Category Archives: from the heart

Living in His Largesse

Largesse is not a word we use often. In fact, most of us have no clue that it means, “generosity in bestowing gifts upon others.” While the word is distant, it bears great relevance to the life of a Christ follower.

Largesse

I was reintroduced to the word and its accompanying concept when I recently reread A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I probably read this book twelve times as a child, but the story struck me in different places as an adult.

Sara, a formerly doted-upon and beloved daughter now orphaned, fights to remember her identity even as she lives as a starving maid in a decrepit attic.

“If I was a princess – a real princess, ” she murmured, “I could scatter largess to the populace. But even if I am only a pretend princess, I can invent little things to do for people…I’ll pretend that to do things people like is like scattering largess. I’ve scattered largess.”

Sara lives faithfully scattering her largess despite her poverty. After she is adopted by a wealthy neighbor, she continues to show largess.

The Largesse of the Lord

Long before the 12th century when the word became popularly used, the Triune God has been living with largesse.

Creation itself is an incredible act of largesse, an overflow of the fullness of love and creativity within the three persons of the Trinity (Gen. 1:27-28).

God’s early act of sacrificing an animal to clothe our fig-laden forebears is an act of largesse (Gen. 3: 21).

God’s promise-pregnant initiation toward Abram who lived in a city of moon-worshippers was an act of largesse (Gen. 12: 1-3).

God’s continued covenant keeping toward a continually covenant-breaking people was largesse (Ex. 34: 6-9).

I could go on and on about the Lord’s acts of largesse, as his every interaction with his fallen humanity is an act of mercy. However, his largesse culminates in his lowering of himself to us in the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, God emptied himself of the glory that enabled his largesse (John 17:1-2). He became a servant and did exactly what the little princess Sara Crews sought to do (Phil. 2: 1-11). He lived with largesse out of perfect obedience to the Father. Even when he was starving in the wilderness and being tempted by his Father’s sworn enemy, he responded as one who knew his true identity as the Son of God, the prince of peace (Luke 4).

God, the Father, showed largesse in sending God, the Son. God, the Son showed largesse in sending God, the Holy Spirit to be with us in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God (John 14: 15-21).

Learning to Live in His Largesse

I know these realities factually and theologically (clearly, I just spouted out a few examples). But I have still often lived like an orphaned pauper. I have forgotten that I have full access to the abundance of God (which is intended not to be hoarded selfishly but rather to shed abroad in smaller acts of largesse).

I am learning that I don’t look like the Lord in his tendencies towards largesse because I am wildly uncomfortable with receiving his largesse. It’s hard to let him hold my gaze. It’s exposing to sit under such a steady and powerful stream of love. It feels vulnerable to be delighted in without protective layers of self-justification or merit to shield me from the warmth of such love.

But he keeps pulling me in, gently and patiently. He keeps loving me an everlasting love, and such love is slowly shaping me. I am more aware of my entitlement which arrogantly sees his acts of largesse as a form of payment I think I have earned.I am more aware of the small little acts of largesse I used to not notice (a particularly beautiful flower, a sweet smile from one of my sons, a hawk soaring overhead).

Lately, I am blown away by this act of his largesse: he is helping me live in his largesse. And it is a spacious place, no matter how tightening or trying circumstances.

Growing Backwards towards Bethlehem

In a culture that loves ascending ladders, hitting milestones, and surging forward toward progress, I often feel like one who is moving backwards. Not only am I not where I thought I would be, I sometimes feel like I am regressing in confidence, purpose, and direction. 

One of Flannery O’Connor’s most memorable protagonists, Haze Motes, is described as “going backwards to Bethlehem.” The phrase resonates with me and serves as a reminder that God’s growth cycle for his children does not follow organizational charts or ten-year plans. As I approach forty, I feel less sure what I want to do with my life than I did at twenty-four. I feel more certain of my weaknesses and foibles and silent vetoes than I do of my abilities. 

In her book The Coming of God, Maria Boulding wisely notes “Our strength can sometimes be a greater obstacle to God than our weakness.” If this is the case (and countless biblical stories verify such a reality; just ask Gideon what God did to his strong armies and false confidence), then maybe what I have felt like as regression is actually progression, the walking backwards to Bethlehem that O’Connor mentions. 

