rooted and grounded

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he 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—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

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, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Ephesians 3:14-21

From the first moment I can remember, I loved that feeling of living among my mother’s branches. I could see for miles and see the sunshine and listen to the birds that would rest there. I had friends and siblings nearby and there was nothing to do but soak up sunshine and watch as clouds rolled by.

The Sun he always gave my mom what she needed to grow and survive and provide for those around her.

We relished that time.

We didn’t know what was to come, what, ultimately, we were waiting for.

One cool, sunny morning, the unimaginable happened to me.

My mother shook in a gentle wind and I was torn away and fell. It felt as though I would keep falling in terror that would not end.

When I hit hard on the ground, I cried out, looking up at her beauty and wondering how she could have let me go. I was completely exposed and alone and knew this is where squirrels would come and take others like me.

I was terrified.

Before I could even cry out, I was overwhelmed with that good dirt smell as I found myself atop a moist, dark heap of soil. The Sun enveloped me and I had a glimpse of clear sky.

I thanked him for the comfort and the moment soothed my fear, but it was not to last. Covered and pressed below the surface, I was stepped on. Pressed beneath the dirt I choked and sobbed.

The most difficult time of my life began. That subtle claustrophobia became full blown and I thought I would surely suffocate. Would the Sun leave me here?

Gasping beneath the dirt, I initially sputtered and struggled and resisted. It was as if I was being strangled. As the dirt swallowed me I thought this was the end of all that I am.

The darkness and void of being buried sapped my hope and in the soil I was desolate.

I cried out. Maybe the Sun above could hear me, maybe my mom.

I didn’t even know how to ask for help, but within me there was an urgent pleading. Where once I was surrounded by what I knew and now know that I loved, loneliness devastated me.

What seemed like days went by and I tried to maintain sanity thinking this was all there would ever be—darkness, solitude, nothing but pressure, separation and the feeling of death.

After what seemed like days, the faintest warm bit of moisture reached me there in the tomb I inhabited. It’s warmth was comforting.

Multiple droplets would reach me over the next days and weeks and I began to realize I was finding nourishment in this water that had come from above the surface. I’d even thought I detected radiant heat from above.

My hard outer shell seemed less hard, maybe even soft in a spot or two.

I cherished the nourishment I was receiving as I called out in gratitude for what was given. I took in all that I could eagerly.

The nourishment encouraged me to live, to think that there could be more.

Then came that day.

It was the day when I learned the worst had not yet come. It was a crack that made it’s way from the base of me to the tip top. I was torn and the hurt was unimaginable. I didn’t know I could feel like this.

Broken open I knew I would not ever last beyond this moment. I cried again for help.

The pain enveloped me as the crack spread wider, slowly. It was beyond a deep ache. It was stabbing and throbbing and burning as my outer self was torn away from my tender inner self.

My only covering and protection began to be stripped away. I had relied so heavily on this hard outer covering to protect me and keep me locked away from pain.

Initially those drops that had been a comfort stung so deeply as they found me without my outer covering. They helped separate me from it.

This could not be right. It just couldn’t. Why would the Sun send comfort and nourishment that only eliminated what I most needed—that protective layer?

As I wrestled and struggled trying to find relief and comfort, the warm gentle drops would again eventually become salve to me. They became so sweet and so treasured as I existed in the dark.

My exposed and now fully soft self would bend towards their warmth and the moisture even transformed the dirt around me. It was now soft and almost welcoming. I found it meeting my needs. Maybe I would survive without my exterior.

I also slowly realized as time went by that with my hard shell now removed, I was growing.

Gradually I was getting longer and stronger and could even feel myself moving. Whenever I could I chose to move toward the surface, to where I had last seen sky and sunshine and my mother.

Nourishment came as I focused on gratitude for these gifts of life. One day I realized that it was in fact, day. I was so near the surface and had begun to sprout a leaf. That moment I again felt sunshine on my transformed body made me delirious.

The warmth embraced my tiny leaf atop my single stem as I pushed through the earth.

Breaking through the surface, I was amazed to think that my life was not over but perhaps had just begun. I praised the Sun.

Weeks and months and years would come and go as I grew and strengthened. Now my branches reach far and wide as I work to continue to soak up the Sun.

I have a new covering beyond all I could have asked or imagined. It is strong and powerful and protects me from all that could harm.

Just as when I was a cracked open shell beneath the surface, He was calling to me, sending me what I needed and growing me. He continues to do that within my new covering. 

