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Divine Discontentment

Usually when we think of discontentment, it rides upon waves of negative connotations. However, discontentment can be both right and righteous when it refers to hungering for more of God: His presence, His ways, His Word.

A holy hungering for more of Him, a desire to experience and know more of His character and to see more of His handiwork in our lives, these are evidences of the stirring of God’s Spirit.

Psalm 85 provides a picture of such divine discontentment.

What Had Been
This particular psalm, attributed to the sons of Korah, was likely written shortly after God’s people were returned to their land from a long Babylonian captivity.  One can imagine the poet-songwriter (s) standing in front of a familiar field, reminiscing what it had once been and recognizing what it had currently become.

Much like homeowners who have evacuated land for a hurricane returning to a home at once familiar and foreign after all the damage, the recently returned exiles were likely filled with mixed emotions. Delight to be home on their own soil mixed with devastation at the decline of what had once been.

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Fields that were once fertile and well-tended were likely overgrown with wild growth. Homes that had once been tidy were reduced to heaps.  The Psalmist knew that all that had once been was only to be attributed to God’s hesed, His favor, His special love for His covenant people.

Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you  turned from your hot anger.  Psalm 85: 1-3. 

The fruitful fields were a result of the face of God turned toward His people.

What Could Be

Remembering what was once, the psalmist moves into a holy discontent for the present. It was not enough that God had delivered them back from Babylon. Rather, the writer hungers for God’s face and His presence once again.  He doesn’t think it well enough that God had once been near to His people in the former generations. He boldly asks God to come and do it again with this generation.

Restore us again,  O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Psalm 85: 4-7. 

Stories passed down from generations of old left the psalmist wanting to see God show up again, restoring  and  reviving not only the physical soil but also the spiritual soil in the souls of the people.

What Will Be

The sparks of divine discontentment and holy hungering being stoked, become full fires of confident hope in God.

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his  saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who  fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.  Psalm 85:8-9. 

The psalmist is sure that God will turn His people back towards Him, that He will speak shalom which means completeness, soundness, wholeness, peace over His people. He imagines the uniting of disparate things,  heaven and earth,  love and faithfulness,   righteousness and peace. He can almost see fruitful fields restored.

Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.  Psalm 85: 12-13.  

The One who Came

While this psalm was not intended to be messianic in nature, one cannot help but see the hints of the coming redemption in the psalmists longings and hopes. In fact, the language in  v 10-11 bears a strong resemblance to the introduction to John’s gospel where Christ is described as being full of grace and truth (John 1: 14).

The writer was more right than he could have known when he predicted that salvation was near and glory would dwell in the land. Qarob, the Hebrew word translated near in v 9,  can literally be translated as a close relative, a kinsman, a neighbor. In Christ, salvation quite literally became kin, became a human neighbor.  In His tenting among us (also in John 1:14), Christ came near and His glory was among men.

While the psalmist looked ahead to a fuzzy future, we look back upon a crystal clear cross. May we, like the psalmist, be filled with a divine discontentment and a holy hunger for more of His nearness for ourselves and our generation.  Turn us towards your Cross, O Christ.

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Sweat, Tears and the Sea

Isak Dineson famously wrote, “The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.”

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As one who grew up on the Jersey shore and who now lives close enough to sea air for occasional excursions to sit before the sea, I think of her quote often.

As a believer in Christ, I also find myself thinking often about another famous quote about salt.  In His sermon on the mount, Christ teaches His disciples the following in the presence of large crowds.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world.  Matthew 5: 13.

While I am amply familiar with this fairly well-known verse, I often  wonder how to actually live it out. I long to be salty, to seen as one so filled with the Father’s foreign love that I add flavor to and help preserve the goodness of life.

Physical life is intended to mirror spiritual life. As such, I find it funny that salt leaves the human body in the form of tears and sweat. Tears and sweat are practical. I can cry. I can work hard until I sweat. My soul found great solace in that thought this week.