After all, who was available enough to put their own agendas aside to move toward the infant who was God incarnate? The shepherds shivering in the cold of night, apart from the bustling of the town, were quiet enough to hear the angelic herald. Their agendas were not so full of networking meetings to advance their own plan for self-actualization that they missed the chance to have a glimpse at the invisible God made visible. 

And the wise men from the East? They were dissatisfied enough with all their studies and knowledge to set out on a cockamamie plan to follow a star. I wonder what their peers thought as they began their journey, laden with food for the wandering and gifts for an obscurely-prophesied nascent king. They certainly did not appear as those who were moving forward on a straight line to progress. 

If I am uncomfortably honest, in the past, I trusted in my own intelligence, orienteering, and intuition to get me to more of Christ (sheer willpower and a steady diet of spiritual discipline). While I remain committed to the spiritual disciplines as ways of posturing myself for more of Christ, I am also learning more deeply that God cannot be approached even with pious spiritual transactions. 

In this season, I don’t even feel capable of walking myself to Bethlehem. On the surface, I am keeping up with the tasks and enjoying the sweetness of this season of life. Yet, simultaneously, I feel like the Lord has my soul in a bit of a chrysalis. (Initially, it felt more like a straight-jacket that I tried to escape to no avail; the Spirit has softened the imagery to a chrysalis as I have settled down into weakness and stillness). I feel stuck and quite swollen. Stuck and swollen don’t fit well in a society of beauty and blazing speed. I feel like the world is rushing around me and leaving me behind. 

As I woke up this morning, God gave me the sweetest image to console my heart which, yet again, felt a bit aimless in such an arrow-sharp culture of progress. 

I may be a chrysalis (which don’t really have any mobility on their own). However, if I am held in his hand or even to be found safety resting for renewal somewhere in the expansive space of his royal robe, I can be still yet still moving. He is the mover; I the immobile. He is the active initiator; I am the dependent one. 

I am learning this is what growing backwards to Bethlehem feels like. To be safely carried in weakness and dependence to the God who became weak and vulnerable to secure my safety in him, this is a good place to be during the Advent season. Waiting. Longing. Submitting. Staying. 

He is worth the wait. One day, we will vigorously join Isaiah in saying, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9). 

Simeon Bears the Burden Bearer

Simeon was a story gatherer. As an elderly man, he carried the weight of the stories of his people, both collective and individual.  Every time someone came and shared with him his or her story of loss or loneliness, a child born or a child lost, he surely felt the weight of his role.

He would do all he could under the Old Covenant to  bring those weights to God; yet, I imagine the cumulative effect of his job as an elder in a flock who had been waiting under 400 years of divine silence weighed his soul down.

Luke, whose gospel gives the most detailed accounts of the events surrounding and emanating from the birth of Christ, tells us the following:

Now there was a man Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
Luke 2: 25.

A short sentence that clues us in to significant details of this man’s life. He was the ideal Jew, the best you could get under the Old Covenant. The Holy Spirit would come upon him and guide him, which was a rare occurrence. And he was waiting for the comfort of his people, for the One who could fully bear the weight of the stories that sagged down his soul.

The Greek word translated waiting is prosdechomai, an incredibly active word in the Greek middle voice which, according to HELPS Word Studies, signifies high personal involvement. It gives the image of someone leaning in towards something, actively ready to receive it warmly, or on tip toes looking for expected thing.

The word translated consolation, paraklésis,  is actually the same root word used to describe the Holy Spirit later in Luke’s gospel and the sequel Acts, in which the Holy Spirit plays a prominent role. This word means encouragement and comfort from close beside. When my son was in incredible pain after rupturing his ear drum, I spent the night curled up beside him whispering comfort to him as I rubbed his back.  This image is close to the idea portrayed by the word translated consolation in the above verse.

Elderly Simeon was leaning in, eagerly awaiting the Messiah whom the Holy Spirit had told him would arrive before his death. He longed to see his people consoled, to lay eyes on the One who would be able to bear the weight of their stories and console them from close beside in a way he knew he never could.  We have no indication that he knew to expect a baby.

amisha-n-425135

In walks a poor couple, most likely exhausted from traveling all the way to Jerusalem with their baby. They had come to consecrate their firstborn to the Lord, as the Law commanded. They could not afford the expensive offerings, so they had to settle for the pair of pigeons.

Simeon picks up the child and knows.

And he came in the Spirit into the Temple, and when the parents bought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Luke 2:27-32.

