Monday, September 10, 2012

A Mighty Fortress

What is your least favorite part of a church service?

You know you have one.

Whether you’re the person coordinating the event, behind the board in the sound booth, on stage holding a guitar or microphone, or waiting for your turn at the pulpit, there’s that moment where you have to brace yourself, wince inwardly, and take a deep breath when That Time begins. Yes, you know what I’m talking about.

Mine is the greeting time. I can’t stand it. Imagine how Lina Lamont says it in her nasally voice in Singin’ In The Rain. I caaaaaan’t staaand it. You have to smile at everyone around you, even though moments ago you were just wondering  what you were going to have for lunch and don’t know if you really want to eat at home but the hubster wants to eat out so there’s going to be an argument later. Then you have to look around to see who’s reaching out toward you to shake your hand. Shake Your Hand. Shake. Your. Hand. Because I definitely shake everybody’s hand when I see them. No! There are some hugs, friendly banter. If there is a voluntary handshake in Real Life, it’s usually one of those two-handed handshakes that just feels more sincere than its predecessor.

And then there’s the awesome conversation that you have with a)strangers and b)friends.

Conversation A goes like:

Person 1: Hi there.
Person 2: Hi.
Person 1: How are you?
Person 2: Doing good this morning.
Person 1: Good, good. Glad to hear it.
Person 2: And you?
Person 1: Yes, good. It’s good to see you!
Person 2: You too.

Conversation B goes like:

Friend 1: Hi there.
Me: Hi.
Friend 1: How are you?
Me: Doing good this morning.
Friend 1: Good, good. Glad to hear it.
Me: And you?
Friend1: Yes, good. It’s good to see you!
Me: You too.

And then move on, and so on, and henceforth, and blah blah blah until the song starts up again and, praise the Lord, there is relief from the agony. I just spent about half an hour looking for jokes about greeting time at church and couldn’t find any. I think that is surprising. There were a lot of terrible jokes, and it kind of made me feel bad that I was making fun of or complaining about one of the aspects of a church service. See, I do try not to complain about something unless I can find a viable solution for fixing it. Unless I can change a scenario, hot glue, paint, or duct tape, or make some kind of phone call to somebody who CAN fix the broken thing, then I will try to just deal. But here’s the thing about the deal….greeting time happens in almost every church, in every service, and good luck trying to change it. And honestly, who cares? Who cares that it’s awkward, fake, and a terrible way to spread germs like the plague?

There was a service my husband and I attended, which brilliantly avoided greeting time. I LOVED that service. You walk in the building; in the foyer was a table for making a cup of coffee. Walk into the worship center and the lights were dim, there was music in the background. You could converse with people or just take a seat. We’d have the music, the speaker, and afterward many of us would go out to dinner. Oh yes. That’s right.

What is it about the Greeting Time that I find so terrible? Am I alone in this?! I just don’t like the close proximity, the short-lived moment in which nobody is ready to discuss how they are ACTUALLY feeling that morning, and the forced faux friendliness. If you know me, then it’s cool if we have a little or big hug and/or a handshake if we usually handshake. But if I see you at the grocery store and we chat better than we do during the Greeting Time, let’s just be done with the waxy mannerisms, shall we? Nobody needs to shake my hand, and it never ever anywhere makes me feel welcome. I don’t know where your hands have been. Were you just picking your nose? Picking the lint in your pocket? Picking something out of your teeth? Ew. I don’t want your morning’s eggs on my hands. Even if you’re nice.

What is it about a handshake?

I’m not criticizing the fact that new people need to feel welcome, and I do understand how necessary it is for anybody who has arrived at an event to feel invited, part of the group, and that they belong. I agree with that. But it seems there should be a better way to make that happen. I don’t know if it can happen in a two-minute segue.

Maybe it has to do with me.