The world and its brokenness overwhelm me, but not nearly as much as the brokenness I continually find inside of myself.  How in the world can I be the salt of the earth?

My saltiness is meant to be derived from an outside source of love, the sea of God’s love poured into my heart. As such, I might be more salty were I to sit longer before the ocean of His love, letting its salt stain and scent me.

I wonder if being the salt of the earth looks like crying over the brokenness in my heart, my home and my little corner of the globe? I wonder, too, if being the salt of the earth might look like leaving sweat stains in the places where the Lord has positioned me (my home, my neighborhood, my church body)?

Salt of the Earth

How can inwrought Presence
Be brought to bear in the world?
You poured your life into us, 
So to them it might be unfurled. 

The same preserving Spirit
Who hovered over infant earth
Now dwells in human hearts,
Sealing, signifying deep worth.

The sea of sacrificial love
Swelling in a believer’s soul,
Ought to make them wonder
How we’ve been made whole.

The saltiness stored inside
Moves out in sweat and tears,
Leaving His residual love
In a world marked by fears. 

Salty saints, weep early and often,
Over a world broken and blind.
Then arise and labor in love
With Him the curse to unwind.

 

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A Terraced Heart

In South Carolina, lawns were typically flat and flourishing. San Diego yards, not so much.

What San Diego yards lack in size, they make up in depth and character. It is not uncommon to have a yard that backs up to a deep canyon. Resourceful homeowners with canyon-views learn to terrace their yards. Their hard, creative work results in beautiful, multi-level yards marked with nooks and crannies.

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Psalm 84
This past week, I have been studying and meditating on Psalm 84. This well-known psalm boasts three main, “Blessed are those” statements, each coupled an image. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, shown poetically by the sparrow nesting in the house of the Lord.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, pictured by  saints on pilgrimage to God’s Temple, and blessed is the one who trusts in you, imaged by the content doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.

While in other seasons of life, my heart has grabbed on to the first and the third images, this week, my heart and attention were captured by the middle verses and accompanying imagery.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84: 5-7. 

A Terraced Heart

The Hebrew word mesillah translated highways above comes from the root word salal. Salal can also be translated as lifting or ladder. A heart full of pathways, a laddered heart, a heart set on pilgrimage to more of God by the strength of God.

In the past when I have thought about a heart full of highways, the image that came to mind was the Autobahn in Germany, a well-paved, smooth, clear highway to the Lord. However, the introduction of the imagery of climbing and ladders shifted my image to one that seems to more appropriately show what pilgrimage to the Lord looks like. A climb, a curvy, circuitous route.

While those on pilgrimage on to the actual house of God would have climbed upward, I often feel like my walk with the Lord looks more like a downward climb to the heart of God. After all, in the gospel, we learn that the way down is the way up.

While it takes great strength to climb upward, it takes equal or more strength to travel the path of downward mobility that leads to the heart of God.

As I thought about these verses, our dear friends’ stunning canyon-facing yard came to mind. The initial level is a beautiful patio. Many people would be content to stay there, leaving the rest of the steep yard uncultivated. However, our friends have slowly, over the course of a decade, begun to terrace their yard downward, level by level. The result is that every time you visit their home, you are shocked to find yet another terrace, cultivated, beautified and planted.  They are not even 3/4 of the way down their property, and their terraced yard is already a maze of hidden spaces.

I long to have a heart that resembles their terraced yard. One that refuses to settle with what I know of God and have experienced of His presence. I long to continually,  by His strength, descend deeper into the untamed and wild places of my heart and the world around me, and begin to experience Him there.

A Place of Springs

The pilgrimage pictured in Psalm 84 is one through the Valley of Baca which literally means weeping place.  Often the pathway to the presence of God leads us through pain, disappointment and suffering, our own proverbial valleys of weeping. However, the psalmists paints a portrait of the tears we shed in those valleys of weeping becoming pools of refreshment for those who will pass through the same valley after us.