The Greek word, dechomai, translated into the phrase took up the child, is the same root as the word chosen for Simeon waiting eagerly for the Promised One.

All those years of eagerly waiting to warmly receive the promised one culminate in this one moment of him actually warmly welcoming an infant into his elderly arms. In a surprising moment, Simeon warmly received the Messiah that he can been eagerly, actively waiting for his whole life.

I imagine that as lifted up the promised Child, physically bearing the One who would bear the weight of the sins of the world once for all, the burdens of the stories he held lifted. This fragile, little, squirmy child, so frail and small he had to be held, could and would bear the weights that had been too much for Simeon.

With the weight of the world transferred to the One who could bear it, Simeon could depart in peace. The old man of the Old Covenant warmly welcomed the New child who would usher in the New Covenant of grace. All would be well.

Simeon

His weary eyes were tired, but even more so was his heart,
Longing to see the Lord’s anointed and then in peace depart.

Had he heard it wrong? Was the promise merely hopeful delusion?
Had decades of faithful service and waiting led only to confusion?

Interrupting his wrestling, two simple Nazarenes drew near,
Carrying their newborn son, filled with deep and reverent fear.

They came to obey the custom, but for a lamb they could not pay.
For the firstborn’s consecration, two pigeons would be offered today.

Simeon saw the approaching family and knew without a doubt,
This was the Christ, the Chosen One, Who the Word had told about.

At once his eyes glittered and his tense heart founds its  rest,
As he held the fragile baby so close to his shaking chest.

Looking to God, as tears streamed down his wrinkled cheek,
He praised the One, who being strong had willfully become weak.

God sent the promised salvation; He had been true to His word;
This child would open His kingdom to Gentiles who had not heard.

By grace Simeon was able to understand what so few others could;
This child’s perfect life would bring him to a shameful cross of wood.

Though they would make a sacrifice to consecrate him that day,
He would be the final sacrifice; the price of our sin he would pay.

They stood holding Him in the Temple, a building firm and sound,
Yet His body was the true temple razed to be raised from the ground.

Simeon’s frail hands lifted up the One who would be lifted high,
The One who would live a perfect life only our death to die.

The Redeemed hugged the Redeemer in an embrace of humble love,
For this was Jesus, God come down, the Provision of Peace from above.

Hope deferred may make the heart sick, this Simeon could tell,
But Desire coming is the tree of life; Jesus makes all things well.

Light Pollution & God’s Power in the Darkness

I know. I know. I sound like Scrooge talking about light pollution just as people are going to great lengths to hang little twinkly lights all over their homes and hearths (I see you on your ladders and applaud your efforts!).

At first, Advent may seem a strange season to talk about darkness; however, the deep and persistent darkness set the backdrop on which the brilliant star pointed to the more brilliant Savior.

Four hundred years of prophetic silence. No fresh “Thus says the Lord” upon which to hang their hope. Even a recent correction proves the presence of the loving Father, but there was not even that for four hundred years.

The famous Isaiah 9 passage that we love to hear children quote in their precious voices begins with “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them light has shone” (Isa. 9:2). It seems a prerequisite to enjoying the light is understanding and experiencing the darkness. As much as I want to rush the process, the Lord has been covering me with his hand and holding me in what feels like darkness.

I’ve been wrestling with God’s goodness even though I know deep-down that He is altogether good. My mind knows it, but my heart often struggles to keep pace. I’ve been doing my part, dragging my doubts and questions and stubborn struggles into his presence. I’ve been digging deeply into the Word, asking for my community to pray for me. I was beginning to get frustrated with the Lord until he gave me an image that has helped me.

He reminded me that we pay great amounts of money and expend great energy as city-dwellers to get away from the distractions, the light pollution, the busy pace. We rent cabins and drive to far-away trail heads. Our family literally did this last week with a few other pastor friends and their families!

Sometimes, in order to show us the brilliance of his light, our gracious God willingly and wisely leads us into dark places and spaces.

Light Pollution

When we are surrounded by scores of other lesser light sources, we don’t appreciate the sun by day and the moon by night. My life is so busy with so many illuminative blessings that, sometimes, they obscure my hunger and need for the Light of the world.

How sweet and intimate of the Lord to lead my soul into dark places and hold me there. My eyes are beginning to adjust to the darkness and are beginning to see the outlines of glories and graces even in a dark cave.

