Category Archives: motherhood

Inscape in an Escapist World

Our newsfeeds, both the ones in our minds and the real ones that capture our attention, constantly bid us to escape from our realities. They invite us to wish we were on a secluded, tropical island or exploring the French Riviera. They tell us that if we could only get a new set of mid-century modern furniture and some macrame hanging plants, our lives would be richer, simpler, and more beautiful.

Our escapist culture allures us, whether explicitly or implicitly, to run away to external things for renewal and refreshment. On the backdrop of such an escapist world, inscape, a concept termed by the Jesuit poet Gerard Manly Hopkins, resonates deeply.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things

Hopkins used inscape to describe the unified and complex characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness, and he captures this concept poetically in his famous poem God’s Grandeur where he wrote, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”

While the world bids us look out, Hopkins invites us to look deeper into the things, places, and people all around us. When I find myself imagining that a trip to Hawaii would satisfy me, Hopkins would invite me to fight to see the beauty of the Hibiscus flower growing in a pot in my own backyard. When I find myself buying the lie that what I need is a new set of circumstances, Hopkins gently invites me to ask God for new eyes to see the same things more deeply and differently. With the help of the Holy Spirit and an attuned focus, the mundane drives to soccer and baseball practices with my sons become opportunities to see who God has made them with fresh eyes.

When the world lures me to run away, Hopkins bids me grab a spiritual shovel to begin digging for a dearer freshness deep down the things and people in my present life. Hopkins can say this because he knew that those who dig deep enough would eventually find God, the Creator, at the bottom. For freshness can only come from the abundance of the life-giver and source of all refreshment: the Triune God.

The Dearest Freshness Deep Within Us

Scripturally, we see a similar invitation in the Word of God. Although Christianity is the farthest thing from navel-gazing and looking for life in things and people themselves, Christ gives his children new eyes to see God in all things. The Scriptures are replete with terms like “inner man,” “within,” and “the secret place” which reminds us that God sees us all the way through. While the world looks upon the outward appearance, God looks upon the heart or in the inscape, to borrow Hopkins’ term (1 Samuel 16:7).

Our God desires truth plastered not only on our newsfeeds and walls but more significantly within our deepest parts: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). The psalmists found hope and stability knowing that even if the earth gave way and the mountains slipped into the sea, God is in the midst of his people therefore, they would not be moved (Psalm 46:2-5). Similarly. the Apostle Paul prayed that the church in Ephesus would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17).

Freshness without our sin-flawed hearts only happens by grace through faith in Christ. For Christ alone had truth in his inmost part and wisdom in his inmost place. He alone constantly drew strength and life from the source of life. He always saw as God sees, looking past appearances to the reality. Yet, he took within him the foulness of our sin, drinking to the very dregs the wrath of God we deserved. After rising and ascending to the Father, he sent us the Spirit who would dwell within us, making his home in us and inviting us to make our home within the Triune God.

The Holy Spirit within us gives us the dearest freshness deep down at the soul level. Even if outwardly we are wasting away and the world around us is fading, yet inwardly, we are being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited to begin to see as God sees and to think with the very mind of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:16; 1 Corinthians 2:16). As such, we don’t need to escape our circumstances, but we need to run and hide in the arms of the One who lovingly ordered our circumstances (Psalm 16:5-6). We get to ask him to show us more of himself deep down in the places and people of our everyday lives.

The Resurrection Means Rest

If I am honest, as we are approaching the high point of the liturgical year, I am feeling quite low. Even after a week away with my family surrounded by God’s beauty, my heart feels depleted and cumbersome. A year of church planting, long, slow writing projects with little feedback, and keeping up with three teenaged boys has me running on fumes, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Even as we are buying the eggs for the church egg hunt and preparing the liturgy for Good Friday, I feel like a fraud. My heart isn’t skipping, even though I know the resurrection is coming. My soul isn’t soaring even though I know (at least cerebrally) how loved I am by the One who shed his blood for me. Even though we are planning a service to help our people look at and behold their king, I am struggling to look up.

