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Tears in the Tinsel

Trees are going up, lights are being hung, halls are being decked, cards are being sent. For most, the magic of another Christmas season has begun.

The month of December is swollen with nostalgia and festivities, events and shopping, family and friends. Littered with goodwill and acts of service, December truly can be a joyous time, a bright few weeks in bleak times.

But what happens when you are doing all the seasonal “stuff,” but your heart feels far from the ethereal Christmas spirit, a phrase that gets tossed around among the tinsel? What should you do when you are lighting the Hope Advent calendar and doing your daily readings, but your heart feels stuck, heavy and hopeless?

Those who can’t manufacture the Christmas emotions of joy and gratitude often compound their sorrows with layers of guilt and shame. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be thankful for all that I have?

Santa hats don’t hide sadness well, and even the best gifts can’t alleviate grief.

There is room for tears in the tinsel; in fact, when the twinkling lights aren’t enough to light up a heavy heart, the stage is set well for the true Christmas spirit.

We love to quote Isaiah 9:6 during the Christmas seasons, and well we should. The words capture the hope of Christmas, Jesus Christ, God Incarnate come to earth.

For to 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. 

There is much to celebrate during the Christmas season, most notably the remembrance of the event that set into play a series of events that changed the fabric of history and humanity for all eternity. We do well to sing, to toast, to cheer, to give generously in memorial of Christ’s birth in which the light of the world came in germinal form to invade the darkness.

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However, the context of said verse from Isaiah reminds us that the light shines most brightly in the background of deep darkness.

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish…The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has a light shone. Isaiah 9:1 & 2. 

Just as the physical darkness was pierced by the star that led the Magi to Christ, the spiritual darkness was pierced by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ. Gloom took a huge hit when Christ was born and was dealt a fatal blow in his resurrection.

But we live in the already/ not yet. The darkness is disseminating, but it still shadows us. Christ came and secured for us the coming kingdom of light, inviting us in by His grace. But the darkness of losing loved ones, mourning injustice, fighting depression and cancer is still present. Such real darkness cannot be chased away by Christmas trees or candy or vacations with family and friends.

Christmas looks back to the manger, but it also looks ahead to the day when the remnant of gloom and darkness will be swallowed up by what is life.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…For while we are still in these tent, we groan, being burdened- not that we could be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed,  so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by what is life. He who has prepared for us this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage.  2 Corinthians 5: 1-6. 

If you find yourself crying tears into your tinsel or grieving while decorating your gingerbread house this Christmas, remember that you are not alone.

A building from God, a house made without hands, decked far more beautifully than any mansion here, is coming. Soon, all gloom will be consumed by the full and final coming of the Light of the World.

Paul’s charge to the Corinthian Church applies to us today. Be of good courage this Christmas season, whether it finds in great joy or great grief.

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Recharged

When I am spent, I find my soul seeking refuge and refreshment in nature. The compounding stress of carlines,  deadlines, and headlines crushes out a fresh sense of wonder and expectancy in my heart.

I cannot say it better than the wordsmith Gerard Manley Hopkins did in God’s Grandeur.

….And for all this, nature is never spent;
     There  lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though  the last lights off the black West  went
     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs –
Because the  Holy Ghost over the bent
       World broods with warm breast  and with ah! bright wings! 

Awe is not automated. It is not the result of a formula, though I wish it were. The recharging of a soul is far more nuanced than the electrical re-charging a phone. And such we should expect, considering the comparative significance of souls to stuff.

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This Fall was an incredibly busy and bustling season for our family. The busyness was necessary and intentionally selected  personal, familial, and organizational development.   It was productive and powerful;  yet, it has left me trying to kick the leader’s addiction to adrenaline. All Fall I have sighed, wanting slowness. But since the slower Winter has come, I have found myself inwardly rebelling against the stillness.

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This past week, multiple appointments were cancelled, leaving me a few  precious pockets of time to explore my favorite regional park with my favorite four-legged companion.  Those few hours did what coffee shops and books have failed to do for the past few weeks. God used them to begin recharging me.  I should not have been surprised,  as Psalm 19 so clearly describes the way they sing the Creator’s restorative song.

