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On Thighs and a Greater Prize

I love weddings. I love to hear my husband officiate. I love to remember my own vows as an echo of God’s own covenant vows to His people.  I love celebrating beautiful brides. I love watching the groom’s face as his bride appears for the first time. I love it all. But at the most recent wedding we attended, I nearly let my thighs steal all the joy.

I live a healthy lifestyle. We eat fairly well. I try to work up a decent sweat daily in some form or fashion. But the values and priorities of our lives have squished out spare time for the more intense workouts I used to love.  As such, my thighs are not what they once were.

I know that I could rearrange our lives to get my thighs back to their best form. I could write less. I could leave less responsive time in my life for my boys by proactively scheduling hour long workouts. I could quit my part-time job doing women’s ministry. But I haven’t, as I have not felt compelled or called by God to do so.

Normally, I let my thighs be my thighs, whatever size they may be. But, as I was dress shopping for recent weddings, I let my thighs (or more correctly, I let LIES) get the better of me. It seemed, in those terrible, fluorescent lights of the dressing room, that my thighs had taken on their own zip code.

I did not like what I saw. And my discontentment opened the door for my eyes to follow in their own sinful suit of comparison. Her legs look great in that dress. She is older than me, but her legs look great. 

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I had allowed the age-old Enemy to hit me in a place of vulnerability. And then I let the lie linger until it nearly stole my joy.

The same repentance that led to life when I first came to Christ led me to life this weekend.

Christ enabled me to repent and be restored to the joy of Him being the great prize, no matter the size of my thighs. He gently showed me that I was letting my own image eclipse the fact that He allowed me to be His image-bearer. He reminded me that not only had He gave me physical eyes, He had also opened up blinded spiritual eyes to see Him, myself, and others, not as the world defines them, but as He does.

I wish I could say that being in my mid-thirties made me immune to high school fears. I wish I could say that being the pastor’s wife at the wedding meant I had reached full confidence in Christ alone. Alas, I cannot.

But I can repent and cling to Christ. I can remember that these thighs have enabled me to    bring three boys into the world. They have enabled me to go on walks with my husband. They have sat criss-cross applesauce holding a Bible and journal. They have allowed me to stand and declare the Word of God to kindergartners, college students, and women.

Don’t get me wrong, I aim to take good care of them, but I refuse to let their size dictate my worth or confidence. I want my life to be marked by a dogged, yet Divinely-enabled obsession with finishing the race set before me. I want my eyes to be far more fixed on the great prize than on the size of my thighs. I want these thighs to walk me in confident initiation and service to others until the day that I sit on Christ’s strong thighs and see Him face to face.

 

 

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An Avocado Soul

I don’t remember eating, or even seeing,  avocados until I was an adult. I am certain they existed, but they did not exist to me. With their strange bulbous, shape and dull color,  I must have written them off, except for when they were mushed into the glorious gift of  guacamole.

Upon moving to Southern California, the avocado has taken far more of a place of prominence in my diet and my life. Avocado on toast. Avocado on salad. Avocado all by its good-fat-self. I am waiting for someone out here to make an avocado latte. But then again, I think I would have to draw the line there.

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When we were filling our raised garden beds at our old house, we looked into an avocado tree. After all, who wouldn’t want those gems growing in their own front yard where they would not break the already-strained grocery budget?

I asked a friend who has the greenest thumb on the earth, and she looked at my green self (as in naive and inexperienced) and pointed me, rather wisely,  to a blood orange tree.  It seems that avocado trees are among the harder trees to establish.  You can buy them semi-affordably as saplings, but they take coddling and copious amounts of attention and care to establish. In fact, they don’t even begin to make large enough fruit to consume for 10-15 years in perfect conditions.

Because you cannot grow an avocado tree overnight or even over-decade, it takes a long-term view to want to get in the game.

I took her advice and went with the Cara-Cara Blood Orange tree, which is already fruiting and filling our bellies; however, her advice stuck with me in the strangest way. I now think see souls as avocado sapplings. I tend to think of my own soul and the souls of those who have been placed under my clumsy care (namely my husband and children and the college students and staff whom God has brought into my life) as a nursery of  avocado sapplings of various sizes and stages.

