outside of listening to that cassette tape. The songs from that album made me feel things, feelings that were not always informed by the lyrics (which I did not understand), but I felt just the same. Feelings of joy and sadness. Longing. I felt those again as I stood in our apartment, washing our blue dishes, making dinner.

All of these things make me sad and make me happy at the same time. The feeling is complex and common to man. I think we all long for the past and relish its remembrance, but we also love now. There are lessons I had to learn back then and in the years to follow that I do not want to be reminded of. There was sadness, there were humiliations that stung, separations that ached. But in these memories I am reminded that God is so good and so gracious. Life is full of many joys, some profound and some small, like bicycles, climbing trees, and cassette tapes.

I am thankful for my family, for my husband. I am thankful for the ways God has provided for all of us. I am thankful for the lightning bugs and summer nights. I am thankful that God has been with me every step of this life, through every joy and sorrow, and I will spend eternity with Him. I think I'm ready to go ride my bike and make some new memories. Thank You God for bicycles, climbing trees, and cassette tapes.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

prayer and praise

As I prayed this morning I thanked God for who He is and His attributes. I try to keep this part of my prayers fresh because it often sounds more like rote memorization recited daily on the pages of my journal. Thank You for Your love, Thank You for Your mercy, etc. Even though I am not always as focused as I wish to be, I think that is one of the most important parts of prayer each day, the time spent reflecting upon the glory of God.

In the past I wondered, does God need to be reminded about who He is? I think it is a healthy part of a relationship, and we do the same thing in our earthly relationships. I tell Tim the things I love about him and thank him for the wonderful things he does for me and for the wonderful person he is. I should do the same thing for God. Instead, often I'm just tossing up a prayer to God asking, "Lord please help me with my day." I'm sure Tim wouldn't appreciate it if my daily communication with him was "Tim, please help me wash the dishes and fill the tank with gas." That is discouraging and not loving communication. When our words are filled with adoration it is uplifting for the person being praised, but also for the one doing the praising.

David constantly praised God in the Psalms, remembered His mercies to His people, and recalled His attributes.

"Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days." Psalm 90:14

I think it is important to praise God not only because He deserves to be praised at all times, but because it reminds me of the truth about God. It helps me remember who He is, that He is love and beauty, strength and glory, grace and mercy, forgiving and faithful, holy and pure. God knows that He is all these things, but I forget. I forget that God is amazing and come to Him with a exhaustive list of needs and worries, hoping that He will answer me when I call. I need to praise Him daily to remind myself of His glory.

Prayer is a mysterious privilege. We are allowed to approach the God of the universe at all times. We do not need to go to temple or have our prayers mediated through an earthly priest. God's Son is our High Priest, Jesus. Because of Him we can talk to the Father, any time, any place.

Prayer is something that we should do without ceasing and too often cease doing. I think if I really understood prayer I would pray so much more than I do.

"To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing." Martin Luther King Jr.

May the Lord strengthen us to pray when we are weak and when we are strong, when we are sad and when we are joyful. May the first words on our lips be praise at all times and in every situation.

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21

Thursday, June 16, 2011

welcome home

Recently Tim and I heard the song "Welcome Home" by a band called Radical Face. It was on this crazy video about a guy who broke the world record for speed scaling a mountain- with no ropes. Guts yes, insane... definitely. My sister gave us the song, and I have been wearing it out on the iPod (I think Tim might be a little bit sick of it by now).

When I listened to it the first time I told Tim, "If my life ever has a soundtrack I would like that song to be on it." It is the kind of song that gives me chills, a song that immediately adds meaning and depth to any images that are coupled with it.

If you hear it and don't agree with me, don't worry about it, I have other songs cued up for my soundtrack as well. I'm sure you have songs that give you that feeling too, that feeling that makes your heart swell so big you think it will burst out of your chest.

I have been thinking about this lately and wondering what it means about being a human. Music, movies, books, and art move us emotionally. When they affect us most enjoyably, it is usually because they have made us feel like there is something bigger than the here and now. Like there is something beyond us, something we can be a part of.