I DO realize that most people probably don’t even blink when it comes to greeting time. For me it’s a grinding of the teeth, nails on the chalkboard, a train wreck. I think my blood pressure skyrockets when I’m forced to meet new people that are standing right behind me. Maybe it has something to do with the ensuing chaos of people suddenly talking, walking around, moving every which way. Maybe it has to do with a fear of crowds or something. Check it out; just looked up “fear of crowds phobia” and what’s kind of funny is what came up:

That’s right. Agoraphobia is “an anxiety disorder characterized by anxiety in situations where the sufferer perceives the environment to be difficult or embarrassing to escape.” I get that, Wikipedia. I get that.

Now, I’m not looking for myself to have more trouble or drama than I already have, but let’s face it. Greeting time is a breeding ground for agoraphobes. Party rock, agoraphobes! Let’s hear it for the boys!

Or girls.

I’d rather have a quiet moment to chat with someone about what her name is, if she has come before, and what program I can interest her in. Or discuss how cute her shoes are. Or ask a question about my daughter’s teeth or health and how it relates to that person’s daughter. And a two –minute rock concert just doesn’t help that.

Now, don’t get me wrong in that I really DO like the real moments from people that I do know. I love a hug from a friend, waving to a friendly face across the room, and laughing about my poor husband’s wonky guitar solo that we will laugh about when we go out to lunch later. (Love you!)

I just needed to write something out about Greetin’ Time after a couple pointless handshakes yesterday. I really need to remember to put some hand sanitizer in my purse. It’s just one of those things you have to deal with, this GT. It’s definitely not a gift or talent for me.

I am reminded of my social awkwardness at the park. It’s this innate fear within me, of addressing Strangers. It doesn’t matter if they look friendly, kind, or like airplane hijackers, there’s this inner struggle to force words out of my mouth. Blarg! When I was a child my mother called it Shyness. Now I’m searching for a name and a cure; you see, it’s easier to defeat a problem when you can give it a name. And as a leader for an important ministry to my heart, as a Christ-follower, as a mom, I need to be able to walk up to new people and not feel like Cousin It. But I’m an organizer, not a greeter.

After months of vexation with my daughter, trying every tactic to get her to Take A Nap, I finally settled on the solution of singing hymns to her. For some reason, this works. I’m so glad. It started out with holding her down, holding her hand, and singing any song I could find in my old hymnbook for as long as it took for her to fall asleep, and now she asks me to sing songs from my book. Actually, if I leave before she’s completely asleep she will pull the book off her dresser where I leave it, and pull it into bed with her. And…. after that she usually comes to get me and asks, “What’s wrong with me?” and I walk her back to bed to see that she’s been trying to sleep on top of the hardback book.

I thumb through, perusing the songs I grew up learning in choir, and sing what I know. I try to settle on the ones that are slower, calmer, and I have found that the ones where I sing a bit higher are the ones that work the best. Some favorites are “Be Thou My Vision,” “In The Garden,” “My God is Near Me All The Time,” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

In college we had this event called Renaissance Week, where the entire university held activities, a big dinner, some shows, and lectures on the Renaissance. I went to one where a music professor talked about A Mighty Fortress, and it was such an interesting discussion. I love learning about where stories and songs come from.

Martin Luther wrote the words and composed the melody sometime between 1527 and 1529. Remember that Martin Luther was a German monk, priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation (Wikipedia). He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money; that salvation is not earned but a gift of God; and helped the Bible become more accessible to the common man.

Quick facts about “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:
•    It has been called the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation" for the effect it had.
•    It was a tribute to Luther's friend Leonhard Kaiser, who was executed on August 16, 1527.
•    The words are a paraphrase of Psalm 46.
•    Luther composed the melody, named "Ein feste Burg" from the text's first line, in meter This is sometimes denoted "rhythmic tune" to distinguish it from the later isometric variant, in (thanks Wikipedia).
•    This hymn covers the full sweep of the Christian's life. In it, we find the answer to conflict, striving, spiritual warfare, and at last, victory” ( 10 Sept 2012).

