Category Archives: Poetry

When the Lighting Changes: An Advent Devotion

Lighting makes a difference, as anyone who has braved trying on clothes under fluorescent fitting room lights can tell you. An interrogation light shining upon one’s face sets an incredibly different stage than does the gentle flicker of candle light. Wise producers and authors match mood and lighting.

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This morning, my heart was captured by what I imagine must have been a drastic light and scene change in the life of Mary.

One moment she was in the presence of the archangel, Gabriel. Shimmering, shining, emmanating light. Floodlights to match a sudden breakthrough annoucement of an impossible and unexpected birth. Bells and whistles, commanding angelic proclamation and promises. Mary was confused, to be sure, but she could not help but see that God was up to something. She must have been caught up in the moment, talking there face to face with angel of light. With the sure words of an archangel to shore up her wavering courage, Mary bravely submitted to this divine interruption and invitation.

Luke’s account of this momentous occasion ends with the following verses.

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…For nothing is impossible with God. 

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” 

And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:35 & 37-38). 

End stage lights. Depart emmanating presence of angelic messenger. Cue the silence.

Talk about a light change. While I have never been in the presence of an angel, I have been on a soccer field when the blinding, field-illuminating floodlights are suddenly turned off. An angel leaving a room, I imagine, leaves a much more drastic impression than that.

I wonder what it was like when the angel departed, leaving Mary alone with her thoughts. Was she like little children who tend to be brave in the clarity and comfort of strong lighting but fall apart when the lights go dim and the darkness creeps in?

As I imagined the lighting and scene change from such a moment of divine clarity to entering back into real life with a completely altered life plan, I found myself writing this poem.

Upon the Angel’s Departure

All was well and good
With Gabriel at hand;
His presence silenced
All she didn’t understand. 

His emmanating glow
Lit a spark of confidence;
His powerful promises
Covered the dissonance. 

The angel departed,
Leaving her alone.
The room grew dark,
The air colder than stone. 

Doubts began to scream,
“You’re a fool to enlist.
Who are you to fulfill
An errand such as this?”

Then a still, soft voice
Whispered into the fear,
“Oh, sweet favored one,
I’ll be so very near.”

“Each task entrusted to you,
My power will fulfill.
I will come upon you,
Willing in you my will.”

The doubts didn’t disappear;
They stayed her life through.
But in her heart she heard,
“God will strengthen you.”

When confidence departs,
As swift as Gabriel left,
Hear the whisper of God,
“Hide here in my cleft.”

Favored does not mean
The absence of all fear.
Favored simply means
By grace, our God is near. 

When the lighting changes drastically in our lives, may we know the deeply planted truth that God remains with us. In flickering candle light, in floodlights and even in moments of deep darkness and doubt, the promise of Christmas remains: Emmanuel, God with us.

On the Eve of the Election

On this eve of such a significant election, an unlikely name has been on my mind. It’s neither Trump, nor Biden, but rather Herod. Lest we think that we are the first group of people caught in the crosshairs of a highly contended governmental shift, a quick recap of history will serve us well.

Herod’s Rise

After Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March (Et tu, brute?), a fight for the seat of power ensued. Seats of power were up for grabs, and there were vastly different opinions on who should fill them. The Parthians came into Jerusalem attempting to prop up their desired Senate representative for the region of Jerusalem; however, Octavius and Antony, Caesar’s nephew and adopted heir, succeeded in appointing Herod, their pick for the role of “King of the Jews.”

The selection was deeply contested by the opposing side and resulted in physical fighting and bloody battles in Jerusalem. At the end of a three-month siege, Caesar’s side had their way. Herod remained in his tenuous position of power on the Judean throne for 33 years (see Thomas Cahill’s The Desire of the Everlasting Hills).

Understanding the bloody path to his seat of power sheds light on Herod’s bloody attempts to retain his power. Positions that are gained by blood and human conniving are often protected and held in like manner.

Herod’s Demise

In the beginnings of Matthew’s gospel, the stage is being set for the entrance of the one true King in the most unexpected manner.

Even those not familiar with the Scriptures likely recognize the following verses from the Christmas story.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-2).

Wise men traveling with gifts from far away lands. This is the kind of stuff politicians salivate over; however, these visitors were not coming to see him. They proclaimed the birth of a new king. The potential threat to his power left both him and the people in his jurisdiction worried about more bloody battles for power (Matthew 2:3).

You likely know what happens next from Christmas plays.

Herod has the mysterious seekers vow to tell him when they find their newborn king. He says he wants to worship him, but he really wants to wipe out the threat to his position, power, and prestige. Thankfully, angels intervene to protect the vulnerable baby and his family. They warn the wisemen to head home without visiting the murderous Herod. Angels also warn Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt as family of three.

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wisemen, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).