What depths of hope and purpose we have in the midst of our downward pilgrimages to better know and be conformed to the heart of God.  Each downturn is a chance to cultivate gospel-terraced hearts; each  valley of weeping is a chance to create a refreshing pool for those who suffer similarly in the future.

May we know the happiness, the blessedness of those who move from strength to strength, deeper into the heart of God!

 

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Kindertransport & the Christ

Gil and Eleanor Kraus. Up until a week ago, those names meant nothing to me. Yet, their bold endeavor to rescue 50 children from Nazi-occupied Vienna ranks with Schindler’s List in rescue attempts.

A Bold Rescue
A Jewish couple from Philadelphia with two children, they lived a comfortable life even in the aftermath of the Great Depression.  However, after being approached by the leader of a Jewish humanitarian organization, Gil began to follow his heart and his legally-trained head into a series of decisions that would forever change not only their lives but also the lives of countless desperate families.

One of the uniquely  painful policies of Nazi Germany was that Jews were encouraged to leave Germany to emigrate to other countries; however, having been severely persecuted and stripped of their livelihoods and money, many were unable to actually get out. The United States, which was in a largely isolationist mindset trying to pull its own people out of the muck of the Great Depression, had stringent quotas regarding people allowed to immigrate from each nation. However, even those stringent quotas were not filled in the years of the Nazi reign.

As a lawyer, Gil Kraus came up with a plan to use some of the unfilled visa spots from previous years in a last ditch effort to at least save the lives of 50 children whose parents had received permission to come to the United States but were unable to pull off the emigration for various reasons, mostly financial and logistical.

Eleanor spent months doing tedious paperwork and countless errands which enabled 50 spots for children to legally enter the United States without their parents. Gil pulled strings and sat through disappointing conferences with US officials, trying to come up with an air-tight rescue plan that would be legally-solvent.

Both risked their own lives, entering tense, Nazi-occupied nations and leaving their own children under care of others, that they might be able to rescue 50 children. Even when they arrived in Austria, they knew there was no guarantee their plan would work.

They conducted heart-wrenching interviews with Viennese families, each seeking to get their child or children one of the coveted spots to safety. They had to select, from among hundreds, the children who would be most likely to be allowed to both leave Austria and enter the United States to live apart from the only family they knew.

Once they arrived in the US, the children stayed at a Jewish summer camp until arrangements could be made for foster families to host them until, God willing, their parents (or who was still alive among them) were able to eventually join them. Some were reunited with one parent a decade later. Some never saw their parents again.

These sad, yet hopeful shipments of parentless children out of Nazi territories came to be called kindertransports. As I read the story of these particular rescue, my pillow became wet with tears. As a mother, I cannot imagine the strength it would take to pack up your child and send them away to safety, knowing that you may never see them again. Eleanor Kraus vividly remembers the parents standing on the train platform with forced smiles of comfort and bravery, unable to wave for fear that they would seen wrongly as honoring Hitler.

A Costly Salvation
The heart-gripping thought of parents saving their children at such grave emotional costs to themselves and their own children gave me an even greater picture of the gospel.

God, the Perfect Father, who had only ever known perfect relationship and nearness to His Son, sent Jesus to the earth, knowing full well that He would treated unjustly and would die a torturous death. He did that to secure the most daring and unthinkable kindertransport of history.  His sacrifice and risk, far greater than the huge sacrifices and efforts of the Kraus’, secured salvation for those who would flee to Him through faith in the gospel.

The costs to the Kraus family and their supporters were great. The cost to Christ and the Father were infinite. The spots on the Kraus kindertransport were limited. The space on the Father’s kindertransport are as abundant as His children. The Kraus kindertransport provided earthly safety and opportunity. The Father’s kindertransport provides eternal security and endless opportunity.

What an undeserved, unearned, unthinkable salvation we have received. We have been shipped from the dominion of an enemy even more cunning and crafty than Hitler. We have been carried by, by costly grace through faith, to the safety of the house of the Father. May such a salvation shape the way we live every moment of our ransomed lives.