One of the most significant facts I learned about the song was that not every verse ends with a cheerful note, literally, musically, and lyrically. Here are the lyrics:

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing. 
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? 
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us. 
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth. 
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God's truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

Who’s got no equal on earth in verse 1? Our ancient foe. So why are we singing out him being so strong?! Look at verse 3: God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. Our enemy may be unequal, but one little word shall fell him. One little word, one little name: Jesus. That name, that word, above all earthly powers. Let goods and kindred go; this mortal life also. God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.

Psalm 46 says:
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Fortress: a large fort or fortified town; a place or source of refuge or support. Bulwark: any protection against external danger, injury, or annoyance. I like the reminder, that the almighty, protecting God who was around in 1 BC, who was around in 1527, is still around and present as ever in 2012. He abideth still.

Even during Greeting Time.
Even when you step in gum in the parking lot.
Even when the plans go wrong.
Even when you can’t hand her a brochure.
Even when you can’t find wiggle room in the budget.
Even when gray clouds fill the sky, masking the bright yellow sun.

Lord Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, of armies, from age to age the same. And He must win the battle.

So whether the battle is internal, or external, among friends or strangers, or silly awkwardness at the park or in line at the grocery store, He can work through it. He’s the one to run to, flinging our shameful inadequacy into his arms when we forget, fail, or falter. “God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:5-7).

Maybe today is your Greeting Time. Maybe Greeting Time is your favorite thing, or maybe you’re glad to be on stage with a microphone so you don’t have to participate. Well for those of us in the audience, I’ll just keep on singing the chords and remember that even when my blood pressure rises, there’s a stronger one standing beside me. And he must win the battle.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A New Leg Of The Trip

Well, I've started something new and I hope you will stick with me. Follow me on over to my new blog,

and keep on reading. I'd love to see you over there so that we can continue the story together.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Measured. Stored.

I like watching One Tree Hill. I admit it. I enjoy the writing.

“You gotta open up your heart to somebody. You gotta let someone discover how staggering you are.”

I think we all deserve to be told that at least once in our lives. We spend so much time trying to make ourselves better, improving upon what we are, that we don’t see how fabulous we currently are. We are quite often small and insignificant, a little overweight, clumsy, and forgetful, but we were made by flawless hands. We were created in the depths of perfection, in the shadow of unspoiled eyes.

You are staggering.

It doesn’t matter if you can name your faults or claim your failures. That’s beside the point. David was just a kid going up against a 9-foot tall sack of muscle and hair, and look what he did. He owned his place with his Creator, saying, “Then all the world will know that Israel has a God, and this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:46b-47). I’m guessing he said it rather loudly. I would. I mean, that is a well-phrased group of words. If you got something good to say, be loud with it.

The battle is the Lord’s. That insurmountable guilt, the fear, the melancholy, the grime between your toes, the dusty floorboards; eh, it’s just a little housework to the one who made it all. I’m not a big fan of housework. And I’m not sure why dust exists, I mean, really, gross. I guess dust exists to remind us of our vice and folly, and that even as we continue to wipe the shelves and chair legs, so our Father wipes away our tears. Wipes away our scandals, wipes away our fears.

But He made us, he keeps us, and maintains our presence if only we stay. And I think we need to quit reminding ourselves that we aren’t worth it, that we have to keep improving. Because it’s not really up to our abilities. We can’t earn the privilege of being staggering. Jaw-dropping. On fire. Compelling. We are God’s workmanship, created to do the good works he prepared for us to do. The good works may not always feel like fun works or easy works, and they may not be in the place where you want your work to be, but they are prepared specifically for you. Very often I wonder about my work and if I’m doing any good at all. Because sometimes as your toddler pushes the power button on the computer as you are completing an order and you just want to yell, or when the husband leaves his shoes in the middle of the room even though you specifically put a basket for shoes by the door and you trip over them while carrying hot coffee, or when you notice you are saying something obnoxious and don’t stop yourself in time, it feels like pointless failure. That’s when we need some kind of reminder that this world around us isn’t the last word.