David, who literally dwelt in dark caves for a good season of his life, understood the light of the Lord’s presence even in darkness. Countless psalms he wrote attest to the light of goodness of God seen even in the darkest of circumstances.

“If I say, ‘Surely, the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me night.’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as day, for darkness is as light with you” (Ps. 139:11-12).

The minor prophet Micah, who served Israel during one of its distinctly darker seasons, wrote along the same lines:

“Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in the darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8).

The Lord allowed me to stumble upon the following quote from Alexander MacLaren which expresses beautifully what I have been experiencing.

“He who patiently endures without despondency or the desire to ‘recompense evil for evil,’ and to whom by faith even ‘the night is light about him,’ is far on the way to perfection. God is always near us, but never nearer than when our hearts are heavy and our way rough and dark. Our sorrows make rents through which His strength flows. We can see more of heaven when the leaves are off the trees. It is a law of the Divine dealings that His strength is ‘made perfect in weakness.’ God leads us in to a darkened room to show us His wonders.”

When the Lord sees fit to draw my soul out of these caverns, what a gloriously blinding light I will see! If you find yourself in dark circumstances, may you know God’s power even in the darkness!

The Light of the World will return in his glory. Until then, let us hold fast to His promises!

When Questions are Your Company

It’s funny. In the toddler years, I expected the near-constant series of “Why?” from my curious children. Yet, I am learning that the teenage years and the adult years are equally marked by lingering, loitering questions. While the questions may be less constant, they make up for the infrequency with the increasing sobriety attached to them.

Teenagers and adults, on the whole, are less interested in the mechanics that make the sky blue or the reason for the chameleon’s colors. They want to know why God made them this way, why a good God allowed evil, why life isn’t fair, and a litany of other significant questions. As a curious learner who loves certainty, I like the former questions far more than the latter.

It seems God is far more comfortable with our questions than we are most of of the time. After all, God saw fit that the earliest recorded book of the Bible was the book of Job: a raw, reeling account of questions, first from a deeply confusing man and then from a compassionate yet transcendent God. Likewise, God graciously provided us with the questions posed by so many psalmists and prophets: Why do the nations rage? How long, O Lord? Why does the wicked renounce God? Will you forget me forever? How long, O Lord, will you look on? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook? (Pss. 2:1; 6:3; 13:1; 10:13; 13:1; 35: 17; Jer. 15:18).

Their Spirit-inspired and sovereignly-recorded questions serve as pavers to lead us through the weeds of confusion and heartache back towards the presence of the God who can handle our questions.

Far from being signs of lack of faith, these questions are often a right response to living in a world where what we know to be true about God doesn’t seem to square up with a crooked reality (from our limited, finite perspective). It would be more alarming if we were not asking these questions when we see, feel, and experience dissonance during our exile on earth.

Three Literary Helps When Questions Are Your Company

Lately, three very different writers have helped me feel less crazy in my sea of questions. They, along with the aforementioned prophets and psalmists, have been my company among in the land of questions marks.

In her book Suffering Is Never For Nothing, Christian writer Elisabeth Elliott reminds her readers that our reflexive question of “Why?” when suffering wreaks havoc in our hearts and homes is a gentle reminder that we aren’t the product of chance. If we are merely evolving organisms, why does not make sense, especially is there is no supernatural Creator ready to receive our questions and attempts to make sense of brokenness and pain.

In his book The Town Beyond the Wall, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel offers us an invitation to listen as Michael, the protagonist (who is also a Holocaust survivor) seeks to make sense of insensible evil. After surviving the concentration camps, he finds himself imprisoned in a Soviet town on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain. In his cell with him is a devout Jew, Menachem, whose friendship and encouragement keeps him from losing his faith in God altogether. Though Menachem does not have answers, he continues to bring his deep, knotted questions into the presence of God. When Michael accuses him of blaspheming by asking such hard, honest, direct questions of God himself, he responds, saying, “I prefer to blaspheme in God than far from Him.”

Later, after Menachem has been released, Michael begins to understand the lesson his friend taught him as he seeks to help a younger prisoner. He writes that man must “as the great questions and ask them again, to look up at another, a friend, and to look up again: if two questions stand face to face, that’s at least something. It’s at least a victory.”