I could never of imagined what He wanted me to be and now my faith has become sight.

Now I am providing shelter for others and producing offspring of my own. I know what it is to be loved.

Advertisements

who is to blame?

“For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, CHRIST DIED FOR US. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whole we have now received reconciliation.”
Romans 5:6-11
When my mother called to tell me a jumbled story through tears that my brother was dead, I was driving our minivan with my family on a hot August afternoon. 
It was the minivan I was reluctant to get in the first place, the same one that this same brother had told me was cool, that he liked it. That had made it easier for me to drive.
The back was full of my four kids eager to go see a movie. My husband in the passenger seat immediately knew that this normal Saturday was no longer that.
He pointed, as I talked loud and out of control, for me to pull over.
Nearly 11 years later I can’t drive past that spot without recalling the moment.
He got in the driver’s seat and I reeled as I processed what she’d told me.
I told him through irrational cries and screams that Jed had been killed in a wreck.
The rest of the way home left my children disappointed and confused in what was the closest I have come to an out-of-body experience.
Nothing made sense.
I screamed and cried and flailed my arms, scaring everyone in the van I’m sure.
I remember thinking what is wrong with me? Why am I out of control like this? This isn’t even how I cry.
It was unfair, illogical and I could barely understand how it was late in the afternoon and my mom heard from a brother three states away before we knew just down the road that my brother had died in the wee hours of that same morning.
My brother was dead.
All I could think now was that I had to get to my mom and dad. Someone could make this make sense but it was not me.
We would later all slowly assemble the pieces from people there.
A late night with buddies, outside of a bar, resulted in a joy ride in an empty parking lot in a God-forsaken Jeep.
The suspected high and intoxicated driver would walk away barely scratched asking the other passenger from the back seat to lie with him and blame the dying man for the wreck.
When the awful realization hit the driver that not only had he wrecked his car, but that one of his friends would not get up, fear and overwhelming guilt must have wracked his body and mind.
Let’s blame the guy that is dying. The frantic need for escape from consequences, from instant guilt. It was only fitting. He had to hide, to find a cover for this awful mess leading to death.
Suddenly like the Adam of old, in a garden far away, a finger pointed to someone else.
We have all been there.
That moment before sin is extraordinarily tasty and desirable—the excitement, the rush. Letting go of inhibitions for that wild moment of self-gratification. 
We don’t want to admit it, but it’s so pleasurable we go back again and again.
Let’s feel the air as we go little faster and take this speed bump.
Taste this juicy, dripping, ripe fruit with me.
Just one more shot.
Send that message to someone that doesn’t belong to you.
Tell that story that was to remain untold.
Watch those images of uncovered people, filling the mind with sin again.
The moment is so delectable.
That instant after, however, is unnerving like nothing else.
Pain, despair, guilt and fear is like hitting the pavement hard. 
When I let grieving subside for the moment and I want to point and blame I think of this modern day Adam and what he has done to my brother. He was seeking a story that would cover him and free of him of shame and certain death.
Adam of old pointed to Eve who pointed to a serpent cunningly wrapped around a tree.
That serpent began it all by pointing to, questioning God. 
A serpent on a tree blamed the Creator. 
The same Creator who would go on a tree and take the blame.
In sadness and desire to find peace, I want someone to blame. I point to Adam and guilt and sin and realize suddenly that I too am a guilty woman looking for covering and pointing to a dying man. 
When I am looking for someone to blame, I am just trying to cover my own shame.
I want hurt to subside, the kind caused by others, the kind caused by me.
I think of pieces of gravel from the hard ground in a lonely parking lot where lies are told.
It calls to mind a body torn by shards of gravel, rock glass embedded in a whip. A body that was beaten bare. It was the body of the only, truly innocent One and I was there pointing and blaming Him.
When my heart strays so far away and I think thoughts I shouldn’t think, I watch things I shouldn’t watch, I say things I shouldn’t say and do things I shouldn’t do, deep down I am aching in the aftermath for covering. 
So I point.
I make up stories.
I blame. 
I blame Him. 
The only one who doesn’t deserve the rotten end of a made up story still takes it.
He died on the tree for me while I was still a sinner.
He hung there struggling to breathe in a body He created using final breaths to say I forgive You.
As we approach Easter and I go back in my mind over JP’s sermons approaching the cross, I once again see this is all there is.
This is where forgiveness is given and received.
This is where we are exposed and at the same time covered.
This is where blame is given and taken. 
This is where death is swallowed up in victory.
Three guys in a Jeep and Jed was the only one who knew Jesus and the only one who would not survive. 
Someone finally made this make sense.
And yet, Jed did survive. He survived because his own guilt and shame were covered by the One who truly took the blame. 
Jesus took it and when He died, it died with Him. 
And because He rose again, we will also rise.

