vigorous resistance

Killing me is hard.

Long, busy days flow over into time reserved for community and grace. I grow tired and angry and resist the opportunities to meet with others to show love, to be loved.

Without exception, doing battle with me is treacherous. It always seems most dangerous and inevitable after periods of peace and calm before the Lord. Seemingly out of nowhere the self wells in rebellion. That this follows such precious moments feels counterintuitive and yet perhaps that is the root, the logical initiation of the cycle: Growing up and in knowledge of this good and gracious King will only bring about change. We cannot help but be changed by time spent in His presence.

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful,” Flannery O’Connor poignantly observed.

I know (head knowledge know) that Psalm 22, He has done it! He has accomplished His ultimate saving purpose and it is my day-to-day dealing with, well, me that undermines that knowledge. It is that painful change.

My daughter and my husband like to catch snakes. I have seen it many times. It most often involves a long stick or pole for pinning the animal’s head to the ground so they can carefully move in to grasp it and avoid a bite.

My sin nature that lies beneath looks a lot like that writhing snake body resisting capture, resisting being held, resisting being beheld. I am liable to bite. As a redeemed creation, how can that be? Perhaps because if I am fully seen, fully known, there is no hiding the ugly, slithering side of self.

Paul says something along those lines in 1 Corinthians 13. We have dim, not fully developed view of ourselves. Seeing Him face to face will reveal full knowledge. And “then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

I am already fully known despite my resistance, my lack of ability to trust His all-knowing love, His grace. I am already beheld and He has not turned away. And there that verse is smack in the middle of yes, love. It is the love chapter that soars with descriptions that most certainly look unattainable. Does any one really love without envy or arrogance or irritability or resentfulness? Does anyone really endure all things?

I do not.

This forces me to that dim mirror and to the killing of self. The hard and painful ache of change.

Reading through that entire chapter, I find joy in verse 9. “For we know in part and prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.”

WHEN THE PERFECT COMES.

I could stop there and look fully, contentedly.

The answer is yes. It has to be. Yes, someone really loves without envy or arrogance or irritability or resentfulness. Someone has endured it all. That would be Him—the Perfect.

He has come and in His coming there was a treacherous battle. It was on a cross and the writhing, slithering snake of self was destroyed.

It wasn’t me that was killed. It was Him.

This makes my painful change not so painful anymore.

It makes learning to be beheld possible. It makes my resistance futile.

I am able to move back to peace and calm before God. I am able to behold Him who is perfect love. I am able to trust His gaze and the change it brings.

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Waiting on Shrinky Dinks

Staring hard through the dirty oven window I watch mesmerized as the cut out shapes begin to curl and bend. I am instantly transported to second grade and the absolute marvel of the Shrinky Dink. Coloring hard on that rough side of the paper with stunted colored pencils I could never fully get the desired finish.

Watching the transformation, however, always amazed me as I tried to wrap my brain around the concept. There seemed to be so much danger and mystery in that paper, that miracle in the oven.

This piece of flimsy paper in the oven just shrunk down to a charm for my necklace! It is now strong and unbreakable and something to cherish.

Recently I discovered that Shrinky Dink makes plain, pages of this magic material for creating your own designs—whatever you want! Gleefully, I purchased two sets excited to return to second grade splendor. Surely my kids would delight along with me. We eagerly followed directions and feverishly drew delicate designs ranging from Darth Vader to Wes Anderson characters.

We carefully followed instructions, step by step, to Shrinky Dink glory.

I watched my kids watch the transformation. As their designs contorted and writhed on the cookie sheet, I reassured them that the directions said this would happen. Confidently I told them not to worry. The pieces will right themselves, flatten back out and they would be pleased with the results.

Success and relief followed and they marched on merry ways. Once their interest waned, I continued experimenting with other ideas of my own. Watching oh-so-intently my last experiment began to curl over upon itself as none of the other designs had done. Though I’d read and re-read the directions, worry slipped in. I frantically looked over the directions again:

“Bake approximately 1 to 3 minutes. After piece lies flat, allow an additional 30 seconds of baking time to complete the process. Occasionally, a piece may stick to itself. If this happens, cautiously reach into your oven and pull pieces apart. Allow piece to complete the baking process.”

I was anxiously trying to determine if this was one of those “occasional” moments that required my intervention. I am notorious for burning myself. Going in to the oven was not ideal. I kept telling myself to trust the process as I could not take my eyes off of this curled up sheet.

Do I open the oven? If I try to pull it apart, do I do it bare-handed? Will I make it worse? Can I remove the whole tray to repair it and put it back? Will it just uncurl on its own? This doesn’t look right!