 

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The Velveteen Years

Today, I found a  beautiful old copy of the Velveteen Rabbit on the 25 cent rack at our local library. I bought it, of course, because I love all books, but also because I was having a velveteen rabbit kind of week. As I sat this afternoon and read the beautiful old copy over a cup of coffee, I was reminded of this blog post that I wrote four years ago.

Four years later, I feel more patchy and less the kind of beautiful I pictured I would be in my mid-thirties. Yet, the dailyness of walking with God and seeing both His beauty and my sin, has made me more real. More than that, the gospel has been made for real to me.  I cling to it more, depend on it more, find my confidence increasingly therein.

“What is real,” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

We have the great privilege of working with college students. While I wouldn’t trade our calling for the world, it can be challenging sometimes for me to interact with fresh-faithed, prime-of-their-life, beautiful, in-shape college girls. Challenging only because I find myself comparing my well-worn, patchy faith with their conquer-the-world faith. Seeing their energetic personalities and their well-toned bodies makes me take double-takes at my tired momma-self and my more squishy body.

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Compared to these young ladies who are fresh-out-of-the-box I feel like a Velveteen rabbit. But then I remember that all the loose ligaments, all the patched up prayers, all the physical and spiritual dents and dings I carry around with me now are proof of being loved greatly. I remember that I am in the process of becoming Real.

Anne Lamott shares a similar sentiment in her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life – it has given me me. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now.”

My favorite word in the New Testament is the Greek word ginomai, which means to become. It is a process word, not a product word. Ginomia gives me hope; it reminds me that God is a God of a process and that we are all works in progress. Ginomai reminds me that I am deeply loved by my owner, that I have been bought at a great price and that somehow, against all odds, there is a God who sees me all unraveled and yet loves me still. He is making me Real, making me into the one He has created me to be in Him.

And, in the words of a wise Skin Horse, “Once you are real, you can never be ugly.”

Here’s to the Real One who is making us Real.

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A Word to Ministry Moms

Some live the resort life. We live the retreat life.

Our children have been raised in the context of full-time vocational ministry. In other words, we are retreat-ists.  In fact, our youngest son to remember his short life based on hotel stays. In  reference to his fourth year of life, he will say, “That was the year we stayed at the Maxwell Hotel and the other hotel with the nice hot-pool.”

While it sounds quite fabulous, this life of retreat and camp hopping can be wearying to ministry mommas.  The process of packing up a house, loading up a car, driving a motley crew of kids to a retreat full of college students, and living in a cramped hotel room is not as sexy as it may sound.

In addition to fast food meals and late bedtimes, our trips always include tears, throw up from car sickness, sibling squabbling and miscommunication as a couple. Like clockwork, I can anticipate that about midway through the trip, I will begin to wonder what in the world we are doing there. Wouldn’t it have been easier to stay home? Why can’t we be hanging out with people our own ages? 

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Yet, semester after semester and year after year, I find myself sitting on yet another stained hotel carpet, attempting to keep my loud children down to a whisper while also trying to sing one chorus of my favorite worship song.

We continue to do this because God is worthy, but also because it gives us opportunities to model and to marvel.

Modeling
A large majority of our college students do not come from in-tact homes. They have never seen loving discipline or healthily broken relationships between parents and children (I say healthily broken because there is no perfect family). They have often never seen parents providing both love and structure, laughter and training. While we do not do these things perfectly, even in our imperfections, we have a chance to model a family who repents and returns to the Lord, crying out in desperation for His strength and perspective.

Most of our students hold to one of two polarized views on marriage and family. Some believe a husband, children, a dog and a white picket fence will complete them and end their exhausting search for meaning and wholeness. Others, having seen and experienced great pain and brokenness in marriage and family, have vowed that they will never trust someone enough to marry them and will never bring children into such a broken world.