Our Hope

The people of Judea had been right to be troubled. They knew too well the civil unrest that resulted from power grabs. They were weary of such things. They longed for a ruler who would rule justly and with equity, who would use his position to advantage his people rather than himself. Little did they know that he had been born. Hiding in Egypt as a political refugee was the One who was the true King of the Jews.

Herod’s murderous rage, while horrific, did not thwart God’s good plans for the better kingdom. In fact, the true King that the angels had protected would stand watching while he was cruelly murdered. Though Christ might have called down legions of angels to protect him, he willingly endured death on a cross (Matthew 26:52-54). He did so to usher in the perfect kingdom.

While it has been initiated, it is not yet consummated. We live in this already/not yet kingdom of God. Just as the people of Jerusalem were troubled with dangerous political unrest, we remain troubled when positions of power are up for grabs. However, as those who stand on the other side of the cross, we know the living one in whom all our hope lies. We know that the one who worked the ultimate evil of the cross for our good can work all things to his glorious ends (Romans 8:28).

Our Hope

That Herod was threatened
By a newborn laid in hay
The vulnerability of power 
And position does betray. 

The most coveted seats 
On this spinning sphere
Are subject to shuffling
And protected by fear. 

Oligarchies may appoint,
Crowds elevate a name. 
A fickle fiefdom offers
A highly unstable fame. 

If on reputation or rank 
One’s security does rest,
Then surely moth and rust 
One’s hope will soon infest.

Murderous ends stem
From misshapen means.
Yet our God works good
Even from earthly schemes. 

Our hope is wrapped in
The Son of His appointing.
Our stability stems from
The king of His anointing.  

On this election eve, I pray that we would have our identities and our hopes hidden in Christ, the Everlasting King.

Overtaken

Deuteronomy reads like a father sharing his last bits of wisdom with his child before dropping them off at college. Moses, the faithful leader of God’s people, has led his wandering, often whining nation to the brink of the Promised Land. Knowing he won’t be entering with them, he prepares speeches laced with blessings and curses, reminding his beloved people to obey the Lord who had rescued them from Egypt and made them His chosen possession.

It is all too easy to read Deuteronomy through a moralistic lens. In fact, I found myself doing just that this week my studies led me to Deuteronomy 28 in which Moses begins another speech about the blessings of obedience.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, and the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, blessed shall you be when you go out” (Deuteronomy 28:1-6).

That is quite a laundry list of all-encompassing blessings. Moses uses powerful the powerful imagery of a wave of blessings overtaking, overcoming, and surrounding God’s people if they would only obey. The Hebrew word nasag literally means to reach, to overtake, or to catch. And this word is more than a mere word for Moses’ original audience. Remember, these are the children of the refugees who were almost utterly overtaken by the ensuing chariots of the strongest military in the then-known world. In fact, the exact same word is used to describe Pharaoh’s army catching up to God’s people as they were encamped by the Red Sea.

If only imaging a wave of blessings overtaking us were motivation enough to enable our obedience. However, both history and the human heart show ample evidence that Moses’ impassioned pleas were not enough to secure the obedience of God’s people.

The Christian worldview offers so much more than a list of blessings for those who obey and curses for those who don’t. Every other religion offers those. Karma promises that good will catch up to those doing good, while evil will catch up to those doing evil. Christianity alone offers a Savior who was overtaken with curses that we might be overtaken and surrounded by such abundant, undeserved blessing. Curses encompassed him so that blessing could encompass us.

Overtaken

A wave of curses,
Gathering strength
By human weakness,
Overtook the One
Who always obeyed
In total meekness.

The consequences and
Curses we earned
By hearts bent on self
Caught up to Him
Who ought inherit
All eternal wealth.

Evil overtook Him
Who hung cursed
Upon the tree;
Blessing overtakes
All who to Him
For hope flee.

Today I’m overtaken
By blessings from
The overtaken one.
Goodness catches
My sin-caught heart,
In love I am undone.

A Radical Approach to Racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Racism to Redemption

Racism: a certain road from pride
to genocide.

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

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

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

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

Redemption: a road from death
to borrowed breath.

Wildfires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildfires

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reigning in Unruly Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kneeling Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Agape Agony

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

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

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

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

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

Agape Agony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To My Teenage Son

A baker’s dozen. One more than 12. 6 + 7.

Thirteen used to sound like any other number to me. Until recently. My oldest son turns thirteen in five days, and I swear I was just thirteen weeks pregnant with him.

More than I have been preparing for a COVID-friendly celebration for him, I have been preparing my heart for what feels like a huge milestone in his life. When he turned twelve last year, I realized that, assuming he took the college route, we were already two-thirds done with his years in our home. But this year, my heart has been even more ponderous approaching my son’s next trip around the sun.

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As I was reading David Brooks’s The Second Mountain, specifically the sections on calling, a few lines burrowed into my soul.