As believers in Christ, there is ample room for two people full of questions to look at one another and sit with each other in their questions. Sharing our questions and inviting others in to the mysteries which have us wrestling is a victory that honors our God. When my sons comes to me with a hard, “Why is this happening?” question, at best I can meet him with my own question and usher us into the presence of the God who will one day replace every question mark with an exclamation mark.

Lastly, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tinkers, Paul Harding’s thoughts about uncertainty have given me great solace as I wrestle with my own feelings of dis-ease and uncertainty.

“Your cold mornings are filled with heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it? And as you split frost-laced wood with numb hands, rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace towards you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty.”

I love thinking about God using our uncertainties and even our deepest wrestlings to believe to draw us into deeper grace. The more we wrestle with him, the more intimate we become with him. Questions do not have to break our fellowship with God; refusing to bring them to him creates the distance, not the presence of the questions themselves.

If questions are your company right now, remember that you are in good company. Find a friend who will sit with you in the question and gently prod you into the presence of the One who invites our wrestling (if you are not sure, just ask Jacob who literally wrestled with the angel of the Lord).

Bringing questions to God shows faith, not a lack thereof. Press on, weary friend. He will come to us as sure as the sweet spring rains. What he has torn, he will heal. What he has stirred (or allowed to be stirred), he will settle.

“Come. let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him. Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains water the earth” (Hosea 6:1-3).

God answers our questions with a loving question of his own:

“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My compassion grows warm and tender…for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9).

Parenting Teens: Growing Together

My middle fella turns fourteen in a few days. My oldest fella recently experienced a big disappointment over which I had zero control. We have come a long way from organized play dates and tightly-swaddled lives. When I was pregnant, I was warned about swollen feet, but no one told me that my heart would swell like this. Maybe they tried; I probably was not ready to hear. After all, I had read all the books and I thought myself to be a capable human. Love hadn’t wrecked me yet.

Everyone did say that your parenting was the age of your oldest with whom you experience everything first. As such, we are experiencing high school together. And, I swear, I think its harder the second time!

God is teaching me so much about his heart for me as I feel all the feels with our teenage sons. My heart feels so deeply entangled with theirs, yet my involvement and vested interest in their lives is a drop in a bucket compared to God’s covenant-involvement in the lives of his children (parents included).

If I being rock-hearted am shattered with sorrow for my children, how much more does God’s heart ache when his children hurt. If He takes no delight in the punishment of the wicked, he certainly does not stand back stoically watching his adopted sons and daughters suffer (Ezek. 18:32; Lam. 3:31-33).

If I, limited in wisdom and power as I am, stand ready in the wings to step towards my children in relief and response, how much more does God Almighty stand ready to rescue his hurting children.

There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deut. 33. 26–27).

Lately, my mind has been musing on the mysteries of quantum entanglement, but my heart has been experiencing the entanglement of love which is even more profound. God so orders the unseen particles that make up all matter so that two electrons that interact briefly are forever entangled even when they are light years apart. If Einstein didn’t get it, I surely won’t. However, I know what it feels like to have one’s heart willingly entangled by love in the lives of others. If we, being human, feel this reality, how much more does God himself who has graciously tied himself up with his children?

Entangled

If unseen electrons remain entangled
Even as they travel light years apart,
If tiny particles stay tied and coupled,
Then what hope has a mother’s heart? 

When life punches you, I bruise.
When your dreams break, I shatter.
Our seconds and souls are bound
As mother-son entangled matter.

One look of pain from you slays me;
I read the stories behind your eyes.
When life knocks you down, I fall, too;
But we’ll crawl to the Greater prize. 

The fire that singes you scorches me,
Removing from us doubled dross.
I grieve and grow right alongside you,
As we prayerfully process each loss.

One day, He’ll answer every question,
He’ll wipe every tear from your face.
Then we will be fully, forever, freely,
Entirely entangled with His grace.

May you know that the Maker of quarks and atoms has set his love on his children and involves himself in their cares and causes. May such an unbelievable reality stretch and pull you towards your Savior!

When Your Prayers Seem to Hit the Ceiling

C.S. Lewis wisely wrote in a letter to a friend, “We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”

It’s hard to be honest when you know all the oughts (and when you are a pastor’s wife by training and calling and a perfectionist by personality). To bring a raw heart being the living God is an act of great faith.