As I watched the timer on the oven nervously and felt it wasn’t going to recover I began to open the oven to intervene. I reached for the hot tray and could not determine if the piece was on the way to retracting and unfurling. I pulled out the tray and set it on the counter only to see that it was immediately beginning to harden in the greatly undesired position. So I put it back into the oven and quickly closed the door and let the Shrinky Dink do its shrinking. It finished without any more interruption and turned out lovely.

That 1 to 3 minutes felt like forever.

Sometimes I think the Holy Spirit nudges me at the oddest of (occasional?) moments. My white knuckle grip on the oven door while frantically deliberating the fate of my Shrinky Dink (and how desperately my oven needed cleaning) was one of those times.

It looked an awful lot like my messy life.

God has given me clear and explicit direction throughout His written word. I try to read it every day. I pray and ask God —at this stage of my life where even the simplest things sometimes are impossible to recall—to make the word of God the one thing I do recall. I pray that He would allow His Spirit to seal it within me, that I would know the truth. I read and re-read. I pray. I write.

Yet, somehow, when I am waiting and staring hard at my circumstances, I focus intently on the process over which I have no control. I panic. I wring my hands. My intervention must be necessary. I must get in there and fix this situation. Forget what the directions tell me to do. Ignore that it is a hot oven.

The process is frequently not pretty with contortions and changes that look like mistakes, failure even.

This is when I feel the gentle tug of His sweet Presence. “Be still.”

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

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” Psalm 37:7

“I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined and heard my cry.” Psalm 40:1

I think of Eugene Peterson and his explanation of what it means to wait on God, wait on God in prayer: “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts,” Like anything that requires discipline or denial, I am not very good at it. Here is where actually following the directions leads to real change, real success.

There are multiple circumstances in my life right now where I am so caught up in the details and micromanaging them. They are things I am praying about, saying that I am trusting God with and yet they just don’t look right! Surely it’s time for me to open the oven and start fixing things.

Perhaps I will get burned. I may even interrupt the process. I am beginning to find that when I loosen my grip just a bit and look again to the beautiful and mysterious Creator who’s at work, instead of the circumstances, I can trust His process. He is trustworthy. His directions infallible.

Where the untrained eye sees warped and twisted circumstance, the clarity of the Gospel lets me focus instead on finished work. The finished work is the part that astounds. We cannot comprehend the height and depth and breadth of His love—the mystery and majesty that take what is twisted and distorted and shapes it into something beautiful and glorious.

A cross that most certainly looks only like death and destruction and humiliation is somehow, someway nothing short of absolute beauty. Without this process, without this reshaping we do not have the depth and durability and finished work.

pity parties and answered prayers

“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” ~Flannery O’Connor

I felt small, and not the good kind of small. Not the kind that meant the black you wore was flattering and the muffin top was less visible. This was purely the less visible kind. The kind where you are feeling less than. This was the kind that makes your cheeks burn hot. As I walked fast and furious I recounted the slight. It made me walk faster and push back tears.

What was really a simple miscommunication made me feel left out and alone. I tried to fight the feeling and be positive. My response was “I can walk on my own, listen to some music along the way.” When I couldn’t find my earbuds, I erupted.

Not finding them wasn’t simply frustration over an item misplaced. It also signaled something deeper. I had many sets of nice earbuds, hardly used. My ensuing irrational train of thought began there. They were rarely used because I was rarely alone. There was always a child nearby in need and to luxuriously block out what was going on with music was close to unheard of. Yet this one moment (that I was trying to make the most of) I couldn’t even do that because I couldn’t find any earbuds. I couldn’t find any earbuds because one of the kids that always needed something had invariably taken them because they’d damaged or lost their own. Flustered and moving faster, I paced and let angry thoughts run wild.

No one cares that I don’t have a way to listen to my music, they don’t even care that I was left out to begin with. I’m not on the radar at all. Where have I gone wrong that I give up all I have for my kids and this is what I get?

Now that kids are in school, I am looking for a job. Employers see a resume with holes gaping of years spent not in the paying world’s work force but in that one that goes without paycheck and little other notice. I tell myself that is my calling and I did what I was supposed to do.

I recall a recent impromptu phone interview that had awkward pauses as I tried to make myself sound valuable, sound knowledgeable, sound big. I floundered. The memory recent is humiliating as my value in those eyes is directly tied to my hours in, pay earned, contacts made.

My thoughts go further to years back accepting a job as a magazine editor. I took the position with three kids at home, one school age and two others not yet. Two days into the job, I found myself explaining to the publisher I’d made a giant mistake. Those kids were my primary responsibility no matter how much I wanted to be an editor, to design pages, direct photo shoots, write stories. I needed to be there for them first.