We need patient care and constant tending. We take forever to establish. We will only bear fruit with the tender care of the Heavenly Husbandman. And it will take a long time before we are fruiting faithfully and consistently.

Yet, God, who stands outside of time, is not a harried husbandman. He has always been one to take the longest view, the eternal view. He prunes and coaches, coaches and prunes. And He will not settle for puny fruit. He will have us bear fruits that is worthy of having His name, His produce sticker, upon them. Nothing less than mature and majestic.

Everyday on my walking route with our dog Mater (who also loves avocados) I pass two towering avocado trees, fruiting bushels of amazing fruits. In addition to wanting to climb into their yard and pluck a handful (which I have not done…thank you very much),  I want so desperately to be like those twin trees. I want my soul to be established with deep roots into God’s Word like the avocado trees’ roots that run under the roads into rich layers of earth. I want to confidently wink at stubborn draughts like those trees who have water sources deep in the dropping water tables. I want to be heavy with fruit that can bless, nurture, and feed others, all the while honoring the God who fashioned their green flesh.

Right now, I look like a gangly, naked avocado tree; but one day, I will be heavy with the fruits of maturity. I have one who paid a great price for my sapling soul, and He will carefully tend me and mine unto maturity.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely,  and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

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To the Utterly Dependent on Independence Day

I love franks and fireworks like the best of them. We took part in our neighborhood bike parade with bikes and bodies decked out in red, white, and blue.  But this Independence Day, my mind and heart have been with those who feel utterly dependent.

You see, a few days ago, I dropped off some Fourth of July goodies to our friends who are in the hospital with their nearly two year old who is battling cancer.  The flags and silly glasses were my sad attempt to show solidarity.

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I cannot imagine what it feels like to be living quarantined in a small hospital room on  any day, not to mention a holiday that celebrates freedom and independence. The suffering feel and understand deeply what is true innately of all of us: life is a gift that we do not control.

And I know that my friends are not alone in their quiet suffering in the midst of the cookouts and kebabs. There are those who cannot get out because they are caring for aged parents. There are single parents who have to work on holidays to make ends meet. There are single people who feel like they are missing out on all the family fun. There are struggling married couples smiling to cover the dissonance in their relationship. There are people imprisoned, whether physically, emotionally or mentally. They have been given the unwanted gift of utter dependence.

From them we can learn to look to a Coming Day of freedom, one that is not bound by national borders or the constraints of time. They remind me that, while freedom on this earth is to be enjoyed and celebrated, we were made for a far more wholistic freedom. We were made to enjoy the presence of our Creator God face to face. We were made to live in perfect unity inter-personally and well as intra-personally.

Everything in us whispers that we were made for more, even on festive days of fireworks and friends.

The prophet Isaiah declared boldly what he saw ever-so-dimly coming one day: the promised One who would inaugurate a better kingdom.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening  of the prison to those who are bound (Isaiah  61:1-2). 

Christ, the freest One, was bound to the Cross that we might be free.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17). 

Whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).

Those who know Him now yearn for the day when we will know Him fully. Those who do not yet know Him have the pains of separation meant to point them to the source  of lasting freedom.

While we celebrate the gift of the independence of our nation, may we also celebrate the greater freedom that can never be taken away. May we remember those who feel anything but independent and celebratory today. May we look with expectant eyes and work with ready hands for the Coming Day of lasting freedom.

And, now, back to the brats.

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New Month, New Mercies

July 1. I came home from a sweet time away  in sweltering rural Illinois to a long list of things that needed to be done: emails to send, books to read, appointments to make, curriculum to write.

Overwhelmed,  I did the one thing that did not need to be done: organize my cleaning supplies, since that was clearly urgent. While I was working, the Lord was working on me. While I was arranging Mrs. Meyers sprays, He was rearranging things in my own heart.

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When I think of the staggering scope of shaping souls, imaging God, speaking His Words, and modeling life-with-Him before my children who see me when I am not behind a podium or on the clock, I stutter and stagger, hiding my face like Moses did in Exodus 3.

Tending his flock, perhaps on an average Tuesday, Moses turned aside in the midst of the terribly ordinary to see something terrifying extraordinary. A burning bush that was not consumed. Perhaps he initially thought he was losing it from the isolation and long hours of shepherding. No, that really was a bush burning yet not.