But, as I journaled and wrestled with tears in my eyes this morning, the Lord reminded me that this is why he went to the cross. He went to the Cross so I would know that He looks at me with gentle love even when I struggle to look up to Him. He emptied himself on the Cross so I can rest from the need to perform or fill myself when my soul is spent and empty.

When I can’t make my spirit rise, His Resurrection is still a reality. I don’t have to dig deeper to get it right because nails were dug into his very human hands for me. I don’t have to pluck up and keep carrying my load alone because my yoke-fellow already carried the full weight to Calvary.

None of the callousness of my heart shocks him. In fact, such realities shoved him toward the Cross. The endless chasm of needs, which are still news to me, is not new to him. He suffered so he could greet me with gentleness and understanding right in the middle of my needs.

Today, I am learning that it is okay if celebrating the Resurrection might not look like leaping and rejoicing this year. He is gently showing me that celebrating the Resurrection can also look limping and resting. Christ’s Resurrection assures me that one day, we will leap rather than limp.

For those who have been limping through Lent, may you find rest in the reality of Christ’s resurrection. May you feel the freedom to let Christ nestle you down for a nap in the place where his body once lay.

In returning and rest you will be saved; in quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15)

Resting in Resurrection

It’s okay if I collapse;
My Savior – He arose. 
It’s okay if no one sees;
My Savior fully knows. 

I don’t need to prove myself;
His Cross pleads proven love. 
When all within condemns me,
He gently bids me look above. 

When I’m spent with naught to offer,
His spent blood offers peace. 
When I’m trapped by circumstance,
His Resurrection is my release. 

He nestles me down for a nap
Where His body once was laid. 
My Risen Savior pleads for me,
All my debts are fully paid. 

So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:9-10).

Bemoaning Boredom

Communication is not what is spoken but what is heard. Throughout the day, there are about a billion things I say to my children. I am not sure what, if anything, gets through. There’s only one sure fire way to know what is actually being communicated to their little hearts and minds. Eavesdropping.

Every once in a while, while I am cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry or hiding in the bathroom, I’ll listen in on the boys conversations (we will talk about invasion of privacy when they can define the word invasion). They have some amazing pillow talk, those two older boys. Their conversations run the gamete: dragons, monsters, plans for inventions, talking about the field trips they will take in 8th grade the way that I talk about retirement.

The other day Eli was complaining of being bored, to which Tyus responded, “Mom wants us to be bored. Because when we are bored, we create new things and come up with new fun.”

In my shock, I may or may not have dropped the laundry I was folding. They are actually listening to me.

Today, while I was resting and reading and praying, the Lord told me that maybe I should listen to me, too.

Internally, I am better than my children at bemoaning boredom. Sure, I rarely walk up to the Lord and tug at His proverbial pant leg to whine, “I’m so bored. There is nothing to do.” But internally, I complain about the monotony of manning the same post day in and day out. I look around at everyone else’s toys and activities and determine that others received the better end of the deal. In my boredom, I mindlessly scroll through the Facebook feed or shop around at thrift stores or fantasize about getaways and vacations that involve quiet and sleep and take place anywhere but here.

Nearly two hundred years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, a European visitor to America,  made some observations about Americans that still ring true, at least in my own heart and home.

“Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything, he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more, he loves it; for the instability, instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him.”

Guilty as charged.

Teaching Our Children to Embrace Boredom

The greatest temptation of the parent is to give our children what they want rather than what they need. My children, in their flesh want to be constantly busy with fun things, but they need to be busy with boring things like chores or just plain bored.

Boredom exposes their hearts and their idols. it shows gaps. As a momma, my reflexive response is to want to fill all gaps for them. But the gaps are the places where grace and the gospel leak into their lives. When they are not so full of what they want, they may begin to realize what they really need.