As I walked and cried and sweated with no music to soothe. I only grew angrier.

I prayed.

God. Help. Please.

This is an ugly cycle. This is going nowhere. This is a pity party.

Please help me see You move, You answer prayers.

Before my emotions could be allayed, I was angrier even. I put aside so many things to be this mom. I can’t even say it’s a job I have done well. I have sat in dentists’ offices with the nurse explaining half a dozen cavities and died a little thinking I was too tired to help floss so many nights . I have sat across the table from a teacher telling me again that this child will not sit still and listen and there are others who deserve this spot in this class. I have had teachers send notes home that they made my child buy a lunch because what was packed did not look like enough. That’s what happens when you are all to happy to let a fourth grader pack his own lunch when time is short. It’s not like I’m a stellar mom with star students and athletes and no discipline issues. This job wasn’t done well and now all of these years of “experience” count for nothing when you want a job so someone somewhere will notice you, will deem you worthy.

God, please help me.

I think of scripture. I know the answers. I’ve known them all my life. How now does that get me out of this hideous pit? I know that I should not live by my emotions. You act on truth and let the emotions follow.

When the emotions grab hold it is so hard to shake them.

I am ready for the meat. The meat to be the gospel truth healing my heart. I am ready to see the power of God’s word remaking me. How do I break free?

I tell myself the truth. I am a child of God. He is sovereign. He sees me. These years are important, not wasted. The eyes of the world may not see success but there is so much it will never see.

I don’t want to be like this, worried about what others think. Worrying about be considered valuable and not small. I have prayed often to be more than this selfish me, to have more of Him and less of me.

I am trying to hold fast to truth. In that angry, emotional moment, I struggle so hard to hold on to it.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

My night ends with a loving husband, listening, patiently. I tell him I KNOW the answers. It just seems like a great time to feel that they are true. When does faith become sight? How do I get to the reality of the words?

I cried. A lot.

The following day I found what I always find after that kind of night, swollen puffy eyelids and under eyes, a terrific addition to my smallness.

The next day, for some unknown reason, my husband asked me to take a short business road trip with him while kids were in school. As we drove, my mind again wandered to my future, this next step with kids in school. Previously I saw it wide open, fat with optimism. I could go and be anything. Now a few weeks in and job prospects thin at best, it’s a different landscape.

I think again about feeling small. Why do I feel so small? I am putting my identity into what I do. Suddenly, gently, the Holy Spirit nudges and I recognize a prayer is being answered. How I couldn’t recognize it is instantly astounding. I have prayed time and time and time again. “More of you and less of me.”

Rarely do we like to think of answered prayer as such a painful process, or at least I don’t. In my small mind, there is a magnificent thought of only happy people in happy places with no job losses, or illnesses, or suffering. Answered prayer is healing and peace and smiles and rainbows.

I thank God as I realize yet again when I always seem to forget: This is not about me.
I am praying for Him to increase, for me to decrease AND HE IS ANSWERING MY PRAYER.

Words of CS Lewis immediately come to mind: “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

It hurts to feel small. It hurts because I am wanting it to be all about me. When I focus on me, me, and then me some more, perspective skews wild.

Donald Miller said it beautifully: “The biggest lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.”

The anger melts. Frustrations fade as I once again find my great God faithful.

“For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” Psalm 33:4

My anger, my sadness shows a distinctive lack of trust, of gratitude. I spent years enjoying the people, the gifts He has so graciously given. Then like a spoiled child, I stomped around saying I’ve gotten no credit for this. I could have had a job where people pat me on the back, say nice things, pay me money, take notice. I deserve credit! Give me Yours!

There it is, the absolute heart of the gospel. He did.

He has given me all of His credit. There is nothing He has withheld from this spoiled child. He laid it all down and I am demanding what? Something else? His earbuds, perhaps?

There is nothing He does not notice.

He’s making a way even now. This God who made the heavens by a word, is continuing to patiently remake me. He is gently stripping away the subtle idols I have put in His rightful place. Being a mom does not overshadow being His child. Being an editor does not make me more valuable to the Creator of the universe. I don’t need a title, a bullet point on the resume, a salary to be someone. (Even now the flesh cries out, “a salary would be nice though!”) UGH.

When I was young, people would wear bracelets with PBPGINFWMY printed on them. I thought they were silly and now I think I need one. Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.

power outage

Early morning hours in frozen February, the thunderous rhythms of a hovering helicopter shake our home. The sound made us believe the chopper landing pad could be our deck. Weary we woke and through the cold under the blankets, bleary-eyed, we asked why? The day and evening prior had been equally unusual between transformers that looked and popped like firecrackers on summer days and heavy laden ice limbs all around. These are more than unusual, at least for those of us who reside in South Town.

