Category Archives: Poetry

Be a Bellwether

“Be a bellwether!” You don’t see that on motivational posters hanging in classrooms. You don’t hear it in pep rallies or board meetings. But you should!

In its present day vernacular a bellwether is a trendsetter, an indicator of the future, or a gauge for future trends. (e.g. the Apple corporation is the bellwether for technological advances). By this definition, I am, by no means, a bellwether. I might be one of the latest adapting humans I know. I still own an iphone 4. I like paper calendars. I listen to CDs in my car.

However, the term actually came from a shepherding practice used in the Middle East and Europe.

When leading their flocks full of personality, some shepherds actually learned to lead through a few sheep. They trained a few particular sheep to listen closely to their voices and to be attuned to their location. Eventually, the shepherds placed a bell around the neck of these “wethers” (thus, the term bellwether). The bellwether served as twofold help to the shepherd. First, the shepherd could listen for the sounds of the bell which would indicate the location and his flock. Secondly, other sheep would follow the bellwether as it followed the shepherd.

This original definition of a bellwether has become a beacon for my heart and soul. In a culture full of influencers, this is a kind of influence I can wrap my heart around. David, the Shepherd-turned-king of Ancient Israel, knew a thing or twenty about leading stubborn animals. His expertise leading animals colored the way He saw the Lord as His own Good Shepherd, as seen so obviously in Psalm 23, but also in Psalm 32.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eyes upon you. Be not like a horse or mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord (Psalm 32:9-10).

This entire psalm describes the blessing of being forgiven through honest confession and walking in constant humility and dependence. David knew a thing about being a horse or mule without understanding, as he had stubbornly ignored the Lord and forcefully gone his own way into adultery and murder. He uses his painful experience to call others to stay rather than stray, to invite God’s people to be humbly led by their Good Shepherd.

Stay close to His staff, for He leads to still waters even through valleys shadowed by death. Be attentive to His Spirit’s gentle nudges and slight course corrections. Allow yourself to be led. Make it easy for your Savior-Shepherd to guide you. Be a bellwether whose life helps others find and follow their Good Shepherd.

A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers, 
   Life is but an empty dream! 
For the soul is dead that slumbers, 
   And things are not what they seem. 

Life is real! Life is earnest! 
   And the grave is not its goal; 
Dust thou art, to dust returnest, 
   Was not spoken of the soul. 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, 
   Is our destined end or way; 
But to act, that each to-morrow 
   Find us farther than to-day. 

Art is long, and Time is fleeting, 
   And our hearts, though stout and brave, 
Still, like muffled drums, are beating 
   Funeral marches to the grave. 

In the world’s broad field of battle, 
   In the bivouac of Life, 
Be not like dumb, driven cattle! 
   Be a hero in the strife! 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant! 
   Let the dead Past bury its dead! 
Act,— act in the living Present! 
   Heart within, and God o’erhead! 

Lives of great men all remind us 
   We can make our lives sublime, 
And, departing, leave behind us 
   Footprints on the sands of time; 

Footprints, that perhaps another, 
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main, 
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, 
   Seeing, shall take heart again. 

Let us, then, be up and doing, 
   With a heart for any fate; 
Still achieving, still pursuing, 
   Learn to labor and to wait.

Sons are Slippery

I cry during commercials and movies, but I weep at weddings. I can usually hold it together when the bride walks toward her groom, but I officially lose it during the mother/son dance.

As a mother of three sons, I cannot help but imagine myself in that position in the future. In a moment, my mind flashes back through a montage of memories with each of my boys: dancing in the kitchen, watching them ride a bike for the first time, remembering the first time they failed at something significant that broke their heart.

What seemed impossibly far off when they were toddlers toting their blankets becomes more realistic every year. One day, I will send these boys off, not merely to kindergarten or the prom, but to their own future. While they will always be my sons, the intervals between check-ins with their mother have been slowly lengthening. I remember being nervous to leave them for a thirty-minute jog when they were infants. I remember mutual tears at preschool drop-offs. As recently as this year, I cried tears dropping them off for middle school.

Sometimes I want to cling to them, to try to clutch them too close, to corral them in realms I can control. But the best way to hold these boys of mine is with one hand tightly holding the Lord and one hand loosely holding them.