It is so challenging for me to let them sit in perceived lack, but such lack points us to our need for the constantly full One. Boredom forces them to look over all that they do have and use it more creatively. It reminds them that this earth is not our home and that we were made for more than personal fulfillment. These lessons are hard to swallow, but the sooner these truths sink in, the better they will be for the future.

erik-mclean-ovd2zompumu-unsplash

Embracing Boredom as Adults

I see it in my boys who claim boredom in the midst of bins of toys and in between exciting adventures and countless opportunities. I see it in my longing to start something new, do something different, visit someplace exotic. Boredom lies under the temptation to quit my post and find a greener pasture when life gets flat and days get long.

I often tell my boys, “Boredom is a gift. It teaches you to create and to play.”

Today God reminded me that, as His child, He thinks the same for me. He longs for more than my entertainment. He longs for me to be satisfied deeply in Him, not in changing circumstances.

In the monotony I deeply dread,  He gives me opportunity to dig deeper into His well for joy. The pleasures of HIs presence are far more substantial and lasting than the ephemeral pleasures I typically jump to as from rock to rock.

If I am honest, I look forward to bed time, I look forward to a haircut, I look forward to Starbucks coffee splurges. I look forward to the weekend, I look forward to vacation and adventures. I don’t look far enough.

The Lord reminded me ever-so-gently today that I need a longer hope, a longer vision. Psalm 130 is a good place for my soul to sit awhile.

I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning. Indeed, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is lovingkindness and with Him is abundant redemption. 

In a culture that is drowning in entertainment, we are a terribly bored and discontented people. Or at least I can speak for myself.

This week, instead of dreading the monotony, I long for the Lord to transform it, to invite me deeper into His ever-available abundance right where I am. I don’t want to quit my post. The Lord put me here, and He plans to show up. I just tend to be too busy chasing cheap satisfaction to notice His coming.

The Dispersed Lady

Have you ever been reading fiction and felt like a line was reading you? That happened to me last night as I fell asleep reading Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety. In this particular scene, a couple was discussing one of their dear friends as they lay in bed one evening.

At least they’ve got money.”

“That does help,” I said, “It even helps her hire a nanny to look after the children she’s already got, so she can be out promoting culture and singing in the chorus and cleaning up Wisconsin politics and being kind to the wives and the children of starving instructors. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.”

The last sentence of five words slew me. That’s a pretty dispersed lady.

While they were speaking of Charity, one of the main characters in this particular story, they could have well been speaking of me.

Dispersed

Dispersed. Spread out. Shed abroad. Scattered. A tendency to be all over the place and in everything.

Maybe you are not as prone to dispersion as I am, but even the most gathered and collected of us live in a dispersed and scattered culture. Even before the internet and its eery invitation to peer into the lives of others all around the world and to disperse our opinions and energies towards every possible cause, we were a dispersed culture. Sometime in the American experiment, better came to mean more and best came to mean most. Wider now seems synonymous with more accomplished. Our culture constantly leaks this truth into our lives, “The wider your sphere of influence, the wider the reach of your followers, the wider you have traveled, the more significant you must be.”

If people were speaking of me, as Sally and her husband were of their mutual friend, I pray that they would say of me, “That’s a pretty dependent and deep lady.”

Apart from the grace of God, this will be never be true of me. I tend to be more of a whirling dervish of energy and excitement and interest. Due to the fact that I am a mother of three busy boys, my schedule has me dispersed in twelve places at once. Add on top of that the reality that are planting a church and you have the recipe for a dispersed lady.

Dependent, Deep, and Focused

Yet, the gospel invites me to be both dependent, deep, and focused. In a culture permeated by self-will and self-talk, God asks his children to be God-reliant and God-directed. He invites us to draw from a well of strength that the world cannot see and guides us by priorities that world doesn’t always share.

In a culture spread thin running in every direction, our God invites us to be people of depth, a people deeply rooted. Rooted in his word, rooted in his promises, rooted in the messy community called the church, rooted to the people and purposes he has allotted for us (Ephesians 3:14-19; Hebrews 10:22-25; Psalm 16:5-8).

