The Runner

 

Smaller than a man’s fist—
hardly worth noting

in the bleach-baked sky.
But it had been years,
month after endless month
of scorching aridity.
Now here, rising from the sea,
barely perceptible, was hope.

The prophet’s heart began to pound.
He gathered up his robe 
and began to run.
The wind whipped at him
and the clouds roiled and congealed
until the dark mass burst into flood.
And the prophet ran on in the rain,
his feet pounding in puddles,
till his hair and beard were drenched
and dripping with the blessing
of answered prayer.

~RDB

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On Faith

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Isaiah 43:2 is one of several verses stuck on my bathroom mirror: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.”  I take comfort in that promise many days when the breezes of life stir and the waves ripple. But let the winds whip up and the waves begin to churn and I am Peter sinking beneath the billows. Oh me of little faith. It doesn’t take much, as the past several weeks have shown me, to knock my faith askew. Hebrews 11:1 comes to convict me: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Not seen, silly. If I could see the way things will work out, it wouldn’t take any faith to believe in them.

I remember all of my Ebenezers: the peanut allergy that my eldest outgrew; the move away from family and friends which grew to have a sweetness of its own and then turned out to be only temporary; this current trial which, although it is far from over, has gifted me with dear friends who are walking this rough and rocky road with me. I have seen the grace and love of God through the hands of many I would never have known had I not been in need. I think of the sage advice of a friend who told me that times of need are really a blessing, because it is when we know our own helplessness that we can see the hand of God moving on our behalf.

One of our pastors recently preached on one of my favorite passages from 2 Corinthians 4: “ For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (verse 17).  This here-and-now that is so all-consuming and such a heavy burden at times is a feather-weight—the blink of an eye—compared to the glory we will know for eternity! Paul admonishes his readers in the following verse to look to the things that are unseen. I don’t know about you, but I sure have a hard time keeping my eyes on invisible things. Yet the “Hall of Faith”  in Hebrews 11 gives us  many examples of folks who did just that.

One day as I was driving home I was feeling particularly discouraged, and the Lord brought to mind Zeph. 3:17 which ends with “He will rejoice over you with singing.” I asked him in that moment if I could hear just a measure of that song that he was singing over me. I don’t claim to frequently hear God’s voice, but I am certain I heard him speak to my heart then. He told me I wasn’t strong enough to hear the beauty of the song he is singing—that it would kill me to hear it. I need to mature before I can endure the beauty of it. He offered to let me hear echoes of it in the sunset, in the birds singing, in flowers blooming.

Most of you don’t know my story. It is a story of the far-reaching, devastating effects of  the vileness of sin. To hear my Lord tell me that the song he is singing over me, the story he is weaving of my life, is one of such beauty that I could not even bear to hear it was overwhelming to me.  I carry that promise like a talisman next to my heart, and in moments of grief I take it out and finger it and grasp it in my hand and remember, He promised.

Verse 7 of 2 Corinthians 4 also speaks to me, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” The power that achieves my rescue belongs to God, not to me. When I hardly have the strength or the heart to put one foot in front of the other, He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”  (2 Cor. 12:9). When I feel most helpless and anxious it is because I am trying to figure out how I am going to solve my problems on my own. But God isn’t asking me to solve my problems on my own; He is asking me to seek Him and to follow His leading, wherever that may be. Does His path always make sense to me at the time? Definitely not. Do I always trust it? Sadly, no. But thankfully, my Shepherd gently pulls me in and sets me back on the path, which He promises will lead to green pastures and still waters, though we may travel through the valley of the shadow of death to get there. My part is to trust in His steadfast love and faithfulness to me and to keep my hand in His along the way.

Book Review: Naked and Unashamed: Exploring the Way the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy

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The difficulties of married life have driven me to read many books about marriage. Naked and Unashamed is by far one of the best I have read on the subject. The book’s introduction sets forth the author’s intention to make this book different from other books on the subject by showing God’s positive design for sex, rather than its traditional religious prohibitions. In lyrical language, Toornstra speaks to the heart of what makes marriage unique among relationships—the depth of intimacy it is designed to achieve. Garden imagery weaves through the narrative, paralleling Eden and Gethsemane and showing how Christ’s naked sacrifice on the cross redeemed Adam and Eve’s naked disobedience, providing the only sure covering for their sin, his own blood.