Do not lose heart

Running is the worst.

I get it if there is a specific purpose in mind—a child is headed for the road and a life has to be saved, a fast break in basketball and you just want to score.

I ran somewhat unintentionally two days ago and I’m still hurting, the good kind of sore they say.

Running just to run is not my thing.

My brain apparently loves running and not the kind that’s good for you.

It’s the kind that starts the moment the light in the bedroom goes off and a weary, worn body is just ready for rest. It is that kind that begins when all else is ready to drift away and find some type of restoration before another day starts.

You might even call it racing.

It is when I purposely try to slow the onslaught of thought, of worry. Every thing that seemed manageable—though perhaps barely—during clear-eyed, daylight hours is suddenly an insurmountable obstacle or an event that will cause my demise or perhaps my offspring’s demise.

In the dark hours be they night or early morning, it is as if my mind cannot see the light, any clear way out. Logical, thoughtful response has scattered and left me groping and fearful in the mystery of all that could be.

I will attempt to focus and quote scripture to myself, particularly that part about renewing my mind. I will pray and grasp for God’s peace. Yet it seems so very far.

My child is not yet home and it is storming and roads are slick. What if there is a wreck? What if she injured? 

My mouth is sore and achy. What if that tooth is infected and I wake to swollen jaw and excruciating pain? What if the antibiotic doesn’t work? What if it has to be removed?

What if the lady from the car wreck decides to sue?What if he doesn’t get this job?What if she’s pregnant? What if he does get that job? What if someone hurts him? What if a dictator attacks with nuclear weapons? What if someone brings a gun to my kid’s school?

I could never win a marathon but my mind will out run the best of them. It is absurdly fast and veers off the tracks of the rational with the flip of the light switch.

Scary hypotheticals abound and my mind won’t stop running.

I want peace. I am asking for it, for just a piece of His grace in that moment. He tells us that He will not give more than we can handle. He will never leave us or forsake us. Why do I feel forsaken?

Last week my brother preached on Ephesians 3.

Paul expounded on God’s mysteries.

I thought of Paul’s joy and grace and love for those he’s ministering to, writing to. He talks of the unsearchable riches of Christ, hidden in God.

I do not want them hidden! Please reveal them to me in the dark moments.

Paul was encouraging, revealing, worshipping. Then I read and remember in verse 1 that he was doing all of this FROM PRISON.

He was there in the midst of tribulations telling everyone else to not lose heart. This is the peace I am looking for. This is the piece of His presence that I need in dark hours.

Not only am I not in prison.

My child was not in a wreck.

My tooth is not infected.

No one brought a gun to my child’s school today.

Fully reliant on God’s presence, he was not sitting somewhere quietly writing about what would happen if he got thrown in prison or if he got snake bit or if he got shipwrecked.

He did. And God was enough, more than enough.

That is how, that is why Paul could write words like these while he sat in a prison cell:

“To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;  to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord,  in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”

He is asking that his brothers and sisters not lose heart while he suffers.

I am losing heart while not actually suffering, putting myself in the middle of every imaginable scenario.

Oh heart ache.

There it is again. Me, in the middle. A place I frequent so much you’d think it’d be recognizable by now.

One of my favorite quotes springs to mind: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” ~Donald Miller

What a whopper it is. It is the lie I battle every single day.

This is not my story.

It is all His story.

This is not about me. Putting ‘me’ into every circumstance that I am not actually in is actually pride, vanity.

This does not mean those things could not or will not come. We are in fact promised that the suffering will come. The moments of life that I was in true trouble, God graciously stripped away every earthly solution. When it wasn’t a ‘what if’ scenario, it was the real heartbreak, God was absolutely, unshakably faithful. This is the mystery of what is.

I could bear the moment because I was in it and He was as well. There was no more searching for solution elsewhere, no more self-reliance.

It is the complete removal of me.With that was freedom to focus solely on Him and He has endured it all and then more.

Roman lawyer and orator Cicero said: “There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” He was talking about crucifixion.