When offering us images of what it looks like to walk with God, the Spirit inspired the psalmist to give us the picture of a tree firmly planted by the water (Psalm 1). When Jesus sought to paint a picture of the kingdom of God for his disciples, he used similar imagery of a small seed which grew into an expansive tree offering shade and nesting branches to all in its surroundings (Matthew 13:31-32). Both of these word pictures share not only depth and rootedness but also dependence.

In a scattered, distracted culture, we are pulled in a thousand directions towards a thousand causes. It doesn’t help that our sin predisposes us to chase after everything but God. Yet, God commands his people to live with a clear focal point: Himself.

With our eyes fixed on the pioneer and perfecter of our faith and our gaze directed to Christ who is our life, we can do diverse things with a united heart (Hebrews 12:1-3; Colossians 3:1-4; Psalm 86:11).

The only reason we are able to become this kind of people is that Christ was the seed that died so that many might live (John 12:24). He was dispersed so we could be focused on him and rooted in him in deep dependence. Oh, that we would be deep, dependent, and focused people. When we are such, we will be free to disperse the seeds of the gospel to a world that desperately needs truth.

New Month, New Mercies (Quieting the Calendar)

Most of us love opening new things. A fresh box of Crayola crayons still brings me joy. Something as simple as starting a fresh journal makes my heart stir with fresh hope and possibilities. And there is little to compare with opening a fresh box of athletic shoes or the new car smell. However, turning a new page on the calendar tends to bring a fresh opportunity for anxiety.

As a family we are committed to living intentionally with God and for others. This often looks like having couples or students over for meals in the evening, getting coffee with hurting friends, mentoring younger believers and being mentored ourselves. So many places to be, meals to host, children to nurture and develop. Syncing sports schedules and planning church events awaits me at the threshold of each new month.

Each new month (and, if I am completely honest, each new week), the Lord and I have a little process we do together called quieting the calendar.

It’s as if Jesus has to grab me by the hand and walk with me over the cacophonous calendar through each day of the upcoming month. One by one, He quiets each screaming demand or fear, rational or irrational, telling them to lay back down quietly. We continue in this vein until we walk through the whole month. Only after this process am I am able to look with hope at a new month marked by new mercies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man well-acquainted with the demands and needs of a large community, wrote the following.

“For Christians the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it. All the darkness and distraction of the dreams of night retreat before the clear light of Jesus Christ and his wakening Word. All unrest, all impurity, all care and anxiety flee before him.”

Bonhoeffer’s sweet image of the Lord standing at the doorway of each new day, each new month, each new and daunting life season comes to me often when the calendar and commitments, most of them right and good, start stealing my peace and focus.

I live in a hurried society and a heart that hurries to busyness lives within me. I am such a Martha, buzzing with frenetic energy like a neon light, I am quick to run to everything but the One thing needful. Yet, there is only one thing needful, and it is not a thing. It is not an urgent demand, but a patient person. The One thing I need is to come to Him. I need him to teach my heart to keep pace with His, rather than straining to keep up with the pace of the world all around or the lies deep within me.

Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.

She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You  not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things: but only One thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42

When I have sat with the Best, the good won’t have to be coaxed or conjured up; it will flow out of my union with Him. And union with Him is incredibly portable. He goes with me into PTA meetings and retreats. He goes with us to soccer practice. He is the main attraction of our hospitality, not my mediocre meals.

At the threshold of a new month, these truths help me quiet the calendar:

  1. All my plans are mere proposals to be shaped by God’s better plans.
    “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23).
  2. My minutes are not mine but yours, and they are meant to be invested, not squandered.
    “But I trust in you, O Lord. I say, ‘My times are in your hand'” (Psalm 31:14) and “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).
  3. There is a provision of energy and joy in obedience that the world can neither conjure nor comprehend.
    “I delight to do y our will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).
  4. If he commands it, he will give all he commands.
    “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works” (Isaiah 26:12).