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed…When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am” (Exodus 3: 2-4). 

God sought him out, got him alone and got his attention. Then, he proceeded to call him by name twice. Naming someone twice is a sign of intimacy and friendship in Jewish literature, thus God transcendent became God intimate.

Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet,  for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your Father, the God of  Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:5-6).

The God who longed to reveal Himself, the uncreated Creator who had established a relationship with Moses’ forefathers was not done yet. He was inviting Moses into his story, revealing Himself yet again that He might carry out the plans He had formed long ago.

Talk about staggering scope. God invited Moses, who had not really asked for a burning bush or to witness Someone so holy and other that he had to remove his shoes and hide his face, to an unthinkable task.

To follow through on this call, Moses would have to deal with his own murderous guilt and shame by going back to the land from whence he fled. He would have to confront the strongest, most scary leader in the known world. He would bring out a bustling, breeding people from slavery. Talk about a to-do list.

But all that God was inviting Moses to do was essentially wrapped up in God’s being.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The  God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:13-14).

After a little more cajoling, Moses began to move in faith towards the impossible to-do list set before him because of the God who revealed Himself to him.

While God has not called me or you to set free captives on a massive scale, He does have a call on our lives. He has revealed Himself to us in an event even more jaw-dropping than a burning bush. In the death and resurrection of Christ, we have the clearest picture of God’s character. God transcendent became God imminent in the incarnation. He set us free from captivity to sin and death. He invites us into the extraordinary redemption story right where we are in our ordinary lives.

And still, our doing must flow from His being. Our executing the tasks set before us is deeply rooted in His existence.

Thus, we must begin a new month of tasks and challenges with fresh reminders of His mercies.

 

 

 

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She Said Yes

She said yes.

My husband is about to officiate the wedding of two dear friends and gospel coworkers. We are officially at the age and stage when we no longer fit as groomsmen or  bridesmaid or even matrons. And I am so thankful.  Our new roles as officiant and prayer-gathering, errand-runner, perspective-offerer are far more suited to us (and far less make-up is involved, at least for me).

When a woman-in-Christ says yes to marriage, she steps out in bravery into multiplied brokenness and beauty to be exposed both within herself and without. She says yes to leaving all she has known (the good, the bad, and the ugly cloaked in the comfortable garb of the familiar). She says yes to cleaving to an imperfect man cleaving imperfectly to a perfect Savior. She says yes to an unknown future of employment and unemployment, to struggles and sicknesses that they can not yet see or imagine in their ripped and ravishing counterparts.

She says yes to quiet nights bearing heavy struggles. She says yes to conflicts that she could never contemplate. She says yes to meeting needs she doesn’t have. She says yes to championing and complementing her husband, even when he and/or the world think there is not much to champion.

That’s a lot of quiet, hidden yeses hidden behind the initial yes.

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But she does all of that in the power and on the promises and in the presence of the Christ who says yes, let it be so.

For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 2 Corinthians 1:20. 

Before time was wound, when the Father set Him apart, to simultaneously be the sheep to be slain and the shepherd to lay down His life for the flock, He said, “Yes, let it be so.

When the time came to step into time and be born as a crying newborn, He cried,  “Yes, let it be so.”

In the garden, after wrestling with the looming shadows of death, He wrested a, “Yes, let it be so.”

After three days in darkness, the Father called him forth from the grave, as he had recently done with Lazarus,  and he shouted, “Yes,  let it be so.”

As I was thinking about all these yeses, Sarai-soon-to-become-Sarah, the brave matriarch came to mind.

Sarai Said Yes

Yes to the unknown. Yes to leaving her home. Yes to follow her husband to an unknown           land.
Yes to the God who refused to fail her when foolish Abram did. Twice. Yes to her husband’s God becoming her own.
An impatient yes to her nagging fear that birthed an Ishmael.
A dubious laugh betraying unbelief that God could do what could not be done.
Yes in the formed of shocked laughter as she held her promised child in her wrinkling arms.
A horrified no when Abraham took their beloved son on a death-doomed errand.
An exultant yes to the God who said no just in time because a greater Yes was to come.
A tearful, triumphant yes to her aged partner as he held her hand on her deathbed, asking, “My sweet Sarah, would you do it all again?”