Seamus Heaney’s poem Mother of the Groom perfectly captures the slipperiness of sons. While I don’t know if the Lord has marriage in store for my boys, this poem captures a mother’s heart and the slippery nature of sons well.

“What she remembers
Is his glistening back
In the bath, his small boots
In the ring of boots at her feet.

Hands in her voided lap,
She hears a daughter welcomed.
It’s as if he kicked when liften
And slipped her soapy hold.

Once soap would ease off
The wedding ring
That’s bedded forever now
In her clapping hand.”*

Heaney’s mention of a voided lap and her clapping hands reminds me that there is joy in every season. My older boys have long since vacated my lap. Their disproportionately growing feet barely fit in my lap these days. But they will never vacate my heart. And, as one who has hope in the Lord, I can smile and even clap at the future (Proverbs 31: 25).

Photo by Vytis Gruzdys on Unsplash

For this season, God has entrusted these boys to me. These days are slipping by and these boys of mine are growing increasingly slippery. But the Lord who has entrusted them to me has a love that is steady and sure. To teach them to stand firm in him is one of the highest calls on my life.

I don’t want to pitter away these precious days filled with sweaty socks and deepening voices and constant snacking. I don’t want to miss the fleeting moments that happen as we drive to school or on our occasional hikes. I want to bottle them up and treasure them in my heart.

As I raise them, I have to fight the urge to place my deepest identity in mothering. Such an ill-founded identity will fail them as quickly as it will fail me. My deepest identity must be found in being the beloved of the Lord, the daughter of the Perfect Father, the dwelling place of the brooding-like-a-mother Holy Spirit. As I fight for this identity, my prayer is that it would bleed into their own.

Then, when my lap and these bunk beds are voided, I will still have a lifetime of being siblings in Christ with these slippery sons of mine.

*Seamus Heaney. Opened Ground. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998, 66.

Competing Justices

In the name of seeking justice, injustice is birthed from competing justices. These are no mere philosophical musings, as this statement only describes the bitter battlefields of the past few years.

We are not the first to live in a pluralistic society where different concepts of justice are warring to establish their vision of fairness and rightness in the world. After all, Jesus himself was born into a time rife with pluralism in the Roman Empire. He was born into the Jewish people, who themselves were divided about how to respond to Roman occupation and Roman rule. Some sought to keep the peace and assimilate, others wanted to fight power with power, others sought to focus on living holy lives (and even within this group, various subgroups fought about what constituted living a holy life).

It is what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery to think our current battlefield singular and unique in the human experience. I am not belittling the bewilderment and frustration of our particular cultural moment. We are living in mind-boggling, soul-shaking, foundation-exposing times. However, this current ideological battlefield is only a new front of a very ancient war (Ephesians 6:12).

As those made in the image of God, every human has some remnant of a justice sentiment. We want fairness and fight when what we define as fairness is violated. But what happens when we have different concepts of fairness or even those with the same end-goal conceive of vastly different routes to take towards such an ideal?

I need not tell you what happens. You are living in what happens.

One must either hide and hang out only within those who agree with your sense of justice (huddle, hide, and hope for better times) or fight with those who differ, whether with missiles or malicious words (fiercely fight for military or political might).

In his book The Everlasting Man, G.K Chesterton argues that God wisely stepped into time exactly when he did. The wave of the world had crested; humanity and a merely human concept of justice had reached its crest in the Roman Empire. Man had done the best he could. And failed. Miserably. Our best attempts at establishing justice only proved our inability and created more injustice.

Any and every solution build from man for man will fail. Man and man-made systems cannot fix the problem that man created when man rejected God as the center and hub of all things, visible and invisible.

Christ refused to be drawn into the battle lines that had been drawn by men. He continually pointed to the battle lines that we drew when we stepped outside the ancient boundary given by God for our good. But he did far more than point to them. He stepped into the injustice and bore the weight of eternal injustice.

Competing Justices

We clamor for the perfect king:
We campaign only to arraign
We endlessly elect leaders
Who promise but don’t attain.

We demand only to depose,
Measure by a shifting scale.
One group builds a system
That another works to derail.


One of a limited vantage point
Points the finger at another.
Justice competes with justice.
Arming brother against brother.

