A Hungry Sheep

IMG_2029
I met this sheep buddy in Taos, New Mexico.

Today I need good pasture for my soul. It’s been a hard six weeks—harder than I expected. I’ve been recovering from a two-level lumbar fusion and it’s been slow and painful and boring and lonely. I need good pasture for my soul because I’m tired. It’s been three years of surgeries and infections and I’m losing heart. My soul is weary. And I’m a pretty pathetic sheep.

I’ve spent a full week in John 10, so the sheep metaphor is resonating hard with me. First, I love sheep. I love the woolyness of them. I like how fat and fluffy they get while their legs stay spindly. How in the world do they support themselves on those spindly legs? I live near sheep. There’s a large sheep ranch about three or four miles from my home. It’s pretty stinky because they are all crowded together—hundreds of them. But occasionally the shepherds take them out to graze in fields nearby. It’s so awesome to be driving back from the grocery store and see a cluster of sheep—heads down—grazing comfortably 33901055142_dec4aaf539and securely under the eye of a four-wheel-riding shepherd. Sometimes the shepherd is walking around the sheep with his dog—it looks like a Border collie—and sometimes he’s riding his four-wheeler herding them towards fresh fields. He takes them to good pasture. “…the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.” (John 10:4)

Of course, I romanticize the sheep like I do most things I know nothing about whatsoever. Like being a detective in Yorkshire, England (I watch a lot of BBC). Or snowshoeing effortlessly across six feet of snow in the San Juan Mountains (it is really, really hard!). In the real shepherding world, sheep are considered helpless, defenseless, animals that need constant oversight and protection. They flock together for protection, but don’t have a lot of sense when it comes to following the leader—if one sheep tries to leap over a 50 ft. ravine, the others will follow (it happened in Turkey, 2006, and 400 sheep died). They trust their shepherd to18958344301_dba98130af guide them. They also have a great sense of hearing and recognize their shepherd’s voice and are very in-tune to the tone of his/her voice. The shepherding site, Sheep 201—my new favorite website—suggests the shepherd use a quiet, calm voice. I think I need to read Jesus’ words in John 10 with a quiet, calm voice…let them soothe my soul. Psalm 23 works really well, too.

Still, I crave good pasture. I have a tendency to get depressed easily—a sad movie, a heart-wrenching news story, too many rainy days in a row, or even just being alone day after day after day. I’ve been this way all my life. Another DNA sequence. At times, it wreaks havoc, but most of the time I work through it. I am training myself to head to the Word and not accept the lies my mind keeps telling me. I am a weak, easily-led, vulnerable sheep, yet Jesus willingly laid down His life for me. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, NASB emphasis mine)

Jesus says to the Jews and Pharisees who are questioning Him and listening to Him closely in both John 9 and John 10 (please read them without a break because there isn’t a time break here) that He—as the good shepherd—unlike the Pharisees (who are the thieves and robbers)—comes to give His sheep abundant life. Abundant. Perissōs. The Greek word for “abundant” means “over and above”; “exceeding”; “beyond measure.” What is this abundant/over and above/exceeding/beyond measure pasture Jesus promises us? How do I receive it? If you hear Christ’s calling and you listen and believe and follow, you are receiving it. It’s an on-going “receiving.” But sometimes it’s hard to see the pasture because of all the life clutter that hangs on and around us…around me.

Sometimes I am a discouraged sheep who expects more from her Shepherd than she is finding. I’m not resting in good pasture right now, and that’s a hard thing to admit. I feel positively ashamed and bamboozled by my discouragement.

So how do I rejoin the fold? (Staying with the sheep metaphor here.) What does “good pasture” even look like?

I’m seriously asking God for revelation right now. At this moment. Aha! A partial revelation! I have pasture blockers! I have stuff in my life that I keep re-dredging and re-examining, and that stuff keeps me in dry, brown pasture.

Some of my pasture blockers:

  • Two years of tests, steroid shots, MRI’s, X-rays, chronic pain, small surgeries, infection, PICC line, big surgery.
  • Confined to my house for weeks at a time due to recoveries and infection.
  • No family close to help me through these lonely, despairing moments.
  • Grandchildren too far away to see regularly—there is nothing like a grandchild to make you forget yourself!

I sometimes drop into self-pity. It’s a killer and it’s not from God. I’ve said this before, and I wish I didn’t keep falling into this “besetting sin.” “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15, ESV)

I have to put these things away. It sounds so—ephemeral. How do I put away something that is internally driven and derived? Lord, help me understand how to do this!

Persevere. Trust.

 These are momentary afflictions, and Christ has defeated them via the cross. I have His promises. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. His sheep hear His voice and recognize it. Sin blocks me from hearing my Shepherd’s voice. I have to repent. Down on my knees, clutching His Word, offering up my sin to His redemptive blood. I’m covered. I don’t have to stay in this brown pasture.