Chapter seven is a refreshing exposition of the Song of Songs, what Toornstra calls “God’s benediction on sex.” In well-crafted prose, Toornstra then addresses the fallenness of culture’s view of sex and how gospel-redemption of our view of sexuality is the only way to be truly sexually fulfilled. “Only when sex is no longer an idol that enslaves can it be enjoyed as a means of pleasure and intimacy” (141).

The culmination of the book is found in chapters eight and nine, where Toornstra beautifully explains how marriage and sex are meant to be reflections of our relationship with God. “God loves us the way that groom loves his precious bride. When God sees us, He doesn’t see us full of wrinkles or blemishes or imperfections. He loves us as His bride, dressed in white, pure, and perfect. You are the object of His affection. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you” (147).  “You need to know this love in your marriage. Because no matter how good or bad your marriage is, it can’t satisfy you the way that God’s love can satisfy you” (148). I highly recommend this profound and powerful book.

Naked and Unashamed: Exploring the Way the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy

This book was an Advance Review Copies (ARCs) sent by the publisher — common practice in the industry. No payment was accepted in exchange for a review or mention, and the reviewer was in no way obligated to review the book favorably.

A Lenten Prayer

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Lord,Featured image
Grant me grace
that I may surrender
to be imprisoned by Thee
in sickness, in grief,
in sorrow, in pain—
that You might set me free
in spirit to serve Thee,
not in ways that I see fit,
but bearing fruit
in keeping with Your perfect will,
like Joseph in chains
or Bunyan in prison,
kept, raised up, and fitted
for every good work.

~RDB

Comforting Those in Need

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Pain and suffering confront us everywhere.  When someone we know is faced with grief, disease, crisis or loss, we often feel unsure of how to meet their need or provide comfort. Having been on the receiving end of some helpful and some not-so-helpful “help” over the last few months, this is what I have found to be a blessing in time of need.

First of all, pray. If it is appropriate, let the person you are praying for know that you are praying. As the events of my own personal crisis began to unfold, I had several people come to me and tell me that God had laid me on their hearts in recent weeks, before I had even known what was about to happen. That was a humbling and amazing experience—to know that my Heavenly Father had been at work, prompting others to intercede for me, when no one knew there was a problem on the horizon. Even if you do not know exactly what to pray, bring them before the throne of the Father, and the Holy Spirit will intercede on your behalf (Rom. 8:26–27).

Secondly, don’t be a Job’s counselor. In the book of Job, we see that listening, not giving advice, is the surest way to be a help and not a hurt to those in need. When Job’s friends sat in silence with him for seven days, they recognized that “his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13). When they opened their mouths to speak, their focus shifted to themselves and they lost sight of their friend’s suffering, damaging their relationship with their hurting friend and drawing the ire and condemnation of the Lord in the end (Job 42:7). It is easy from the outside of a situation to come to intellectual conclusions,  i.e. “God must have known it would be best to take your spouse now before they suffered something worse.” “Your financial woes are just God’s way of teaching you to trust him more.” “Divorce is never God’s will; surely he will give you strength to endure your husband’s abuse.” “Don’t worry about your miscarriage. God will give you another child.”  These types of responses may sound logical to you—they might even have Scriptural validity—but to the hurting one they are the sting of a whip on a gaping wound. Unless God has laid something specific on your heart to say, express your love, express your sympathy, but don’t express your opinions.

Thirdly, if you feel called and are able, offer to help. Be specific in your offers. Even when someone makes a general offer of help, it is still often difficult for those in need to ask for specific assistance. Do you want to bring a meal? Ask if Thursday would be a good day to do it. Be the one to offer to watch a sick child so that mom doesn’t have to miss a day of work to stay home with him. If you have financial means to offer, put a gift in an anonymous envelope to bless them.

Fourth, walk the road with them. Whether you have been in their shoes or not, you can always walk with, sit with, and listen to someone who is hurting. Often that is the most meaningful help we can give. Some of the people whose help I have valued most in my journey through pain are people whom I was not more than acquainted with twelve months ago. Many of them have not experienced the same grief I have. But they are people who chose to step into my pain with me. They have walked beside me, without pressure, without judgement, without coercion. They listen when I am hurting, and better yet, they lift me out of it by interacting with me beyond the pain. We talk about books, writing, art, coffee, the kids; they help me to step out of the nightmare.

Lastly, I would encourage you to endure with the hurting for the long haul. Serious hurts like divorce, miscarriage, or the death of a spouse or child do not fade away in weeks or months. Keep praying, keep listening, keep offering help and support. Keep walking beside us. We may be overwhelmed with just trying to keep our heads above water day to day, and we may not acknowledge how much your support means to us. But don’t think we don’t notice, and don’t think we don’t need it. You are the Lord’s hands and feet ministering to us.