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Awake!

Today the Scrub Jay delivered to me
A message of momentous import.
But, fluttering, he fled the scene
Before I did respond to his report. 

The heavens declare the glory of the Lord;
Awake,  slumbering soul;  get on board. 

Clumps of mud collected on my feet,
Bidding me to slow my hurried pace.
Bristles of breezes tickled my cheeks,
Gently guiding me to lift my face.  

The skies shout out His great name.
Awake, slumbering soul; do the same.

The droplets mustered for the Master,
Gathering, awaiting word to descend,
As Brave blades of fresh green grass,
Coaxed by His command did ascend.

Creation listens to His gentle direction;
Awake, slumbering soul; pay attention.

While nature may not be one of the sacred pathways by which you connect with God, I challenge you to look into Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways to find the unique ways God has wired your soul to recharge in Him.

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Deep as the Curse Has Dug

He comes to make His blessings flow/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as the curse is found/
Far as, far as the curse is found. 

Few Christmas carols have had the staying power of Isaac Watt’s Joy to the World. Even those who don’t practice the Christian faith loudly belt out its chorus at candle-lighting ceremonies and holiday gatherings. We hum to it while shopping for stocking stuffers. Its tune floods our kitchens as we make cookies enough for a small nation.

The catchy, well-known tune is undergirded by a bedrock of rich theological realities meant to inform our living well beyond the holiday season. The Coming of Christ as an infant into time and space left eternal ripples that changed the very fabric of human  existence. The song reminds us that the ripples of His coming are to reach to the farthermost places where the curse has been wreaking its havoc.

When Adam and Eve first distrusted and then quickly disobeyed the Lord’s protective commands, shalom was shattered. Devastating fissures were fixed between God and man, within mankind  both inter-personally and intra-personally, and between mankind and nature.The Son born in Bethlehem of Judea was the beginning of shalom being restored.

I know this theologically; however, I deeply struggle to believe this personally and experientially.  Sometimes I am overcome and overwhelmed with the darkness out there in the world. Other times, I am completely paralyzed and appalled at the darkness in here, within me. This past few weeks have been the latter.

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Despite the innumerable blessings around me, I find complaining and discontentment squatting in my heart. Even though I am attempting to fight the consumerism that marks Christmas, my heart gets distracted by the siren songs of the Dollar Zone. Even though I want to live intentionally, I still find myself frittering time away on screens or through an  instinctive desire to keep busy. In these patterns, I realize just how deeply the curse has dug into the caverns of my soul.

I need to know that Christ came not only to make his blessings known far as the curse is found, but to let them drip as deep as the curse has dug.

Deep as the Curse Has Dug

You came to make mercy known
As far as the curse is found;
But can it be possibly drip
Into dungeons underground?

The curse has crept into crevices,
Pooling in pockets of my soul.
I’ve so grown used to its effects,
It’s hard to imagine being whole.

Deep as the curse has dug
Can Your love descend?
It seems unthinkable that you
My damaged heart could mend.

May Your Triune Presence
Pervade both far and deep.
Let Your Agape love into
My deep darknesses creep.

Son of God Most High
Who descended into Hell,
With Your power permeate
This my soul’s murky well. 

Change me into Your image,
As Your love casts out fear.
It is cold, damp and dark,
But there’s room for you here.

Contrary to the popular notion of a barn, our Christ was most likely born in a cave. The custom of the time was to keep one’s animals sheltered in caves underground, as barns as we think of them were not common. As such, it seems fitting that Spirit would descend to make His home among the caverns of the human heart. There, He does His work of applying the gospel deep as the curse has dug.

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The Shoulders of a Savior

Our youngest son is almost at the age and size where he is too large to sit upon his daddy’s shoulders. As such, I treasure those moments when I see him proudly, safely perched on my husband’s shoulders.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew word zeroa is used over 90 times. It literally means strength, might, power, or shoulder. Yahweh was said to have rescued His people from enslavement to the strongest nation in the world with an outstretched arm (Exodus 6:6). In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses uses this same word as bookends to the story  of God’s people’s past and future. At the beginning of his long speech to recount the faithfulness of God, Moses writes the following regarding the Exodus.