Jesus did not imagine that things were bad. They were. As he approached death, He even asked if there was another way. Stripped, beaten, nailed, butchered mercilessly with forgiveness on his very lips. And His story did not end with death and defeat.

Thank God this is His story and not my own. That He is faithful in the moment. That when it comes time to rely on Him He has endured it all and more.

Paul was free from himself, focused on bringing that same relief to all those who would follow in the faith.

I read on to the final verses of chapter 3 relinquishing the what ifs and holding fast to what is:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Bringing the far near

Grover from Sesame Street made me laugh out loud when he explained the difference between near and far.

There was a skit where he would stand close to the camera and tell the kids “this is near” and then run, huffing and puffing, far away, until he looked small and yell from a place nearly off screen “this is far.”

This went on more comically each time as he would make the trip back and forth, out of breath, clarifying for watchers the difference between the two.

Life operates oddly within these realms. Sometimes things seem far away and like they cannot affect me, in the here and now, in the closeness of near.

Death is one of those things. It seems so far removed, a future reality that’s out there somewhere though not affecting this moment. Until it does.

And the nearness can be nearly suffocating.

Then a week like last week happens. A beautiful high school senior named Grace dies on a winding Georgia road, a faithful servant named Ralph quietly crosses over from the arms of his beautiful bride to the very presence of Jesus and children in a school are brutally assaulted in a place where they should only be safe.

The far comes near.

The outward, physical reality succumbs to every worst inward fear.

Life is swallowed by death and what we want near seems oh-so-far.

These are the times that it looks like grace is gone and we are alienated, strangers in a hostile world.

It is a world that is hard and unbending and unwilling to dwell on grace and truth.

Social media, regular media, have only magnified the underlying ruin of sin that erodes communities, society, the world at large.

When the now becomes engulfed in the nearness of hostility, of death, it is easy to feel crushed and defeated.

We fight back and defend and know that something is missing. There has to be a solution, answers.

The natural inclination is to fix it.

Let’s find the problem and eliminate it by changing some things. We have this power, we think.

There must be some blame for a crash—the road is too dangerous, the speed limit too high.

A doctor can run some more tests, find a new treatment, prescribe a new medicine.

There must be some kind of law to put in place that will stop people from shooting kids, shooting each other. Take away guns, work on mental health issues.

There has to be something we can change that will keep hostility, even death, at bay, far away.

Even in the solution-seeking, we cannot escape the hostility because everyone has an answer. Laws and arguments are convoluted at best.

Solution-seeking devolves to conflict and we seem to thrive on the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.

People pick sides and not one another. We are desperate and we know our way is the way and the result is heavy, sad and not what anyone really longs for.

At the very core, we want life.

It has eluded us since we chose to live apart from the Creator of all life.

So when JP talks more about Ephesians 2 and reads: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” hope wells again within.

I only have one sermon my brother says. It is always only Jesus, he says.

Not long before the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, Mary anointed him with nard, or spikenard. It was an expensive oil used traditionally to prepare someone for burial.

At the time Jesus was very much alive in this world and the disciples were indignant over the waste of something so valuable and the death of their leader seemed only a distant, far off notion.

They protested and insisted it would’ve been better spent on the poor somewhere far, not near and now, on this lowly king.

Spikenard is made from a flowering plant that grows in places like Nepal and Kumaon in the Himalayas. To extract the oil, the underground stems are crushed and made into the powerful, aromatic oil. It is expensive.

This King made man was also crushed so we no longer have to be.

I realize that Mary was giving away more than oil of significant value in John 12. She was worshipping by pouring out, giving away what was costly to her. Could she have known that He would be crushed and the sacrifice would be the one pleasing aroma to God?

Then I think this is what is required to heal hurt, bring strangers near, to even conquer death.

We must follow Mary’s lead which is Jesus’ lead and pour ourselves out for one another.

It is a costly venture, but we have the single most valuable gift to share that will help prepare others for burial.

Grace is not gone.

There is life still and it comes only when we’ve poured out the one true gift, revealed it through love for others to see, to understand.

At the end of a week full of earthly death, I was grocery shopping. Nothing enticing, not a what I’d call a good time. But that particular Friday, there was no school and two of my boys went along.

On the frozen aisle of Walmart, my 7-year-old stopped me to say that he asked Jesus to save him that morning.

We’d been discussing this gift of eternal life for the last several days over The Chronicles of Narnia and the approach of Easter.