I’m asking the Holy Spirit for a good punch to the gut. Keep me in the fold. Don’t let me drift back into self-pity, envy, and greed (but I really think quartz countertops would make me happier! HGTV—I blame you!)

I realize now the only way to find good pasture is to seek my Shepherd on my knees and in His Word. I drift too easily. It’s time to depend on my Shepherd and not on my own ability to find pasture myself. Amazon.com is not a healthy pasture and doesn’t provide the abundant life Jesus gives. Neither does Target—the 8th deadly sin.

The promised pasture isn’t built around things; it’s built around relationship. It’s my relationship with Jesus that keeps me at peace, relaxing in joy and security, finding true rest.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28, ESV)

Do you have pasture blocks, too? Besetting or habitual sins that keep defeating you and keeping you in brown pasture? I challenge you to write them down—really ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them to you in depth. I was driving last week—heading towards Ft. Collins—and I just started praying aloud and confessing. I let God reveal all the dirty little secrets I keep hidden from view, and when I got home, I typed up that list and stuck it in my journal—after I confessed and repented.

That was merely a week ago—and…I’m back in brown pasture again! But now I know how to return to the abundantly lush pasture Jesus promises. I open my Bible to John 10 and continue. I stop and pray when the Holy Spirit nudges or gut punches. I repent of my bad attitude, my weak sheepishness. And then I do it again, everyday for the rest of my life.

14053424689_ed67b3b7fa

Here are some scriptures utilizing the “Shepherd” metaphor. Some from Old Testament—God gets pretty fed up with the “false/bad shepherds” that are not taking care of His flock—Israel. Jesus continues berating them in John 10, calling them thieves and robbers. The OT prophets, declare the coming Good Shepherd, Christ. In the New Testament, Jesus is the shepherd. We are His flock–grafted into the promise of Abraham (see John 10:16) 

Jeremiah 12:10; Ezekiel 34: 2-10, 23; Micah 5:4; Matthew 2:6; 1 Peter 2:25, 5:4; Hebrews 13:20-21; Revelation 7:17.

 

 

Shepherd and sheep: photo credit: Dyn Photo <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/72876267@N07/33901055142″>Modern Shepherding</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Sheep & Border collie photo credit: RayMorris1 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/16599764@N05/18958344301″>SHEEPDOG TRIALS A</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Green pasture photo credit: Son of Groucho <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/23401669@N00/14053424689″>What? The Flock 2</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Glory and Small Graces

*In the last few days, there has been an increasingly volatile debate over a “spiritual blogger’s” theological accountability—specifically their accountability to a larger “theological tradition.” Well-known voices in this arena are angry, believing that this article demeans their contributions to the blogosphere and to their messages, largely ignored by mainstream denominations. I can understand both sides of the debate. On one hand, women have been largely dismissed as leaders within church culture—particularly when it involves teaching men. As much as I bristle at times over my local church’s stance on women and leadership, I understand it. Paul is very clear in his writings, but I also note that Paul is quick to praise women who work with him in a variety of capacities—all for the glory of the gospel. As to accountability—I trust that readers of female spiritual bloggers making a dent in the Christian culture are examining the blogs as to biblical correctness—using the discernment the Holy Spirit gives to all believers. As for me, I believe in the inerrancy of scripture. I believe the Bible—Old and New Testaments—tell one predominant story—the story of Christ. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s plan for redemption is unveiled. When I read the Bible in that way, I understand that God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent—as the creator of everything and the one who holds everything together, He is perfectly able to keep His Word in tact. If you’d like to read the Christianity Today article, here is the link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2017/april/whos-in-charge-of-christian-blogosphere.html

 

_MG_6514
This view is a few blocks from my house. I loved the clouds and the view of the mountains in the distance. God’s glory and majesty reflected in nature.

The Weightiness of Glory and Discipleship

Sometimes I make things far too complicated. Just ask my husband, or my kids, or my former teaching colleagues. If I can make extra work for myself, I do it. Why? I blame my wiring—you know—my DNA coding. Something in me strives to do more and be more and make more…perfectionism, thy name is Cindy.

Take the word, “glory,” for example. I was doing fine with it—singing it in hymns, reading it without pausing in the Psalms, overlooking it entirely in the New Testament since it’s always linked with “the glory of God” or “the glory of Christ.” I read it as one word: “thegloryofGod” or “thegloryofChrist.” I didn’t ask myself what the word meant. Obviously God wanted it there or so many different authors wouldn’t have used it. Time for some research–and yes, I’m a research junkie!