“There comes a time in many careers when people face a choice between helping a small number of people a lot of helping a large number of people a little.”

“Emerson underlies one of the key elements of the commitment decision. At the beginning it involves choice – choosing this or that vocation. But  99.9 percent of the time it means choosing what one already chosen….It’s saying yes to the thing you’ve already said yes to.”

When I was processing what we could purchase to make our son’s upcoming birthday feel set apart and special, I was struggling. I ended up sitting up all night and wrestling with the Lord. You see, for the past few years, my mind and heart have been rightly preoccupied with my responsibilities as a women’s ministry director. I love my job. I love what I do. I feel I was born to do it (it helps that I get paid well to do what I would want to do anyway!). Yet, I sensed the Lord asking me to give my child a very costly gift for his thirteenth birthday: more of my focused time, space, and attention.

As I have continued to wrestle with this costly gift, the Lord has been so good to remind me that He always gets my yes. When Mother Theresa felt called as a young girl to become a nun, she nervously told her mother who loved her and depended upon her care. She had no need to be nervous, for she knew that her mother could never say no to Jesus. That line grabbed my gaze and has become a prayer of mine ever since. I want to never say no to Jesus. Even when His call feels uncomfortable, unnatural, or illogical.

While Jesus gets my first yes, my husband and children get my next yeses. I said yes to my husband on a crisp April night (on April Fool’s Day…not advisable, by the way). But I keep saying quiet yeses to him and our marriage. God made me a mother early in my marriage, when I was a hair past 24. Motherhood has not always been an easy yes, but it has been one of my very best yeses.  Saying yes to the brood of boys the Lord has given us has meant a navy of no’s.

Don’t get me wrong. I am no martyr. I know I have a self to steward. I have grown in my capacity to say yes to things that are in my gift set and even to some that are well outside of it. But those other yeses always follow behind my guiding yeses to Jesus, to my husband, and to our boys. Prayerfully, there will be decades to come where I can say some of the yeses that I have had to decline (sometimes with a good attitude,  though often with a poor one). I want to run another marathon, though I barely walk the dog these days. I want to disciple more women, though these days my life is full of boys. But right now, my fellas need my yeses. The days are flying by, and there is much work to be done, laughter to be had, tears to be shed, and prayers to be prayed.

You are my Yeses

My guiding yeses are decided
Before a question is asked.
My soul is already crowded
With roles I’ve been tasked.

There are myriad mantles
Sold and offered in this life
My most noble mantles are
Daughter, mother, and wife.

As your worlds grow larger,
I’m fighting to change pace.
Your needs, though less noisy,
Can be heard with ample space.

I cannot say no to Jesus,
He gets my yes and amen.
He determines my calling:
Who, what, where, and when.

 

The Difference Between Submission & Resignation

“There is a significant difference between submission and resignation.”

I don’t remember the full details of the context, but I will never forget the phrase uttered our dear friend and mentor, Judge Bill McCurine. I believe we were having a college gathering in their home, a chance for brand new believers in the beginning of their spiritual journeys to learn from two seasoned veterans of the faith. I believe someone asked about trusting God with singleness. To be honest, I am thankful I don’t remember the immediate context, because the phrase has led to rich application in nearly every arena of my life.

The Difference Defined
According to the Oxford Dictionary,  resignation means, “the acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.”  In fact, the usage example says “i.e. a shrug of resignation.”

I, along with the rest of the Chick-fil-A loving hordes, sigh in resignation every Sunday when we, like clockwork, have a craving for a sandwich and waffle fries, only  to remember it is closed on Sunday.

On the surface, resignation bends the will, changes the schedule, and faces the reality of something unwanted; however, under the surface, at the soul and heart level, it can leave an insidious residue of bitterness, distrust, and frustration. Much like the teenage, “Fine” that is accompanied by huffing, puffing, and foot-stomping, resignation bows but does not fully trust.

Submission, on the other hand, is something altogether different. While they may appear almost identical initially, the degrees of separation between resignation and submission become more evident over time.

Biblical submission is much different than the world’s version which seems often to include force and demonstrations of raw authority and power. The Greek word, hupotasso, translated submit, is a compounding of two words, one meaning “under” and the other meaning “arrangement.” Thus, a biblical definition of submission is to place yourself under God’s arrangement of things, to submit under the Lord’s plan in trusting obedience.

While its outward bowing and releasing of control mirror resignation,  its internal source is quite different. Rather than sighing out of inability to change something, it sighs and submits in a trusting way,  believing that the heart of God knows and does better than we could ever know or do.

The Difference Experienced
If  I am being honest, I my soul has been swinging back and forth between resignation and submission these past few weeks since COVID-19 settled in to stay. If you know me, you know that my Sabbath time on Sundays is my lifeline.  Since my oldest was a  few weeks old,  I have been escaping away to a coffee shop for vital connection with God through His word and prayer and wrestling. As silly as it may seem, the getting away feels like going to a secret place to be alone with the Lord, not as a mother or a women’s ministry director or a wife, just as his desperate daughter.