Man-made justice keeps failing;
Every attempt earns the verdict.
The evidence is irrefutable:
We cry for a rule who is perfect.

Yet we have always had Him.
The King of thorn and scar.
His substantive Word stands.
His justice is better by far.

I don’t have neat answers for how to live in this strange time. I haven’t studied political science. I am wrestling deeply with how to live out God’s commands to do justice and love mercy since they are so close to his heart (James 1:27).But I do know this much. God is the just judge (Psalm 45:6-7). He sets the parameters (Isaiah 44:24-25). He is preeminent (Colossians 1:15-20). He has priority (Matthew 6:33). He himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

This Just Judge submitted to unjust authorities to bear injustices we committed. We must learn our justice from the only Just One.

The Lord is Our Lodestar

Supposedly people are leaving California by droves. I saw a Babylon Bee this week to the effect of awarding Governor Newsom the highest salesman for U-Haul trucks. I do not want to get political. I think I am largely allergic to politics. 

That being said, I felt the weight of the world this week. I felt the weight of the reality that God has led us to have our children in public schools in San Diego (if you disagree, please take it up with the Lord himself, as we get our orders for our children each year from him). Even those who are not called to raise their children in an urban, postChristian, postmodern city must grapple with the incredibly strong cultural currents that are ripping through once seemingly (though only seemingly) serene cultural seas. 

This Friday, I spoke to our youth, a motley crew of 12-15 years olds, about identity. I had to contend for things that were once commonly presumed and assumed. But I was glad for the chance to be sharpened and concise enough in my communication of biblical identity to be heard and semi-understood in fifteen minutes before fifteen year olds. 

Our identity is not the same as our identifiers. Our deepest identity is not merely the sum of our surname, our sport, our successes, and our sex. Our deepest identity is who our Creator says we are irregardless of our feelings, failures, or foibles. As his created image-bearers, we are his by birth (Genesis 1:26-27; Psalm 139; Isaiah 43:20). And those who are in Christ are twice-his. His by birth and His by rebirth (Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3: 5-8).

As those purchased at an unthinkable cost, our lives are no longer our own (Galatians 2:20-21; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

I wish I could say that I always lived in the peace and with the purpose that comes from these rock-solid realities. But, as I was teaching them, I was reminding myself. 

If I were my own, I could make decisions on my own. I could at least pretend to be in control of the circumstances around me and my children. Alas and alleluia, I am not.  

When I think about what our children are hearing and seeing, I cringe and cower in fear. I want to remove them from any trace of the evil one and lewd lies (John 8:44). But, then the Spirit leads my stirred-up spirit to truth as spoken by our Savior. 

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out  of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you send them me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18).

As I was praying this for our children, the Spirit opened my eyes to a new reality. When Jesus was praying this for his disciples (and us, as his future disciples), he knew exactly what this meant. He could not claim ignorance or partial knowledge of evil and its power, as He, being fully God and fully man, knew evil in its full, unalloyed strength. 

Jesus could likely see Peter hanging upside down on a cross when he prayed these words. He prayed this costly prayer knowing full well what Nero would do in the Roman colosseum. His all-knowing, all-seeing, all-pure eyes knew evil in a way that we never will, as we would be crushed and undone. Jesus prayed with one eye wide-open to evil and the other expectant of the keeping protection of His Father. 

Yet, he still prayed, “I do not ask that you  take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” These words, spoken on behalf of his disciples, only reiterate what he had spoken directly to them:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs are on your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

When fear of what my children may be hearing or seeing fills me, a greater fear must do the work of expelling it. My God sees, hears, and knows all. He knows the boundary lines allotted to my children. He knows the days they are living in. He chose their zip code. 

Far more important than these realities, he knows them. He knows their hearts as he knows the hairs on their heads. I am limited. I am fallible. I often don’t know what is best. 

But their ultimate Keeper does not grow weary and does not follow a circadian rhythm. He stands alert even when I sleep. He goes where I cannot go. He guards constantly, keeping watch over their souls (Psalm 121). He alerts me through his Spirit and his Word. He directs us both. He is our lodestar, the fixed point who steers us through cloud-shrouded days and dark nights. 