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God  brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
Deuteronomy 5:15.

After his long story/speech, knowing he won’t be going up to the Promised Land with them, Moses wraps up with similar imagery of God’s powerful arms.

There is none like God, O Jeshrun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms…Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord,  the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph! Deuteronomy 33:26-27 & 29. 

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It is no wonder, then, that God uses the same imagery in His promises of the Messiah through the prophet Isaiah.

Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.  Isaiah 52:9-10.

God’s people were understandably expecting God to flex His strength through a display of power. He had promised to bear His arm, to show His strength clearly in the sight of all nations. One cannot fault them for jumping over Isaiah 53’s suffering servant to hold on to these prophesies of saving power. After all, that was how God had acted in the Exodus.

But the second Exodus to which the original Exodus pointed would prove a very different display of strength.

God bared his strength in the weakness of a child’s soft shoulder bones compressing in delivery into the world He had created. The shoulder of God’s strength likely sat atop his carpenter father’s shoulders. Jesus’ shoulders and arms were laid bare when He was mockingly stripped of His garments by Roman soldiers. Later, his shoulder muscles were torn to the point of exhaustion under the awful load of the beam upon which he would be executed.

Is this how God would flex His strength and bare His arm so that all people might see the  salvation of our God?

Moses was more right than he could have possibly imagined when he rhetorically asked Israel if ever there was a god like theirs in Deuteronomy 4.

“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of.” Deuteronomy 4:32. 

Our God bore His strength through the display of weakness that is the Cross so that we might be raised up on His resurrected shoulders unto salvation.

There is nothing more beautiful than the shoulders of this Savior.

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Freed to Plead

The Gospel offers more than an eventual entrance into Heaven; rather, it invites us into the life of Trinity.  It is, indeed, marvelously correct that the gospel frees us from the penalty and power of sin;  however, it is lacking. The Gospel also frees us to walk with God and pursue His purposes on earth.

As I was running errands, I decided to use the time in traffic to pray. I wish I could say that the first things that came straight from my heart to my mouth in prayer were pleas for the salvation, sanctification, and flourishing of others. Instead, what my heart sent via my lips were selfish requests.

Then, the Spirit was gracious to remind me of a short phrase from Isaiah 51, the chunk of Scripture that has held my soul captive for the past few weeks. “Thus says your Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people…” (Isaiah 51:22). 

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The One Who Pled Our Case

God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, has been telling His captive, exiled, circumstantially-pitiful people, to take comfort. He has given them rich promises and prophesies of hope.

“Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my  justice for a light to the peoples. My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait. Isaiah  51:4-5.

He tells them that though they have been rightfully drinking the cup of God’s anger from their continually turning away from Him, He is the kind of God who will plead their case. On the other side of the Cross, we know what Isaiah and his literally captive audience did not know. While Cyrus would soon send them home, their patterns of turning away from God would continue ad nauseam. The solving of their external problem would only expose a much deeper eternal and internal one.

Christ was the one Sent from God, the One who drew near in the incarnation, the One who pled our eternal cause before the Father and took the solution upon Himself. In John 17, Jesus’ adaption of  the high priestly prayer, he pled our case.  On the Cross, He bled for our doomed case. And He still sits at the right of the Father to continually plead our cases with the help of the Holy Spirit whom he sent to indwell us and translate sighs into prayers  (see Hebrews 7:24-25 and Romans 8: 26-27).

In light of His pleading on our behalf, we are freed to plead on behalf of others. His advocacy for us before the Father should compel our hearts to advocate on behalf of others. We need not spend too much time listing of our adult Christmas wish lists, for we know that we have a Triune God who already knows what we need and has provided for our greatest need.

Pleading for Those Inside the Fold

When our hearts and minds are freed from the need to constantly be thinking for  ourselves and pleading our needs and desires, we have room to carry the burdens of the body of Christ. The Philippian Church so beautifully modeled this in prayer and in action. For though they were outwardly poor, they knew the God who pled their case and were freed to look out for the financial needs of Paul as he continued to plant churches.

Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know  that in the  beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again (Philippians 4:14-16).

The local body of Christ aches with hurts. Members of our churches are fighting cancer, drowning under financial needs, and irked by isolation. The gospel invites us into pleading in prayer and responding in service for the sheep of the flock.

Pleading for Those Outside the Fold

As former enemies of God  who have been reconciled by Christ’s atonement and intercession, we are invited into an active ambassadorship. Because Christ has both pled  and bled for us, we are invited to implore others, to plead with others, to be reconciled to God.

In addition to pleading with those outside the fold, we are also compelled to plead for them to God in prayer. In Romans 9, we hear Paul’s compulsion to plead on behalf of His Jewish brethren who were still rejecting Christ as the Messiah.

I am speaking the truth in Christ-I am not lying; my conscience bears witness in the Holy Spirit- that I have a great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were  accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh (Romans 9:1-3).

May the reality of our Lord who pleads our case free us to plea this Advent season!

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Fitting Feet

‘Tis the season of eagerly awaiting the footfall of the Amazon delivery men and women. ‘Tis the beginning of the season when adults eagerly check the mail, eager to open Christmas cards with glad tidings from their friends and family. Feet of those bringing good news and good gifts.

Even those largely unfamiliar with the Bible have likely heard the phrase, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” taken from the prophecy of the biblical prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7).

For the past few weeks, I have been digging more deeply into the 51st and 52nd chapters of Isaiah which lead up to the festive feet of him who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’ (Isaiah52:7). “

The good news that Isaiah predicts and proclaims becomes even better news when one begins to understand the context into which they were spoken. God’s people have been taken away from their homes, their land, their livelihood and their customs. They have been taken captive as exiles to Babylon.

Rather than trying to capture for you how desperate and desolate God’s people felt at such a reality, I will let them tell you in a song. Psalm 137 poetically captures the sentiments of God’s people upon being taken into exile in Babylon.

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres…How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Psalm 137:1-2 & 4.

Hanging hope, hanging harps, hanging heads. Into this context, Isaiah boldly speaks God’s words of hope for His people. A messenger was going to come with very good news to bring them home. In hindsight, we know that this prophecy found its historical fulfillment in Cyrus, a Babylonian leader whose heart God turned to send to His people home.

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Yet, in addition to the historical fulfillment, there is a clear Messianic fulfillment in the person of Christ. After all, He was the One sent from Heaven to not only boldly proclaim  but also to become the salvation and eternal peace promised to God’s people.

The Apostle Paul borrows these lines for his letter to the Romans later in redemptive history, for those who are ambassadors of Christ, publishing the Good News of the gospel to those who have yet to hear (see Romans 10:15).

As I was studying the words to the proclamation more closely, I realized that the Hebrew word translated beautiful literally means lovely or fitting. Those words struck me as deeply paradoxical considering the literal feet of the Messenger who also was the Message.

Fitting Feet

How fitting? 
How fitting the feet of Him
Who made All that exists
Being knit in the womb
Of a descendent of Eve?

How fitting?
How fitting the feet of Him
Who fetched the sun
Fetching items on errands
As a carpenter’s son?

How lovely?
How lovely the lips of Him
Who spoke earth into orbit
Sealed in silence as a
Lamb before its shearers?

How lovely? 
How lovely the lips of Him
Who trained the oceans,
Parched and pursed in pain
Before Roman persecutors?

Fitting, indeed, the feet of Him
Who purchased peace by pain. 
Lovely, indeed, the lips of Him
Whose loss was our great gain.

As we approach Advent, may we remember that the infant feet of the One sent from Heaven became crushed feet on a Cross. Those same feet walked out of the Tomb will one day walk with us in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

It is only fitting that we would kneel before those feet in faithful adoration and follow those feet in obedient service. Fitting feet, indeed.

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Highlights, Habits, & Hunger

This morning I envisioned a quiet morning snuggled in bed reading while my thrill and bargain-seeking husband and children went Black Friday shopping. I did not account for our littlest one climbing into my bed wide-eyed at 6:30 am.  In a last ditch effort to catch a few more snoozing minutes, I let him watch sports. He chose to watch a Bundesliga highlight reel. I am not sure where this child comes from.

