Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent devotional: Prepare the way of the Lord

I gave this talk at the Women's holiday tea at my church Tuesday evening. It's long, but I wanted to share it anyway.

Happy new year! It sounds like I’m jumping the gun – but the church year begins with the season of Advent, so this is the start of the new year. But it’s easy to overlook Advent in all the excitement of Christmas coming. With Christmas carols, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas parties and shopping for Christmas presents, how can Advent compare? It’s ironic because we do all of these things to prepare for Christmas, but the point of Advent too is to prepare for Christmas – for Christ’s coming. Instead of immediately jumping to Christmas, let’s do as the church year and the gospels begin, with the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” All four gospels, before showing Jesus in his ministry, show John the Baptist in his ministry. Luke even tells us about the birth of John the Baptist before Jesus’ birth. From these things, I take it that observing Advent prepares us for the true meaning of Christmas – celebrating the coming of our Savior.

If we want to use Advent as a time to prepare for Jesus’ coming the way the Bible shows us, we will have to turn our attention away, at least for a time, from the Christmas-y things that surround us during this season and listen to John the Baptist. You won’t see him on billboards or commercials, like Santa Claus or snowmen, but his message is the one we need to hear. He says: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Repent: turn – change your ways. This is a hard message any time of year, but crucial for preparing for Jesus’ coming.

Lately a couple of images are helping me repent, helping me take the time and effort I need to take (in prayer, self-examination and Bible reading) to be aware of what I need to repent of, to prepare for Jesus’ coming to me. Think of how Jesus came to us in his birth – in the womb of a virgin, and in a stable crib. To me, both of these images show that Jesus needs room, or space, for him. Jesus could have come to be born to a princess, someone important, wealthy, dignified. Instead, he chose a woman who had never known a man – whose womb literally was empty, someone who had room for him to come. This picture of Mary speaks to me not, primarily, about our marital status – but our openness, our willingness to give Jesus space in our lives.

Similarly, Jesus could have been born anywhere – in Herod’s palace, if he wanted palatial surroundings. Instead, he picked a manger in a stable – because it was the one place in Bethlehem where there was room for him. From these two images, I see that Jesus isn’t looking for the finest home to take up residence – he wants our availability, openness, room for him to be there.

I have been cleaning out clutter lately because I’m trying to make room in our home for our daughter, who will be born in March. Our current level of clutter, the way the closets are packed full, is fine for the three of us – but we need to make room for a fourth member of the family. So we need to get rid of lots of stuff, to have room for our daughter to live with us.

I want Jesus to be able to live in my “house,” that is, my life, too – not just the living room where guests come, but all of me, to live fully and forever. But the spiritual clutter in my heart makes it hard for me to make room for Jesus. He is not interested in my trying to make my spiritual home “better,” as if he needed a fancy home – again, he came from his heavenly throne to a manger! Palace or manger, it’s all humble from his perspective. But he can only come to those who actually are humble, who know their need:

Is. 57:14-16

14 And it shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
remove every obstruction from my people's way.”
15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 For I will not contend forever,
nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
and the breath of life that I made.

The person who is “of a contrite and lowly spirit,” who is humble, has room in their heart for Jesus to dwell. It can be hard to believe that the God who lives in “the high and holy place” also dwells “with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” We think that we need to be holy, too, at least, holier than we are. For some reason it’s easy for us to start by the Spirit – to rely on Jesus for our righteousness for salvation – but then try to perfect ourselves by the flesh, as Paul scolded the Galatians for doing. It’s hard to continue to live by grace – we think we should get beyond our neediness, our messiness. But when we try to live in our own strength, to make our “spiritual homes” look good with cut flowers and shoving things in closets instead of tackling the spiritual or emotional clutter, then we end up closing off parts of our lives to the presence of Jesus and the healing power we need.

There are a lot of ways we can neglect the spiritual clutter of our lives. Busyness, food, relationships, focusing on what other people are or aren’t doing, being critical – these are just a few things that take up spiritual energy we could better use to look within, to see what thoughts, attitudes, behaviors are unholy and impeding the presence of Jesus in our lives. Let me suggest that this Advent, we repent by changing our ways – stopping the activities that fill up our minds and time and distract us from what is going on in our hearts – and this will prepare the way of the Lord to come to us in a deeper way.

For me, anger is an area of clutter taking up too much space in my heart, keeping Jesus out of my relationships when my triggers are set off. If I easily get angry at my husband, son, myself, and others, then I’m not showing them Jesus and His grace – it’s that simple. In the past I’ve learned that if I’m easily angered, what helps me most isn’t just to keep repenting for getting angry – I need to also look at what’s behind the anger, and that usually is either a fear or a sorrow that I’m not grieving.

I mention anger specifically because I’ve heard from several other women at church lately that they are struggling with anger these days. It’s no surprise – in addition to our usual trials, disappointments and sorrows, we are in the middle of a church situation that practically demands grieving. But grieving is painful, so it’s easier to just get angry, get critical, or eat or whatever our particular escapes may be.

The fact is, though, that it is sad to see our church family getting divided, for people we love to not be here worshipping with us on Sundays or with us this evening. A book I’m reading by a church pastor mentioned that when people move away or leave their church, they’ve realized they need to take time to mourn that loss. How much more have we lost! We’ve lost beloved pastors; we’ve lost members; we’ve lost the stability and security our church used to give us.

Yes, we know that God is sovereign and he works all things together for good and we can trust him – but the Bible teaches us also, in addition to these truths, that “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” And our primary comfort is from God. He knows we are weak and he doesn’t expect us to be as strong as we think we should be. The Isaiah passage recognizes our faint spirit and his compassion. David, the man after God’s own heart, was also an emotional man, and the Psalms showed him grieving too.

Jesus himself is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” Isaiah tells us, and there is a kind of fellowship with Jesus that happens only through grief. We may be afraid to get sad, wary of wallowing in sadness, fearful of depression, but not only does Jesus come to us in our sorrows, making room for Jesus through mourning also makes our hearts have more room for the sorrows of other people – making us more compassionate people – making us, in turn, more like Jesus himself. And Scripture tells us “sorrow lasts for a night but joy comes in the morning”: If we will grieve our sorrows, we will have more joy, on Christmas morning, because of Christ’s birth.

A friend sent me a poem by John Newton the other day that I’ll end with because it seems to me to go with what I’m talking about tonight. Let’s pray that God will give us greater faith, love and grace this Christmas.

"I Asked The Lord"

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face.

Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He I trust has answered prayer,
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He'd answer my request,
And by His love's constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart,
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe,
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low.

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
"Tis in this way," the Lord replied
"I answer prayer for grace and faith."

"These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me."
Words: John Newton

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Who do you love?

Michael and I have loved John for a little over two years now. We show him our love every day, mostly through our actions but also through our words. I have looked forward to the day when John says, "I love you, Mama."

So yesterday, for the first time, John spoke of his love. He likes a lot of things -- but never had we heard him express love. Until he said it: "I love Mickey Mouse."

See, Michael has been showing John old Mickey Mouse cartoons on YouTube. Needless to say, John enjoys watching these videos. And so although Michael and I feed, clothe, comfort, take care of and play with John, at considerable personal expense, Mickey Mouse amuses John.

