Author Archives: gaimee

Inheriting the Wind (An American Empire)

When I hear the word empire, my mind immediately runs to historical Rome or China; however, something I read this week has had my mind and heart considering adding our nation to the mix.

While our nation began as a democratic republic with a shared, though often fought over, vision of the common good, some historians argue that sometime in the past fifty or so years, America made the shift from a republic to an empire.

In her address to a symposium of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Catholic worker and scholar Mary Jo Leddy said the following about a subtle shift that has taken place in our nation.

“Many historians will argue that the transformation of the republic to an empire has happened over the last fifty years. It has not been merely a transformation in size but in orientation as well. The republic was held together by an overarching common vision of a good and just society. It was an incredible political vision, which sought to balance the sometimes conflicting values of freedom and justice with a truly original political system.”

According to Leddy, after the Cold War, America no longer had a common, clear enemy which had been so clearly delineated through Communism. With the Fall of the Iron Curtain and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, our nation has desperately fought to define its new enemy. Leddy astutely claims, “Unless we reclaim some positive vision as a nation, we will be engaged in war upon war. A perpetual state of fear and conflict.”

She couples this fading of a common shared vision with a gradual decline in our nation, one that is not immediately obvious. She likens the slow disintegrating of our national empire to the gradual fall of another empire, Rome, after the attack of the Vandals in AD 410. While the Vandals did not succeed in destroying Rome, their attack altered the empire, which for the first time seemed mortal rather than eternal. Some historians say that 9/11 provided a similar moment for America. With the collapse of two iconic buildings and the unexpected attack which killed so many before the watching world, suddenly, the American empire seemed mortal.

While Rome left an indelible mark on modern history through its law, politics, architecture, and concept of citizenship, it is no longer the center of the known world. America seems to find herself in a similar place, fighting to hold on to her former central place .

Certainly, America still stands and has an incredible amount of influence and power; however, we find ourselves in tenuous times as a nation.

In-fighting and political partisanship have reached dangerous levels of vitriol and toxicity; it seems the only enemy we can identify are those other Americans who think differently, vote differently, or worship differently than we do.

While Leddy wisely pointed out the problem, her solution seemed lacking. According to her, Americans must reclaim a shared vision for the common good. While that sounds easy enough, without a clear standard of good and evil and right and wrong, both parties put themselves on the good side and their counterpart on the evil side.

This is exactly what is happening right now, as I write and as you read. Liberals are propagating their own version of good and evil through CNN while conservatives claim the exact opposite on Fox News. Without a straight edge by which to rule itself and others, our nation will remain in such a plight.

To our credit, this generation inherited a system that moved away from absolute truth hundreds of years ago. We followed the ways of Hume rather than the Rock from which we were hewn; we left the Scriptures as the standard of good and evil and opted for right and wrong which were intuited by feelings and common sense. However, we did not recognize that we had borrowed our ideals of justice and goodness from the foundations laid by biblical truths. Now we find ourselves experiencing the logical end of wrong presuppositions.

When feelings, experience, intuitions, and preferences guide our morality, we end up at loggerheads. After all, what happens when one person or party’s intuitions are at odds with another? We need not answer that question, we are living in it. Division. Strife. Hatred. A nation tearing itself down.

Our nation is at a crossroads. Our generation and our children’s generation are reaping what was sown hundreds of years ago. Now that we see the infected crop it has produced, we have the opportunity to plant something different for the coming generations.

“Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be the servant to the wise of heart.” Proverbs 11:29.

As a nation, we have many great questions to tackle. And many wiser than I are attempting to tackle many of them. However, my concern is that we are not starting asking the questions far enough back.

Will we trust in the wisdom of man and philosophies which start with man at the center, attempting to make sense of the world? Or will we trust in the wisdom of the God who stands outside of time as its caring Creator?

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. 