As I lay there in my bed, half-watching all the goals and game highlights from a weekend of countless soccer games whittled down to a glorious twenty minute montage, I realized  how much we live in a highlight reel culture, especially in the holiday seasons.

We love to read and write the Christmas letters highlighting the past year’s accomplishments and celebrations. We love to watch the human interest stories of victory and success. My three boys sometimes practice their celebration routines in  the  backyard more than they practice their shooting form.

Even as he was watching, I was reading Ten Fingers for God, the true story of the famous surgeon and missionary doctor Paul Brand.  I realized I finally picked up the book that had been collecting strata of dust for a decade due in large part to his highlight reel.

Brand pioneered and nearly-perfected a series of surgeries that brought back movement to the formerly clawed and paralyzed hands of lepers, changing thousands of lives from the shame of isolation, unemployment, and stigma attached to a wrong-understanding of leprosy.  I picked up the book looking for golden nuggets from a life-well-lived.  But I think that,  in my heart of hearts, I was looking for instant godliness.

Both my son and I seemed to have forgotten that habits precede highlights.

Habits before Highlights

What the Bundesliga highlight reel did not show were the large sections of the games where no goals were scored. There were no glorious moments of defenders jockeying or midfielders playing short, smart passes. Just the shining moments passed by the screen; neither the the sinking moments of failure nor the hours and decades of practices, personal training, and conditioning made the cut.

Paul Brand did not become Paul Brand over night. As I read about the decades of inglorious, hard missionary work his parents did unto the Lord with no fanfare in the hinterlands of India, I realized that, even before he was born, his parents were laying foundations of habits that led to his eventual highlight reel.

Before arriving at his clear calling to serve lepers, he trudged through years as a faithful  builders apprentice in the poor parts of London. He led Bible studies and youth groups for young men. Later, he observed and practiced thousands of routine medical procedures during the bombings of World War II in England.  After his call to India, he had to leave his wife and two small children for a year while he established himself as a surgeon abroad.

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Decades of studying and applying both the Word of God and medicine created the foundation for his life of unbelievable service.

In concert, our culture and our corrupt nature seek the highlights without the habits, not only in the world but also in the Church. We want soaring moments of communion with God, but we don’t want to wake up early or study the Word of God when “we aren’t feeling it.” We want to make a big difference in the kingdom of God, but we don’t realize that tomorrow’s highlights are largely influenced by today’s habits. We want children  who are responsible and creative, but we don’t want to enforce discipline or turn off the screens. And when I say we, I am most notably indicting me.

Hunger before Habits

It is tempting to jump in at the habit level with recipes for change. Our culture will do so in unison with the Resurgence of Resolutions at the turn of the new year. When the ball drops, we will drop a few pounds. When the holidays are over, we will turn over a new leaf. However, the gospel teaches us to dig to different layer first. Our habits will follow our hunger.

MacLaren, my favorite Bible commentator, has the following to say about hunger for God.

“It avails nothing that the ocean stretches shoreless to the horizon; a jar can only fill a jarful. The receiver’s capacity determines the amount received….God gives us as much as we will, as much as we can hold, as much as we can use,  and far more than we deserve.”

I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it (Psalm 81:10).  

God not only gives to us according to our hunger for Him, but He must also give us our hunger for Him.

We who have disordered and distempered hungers for lesser things may cry out to the Lord that He would slake us with hunger pangs for Him.

Hunger precedes habits. Habits precede highlights. And our God is graciously prior in all three.

 

 

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When Tears are Your Brine

Thanksgiving week is upon us. The turkeys are thawing, the foil industry is booming, and families are preparing their homes and hearts for Thursday. As we stir our gravies and sauces, the holiday season has a way of stirring our hearts. For some that stirring kicks up fond memories of the past and bright hopes for the future; however, for others, the holiday happiness stirs up painful memories and serves as a stinging reminder that the future looks bleak.

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An Ancient Poetic Pathway to Hope
If tears are your soul’s brine, know that you are in good company. You are not alone. In fact, the Psalms are replete with accounts of honest cries of human pain unto God. The Sons of Korah, a band of ancient Israelite poets and artists, provide a helpful pattern of processing low seasons in the midst of high holidays in Psalm 42.