The moments before we lost power, we were cuddled by the fire and snickering at flickering lights. I remember that fleeting thought, “it would be kind of fun if we lost power.” Then it was gone and we reveled in the novelty for the night. We played games, and watched a movie on the iPad in the dark. That type of novelty fades as fast as the battery. But this brutal cold morning is begun by helicopter surveying damage from fallen trees, one in particular. This oak tree must have been one hundred and fifty years old, 90 feet tall, and its fall demolished a no longer occupied homestead just around the curve of the road from our home. Local news knew it was an attention getter so the helicopter over head became just that for all of us sleeping, huddled, awaiting power.

Power would not return for another day and night. Our firewood stockpile kept us going as did our warm cars and the ability to charge devices that would keep us connected. When we were able to venture out and survey the destruction first hand it was startling. We would later learn that many others saw it first for their power was working and it was, of course, on the news.

Grateful no one was injured, it was sad to see such a massive tree go down and destroy anything nearby. Like any death, there is sorrow and a requisite adaptation to the new life on the other side of it, without it.

Winter is not my favorite season though my northeastern husband thoroughly enjoys it and all it entails—snow shoveling, wood chopping, even driving in dangerous conditions. To me it is vast and empty and dead feeling. The world around seems to sleep the sleep of death. Of course it can be beautiful as evidenced by this ice storm. Trees sparkle in sunlight as they are armored in glass like chain mail. That is a particularly temporary beauty. Signs of life are all but obliterated as cold months pass.

This once vibrant tree that has seen generations come and go has even succumbed to the death of winter. It is the reminder we are not getting out of here alive. As the agent says to Neo in The Matrix as they do battle, “Do you hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. That is the sound of your death.”

Yet in these long months where dark days loom large, I think of seasons of life not of the literal variety. We seem to remember them as sharply as those days we are without power because they feel like that. When we encounter a dark season, a time of struggle we feel as though we have no power. Life is hard and we long for relief, for light.

I can point to several specific ones in my own lifetime. When my brother died unexpectedly in an accident, everything seemed awry. This can’t be right. Twenty nine years does not a lifetime make. Yet in that powerless moment, there was peace. Peace that came from relying on, trusting in Someone else, Someone who has power.

Early marriage years, working multiple jobs trying to make payments and buy groceries seemed like they would not end. When rent is due and there isn’t enough and not for lack of trying, the end of ourselves, the feeling of powerlessness can only be surrendered. There is no other choice. And power is restored when He brings unexpected answers, aid from unexpected places. This is how He works, how we see His power most profoundly—when we have none of our own.

Truly we never did, but once the illusion is destroyed we can see more clearly what has always been true. We look for and find Him in most unexpected ways.

We know, we trust, we quote Romans:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” He is working this together. We look and wait expectantly for the Good that is coming. Good has come and we have to believe that.

We are not unloved in these places. It may be momentarily hidden in our moment of nearsightedness. The pall of winter may make it seem untrue, but it is true.

It is everywhere. All throughout Scripture He reminds us again and again that we are not alone, not abandoned. He is enough. His steadfast love endures forever.

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
1 Chronicles 16:34

For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100:5

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118:1

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118:28-29

PSALM 136!

His steadfast love endures forever.
When it doesn’t look like that, we trust in that.
When branches are dead and pulling down power lines.
When we are separated and unwillingly so.
When we feel abandoned.
When we have done the abandoning.
When we are without a job.
When hope fades.
His steadfast love endures forever.

Like the workers for the power company come in trucks and hang on poles in sub freezing temperatures, we know the work has been done for us. We don’t know how to restore power. Power was cut when communion was in the dark places of the garden. And since that moment, before that moment, Someone has been working to bring us back to the light, the warmth of communion. We needed a way to access that power. We found it, found Him, on the cross.

May is nearly over and much of the mess of ice storm passed is still in need of cleanup. Crews have made their way across the county, street by street, cutting, clearing. Our bend of road is still strewn with branches brown. Spring is all around, flowers bloom and life is vibrant again. Honeysuckle vines climb on downed limbs and fences.

Property owners have begun the monumental task of cutting and clearing this old tree that took power with it. Buzz of chainsaws prove that it is hard work and it takes time. They make their way day after day, section after section, removing this massive tree. As I walk each day past the spot I see the progress. This day I stop as I take in what I’d never previously seen. The upended tree has been sectioned, in huge 500 pound plus chunks. The end before me reveals the shape of the trunk—a heart.