A Tale of Two Brothers

Jacob and Esau entered the world engaged in conflict with one another. Their conflict escalated to involve their favoring parents and came to a climax in a cockamamie plot in which the younger swindled the blessing from the other. These brothers were dysfunctional long before modern psychology popularized that term.

At heart, their battle was birthed in a fear of scarcity and a desperate need to secure the blessing. While that might seem strange to us, we must understand that in their culture, the blessing meant everything: promise, security, approval, significance, land, and authority. Primogeniture secured these to the oldest child, but Jacob and Rachel, informed by a promise of God, but mislead by their own impatience and imperfections, would have it be otherwise.

When we think of these brothers, the scenes that rush to mind are a hand grabbing a  heal, a hairy mantle, a blind and befuddled father whose stomach took over, and someone pouting over soup; however, their tale did not end there. Genesis 33 gives us a snapshot of a powerful reconciliation and reunion between these two long-estranged brothers. We would do well to let their end overshadow their shady beginning.

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Scarcity & Abundance for Them

Their estrangement began with Jacob wisely fleeing for his life; after all, his brother was a great hunter and an incredible shot. I cannot imagine all the imaginary dialogues that happened in Jacob and Esau’s heads over the decades that followed. The regret, the anger,  the longing, and the questions posed.

Genesis 33 picks up with an aged and changed Jacob who has just had his epic and limp-inducing wrestle with the angel of the Lord. He is understandably anxious about meeting his brother for the first time since he fled as a young man many years before. He sends gifts and an entourage to prepare Esau for his coming and humbly prepares for the worst.

“He himself went on before them [his wives and children], bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept” (Genesis 33:3-4). 

Two time- and experience-changed brothers weep and hug as they are reunited. They begin tear-filled introductions to previously unknown and unmet sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews.  Then conversation picks back up with Esau asking why all the pomp and circumstance.

“Esau said, ‘What do you mean by  all this company that I met?’  Jacob answered,  ‘To find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau answered, ‘I have enough, my brother.’ (Genesis 33:9). 

Then the sweetest sibling squabble of seeking to outdo one another in honor ensues. What a juxtaposition from their early squabbles over what they perceived to be a scarcity of blessing.

“Jacob said…’Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough’.” (Genesis 33:11). 

The brothers who had grown to hate one another out of fear of scarcity embrace, having finally recognized the abundance of their God.

That repeated phrase, “I have enough” stood out to me, especially considering the pair from which it was coming. As young brothers, they had fiercely fought over the blessing, thinking God was a God of scarcity. Yet,  here, as older men, they are fighting to confer the blessing on one another, having seen and experienced the abundance of their God.

Scarcity & Abundance for Us

While we may consider ourselves and our society far advanced from fights over stealing birthrights, the same battle out of scarcity ravages our society and our souls.

Parents paying to secure a spot for their children in prestigious universities. Companies, politicians, and news stations fighting for airspace in which to continue their colonization of the minds of the public. Political parties grasping at each other’s heels,  fighting for the seats of power.

The message is clear, sometimes even in the Church. There is not enough to go around. It is every man, woman, and child for him or herself. Grab and seize.

We have much to learn from the aged and experienced Jacob and Esau. After having spent their lives conniving and grasping, hoarding power and position, they realize they have enough.  If they began to recognize the abundant, superfluous nature of the love of God then, how much more might we recognize it, standing on the other side of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

In Christ we have far more than enough. We have all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms (see Ephesians 1). We have been conferred with blessing upon blessing (see Psalm 103).

As we trudge forward in the political power war of scarcity in which we find ourselves, may we spend more time swimming in the abundance of Christ.

A Radical Approach to Racism

image Black Kettle. Red Cloud. Sitting Bull. These Native American tribal leaders have been my company for the past few weeks as I have been reading Dee Brown’s seminal book (no pun intended) Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

While this account is not light reading, it is enlightening. Enlightening not just to the hidden history of the way the West was truly won, but even more so to the insidious nature of racism.