I am sure that John does love us, as much as a two-year-old can love -- and will grow in love for us -- and so I'm not taking this too personally, but it did cross my mind: "I guess this is what God goes through with us."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What I've been up to

For you who don't attend my church: the church has been facing some difficult challenges since the end of September. For the last 6 weeks or so, I've written suggested prayers, linked to particular Scripture passages, for our church members to use for our church, and this has taken up most of my available time for writing.

The prayers are now posted on a blog,, or click here. The prayers are not specific to the struggles our church is facing but are, I believe, about things we all need prayer for.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

my two cents' worth

A confession: when people don't meet my expectations, I tend to blame them, not my own expectations. I think they could do better than this, if only they tried harder, or if they were more spiritual. (Condemning, aren't I?) Not that I explicitly think this, but it seems to be my underlying belief. Why else would I be frustrated at them for not doing or being what I want them to do or be?

Probably the only person I don't usually have unreasonable -- i.e. often unmet -- expectations of is my son. He is 22 months old. I expect a toddler to sometimes cry, have a low level of frustration tolerance, and to demand a lot of attention. And most of the time, he is lots of fun. Why, I wonder, is it so easy for me to love him and not condemn him, and so hard with other people?

Jesus' response to the poor widow giving money at the temple offering box shows me the problem with my expectations. After "many rich people put in large sums," the widow gave "two small copper coins, which make a penny" (Mark 12:41, 42). Jesus said to his disciples, "this woman has put in more than all these who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on" (v. 43, 44).

How convicting. Jesus knows what spiritual and emotional riches other people have; I don't. Where I see -- and privately condemn -- someone's meager contribution, Jesus sees a heartfelt self-sacrifice.

I've always thought it sounded trite and unsatisfying when someone says about people who let them down, "Well, they did the best they could." Perhaps this is just another way of saying that -- but lately I've found it helpful, when I'm disappointed with someone's behavior, to think, "Maybe this is their two cents."

Friday, August 29, 2008

babies and brokenness

I haven't written in a long time -- since I started feeling fatigue and morning sickness -- being pregnant takes a lot out of me! People talk about writing a book as like having a baby -- I guess for me, it's one or the other: if I'm working on a baby, I'm not working on writing! Anyway, I'm due in mid-March and we are very excited that our family will soon welcome another child.

Just thinking about how when I lived in Japan, I knew people who collected fine Japanese porcelains. In one home I saw a beautiful plate that had been broken and repaired with some kind of gold adhesive; unlike superglue, the fixative showed and, I was told, is thought to add to the beauty of the piece. Such a plate is unique and treasured.

I think God works in our lives in a similar way -- when he tends to our broken places, he doesn't hide the cracks. I mean, we can, of course, try to hide the cracks, even after we've let him work there, and pretend like we've been perfect all along. But our repaired brokenness glorifies him.

Last night I was talking to someone who shared with me an area of imperfection: something she has struggled with, which happens to be something I struggle with. I was so encouraged to hear how God has helped her in this area -- pure gold, much more valuable to me than if I thought success in this came to her naturally.

I usually just throw away broken dishes. It's comforting to think that we are so precious to God that he makes us whole in unique ways and treasures us.

Monday, July 21, 2008


"Come here, John. John, come here. John. JOHN, COME HERE!!!"

John does not always obey us quickly (or at all). Sometimes, of course, he will do what we ask -- stop touching the CDs; give the pen to Mama; stop hitting Mama with the truck.

But when I give him an order and he does not obey me, then I know that the times he obeys are not because he has an obedient spirit -- it's because what I'm asking him is not too onerous, in his mind. Perhaps it's what he wants to do anyway. So 50% obedience (I'm being generous here) is, to me, no obedience at all, because it only takes one incident of disobedience for me to know that John thinks he knows better than I do what is best for him to do.

I used to think it was unfair for the Bible to say that whoever breaks one little part of the law is guilty of breaking it all (James 2:10; see also Matt. 5:19). Now that I have a child, I am reminded every day that if I'm not rebelling against God at this moment it's just because what he requires of me is not too onerous, in my mind; or, sometimes, I obey because I choose to believe that God knows better than I do. Sometimes, though, I do still disobey, and now I see that my sin is as great as if I had broken every one of God's commands.

Fortunately he is in the business of loving and redeeming rebellious souls. "While we were enemies, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

submission to God

Finish this sentence:

"The world would be a better place if only _______________ ."

What did you think of? I'm guessing that you did not first think of something you have direct control over.

If God reigns, then shouldn't we believe that the world is actually exactly as it should be, except for things we can change?

Feel free to disagree with me. I'm not sure it's quite as stark as that. But I know I, for one, err too much on the side of being dissatisfied with people, jobs, illnesses, churches, whatever. It's hard to trust God to make all things work for good when some things are so apparently bad.

After reading my post on biblical submission, Michael reminded me that during our dance lessons, I had a hard time following not only when Michael led me, but also the one or two times I danced with our instructor. He dances wonderfully -- graceful, smooth -- and for no good reason I could not relax and follow his lead. "Stop leading," he'd say. I knew he wasn't making any mistakes. But being led doesn't come naturally to me.

Just as dancing with Michael works for me as a metaphor for biblical submission in marriage, dancing with the instructor seems like a good image for submission to God. I know he's doing everything right -- but it's hard to trust him. When I complain about things that seem wrong to me but I can't affect, I suspect that I'm trying to lead God instead of letting him lead me. It takes humility to be led. I want the dance, including the other dancers, to do things right (i.e. my way). God seems to be more interested in my submission to him than in the dance going perfectly.

I vaguely recall from dance lessons that no matter what my partner did -- spin me out, swing me around -- my role stayed pretty much the same: step, rock, step. It seemed to go more smoothly if I focused on the rhythm of my steps instead of on where my partner led me. What steps should I focus on while God leads me?

Recently God has thrown a friend of mine for a loop. Her husband is in the hospital with a brain tumor. This morning the doctor performed a biopsy on it; they won't have the results for another 3 to 5 days. "I'm just not ready for this," she keeps saying. Her friends and I remind her: trust God. Pray. Let others help you and love you. I think that these things are the basic steps to follow, repeatedly, to enter into the rhythm as the true Lord of the Dance leads us.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Biblical submission

When Michael and I were newlyweds, we took a dance class at Richland. I can't remember now if we learned East Coast or West Coast swing, but one lesson is still vivid.

Michael and I were doing a difficult (for us) move, and he didn't quite have it right. I did my part correctly and tried to show him what he should be doing. (We actually had a lot of these little struggles during these lesssons.) The instructor came up to us and told ME that I was at fault -- because I was not following Michael's lead. "It doesn't matter whether he's doing the proper steps. You need to let him lead you."

This seems to me like a good metaphor for that really-hard-to-understand concept of Biblical submission. Obviously (I think) women don't have to submit to truly egregious things like abuse or sexual sin. But my dance lesson reminds me of what 1 Peter 3 says about wives being subject to their husbands: "so that even if some [husbands] do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives -- when they see your respectful and pure conduct" (v. 1b, 2).