This week, I found myself being gut-level honest with my husband and a few friends. My disposition changed from a forced smile to spontaneous tears when I admitted that if felt like God was not hearing my prayers – such an elementary-sounding, ye-of-little-faith statement. I could list of a thousand ways God has been faithful to me (as I have been and will continue to rehearse as fact no matter what I feel). Even so, Christ feels far off and I feel like one searching desperately for the felt nearness of his face.

I could tell you all the theological answers to this reality: God is not far off; he is the one in whom we live and move and have our being; he doesn’t change; he is closer than the air we breath. Yet the feelings of stuck-ness remain.

I know I am not the only one. I had a tearful conversation with a friend just yesterday who expressed feeling the same thing for years.

A few things have been helping me in this drought-season of my soul: one picture from my everyday life, a pair of verses, a quote, and a poem.

  1. You can’t get much closer to someone than when you are wrestling with them. Wrestling is an intimate, entwining act. As a mother of three boys, I am a self-appointed expert at watching impromptu, unofficial wrestling matches. Arms all braided into backs, legs around necks, the whole deal. Sometimes, in the midst of wrestling, one cannot view, whether partially or fully, the face of your wrestling partner. That does not mean that he or she is not close. In fact, the closeness obscures the view.
  2. Psalm 65:4-5 came as a soothing balm to my stormy soul this morning. “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation.” God has met my deepest need for a Savior; everything else is icing on the cake. But catch that tiny word with in verse 5: “you answer us with righteousness.” God answers my every prayer with his righteousness. The answer to my every prayer is that he will make me more like him (which he knows to be my deepest need, despite what I think I want)…this leads me to my third help.
  3. In his classic book The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee says the same thing in another way: “God makes it quite clear in his Word that he has only one answer to every human need- his Son, Jesus Christ…It will help us greatly and save us from much confusion, if we keep constantly before us this fact, that God will answer all our questions in one way and one way only, namely, by showing us more of his Son.”
  4. When my soul feels starved even when I am spending hours in the word of God, I often need poetry to tell me the truth slant. For, in the words of Emily Dickinson, “truth must dazzle gradually.” Sometimes the oblique angles of poetry can reach my heart better than the direct angles of prose. A poem from Christina Rossetti, “They toil not, neither do they spin,” gave me an image of the truth mentioned in Psalm 65.

“Clother of the lily, Feeder of the sparrow,
Father of the fatherless, dear Lord,
Tho’ Thou set me as a mark against Thine arrow,
As a prey unto Thy sword,
As a ploughed up field beneath Thy harrow,
As a captive in thy cord,
Let that cord be love; and some day make my narrow
Hallowed bed according to Thy Word. Amen.”

A ploughed-up field under his harrow describes exactly how my soul has felt. Though I have been taking deep dives into Scripture, I feel like I keep coming up empty-souled. I feel stuck and trapped. But I love how Rossetti said, in essence, “Do whatever you please, for I know it is done in love; only, make me more like you in the end.”

He hears our prayers. Even when they seem to bounce back without their desired answer, they come back to us with more of Christ – and Christ is the very best answer God could ever give us. Press on, my prayer-weary friends. You are being shaped into His likeness even in what feels like emptiness.

Sobs for the Synagogue

I wrote the following in 2019 when a local synagogue became the target of an anti-Semitic gunman. Since then, the news has moved on, but the fallen human heart has not. With the rise of anti-Semitic comments as we approach the election, I felt it a good time to remind us that there is no place in the Christian life for such hatred.

Real time news headlines take real time to sink into my soul. As the shock at the Poway Synagogue shooting has receded, my soul is finally catching up. One human heart cannot hold every tragedy, every shooting, every diagnosis. It is entirely too much. Yet,  the heart of God is more spacious than we dare dream.

After a busy week of treading water, I finally had a little corner in my heart clear enough to hold a drop of the heaviness of what occurred this past week in an incredibly  peaceful portion of San Diego.

The tragedy is made more atrocious by the fact that the shooter claimed some religious motivation in carrying out this terrible and chaotic deed. Anti-semitism breaks the heart of God. After all, God chose the Jewish people and set them apart as His own people. Jesus Himself was a Jew who wept over the nation of Israel.

In her book, Christianity is Jewish, Edith Schaeffer beautifully explains a right view of Judaism from within Christianity.