In the midst of death, the midst of destruction there is still hope. There is still life. There is still the steadfast love.

It is so like God. He is using all of creation, all at His disposal to call us to Himself, to remind His own that He has plans and they are good. He reminds me again that His steadfast love endures forever.

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A Longing to Dwell

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying
“Look at the dwelling place of God.”
He will dwell with them
They will be His people,
And He will be their God.
~ Ghost Ship, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

After an impromptu 781 mile car trip we were met with excited greetings, an open door, and welcoming home. Suddenly, relief, rest, safety attained. Weary from uninterrupted drive, we accepted the invitation in. My parents’ Texas home is once again a shelter for we weary travelers.

The need to stretch and move is quenched by a walk with my mom on the the streets my mother and father did as children. Small town joys bring physical respite that accompanies my breathe-in-and-out moments. It is a sense of home though it is not my own. Childhood memories of visits here are warm and happy. I recall my grandparents’ picture window that would annually become my grandmom’s canvas for all the town to see—paintings on glass that would frequently grace newspaper pages.

My mom reminisces. I find comfort as I stretch. She shows me house after house designed by my great grandfather, my grandfather. Their designs live on as the families that choose to dwell in them do. They’ve made them a permanent residence. We return to my Mom and Dad’s own home—it too one of my great grandfather’s designs. It is sound and beautiful architecture, divine in detail and finish. Dwelling here feels safe, comfortable. It is a delight. My parents dwell here and their personal touch has only enhanced the dwelling. The detail of them multiplies the beauty, the design of the original architect.

My mind runs to verses it has for many years, David’s request in Psalm 27:4:

One thing I have asked of the LORD
That I will seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple

In my younger years I foolishly associated a genie-in-a-bottle mentality with this scripture. David’s making one request of God and it was to say he wants to live in God’s house? If he were making one request of God, wouldn’t it be something bigger? Better?

I believe, like many things, my understanding could only become possible with age and experience. The depths of the request could only be grasped as I left my parent’s home to establish one of my own. There are many securities, delights only discovered and enjoyed in your home.

I think about all the homes I’ve dwelled in—apartments, townhomes, the first home of my husband and I. I go back further to growing up with my younger brothers in house after house, city after city, including one house in the fourth grade in this particular small town. The rhythm of moving and changing homes can even be a comfort, one I have not yet shaken. There were so many lovely homes and yet it is not the house that offers peace.

Had my parents not been the ones who’d opened this door after this recent journey, someone else inevitably would have and I would have been distraught, would never have entered this home. I realize it’s in the dwelling, residing in the presence of my family. As a child, the comfort, safety and rest lay with my parents. As an adult the same comfort and safety and rest is found with my husband and my own children, regardless of the physical residence.

As delightful and fulfilling as my family is, as magnificent and lovely as all of the homes may be, there is nowhere, no one perfect. All are fallen, in need. We dwell still in a sinful and fallen world full of division and strife.

As a I return to Psalm 27, I think of David on the run, in need of safety and relief. The enemy is after him. The only real place of safety for David, for God’s people is in God’s presence. Yet he’d known, learned enough, that this wasn’t only momentary relief he was seeking. He was yearning for ultimate comfort, ultimate rescue—the rescue we all yearn for. Dwelling involves finding permanent residence. David knew there was no permanent peace, no permanent comfort outside the presence of the LORD.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust,’” writes David in Psalm 91.

“Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place–
the Most High, who is my refuge–
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.”

David’s search, our search for this reminds me of the garden years. The days after creation, we were dwelling in a place like no other. Trust and refuge were abundant in the presence, the comfort of our Creator God. Yet we chose self over unhindered communion. Broken communion relegated us to hiding in the trees. We were covered, though removed and unable to dwell in that home. Ever since that deep ache has called us to come home, to dwell in the presence of our King.

Broken communion cried out for restoration. It required Another leave the comfort of home to sacrifice. He could no longer dwell with the Father. He voluntarily left home and that dwelling so He could eventually open the door to it.

As we look around and see a world ravaged with war, racial unrest, disease, earthquakes, floods, the ache is all the more evident. We yearn to dwell where no evil will befall, under the shadow of the Almighty.

I realize David could not have asked for anything bigger, anything better, for there is not.

Our deepest desire is to reside, to dwell and to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and inquire in his temple.

We can neither gaze nor inquire apart from the intervention of a King. Though we like to think we could open the door, we would no more attempt it than I would try entering one of my “grandfather’s homes” without being welcomed by the one who dwells there. Someone must open the door on our behalf. Someone must make a way and welcome us in.

Thankfully this Architect has gone ahead. He designed the home, prepared the place for us, and welcomes us in.