It's so hard to keep from saying a word! But important: "let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious" (v. 4). To me, that description sounds like the opposite of a woman leading her husband, even if she's right.

John loves "Green Eggs and Ham" -- he frequently asks for "Hammie" -- and I can identify a bit with I-am-Sam, who just won't stop pushing those green eggs and ham on the other guy. What a nag! Even though he's right! The book vindicates his persistence; but it's not exactly the role I want to take in my marriage.

I think that when I try to lead Michael -- not just tell him what I think, but actively try to persuade him, especially in something that really is his business not mine -- I do so because I am afraid that something bad will happen. Peter tells us to follow the example of Sarah, who "obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening" (v. 6).

In dancing, it is more important that the partners are doing the same thing than that they are following the steps perfectly. I suspect that in marriage too, the most important thing is not for me to focus on whether my husband is making all the right moves, but to focus on how well I am following him, and trust God to lead us both in the right direction. And dancing is a lot more fun when you're dancing with, not against, your partner.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Love of Tractors

I am obsessed with tractors these days. And diggers. I would love to see an excavator in real life, but for now am content with pictures in books and on-line. Boy, am I ever excited when I see a backhoe loader -- two scoops in one.

My love of heavy machinery is quite recent, but probably predictable to most mothers of sons. See, John loves to play with anything with wheels -- cars, trains, trucks, and tractors. And I love John, and so I want to help John indulge in his vehicular love. So now I keep my eyes alert for construction sites when we're out in the car. Michael and I search on-line for pictures and videos to watch with John. I just bought him a couple of truck picture books to go along with the ones from the library.

I am getting a much greater appreciation for trucks -- partly out of exposure to them, but mostly because John loves them.

Last night Michael and I read 1 John 4, and one verse struck me as counter-intuitive: "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (v. 20). Hmmm, isn't it easier to love perfect, distant, God than your brother, who is imperfect and in your face, pushing your buttons and all?

But perhaps it's like loving tractors -- which are lovable to me because John loves them, I love John, and so I love what John loves. Similarly: God loves all of his children. If I love him, I will love who he loves. And, of course (here's where the tractor analogy breaks down, if it hasn't already), "love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God" (4:7).

Pictures from visiting construction at Richland with John:

recent picture of John:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why write?

I had been really excited about writing, especially about writing my story of having postpartum depression. Then, at the writers' conference, I kept hearing -- don't write your story. Stores don't buy them. Nobody wants to read them.

Since then, I haven't wanted to write. I don't see the point in writing just for information -- what's the fun of that? I want to write about my experiences, insights, struggles, because that's what I have to offer that is unique and valuable, just as I learn from others' experiences, insights and struggles. So, to hear that what I most want to write and most value is something that is not wanted, makes me feel angry.

For whom am I writing?

If I am writing for the adoring millions, the Oprah’s Book Club denizens, then I probably will be rebuffed, rejected, no, not even rejected but simply overlooked. I don’t exist to them. And that's ok.

Am I writing for a publisher, an editor? Someone to like my work, approve of it, approve of me? I am sure before I begin that what I write will not be good enough for them. My internal editor protects me from harm – by silencing me, stuffing me in a box. It's not working for me.

Can I just write for me? Write about whatever I want to say? And in writing for me, write for God, who wants me to use my gifts and to discover new truths, actively by looking deep within myself, and to share them.

In writing my desire to be known and loved clash with my fear of rejection. It is a risky business.

Write what you know.

Write what you need to know.

I have to trust that if I write what I need to write, something good will come of it.

Write what has fed you.

And just maybe, another hungry person will be fed, too.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Adventures in Trust

I recently went to a writers' conference in Marshall, Texas, and met with an editor from a publishing company to discuss the book I've been working on about my experience with postpartum depression. I worked hard on the book chapter I sent him in advance and on a synopsis of the book I brought to the conference. By the day before the conference, I was finished writing, and my most pressing concern was deciding what to wear, especially to meet with the editor.

At my moms-and-boys playgroup, I got input from my friends and finalized this crucial decision. I went home and laid out two outfits: casually dressy, comfortably professional writer-ish clothes. No need to pack them in my suitcase, where they would get crushed. I would drive in my t-shirt and shorts and change at the motel before going to the conference. In other words, I had it all planned out.

Soon afterwards, I packed the car and left. An hour and a half later, I realized that I was halfway to Marshall and had everything except the clothes I had planned to wear.

For a moment, I was quite distressed. Then, I realized: This is an adventure. God does not want me to wear my t-shirt and shorts to this conference, I am quite sure, so he has a plan. I grew excited wondering how God would provide, because I had no idea how it would work out. It seemed unlikely that Marshall would have much to offer, sartorially speaking, and I did not have much time to shop. I drove past the exit for Tyler, where I knew there were plenty of stores but not close to the highway.

Around Kilgore, I saw a sign for Walmart, 3 miles from the highway. One of my friends in the playgroup that morning had been wearing a cute little tennis outfit. When I commented on it, she said she'd gotten it from Walmart. I figured it was worth a try.

The Kilgore Walmart is far nicer than our nearby Walmart: bright, big, inviting, and they had cute clothes, cheap. It didn't take me long to find two nice tops and a pair of black pants. I'll be happy to wear them again. Yea, God. He really came through.

The next morning, I met with the editor and he slammed my book idea. "We don't publish autobiographies unless they're of famous people -- stores don't buy them," he said. "Rewrite your chapter to focus on postpartum depression, not your experience of it." I argued with him about it -- probably not the best way to respond, but I felt so disappointed.

I've spent several months working on this book. I had it all planned out. I don't want to write a different book. Now I don't know how it will work out. I feel rather more discouraged than excited to see what will happen. It's easy to trust God with clothes; will I also trust him with the book? "Be anxious for nothing." I am sure that God wants me to comfort others with the comfort I received while I was depressed. Now I am working on looking at this unexpected turn as an adventure, an opportunity for God to lead me in better ways. God's ways are always much more humbling than my plans. In his Plan, humility is much more important than success.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Cloud of Witnesses Just Got a Little Bigger

Kay died at 2:30 this morning. She had been in the hospital this time a little over a week, and suddenly started to decline on Sunday.

Kay was a member of my Al-Anon group. From my first meetings, I noticed Kay because she was always knitting or crocheting something: a scarf, or a blanket for a grandchild. When I was pregnant she made John a tiny cap, white with blue hearts.

"Like Dorcas," Michael said.

Kay was diagnosed with lung cancer a few months ago. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Always small, she lost weight. She wore cute knitted caps a friend made for her.

Kay handled cancer with dignity and grace, more than I'd ever seen in her before. It sounds like a cliche, but she emanated peace. She didn't complain. She didn't seem worried about death. She trusted God. I was sure that she would not recover simply because it was so clear that God was preparing her for heaven. "To live is Christ, and to die is gain."

Kay told her husband on Sunday that she was ready to die.

Kay's son, his wife (pregnant) and their two sons drove down here from Wisconsin. They left on Sunday and drove straight through.