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise; a multitude keeping festival. Psalm 42:3-4.

The writer remembers having once been among the happy throngs, leading the procession in singing and making merry as they approached the house of God for the feast days. But those days and their accompanying happy, hopeful sentiments seem far gone. The writer wrestles to remember God’s goodness  in the midst of deep suffering and pain. Warm feelings have fled, but he refuses to flee from God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls;  all your breakers and waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:5-8. 

The writer literally invites us into the alternating waves of hope and despondency he experiences moment by moment. Throughout the psalm, we ride the waves with him, sinking into the troughs of despair and then cresting with rolls of hope only to sink again.

Unlike Hallmark holiday movies, we are not left with a saccharine sweet glowing moment. Rather, the psalmist leaves us with his present pain and his future hope. His situation has not yet changed. He is not leading the holiday parade to the house of God. He remains wrestling, riding out the waves, anchoring his hope in the God he cannot  currently feel or see consistently.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11.

He gets through the holiday slump by pressing into a further future, even if the near future’s horizon doesn’t hold out much change or hope.

A Modern Poetic Pathway to Hope
In her sonnet Weariness, Elizabeth Barret Browning offers those seasoning their turkey with tears a similar poetic pathway.

Mine eyes are weary of surveying
The fairest things, too soon decaying;
Mine ears are weary of receiving
The kindest words  —  ah, past believing!
Weary my hope, of ebb and flow;
Weary my pulse of tunes of woe:
My trusting heart is weariest!
I would — I would, I were at rest!….

There is a land of rest deferr’d:
Nor eye has seen, nor ear hath heard,
Nor Hope hath trod the precint  o’er;
For Hope beheld its hope no more!
There,  human pulse forgets its tone
There, hearts may know  as they are known!
Oh,  for dove’s wings, thou dwelling blest,
To fly to thee, and be at rest!

The Christian’s hope, in holiday seasons or out of holiday seasons, on the heights or in the depths, is anchored in the person of Christ. He is the thrill of hope that makes the weary world rejoice still. He has died and risen, and He is coming again. The day when we see His face, He will wipe all traces of tears from our faces. That great eternal holiday will swallow up every other holiday.

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As I Can, Not as I Would

The Enneagram gave words to what I have always known about myself. I am a perfectionist in recovery. My greatest fear is failure. While it sounds dramatic, it feels like knife wounds to my soul when I am earnestly trying my best and pouring myself out towards an end but am still not enough.

I have gone through a few phases regarding my perfectionism. For a long season, I used it to my advantage, riding it as a thoroughbred to the finish-line of everything I attempted. I had to win and win big, or the grounds of my identity would be shaken to the core.

After I came to the end of myself and found God had been beckoning me there all those long, tiring years, I hated my intensity. As a new believer, I wanted it gone. I hated my need to be excellent. I wanted to be more type B, but my perfectionism just found a different lane in which  to perform: I would be the perfect daughter of Christ and the perfect disciple and discipler. New aim, same self as energy source.

Then followed another bottoming out and a deeper understanding of grace. The doctrine of Union with Christ began to transform me on a much deeper level. Hidden in Christ, I could be fully myself with an identity that could not be shaken. Beloved daughter apart from success or failure. Knowing Jesus had secured my standing before the only audience that mattered freed me to try with all my might but still fail and falter. I could pour myself into whatever God called me to, knowing full well it would never be enough.

When I fall short of the measuring line even on my tippy toes,  I am held.  When my very best and earnestly prayed over process turns out a product that, when inspected under heavy scrutiny,  is less than desired, I am secure.

Because knowing the Perfect One and being hidden in Him deeply transforms a perfectionist from one degree of glory to another.

This past week my perfectionism roared onto the scene in my life once again. I was  reminded in myriad ways that my best was mostly laughable. Despite my best efforts to be a present wife, an organized mother, and an excellent leader for our women’s ministry,  it felt like chaos on all fronts. Well-intentioned and honest feedback was pouring in and my soul was struggling to receive it well.