Holding my hand with a wide smile, he stared up at me.

My brother has it right.

There is the only one sermon worth preaching, every day and with all of our lives.

It is the one sermon that will bring the far near without fear, without worry.

It is the sermon that brings all of us who were far near to the cross.

It is the one sermon that will kill hostility for it crushed a King and it doesn’t end with a burial but with a resurrection and reconciliation.

But God

I love to floss.
My husband often says that I do it too much and when I visit a dentist I like to mention that. 
“You can’t floss too much,” the hygienist will counter and I will nod in arrogant agreement.
This latest checkup, however, reveals what a clean, white exterior will not.
There is decay beneath the pretty sheen of a crowned tooth.
Somehow the rot got in, under, beneath the pleasant exterior. The x-ray unveiled the sham, it acknowledged what was lurking below.
That tooth may need a root canal. 
The underlying decay will eventually cause pain, an unrelenting kind, as the nerve warns of a tooth that is headed for death unless there is intervention.
I was taken back by the revelation and gravely disappointed.
My brother stands at the front of our church building during worship service and tells us all that sin has gotten into everything. 
All of the world is affected, infected.
I think of my tooth.
It is something I know and firmly believe and even more so the older I grow and this is only one more depressing reminder.
There is no escaping in this lifetime the awful effects of sin. And sin, like the underlying decay, hastens death be it physical, or worse, spiritual.
Those who do not know that they know this, still actually do. 
There may be no conscious acknowledgement, but when a Super Bowl commercial for a pickup truck has to tell people we are created equal and can accomplish great things, it is blatantly obvious that something here is broken.
We have lost our way.
Lost because we do not understand this place, our place.
When early astronomers did not yet understand the proper orbit of the planets or that the planets rotated around the sun, not the earth, the numbers simply did not add up.
Johannes Kepler set straight the idea of planetary motion when he discovered the course was elliptical not round just as Nicolaus Copernicus had done when recognizing the sun was the center, not the earth. Scientific observations of planets in motion did not make sense until these basics were established and acknowledged.
The sin that infects and invades can be traced to that moment we took our lives out of their proper orbit.
When God gave Adam and Eve a choice, they—we—did not choose well.
Their choice removed creator God, Center of the universe, from His proper place. 
When we chose self, we subverted the design. As each generation ignores this reality, we make the sinner the center and the numbers do not add up.
Now nothing moves or operates in the way in which it was designed. 
God created, designed, loved and allowed a choice. The moment that choice meant redefining the proper course of all bodies, all of the universe tilted away from the Son.
To accommodate that shift, the world grows weary with propping itself upon the visible, the instant glory and gratification.
There is a grasping at any and all to tilt, to shift things back to a way that they make sense, to a way to balance the weight.
We know things are off-kilter, we sense that the weight is unbearable, but to straighten things out, to bear things up?
As long as the sinner is in the center, there is no possible way. 
After Copernicus and Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton would again enlighten minds.
Newton’s  first law of motion: Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed theron.
In and of ourselves, we will continue in the way that we are going—even when we know it isn’t right. 
After the poor choice of a gardener and his wife, depravity became the norm.
The misalignment throws the weight off and balance is lost. Wickedness prevails as bodies continue in uniform motion.
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts o this heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5.
“And you were dead in the responses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3.
That is the sheer horror of sin. There is no way to break out of the pattern of this continual uniform motion.
Death is inevitable.
Then two of the greatest gospel words offer that glimmer of hope, the hope of an outside force in a sin-wracked, lost, decaying world: But God.
Verses 4-6 of Ephesians 2 is the force that compels the change by impressing upon us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages hie might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
When God saw that every thought was evil and began again with Noah and a flood, Genesis 8:1tells us: “But God remembered Noah and all of the beasts and all of the livestock that were with him in the ark.”
When depravity was the norm, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5).
When the rot and decay have reached the sinner at the center, there is death. 
When the Son inhabits His rightful place at the center, His own death will lift the unbearable weight and the sinner will not be crushed.
The weight that is too much for the sinner at the center, the nerve that cries out in pain—these are the mercy of God at work in our lives. 
The disappointment comes.
The flood destroys.
The flaming sword protects the way back to the tree of life.
The wrath, the death, the struggle all actually point to the way of life.
Before a tooth dies, there is a lot of pain, warning cries. There is a reminder that grows day by day as it is ignored until finally it is unbearable.
When the decay reaches the center, it brings death. And while we may prop it up and even wear a crown of our own, there is no relief until an outside force unveils and restores the decay.
Relief is restored when the weary sinner sets down that weighty burden of the center.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Waiting on wonder

“See the curiosity of the cosmos as Christ condescends to His most cherished creatures

See the astonishment of angels as the Almighty advances towards Earth

See the humility of the pre-existent King born of a virgin birth

The Infinite becomes infant, the Maker becomes man”

~Immanuel, Beautiful Eulogy

 

The dark night sky did not give up her secrets until we’d settled into the field and laid face up in the frosty air for close to half an hour without distractions.