I found myself reading about the gross injustices committed against a multitude of Native American tribes just days after the Philando Castile verdict. Clearly, racism is not a problem of a past century or a premature way of thinking chased away by the advancement of science.

With tears in my eyes and disgust in my heart, I read and reread the story of Black Kettle and his Cheyenne people.

Black Kettle and Lean Bear, another Cheyenne chief, had taken a trip to Washington meet the Great Father of the white man. “President Lincoln gave them medals to wear on their breasts, and Colonel Greenwood presented Black Kettle with a United States flag, a huge garrison flag with white stars for the thirty-four states bigger than glittering stars in the sky on a clear night. Colonel Greenwood had told him that as long as that flag flew above him no soldiers would ever fire upon him. Black Kettle was very proud of his flag and when in permanent camp, always mounted it on a pole above his tepee.”

Many years and honest attempts at keeping shifting and shady peace treaties later, Black Kettle and his diminishing people were camped at Sand Creek, with his tent at the center of the village. “So confident were the Indians of absolute safety, they kept no night watch except of the pony herd which was corralled below the creek. The first warning they had of an attack was about sunrise- the drumming of hooves on the sand flats.”

According to George Bent, a white man who had become an honorary Cheyenne, “From down the creek, a large body of troops was advancing at a rapid trot….men, women and children, rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops…I looked toward the chief’s lodge and saw that Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn. I heard him call to the people not to be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them; then the troops fired from two sides of the camp.”

To spare you the gruesome details, the horrific situation which followed, known as the Sand Creek Massacre, took the lives of 105 Indian women and children and 28 men.

According to Brown, “In a public speech made in Denver not long before this massacre, Colonel Chivington advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, including infants, saying “Nits make lice!”

Racist actions are bred from racist thoughts which begin in our very broken human hearts. As easy as it would be to point fingers and call those people racists, we must take an even more radical approach to dealing with racism.

In the words of Solzhenitsyn, one personally familiar with evil, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Racism is a radical heart issue, one that begins at the root of every human heart. As such, it must be dealt with radically, not only on the surface.

There are two different ways to weed my garden, as my children can tell you. The quick, painless way to weed is to pull the leaves off the intrusive guests that push their way through the gravel outside our garden. With little effort, the garden looks well kept…until the next week.

The second more painful yet more lasting option is to bloody one’s knuckles twisting, pulling and yanking at the deep root systems whose lengths far the exceed the visible problem.

When addressing racism, I must begin in my heart, recognizing that the capacity to judge and mistreat others is indeed my problem. As much as I rightly want to rightly call Colonel Chivington and his miserable remarks evil, the gospel tells me that I must call my own evil what it is before God.

From Racism to Redemption

Racism: a certain road from pride
to genocide.

Potent. Present. Palpable
In every human heart,
Must be suffocated,
Lest it rip lives apart.

Repent. Resist. Run from
This evil in every form,
Lest we be engulfed
In its hatred storm.

Marches. Pamphlets. Protests
Help but cannot cure.
Rooting out racism
Requires more.

Holy. Human. Hope.
He is full of grace of truth.
Jesus, slain on a cross,
Halts a tooth for a tooth.

Redemption: a road from death
to borrowed breath.

Wildfires

Our state is on fire in more ways than one. As multiple wildfires rage across California, my heart is heavy on multiple levels. Heavy for those evacuating homes once again. Heavy for the families of firefighters who leave everything, drive to the epicenter of flames, and risk their lives to protect both the land and the people of our state.

But the actual wildfires serve as a visual picture of the political and spiritual reality of our state. Hardship heaps on top of hardship, question upon question, crisis upon crisis, leaving a confounded people.

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Thankfully, the Scriptures serve to remind us that we are not unique in our plight. The Bible is set in the context of broken, desperate circumstances and includes a cast  of broken, desperate people.

The poet who penned Psalm 104 prays that God would come to renew the face of the the earth. He recognized the helpless, hopeless state of God’s people and God’s place without the help and hope of God’s presence and power. Having painted a beautiful picture of the dependence of various created things upon their Creator, he writes the following.