I cannot wait to be present when my friend Shelby says yes tonight. Watching her do so will point me to the One whose Yes enabled my own yes.

 

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The Importance of Wasting Time

I spent the first ten minutes sitting there twiddling my thumbs and beating myself up that I left my computer, commentaries and study notes in the car. Oddly enough I did not even have my Bible or my journal with me, which left me feeling utterly naked sitting at the coffee shop waiting on my friend who was running late for a morning chat.

Phrases with useful suggestions for how to spend the intermittent 15 minutes remaining were on a continual loop through my mind. “I could be using this time finishing up discussion lessons; I really need to tweak my notes for the Bible lecture next week. If nothing else, I could be journaling or memorizing Scripture.”  

I giggled as I looked up in my antsy, super-charged efficiency mode to see the coffee shop’s motto, Waste Time Together, painted in hipster hues on a chalkboard counter. (Aside: San Diego friends, check out Scrimshaw Coffee on El Cajon Blvd).

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Ah, Lord, I see. You finally got my attention. You desire nothing more for me in these stolen moments than to desire to waste time with you, sitting in your presence, getting nothing measurable accomplished.

This past few months have been among the busier of my recent life. Hosting dear out of town friends and family, starting a new 20 hour a week job, helping to get Fall ministry events kicked off and rolling, all on top of the normal insanity that is trying to be a wife and momma to three and a mostly functioning human being.

Martha was engaged at her sister for “wasting time,” sitting at Jesus feet with all the meals to be cooked, water to be drawn and details to be finished for the meal with their famous rabbi friend, Jesus. To her great surprise and to ours as well, He rebuked her for rebuking her sister. It seems that in Jesus’ economy, time is measured differently.

Similarly, Jesus’ disciples were in a rush. They had been summoned to the home of wealthy mover and shaker, Jairus, to heal his dying daughter. No time to waste. Hurry, hurry. Weave through the crowds. But Jesus did not succumb to their haste. He had time to stop in the midst of a crushing crowd to address the bleeding and desperate woman who had, in faith, touched the hem of his cloak.

Recently, I was convicted while reading a book written many decades ago by a busy physician and his busy friends, addressing the topic of fatigue in the then-modern society. As a Swiss physician addressing other Christian doctors and pastors, Paul Tournier talked about our tendency to “have too many irons on the fire.” He wrote, “Men are in a hurry, and we physicians and pastors even more so than others.”

Tournier urged his audience to consider “each instance of fatigue” as a signal calling us “to meditate a little more, for it can be a sign that something is not in order in our life, something which we must examine before God.” He prescribed “meditation and this search for a sovereignty of God in the organization of our lives” as a “remedy for hurry and commotion.”

Teach us to number our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:12. 

I have always read this verse through the lens of urgency. Your days are numbered, therefore don’t waste a moment. Squeeze every bit of efficiency you can out of your days. Labor while it is still day, for the darkness is coming. That kind of thing.

While I do think that God desires us to use and invest our time intentionally and wisely, not sitting around passively vegging out or actively pursuing only our own comfort or desires, I am also learning to see that God values our carefully chosen and guarded wasted time with Him.

Just as I am willing to “waste” time that could be invested in other significant and necessary tasks to spend time simply watching a football game beside my husband or picking up acorns with my children, the Lord longs that I would be willing to “waste” time with Him.

Its not that journaling is wrong or that studying the Scriptures is a poor time investment; indeed, generally speaking, both are commendable investments of time. It’s just that sometimes, I deem those as useful tasks rather than opportunities to sit and enjoy the beauty of God.

In all my desire to serve Him, to be a cleansed vessel, useful to the Master, a la 2 Timothy 2:21, I do not want to forget His beauty and His matchless Worth. He is worthy of wasting time that could be otherwise spent. He is infinitely beautiful and He longs to be enjoyed and explored, not simply served and proclaimed.

Excuse me, I must go and waste time with my Jesus.

 

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When Fiction Strengthens Faith: Silas Marner

Fiction has a way of enfleshing fact and enlivening truth. I delight to see glimpses of Biblical and eternal truths show up in the lives of fictional characters. Of late, Silas Marner, George Eliot’s short but powerful novel, has been dramatizing eternal truths on the stage of the page.