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Lodestar

God is the lodestar of our lives;
He keeps our course set aright.
Above even the fiercest storm,
He guides us through the night.

The Lord, our designated Captain,
With great cost has gone ahead.
He charted a course through Hades
As the firstborn from the dead.

The Spirit, our steadying compass,
Cabins ever-so-closely within.
With Christ-exalting accuracy,
He points both to comfort and sin.

With such Triune involvement,
Even broken vessels have hope.
We’ll be guided safe to harbor
Bound by love’s threefold rope.

Under the Sun

This morning at church, we read through the entire book of Ecclesiastes. If you are looking for a booster shot to bolster humanity, I would not recommend it. Although, as an antidote for the prosperity gospel, it has great effectiveness.

About midway through the book, I looked over at my teenage son who was taking notes with a look of confusion. He literally wrote, “Solomon keeps saying everything is vanity under the sun.”

I looked over at him and whispered, “Under the sun, yes. But, that’s the whole point. The book is meant to lead us above the sun, beyond the sun, outside of humanity’s constant attempt to create meaning for itself.”

As James so wisely realized in his words to the early church, wisdom had to come down from above (James 3:13-18). When we had thoroughly malled God’s good purposes for humanity, we needed the God-man to step onto the course He created for the earth.

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Under the Sun

Under the sun on our collared run,
All’s been tested, tried, and done.
Looking for novelty, finding none.
With each rotation tedium is spun.

Here, both rags and riches ravage,
And evil dwells in sage and savage.
Emptiness follows caviar and cabbage.
Vanity is an often verified addage.

Even the wisest of men is confounded,
Pessimists proven, optimists astounded.
Favor is fleeting while folly is founded.
By meaninglessness we are hounded.

Oh, my friend, but beyond the sun –
Past the path earth was taught to run –
Stands He who its orbit has spun,
Speaks the meaning-dripping One.

Seeing our toiling under the sun,
He to His sin-sick people did run
To be stuck in a web he hadn’t spun
Until the Savior cried, “It is done!

Death itself He did repugn,
For three days later, life won.
Meaning now in us does run
For all our days under the sun.

I am so thankful our self-revealing God did not leave us with our own wisdom-folly to discover meaning under the sun. I am thankful for the lifter of our eyes and the One whose light will outshine our dying sun. In Him we trade vanity for victory and hopelessness for living hope!

A Word to Bruised Reeds and Dimly Burning Wicks

I have been running on fumes lately. The beginning of our summer felt like a gentle crawl; however, by the beginning of August, our pace was more sprint than stroll. School supplies to buy, well checks to be scheduled, sports games to attend. In addition to the normal hustle, God has birthed an infant church under our care. This means support to raise, insurance plans to shift, and souls to shepherd. In the midst of many necessary and good things, I tend to lose sight of the best thing: time spent in the presence of the Father.

I know I am not alone. I have friends whose faith is running on fumes as they continue to wade through difficult diagnoses. I have friends who feel like bruised reeds, barely standing after a series of storms. I have friends who have walked with Jesus brightly for decades who feel like dimly burning lanterns after the events of the past year.

A languid lot of lamps we are.

Thinking of them and of my own barely-puttering heart, I sat down yesterday for desperately needed time alone with the Lord. I have been slowly meandering through Isaiah 41 and 42 for the past few weeks. And, in God’s merciful timing, the Spirit led me to pick up where I left off in Isaiah 42.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him…A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law (Isaiah 42:1 & 3-4).

Isaiah sets up a juxtaposition between God’s people (bruised and dimly burning) and their God who won’t be bruised or dimmed until he brings forth justice for his sin-struggling people. In fact, he ties verses 3 and 4 together by using the same Hebrews words: ratsats which means crushed, oppressed, or struggling and keheh which means dim, dull, discouraged, or faint.

Yesterday, this juxtaposition of our nature to His was just what I needed to be buoyed. I cannot tend to bruised reeds alone, as I myself am a bruised reed. I cannot fan dim lights into flame, as myself am a charred, barely burning wick. But He can. In fact, He already has.

Isaiah said the coming Servant would’t be bruised until he established justice; yet to establish justice for us bruised reeds and dimmed wicks, he let himself be beyond bruised. He chose to be broken on the Cross to buttress His lot of bruised reeds.