Pick up a rock and throw it. God will aim it and finish the task.
I need to make myself a sticky note and write that on it. As a stay at home mom, there are a lot of quiet moments when the daunting tasks easily overwhelm. So I put quotes or Bible verses around where I will see them when I need them the most.

“All of your toil is ever before him.” ~ Beth Moore

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” ~ 2 Corinthians 10:5

“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:26

“But all this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:9

(Apparently the Corinthians speak to me.)

But here’s another one that applies just as well, courtesy of One Tree Hill:
“The greatest rewards come from doing the things you fear most.”

Sometimes those imaginary monsters like The Laundry Pile or Vacuuming or Asking For Forgiveness or Losing Weight or Getting Out Of Bed need to be told who’s boss. It doesn’t matter how tall our adversary; it doesn’t matter how musty, ponderous, or devastating it may seem. It is all incredibly small compared to the Lord of Hosts. You know, a synonym for “host” is “master of ceremonies.” The person with that job knows the show inside and out, front to back, and has a backup plan if there are technical difficulties or someone isn’t in place at the right time.

David also said, “You come against me with a dagger, spear, and sword, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh of Hosts, the God of Israel’s armies – you have defied him…The Lord will hand you over to me. Today, I’ll strike you down, cut your head off… Then all the world will know that Israel has a God… He will hand you over to us” (1 Samuel 17:45-46). Take that, toilet grime. Take it and eat it, clumsiness, ache, hunger, rejection, despondency, and loss.

Remember it, wear it in your heart, and do not lose grip on the most powerful weapon that we will ever have to face the day, to continue on; he is our Creator, our great love. 
He is staggering. And he made you, just the way you are.

There’s a song that I heard (probably on One Tree Hill) that the lyrics apply here:

Anything to make you smile
You are the ever-living ghost of what once was
I never want to hear you say
That you'd be better off
Or you liked it that way

But no one is ever gonna love you more than I do

No one's gonna love you more than I do
(Band of Horses)

And shouldn’t we remember that. Our great Host, our Maker, our Only One; no one is going to love you more than the one who designed you.  If you are caught between a grassy field and a desert, drowning under the waves, or wedged into a dark hole, look up. Pick up a rock and throw it.

You are, after all, staggering.

Take the hand of the one who made you and walk in his steady stride, until the giants fall away.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Back To It

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.

That’s the beginning of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, back in the day. Right now it is one of my favorite passages because it’s pretty personal but full of imagery. The last two months have been a whirlwind of teaching an online English course full time, traveling around the state of Texas a couple times, helping with garage sales, partially coordinating a ministry program at church, helping an in-law move and settle into a new apartment, and trying not to let my own home turn into a dusty pile of socks, pull-ups, and junk mail. If only we could send back the junk mail, labeled, “spam.”

I haven’t been able to think much, let alone sit down to write in quite a while, and it’s about time to get that going again. I still struggle with the vast library that is currently available to the world and can’t help but think that my words and thoughts don’t really amount to much, relatively, but I’m not going to let that stop me. Even little words make thoughtful sentences. And to be honest, when I sit down to write a bit, the world slows down, and a small feat is accomplished that can be checked off the List and I feel just so very satisfied with creating and completing that little task. The world gets a little smaller, but just a little more orderly at the same time.

And so we get back to it.

Life continues on in its whirring buzz. The clouds drift by, the wind howls in the corner of the apartment complex, and the black and orange butterflies continue to hatch. It’s not particularly dramatic, exhausting, or eventful, but it’s the end of another day and as far as I can tell all is well for now. That in itself is affirming.
The hum of the air conditioner; the dark night floating down upon the earth; a bit of a comfort, isn’t it? Let us once again share our comfort, our work hours, our pressure. Lessons in patient endurance are never easy to learn, and I have a feeling that my toddler’s naptime tomorrow will only be another hurdle. So we rest easy for the evening and amass the quiet while it lasts. There are enough moments of dismay waiting; for tonight we turn the blinds and lock the doors to its shadow. For we are not dismayed; He is our God. He renews our strength in the lull of battle.