When we show up yet again to another conference or retreat, we are presenting ourselves to God as a tool that may help to right-size both. Those thinking marriage and family is all trips to Disneyland, obedience,  sunshine and rainbows will see a healthy dose of things coming apart from our family. However, those who are coming from the other end of the spectrum may be offered a healing window by watching me apologize to my children or seeing my children run trustingly into their father’s arms after he gives a talk.

Marveling
Lest you think that we attend retreats only for what God can do out there in them, I want to let you into what God does in here in me at some point during every exhausting retreat.

This past weekend, while I sat shivering in the rain while my children swam happily in the hot tub, I began to wonder what in the world I was doing with my life. Then, I looked up and saw a student that came to faith a few years ago having a gospel conversation with a freshmen he has been getting to know for months. They alternated between throwing balls with our boys and talking about eternal things. While they were doing so, I know that my boys were eagerly praying for this particular young man to encounter Jesus. I was able to do the same as I sat there seeking cover under a thread-bare hotel pool towel.

The next morning with bellies sore from too much junk food and eyes struggling from not enough sleep, we sat crouched in the back of the rally room. After having just frantically packed up the room and loaded the car, my mind was already half-way home. However, I got to listen to my sons belting out their favorite worship songs unashamedly from the back of the room. My eyes filled with tears of gratitude (and exhaustion).

I was reminded that when we are faithful to show up at these countless retreats, God is always faithful to show up as well. This past wet weekend, for a moment, He enabled me to marvel once again at the gospel that makes dead people alive. What a joy to have my children present when people are spiritually reborn.

Tired ministry momma, keep on keeping on. There is much modeling and marveling to be done!

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Dandelion Days

The closest thing we get to even the appearance of snow balls during San Diego winters are dandelion globes. I always smile when I see them growing, because they bring back childhood memories of playfully scattering their seeds. However, of late, I have a new reason to smile when I see them on my morning walks.

Recently, I slowly savored Elisabeth Elliot’s A Pathway Through Suffering. Each chapter began with a botanical example from Lilias Trotter. While I found them all to be challenging and beautiful, one in particular has stayed with me upon completion of the book.

“The seed vessel hopes for nothing again. It seeks only the opportunity of shedding itself; its purpose is fulfilled when the wind shakes forth the last seed, and the flower stalk is beaten low by autumn storms. It not only spends, but is ‘spent out’ at last.”

Trotter, a gifted writer and observer of nature, has painted seed dispersal in beautiful terms; yet, death to self is less poetic and more painful in actual practice.

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Lately, it has helped me to imagine my life as a field and each day its own individual dandelion globe (technically called blowballs or clocks).  The entire purpose of such a globe is to release its scores of individual seed fruits (technically called achenes). Thus, for the dandelion, losing its last threads of its self is technically winning. In dying to itself, it is fulfilling the very mission for which it so intricately exists: to scatter and shed abroad its seeds of life. Its death means the new life of countless more dandelion plants who, in time, will return the favor!

I tend to want to hold on to my time, my energy, my plan for the day, and my wishes and wants. After all, everything in my flesh agrees with everything the world and the Enemy of my soul feed me in every radio wave, internet connection and whispered lie. Hold on to your life. Protect your own. Treat your self. After all, who else will?

Yet, each day,  I am offered various experiences intended to help me die to myself that others might live.

To throw the baseball when all I want to do is text a friend. To absorb an angry email, offer the frustration up to Jesus, and to respond in gentleness and humility. To stop what I am focused on to listen to my husband process his day. To cook a meal even though I would rather read a book or take a walk.

Tiny deaths, but chances to practice dying to myself that others might receive life just the same.

For some reason, imagining another little seed parachuting off to plant life somewhere has helped me to see these tiny deaths to self as tiny victories rather than terrible inconveniences.

Death to self as one great, heroic act feels overwhelming and impossible to my self-centered soul. However, faithful daily dying to self that leads to a lifetime of self laid down for the sake of and by the power of a Savior’s love feels far more do-able to me.