The Greek, dóxa, as referenced in my Greek Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament (Zodhiates) occupies 3 1/2 pages of connotative and denotative meanings. The following definition seems to fit best with the text I’m studying:

“Glory, therefore, is the true apprehension of God or things. The glory of God must mean His unchanging essence. Giving glory to God is ascribing to Him His full recognition. The true glory of man, on the other hand, is the ideal condition in which God created man. This condition was lost in the fall and is recovered through Christ and exists as a real fact in the divine mind. The believer waits for this complete restoration. The glory of God is what he is essentially; the glory of created things including man is what they are meant by God to be, though not yet perfectly attained.”

The text I’ve been looking at is 2 Corinthians 3, particularly verse 18.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV)           

It’s not a complicated verse IF you read the entire chapter. Paul uses the word, “glory,” 13 times (ESV) in that one chapter, contrasting the glory of God Moses saw through a veil, (Ex. 34:34) with the glory of Christ we behold with “unveiled faces.” The Law kept God behind a veil until the time when the Abrahamic covenant would be fulfilled through Christ. The veil separating the Holy of Holies—where God met with the high priests—was torn upon Christ’s completed crucifixion. Believers have no need for a veil or a high priest because Christ himself is our perfect high priest. (See Hebrews 5 & 7)

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12, that for now “…we see in a mirror dimly, but then fact to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” I go to the NASB translation for another “view” on this verse—one more closely aligned with the original Greek: “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” There is the word “unveiled” again. But, even though we are “unveiled” (not constrained by the Mosaic covenant), we still behold “as in a mirror”—only a reflection of Christ’s glory—not a face-to-face beholding. So we aren’t there yet. Someday, we will see perfectly—we will see Christ’s glory perfectly.

I think—remember now: this is “small kitchen theology”—I think the verb “beholding” is key. The verb tense is interesting. The Greek is katoptrizō—a present tense verb that denotes reflecting as in a mirror. We are always beholding as in a mirror the glory of Christ as revealed in the gospel. Those who only follow the Old Testament law, still live behind the veil. The full glory of Christ is hidden to them because of their disbelief in the Messiah. Those of us who believe and stake our lives on Christ as Savior, continually behold a reflection of His glory through the gospel. And we are being constantly transformed by the Holy Spirit, “…from one degree of holiness to another.” We are being transformed – metamorphoō—into the image of Christ by way of the Holy Spirit.

That’s it then. I think it is, anyway. I’m not sure, so check it out for yourselves and read commentaries on it. I’m sure I’ve over-simplified it—but that’s me. I want to understand, so I keep chewing on it until it starts to make sense to me.

So—what is my take away? In order to reflect Christ’s glory to the world, I have to allow the Holy Spirit to shape this fragile jar of clay into a vessel that is useful to God. And that means that I have to let go of my contrived human purposes and empty myself of self-determination in order to be God-determined.

We are made for his glory—created to glorify Him. When we feel resentful or uncomfortable with this concept, it’s because we don’t truly know how glorious God is. We have a tendency to make Him small, shaping Him into a being that makes sense to us via our own reasoning. We make ourselves smarter than Him. We make Him an impotent God rather than an omnipotent God.

The psalmist—David in this case—reminds us to “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2, ESV)

Reducing God to a manageable, culturally palatable god is blasphemous. And reducing His Word to a culturally-centered book of myths and stories is also blasphemous. I’m being hard here, but if we don’t “ascribe” to God the glory He requires of us as His creation, we pervert our purpose for living.

In my last blog, I spoke of discipleship and becoming a mature disciple of Christ. The only way to become that disciple is to be fully reliant on the Word of God. To know the very Words of God—not some haphazard collection of writings that span centuries—but the inspired Word, inerrant and holy. Peter doesn’t mince words:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitness of his majesty…And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 16-21, ESV, emphasis mine)

These words come from the fisherman Jesus called early in his ministry. A man full of passion for the Lord, but who retreated in fear for his own life when Jesus was arrested and crucified. A man who then saw the risen Lord and received forgiveness for his frailty. A man who was himself crucified (though upside down because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord) for preaching and teaching the gospel of Christ. In fact all of the disciples were martyred except John, who was imprisoned on the small island of Patmos for life.

They walked with Christ and died for him. They didn’t kill for him. They didn’t persecute others for him. They loved for him and died for him, as did Paul.

What Does This Metamorphosis  Entail? 

When I read the scriptures—both Old and New Testaments—I recognize their weightiness—their glory. And if I want to be a mature disciple, I must learn from them. And I must empty myself of myself. That’s hard. How do I wrestle with the concept that my purpose on earth is not to achieve my particular goals and dreams–my purpose is to glorify God and honor Him.

Often times our goals coincide with our giftedness, but sometimes they clash and must be put away.