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In God’s sweet mercy, this week He allowed me to read something that pointed to a painter that patched up my sore soul.

Jan van Eyck was a Fifth-century Flemish painter who worked with oils.  Among other things, he worked as the court painter for Philip the Good,  Duke of Burgundy. He is well known for his Portrait of a Man and The Arnolfini Portrait. His Ghent Altarpiece, a work initially begun by his brother who died before it was completed, is one of the most stolen pieces of art in world history.  When its panels are opened, it reveals some of the most beautiful artistic depictions of Adam and Eve and other religious scenes.

While I found all this interesting, what stunned me was the strange way Van Eyck signed most of his pieces. It was then highly unusual for a painter to use a motto, but van Eyck generally inscribed a motto in pseudo-Greek letters onto his works. Translated in the  Dutch, his inscription read, “As I can,” or “As best I can,” or “As best I can, not as I would.”

My eyes literally filled with tears at his motto. I am taking it as my own as a recovering perfectionist who seeks to now point to Christ, the Only Perfect One.

I will do the best I can with whatever task or role He entrusts to me. I will pour all of my flawed and failing self into it. But I will do as one who knows that even my best is not what I would have it be. In my failures and in my many moments of not-enoughness,  I will point to the One who did all He did as the perfect, sinless Son of God.

Oh,  that my life would bear “As best I can” boldly because it is also inscribed as “Purchased by the Perfect One.”

 

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The Gifts Our Birthday Boy Gave Us

Our middle son turns eleven today. He received the Chelsea jersey and soccer ball he has had his eye on for quite some time. His younger brother (who lost his wallet) declared proudly this morning that he was giving Eli the best presents he could afford considering the recent bankruptcy:  “love” and some of his Halloween candy. He received some new Rubix cubes and other thoughtful gifts.

But, as I reflect this morning, we were the ones who received the gifts this year.

Over a month ago, on an ordinary Sunday morning before church, our middle man got stung by a bee. I was out walking the dog when my uncharacteristically alarmed husband called me to ask where I kept our Benadryl.  In a matter of minutes, Eli’s throat was closing, he was throwing up, and his face was swelling.

We immediately called 911. In the few minutes while I was running as fast as my out-of-shape self could from the far side of the neighborhood to get to my boy,  time seemed to stand still.

In those moments, as much as I wanted to get to him, I was confident of his sincere love for the One who loved him first. I knew that even the worst-case-scenario would not and could not separate us because our ultimate end-point, the very lap of Christ, was the same. I simply wanted to see him again first.

Thankfully,  paramedics arrived and were able to get the reaction under control. Thus, beginning the list of gifts God gave us this year as Eli’s parents.

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We get more days to come alongside him and prepare him for the eternal days set before him.  We get to watch him grow in wisdom and stature, in fear of God and fear of man. Our days and his days are known and numbered by a loving Father. Your eyes saw his unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them,  the days that were formed for him, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:16). 

We received the reminder that each moment with each of our children is a gift, not a right. While such a reality should go without saying, busyness and routine tend to numb and blind us to the incredible gift of an ordinary day. Oh, Lord, teach us to number our  days that we may present to you a family full of hearts of wisdom (Psalm 90: 12).

Now I see bees everywhere. We all do. And every time we see one, we have the chance to  entrust our Eli to the One who made bees and controls even their stingers. We are all receiving fresh, buzzing refreshers on how to take captive every fearful thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

While we have Epi-pens at the ready and Benadryl pills tucked into every known bag and crevice of our house, we don’t trust in these things. We trust that the One who made our fierce, brilliant, sugar-loving, Rubix-cube-solving Eli sees, hears, and knows him. Our Eli is ultimately God’s masterpiece, His poema. God has good works prepared since long-ago for our middle man (Ephesians 2:8-9). His will, whatever it may be, will be good and right and perfect.

Eleven years is a gift. Eleven minutes of life on this earth created by an infinitely wise and loving God would be a gift.  Oh, that we would live all our days from Him and through Him and to Him.

I must be going. I have a Hogwart’s letter to write for my eleven-year-old Eli!