I visited Kay in the hospital yesterday afternoon. Visitors are not allowed in the ICU between 2 and 4 but the nurse let us in anyway. I knew Kay had lost consciousness, but it was still a shock to see her, lying with her eyes mostly but not completely shut, labored breathing with an oxygen mask over her face. Her glasses were still on her face. Another friend and I each touched her head, short gunmetal gray hair, and prayed for her. I kept stroking her hair and trying to stop. I didn't want it to bother her. I thanked God for his faithfulness to Kay and prayed that she would soon enter his Kingdom.

"I think she could hear us," my friend said.

In one of my seminary classes, our professor encouraged us to pray that we will end our lives strong. Many Christian leaders haven't, he said.

Kay did.

I am sorry now that I didn't take more time to talk to Kay about what God was doing in her these last few months. And now she's gone.

But I know that she and Dorcas and God only knows who else are now fully alive for the first time and cheering on the rest of us.

Thank you, Lord, for the life of Kay. Please comfort her family.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

being with vs. doing for

John and I ate lunch together today. Often, I give him lunch and later fix my own, but today I made almond butter sandwiches for both of us. It was pleasant eating lunch with him, even though we didn't say much and we sometimes didn't understand what the other one said.

More and more, John is becoming the companion I'd imagined our child would be. See, I knew that having a child would involve a lot of doing for him, but I pictured it more as someone to be with. I find I am a much happier mother when the being-with to doing-for ratio reaches a certain level. I'm sure that is partly because of my own selfishness, but I think that any relationship needs to have a balance between being-with and doing-for.

It surprised me that I had trouble with the high doing-for component of motherhood because in seminary, I came to see that the doing-for part of ministry was easier for me than the being-with part. That is, it was reassuring to know that I was needed, that I had something to give. Peer relationships sometimes were more difficult than being, for example, the church intern teaching Sunday School. I had to learn that I was a person in need of change helping others in need of change (to paraphrase the title of the book our small group is doing now), not a professional people-fixer, exercising my craft like a repairman fixes clocks.

We show love both by spending time with other people and by meeting their needs -- both are essential to intimate relationships. Our relationship with God, too, needs to have both components: not simply asking God to meet our needs, or doing good work for him, but also being his companion.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A sixth sense?

Yesterday, Michael was sitting at the kitchen table, with John in his lap. Michael got up and sat John down in the chair, and John said "Ow" for no apparent reason.

Michael and I wondered what had happened. Then Michael burned himself on the toaster oven. "Ow," he said.

"John, I guess you have a prophetic gift to foretell pain," Michael said. "'I see ouchies.'"

Monday, May 19, 2008

Who me, dignified?

What does the word "dignified" make you think of?

I think of someone who is too formal, perhaps trying to hide the fact that they are offended, or drunk, to humorous effect. Someone who is taking him/herself too seriously.

Or I think of the Proverbs 31 woman -- you know, "she is clothed with strength and dignity."

I've heard from a number of women that the Proverbs 31 woman makes them want to throw up. Not very dignified a response, I guess, but perhaps that's the point.

I'm probably not alone in not making an effort to be dignified. It just doesn't occur to me. I like it when people are real, authentic, honest, open about their flaws. I try to do the same. Dignity seems like formal dress -- people used to wear it regularly, but it just makes us uncomfortable in these casual days.

But the Bible has reminded me lately that dignity is good.

Paul says that overseers are to employ "all dignity" in the home; deacons and their wives "must be dignified" (1 Tim 3). Older men are to be "dignified," and Paul encourages Titus "to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned" (Titus 2:2, 7).

Of course, these are church leaders. What about the rest of us?

Paul also says to pray "for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Tim. 2:2). I take the "we" to include all Christians.

The dictionary helped me see the applicability of dignity to the average Christian: "The state of being worthy or honorable; elevation of mind or character; true worth; excellence" (Webster's Unabridged). We are worthy not because of our own inherent value -- we know our flaws too well to think that -- but because God has deemed us worthy, made us worthy to be his children through the death of Jesus.

If I don't act dignified, then am I giving honor to God who has elevated me from my natural state? I'm not talking about being pompous or superior, of course. I'm not sure, to be honest, what it means, in practice, to be dignified. I suspect, though, that it would require me not to deprecate myself. Or others, for that matter.

Because -- if we don't realize that we are worthy of dignity, then will we treat others with dignity? Our spouses -- worthy of honor. Our children -- worthy of honor.

Especially, will we show our leaders the respect they deserve because of their office? Our culture has become so casual, so egalitarian. That's not necessarily bad -- but it makes it more difficult, more unnatural-feeling, for us to give respect to those in authority.

Paul tells us that leaders should be dignified, and we should pray for them so that our lives can be dignified. I wish I had more insight into living a dignified life, but this is a start.

Do you have any thoughts about being dignified? If so, please comment. Thanks.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It Could Have Been Worse

Last night, Michael said, "Tomorrow is Mother's Day. I'm sorry I didn't get you a card." Michael always writes me deep, thoughtful cards on major holidays. He and I have the flu, so I knew he hadn't done anything. No problem. It'll come.

I told him that Angie, who had been feted in advance, got a KitchenAid mixer for Mother's Day, AND they went to P.F. Chang's for dinner. I'd been sitting on this report for a few days because I didn't want to imply that I needed a similarly spectacular Mother's Day. (I cook as little as possible and would just feel pressured by a fancy mixer.)

We turned in.

Michael's voice woke me: "Kristi, John threw up all over his crib."

I'm up.

When it comes to vomiting, John is extremely considerate in aim and timing. Yet again, he limited his targets to machine-washables and the floor, and during daylight hours. And he's one-and-done. Once he's thrown up, he returns to his sweet, energetic self.

I threw John's pajamas, bedding and Blankie in the wash while Michael gave John a bath.

"Angie isn't having this special of a Mother's Day," Michael said.

Let's hope not.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy 60th Birthday, Israel

Amil Imani is an Iranian activist for the freedom of his nation. He writes against "the imminent and present danger of expansionistic theocratic Islam" from the United States.

He posted yesterday:

"Israel, your people, as well as people of good will, are celebrating your sixtieth birthday. We, the children of Cyrus the Great, also would like to offer our heartfelt best wishes to you on this occasion. Yet, this, in fact, is your rebirth. Your birth occurred some 4,000 years ago."

Read the rest of it here, at Imani's site.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

My 15 Seconds of Fame

Allow me to be self-referential for a moment. There is a point to it.

Two weeks ago, I installed a counter at the bottom of my blog. I was feeling, I confess, a little neglected as a blogger. Wondering if anyone was reading. I started the counter at 2000, figuring that was a good estimate of the number of hits I've had in the year or so I've been writing.

After a week, my counter was at 4000-plus. Could I really have that many readers? Michael suggested my counter was malfunctioning. I wondered if I had a cyber-stalker.

So after a little investigation, I found a way of tracking more information about my readers. can tell you, for free, the times, duration, page views, referring websites, and general locations of you, my friends.

I installed it on Monday morning, and soon discovered the reason for my recent popularity.


Roughly calculated, between 95 and 98% of my hits were coming from google searches involving laminin, directing readers to that post -- a slight post, really, in my mind, as it wasn't original to me. And most readers don't stay too long, I must admit (a little over a minute average. I love sitemeter's statistics. Kind of addictive, though).