Even when I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. I think most obsessive readers do! I used to make up stories and draw pictures, even into high school. In college, I left that so-called fluffy, unrealistic dream behind and pursued first nursing (scared of organic chemistry so switched majors), then music education (recognized my serious lack of talent and left after two semesters), and then elementary education. Second grade to be precise. Unfortunately, marriage and divorce postponed that goal. I eventually wound up back where I started–sort of–with books. Literature and education–secondary style. That’s what I did finally. I taught high school English for 21 years, and during that time I wrote and wrote. Short stories. Eighty plus pages of novels that went nowhere. Children’s stories for my grandkids that were just so-so. None of them were very good. I had to put that dream aside because I’m just not a good fiction writer. Reality stinks.

My other dream was to teach college literature–not college writing–but poetry and literature. My master’s is in education though. You can’t even teach community college English without a master’s in English or preferably, a PhD. I’m too old to pursue this now, and honestly, that dream has vanished. Poof.

My goals and dreams are muddy now, for a variety of reasons. I’m less sure what I should do with the last 20 years of my life, if God gives me that much time. I am sure that I’m supposed to keep plugging away at life, honoring Him in whatever small ways I can. Like Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10-11:

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Now I’m going to glorify God by making the bed, doing some laundry, and studying His Word. A good steward of God’s varied grace.

 

 

 

 

unblocked for His glory

IMG_4174I was listening to a podcast the other day (many of my friends know this addiction I have…) called “The Calling” featuring Rebekah Lyons this week. Stop—download this podcast from iTunes like—now. It’s put out by Christianity Today and hosted by Richard Clark. I only found it about a month ago, and I’ve pretty much devoured all of its archived episodes. Love it. And now love Rebekah Lyons.

First, I have a confession to make: I have a tendency to discount all these 30-early 40-something female Christian writers as too young to have anything to tell me about life. I’m 59. And I’ve lived a very broken and yet redeemed life, which makes me skeptical about learning anything from a youngster that God has not already taught me. Talking about vanity! Oy!

Yet, I’ve read or skimmed Shauna Niequist, Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey, Rachel Held-Evans, and have just started reading Ann Voskamp. Sometimes I disagree with their theology, but I love the way they write and speak to a younger generation of women. *One caveat: I trust totally in the inerrancy of scripture, so as soon as any writer—male or female–starts to interpret scripture in light of cultural differences, I scurry away. Once we start debating the truth of God’s Word, then we move into muddy waters that make everything about God questionable—including the divinity of Christ. That said, I find some of these women’s works lovely, but few of them are relatable only because my kids are adults and I’m a grandmother and I’ve experienced a great deal of life—most of it encased in suffering. However, I’m enjoying Ann Voskamp’s writing because of the sheer beauty of her writing, and because of the suffering she has experienced through which she teaches.

“I just know that—old scars can break open like fresh wounds and your unspoken broken can start to rip you wide open and maybe the essence of all the questions is: how in the holy name of God do you live with your one broken heart?” (Ann Voskamp from The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life)

Ah, the old ripping open scars experience. I’m pretty sure I’m covered in scars from head to toe. I think Christ recognizes me because of my scars. My scars cry out to Him and He responds by reminding me that my scars—just like His–are signs of redemption.

Back to Rebekah Lyons. I loved her discussion on this podcast and immediately checked out one of her books from the library to peruse. She is young, but has experienced grief and fear and anxiety and inadequacy. And she is honest about it in a raw and sincere way. She has a son with Down Syndrome—made just as God intended him to be, but that extra chromosome brings with it particular challenges. She also suffered from panic attacks. And she’s been fearful about relocating. I know all of these challenges—to a certain extent. But one thing she said—I immediately had to run to my yellow legal pad where I jot down things I hear that I believe are profound and God inspired—that one thing she said that seared my heart a bit and pulled me back to a truth I try to ignore—that one thing that put me back to writing again was simple: “Public affection will never heal private rejection.”

Isn’t that so true? So on target and exact? Here I sit—a 59-year-old grandmother of three—reeling with memories –memories that have been keeping me from writing. Memories of criticism and neglect and discouragement revealed in private that keep me from using my very small and insignificant gift in order to glorify and reveal my Lord.

Words break me easily—too easily. I need to toughen up and be determined. I need to remember that I’m writing to glorify God—He is my audience and He’s always an encouraging one. But that’s not true, is it? Anyone that writes wants to be read. It’s communication—unless it’s a private journal—those stay filed away “to be destroyed before I die!”

Everyday I get confronted by my unwillingness to write. There’s a huge wall in my brain keeping me from imaginative and creative thought. Instead I study, study, study—to show myself approved. If I know more of God’s Word, then I will have something to say. But instead I’m stymied.

Here’s a truth: we have a tendency to remember the hard words more than the encouraging ones. That one negative statement can haunt us for a long time. However, some folks are strong and courageous. They push through the criticism and improve. They grow and show fortitude. Me? I curl up in a ball like a roly-poly and make excuses for my creative stagnation.

Then Jesus speaks to me through His Word. He is the Word, after all—the Word made flesh who—as Eugene Peterson says in The Message translation—“…became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” His Word uncurls me and stretches me out again. He reminds me that, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30) He says that he is gentle and lowly in heart, and in him I will find rest for my soul. I can trust Jesus. He knows how I feel. He knew rejection.