He, the light of the world, and the sun He created were snuffed out so we could be fanned into flames that might light this dark world. He who has gone to these lengths for us will naturally continue to care for his languid lot of lamps. He will provide the fresh oil of the Holy Spirit; He Himself will breath fresh air over our souls to coax tiny sparks into flames. He Himself will trim our charred wicks with his scarred hands. He is a gentle light keeper. For no one cares more that the dark corners be lit than He who is its true light.

Dimly burning 

What a languid lot we are,
What barely burning wicks
Who could fan these flames, 
Our feebleness could fix?

If we are to light the world,
We’ll need fresh oil and air.
We’ll need a tender keeper,
Our charred parts to pare. 

Such a keeper we have 
In the Father of all light.
He tends His little lamps,
He’s patient with our plight. 

On Homecomings

Last week, our two older sons went off to camp. I imaged five quiet days of bubble baths and lattes and productive work. In reality, I found myself busy missing my boys, tidying their rooms with a maternal energy that had few other places to flow.

For the first half of the week the three of us remaining home mentioned often how much we missed them; by Wednesday, we found ourselves eagerly preparing for their homecoming on Friday. We made signs and all the things.

As right as it was for them to be gone, their absence felt so wrong. Things felt incomplete without them. The house was too quiet.

Even though they were mostly being held together by Skittles and running on fumes, our reunion was sweet. Having them back, messy and loud as they are, things were set right.

Thinking of our reunion with the boys we love so dearly made me think of the Father and His reunion with His Son. Even though it was the agreed upon plan of the Trinity before time was wound, the Son’s stepping into time surely tugged at the Trinity.

While he was on earth, Jesus kept up communion with the Father, but the communion was different than what they had from experienced from eternity. The Incarnation involved leaving and loss. It involved distance that reached its climax in the agony of the Cross. More than the unimaginable physical pain of a cruel crucifixion, the turning away of the Father wounded the Son.

While I realize it is anthropomorphic, I imagined the Father lovingly tidying the universe with excited energy, waiting for His beloved Son’s return. Our God is Trinity, so it so hard for our minds not to slip into modalism; however, I am thankful that God has given us pictures of human relationships that help us vaguely understand the nature and the heart of our Triune God.

Homecoming

Eagerly awaiting His Son’s arrival, 
He passed time straightening stars.
Though their plans were eternal,
Heaven had not yet seen the scars. 

A Son lent, a curtain rent,
A Son risen soon returns. 
A curse stayed, a debt paid,
A Father for His Son yearns. 

A wave of relief overcame him;
Searing separation was done. 
The Son would sit beside Him 
Until Heaven and earth be one.
 

The Trinity danced in delight,
Before the Spirit descended. 
Redemption was secured, 
Satan’s tyranny upended

One more reunion is coming,
A homecoming of epic scale.
Exiles will enter the eternal city 
Whose King will never fail.

For now, I am thankful that my crew is home and under one roof. But I also realize that our days together under one roof are numbered, as are our days on this spinning globe. Our deepest, most lasting home is with Him. Little homecomings this side of glory give us a tiny taste of that ultimate homecoming which will be the believer’s experience of heaven.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations, before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:1-2).

To Give You the World: Thoughts on my son’s fourteenth birthday

Yesterday, my oldest son turned fourteen. I swear we were just taking pictures of him at fourteen months, when his nearly-Irish-twin brother and best friend entered the world. In some ways, everything has changed since then, and in others, very little.

Just last week, his giant hands gently captured a tiny lizard to befriend. My eyes leaked as I remembered that his tiny hands used to do this frequently when he was a toddler. The size of those hands may have changed, but the spirit of the boy donning them has not changed too drastically.

I remember experiencing delight and wonder as his little personality began to emerge. I did not imagine then that the wonder continued even into their teenage years when little boys start to grow into increasingly independent young men.

Amidst the worshipful wondering, there is also a lot of quizzical wondering. Are we doing this right? Are we missing some glaring gaps in his development? What are his unique passions and proclivities? Will he find friends who will help him run the race God set out for him?

Amidst all those deeper questions, I also found myself wondering, “What in the world do you buy a fourteen year old for his birthday on a budget?” It was easier when it was wooden trains and bubbles. As I wondered about what to get for our growing son, the Lord led me on a deeper journey as I realized I wanted to give him the world.