May we walk into a new month with new mercies. May His truth quiet our calendars, for His glory and our great joy!

The Breath of the Lion

Being out with Covid has allowed my youngest son and I ample time to keep reading through The Chronicles of Narnia again. I cannot resist a child’s begging for one more page, but when it comes to Narnia stories, I cannot resist a child’s begging for one more chapter, especially when Aslan is on the scene.

As soon as Aslan is near, my son and I both sigh in relief, knowing everything will turn out alright. The thing is that Aslan’s interaction with his creatures are usually short, simple, and significantly profound.

This time around, I nearly lost my breath reading the scene in which Aslan breathes courage over the fearful Susan. As much as I want to be like Lucy (who doesn’t want to be like little Lucy?), I am far more like Susan who began listening to fears.

“Then, after an awful pause, the deep voice said, ‘Susan.’ Susan made no answer but the others thought she was crying. ‘You have listened to fears, child,’ said Aslan. ‘Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?’

‘A little, Aslan,’ said Susan.”

Aslan doesn’t lecture Susan on the useless of entertaining fears. He doesn’t chastise her for being more controlled by fear than faith. He merely points out the obvious, saying, “You have listened to fears, child.” And his antidote to her fears is neither a Ted talk on the power of positive thinking nor a penance to work her way back into his good graces. He merely breathes on her.

Photo by Matthew Kerslake on Unsplash

With a mere breath from God, the universe came into existence (John 1:1-5) . The Holy Spirit is the breath or wind of God who blows where he pleases (John 3:8). The enemy yells and connives and convinces in his native language which is “lie” (John 8:44). Not so our powerful Creator. He need only gently breathe new life into his children.

In light of the past three years of a pandemic spread through airborne respiratory particles, breath has gained a rather negative connotation. To sneeze in public these days is far more than a faux-pas. As we all know all too well, to be breathed on requires proximity. The longer you remain in someone’s presence in close proximity, the more likely you are to be breathed on by them and thus conferred the gift of their respiratory particles.

But this morning, even as we are still feeling sick from Covid, I find myself longing for the breath of God. I find myself fighting to fleshly urge to flee from him into busyness or productivity, intentionally training myself to linger in his presence.

I want his breath. I want his nearness. I want his words and his truth which drop like morning dew. I need him to breath courage over me, to strengthen my faith and diminish my fears. Even Satan’s most elaborate lies don’t stand a chance against the weakest sigh of the Lion of Judah. Even his most sinister schemes look like airy cobwebs when compared to the solid, unshakably good plans of the Lord of all history.

A little breath from him goes a long way. And this is why the Enemy trembles when we pray, posturing ourselves in dependence.

Pray with me that this modern hymn written by the Stewart Townend would be true of us this morning.

“Holy Spirit, living breath of God,
Breathe new life into my willing soul.
Let the presence of the risen Lord,
Come renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause Your Word to come alive in me;
Give me faith for what I cannot see,
Give me passion for Your purity;
Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.

Holy Spirit, come abide within,
May Your joy be seen in all I do.
Love enough to cover every sin,
In each thought and deed and attitude.
Kindness to the greatest and the least,
Gentleness that sows the path of peace.
Turn my strivings into works of grace;
Breath of God show Christ in all I do.

Holy Spirit, from creation’s birth,
Giving life to all that God has made,
Show Your power once again on earth,
Cause Your church to hunger for your ways.
Let the fragrance of our prayers arise;
Lead us on the road of sacrifice,
That in unity the face of Christ
May be clear for all the world to see.

May we listen to the Lion, not the liar. May his words be on our lips and in our lives.

When Work Is It’s Own Reward

It may be my enneagram 1 nature. I don’t know how much is nature and how much is nurture, but I’ve always been motivated through work by reward.