In the still and quiet I blinked profusely, straining to see the glory.

The cold hurt my hands but the wool blankets and my massive, comforting husband kept me warm while we waited to be amazed.

Waiting 30 minutes these days—without a phone or television or satellite radio or any social media, I am afraid, has become unheard of, so it is no wonder that waiting on the wonder seemed so long.

Once our eyes adjusted and the dark sky became so black, glory appeared and it was more than worth the wait. The longer we focused and let go of distractions, the clearer they became.

What initially appeared to be our eyes playing tricks was now so clearly the streaking, glorious rocky and metallic bodies of meteors as they showered down all around the expanse overhead.

Every one of them spurred. Encouraged. Gave the desire for more.

We went to wait on wonder—and it did not disappoint.

Christmas always excites me and I think it is because it is exactly the same—waiting on wonder.

I’m that person who is shamed on social media for decorating as soon as I move my creepy animated butler back to the basement the day after Halloween.

From the days when I would fumble into my parents room in the middle of the night asking if it was time to get up to relaying to my own children that they have to wait for us to get them, the anticipation of Christmas’ arrival has always energized me.

It is the wonder of the One great God who has made himself known at this time in eternity. It is a cosmic birthday celebration like none other. Creator Jesus arrives in His creation.

Somehow, lately, be it age, or noise, or social everything, I have felt the wonder and awe slipping.

Since God does not change, I know that the wonder has not slipped or changed or lessened.

So the change must have happened here, in this small globe that becomes crowded in with bright lights and gift-giving and screens of all sizes everywhere I go. (I resent eating out with a screen blinking back at me on the edge of the table.)

This tiny computer screen that I carry everywhere I go takes the big and beautiful and indescribable glory of all that is creation and cuts it down to fit into my hand. A view that is posted, liked, favorited and retweeted.

This year, of all years, I have faltered in my excitement, that twinge that feels like nerves or unadulterated anticipation as I look to the arrival, the advent.

It is the arrival of the One that I want to wonder over.

The noise of the world and all that it is jumbles and distorts and gives me a particular lack of clarity and vision.

The longer we exist here in this cynical, distracted, self-absorbed place it is as if bits of it slip away.

My 12-year-old daughter brazenly told my wide-eyed, happy-go-lucky 7-year-old there was no Santa.

I know because he bravely slid up next to me a few nights back and casually dropped into conversation before bed that today he’d learned this fact. Staring up at me in the dimly-lit room, I could see him blinking fast to show he was old and wise and would not cry over the revelation.

While I do not care about the debate or even about the myth, I care about the joy and wonder and bits of it slipping away.

My insides sank as I realized what would most likely have been the last Christmas holding onto that little bit of fun would not be. The youngest of five and last “believer” bravely smiled a weak smile and hugged me before bed.

Perhaps this is the kind and gracious stripping away of distraction.

Perhaps this is where we see that what cannot be seen is the true wonder.

After seeing the shooting stars against the magnificent black backdrop, I admit I took out my phone in a vain attempt to capture the glory.

Frame after frame of just black screen–not a gloriously lit black night sky–reminded me that this is glory that will not be captured.

Is it still wonder when it’s been reduced to something held in my hand?

Only the great and glorious God of all creation can hold His creation in His hand.

There I am, tiny and frail, and in awe of His vastness. I can no more capture the Creator than hold His creation.

I was made to be held, to find rest in His hand and not the other way round.

My feelings do not mediate His vast, infinite and divine nature.

God does not fit—will not fit— in a box on the table at Chili’s or into my iPhone.

It is up to me to step away from the noise and into the dark to wait quietly, attentively for this arrival.

I need the focus of glory to restore my soul.

I am waiting on Wonder again and He will not disappoint.

learning how to die

“That’s the whole spiritual life, learning how to die.”

~Eugene Peterson

People say they want to die to self.