Another example of my routine being off. I resigned to Sabbath by walking our neighborhood, but I was not happy about it, as evidenced by my pace and posture. A fuming little teapot speed-walking through the neighborhood was I. It was not just the monkey wrench in my treasured Sabbath rhythm, it was all of  it.  Disinfecting groceries, Zoom phone calls instead of face-to-face gatherings, tight spaces and tighter wallets.

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But in that walk, the Lord reminded me that this is not what trusting submission looks like. He began to undo my  grumpy heart and remind me of the absolutely proven nature of his love.

Stay

The too-much-ness out there,
Draws out ineptness in here.
What busyness used to filter,
Now gathers in latent fear.

Your love blocked all my exits,
Enticing my going soul to stay.
Fleeting flings aren’t enough:
You would have me all the day.

It’s scary to sit so still, so long,
Without demand or distraction.
You want uninsulated intimacy,
The whole of me, not a fraction.

Your blocking love can be trusted,
When the checking seems unchecked,
For You died to unblock life eternal,
Giving abundance for my neglect.

Though chosen,  I feel choice-less,
Yet an important choice remains;
Resign in apathy or submit in love.
Your submission my choice trains.

So, stay I must but also shall,
Living within lines You’ve drawn.
Come again You can and will.
Your word is sure as the dawn.

May we learn to submit this season to a trustworthy Father rather than resign in avowed apathy.  This too shall pass.

Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city. Psalm 31: 21.

 

The Soul’s Referee

Had I known how much refereeing I would have to practice as a mother of three growing  boys, I would have gotten more training. I might have taken a course to pick up hand signals and deescalation techniques. I might have at least been prepared with a whistle, a rule book, and some penalty flags.  Alas,  I did none of the above and have found myself woefully unprepared.

I love peace. I am a middle child. I detest conflict with every fiber of my being. But conflict, whether it comes on inter-personal or intra-personal playing fields, is a reality that offers both burden and opportunity. Thankfully, my soul has a referee in the Holy Spirit who steps in to order my conflicted heart around the love of Christ.

I am not celebrating conflict for conflict’s sake. There is no need to add to a conflict-consumed world.  However, the more I do life, ministry, and family,  the more I am forced to lean into conflict. What I used to avoid with more precision than our nation is avoiding the coronavirus,  I am learning to endure by God’s grace.  Constructive conflict can be a powerful, albeit painful tool in the hands of the wounded surgeon.

It exposes our idols. It reveals the hidden places of our hearts. It highlights our need to give and receive forgiveness. It trains our souls to depend on the only perfectly dependable one. Healthy conflict can lead to healthy intimacy with the Lord but also with others.

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I am writing these things because I need them tattooed on my heart. I am reminding myself that Jesus is worth awkward conversations about differing personal convictions about face coverings. I am reminding myself that conflict in our home is not something to be shut down or ignored, but shared and investigated.

When an aged Peter was concluding his first letter to his flock towards the end of his watch as a shepherd, he highlighted the need fervent love that fights to forgive.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1Peter 4:8). 

What I find in my own heart is that my own wrestling to forgive exposes the paucity of my love. On my own, I do not have the capital to float forgiveness to others that cancels their debts. I have precious few pennies. But that bankruptcy of my love forces me to look to the God of Abundance. Conflicts in relationships compel me to remember the One who paid my eternal debt with his ineffable love.

His love must be let loose afresh in my heart like the letting out of a dam.  As it begins to fill the crevices of my heart, the bitterness and shame seeking to grow there can find no footing. I wish this were a one-and-done deal. But this is an ongoing choice, as Peter hinted in using the present progressive in his exhortation above. In order to keep on loving one another with love that covers sin, we must keep our hearts in His love. We must continually let His love cover our own sins so that we have storehouses of love to lavish on others.

That can only happen when I invite Christ to come and act as referee in my rowdy, conflicted soul. In fact, when the Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians about letting the peace of Christ rule in their hearts, he used a Greek word that meant a referee (Colossians 3:15). As I process conflict without and within me, I desperately need the Lord to referee me.

Referee Me

Settle my unsettled thoughts, 
Rule these unruly desires.
Order my inordinate passions, 
As flesh against Spirit conspires. 

My rowdy heart needs a ruler
If I am to persist in your peace.
Loud lies linger and lance at me, 
To you alone I look for release. 

My hope has hurried away from you
On false deliverers it has dissipated.
Oh, that you’d house my hopes again, 
For in You alone I am truly sated. 

I cannot advance a kingdom
That doesn’t first rule my heart.
Consistently conquer my soul, 
Let me never from you depart.