But I'm fascinated by the fact that THOUSANDS of people are googling about laminin. They (you, if you're reading beyond that post) come from all across the United States -- California and Oregon, Florida and Maine, and everywhere in between, plus Hawaii; England, Norway, Kenya, South Africa, Qatar, Australia. Not to mention all of the people hitting the other blogs talking about laminin.

So I'd like to hear, especially from those outside of the United States -- how did you hear about laminin? Or, just comment about whatever you want to talk about. I'd love for this to be more of a conversation than a soliloquy. And a belated welcome! I'm so glad you're here.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What the Church Really Needs

What if the church needs your weaknesses more than your strengths?

A friend mentioned yesterday that Joni Eareckson Tada says the weak (or needy, I can't remember) are a gift to the church.

A gift. Not a drain. Not a burden.

How hard this is to understand. When I was very depressed, my family and I needed a lot of help from our church. They gave us prayer, meals, help taking care of John, love, encouragement. They took time from their busy lives to spend with us.

It was very difficult for me to receive all of this love and attention. I want love and attention, but I would prefer it to be for my strengths, for how wonderful I am, how much I can give. In fact, though, I was at that time quite unlovable, angry, bitter, and overwhelmed.

God used that experience to humble me, to show me, through others, his love for me as I really am (as opposed to as I want to be). But God also used that experience to bless the people who blessed me.

They were reminded of God's faithfulness to them in hard times, as they encouraged me to hang in there and trust him. They probably appreciated their own situations more. Helping others puts your own problems in perspective. Then, when God suddenly freed me from the bondage of depression, they rejoiced with me. It was their victory, too. They would have been deprived of seeing God's power at work in my life if I had not gone to them for help in my weakness. (Not that I was brave in being vulnerable; just desperate.)

Needs don't have to be overwhelming to bless the giver. While I was depressed, a friend's sister and her family came to the Dallas area to live here for about six months. They needed some household items for that time. I gathered up some towels, sheets, blankets and other things to lend them. Focusing on the needs of someone other than myself gave me relief from my own pain. I know I received more than I gave.

So why aren't we more open about areas of our lives in which we need help? Pride makes it difficult for us to show how weak and needy we are. It is frightening to risk judgment and rejection. But if we act like we have it all together when we don't, we are denying the church the opportunity to grow and to bear witness to God's unconditional love by loving for us in our needs. "We love because he first loved us."

Lots of churches give parishioners opportunities to take spiritual gifts assessments to help them contribute more to the body of Christ. Why not also a spiritual weaknesses assessment? Like spiritual gifts, everyone has weaknesses.

If we see the good only in the strengths of our members, and not our weaknesses, then can we as a church embody the truth of Jesus' words to Paul: "My strength is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness"?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the price of rewards

I've just come across a great magazine for thinking mothers: Brain, Child. The latest issue has, among other stimulating essays, one by Kathy Gillen arguing against using rewards -- toys, ice cream -- to help children deal with difficult circumstances (i.e., life). The author notes that she needs to stop rewarding herself -- lattes, pedicures -- as well, not to model entitlement.

"Nobody wants hardship for a child, but amazing, life-altering joy can be found in even the dark corners of life. Teaching kids to embrace hardships without the aid of rewards can be the difference between understanding life and just muddling through it." Yes.

I suspect too that turning to treats to compensate for difficulties sends the message that we don't deserve suffering, reinforcing self-pity. Better to give compassion, suffering with another.

Now, Gillen "rewards" a child who's had a hard time at the doctor with "lots of hugs and rounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider." (Read it here.)

This is how our God, Emmanuel, comforts us in our troubles -- with his presence, not by distracting us from our pain with food or toys. I am grateful for this essay's insight, which reminds me that if I give John my presence, suffering with him in his pain, it will be easier as he gets older to teach him to turn to God instead of material comforts in hard times. Then, he will be able to share God's comfort with others to comfort them in their struggles (2 Cor. 1). Isn't that a far greater gift than a toy would be?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

aiming high

Michael's parents visited us from New York this weekend. After a few visits to the park behind our home, they saw how much John enjoys watching the boys play basketball there. We have to restrain him from joining the game. He doesn't realize that he is too young, too small, to play with them. Yesterday, John's grandparents bought him a small basketball backboard and hoop. It came with a miniature basketball. So now he has his very own court in our backyard. (Thanks, Michael and Stephanie!)

This afternoon, John and Michael went to the park and took John's little basketball. John threw it in the air, perhaps three feet up, towards the big hoop. But then he wanted to play with a real basketball instead (which is practically as big as he is). Later this afternoon, we went over there again and a kind man gave John a tennis ball. John tried to make a basket with it, too. We also saw some men playing soccer, and John really wanted to join them.

When John was a little baby, it was sometimes scary that he didn't know his own limitations. I was afraid he would hurt himself when he tried to leap off of the changing table or a bed. But now, it is almost heartbreaking to see his innocence and optimism, and to know that one day he will be hurt by the truth that he cannot do everything he wants to do.

Some day, he will fail, and he will learn to be more hesitant, less sure of himself. I want for John to have a realistic sense of his own strengths and abilities, but I don't want him to get discouraged. I won't tell him "You can do anything you put your mind to do" because it's untrue and would lead him to blame himself if he fails at something. But John's lack of self-doubt or insecurity makes me wonder if we can do more than we think we can do. More specifically, I wonder how often I limit myself by preconceived ideas about what I am capable of.

Occasionally, the boys at the basketball court do share the ball with John (and he repays their kindness by wandering off with the ball!). I want to have wisdom to encourage John to keep aiming high but also to trust God with the outcome. Of course, he will learn the most from my example.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

a rare positive review of Expelled

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed has been getting terrible, brutal reviews. Michael and I saw it last night and found it quite good, for its entertainment value as well as its substance. Ben Stein talks to scientists, academics and reporters, but the movie is much more fast-paced and lively than a talking-head documentary, partly due to heavy use of old movie/tv footage and animation. Ben Stein is funny, the scientists (on both sides) are interesting, and watching Stein investigate the ID/evolution controversy gives the documentary some narrative flow. The Berlin Wall is used with good effect as a metaphor for the exclusion of ID from the scientific academy and, more broadly, the science/religion divide that Darwinists insist upon.

I hadn't realized that Hitler's practice of "racial cleansing" was simply social Darwinian, but once stated the connection is obvious -- Hitler simply employed the idea of eugenics, fashionable in the early 20th c. and based on Darwin's writings. Stein reads a bit of Darwin's The Descent of Man that sounds as if it could have come from Hitler himself -- about how anyone would let only his best animals reproduce, yet man takes care of the weakest among him and allows them to propagate. Scary stuff.

The movie goes into some but not great specific detail about the limitations of evolution -- I would have liked to have heard more about that and the scientific evidence for ID -- but perhaps its main purpose is to introduce people to the issues. The complexity of the cell is addressed -- in Darwin's time, no one anticipated that, much less the reams of information contained in DNA. The proponents of evolution admit to Stein that they can't explain how life actually began. Perhaps the best scene is when Richard Dawkins conjectures that perhaps aliens "seeded" life on earth -- as if this is more likely than a divine Creator! He also reads from his book The God Delusion; I don't know whether it is sad or horrific or both to hear his blasphemous view of God. (A side note: if he and other atheistic scientists think that religion has no place in science, then why are they not agnostic? How can their science tell them anything about God's non-existence?? It can't, of course.)