These all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath,  they  die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground  (Psalm 104:27-30). 

Creation mirrors recreation. Just as the breath of the Spirit creates organic life in the first two chapters of Genesis, the Spirit’s breath renews and recreates spiritual life, as Jesus stated in his conversation with Nicodemus about spiritual birth in John 3:1-8. Both our physical and spiritual states show our deep dependence upon our Creator and Sustainer.

California needs renewal both spiritually and physically, as do I.

Wildfires

Our state is on fire
In more ways than one.
Hearts and homes burning,
The season only begun.

Our need for water
Is similarly stratified.
Internal and external ground,
Neglected, withered, dried.

Fight flame with flame.
Meet fire with fire.
Pour out your Spirit.
Point to our true desire.

Disruption, while discomforting,
Reveals our deepest needs,
Shows us the deep beauty
Of One who for us pleads. 

Breath once again, Lord.
Renew the face of the ground.
For where your Spirit blows,
Life begins to abound. 

 

An Antidote for Control

Three trips to Home Depot. Two trips to Ikea. One trip to Big Lots. Over the past few days, my handy husband and I have been in all-out task mode attempting to speedily make desk spaces for our children. The obvious felt need to make conducive learning spaces for each of our boys covered a less overt deeper need in my soul: something I could control.

My desire to order and shape what feels chaotic is not in and of itself a bad thing. On the contrary, such desires to order the private and public places in which God has placed us stem from the desired end for which we were created: to image and glorify God. After all, God spoke order and structure into the unordered world created by His words. He set boundaries for the seas, telling them where to stop. He separated the light from the dark, creating the earth’s sun to rule the day and the moon the night (along with the countless other suns and moons of our galaxy and those in the countless other galaxies beyond our own).

In the Garden of Eden, the Father gave his first human creations the compliment of joining him in his ordering work. He invited them to tend to the garden and name the plants and animals of the freshly-minted world. In the gospel of Christ, our Triune God gave us the means to begin to live ordered spiritual lives that begin with right-standing with God. The Holy Spirit continues His ongoing work of integration (making whole) in a world deeply influenced by an enemy who is constantly disintegrating (pulling apart). Much to our surprise, He does this primarily through indwelling and reshaping the hearts and minds of believers in Christ. 

The desire to order our private worlds is not wrong; however, sometimes this desire becomes inordinate and idolatrous. While the desks turned out beautifully, they were not able to deliver the peace and reassurance that I was subconsciously demanding of them. Lest you think me alone in being crazy enough to think that inanimate objects of my own making could satisfy soul needs within me, the prophet Isaiah repeatedly spoke of similar trends.

The desks were more an attempt to control a world that feels increasingly out of control. On top of the pressure cooker that is pandemic living, we have friends who are losing loved ones and relational and financial stressors of our own. There are far more questions whirling around in my head and heart than there are anchored answers. With mounting fears, comes the growing need for control, as fear and control create quite a feedback loop. When we are afraid, we grasp for control. In our grasping for control, we stir up more fear.

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What the desks could not deliver, the Word of God did, offering an antidote for my need to control. While reading one of my favorite Psalms, the Spirit opened my eyes to fresh insights.

“Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Psalm 31:5). 

David, who penned this psalm, often had very little control over his circumstances. Though he had been anointed to be the future king of Israel, he spent many years being hounded and harmed by the presiding and precarious King Saul. In the midst of circumstances he could not control, he committed his circumstances and his very life to the blessed controller of all things. The Hebrew word pagad, translated commit above, can also be translated to appoint, to point in charge, and to give oversight. Thus, David appointed God to be in charge of the things that he knew he could not control. Rather than grasping for control, he gave it over to the One who could far better create, sustain, and restore all things.

When we face fearful circumstances without and conundrums within, we have a similar choice: to commit or to control.