And tonight, maybe we are small words in short sentences, arranged on the lips of the sleeping. But that’s tonight. Tomorrow we are long-winded and silly.

Tomorrow we get back to it.

It’s good to be back.

I hope I get to stay here awhile.

The blank page is comforting and cozy, and I like to lounge out in the dark leather chairs. There’s a thick rug under foot and the place smells like chocolate chip cookies. I hope you will stay as well; we can share a pot of coffee. 

And we will recover our strength, fortify our hope, and bask in the warmth of His ability.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Laundry Pile

I sat on the couch this afternoon, the gray sunlight wafting through the room, a car occasionally whooshing down the street outside the window, and the thought came to me, “I’m not doing anything.” I had finished my quiet time of Bible Study, noting Beth Moore’s words that God will make his word clear to us in his timing. The room was dim, quiet, the tall vertical blinds open against the far wall, the light streaming in, as a bird or two chirped in the tree whose remaining green leaves I could see wiggling in the slight breeze outside. Not doing anything. Sitting down and waiting, waiting for what? Am I doing anything with my life, trying to figure out ways to get my toddler to sleep, trying to find new recipes that excluded sugar or pasta, trying to find a remedy for this cold that won’t go away.

A slight melancholy settled upon the room.

And then the timer began buzzing on my phone.

The timer for the laundry. I thought, “I AM doing something. I’m doing the laundry.”

The laundry is one of those works that doesn’t require a lot of attention the whole way through. Thankfully God has provided mankind with the mind to create a machine that will do most of the work for us, and the effort on my part is lugging the baskets down the stairs and across the street to the laundry room. Then lugging them back up after I’ve changed them over, and hanging or folding or airing out to finish drying. It’s an exhausting contribution, doing this with usually two or three loads, particularly after having worked out in the morning. But it’s another chance to care for my family, to care for our possessions which we have been given, and to breathe in some fresh air during the walk. But for the 25 minutes in the wash and the 45 minutes in the drier, I have a little time to sit and either clean or design or read or do my Bible Study or write or shower or wash the dishes or drink a cup of coffee or drink a smoothie or pay the bills. And isn’t it amazing that in the few minutes I have to sit, and the silence begins to settle, I begin to think, “I’m not doing anything.”

It’s a lie we allow ourselves to think, and it’s time to stop it. I’d prefer a handful of minutes with time to reflect upon the silence than a day full of busywork, where my house was clean but my mind was unsettled. I’ve been there, I’m very good at getting there, and it’s a struggle for most of us to stay away from there. Kind of like Walmart.

I’m one in a vast ocean of souls. I realize this more with each passing day. My contribution to this planet may never be realized, but as I heard the lyrics this morning, “I’ve just scratched the surface of my purpose.” There is more to the silence, there is more to realizing our purpose, there is more to Life than we can accomplish in one day. So get the laundry done. You are doing something. You’re just simmering, like a stew, until you’re ready. Then get ready, because this is just the training portion. Wait until the drier stops. Then the real work begins.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

...But Don’t Paint The Bedroom Pink

While watching NCIS and folding laundry yesterday afternoon, Tony DiNozzo informed a character that his loved one had been murdered. I thought, “I hope I never have to be told that. It would just be terrible.” Then I did a mental double-take on myself and realized, “Oh wait.” And I remembered that gray, drizzly January day in 2001. The puddles on the ground as I stepped out of my car. The school secretary saying with empathy, “We are so sorry to hear the news….”

Last night in Bible study, Beth Moore discussed courage. We all do live in such great fear, whether it’s, “What if the chicken doesn’t thaw out in time for dinner?” up to, “Could this chicken be my last meal?” Fear of not being able to pay the bills, of driving down the road, of not having a good enough budget to last for the month, of not having ink in the printer to get that paper in on time, of screwing up our children, of being rude, of losing someone or something very dear.