So I’m taking little baby steps with His help. I’m letting little things creep in to remind me of why I love to write. John Piper—a favorite teacher of mine—reminds me of the importance of staying in the Word—in Jesus. “I need to stay in the Word everyday, so that the Holy Spirit has something to set on fire when He touches it!” Right now, the Holy Spirit is teaching me about God’s glory and what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Two verses that have “set me on fire”:

2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Because I believe in Christ, the veil blocking me from seeing the glory of God has been removed. I see Him for who He is, and the Spirit is the one allowing me to understand that glory. To recognize it. But more than that—the Spirit is transforming me bit by bit—making me more like Jesus. Shaping me. And ultimately that shaping is for God’s glory. It’s very circular. I have pages and pages of writings on how God shapes me for His glory. That’s for another time. I’m still learning.

Luke 6:40: “A disciple is not above [her] teacher, but everyone when [she] is fully trained will be like her teacher.” Jesus is teaching both the crowd that is following Him, and the Twelve. And us. If we follow after Christ, we are disciples. Jesus is training us through His Word so that we can be like Him. To be a disciple, I need to be in the Word daily. I need to swallow it and digest it and let it sustain me like it did Jesus in the wilderness.

So there it is: Cindy unblocked. Not letting the private rejection keep me from doing something I love. There is a reason why I call my blog, “Small Kitchen Theology”; it’s because I’m small and ordinary (and have a small kitchen), but I am a disciple of Christ in training.

Coming soon: Discipleship training: Dependency, Dedication, and Discernment.

May everything I write always be to the glory of the Father.

Grace and peace,

Amen

A Spring Chicken

 

29772652554_eecbb6721f_o

Spring comes too slowly to Northern Colorado.

I’m still not used to the lingering brown landscape and blustery winds that buffet our wood fence and wrestle with the American flag struggling to stay secure on our front porch flagpole. Back “home” In Oklahoma, the landscape is greening up. Daffodil and tulips litter yards and gardens as if casually tossed by the Supreme Gardener. My hometown is green and daffodil yellow and tulip red. There is still no color in my new hometown. I keep waiting and watching for the bulbs—so carefully placed by my husband in the fall—to show a little green. Nothing yet, but I’m hopeful.

Spring is a time for beginnings. Much more than the first of a new year—at least to me. I’m one of those visual folks who long to see change—color—shapes—textures. The unending brown unnerves me a bit. My soul is expecting color, but my eyes see bare brown branches.

But I know that inside the trees and inside the bulbs magic is happening. The blue sky resists the clouds’ attempts to hide it. It peeks out—a watercolor azure mixed with pure white.

A Light exists in Spring

Not present on the Year

At any other period —

When March is scarcely here…”

(Emily Dickinson).

This is my 60th spring. Last week my dental hygienist reminded me –gently—that even though I had just turned 59, I was now living in my 60th year. So…my 60th spring.

Flashback to the 1960’s. I remember fresh Toni perms on otherwise straight white-blonde hair. The stink. The burn. The fuzzy white curls my mother loved. An Easter dress in pale green with a white apron. White anklets and white patent shoes. I loved the shoes. I enjoyed the egg hunt at my grandparents’ farm. Unfortunately, what I liked best was taking OFF all the Easter apparel and getting into comfortable, rowdy clothes. My poor mother—she wanted me to look cute all day; I couldn’t give her more than three hours.

If my life runs according to seasons, I guess I’m in late autumn. I’m not the ubiquitous “spring chicken.” My mirror and my body remind me I’m not young anymore. It’s so weird—time is. I feel like I did at 30 and 40, but my body is slower. More awkward. My balance shifts too easily. Words slip away from me, so conversations with my husband become like guessing games:

Me: “You know—it’s that thing… you put on at night…it covers you…”

Husband: “Hmm. A cover? Pajamas? Blanket?”

Me: “Yeah—blanket.” Sigh of relief.

And yet…and yet my mind whirls with ideas and thoughts and plans; it doesn’t remember that I’m living my 60th spring. I’m not a finite creature—I’m an eternal one. The 19th century writer, George MacDonald, said: “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We have a body.” I love that. This body may age, but my soul keeps learning. And God keeps moving me and teaching me. His Word still compels me to read and study and learn. I’m not used up yet.

I’ve been studying Genesis since before Christmas. Begin at the beginning. I first thought, “Good grief—I’ve studied this so much—I know the stories. I KNOW the words. What else could the Holy Spirit teach me?”

Of course I was wrong.

I grew up in the church. A Southern Baptist church. The doctrine of that denomination is centered on the truth of the Bible. I love that about it. As denominations go, it is solid. God’s Word is inerrant. Trustworthy. Infallible. Being grounded by that church experience helped me through divorce and disease and disillusionment.