I'm kind of surprised that movie reviewers are so uniformly, vehemently negative about this movie, and that the reviews I've read don't evaluate its worth as a movie at all, but merely bash the content. They trash Stein for "propaganda," and seem irate that he is challenging evolution's hold. But then again, Expelled calls out the media for their hostility to ID, so I shouldn't be surprised. (The exception is Yahoo's positive review.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

The scientific consensus supporting Darwinism comes at a high price: the silencing of scientists whose work supports intelligent design. See the intriguing trailer of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a new movie by Ben Stein revealing the hostile reception given to scientists who challenge Darwinism. In theaters this weekend.

Friday, April 11, 2008

late bloomers

There is a tree in our backyard, with ivy growing around in it a slightly raised area separated from the rest of the yard by bricks. Within the ivy are a few plants that we've never identified in our three-plus years here. Actually, we've never tried to -- there's not much to them -- just long, wide, flat leaves standing up straight. Not weeds, but certainly nothing to look at.

Until now.

A few days ago, Michael noticed that a couple of our mystery plants had developed buds. Dark, deep purple buds. We waited to see what would bloom.

Two gorgeous, showy bearded irises now grace our backyard. They were worth the wait.

They remind me that we are not yet what we will be.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

art in Dallas

If you live in the Dallas area, let me recommend to you a current exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art -- J.M.W. Turner, an English painter from the early 19th century. The son of a barber/wigmaker, he had incredible artistic talent. He believed that the landscape was just as artistically valid a subject for painting as any other and consequently painted a lot of them. The exhibit gathers a ton of Turner paintings from the U.S. and England, and it is really a treat to see so much of his work and to see how his style changed throughout his life.

His paintings are often beautiful, usually powerful, and interesting in how they predate Impressionism by a few decades but sometimes seem impressionistic. He was an amazing painter of light (Thomas Kinkaide cannot compare!) He painted to express and evoke emotion and was often criticized for it and his wanton use of color. It is interesting to see his painting develop and how, towards the end of his career, he went even further in the emotional/impressionistic direction, as if he didn't care what other people thought. The exhibit does a nice job of explaining the historical setting of his paintings, too.

support our troops -- spiritually

Want to help our troops find spiritual comfort and strength during their service for our country? Here is a site where you can donate New Testaments and other resources to them through Campus Crusade for Christ's Military Ministry.

Friday, April 04, 2008

bad chicken

Because I didn’t want to waste an eight-dollar chicken, I gave my husband food poisoning.

We were trying to be healthy. We decided to get a “natural” chicken from the fancy health foods store, even though their chicken cost twice as much as regular grocery store chicken.

The first chicken I bought went bad before we got around to cooking it on Sunday, two days after I bought it. Michael cut it into pieces and then asked me to smell it. It smelled a little fishy, which didn’t seem to be a good sign. I called the fancy health foods store and told the manager about the smell. “Did we get a bad chicken, or did we wait too long to cook it?”

“Your chicken shouldn’t smell like anything. You really should cook the chicken the same day you buy it,” she said. “We don’t inject our chickens with sodium to preserve them, so they don’t last as long as other grocery store chickens. But you can return it and get another chicken.”

On Tuesday, I went back to the store with the bad chicken and got a new, fresh chicken in its place. Then, I got busy and didn’t cook it that day. But surely, I thought, the chicken would still be good in the morning. The next morning, I roasted it. Did it smell a little off? No, not at all like the two-day-old chicken. Actually, it smelled like a little something, and the woman had told me that it shouldn’t smell at all. And she’d also said that I should cook it the same day. But I was sure that the chicken would be ok. Because I wanted it to be ok. I didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good, or even a slightly flawed, eight-dollar chicken.

I had some roast chicken for lunch. It was tasty. My stomach felt a little funny, but not too much. And maybe it wasn’t even the chicken! Soon, I felt fine again, and I was still able to go to the gym.

I didn’t say anything about my stomach to Michael when he came home. He worries too much, I think, about whether food has gone bad. He’s kind of paranoid about it. I didn’t want to put any thoughts in his head.

Michael had a wing for dinner. Later, he said that his stomach felt a little funny.

I woke up at 12:30 to the sounds of Michael retching. I stumbled guiltily into the bathroom. “I haven’t slept at all yet, and I have to go before the Academic Committee tomorrow,” he said angrily. “This is all your fault.”

Well, yes, it was. And I had forgotten all about his important presentation to the Academic Committee. If there is ever a good time to give your husband food poisoning, this was not it.

I apologized profusely. But I waited until the next morning to confess my own stomach issues, which really should have shown me that the chicken was bad and needed to be thrown away. At 12:30 in the morning, I figured that Michael had enough problems without hearing that his suffering could have been avoided had not his wife’s frugality blinded her to the obvious risk of food poisoning.

So what have I learned? First, not to buy “natural” chickens. Food preservatives aren’t all bad.

Second, I’ve seen (not for the first time) that my desire to have things go my way can blind me to the truth, or what is best. Denial is powerful. Ironically, I’ve been working on an article about how God’s economy is different than our economy, and what we may think of as wasting our resources is sometimes part of God’s plan for providing for us. (I got to thinking of this after reading how Moses melted and ground up the gold calf and made the Israelites drink the water w/ it, "wasting" the gold rather than using it for the sanctuary.) I didn’t recognize the application to what was going on in my life. Next time, I’ll know to “waste” the old or questionable food rather than putting our health at risk!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"when bad things happen to good people"

Don't we all struggle with the question of why bad things happen to good people? Even if we believe that God is both good and omnipotent, even if we believe the Bible's exhortations to "consider it joy" when we suffer, we may sometimes question why God doesn't do more to help those in pain, or to prevent their suffering all together. We know better, but our theology is challenged by what we and others experience.

Now, the Bible has a lot to say on God's sovereignty -- that his ways are higher than our ways, and he does have a plan, even if we don't understand it. See, for example, Ephesians 1 -- how Paul repeatedly speaks of God's plan and purpose. Will we trust God that his plan is better than our plans?

Reading Ephesians 3 this evening, it struck me that the familiar praise ending this chapter: "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us . . ." (v. 20), is more than just an acknowledgement that God can bless us beyond what we can imagine. It also speaks to my own frequent inability -- or unwillingness -- to trust that God is both good enough and powerful enough to handle suffering in the best possible way. I want him to do "all that I ask or think," such as healing this person of cancer or restoring that person's marriage; but he is able to do "far more abundantly" than that. What he can do is literally unimaginable. But Paul gives us some clues in this chapter about what God does with his power, and it is good.

It seems that God is most interested in using his power not to relieve of us suffering, but so that we will know him. First, Paul says that he was "made a minister [of the gospel] according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power" (v. 7). Paul's call is to make known Jesus Christ and him crucified -- in other words, to reveal God to us.

Second, Paul prays that "according to the riches of his glory [the Father] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . . and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (16, 17, 19). Again, God uses his power so that we will know him.