I’m still having trouble writing right now. I don’t know if it’s laziness, inconsistency, or just a sense of not having anything valuable to say. There are a lot of people out there saying something about something, and I don’t have many answers right now. But I did get a challenge last night and thought I would share it, because we are all affected by Fear, and we are called, especially us Christ-followers, to live outside of fear, outside of the boundaries we can see in this world.

In Esther 4 we read:
Hathach went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”
 12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
 15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

In Esther’s roundabout conversation with her uncle Mordecai, she began as a hesitant woman who said she could be put to death if she went to the King, who then gathered the courage to say, well, I need to do what I need to do, and if I die, I die.

Most of us don’t live with this as a daily factor.

Well, I’ve got to go to Walmart. And if I die, I die.
Well, it’s time to go work out. And if I die, I die.

Living with a sense that at any moment something terrible can happen to you is no way to live. That is allowing in a darkness that has no authority to be present. BUT things happen. Sin is present in the world. You get in so many car accidents and you get nervous when that car inches closer behind you or that other car runs that red light. There have been several deaths from cancer in my family and among friends that I have really started questioning what the heck we’re doing to cause such damage to ourselves. But can we live like that? Can we live in fear of car accidents, disease, a crumbling economy, global crisis, Slow People Day at Walmart? (Slow as in literally slow-moving. Gah. Lady with a potty-training toddler coming through!!) No. It will dissolve the trust in that firm foundation under our feet.

Mrs. Moore said in the video last night, “What if something happens? If _________, then _________.”

What if your husband cheats on you? What if you lose your job? What if your child dies? What if there is a tornado and we lose the house? What if……? Moore went through the stages of a hypothetical infidelity. Think about it. How would you first react? What would you do? Be mad. Be really mad. And then? Be sad. And then? She said, “Then I’d lay on the floor with my Bible over my face.” I chuckled at that. But think about the stages. She said then she’d go back to teaching Bible studies (and that she’d probably still be mad and take it out on studiers by giving a lot of homework) but then she would still eventually get back to God. That what’s left at the end of our loss, our grief, our complaining, our anger, our angst, our chocolate binges, our giving up… is God. He’s there all along, of course, but at the end of all of it, is just a shedding of layers to reach the final heart of the matter, that God is all we really have. We don’t have insurance, we don’t have a nice car, we don’t have the clothes on our backs. Even if the world crumbles underneath, God is there. Even if we don’t think we can pay for groceries, God is there. Even if we have no more ability or motivation to give, God is there. If _________, then  God .

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your love, O LORD, endures forever—
do not abandon the works of your hands.
Psalm 138:8

The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Deuteronomy 33:27a

Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Psalm 90:2

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Deuteronomy 31:8

From these few verses alone, we see concrete fact that God is, has been, and always will be there, unshakeable, almighty, and the author of our faith. And so we establish God’s persona. Now how about us? We are shaken, poor, and unable. And so often misguided, feeble, and unworthy. However, those of us who trust His Word, and hold to his hope, are this:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 2:9

(God) who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father…
Revelation 1:6

You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.
Revelation 5:9-10

The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.
Luke 17:20-21

So there you are. Even if we overspend at Kroger or buy the wrong warranty package, can’t figure out why the computer won’t turn on, or if we boil the milk over the pot, sit on a retainer, get hit in the face with another sports ball, shred the wrong document, or are overheard dispersing judgments on a sister…. We are the children of the Most High King. We are his priests, his kingdom, his bloodline.

Do we cower in fear of tomorrow or do we live “beyond the casket, all the way into the kingdom”? I think our lives may all change if we step into this reality instead of the one we can see. Sometimes we can’t see God’s love, but he is within and around us. Sometimes we can’t see his exact arms holding us, but he places people in our lives to embrace us or simply call to shake out that dark reverie. Moore also said that, “we won’t ever be in a situation where God doesn’t offer us his presence and to give courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is something much more important at stake.”