If we had the means, I would want to take him to all the places to see and experience all the things. If it were in my power, I would want to secure for him the best education, a spot on the best sports teams, and all the other superlatives.

But to do all in my power to point him to Christ is better than the world.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).

In fact, to have Christ is to have the One who made the world and everything in it (Acts 17:24-25). To have Him is have all things (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). To have him is to have the friend who sticks even closer than his best friend of a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

If we could barely afford the ear buds, we definitely cannot afford to give him the world. But we don’t have to do so; Christ has already paid the exorbitant price with his body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24).

To Give You the World

I want to give you the world,
I want your joy to be complete. 
I want to secure every good thing,
Wrap it and lay it at your feet. 

The bossy, glossy ads entice me
To buy into their counterfeits-
To give you all the fancy things,
To seek satisfaction in the blitz. 

But the world I want to give you
Money and effort cannot secure,
The world I want to give you
Seems like less but is far more. 

Having Him, you have the world;
Without Him, all is for naught. 
I long for you to be wrapped
In the righteousness He bought. 

We will do the birthday lunch and the cake and all the things. But the most important work is already done by Christ, my son. May you know Him as long as you have breath.

Career Hazards for Creatives

Some careers come with obvious vocational hazards. Construction workers wear hard hats for a reason. Roofers proceed with great caution. First responders know the life-and-death dangers they brave. The vocational hazards for believers who are creatives are less overt, but very much as real.

Creatives image God the Creator as they seek to make art, music, literature, architecture, or a plethora of other forms of art; however, it is all too easy to make an idol of what they have made. They are prone to self-importance in success and feelings of despair or uselessness in lulls or failure. God delights in his people expressing the creativity he hard-wired into them; however, artists can easily slip into craving validation from others.

Two phrases help me fight the inherent, yet insidious career hazards of creating content for God’s glory. Our work is both significant and insignificant, and our work is both dignified and derivative.

Significant yet Insignificant

The process of creating art, from its imagination stages to its inception, echoes the very nature of God. Whether their art stays at home or hangs on a gallery wall, Christians who practice creative arts honor God. Whether a few or a few thousand read the poem or the prose work, the very act of arranging letters into words into images and stories pleases God because it reflects his very nature. Interior designers who create spaces for beauty and connection are chips off the old block of the Creator who filled this earth with nooks and crannies, gardens and gaping canyons.

As such, creative work in and of itself is significant. Glory and beauty matter to God. If you are not convinced read God’s instructions to Moses for the tabernacle in Exodus chapters 25-30. God even set aside and filled artists with the Spirit of God for this ornate undertaking.

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son or Uri, son of Hur, of the trible of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Exodus 31:1-5).

Similarly, God’s Spirit inspired the poetry and music that know as the psalms. His son was a craftsman who delighted to make beautiful things out of wood. God cares not just about artists, but also about art, because he himself is the artist par excellence. He made living mobiles out of stars that we know as constellations. He created such biodiversity that there are over 350,000 known species of beetles. That is a lot of creativity in one species of beetle, y’all.

Doing creative work is obviously significant. However, sometimes artists can take their work too seriously. I know I can. Every poem I write is significant to me, because of the intimacy through imaging I experience. But it is wrong to expect every poem I write to be significant to everyone who reads it. Self-importance is a ditch artists and creatives frequent.

This can be seen in a phrase from Isaiah 41, where God is juxtaposing God the Creator with those who create idols (and I mean the actual, physical ones).,

The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved (Isaiah 41:7).

Here we see God calling out the artists who stood in collusion with one another, propping up each other’s self-importance. The “it is good” has echoes of Genesis 1 where God said over his nascent creation, “It is good” daily.

When we do creative work as Christians, we are often tempted to have people stand back and say, “It is good” in a way that puffs us up. However, true art should cause people to step back and say of God, “He is good.”

If we are falling into the ditch of self-importance, Acts 17:24-25 can instruct our hearts.

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24-25).

Our work is significant, yet insignificant. This reality frees us to work heartily for the Lord’s glory without the weights of self-aggrandizement and self-significance.