I slogged through novel after novel in college with the reward of a walk, a coffee, or time with friends as the motivation. Now that I am no longer a student, but instead a wife and mother, “If I read x more pages, I will let myself enjoy y” has morphed into “If I get these errands done or finish folding this laundry, I can take a shower or read for a few minutes.”

This line of reasoning has enabled great productivity in my life; however, it has also strengthened the lie that we work only for reward. The problem with working for reward is that if we only rest when the work is done, we will never truly rest. For often the reward for a job well done is another job. Once one thing is checked off the list, five more appear. If we think rest, peace, and reward lie on the other side of finishing our work, we have bought into a fallen view of work.

Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

In C.S. Lewis’s book The Horse and His Boy, the main character Shasta works himself down to the bone trying to send a kingdom-saving message to King Lune about an imminent invasion. He spends himself entirely getting to the boundary of the kingdom, thinking he has completed his work and expecting reward. When he finds out that he has more to accomplish to complete his fated task, he grows disheartened.

“Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is be set to do another and harder and better one.”

As I read that line aloud to my youngest son, I realized how much my heart towards work resembles Shasta’s. I work incredibly hard (often on my power and from my own strength) to get to the finish line. But when the finish line extends into a new task, a harder task, or a more challenging trial, my heart faints and whines.

The Apostle Paul was an incredibly driven man. He accomplished great things and endured trials most of us would find unthinkable. His reward for his faithful work in starting new churches was often more work, more confusion, more weight, and more persecution. He did not work to retire to the seaside of Caesarea. He worked as one whose chief reward was more of Christ himself. He drew strength from the Spirit and kept pressing on towards what was next rather than resting on his laurels (Philippians 3:12-16).

Over the past few years, God has slowly been shifting my view towards work. Rather than enduring work to get to the desired reward, whatever that may be, he is teaching me to slow down and enjoy working with him.

It takes work to approach work differently, especially for an achiever who likes to get things done. Asking questions while I am working enables me to enjoy the process on the way to the desired productivity.

Lord, what do you have for me in this? Lord, how can I invite you into going to the bank, folding the laundry, buying the groceries? Lord, how can I experience more of you and your character and nature in this task? Lord, will you please provide not only strength to do this but also satisfaction in you while I obey?

While my pace may be a little slower, my posture is more sustainable when I work alongside the Lord and out of his view of work.

All The Things Love Can’t Do

In a season that seems to be drippy with sappy love, my mind has been thinking of all the things love cannot do. Less you think me a misanthrope, allow me to explain myself.

In his short story, “Sonny’s Blues,” James Baldwin writes about the limits of human love. In one poignant scene, a dying mother gives advice to her oldest son in response to his vow regarding his younger brother, Sonny. With the best of intentions, the dutiful older brother seeks to reassure his mother, “Don’t you worry, I won’t forget. I won’t let nothing happen to Sonny.”

His mother responds, “You may not be able to stop nothing from happening. But you got to let him know you’s there.”

In a different short story entitled, “This Morning, This Evening, So Soon” Baldwin addresses a similar theme. The story describes the fatherly fears of African-American father for his mixed son, Paul. The father, a famous actor, shares some of his fears with a friend and director who responds with a hauntong statement,

“You believe in love. You do not know all the things love cannot do, but” – he smiles – “love will teach you that.”

Both of these scenes, read a few days apart, left me with lingering thoughts about the limits of human love.

Photo by Utsman Media on Unsplash

You see, I am parenting teenagers. I am also called to the ministry of sentient souls. Both of these callings have me regularly running into the limits of human love.

No matter how much I love the refugee family we have had the privilege of befriending, I cannot erase their traumatic memories. I cannot protect their children who were thrown into school to learn an entirely new culture and language from funny looks or hurtful comments. I can only entrust them to One who goes with them on school grounds where I cannot go (1 Corinthians 2:11).

No matter how much I shield my children, I cannot protect them suffering, though I can do my best to prepare them for it and give them a biblical framework upon which to hang all the hardness of life (John 16:33;
2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 1 Peter 4:12-19).