I think C.S. Lewis said it well, "It was when I was happiest that I longed most... the sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing... to the find the place where all the beauty came from."

It seems a little crazy that the longing would be beautiful, but it is. Think about the longing of a child for his Christmas presents, the longing of a pregnant mother waiting for her baby, the longing of the betrothed for his love. There is something satisfying in those things even in the absence of what is desired, because those things are wonderful even though they are not fully realized yet.

I think great art taps into that, it reminds of something within us, something that is not fully realized in us or in the world yet. But one day, it will be.

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from beginning to the end." Ecclesiastes 3:11

Our hearts swell with longing, because we were not made for death. We were made for eternity, and beauty reminds us of that. It reminds us that there is something greater, something more beautiful than we know... and our hearts yearn to be one with it. One with God.

Someday, we will be joined with God through Christ at the wedding feast. I have a feeling our hearts will be full, more full than they could ever be in this lifetime when our story of forever with Christ begins. Imagine it. You can't really, it is too beautiful. Long for it. Long for the beauty of Christ, you will be one with Him soon.

"Welcome home my love."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

despair not

A week ago we had a worship night at church. It was great to spend an extended amount of time worshipping. So often my thoughts get lost in the shuffle on Sunday mornings, and it was so good to spend an hour praising God through song.

One song's lyrics really struck me in particular that night, "Before the Throne of God Above."

"When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there,
Who made an end to all my sin."

Unfortunately for me, I am tempted to despair all too often. It might be the number one way to bring me down. Whether it is depressed thoughts on the way to work in the morning, freak out mode before a large group event, or just a bad case of the doldrums I tend to despair.

I don't know how many of you fall into depression, but if you do, you know that the easiest place to look is never up. Your eyes are trained inward or downward. One sad thought leads to another and you are lying on your bed crying your eyes out before you know it.

My mind is often filled with depression, "I look fat today. I can't work one more day at this job. She must be upset with me. I don't have it in me. I feel sick, I'm just not getting better. I just.... can't."

So that was last week for me. And that song struck me on Friday, struck me in between the eyes.

And then I read from "Keep a Quiet Heart." Elliot wrote about how prayer is a battle, one that Satan desperately doesn't want me to engage in. If I work fine, but pray? That is the last thing he wants.

Where would the evil one like to keep me? In a state of prayerless despair.

This week was different. While work didn't change, I changed and I enjoyed it. I felt rested even when I didn't sleep as much. I spent time with Jesus, and things were clearer. I looked up and there He was, my Love.

It wasn't perfect, but it was joyful.

I guess it takes me more than a few times to learn the same the lesson. Thankfully, He still loves, He is faithful, He is merciful.

"Be persuaded, timid soul, that He has loved you too much to cease loving you." -Archbishop Fenelon

Thursday, May 26, 2011

is image everything?

Today I was reflecting on the old Sprite commercials, "Image is nothing. Thirst is everything. Obey your thirst." I mistakenly remembered them saying this, "Image is everything. Obey your thirst." So much for my long term memory.

Even though Sprite was technically telling us that image was nothing, drink Sprite, they still created an image. An "I don't care what I drink, I just drink what pro basketball stars drink" image. They wanted you to think drinking Sprite would make you cool. Image.

Our culture is obsessed with image. Everywhere you look people are branding themselves, dressing to look the part of something they find cool. You want people to think something of you or about you when they see you. I'm no exception to this.

I like to dress artsy, I want you to think, "That girl must be something cool, like a writer, artist, musician or something. Does she shop at Anthropologie?" I want you to think I don't try too hard, when I secretly spend too much mental energy picking out what I'm going to wear... to the point it haunts my early morning dreams.

I hate the idea of wearing something that could accidently distort the image I try to carefully craft. What if this outfit looks frumpy? What if I look too sporty? What if I look lame?

You can find this sort of mentality everywhere you look. Magazine covers, television shows, movies, books, blogs, individuals on the street. Either they are invading your subconscious with a more stylish image than you could ever hope to be, or they are straight up telling you "5 Hot Looks for Your Summer."