Faithful daily dying leads to faithful final breath. May we let the light breezes or gale force winds of our days help us to let go of our lives, seed by seed. May we be able to confidently say with Paul, we are…

…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may 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. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corinthians 4: 10-12. 

 

 

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Lingering Winter and the Cosmic Summer

The icy, wintery storms assailing the Midwest and the freezing seasons of tragedy in lives of friends who live in sunny San Diego leave me longing for more than just a sunny day, but the cosmic summer, as C.S. Lewis so beautifully puts it.

The freezing cold winter condition of humanity has been blowing of late, leaving my heart heavy and tottering to the more hopeless side.

In his short book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis calls the Incarnation of Christ the Grand Miracle, the central miracle from which all other Christian miracles hinge and to which they all owe their credit. In his incredible condescension to become human, Christ brought the first fruits of the coming cosmic summer in which all will be made well once again.

 “…God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulder. The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise… To be sure, it feels wintry enough still; but often in the very early spring it feels like that.”

My husband and I were on a getaway walking through frigid Central Park a few years ago. As the ground crunched beneath us, I could not help but notice the brave little daffodils, pushing their colored buds out into the still-thawing air. Spring was not yet in full swing, but the daffodils were bravely declaring she was coming.

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Similarly, Lewis writes that in the Incarnation of Christ, a corner was turned on the wintery world of sin and brokenness.

“Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’ Because we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring came slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.”

In the midst of the overwhelming chilly winds of the present day on this spinning globe, it did my heart good to be reminded that the corner has been turned. 

Christians have a secured and certain hope that the Summer will come on the heels of Christ’s second coming. We, of all people, should be the daffodils bravely declaring that the Winter does not get the last word, that the Sun is thawing the ice. Just as Lewis’ Aslan broke the spell of the White Witch who had held Narnia in perpetual winter, bringing life and vitality back, Christ has broken Winter’s spell.

It’s just that sometimes, the Winter seems to linger and the Spring seems long in coming. When a child is terminally ill, when a marriage seems stuck in the same rut, when another species loses its long-held, God-intended habitat to human greed, we can be tempted to fall under the spell of the long-lingering winter winds. Lewis reminds us that, like those brave daffodils in Central Park, we have the power to declare that Spring is coming, thawing the endless snowdrifts.

“We have the power of either withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our leader, the Son of man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.”

I wrote this poem along a similar theme. I pray that it would encourage those who feel trapped in Winter to continue to move toward and hope in that Coming Cosmic Summer.

Winter Waves a Slow Goodbye

Oh, grief-stricken friend,
Though snow drifts seem high,
The spring she is coming;
Winter waves a slow goodbye.

The blankets of heaviness
Merely Protect a deeper life,
Which now lying dormant,
Will sprout from this strife.

Hope’s wings may seem frozen,
Paralyzed in Premature pain,
Yet, at the sun’s sure thawing,
They will beat bravely again.

Oh, grief-stricken friend,
The stubborn winter gives way.
Blade by blade, life is coming,
Spring shall have the last say.

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To Splendor Through Suffering

While I am physically terribly inflexible, I  have the moves of a Samurai when it comes  to attempting to avoid suffering.  The great lengths to which we go to avoid suffering speaks deeply to how unnatural pain is to our nature; however, as Christians we are invited to view unnatural suffering in a supernatural way.

The older I get, the more I find my heart longing to learn from those who have suffered well. As such, I find my heroes Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael and Elisabeth Elliot to becoming more constant companions. While their words are direct and sometimes even terse, they have earned the right to be heard. They have no desire to coddle the flesh or bandage a bruised ego. Rather, this trio boldly sings the Savior’s song of suffering. Having walked the costly way of the Cross and gone ahead of us into tragedy, unjust persecution, and extreme pruning, they offer us helps and hand-holds on the way.

This week, God provided balm after balm (and  truth bomb after truth bomb) to my achy soul through Elisabeth Elliot’s A Path Through Suffering.  One simple line in particular rooted into the soils of my soul.