As I watch multiple sets of dear friends walk their children through horrible sicknesses, I am reminded that we cannot heal our children. We can only point them to One who will one day (hopefully soon) make an end of sickness and sin, tears and trouble forever (Revelation 21:1-5; Isaiah 25:6-8).

No matter how many skill sets and opportunities we offer our children, we cannot plan their lives. We can only point to the One who already knows each of their days (Psalm 139:16).

No matter how type-A we try to be, we will never be able to know the number of days our loved ones have on this earth. We can only learn to count and treasure each one as it passes (Psalm 90:12; Luke 2:19)..

No matter how many books we offer those who come to our church, no matter how clearly the Word of God is articulated, we cannot make them see Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can do that (John 3:5-8; 2 Corinthians 4:4).

James Baldwin was correct. All forms of human love (sterge, parental love; eros, romantic love, and phileo, brotherly love and affection) are limited. There are so many things that these loves cannot do.

However, Baldwin did not address agape love, the love to which all the others point and from which all the others stem. Where these loves fail and falter, agape love abounds.

We can claim these truths and depend on such agape love only because the unlimited One whose very habitat was Triune love became limited (Philippians 2:5-8). He was failed and flogged by flawed human love so that He might freely offer us agape love.

Only his limitless love enables me to submit to the limits of human love. Only the reality of his abundance allows me to admit the poverty of my love. While these realities aren’t the sappy sentimental realities we want to hear, they are the truths that we need to hear.

An Elastic Love

Until I had children, I don’t think I realized the elastic nature of love. Of course, love has a comfortable resting state, an optimal window in which it most likes to operate; however, love is far more elastic than most of us know. I have watched human love stretch to extremes: parents loving a child mired down in the morass of mental illness, spouses faithfully caring for each other through the indecencies of aging, children deeply committed to parents who have failed them time and time again, loved ones living in Intensive Care Units.

While human love stretches, it is also easily strained. I know from my own experience as a parent that my love, despite my best intentions and even at its most elastic, is often not long enough. From little failures like late pick-ups and lacking lunches to larger failures like my own impatience and pre-occupation, the not-enough nature of my love grieves me. But even parental love sometimes fails, as David, the poet-king of Israel knew.

“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in” (Psalm 27:10).

Photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

Not so with agape love, the love that originates with God and God alone. Our most elastic love can and will fall short, but “the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save” (Isaiah 59:1). Even though our sins have made a separation between us and God, an eternal gulf too far for any human to fathom (Isaiah 59:2), God’s elastic love has crossed the chasm through incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.Speaking through Isaiah the prophet, God reassures his children of the elasticity of his love.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands, your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16).

Elastic Love

You love us to extremities –
From heights of heaven to depths of hell,
Both in living and dying, you loved us well. 

You love us in our extremities-
In heights of beauty, in depths of depravity,
Your steadying love is our only gravity.
 

You us through extremities-
From east to west, Your arms were spread,
To make the ever-living from the long-dead.
 

Your Love meets us in our extremities- 
Elastic and eternal, Your love does stretch.
From every place, Your children You fetch.
 

The shortness of my love (which often comes out in the shortness of my temper) can become an opportunity to point to the elasticity and enough-ness of God’s love.

In one of my favorite verses in the entire canon of the Scriptures, John the beloved apostle simply states, “When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).

The Greek word telos, translated as “the end” above, carries a broader range of meaning then its limited English translation. While it refers to the end of Jesus’s life, it also refers to the full capacity, the full-length, the full-strength of his love. He loved them to the end, yes, but he also loved them to the fullest elasticity of his love.

When my often-inflexible, never-enough love keeps me up at night, the reality of his fully elastic, ever-enough love soothes me to rest in a love far fuller than my failing love.