Thankfully, we have one who did this fully and completely even in the gravest circumstances that led from a cross to a grave. The One who perfectly ordered and arranged all things took on himself all that was dis-ordered about ourselves and our world. And while he suffered in doing so, he actually quotes from this Hebrew Psalm, crying out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

May this week finding you seeking to commit more and control less.

Imposition & Accommodation

We are an imposing people. When stepping into a culture, we tend to impose ourselves and our ways onto it. We impose our own agendas. We impose our own plans. We impose our blueprints. 

Some of this knack for imposition is commendable. After all, it allowed our forefathers to create a nation in a hostile landscape against all odds. It was the stuff that shaped the American Dream. However, this same tendency that raised our nation, also caused us to raze the culture of the native people who lived in this land long before us. 

In his essay “A Native Hill,” Wendell Berry juxtaposes paths with roads. Since roads don’t typically hold my interest unless they result in an inconvenient flat tire, I was tempted to skim read over it; however, I am so glad that I stayed the course. The underlying principle he was delineating has been shaping my approach to God, His word, and His world this week. 

“A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around. A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity of movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape;  it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it…It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way.”

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Far from trying to make us feel guilty about roads, Berry seems more to be prodding at our hearts’ need to impose itself on everything and everyone around us. 

I don’t think of myself as an imposing person. I tend to yield adequately to others, and I don’t even like to ask for ketchup at a restaurant, and; however, Berry’s words have had me running a magnifying glass over my motives and methods of being. Unfortunately, there is far more of a tendency to impose in me than I thought. 

This should not surprise me. After all, the first act of human betrayal against God was an imposition of human judgement and desire rather than an adoring accommodation to Divine judgement and desire. At Babel, humans sought to impose their plans on the earth. When God’s people were no longer content with their unseen ruler, they imposed upon God, demanding a king they could see. The Pharisees, the trained professional religious people of Jesus’s day, sought to impose their human traditions not only on the poor and vulnerable, but also on the God-man himself. 

It seems that our fallen human nature tends towards imposition. This bent is only reinforced when set in a culture of imposition. Our culture tells us to dream a big dream and then impose it on our lives, no matter the cost, no matter the resistance. While this might lead to short-term success, it eventually ends in ruin. For, as the Proverbs say, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). 

Christ offers us another way: the way of accommodation. The one whose words created the world and whose planning parted the earth from the heavens and the sky from the sea, could have imposed himself on humanity. All power was his as rightful Creator and owner of all. Yet, that God chose to accommodate himself to our needs. Seeing that we were doomed to continue to impose our will over his own, He stepped into the world he had created. Though being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped or utilized, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant (Philippians 2: 6-7). 

He accommodated his infinite self to the confines of Mary’s wombs. He replaced unlimited power with the limitations of mortal man. He knew hunger and heaviness, thirst and tiredness. When tempted by His longtime enemy to impose his ways and his power immediately, he chose the way of trusting accommodation the Father’s timetable and tactics (see Matthew 4:1-11). In the garden, his desire to live sought to impose itself, but he eventually bent his will to the way of his father which would end at Calvary. 

Looking out upon yet another week of Covid calendaring, I am tempted to impose my will. To force my desires and to dig up enough grit to make the week do what I want it to do; however, I am praying that I choose the path of accommodation rather than the road of imposition. 

I want to hold the Father’s hand as we walk into a new week and try to plan for online schooling. I want to see what the Father has in store for each day and each week rather than start with my own agenda. I want to have my will bent to his rather than seeking to bend his to mine (which never turns out well, by the way). 

May we stay close to our Savior’s side and follow him in the path of accommodation this week. Happy trails to you, my friend!

 

Reigning in Unruly Thoughts

My mind has been a mob of late with untethered thoughts running amuck. From fears of school scenarios and flagging finances to stubborn lies I thought were long-defeated, my brain has been running internal marathons for weeks. I am old enough to know that I am not alone in this battlefield of the mind. I am familiar enough with the Scriptures to know which verses talk of this very battle (Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 10:5 being chief among them). However, these realities alone cannot make my thoughts kneel.