“If we evade suffering, we will miss out on the splendor.”

The following poem grew from this simply profound truth.

Splendor Fields

There are splendor fields
Just beyond these hills.
The terribly tight teary trail
Into verdant pastures spills.

Past claustrophobic crevices
Where the way seems to close
Await meandering meadows
Where beauty wildly grows.

Pleasure by pathway of pain.
Tears as trailhead to treasure. 
Through the vale of weeping,
On to joy without measure. 

When the path seems impassible,
When both flesh and heart fail,
When death seeks to devour,
Do not quit the quizzical trail. 

The God-Man came this way.
His love beat down the briar.
He who still walks beside You
Shall carry you when you tire.  

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When we bend and maneuver and insulate our souls to avoid pain, we are going out of our way to miss the splendor that most assuredly lies on the other side of suffering. Perhaps we need to be more convinced that those who sow in tears will reap in laugher, as promised so beautifully in Psalm 126.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then  our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them!” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb. Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!  He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.  

I’ll see you on the trail!

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My Minest Mine

“Our will alone is our ownest own, the only dear thing we can and ought really to sacrifice.” P. T. Forsyth

I’d like to think that I have matured past the treasured toddler phrase, “Mine!”  Yet God loves me enough to continually uncover new areas that aren’t fully, wholly surrendered unto Him.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that I love to give things away. I love to give away food, clothes, toys, essentially anything that is not immovable. There are very few things I have thought of as mine. Writing is one of those things, it seems.

After months of shoring up courage and working on a book proposal, I received word that it did not pass the final stage of approval. While it may seem silly, the news was deeply disappointing to me. I am an incredibly risk-averse and hidden person; as such, putting myself out there in such a vulnerable way took years of courage. I say all this not to garner pity, but because in this tender place, God is sanctifying me through small sufferings.

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Far beyond my relatively small disappointment, friends are fighting their own far deeper disappointments. Friends who lost their far-too-young twenty year old daughter continue to face firsts without her; others friends at our church are fighting  for the life of their precious twenty-month daughter with a rare and aggressive cancer.

Elisabeth Elliot defines suffering in a helpful and broad way as “wanting something you  don’t have or having something you don’t want.” Suffering, big or small, cuts against our will. The deeper the love, the harder it is entrust it to the Father, and the closer we are approaching what P.T. Forsyth calls “our ownest own.”

I haven’t wanted something as much I wanted to write that book in quite some time.  My friends would give anything to have another meal with their daughter.  The young family at church is fighting for one more day with their toddler.

As I cried and processed these things which weigh heavily on my heart, the Lord was gracious to meet me. He reminded me that when I trust Him with my most tightly-held mines, I honor Him and am conformed to His likeness in new and deeper ways.

My Minest Mine

My minest mine is yours now;
It is bleeding in your hands. 
I was holding onto it, but now
I’ve submitted it to your plans. 

The quivering stuff of my will,
That which feels essential to me,
I was brave enough to open up,
And now ’tis given back to thee.

Another frontier of my heart
Claimed, under your control.
I trust you even when I feel
More naked and less whole. 

By definition a sacrifice costs,
Must cut, must tear, must bleed.
Thus the pain assures my soul
You’ve grabbed a deeper seed. 

For I’ve no right to “Mines,”
Not even the deepest variety;
For you bled to call me Yours,
A title of sacred sobriety.

My ownest own is Yours now,
‘Tis safely in Your possession.
Have all of me over and over
In most glorious succession. 

Christ had the right to call all creation, “Mine.” Yet, he made Himself weak and vulnerable, taking on the form of a fragile human. He made and lost real friends; He laid down real gifts and rights; He risked His tender heart and received blows when He should have received been receiving bows.

He called our Cross His so that He could say of us, “Mine.” Now, we have the honor of sacrificing even our deepest wills to Him. This is the strange, sacred way of the Cross.

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.