As a part of that Southern church culture, I was baptized when I was seven. It was a natural progression for me. I believed that Jesus was who He said He was. I believed the Bible. I trusted in God’s truth and promises…as much as any seven-year-old little girl could.

–How does life get so messy between 7 and 59? How does it get so filled with failures and sinful decisions and endless consequences?

So this time as I read through Genesis, I saw it afresh. I saw it with springtime eyes and 59 years of life. I saw how beautiful and perfect God intended our world to be, and I saw how quickly we fell. I noticed how Satan twisted God’s words into something that tickled Eve’s ears and played with her pride. I noticed that prior to The Fall, even the serpent was “good.” The serpent wasn’t Satan—it was used by Satan, and since it was already in the Garden, Eve wasn’t caught off guard by its presence.

IMG_4129That’s how temptation and sin slips into our lives so easily. It comes to us easily. Comfortably. It twists God’s words just a bit—just enough—that we get caught off guard just like Eve. We start thinking God is petty tyrant keeping us from good things. We start seeing Him as a master manipulator and not a good and loving Father.

Re-reading Genesis and really examining the Hebrew and wrestling with the tension between God’s Truth and what a secular culture sees as foolish mythology grounds me even more in faith while changing my perspective. God shifts the lenses in my glasses and helps me see the world as He sees it—as He saw it. Through my study of Genesis, I don’t see a petty tyrant god—I see the God who warned Cain that “sin was crouching at his door” because of his jealousy towards Abel, his younger brother. In Genesis 4, God notices that Cain countenance—his body language—exhibited anger. He questions Cain as to the reason, though He knows the answer.

He tells Cain to be careful—to master his feelings. But Cain ignores God’s warning and lets his emotions move him to murder.

Like Cain, I sometimes ignore God’s warnings and let my pride and self-righteousness fuel my responses to life. More often though, I let my feelings of purposelessness and loneliness fuel my anger. I miss my family. I miss my grandkids. I miss the feeling of “home.” And if I let these emotions take hold and ignore God’s urgings to rest in Him and trust in Him, I say something I regret. Or I dive into depression and self-pity.

The temptations come insidiously—wrapping truth in half-truths.

When I fall like that, it takes awhile to recover that intimacy with God that I long for more than anything else. It takes repentance. It always takes repentance.

The writer, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, reminds us that repentance comes before grace (Openness Unhindered). Winter before Spring. The bare branches of my life bowing before an almighty God—El Elyon.

My journey through Genesis continues; I’m up to the life of Joseph. I have a composition book full of notes and charts I’ve drawn trying to get a new perspective on what my Lord was doing as He was building a people group out of Abraham. I have seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and the unspeakable.

But I’ve also seen a covenantal God who bases His promises on who He is and not on who we are.

 Abraham was not perfect. Neither was Isaac. Neither was Jacob (who became Israel). And yet…and yet because of God’s graciousness and steadfast love (that phrase moves through the Old Testament), He forgives and stays true to His promises. The promised perfect seed that would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15) comes from these imperfect men and women. Jesus Christ. The Messiah. The Son of Man. The Son of God. The Lamb.

Today my 60-year-old branches are bare and bowed down before my Father, but the sap is running. Something is budding inside me that may be small and insignificant in the eyes of the world, but it is true and brilliant in the eyes of God: Obedience.

When viewing my soul through the lens of eternity, I’m still a spring chicken.

496713941_c665eb0566_o

IMG_3193
What Spring will look like in my backyard…eventually!! God delights in His creation!

 

photo credit: 2-Dog-Farm <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22473940@N00/496713941″>a bird in the hand</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>
photo credit: sandklef <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/63114905@N06/29772652554″>Lonely tree branches (explored)</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Soul Patch: Contentment

IMG_3940
A very content Nana! Holding my newest grandchild. 

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-12

During my last back surgery, I came out of anesthesia quoting the last part of this verse. I just kept repeating the phrase, “I can do all things through Jesus…” Every time a wave of pain rushed over me, I just kept speaking the verse like a mantra.

But it’s not a mantra. And the pain didn’t dissipate (until they shot me with some drugs again). And the surgery didn’t work. That was in June of 2016. What followed was hard. Infection. Daily antibiotic infusions. Then a gall bladder surgery. Everything finally stopped in September 2016. I healed and rested and enjoyed my children and grandchildren. Now, however, In less than two weeks, I’ll undergo a lumbar fusion surgery. I’m not happy. I’m not content. And I’m not sure I can do it. I keep telling God, “Nope. I’m scared. I know what’s coming this time.”

Knowing makes it harder. Knowing it can get worse makes it much harder.

But…whining is NOT a godly attribute. When Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—“whininess” is not sandwiched in between goodness and faithfulness (although it has a nice ring to it).