If we know God well enough, we will trust him even in pain and suffering to use his power for our good. If I didn't know that my dentist both cared about my health and had the power to do what was best for my teeth, I would avoid him. Instead, I submit regularly to the pain he administers for my good. Think of how Paul both suffered greatly and trusted God deeply. Paul knows God, and therefore his suffering is endurable. "So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory" (Eph. 3:13).

This is consistent with part of Paul's prayer for the Colossians: "that you may be filled wiht the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . . May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for" -- for productive ministries? prosperity? health? no, but for "all endurance and patience with joy" (1:9, 11), the very qualities we need to know God and to handle suffering. And we are assured that "this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison . . ." (2 Cor. 4:17).

It's hard, in the face of great suffering, to believe what the Bible says. But we walk by faith, not by sight.

armed with a mustard seed

Here is a really interesting article about a prominent moderate Muslim who has become a Christian. He challenges the idea that Islam can be moderate and also shows the power of Jesus Christ to transform Muslim hearts too. And read the March 23 entry on this blog about how Muslims are becoming Christian in record numbers. (This gives me an opportunity to try to make links in the text [thanks, Angie, for the primer!].)

These articles remind me to fight the war on terror through prayer.

I was once involved in a weekend evangelistic retreat for college students where two Muslim students from Iran (a brother and sister) came to the Lord. They had come to the retreat only because friends of theirs came. The brother in particular had been really resistant and argumentative during our meetings. Then, on Saturday evening, while he slept during a speaker's talk, he saw a bright light and heard Jesus say to him, "I'm so happy for you." There was time for prayer after that speaker, and he rushed up to me and another leader, asking us to pray for him to receive Jesus. He was scared at first to commit his life to Jesus, but then when he surrendered, he was filled with unspeakable joy. I don't think I've ever seen anyone as excited about Jesus as he was.

His sister was upset at first because she knew their family would disown him. Then she too saw the light, metaphorically this time, and believed. They knew that their friends in Iran as well as their family would reject them -- and they were willing to be rejected for Christ's sake.

Since then I have heard many, many stories of how Jesus has appeared in dreams or visions to Muslims. It is exciting to hear about their conversions. But the persecution Christians suffer in Muslim countries is severe -- I'm not sure that we can really imagine the cost they pay for their faith. So, I want to encourage you to support missionaries in Muslim countries . . . and ministries such as Open Doors that assist the persecuted church worldwide . . . and to pray that more mustard seeds will take root.

Monday, March 10, 2008

relational God, incarnational God

When God reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush, he introduces himself by his relationships with Moses' family: "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob" (Exod. 3:6). Soon after, God tells Moses to tell the Israelites that his name is "I Am Who I Am," and that "The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob has sent me to you" (3:15). He is not an unknown God -- nor even "El Shaddai," God Almighty, as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob knew him. This is the God who has acted in the lives of your relatives, the God whose hand shaped your family tree. True for Moses, the Israelites, you and me.

I find it hard to wrap my brain around the idea of God as Almighty, or Sovereign, or other of his true-yet-abstract characteristics. Don't just tell me to trust God because he is trustworthy or good. No -- tell me what he has done in your life, or remind me of what the God of Abraham did a few millenia ago, the God of David, the God of Paul. Concrete facts, evidence, help me to realize who God really is. I am God's child and have a direct relationship with him, but it's not unmediated through other people. I need to read God's Word (written by people), to worship and pray with people, to be encouraged by other people also walking with Jesus.

Most of all, of course, the Person I need to mediate my relationship with God is Jesus. As God's Son, he is the ultimate example of the Relational Principle. As "God in man made manifest," he is also the ultimate example of the Incarnational Principle. Relationship and incarnation are intertwined. Through Christ, God has made us his children, an intimate relationship. Through Christ, God gives us his power to work for his glory, but as unique human beings we express his power in unique ways. When we serve God, we do it not as automatons or slaves blindly following our Master's will, but instead as partners with God, as in a Father-son business.

I was recently reading (in the March Touchstone magazine) an editorial contrasting the Koran, which Islam teaches was dictated directly to Muhammed (i.e. no human involvement whatsoever) with the Bible, which was inspired by God yet filtered through human minds and hearts. So the revelation given to us by Isaiah is different than that we have from John, and so on. The diversity, yet consistency, of revelation is breathtaking. Our humanity enhances revelation -- as if that were possible! -- because it reveals God's creative ability to work through any vessel, no matter how broken. Imagine a composer who can create glorious works not only for symphonies but even for the kazoo or pots and pans. That's our God.

To me, this responds to a comment that I periodically hear: "God doesn't need me to do his work. He can accomplish anything he wants." To be fair, let me note that this is said with an emphasis on God's sovereignty and our ineptness, and I agree that this statement is probably true. But I don't see anything in the Bible that supports it, and much that tells me that what we do is extremely important to God. Apparently God rarely chooses to act without human involvement. In fact, God chooses to associate with some really flawed folks. (David, the man after God's own heart? Remember what he did? And Abraham, Isaac and Jacob's families could provide plenty of fodder for a daytime talk show.) For whatever reason, the Incarnational Principle is the way he does business.

Nor can I depend on God giving someone else a task that I decide not to do. Not only does God have other tasks for them, but if God wants me to do something, then he wants it done with the gifts, weaknesses, personality that I bring to it. I can trust that he matches person with mission for a reason, namely his glory. God gave Solomon, not Ezekiel, the commission to write Proverbs. What would have happened if Solomon hadn't done it?

Thinking about this has made me realize that I don't really take seriously enough the holy responsibility of living my life for Jesus, wherever that takes me. It's easier to downplay the importance of my bearing witness to Jesus through my life than to accept that my everyday life has eternal consequences. And surely that is exactly as Satan would have it: "they have conquered him [that is, Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death" (Rev. 12:11). It is awesome, to me, that testifying to God's work in and through us is given a place in this sentence alongside the shed blood of Jesus as defeating Satan. The God who humbled himself by taking on the form of man -- the God who humbled himself by being known by his relationships with highly imperfect people -- is the God who humbles himself by doing his magnificent work through average sinners like you and me.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

letting go of blessings

Reading Gen. 21 this morning, one point stood out. God has just told Abraham to listen to Sarah and do what she says: "Cast out this slave woman with her son" -- Abraham's son -- Ishmael. What caught my eye: "So Abraham rose early in the morning," and made the preparations for Ishmael to leave.

In Gen. 22 as well, when God told Abraham to sacrifice "your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love," Abraham again responded promptly: "So Abraham rose early in the morning," and made the preparations for him and Isaac to leave. The sacrifice of the son of his flesh, while difficult, was only a dry-run for the sacrifice of the child of God's promise.

I became a Christian as an adult. I gave up a lot of behaviors that were the offspring of my flesh, so to speak -- for example, I threw away a lot of music and some books that just weren't godly. There's a lot of movies that I can't watch anymore. Etc. I used to think that I had made a significant sacrifice for the Lord. I never imagined that getting rid of the bad stuff would be only the beginning of what God would ask me to sacrifice. It is much easier to give up things that are obviously bad -- once God has opened our eyes -- than things that are God's good gifts. But God sometimes wants us to let go of his blessings, and to respond with obedience even if it doesn't make sense to us.