Silas Marner, one of the first English novels to present an honest depiction of the rural poor, revolves largely around two main characters: a wealthy man named Godfrey Cass and a poor weaver, Silas Marner,  an outsider to the small town they both inhabited. Godfrey, who made a hasty decision to sleep with a shady lady, ended up in an unfortunate secret marriage that produced an unwanted child. When the mother of his child died in the cold, he found himself at a crossroads. Rather than claim the child, he hid in anonymity, seeing this as his chance to marry the woman he truly loved, Nancy.

Silas Marner, a solitary, sad weaver who found solace in his weaving and the treasury he was slowly accumulating over the years, found himself empty when his treasury was stolen. Then, he found himself at his own crossroads when the tiny toddler (secretly Godfrey’s son) crawled into Marner’s cottage out of the cold after her mother died suddenly.

Marner chooses to raise the toddler who has strangely chosen him. The toddler, whom he names Eppie, slowly melts Marner’s people-hardened heart.

oscar-aguilar-327798-unsplash.jpgThe Expulsive Power of a Greater Affection

Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister of the 1800’s, aptly described the way the gospel  works in the lives of believers. In a day and age when the focus was on getting rid of ungodly passions and desires, Chalmers explained that the best way to oust a poor or lesser desire was by replacing it with a greater desire. While I know this conceptually and have heard it expounded upon theologically, I was able to see it brought to life through Silas.

A growing love for Eppie fills the gaping hole in his heart and life that he had been attempting to fill with his earnings. Where his life had taken on the calculated rhythm of the loom over which he labored, Eppie brought life to his home and a peopled purpose to his soul.

Eliot beautifully captures the expulsive power of a greater affection.

“Unlike the gold which needed nothing and must be worshipped in close-locked solitude – which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones  – Eppie was a creature  of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking  and loving sunshine, and living sounds,  and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring human kindness in all eyes that looked on her. The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was  an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit.”

Once his heart was filled with Eppie, he no longer brooded over his stolen wages. In fact, when it is found many years later, when Eppie is a teenager, the money is of little consequence to him.

The Mercy of a Full Confession

I love the prayer, “Lord, give us the mercy of a full confession.” In our world and in the flesh’s shadowed thinking, confession is something to be avoided at all costs. However, the Christian knows what the Psalmist so clearly explains in Psalm 32: when we keep quiet about our sins, body, mind and soul waste away. Freedom and forgiveness  are the gifts that come on the other side of confession.

Eliot’s character Godfrey Cass illustrates both the heaviness of hidden sin and the freedom that comes from being seen and known.  After his bratty, black-mailing brother (who stole Marner’s money, by the way) dies, his secret is technically safe. But the weight of his past weighs down heavily upon him. Even though he “got away” with no one knowing about his ill-chosen first marriage and his child and he was able to marry the true love of his life, Godfrey walks with lead feet through life.

The irony is that now that he longs to have a child of his own, his wife cannot seem to bear a child. She feels the weight of disappointing her husband, and he carries his own hidden heaviness, both of which end up eclipsing what could be a happy marriage…until the brother’s body is discovered with the stolen gold.

At that moment, Godfrey decides to come clean to his wife.

“Everything comes to the light sooner or later, Nancy. When God Almighty wills it, our secrets are found out. I’ve lived with a secret on my mind, but I’ll keep it from you no longer…that woman Marner found dead in the snow – Eppie’s mother – that wretched woman – was my wife; Eppie is my child.”

When Godfrey fully expected to be shamed and shunned, his wife showed him forgiveness and love. Suddenly,  the wall that had been growing between them collapsed. While they remained childless, they had the joy of being fully known and loved.

There are buckets of other treasures in this small gem of a classic. But I shall leave some of them for your own finding!

 

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An Unexpected Fountain of Refreshment

“Mom, he is stealing my cool sand,” one of my children griped about the other. Even in  my annoyance, I could not help but laugh at the sad statement.  We were sitting on a wide strip of beach that stretched for miles, yet my children were literally arguing about a small patch of shaded sand.