So how do I get back to a place of trust and contentment? It’s ultimately between me and God and His Word. No amount of human consolation will help.

Contentment is a battle warred between my natural fears and God’s supernatural plan for my life.

If anyone (other than Jesus) deserved to be whiny, it was Paul: Imprisoned over and over, flogged, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, and eventually beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero. A tentmaker and Pharisee. A Roman citizen. And the man Jesus chose to give the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Why would anyone choose to suffer like that unless he was certain of his purpose and the truth of the Gospel?

I admire Paul, but I’m not that strong. Maybe that is why God is refining me. Maybe that is why God refines all of us. We are the salt and light of this world. If we aren’t purified, His glory is diluted–a weakened solution that has no “bite.”

A little over a year ago, I started a prayer journey. I’ve already written about it, but in hindsight, I can see that through prayer and the desire to be molded into a “woman of God,” I have been brought low—almost to a place of despair.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [Paul’s thorn in the flesh], that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.

There’s that word again: content. Here the word “content” is used as a verb: “eudokeō.” I wish I knew biblical Greek, BUT I do have Zodhiates’ The Complete Word Study Dictionary for a Deeper Understanding of the Word! (Could he have made his title any longer?) I like looking at this book because it provides connotation rather than just denotation—it provides the intention of the writer, who in this case is Paul. The definition is:

“Content:eudokeō.: To be well-pleased, to think it good. It means to think well of something by understanding not only what is right and good, but stressing the willingness and freedom of an intention or resolve regarding what is good” (Zodhiates 2106).

So Paul—like all of us at some point in our lives—had a “thorn in the flesh” that never went away. He never says what it was, but he prayed three times that the Lord would remove it. This was not a small irritation—the Greek word for “thorn” in this case is “skolops”—a pointed piece of wood; a stake; the point of a hook. This was not just a minor irritation, but one that God allowed in order to keep Paul from becoming boastful or conceited (read all of 2 Corinthians 12 to fully grasp what Paul is saying). When Paul is writing this chapter, he is referring to a vision he’d had 14 years earlier—so he’s probably had that “thorn” for the entire 14 years. A God of healing did not heal. Why? For the sake of Christ. Paul recognizes that his suffering is nothing compared to glories of Christ Jesus, His Lord. When Paul is weak, God is strong.

When I am weak, is God strong?

The paradox. Can I accept that my thorn is given for a godly purpose? How do I do that? How can we be “content—well-pleased—think it good” when suffering pours into our daily life drowning our faith and trust in a good Father?

IMG_6280I don’t think there is an easy answer. Contentment is a choice. I’m choosing to look at the blue sky today and recognize the creator God’s gift to His children. I choose to memorize scripture and focus on God’s larger purpose for my life. Only He knows what that is, but I can trust in the character of God. He doesn’t change; He is good and just and righteous. He loves steadfastly. I waver; He doesn’t.

If you’re in a “refining fire” right now, choose contentment. Realize God’s good grace is enough for each moment. Rejoice. Rejoice that we are eternal souls temporarily confined to fallible flesh. George Macdonald (a notable 19th century writer who influenced C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) said, “We don’t have a soul. We are a soul. We have a body.”

My thorn is temporary. Our thorns are temporary. We have the assurance of living in the presence of our Lord when we pass from this body.

Thus I must say, “It is well with my soul.”

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.” George Macdonald

 

 

 

 

A Foolish Plan

44995_1718589397578_563795366_n
By Brother-in-law Mark Hart

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

1 Corinthians 1:27 KJV

We didn’t “do” Advent growing up. It was an alien concept—suspiciously Catholic. Definitely not Southern Baptist. And yet even as a child, I felt a sense of preparation when December came around. It wasn’t just the presents or the tree or the lights; it was Jesus.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t conversing with Him regularly. What can a seven-year-old girl really know or grasp about Jesus? I don’t know. I certainly didn’t grasp the theology of incarnation, and I had no understanding of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Even the concept of the Trinity was just an accepted truth. I didn’t question it. It just was. And Jesus just was. And the Nativity just was. Truth.

I was a rather…odd child. I don’t mean “odd” in a negative sense; I like that I was a bit romantic and dreamy. I lived in my head much of the time, more likely to identify with characters in books than actual people. I’m sure that contributed to my ability to accept Jesus as real and living in my heart. No cynicism or painful realities to wrestle with ever clouded my imagination. Instead I fully embraced Jesus and the Nativity.

Typically on Christmas Eve, my family and I would head to Pryor, Oklahoma and “The Farm” where my Grandpa Homer and Grandma Helen lived. One Christmas Eve as we drove through the night, I imagined all the homes we passed and all of the people living in those homes, and I realized that their lives were just as important to them as mine was to me. I also realized that somehow God knew what was going on under each roof, in each heart. I had a childlike epiphany. God let me peer through His eyes for a moment. My elementary-school brain couldn’t grasp it, but I knew it was true. It just was.