When mobs of unruly thoughts disturb the peace Christ has purchased, we need to look more at him than them. This concept of growing by indirection is nothing new; it has helped believers in Christ since the days of the early church. We cannot directly become more and more like Christ, not can we directly order our thoughts. The more we focus on them, the more unruly they often become. We need God to soften our hearts, order our minds, and sanctify our lives.

However, that does not mean that we sit around and twiddle our thumbs. There is much work we can indirectly. We can choose to focus the beam of our attention outside of ourselves or our circumstances onto him who ordered the galaxies and established gravity.

Paul told the often unruly church at Corinth, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge  of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). The idea here is that our thoughts must kneel before the Lord.

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Many of us know that we are called to take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. I know this verse and have studied many of the Greek words in which it was originally written. I desperately want ordered thoughts that kneel in the presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords; however, in the trenches of my day-to-day life, I wrestle with getting from point A to point B. And rightly I should wrestle, because I cannot get myself there. There is no road that gets me there, no train that runs between those two points.

The only way that I have ever experienced success in seeing stubborn thoughts kneel before my Savior is by being early and often and long in his presence. There I begin to forget those thoughts because I am thinking of him. His softening gaze and His tender tones (tender even when his living and active word cuts me like a knife, as per Hebrews 4:12-13) melt my frozen fears and slowly chip away at chiseled lies.

Last night, my mob of unruly thoughts were keeping me from sleeping. I tried reading to divert them. It didn’t work. I squirmed in bed, attempting to outmaneuver them. As such, I ended up having to quietly sneak out of my room and wrestle with the Lord.

My thoughts still have not fully kneeled, but I am thinking more of the tender one who knelt to bless small children and who rose early to bend his own knees in dependent prayer on his heavenly father.

Kneeling Thoughts

My thoughts like to run,
But they d not like to kneel. 
Catching one that is racing
Is always quite an ordeal. 

Changing shape and speed,
They don’t like to be still. 
If I can barely catch them,
How can they bend to your will? 

I need stronger, smarter help
If your truth is to prevail. 
I’ve tried reasoning with them,
But my efforts are to no avail. 

They run amuck with feelings,
But they must be held liable.
In your warming presence,
Rigid thoughts are pliable.

Help me sit before you
Early and often and long-
Then thoughts will kneel
At the beauty of your song. 

He who knelt with children
Also knelt in lonely agony.
My thoughts will yield to him
Who bore the curse for me. 

 

Agape Agony

We all want to receive agape love but grimace when we are asked to give it.

Agape love, by nature, is unconditional and self-emptying. The other varieties of love offer more reciprocity. Storge love, which is parental love, costs much upfront but is paid in dividends later and throughout.  Eros love, which is romantic love, pays upfront and shows its costs more honestly along the way. Phileo love, which is friendship love, typically stays in the middle range of cost and benefit.

Not so agape love. It is costly and quiet. It absorbs an insane amount of costs and takes much under the chin.  It cannot flow out where it has not flowed in, and it can only flow in from One source: the wellspring of life, Jesus Christ who defined agape love.

The older I get, the more in awe of agape love I am becoming and the more it is being asked of me by my Master. It is not getting easier to give. Every time it is required of me, I find myself back at the Cross trying to receive what I am required to give.

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When someone once asked one of my writing heroes Madeline L’Engle if her faith sustained and influenced her writing, she replied that her writing influenced and sustained her faith. I find myself in the same place nearly every week, writing to remind myself of what I believe and massage it into my life and heart.

Agape Agony

Agape sounds so lovely,
But it feels like agony.
A costly, emptying love
Led its author to the tree. 

To love, to pour, to spend
To be left wanting in reply
Tests the strength of love,
Begs a source Most High.  