“But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” ( 1 Cor. 12:24-26).

Christmas is for the Brokenhearted

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I hung the stockings and decorated the tree. I set out the Christmas dishes and put up the nativity, but still my heart doesn’t feel like Christmas. It isn’t just me, either. A pall of sadness seems to hang over our festively adorned home. The kids are crying more often than usual, tempers are short, and no matter what Christmas activity we half-heartedly pursue, nothing seems capable of ridding us of it.

I sat at the dinner table alone. The kids had already hurried off to watch Frosty on TV. I sat there, feeling the burning weight of the ache in my chest. It was as if I couldn’t remember what it was like to live without it. It is easy in all of the festivities to feel like Christmas is just for those whose cups and hearts are full; it is easy to feel left on the outside of the joyful celebrations when your heart is aching.

But it is really for all of us, the broken, that Christmas speaks most loudly. Jesus did not leave his heavenly throne and come to a dirty, cold stable in order for rich folks to exchange gifts they neither need nor want. Jesus came so that those who have no hope could find hope. Isaiah says of our Lord:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1–3)

Christmas is a time to be reminded that our God is a promise-keeper. From the time of Adam to Abraham, from David’s time to Isaiah’s, God had promised a Redeemer—a Savior to his people. For thousands of years they had been watching, waiting, doubting, believing, and crying out to him in anticipation of the Messiah’s appearance. And there, in Bethlehem, just outside of the ruckus of the census crowds, God quietly delivered on his promise in a dirty cattle stall, in the last place on earth anyone would expect it.

One of the unfortunate things about celebrating Christmas every year is that we have become so accustomed to the story that it loses all of its wonder. Stop and ponder for a moment: God became a man—a flesh and blood human being with a specific height, weight, hair color, nose shape and voice. God sent angels, a whole host of them, in the middle of the night to a bunch of blue-collar shepherds to whom were given the honor of sharing the news of the Messiah’s coming. He didn’t call the AP or the press secretary of the provincial governor—he sent shepherds. The God-man baby, who somehow was confined to a woman’s womb for nine months entered the world through a narrow birth canal and emerged, not in a comfortable house or a palace befitting an earthly king, but into an animal shelter to be placed on prickly straw in a splintery feed box.

God, what were you thinking??

Maybe the stable was meant to make us aware of the humbleness of our earthly position before God. Even the richest, most sumptuous palace here on earth must be a hovel compared to the glories of heaven. But we might forget that if Jesus had been born at the Ritz.

All of this brings us back to the brokenness. The reason that compelled God the Son to be born as a baby was to bring a solution to all of the broken things of this world—broken hearts, broken bodies, and broken relationships.  Like one of my favorite lines from LOTR, quoted by one of our pastors recently, he came to make “everything sad . . . come untrue.”

My sadness may not lift this Christmas season. But that does not mean that God has not kept his promise to me. “He who did not spare his own Son buIMG_2424t gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Like Abraham, David, and Isaiah, I must maintain my gaze upon the coming Messiah. As Job (in hope) said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25).

This Christmas season, look with me upon the manger, and rejoice that God has come near to the brokenhearted, just as he promised. He is Emmanuel, God with us, our Savior and our King. And he has promised, “Surely I am coming soon.” And we answer with the apostle John, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

 

In the Houses of Healing

Waiting at the dentist’s office. Waiting in traffic. Waiting for test results. Waiting for a late child. Waiting for God’s leading. Waiting goes against my  nature. Waiting implies helplessness. Waiting means that whatever needs to occur or be done must be done by someone else.  If I could effect the change or the event I was waiting for, then I wouldn’t be waiting!

There is a frustrating blindness in waiting, like being in the middle of a coastal fog. There is no way to get your bearings, no sense of direction, and no way to identify landmarks. The only way to keep from getting lost is to be still and wait. Waiting acknowledges that God knows what I do not. And yet, somehow that does not stop me from wondering, worrying, and finagling to know the future. I rattle the doorknob and try to peek beneath the door. Which way is it, God? Can’t you give me a clue? How is this all going to play out?

The scriptures are full of admonitions to wait:

Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10, ESV)

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14, ESV)

Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22, ESV)

These admonitions to wait are rarely heard in the good moments of life, rather they appear over and over again in times of distress and need. The book of Isaiah is full of the cries of the waiting as the Israelites desperately longed for and eagerly anticipated God’s deliverance from their exile.