I'm in a Bible study right now with women from my church. We are reading Beth Moore's book "So Long Insecurity." The book convicts me more than I would like to admit. Our obsession with the image we portray, whether it is based on our looks or talents is a best friend of our insecurities.

We think that an image that accurately portrays who we want to be or who we think we are will make us happy, and it never will.

Last Sunday we watched a video about the persecuted church. We saw images of Christians who had been brutally beaten, Christians who had terrible scars from lashings and acid. All because they followed Jesus and wouldn't deny His name.

That video hit me so hard. I worry about my appearance, and these brothers and sisters are infinitely more beautiful because of the scars they bear for Christ. They are suffering now, but when this life, this life that is but a breath passes away, they will reign with Christ in glory. How much more satisfying is it to work for eternity, than for the things of this world that pass away from season to season?

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." 2 Corinthians 4:7-11

"So that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our bodies." There is an image that we should bear above all others, the image of Christ. Let's lay aside the images of this world that so easily ensnare us, and become lights for Jesus. May Christ always and forever be our identity.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

His hand upon my head.

I love rubbing a baby's head. On infants, their soft new skin with feathery hair. On toddlers ruffling their hair as they run around in the yard. Whenever I see my little brother or nephews I touch their heads. I don't know if they appreciate this ritual the way I do, but I like to think they don't mind too much yet.

I was thinking about this the other day and it reminded me of one my favorite verses from Psalm 139, "You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me."

This verse brought me to tears in high school. When my mom read this verse to me I realized that God really did love me, that His hand was upon me. I imagined His hand upon my head, me His beloved child.

Something about the love that is imparted through a simple placement of a hand really ran that truth home for me. Just like my hand rests briefly upon the head of my brother, my nephews, so too God's hand is upon me in a much more powerful and more loving way.

God's hand is upon you too. You may not feel it, you may doubt that He is there, but He loves you with a love deeper than you have ever known or will ever know. He knows your thoughts, your dreams, your suffering. He knows your heart. May you rest in the knowledge of His love, and feel its truth in your life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"God made me fast."

Have you ever seen the movie "Chariots of Fire"? It is one of my favorite movies. The story is inspiring and it got me through my youth soccer days when my family and I chose to not participate on Sundays to honor the Lord's day. If you don't know the Eric Liddell story, please watch it or read a biography. It's really great.

In the movie Eric is talking to his sister Jenny. She wants him to go to China as a missionary. His family is involved in missions and he is planning to go. But before he goes, he wants to run. He has a chance to be on the Olympic team for Great Britain. This upsets his sister. He replies:

"God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure."

Eric runs, and I won't share the rest of what happens in case you don't know the story.

I was thinking a lot about this the last few days. I always thought about the quote in relation to sports, feeling His pleasure as I played for His glory. But this week I thought about it in a broader context.

How did God make you?

Are you an artist? Do you love painting people, landscapes and more with a steady, creative hand?

Are you a mathematician? Do you love the intricacies of numbers and proofs?

Are you a gardener? Do you love creating a beautiful space full of God's plants and creatures?

Are you a chef? Do you love whipping together gastronomic masterpieces for others to feast on?

Are you a mother, a father? Do you love having children and raising them for the glory of God?

What do you love to do? What did God gift you in? When do you feel His pleasure?

Sometimes I think we get caught up in "What should I do?" and worry that the things God made us for are not what He is calling us to. We worry that there is always something nobler we could do, something more pure than the thing that gives us joy.

I'm not saying God doesn't ask us to give up things. I'm not saying His calling for you might not mean a great sacrifice for you, even your life. But I do think God loves to see you revel in the gift He has given you when you use it for Him.

Sing for Him. Run for Him. Teach for Him. Speak for Him. Work for Him. Paint for Him. Write for Him. Film for Him. Raise children for Him. Serve Him with your gifts.

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures." James 1:16-18

Find joy in using your gifts for Him.