My attempts are alloyed,
Tainted, stained, impure.
The sacrifices I’ve made
Make me love you more

What I do in fits and starts,
You did always, all the way.
The costs tempting me to run
Are those that made you stay.

I empathize with Peter’s
“We have left all for you.”
Like you are your rewards:
Other through and through.

Loneliness as wage for love,
Less, not more security.
After decades of service,
You are our only surety.

We’ll walk the wilderness,
Trust you in a land unsown.
Our one great reward will be
To still be called your own. 

We will not begrudge you
Bruises, bumps, and storms.
Each complicating curve
Us into your image forms.

The plan that perplexes us
Before you is perfectly plain.
For you will have your bride
Without a blemish or stain. 

Then, now, and tomorrow,
Thrice worthy you will be!
We only ask continually
To have thrice more of thee!

Preemptive Weariness & a Ready Refuge

Is there such a thing as preemptive weariness? If there wasn’t, I am fairly certain that my thought-patterns of late have created such a thing.

Normally back-to-school season is my solace. I love the ordered anticipation, the list-checking, and the label-making that it affords.  I love outfitting my boys with new  (or new to them) lunch bags, book bags, and first day of school clothes. However, this pandemic has been raining on everyone’s back-to-school parades.

I keep find my masked-self roaming school supply aisles in nostalgia and confusion. Should we buy the pencils and order the new lunch boxes?  Do they even need spiral notebooks? The surface-level supply confusion is nothing compared to the storms that rage deeper in my heart throughout the day. Do I have what it takes to challenge my children? What are they missing developmentally and emotionally right now? If can barely keep myself on task, how will I keep three different children in three different grades on track? 

If I feel this weary, I cannot imagine the potential and/or proven weariness of teachers and administrators, single parent families, and those who are treading water already. I  wake up with a weighted heart every morning, mentally tired from playing out potential scenarios before eating my Cheerios. This morning, after the initial wave of preemptive weariness came over me, the Spirit was so gracious to remind me of an old favorite hymn, “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul.”

“Dear Refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee when sorrows rise,
On Thee when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.
To Thee I tell each rising grief
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word can bring a sweet relief
For every pain I feel.” 

Anne Steele, the English hymn writer that penned these words, was no stranger to the storms of life. She lost her mother at age three, and then, at the early age of 19, she became an invalid. Some stories say that she was engaged until she lost her fiancee to a drowning accident; however, historical research seems to say otherwise. With or without the loss of a fiancee, Steele’s life sent her regularly running to the refuge of weary souls.  She remained single all her life, working alongside her father doing ministry. Her regular visits to the safety of the Rock of Ages seemed to prime her heart to write prolifically, as she wrote devotional poetry and hymns that have led other souls to her same refuge.

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It is likely that she had Psalm 46 in mind when she wrote these sweet words about her sovereign refuge.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling”
(Psalm 46:1-3).

The Hebrew word machaseh, translated refuge above, can also mean a place of safety, hope, and trust. It is derived from the Hebrew verb chasah meaning to run for refuge or  to flee for protection and safety.

However, the word I found most interesting in this verse was matsa which is translated “very present” above. This word literally means to attain or to find. A more literal translation might read, “a much found” refuge or a “well-proven” refuge.

The Psalmists implies that there is a well-worn, often-trod path to this sure refuge in the Lord. It has been sought out, found, and proven countless times. He has been found sufficient, spacious, and steady as a refuge for weary souls.

If preemptive-weariness exists, we can take great solace in the fact that a ready refuge long preexists it.  There was a day when the perfect Son of God wanted to run, as was His custom, into the refuge of the Father. He was not received. He was left refuge-less and ravaged on the cross. He endured this literal mountain-shaking catastrophe so that we would have constant access to the well-proven refuge.

In this season, may our feet better learn the path to the refuge of our weary souls. If this season continues to elongate, may we also elongate the list of God’s proven faithfulness to us and our children.