O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble. (Isaiah 33:2, ESV)

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:9, ESV)

The Psalms overflow with cries to God for help and rescue, and every plea involves waiting.

But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer. (Psalm 38:15, ESV)

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. (Psalm 40:1, ESV)

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. . . For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. (Psalm 62:1, 5, ESV)

The most prominent Bible characters were often “gifted” with the opportunity to wait on God. Abraham and Sarah waited into their ninth and tenth decades of life before God granted them the son he had promised. Jacob worked and waited for 14 years to marry his bride, Rachel. Joseph suffered 13 years of servitude and imprisonment before becoming Pharoah’s right-hand man. Moses waited 80 years before God gave him the command to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Hannah prayed and waited “year after year” for a son before the Lord answered her. David waited an estimated 15 to 20 years after being anointed king by Samuel before he actually ascended the throne of Israel.

Interestingly, David had two opportunities to short-circuit that waiting time when ruthless Saul seemingly fell into David’s waiting hands. But David honored the Lord and didn’t take the life of the king who sought to take his own life. Instead, he trusted the Lord to fulfill his promise and to give David the kingdom in his time. Saul, in contrast, disobeyed the Lord and did not wait when instructed to by the prophet Samuel. That impatience cost Saul the throne (1 Samuel 13).

I feel so much empathy for Tolkien’s character, Eowyn, in The Lord of the Rings. She is rejected in love, frustrated by her feminine limitations, and haunted by hopelessness. Her vindication comes in The Return of the King when she faces the Lord of the Nazgûl in battle, slaying him whom “no living man may hinder.” Yet her victory seems hollow, as it fails to save the life of her beloved father, and her valiant effort nearly costs her her own life. Wounded and senseless, Eowyn is carried to the Houses of Healing in the City of Gondor, where she is tenderly cared for, but to no avail. Not until Aragorn the King himself comes and ministers to her with his own hands does the cold abate from her brow. Yet, even as her body begins to heal, her heart does not, and she chafes to return to the battle. Aragorn, however, strongly advises against her departure from the Houses of Healing. She must wait there, he asserts, until she has had time to heal and regain her strength. Consequently, in the waiting she becomes acquainted with Faramir, and her wounded heart finally finds love that is requited.

In this, my time of waiting, I feel constrained as well. I am in the King’s Houses of Healing. But I, like Eowyn, am impatient: I want to go back out on the battlefield and finish the fight. I want to finish off the bad guys and close the book. Yet my Father intends for me here to realize that I can do nothing of myself–not forgive, not heal, not even find the strength for the battles I must fight: I must surrender all to Him. Like Aragorn, my King gently chides and admonishes me that my purpose for now is to rest in the Houses of Healing. He knows my weakness, my brokenness, my pain. He knows that for all my passion to right the wrongs that have been done, I do not have the strength to accomplish it. He bids me to rest, to be still, to drink slowly and deeply of his mercy and his grace, to soak in the warmth of his love in quiet contemplation.

In Paul’s epistle to the Romans we find our Heavenly Father’s purposes in waiting explained.

 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3 – 5, NKJV)

Growth happens in the waiting. Healing happens in the waiting. And waiting produces hope. If I think nothing is going to occur, I will give up waiting. As we persevere in waiting on God, we demonstrate faith that he will keep his promises to us. And that hope, Paul promises, will not disappoint.

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4, ESV)

By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
 the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
 so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. (Psalm 65:5 – 8, ESV)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Midst of the Storm

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I am reading an excellent book right now, albeit at a snail’s pace, which is typical due to the pace at which the rest of my life moves. It is Brett Lott’s Letters & Life. He talks about words, about writing, about life, and about making meaning out of all of them.

I am scratching all of this down on a lined pad of paper, rather than into Word as I usually would, because my computer won’t load for the second time this month. I am uncharacteristically unmoved by that; I am learning not to be provoked by many things that would usually upset me. In the last two months the AC in my van went out in 104 degree weather; the dog tore up my daughter’s best dress as it hung out to dry (that one did rile me); the backyard irrigation timer wouldn’t shut off, even in the off position, sending water gushing up like a geyser from a broken pipe—to remedy this I had to rip out the electrical wires to the timer, since I couldn’t get the water shut-off valve to turn; three light bulb bases broke off in a ceiling fan; a curtain rod ripped out of the wall; my son vomited; my eldest missed her class trip; ink splattered all over my dining room curtains; the outside spicket started leaking incessantly; the dogs decided to have an all-night barking fest every night; and we had two cockroaches in two nights—and I loathe roaches.