“People act as if Christianity  is a new religion, which just sprang up two thousand years ago, but it is not new, it is simply a continuation. It is a fulfillment. It is a next step. It is the proof that the covenant with Abraham was true. It is Jewish. It goes back to the promise given after Adam and Eve fell – the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent – and it turned out to be Mary’s seed.”

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The Apostle Paul, though he spent the majority of his adult life on mission to spread the Good News to the Gentiles, wept for his own Jewish family, saying, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).  He speaks extensively about his heart for Jews in Romans 11, calling them the natural branches of God’s family.

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although  a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in’.” Romans 11:17-19. 

Paul even goes further than simply honoring and admiring the Jewish roots of Christianity. Divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, he writes a promise concerning the Jewish people.

And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree? Romans 11:24.

There is no place for anti-Semitism within the Christian church. Rather, there is a place for pleading, with great respect and admiration, that the natural branches might believe in Christ and become completed Jews.

Paul, a Jew opened the way for Gentile believers. And now, we, as Gentile believers, are called to pray for a way to be opened for the remnant of the Jews. Edith Schaeffer writes the following of this privileged role we have as a kingdom of priests.

“So now all who believe and have therefore been born again, are in the place of ‘priests,’ and have a responsibility to pray for the rest of the people. It is a terrible thing to run  away from this responsibility – it is a cruelty to those for whom we are the only priests.”

May we sob over the synagogue shooting. May we refute anti-Semitism in all its forms, be they subtle or overt.  May we cry over the pride in our hearts that have forgotten that Christianity is Jewish.

Widowed Yet Still Wed

The word widow comes from the Middle English word which meant to be empty. Even before that, it was derived from the Old English word meaning “to separate or to split.” While it is easy for me to look up the etymology of the word, it is far more difficult to watch those that I love become widowed.

My precious mother-in-law is adjusting to life as a widow. Another dear friend lost her husband this week. Additionally, I have been reading Suffering is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot who was twice widowed. The compounding of these realities means that my heart and mind have been thinking deeply about those who have experienced widowhood.

To separate or to split: that works well for wood (which shares a root word with widow), but it is not cut so clean when it comes to covenants and vows. Ask Naomi who was so overcome by grief that she changed her name to mara meaning bitter. Ask my sweet mother-in-law whose hands still set out two tea cups from over fifty years of muscle memory.

Expensive, covenantal love leaves expansive gaps when it is severed by death; however, for believers in Christ, there is another covenantal love which will never be severed. Those who lose an earthly spouse need never lose their heavenly one. Even though they are widowed, they are still wed. The following are only a sampling of verses wherein God speaks to his people as their truest mate.

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness (Hosea 2:19-20).

You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is In Her and your land Married, for the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married to him (Isaiah 62:4).

For your Maker is your husband, and the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called (Isaiah 54:5).

I am learning so much from my widowed friends. I am seeing the inordinate weight I tend to wrongly place on my own marriage. I am reminded how many widows long to be seen and known and engaged. I am reminded that there will be no marriage in heaven since our souls will be wed fully and finally to the One with whom they were always intended to be eternally wed. I am reminded that gospel hope is resilient and buoyant even in the deep, deep waters of loss.

Widowed yet Wed

I find it hard to breathe without you.
In oneness you became my other lung.
And although you’re no longer here, 
Your name is always on my tongue.

As certainly as love’s first drops 
Leave both its drinkers drunk,
It’s sobering last sweet sips 
Leave each survivor sunk.

I didn’t see how high we’d climbed, 
Or the height our love had grown.
But now I marvel at the elevation 
As I slowly climb down all alone. 

In all those years of side by side, 
Hardships worked on us like glue.
I long for even one more such day,
As I make one and one from two.

Though I’m widowed still I’m wed
To a Savior who dwells on high.
As our love led me more to Him,
Your absence now draws me nigh! 

Yes, He will make a new song 
From my barely humming heart.
My Maker is not through with me; 
From a stop, He’ll make a start.

What Death Put On Display

We had “said goodbye” at least five other times, but we knew this time was different. Parkinson’s Disease is a marathon, not a sprint; however, the finish line was finally in sight. My husband hopped on a plane while I busied myself at home, doing chores, running errands, holding down the home front in the frenetic busyness that is usually my first line of response to grief.

It only took one picture to shatter my busyness and bring me back to gospel reality. My husband snapped a picture of Appa’s closest friend whom we call Jose Uncle, sitting by the bedside reading Scripture to his friend in his last days. I lost it.