Our Summer has officially begun. While this means a break from lunch-packing and homework-doing, it also means a break from the schedules that provide space and sanity  to our school-year lives. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited about lazy mornings, lemonade stands, and lawn games. However, I also know that the Summer has a way of magnifying not only sunshine but also chances to see our sin, individually and as a collective unit.

Summer has a way of melting me, both literally and figuratively. We don’t have AC, so unless I sit myself right next to my best friend, the tower fan, I become a sweaty,  short-tempered, stinky version of myself. This outward reality betrays a scary inner reality during the Summer. The Summer has a way of melting my carefully-built ice sculptures of feigned control, leaving me in puddles of fear and anxiety. Wide open days overwhelm me.

While it is tempting to look for refreshment in vacations or exciting day trips, the Lord has to continually remind me of a very unexpected, always available fountain of refreshment: repentance.

Sure, we will have some fun trips, but my summer rest and refreshment are not dependent upon a float down a lazy river or a night in a hotel. They are found in the midst of or on the other side of repentance.

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In the sermon that the once-hiding, now heralding Peter proclaimed at Pentecost, Peter invited his audience to a paradoxical truth.

“Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord..” (Acts 3:19). 

Long before Peter preached that first sermon, God had already been inviting His people, Israel (through the prophet Isaiah) into rest through the similarly strange gate of repentance and returning to Him.

“In repentance and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15.

Repentance needs to be repeated more often that beach towels need to be washed and sand swept in our house over the summer. Just today, which is a mere 1 1/2 days into Summer break for us, I plopped myself down for my Sabbath time in an irritated funk.

Thankfully, before I fumed too long, the Spirit reminded of Peter’s paradoxical invitation. Repent to rest. Repent to be refreshed.

I repent of looking for refreshment in coffee or cold pools.
I repent of jealousy as I see and hear other’s vacation plans.
I repent of trying to put my confidence in plans or control.
I repent of expecting my children to be what I myself cannot me: perfect.
I repent of looking into the coming weeks with fear rather than faith.

I admit my inability to navigate long days on my own. Rather than looking to self for Summer, I look to my un-shockable Savior. And suddenly, I can see Summer for what it is: a chance to see myself, my boys and my Savior.

Sure, Summer may melt my attempts at control. But, there, in a puddle, I learn to be present with them through Him. A puddle of presence that draws on His power. I can manage that.

We have Monopoly to play, mountains to hike, and mornings to stretch out. We have been given all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). When we get turned around and twisted into ourselves, we need only repent and return to a Good Father who provided the path for this refreshing routine.

In light of these realities, let the Summer begin.

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On Hospitality

I have a love/hate relationship with hospitality. Had I known my future, I most assuredly would have chosen a degree in the Hospitality or Event Planning department; however, being an ambitious nerd, I chose Biology and English.

These degrees suit my inner self well, in that I am bookish and like ideas. However,  ministry lives in the realm of people and places. Thus, I find myself largely ill-suited for the majority of my calling.

We host. A lot. Mostly because we have a home, and most of our peoples are younger and living in dorms or small apartments. But also, I think, because God has had it on His syllabus to teach me a thing or two about hospitality.

Were I given a say in my course selections, I would not gravitate this way. I would choose Ancient Greek or Hebrew, diction or delivery of speeches. However, weekly, I find myself (my not-so-great-at-cooking, horrid-at-baking self), hosting events in our home.

While some people can plan an event on the backstroke, I mostly doggie-paddle my way, all frantic and spastic and splashing.

No matter how early I start prepping, I am always at least 30 minutes behind which means that the first guests play the role of servants. Chop this. Carry that. Help me to make it appear that our house is at least up to sanitation standards. Light the candle. All the scents to cover up the fact that I did not get around to mopping, though I had it on my mind all day.

I feel naked when I host, because it is so clearly not my strong suit. Yet, the Lord keeps me here, as a place keeper and a space maker.

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I am beginning to accept this role. After all, He says His power is most beautifully staged on the backdrop of my weakness. And I have a lot of weakness in the hosting department; thus, I am an oft-played upon stage.

Bethany has helped me. You know, the small town outside of the city that Mary, Martha and Lazarus called home. I think of that little speck on the map on the regular because Christ seemed to gravitate there on the regular.