Dignified yet Derivative

Similarly, our work is dignified yet derivative. Artists tend to pride themselves on individuality and uniqueness. But none of us have every truly had an original thought. Only God, in the deepest sense of the term, makes things that are original. All thought, all beauty, all order, and all color literally originate from him who made everything out of nothing.

Creating art, whether photographic, digital, word-centric or image-centric, is a dignified work. Yet all art, even the most amazing art in the world, is derivative. For God alone gives life and breath and skilled hands and creative minds who make masterpieces.

These two realities free me from the career hazards of creative work. They free me to work under the smile of the Father, whether in feast or famine. There is much significant, yet insignificant work to be done by artists who know that both themselves and their work are dignified derivatives.

My Best Adventure: A Note to My Husband on our Fifteenth Year

I’ve always thought of myself as adventurous, and I pride myself on a nearly insatiable desire to learn. While those things are still true, they have taken on different forms than I thought they would. I haven’t traveled to see the Seven Wonders of the World. I have not earned a master’s degree, let alone a PhD.

However, as I sat down this morning to reflect on my fifteenth wedding anniversary, the Lord reminded me that life with you is my best adventure and you are one of the most fascinating subjects for me to learn. I decided this morning that watching a soul be stretched and shaped and sculpted in marriage might just be the Eighth Wonder of the World.

When we got married, I thought I knew you. While I did know enough to know I was not making a poor decision, I did not know what I did not know. You did not know that much of yourself yet. A decade behind you in life experience, I most definitely did not know myself. But I am so glad for that. By God’s sweet providential grace, we have been instruments to shape each other and uncover the glory selves He has been slowly revealing.

We have had ample time to learn each other’s shadow selves. And there is plenty more of those dark places to plumb. However, the light and the freedom of the gospel makes such spelunking less scary. We are growing to be more gentle and patient with what we find there. We are growing to be less surprised because we are loved by One who not only excavated those depths but was executed to free us from them.

On special occasions, when you ask me what I would like to do, I struggle to answer. In those moments, I realize that what I really want is what I already have daily. A cup of coffee and a walk with you. A chance to process the lives of our children, be they spiritual or physical. A house project that keeps us side by side and attached to Home Depot like a ball and chain. These are some of my favorite adventures.

Any dreams of grandiosity are happily settling into a deep love for the simple life we have. I love our quirky house. I love listening to your sermon prep (most of the time). I love watching your heart grow and change as God simultaneously softens and steels you.

I love that I know the face you make before you tear up talking to the people you are shepherding. I love that you are okay with me burning every dessert I attempt to make. I love that you free me to not have to be an excellent baker or hostess. I love that you know my special kind of holiday anxiety and know when perfectionism is controlling me rather than the love of Christ.

I love seeing your heart soften for people. You have always been a strong leader, but I am watching him make you a soft leader, and it leads me to worship God. It leads me to hope that He can transform my own adamantine heart into one that looks like him.

I always knew I wanted to follow you. But now, fifteen years into following you, I realize that I have been following Christ-in-you. I see you struggle to keep pace with Him. I see you letting Him define and redefine success. I see you fail and fall into Him, running home to the Father’s arms more and more quickly.

I’ve always loved your voice, except when you are singing Prince songs in a high key. But I have grown to deeply appreciate your silence when wronged or misunderstood or written off.

And all of this, as sappy as it sounds, is true. It is only true because the One who embodies Truth enables it to be so.

W.H. Auden wrote a poem about Herman Melville in his old age. While I am not saying you are old, the tenor of the poem reminds me of the adventure that it is aging with you. The young Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, a tale of revenge and effort and straining and striving. But the old Herman Melville sounds like the masterpiece to me.

“Herman Melville” by W. H. Auden

Towards the end he sailed into an extraordinary mildness,
And anchored in his home and reached his wife
And rode within the harbour of her hand,
And went across each morning to an office
As though his occupation were another island.

Goodness existed: this was the new knowledge.
His terror had to blow itself quite out
To let him see it; but the gale had blown him
Past the Cape Horn of sensible success
Which cries: “This rock is Eden. Shipwreck here…”

I like this little rock we are settling into. I like it because the Rock of Ages drew it up as our portion and our lot to tend.

I love you.