We all have our challenges, our callings, our individual stories to live out. We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Quite often those “to do” lists are challenging, and sometimes we are so exhausted we don’t want to even get out of bed. But take heart. He has overcome exhaustion. He has overcome the world. He has overcome fear, loss, hurt, grief, anxiety and anger. Take heart. Take courage. If it is having another baby, if it is eating less sugar, if it is moving to a new place, if it is making new friends, if it is finding a new church, if it is seeking God’s face, if it is not tearing out your hair when the baby poops in the bathtub again, if it is getting dressed, if it is learning to rely on His Strength, then we are able to do it, because He is there.

Chatting for a moment today with my overseas sister, I recalled a quote from my doctor during that pivotal 20-week sonogram. “It looks like you will be having a girl,” he said, watching the monitor next to me, “but don’t paint the walls pink.” Sort of anti-climactic, don’t you think? There is such a big push to “know” what your baby is going to be. Everyone gets all excited as you go to the office, the suspense building that finally, finally, you can find out pink versus blue, purple versus green, and fill the room with baby dolls and lace or dinosaurs and cars. And my doc said, “But don’t paint the walls pink.” Hey, thanks. Thanks for that not-so-pivotal answer. My anticipation balloon warped and winced, flopping down on the floor as the doctor handed me a wipe to clean off my stomach.

Our faith, our existence, our calling, is based on a firm foundation. We can most definitely paint our walls pink. We can line the curtains with purple ruffles and hot glue sequins all over the picture frames because we are His. And he is there.

Fear is that burst balloon, insinuating that we just might wait to celebrate, because you never know if or when or what might come upon the next foot fall. So this is the challenge: to paint our walls as vibrantly as we can, and to dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Instead of hesitating upon that impending confrontation, stand firm and to throw back our shoulders.

Then     God     .

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A New Moon

Haven’t written anything for awhile. Mainly because on my blog I really do want to give refreshment instead of neediness or complaining, and partially because this is a time where there is a lack of ….well, how to best put it?

There is a certain tween novel that really captures the essence of empty, passing time, with blank pages right smack in the middle of the manuscript. The words bleed off the end of one page and the reader flips to the next, expecting another sentence, as most books continue on even when a sentence or next chapter ends. So it is with blogs, news articles…until the book is over, the words continue, even if there is a passing of time in between, and the author and editor simply  hope the reader notices the passing of time between, “And we pressed on through the valley of the shadow of death,” and “The sun beamed brightly over the horizon the following morning…”

Sometimes there is a long pause between that shadow and the morning that can only be understood with a blank, empty passing of pages.

So it is with us.

Empty space.

It’s not good for the design world. Usually an artist won’t want empty, wasted space in a collage or portrait. Now, that guy who painted the really big red square, well, except for him.

Empty space doesn’t always mean God isn’t moving within and about us. And what is so frustrating about real life is that quite often there are no good words to use to make a situation better. Sometimes there is just empty space. Sometimes a person just needs a hug. Sometimes you just cry because you miss someone, or because you are afraid of losing someone, or because you’re afraid of missing out on hopeful expectations. That is one of those vague phrases like, “a bright future” or “we’ve decided to go with another option.”

This post has thus far been 320 words. How long does it take to read 320 words? It takes much longer to write 320 words, I guarantee. I almost feel like I could sit in front of this computer screen for hours more to just gain some sort of buoyancy from this leaky dinghy. Cause let’s face it, all moms are leaky dinghies. I realize that every morning at Stroller Strength when we do our cardio stop.

I was at Bible study Wednesday and Beth Moore made a point about a verse in Esther 4.
Mordecai sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The word “you” is used 5 times. Moore brought up the point, “Do you ever have that feeling that someone is saying, ‘We have a problem and you and you and you and you and you have to fix it!’ and you just feel overwhelmed?”