The Need for Frontiers

Since moving out West, I have found myself fascinated by literature about the frontier. What made people leave the comforts of acred land nestled with shade trees and by an abundance of water risk everything to move to a draught-stricken, untamed, and often uncomfortable land? Was it truly just a lust for land and stars and space? At what point does the risk overrun the reward of such wanderlust?

I am not the first to question these things. Much wiser and more eloquent writers have spent their lives dug into these questions which seem to grow in the parched soil of the West, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck, and Seamus Heaney being among my favorites.

Raising three boys, I am watching the hunger for frontiers in my own home. Whenever our stringent schedules allow, we find ourselves longing for some new hike to explore or middling mountain to conquer. When we first moved here ten years ago, I remember reading a plaque at one of our favorite regional parks about mountain lions needing thousands of acres to satisfy their innate need to roam. I watched as my then-young pack of boys ran every which way, needing their own vast territories. It seems mountain lions, little men, and their mothers still need such space.

Whenever we steal away from San Diego to find new frontiers, we enjoy ourselves, but we never leave satisfied. Even on the car ride home, fresh off of a hike (smelling less-than-fresh), we are planning our next adventure. We may not be homesteaders in Conestoga wagons, but I think the same spirit drives us both, separated as we are by centuries and technologies.

Frustrated Frontiers

If some humans are hard-wired for frontiers, all humans share in the frustration that comes when the sought-out frontier cannot carry the weights we have placed upon them. The disillusionment and insidious distilling of disappointment we feel even when we have seen and experienced natural beauty evidences that we are made for more than this life.

In his short story The Red Pony, John Steinbeck explores the theme of the disappointment that comes when we reach the limits of our frontiers. The grandfather in the story is stuck in his memories of his frontier days, though they have long past. He continues to tell the same stories, much to the chagrin of his family.

“It wasn’t Indians that were important, nor adventures, nor even getting out here…It was westering and westering… When we saw the mountains at last, we cried- all of us. But it wasn’t getting here that mattered- it was movement and westering.”

After years of telling the same stories, Grandfather finally admits the frustration on the end of frontiers, whether physical or metaphysical.

“Then we came down to the sea, and it was done…There’s no place to go. There’s the ocean to stop you. There’s a line of old men along the shore hating the ocean because it stopped them.”

Our boys have wanderlust to visit the national parks. They get it honest from their momma who gets it honest from her parents. But even the most amazing natural wonders will stop them like the ocean stopped grandfather. Even in the modern world where frontiers barely exist, we continue our westering. We simply place the frontier line as a certain level of lifestyle or a far-off benchmark of achievement. If we can’t go west anymore, we instead seek to go up- up the ladder of success, following the way of more. More money, more possessions, more adventure, more travel, more influence, more fame.

Yet, all of those frontiers have oceans that will stop us dead in our tracks.

The Father’s Frontier

The reality is that we were made for the inexhaustible and the eternal. Eternity has been stamped in our feeble hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were made to live in the context of an unlimited God whose wonders never cease. In the words of C.S. Lewis, we are wired to keep going “further up and in further in!”

Our hunger for beauty will always outpace the beauty of this broken world. Our need for newness will always be frustrated in our sin-aged world. The shiny of a new home or a new season of life or a new toy will always become scratched. This is a severe mercy that pushes us into the Father’s frontier.

The only ocean we will encounter on that frontier is the never-ceasing ocean of His love. If, rather than seeking to move “westward,” whatever that means for you, we commit to moving deeper into His love and the knowledge of Him, we will never be ultimately disappointed (Romans 5:1-5).

Hymn-writer Frederick Faber perfectly captures this reality in “The Eternal Spirit.”

“Ocean, wide-flowing ocean,
Thou, of uncreated love;
I tremble as within my soul,
I feel Thy waters move.
Thou art a sea without a shore;
Awful, immense, Thou art;
A sea which can contract itself
Within my narrow heart.”

If other frontiers are leaving you frustrated, come join the march of the saints towards the Father’s frontier. Such a pilgrimage will last for an eternity!