Neither of those men who met at engineering school in India could have engineered the stories they would walk each other through. Yet here they were loving one another to the end. Impending death was putting on display a few things that we all too easily overlook as we go about life.

The Extraordinary Blessing of Ordinary Friendship

In a story only the Lord could orchestrate Jose Uncle and Appa ended up in the same place in the massive United States. Having been through their college years marked by dreaming and a seemingly endless horizon of possibilities, they lived the reality of their adult years together in Houston, Texas. There were parties, but there was also pain. Jose Uncle’s wife experienced two strokes that left him as caregiver, while Appa was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease that left Amma as primary caregiver. A world away from India and worlds away from the futures they imagined, their friendship has continued.

When we buried Appa, sweet Jose Uncle came up to give one last tap to the coffin before his body was laid beneath the ground. Another gesture of enduring friendship that both choked me up and sobered me up to the reality of our fleeting days on this earth.

In a world obsessed with following the extravagant and dramatic lives of the rich and famous, ordinary friendship seems underwhelming. In a day and age that has flattened friendship to a screen and trivialized it to a few emojis, the depth of the real friendship they put on display refreshed and challenged me. It reminded me of King David’s grief at learning about the death of his friend Jonathan and his father Saul (despite all the tumultuous waters that had passed under that bridge).

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and death, they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions. You daughters of Jerusalem, weep over Saul…How the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle!” (2 Samuel 1:23-25; 25).

In a world of flash, friendship is an often-overlooked gift given from God Almighty for our days as elect exiles on this earth. Death became the dark backdrop that put such ordinary beauty back on display for me. It made me want to savor times walking with those who have walked through so much life with me. It made me want to call loved ones and catch up with them. It made me want to not forsake meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but rather to continue to stir one another up as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24–25).

The Power of Covenant Love

I have written extensively about the lessons I have learned watching Amma care for Appa. If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.

They married only have met one another a few times, but Amma fulfilled her covenant vows to the end. She put skin on the skeletal promise, “In sickness and in health.” They don’t make many movies about caregivers because care-giving is a messy sludge in a culture that loves sterilized ease. But I am thankful for the front row seat I inherited to watch the power of covenant love on display even and especially on the dark backdrop of death.

The Universality of Gospel Hope

We had the privilege of sitting through Appa’s funeral service in the Mar Thoma church. While Paul was pioneering the gospel to Asia minor, as is recorded in Acts, Thomas was bringing the gospel the southern tip of India; thus, the Mar Thoma or St. Thomas church. Outside of showing me how accustomed I have become to hour-long services (man, do they have some worship endurance!), the service was a beautiful reminder of the universality of the gospel.

As an American and as a sinner, I have this strong tendency to put myself and my culture in the center of all things. Listening to (and attempting to sing) hymns in Malayalamwas a refreshing reminder that the gospel belongs to every tribe, nation, tongue, and dialect (Rev. 7:9). While death is a universal reality for every human, the gospel is a universal invitation to a pathway through death and into everlasting life. Listening to priests from both the Indian Church and the Syriac Church as they declared the same gospel truths we declare in our little church plant every Sunday fortified my soul. They wore different robes and chanted in different ways, but they held to the same gospel hope through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Such realities put me rightly in my place and postured my heart for the worship that will exist in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

For the believer, death doesn’t win. Resurrection life through Jesus does. What is mortal will be swallowed up by an even fuller and more lasting life (2 Corinthians 5:4). Death becomes the sobering backdrop that puts on display not only God’s dazzling offer of life but also his gracious provision of all we need to pursue him in this life (2 Peter 1:3).

Before we lowered Appa into the ground, we left roses on his grave. It felt right to bury him under the weight of so much love. It will feel even more right to see him resurrected with no trace of Parkinson’s Disease. We have a lot of living left to do, so let us seek to number our days that we might gain hearts of wisdom in a death-weary world (Psalm 90:12).

When Death Comes for Me

When Death comes for me, 
Let there be little to take. 
Let all be given, entrusted
Into hands nothing can shake. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let me see him only as friend,
The mean doorway leading
To His presence without end. 

When Death comes for me, 
Let him find me already spent,
Poured out as living sacrifice
Laid down in delighted consent.

When Death comes for me, 
Let me remember whom I serve,
The One who conquered death
To give me love I don’t deserve.