When the crowds and the weight of His calling made Him feel claustrophobic, His feet seemed to find their way to a small house in Bethany. I am certain it was not anything to write home about. It most certainly would not have been featured in Middle Eastern Homes & Gardens, if such a publication had existed.

But it was welcoming and warm, and they made space for Him, not just physically, but emotionally and relationally.  Mary was bookish and not good at house-keeping, but she kept place for Christ. I want to be like her.

Hospitality

When the Giver of all things
Became a guest
He was unwelcomed, at worst,
Tolerated at best.
Except in Bethany-
There He found rest.

In their small, unassuming,
Modest place,
The Maker of mountains
Was met with grace.
By aid of mat and meal,
He slowed His pace.

In their warm presence,
He long did loom.
Silence, laughter, tears,
Crowded the room,
As Light shadow-boxed
With a coming tomb.

Spaces,
Places,
Faces.

Hospitality hostility slowly erases.

 

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Self: An Insufficient Story

Tabula Rasa. Blank Slate. Carte blanche. You decide you. The future is wide open. Self as the story, the author, the editor, the audience.

Webster’s dictionary defines tabula rasa, a concept popularized by John Locke, as “the mind in its hypothetical primary blank or empty state before receiving outside impressions.”

While the average person is not thinking about Locke’s theory, self as the story which defines all of life has become the air we breathe. While the preeminence of self sounds agreeable and liberating, I believe it is a crushing concept that only paralyzes or perforates the individual and society it seeks to enthrone.

Neil Postman, a social critic with nearly prophetic vision, writes extensively about the modern Western culture. Postman recognizes that every human and culture needs a narrative by which to live.  He wisely notes that we need, “not just any kind of story, but one that tells of origins and envisions a future, a story that constructs ideals, prescribes rules of conduct, provides a source of authority, and, above all, gives a sense of continuity and purpose.”

Self is an insufficient story. Yet, in the lack of a  greater cohesive, accepted narrative, expressive individualism has risen the ranks. As such, self reigns in all her insufficient glory.

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We live in Southern California, a place that we have quickly grown to love. There is much to accept and champion about our quirky state: the early banning of plastic bags, a concern for the environment, and a widespread recognition of the marginalized,  among them. However, our state recently passed a bill regarding sexual education that has me feeling uneasy.  I have been sitting on it for a few days, processing, praying, wrestling.

I do not want this to become a blasting place for the bill itself, as I still have much more research and reading to do concerning what it says and will mean.  Even its title, Carte Blanche, betrays my concerns. You create your own standard of living, you define yourself, even to the point of deciding (or living undecided) in your gender.

While I heartily disagree with bullying and harassment of all kinds for any reason and wish safety for all children in all schools, I fear that promoting such weighty self- expressionism at the earliest ages will do the very opposite of what is intended. Rather than free children, such legalized and championed forms of self expressionism will crush them.

As a biology major, I do recognize that there are cases where generalized cells don’t completely specialize, leaving a small percentage of children in a biologically-induced gender confusion. I believe that this, like all other cells dysfunctions and sicknesses, results from living in a broken world.

Albert Einstein wisely warned that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them.”

From the Christian narrative (which I believe to be the only narrative that can properly diagnose and treat the condition of  the human heart which creates broken cultures), self created the problems which plague us.

We were created with intent and design by an all-loving, all-wise Creator. Discontent with His designs and living under His Deity, self threw off design, usurping the Creator. Every problem that exists on this globe stems from self grabbing the throne. Thus, tasking self with the task of fixing such problems only exacerbates them.

We must do the hard work (and the heart work) of swimming upstream from downstream problems. While I champion efforts to protect children and stop bullying,  I  fear that our lawmakers don’t have a narrative that allows them to navigate any waters past the enthroned self.

Self-expressionism will not protect our children, it will crush them, as it has every human and culture since the fateful fall in the Garden of Eden.

What our children, what we need, is to be part of a much larger story, one that places self in its proper place, as lovingly created by the all-powerful, all-loving Author.

May we as believers stick to The Story, the only one with any power to free and form. May we compellingly tell of the Author who stepped into His story to die for His children who had become self-sick, that they might be saved and whole, brought back to their original purpose.