Abraham shows us that prompt obedience in giving up sin will help us obey promptly when God asks us to give up good things we love. Also, our prompt obedience in giving up sin doesn't protect us from God asking us to give up good things we love. Sometimes I think that God promises that if I'm a good girl he'll give me nothing but blessings. Not so.

Of course, Isaac didn't die. God often restores to us his good gifts we give back to him -- but I, for one, needed the reminder that I sometimes need to let go of the blessings and not just the sin.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

a life is a terrible thing to waste

The car had two bumper stickers: "Compost -- a rind is a terrible thing to waste." And "Keep abortion safe, legal and rare."

The irony apparently escaped the car's owner but has haunted me for months now. My husband and I compost. With a little effort and the passage of time, kitchen scraps and leaves become a rich blend that enhances the ground and helps us grow healthy plants. I feel a little smug about composting. It is a good thing.

How can someone who can recognize the potential inherent in food waste simultaneously support denying millions of people the opportunity to live? Even if one doesn't believe that life begins at conception, surely it is easy to recognize that an embryo will become, if nature takes its course, a living, breathing, loving human being in a matter of months. The progression is much clearer than an orange rind becoming plant food. Abortion denies a person the right to live no less than intentionally ending the life of a person post-birth -- what we call "murder." (Unless, of course, we call it "euthenasia" -- simply another step down the path of playing God and deciding who has the right to live.)

Aside from the question of abortion's safety -- women continue to die in abortions, even legal ones -- abortion cannot be considered "rare." Sadly, the 1.2 million abortions that took place in 2005 have been acclaimed as a record low since 1974 -- and still represents slightly more than one in five pregnancies. There have been 45 million abortions since the legalization of abortion 35 years ago -- that's twice the population of Texas, I heard on the radio.

It is hard to mourn for people you don't know, but it is horrific to think of 45 million babies -- children, people -- dying, and for what? Because their parents didn't want them? Motherhood isn't easy. Neither is having a baby and allowing him the opportunity to be adopted by a family who wants him. (6 million couples struggle with infertility -- I wonder how many of those 1.2 million babies killed in 2005 could have been adopted). But millions of people are choosing the "quick fix" of abortion to the morally right choice of having a child.

How can we help others choose to do what is right rather than what seems like the easy way out? Perhaps by choosing to do what is right rather than what is easiest -- something like volunteering at a local crisis pregnancy center. How can we express with our assets -- time and money -- the value we place upon life? I confess I don't know what I'm going to do. But I'm wondering what kind of Christian I am if I'm not willing to do something on behalf of those who are too vulnerable and weak to defend themselves against death.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Slowing Down

Ironic, isn't it, that I have to take up jogging in order to learn to slow down? I've been jogging -- slowly -- for two months now and really enjoy it. I've been pushing myself to go a little faster, go a little further, as much as I can. And my left knee, the object of surgery a decade ago, has been stiff and aching a bit the last six weeks or so. I've noticed the ache but have ignored it because, as I said, I'm enjoying jogging and I didn't want anything to change. I realized that there was something compulsive about this but I was feeling good about exercising and I figure there are worse things I could be compulsive about than exercise.

Last weekend I got a book out of the library about running. The author, a coach and former Olympic runner, emphasizes that running moderately is essential to avoiding injuries, which is key because if you are injured, you cannot run. He suggests that you have some rest days, other days where you have easy workouts, and only once a week have a long run or a fast run. According to this author, you can do this even to train for races such as the marathon and run faster than if you were to push yourself more. Not least important, running moderately helps you to enjoy running more and avoid burnout.

This book helped me see that I could benefit from a "less is more" approach to jogging. This week I've run slower, run less, and walked more. And my knee doesn't hurt!

Al-Anon has a slogan that says "Easy does it." When I first came to Al-Anon, I had no idea what that meant. If "it" needs to be done, then doesn't it need the full-court press? I'm slowly learning that sometimes "easy does it" better it than "hard" does. "Hard" may satisfy my compulsive urge but it leaves me open to getting injured. And when I'm hard on myself, I'm hard on others too. I am glad to be learning to be more gentle with myself and others and to enjoy the journey rather than just racing to the finish as fast as I can.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

a late Christmas post

It is sunny and 72 degrees in Dallas today -- glorious. This morning I raked leaves in the back yard and John "helped" me by putting a few leaves in the bags. It's much more fun when we can do things together like that instead of just my doing things to him. A couple of days after Thanksgiving, Michael, John and I were all sitting in the living room, each of us reading (or looking at) a book, and I had a sudden moment of recognition. This was what I had imagined having a child would be like! Until that moment I hadn't realized that that had been my mental image of family life, and once I recognized it I realized how naive I'd been. Still, it was nice to have that ideal moment once. And Michael and I are both happy that John enjoys looking at books so much -- he certainly belongs in our family!

A few weeks ago I was raking leaves on a chilly but sunny late morning. Raking leaves hadn't been in my plan for that day, but John had fallen asleep in his car seat on the 5-minute ride home from the gym at 10:30 am, and I knew that if I woke him he wouldn't go back to sleep inside. I couldn't leave him alone and I didn't feel like reading in the car, so I started raking.

Around noon, a neighbor drove by and stopped to say hi. He is 88 years old and has told me a number of times that his wife of 64 years died in June 2005. (I am amazed that he is still alive.) He was on his way to get a sandwich for lunch, he said, and would I mind raking his yard too? I saw that his yard was already leaf-free and laughed and said I'd be happy to!

As he went on his way, I had a weird moment of clarity -- an insight of sorts. I tend to have an underlying nagging suspicion that life is passing me by, that there is really something more important/interesting/better that I should be doing if I only knew what it was. In this moment, though, I felt as if I were doing exactly what I should be doing. I thought, "THIS is the meaning of life -- to have a pleasant word with a neighbor as we go about our inconsequential business." After all, the leaves will never stop falling, so it's hard to think that I've really accomplished anything by raking. But in that moment I felt satisfied by spending my time on the modest achievement of making our home look a little more presentable for a few days and having momentary contact with a fellow human. I realized that I tend to have too high expectations for myself: I always think I am I not doing enough or what I'm doing isn't good enough. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have modest expectations for myself that I could actually achieve?

It occurred to me (not for the first time) that God views my life much differently than I do and has different expectations of me. And he, not I, knows what will be the end result of my life. I think I tend to take for granted that when Jesus was born, various people (shepherds, magi, Simeon) recognized that he was special, Israel's King, Son of God, etc. They knew that only because they'd received a revelation from God. At that time Jesus would have appeared to be an ordinary baby doing ordinary baby things. In fact, most of Jesus' life was not spent on the miraculous or spectacular but on doing ordinary things. So now when I find myself thinking that God must be disappointed with me because I'm not doing anything special with my life, I remind myself that even the Christ living in me spent most of his earthly life modestly. (And I know, bringing up a child is very special . . . it's just hard to keep that in mind when I'm cleaning cereal off the floor or loading the dishwasher or whatever grunt work I'm doing.)