Oh, and the betrayal. There was that.

And yet, as I air my grievances—one grievance with many consequences, really—I know there are many more hurts in the world: a wife left alone after a good and faithful husband went to sleep and never woke up; an energetic, five-year-old twin stolen from his wombmate by an aggressive brain tumor; a four-year-old girl torn into by a lawn mower. And how do we go on after all this?

I spent a good two hours on a Sunday afternoon writing a blog post about the last two months. What set me to writing that day was a desert windstorm. I thought of how the driving winds, the heat, my burning eyes and stinging skin, and the general disorientation of a windy day all seemed to echo my present situation. Most specifically, the way that the dust in the air obscured my view of the mountain range that is the anchor point of our valley reminded me of all the Scripture references that speak of God and mountains.

Those who trust in the Lord
Are like Mount Zion,
Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds His people
From this time forth and forever.
~Psalm 125:1–2
 
I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
~Psalm 121:1–2
 
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. ~Hebrews 12:22–24
 

I wrote that blog post full of analogies and metaphors about dust and wind and mountains and beautiful Scripture references, and I tied it all up with a neat little bow. Then I reread what I had written and pitched it. It had all the answers, but it was no good. It was sanitary, metaphorical—and completely worthless. Because there is nothing sanitary or metaphorical about what I am living right now. It is raw and dirty, full of pain, messy and broken.

Why then do I sit here scratching out more nonsense on this silly lined pad, which I probably won’t even be able to decipher when I’m finished, when I don’t have any answers? My mind swirls constantly with questions. What am I going to do? What should I do? Why did this happen to me? Is this due to my own foolish choices? How am I going to get through this? Will anyone else ever love me? Why? Why? Why?

And in the midst of the storm of questions, there are no answers, but there are two words, quietly and deeply spoken: “Trust Me.” As I expressed frustration with the waiting, with the uncertainty, with the indecision, my pastor counseled me, “All of your options are really the same—to trust God to provide in the waiting, to trust God to provide in the reconciliation, or to trust God to provide in the singleness. It is all about trusting God to provide wherever you are.” What a freeing thought that is! No matter which road I take, He will be there with me!

My friend was getting married. She had waited a long time for the right man; her mother is dying from cancer; she has walked a long, hard road; and this was to be her day of joy. And I was dreading it. How to sit and watch her pledge herself to a man—a man who might hurt her, leave her, betray her, and crush her heart into a million irreparable fragments? Because as I now know, that is what some husbands are capable of.  Surely I would have to bite my tongue not to shout out in protest. But as I faced my reflection in the mirror, trying to paint that sad face happy, I heard my Heavenly Father tell me: “Choose Joy.” Were it not for my circumstances, I would have rejoiced with her. Very well then, I choose not to let one sorrow steal the joy from everything else—I will rejoice and throw it back in the face of pain.

As I sit here writing, there are loads of unfolded laundry (a pet peeve of mine), unwashed dishes in the sink (another pet peeve), lessons unfinished, a book study due next week incomplete, dirty bathrooms, and littered carpets all screaming at me to attend to them. But first, I had to write this out—my manifesto in the darkness. Even as I grieve and wrestle fear minute-by-minute, I will trust God; I will choose joy. Heaven help me,  I am probably inviting more chaos, more breakdowns, more challenges by declaring it, but by God’s grace I will not be broken, because He who promises is faithful. I have a long way to go as I walk through the grief, the pain and the anger I am feeling. I know I am utterly unable on my own to let it go, but I pray that God will open my hands and help me to give it to Him so that He can fill my hands with His blessings instead.

Fifty-five days so far He has carried me through this storm. Forty years, nine months and ten days, He has carried me over the rough seas of life. So I will continute to weather the storms of this life, one day at a time, until the day He carries me home to Zion’s mountain. And until then, I will continue to scratch down (on paper if necessary) the joy, the pain, and all the words He calls me to share, and pray that I, and others also, will find meaning there, even in the midst of the not-knowing, knowing in whom we have believed.

On Nearing 40 . . . And Heaven

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I was 7 years old when Princess Diana got married. I distinctly remember thinking that day, “Someday I will be beautiful.” Ever since then I have been waiting to feel beautiful. I think at nearly 40, that day, if it ever came, is in the past.

There are many things that I expected to have achieved by now: financial stability, having an orderly and clean home  and a yard that looks like a page from Better Homes and Gardens, or just being able to accomplish all that I want to in a day. Now I realize that I may never have those things. Ever. I cannot count on my health, wealth or security. I cannot count on people being loyal to me. All of this sounds very cynical, but I think it is merely realistic.