We, however, have an innate natural fear of death and dying to self is no easier a feat than regular death. Really death of any kind is something we all would like to avoid.

I’ve decided people don’t really know what they are really saying.

This, like any difficulty I know about or encounter, is something I choose to run from and not to.

A spiritual life by death is daunting and I’m fully aware that I am not capable. I have demonstrated that I always choose self. Even when I think I’m not, the motives are frightening.

However, I have children.

As it turns out, that it is an excellent method for learning to die.

Having kids is the single hardest thing I have ever done.

Giving birth on its own is like a death of sorts. The physical pain and exhaustion and opening of your body in a way never thought possible feels like you may be dying.

Literally ripped apart, the body is broken and gives up to another life.

The pain, the fear, the sheer exhaustion of birth may have actually been the easy part.

When a child reaches maturity and you consider all you have poured in and that nothing is how you thought it would be, this too is a kind of death. The death of a desire or a dream.

Let me just give birth every day to not have to see, to feel, to endure these kinds of things now.

When the freshman in college says he doesn’t believe any more what he has professed to believe all his life.

When they slide up next to you to tell you they love you only to follow up with the story of how they are in dire trouble for foolish actions or what they would like you to buy them.

When they invite you to lunch with a friend and you realize it’s only because they need you to foot the bill.

When the embarrassment of “mom” being nearby is enough to make them take two steps away, pretend they don’t know you.

When it’s mother’s day and they hem and haw and shuffle feet anxiously waiting until they are free to go.

When you hold fast and they only pull away.

Motherhood does not look like this—at least not in the movies, not on television, not next door, not on Instagram or Pinterest.

This is where it feels broken, given up, swept under, less than.

To be at the middle of life and have nothing to show, no achievement to point to. There is no stellar career. This is not a neat and orderly home. There is not a beacon of spiritual leadership here.

There is the dry ache of eyes that have no tears remaining. Dryness all over, that sense that you’ve nothing left to pour out.

These people are just looking for a way out even though you have given up everything you had to bring them in. It is a hurt like none I’ve ever known.

I can’t figure out if I am dying to self or if they are killing me.

I look for any kind of evidence that there is love and only when I look up and away from me and the mess and disappointments do I find truth.

When I think that my kids are forcing my own spiritual death, I remember this is the calling. The Savior led me this way.

Looking up to him on that cross, enduring far beyond all I can imagine, I know as awful as it is to behold, it is life coming from death. His journey to the cross did not end with death.

It is in remembering this that we find life: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. {Phillipians 2}

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. {John 12}

How must He feel when I say I don’t believe, when I always ask and never thank, when I am embarrassed to say I am with Him, when I try to escape our time alone.

We are called to this same death that brings life, but we have to remember in the midst that we are loved, not alone.

For Christmas last year my dad made a decorative guitar for me. He has taken up woodworking and cherishes the time and effort he puts into the work.

He searches barns and roadsides and specialty shops for unusual and unique pieces that he can transform into something beautiful. And he does.

The guitar he made has several different types woods and is pieced together in a glorious design. When he gave it to me, he included a wooden nameplate that he had burned with the name of the piece.

We hung it immediately I and I kept the label nearby on the windowsill.

I admire the work daily.

Somehow it is easy to miss the life in the midst of death. It is easy when the focus is on all that looks awry. The noise, the failures of life tend to draw our attention away from the finished work.

As awful as giving birth—the process—can be, the resulting life is like nothing else. The mere fact that life comes of that brokenness is astonishing.

When I had my fifth child, I was in the final throes of childbirth, baring down and pushing with all I had. My head was down and eyes closed focused only on the pain.

Then I realized the doctor was speaking to me, “Amy, look up.”

I opened my eyes and there, half out of me was my precious David screaming like, well, he was dying.

He was coming to life in this world and it was as if my broken pain was instantly gone. My focus changed and I was renewed by life.

While battling feelings of loneliness, I recently stared hard at my dad’s creation hanging on the wall. I know it is a symbol, a reflection of his love. I looked at it and yearned to know my cries are heard, difficulties understood.

I asked my Father to show me again.

I reached for the nameplate, picked it up and turned it over.

There I found something I’d not seen before. My dad had written on the back side of the wood. His signature was there, the artist signing his work. He had also written a note to me:

You are greatly loved by me Amy

-Dad

Undone, tears came again.

I am no longer dry when I fix my eyes on the finished work.