Quite often during the day I feel this way. When my little girl makes some sort of mess which probably causes another mess, in which I try to quickly stop the mess, causing another mess, where I and I and I and I have to clean it all up…. There are bigger things in life where sometimes those big and empty spaces just seem to loom overhead, blocking the light from the hallway. Between a person’s last breath and the shutting of the coffin; between "You're hired!" and, "I'm afraid we are going to have to let you go," and all those other marked ends of seasons; it’s a longer journey for those of us left behind. For those who continue to bake bread or put the shoes back in the closet or wipe down the counters one more time, it’s harder to keep the routine going, because we aren’t on that new journey. We are the ones feeling the empty of the spaces, the impact of one more blank page passing, and then another.

But then again, the story will pick back up. Maybe it’s been a month, maybe a week, maybe a paragraph later.

We are not running aimlessly, like a man beating the air.
We are created to do good works.
We are learning to take those empty spaces and turn them into something even better than what they could have been. Because we don’t know the whole story, and we don’t know the story that could have been, which could have been worse than it was if we were actually the ones in charge of it to begin with.

And we don’t always have to fix something, or clean something up. Sometimes we just have to keep flipping through the blank pages until the story starts to get good again.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

We Aren't Our Brokenness

While I was dreaming about crock pots last night, my cousin David was drawing his last breaths. You see, I’ve been working on a fundraiser including a lot of crock pots, and many, many details that kept my mind whirling late into the night. At the same time my aunt posted on Facebook that Dave was having trouble sleeping and for us to pray for him to have some peace.

See, David has had brain cancer and has been battling radiation for several weeks now. This picture is from a play he was in several years back. I remember him young and strong, and I know he was and is so much more than what the cancer did to him.

The thing about being human is that it is so hard to get past what we can see and touch. We are stuck with our tangible pains, fears, and loss. We have pink coffee mugs, and thankfully a soft carpet under our feet, and a warm shower to wash the tears down the drain. But it is those hard times when you just don’t know what to say, because there ISN’T anything to say, that can actually help.

My extended family has been down various roads that led us through departures among us. I miss many of them, and wish I could have known all of them better. I was standing in my bathroom this morning attempting to get ready for the day, just allowing myself to ask God, “Why? ….but why?” And I didn’t expect answers, because let’s face it, I’m too simple to truly understand the answers. But then God brought a verse to mind. Immediately after I asked, “Why?” there was, “I have come that they may have life.” We can’t see the other side of this life, but God can, and we are promised that it is pretty awesome over there. Sometimes when God heals, he permanently heals. We are terribly broken over here, even with our creamy cheesecake, our warm sunshine, and pretty affordable contact lenses. But the thing is, over There, we don’t need contact lenses.

I read this book and while some close people to my heart think it’s no good to read, there was one part that really stuck with me. The girl in it had a literally life-altering experience because of her new husband being….not …a….warm….person….and now she was immortal. She could see better than ever before, far into the distance, able to see colors she had never seen before, understanding light and it’s dancing with shadows; she could move so fast because she didn’t have the tiredness, or weariness, or bonds of being human. She could smell better than before – scents of the smallest flower, the trees swaying in the breeze, an animal forging for dinner; she could run and did not grow tired, and could move so fast because there was no more weight holding her down. 

Sometimes I get so tired of wearing glasses or contacts. I get tired of having stuffy noses and headaches, and being incredibly tired by 4:00 in the afternoon. Sometimes I think about that section of that book and think, “Man, I hope heaven is kind of like that.” No more weariness, no more foggy contacts, no more tangles in my hair.

There is a Life better than most of us know, and we’re in training for it. We’re on this side of it, learning about the guy who we will spend the rest of it with, moving closer to – or away from – his heart, his presence. He is Life, and he has some for us. Now if only my heart and mouth could keep that in the forefront when those tears begin to well up.

There is more to the story than this side of eternity. We can only see this side, but what is coming is so much better. We aren’t only our brokenness. We are given strength, healing, peace, and provision beyond that which we can understand right now.

We celebrate a Healer who knows when we can’t stand being broken any longer, and cling to a Father who grasps us in his arms when we can’t stand on our own. He’s here on this side and the other side, so we let him carry us when we don’t have the strength.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:23