My memory verses for the week are Romans 8:17-18, which includes: “[we are] fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” So our inheritance with Christ is contingent on whether or not we suffer? I don’t feel like I suffer that much. I have, at times, but not as a steady diet. At least not in a way beyond or outside of my own selfish unhappiness.

It occurred to me tonight that Jesus didn’t have to come the way He did in order to fulfill God’s purpose for Him. He didn’t have to be born as a baby and grow up as a little child. He didn’t have to live 33 years on this earth and suffer scorn and temptation and, well, suffering. He didn’t have to die by crucifixion on a cross. He could have dropped down from heaven one day, announced that he was here to pay our penalty, died a relatively painless death in the 21st century by the electric chair, and still, I think, have fulfilled his calling of redeeming us from our sin.

But that wasn’t the way that the Father chose to go about it. Instead, he devised a plan where the Son would suffer the most excruciating death imaginable, showing us the severity of our sin. He chose to have him endure nine months of gestation, to be born as a baby, and then to live 33 long years here on this miserable earth with a bunch of miserable people who didn’t appreciate in the least who he was or why he had come or even that he had come for their sakes. He came and he suffered; he came and he served; he came and he sacrificed.

And now it is my calling to walk in his footsteps. Because, as verse 18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” It is easy, too easy, to get focused on the here and now, to get dragged down by all that doesn’t meet my needs and approval, when really, I need to be looking up and ahead. “Further up and further in!” That is where my sights need to be set. All of this will evaporate like smoke and shadows once we are in the light of that great place, and we will wonder why on earth (pun intended) we were so concerned with getting things right in this backwards, bent and temporary place. It is somewhat akin to Lewis’ slightly different analogy of  playing with mud pies when we are offered a trip to the sea. We keep trying to make these mud pies into castles and are frustrated when we cannot achieve it, when what we really need is patience to bide our time until we get to the kingdom.

I find myself thinking often about heaven these days. I don’t know if it is because Mama has been in such bad shape these last few months or if it is because, at mid-life, I am coming to realize that many of the dreams I had for my life are likely never going to come to fruition. That is to say, I am probably not thinking of heaven in the holy frame of mind that one is intended to dwell on it, but almost more in a sense of defeat. I’ll just muddle through down here until I can get there where maybe all of the things I have been longing for will actually come true. I doubt that is what the Lord intended.  Life here is, well, disappointing, and maybe I am not completely off when I find that disappointment compelling me to look up and ahead. But some part of me feels guilty that God’s presence here on earth isn’t fully satisfying to me.

Or maybe I am not wrong. Why should I be content in this sorrowful, messed-up world? When I look at the beautiful things of this world and imagine how much more beautiful the untainted glory of heaven will be, I can hardly imagine it. Wonder more wonderful than the Cliffs of Dover? Grandeur more grand than the Grand Canyon? Beauty more beautiful than the most amazing sunset? If this world’s beauty is all tainted, how glorious will heaven’s beauty be? And best of all, my soul’s faithful Lover, my Jesus, there to embrace me. Yes, “further up and further in!”

Book Review: The God of the Mundane

I was anxious to read this book. I am the stay-at-home mom Redmond mentions in the Introduction. My anticipation grew as I finished the Introduction and sympathized with Redmond’s plight as part of the “mundane” world he wrote for. Redmond handles language skillfully and asks weighty questions that beg to be answered.

While I felt that Redmond had a great point, his brevity (less than 75 pages) often left me feeling that he had not fully made his case: I still had many unanswered questions, there were facets to the dilemma that were not addressed.  Several chapters were almost entirely story with little commentary to accompany them.

Yet in each chapter Redmond corrals a valuable truth. From pushing back the Fall to living each moment in the Kingdom of God and giving cup-of-cold-water smiles, Redmond validates the spiritual worth of ordinary lives. The last chapter is particularly strong: “This little book is not a call to do nothing. It is a call to be faithful right where you are, regardless of how mundane that place is. The need is to go full bore, with wild willingness, into a life full of the mundane, armed to the teeth with the belief we are featured in the Story God will forever be telling with joy.” (71)

The God of the Mundane, by Matt Redmond

This book was an Advance Review Copies (ARCs) sent by the publisher — common practice in the industry. No payment was accepted in exchange for a review or mention, and the reviewer was in no way obligated to review the book favorably.