My young heart was preparing for Messiah.

Later on Christmas Eve night after we had returned from Pryor and were all fidgety with the excitement and anticipation of opening presents the next morning, one memory pops out. I remember the window in my bedroom and the dark sky. I willed a star to shine brighter than the others—and in my imagination, it did. I imagined Mary on a donkey riding into Bethlehem with Joseph at her side. I imagined her tired and sleepy. And having no concept of labor or the realities of delivering a child in a less than sterile environment, I also imagined her laying on a soft bed of clean hay on a blue cloak, falling asleep, and then waking up with a baby: Jesus! Just like that! And the shepherds saw angels and the angels sang gloriously underneath a shimmering star.

Even though I had never heard of the word “advent,” my soft Jesus heart was preparing me for the celebration of His birth.

Fifty years later I imagine a blue earth spinning and God embracing the galaxy and in love sending His Son who’d been with Him from the beginning in order to declare salvation in the form of a baby. Human. Divine. Sacrificial.

It’s foolishness—a fiction! It doesn’t make sense! We live in a world where we set ourselves up as gods able to better interpret the universe than the Creator, able to understand fairness and justice better than a righteous Judge, able to decipher subtleties of scientific discourse better than the eternal, omniscient I Am, able to determine truth better than the Word, able to see more clearly than the Light of the World.

However, God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. Advent—adventus—come. Oh come, Lord Jesus. Come into this brokenness. Come into this sickness and decay. Come into this war-torn world. Come into the poor, struggling heart longing to find peace.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:4-5

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The Divine Silence: Persevere

img_3605
Lake City, CO. A journey with the hubster and daudre, Katie Jean.

“To everything…(turn, turn, turn)…there is a season…(turn, turn, turn)…and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Thank you King Solomon via Pete Seeger via The Byrds.

Every culture develops certain idiosyncratic “diddies” that meander their way into conversation like “being self-aware” or “being fully present.” Let’s “dialogue.” I want to just “sit in this” for awhile. In an effort to be “transparent…” One diddy that continues to be part of our metaphorical vocabulary is “season.” Christian metaphorical folks often use the term in relation to what “season” God has placed us in. For example…

A typical conversation:

Person 1: “I can’t figure it out. I keep praying and there’s no answer. Why isn’t God moving in my life right now? I feel dead inside.”

Person 2: “Looks like God is keeping you in a season of quietness. It’s just a bump in your journey. A small chapter in your life book.” (Ok, so I threw in the journey and life book metaphors).

I can appreciate a good metaphor. Really, I can. I taught poetry for 20 years—I totally dig a great, winding metaphor (or conceit, as my literary friends would call it). Metaphors take our concrete reality and move it towards an abstraction—and strangely, the abstraction is more relatable.

Welcome to the “seasonal” metaphor

According to this metaphor, I’m in my autumnal years. It’s harvest time for those of us “Baby Boomers” still left on the planet. Yes, I came in at the tail end of that classification, but those of us in our late 50’s still belong to the Baby Boomer club. I should be “harvesting” and “reaping” right now. All my accumulated life experience should lead to wisdom and maturity. I’m not sure it has, and I’m not sure God thinks I’m “harvest ready” yet, either.

Thus my tussle with my Creator, the Elohim, the “I AM”, YHWH, the name of whom I’m not worthy to say aloud, yet He invites me to call Him Abba, Father. I tussle in fear and awe of who He is. Maybe He invites the “tussle.”

In January, a friend shared her New Year’s resolution: to develop her prayer life. I felt a giant Holy Spirit prod—the prods are usually a bit more gentle—to pursue prayer. I wrote about it back in May and suggested I might want to write Prayer: Part Two; so this is it.

After journeying through this prayer adventure since January, it’s time to look at what God is teaching me. Or not teaching me. In fact, what am I learning through these months of God’s silence? I’m learning to tussle—to wrestle with God’s Word, the essence of Him. As Christy Nockels sings, God is inviting me into the glorious…

But it doesn’t feel like it; it feels like I’m disappearing and becoming invisible.

In May I wrote: Prayer is more complex than all my whining. It isn’t a “fix,” but nor is it empty and fruitless. It is an essential component—even “THE” central component for a Christian. But be forewarned! Diligent—and sometimes urgent—prayer requires concentrated time and effort, and will reveal your true self while also revealing a fearsome glimpse of the God who created all.

I smile at that a bit. I  had no idea how much my “true self” would emerge. None. I couldn’t see what was coming. But God did. He had to. He allows “crucible time.” Frankly, I’m still tired of character shaping moments. I want out of the crucible, but it’s not up to me. So in June, I was plunged into the crucible again. No—it wasn’t life threatening, but it was life altering.

The life-altering experience began innocently enough. Like millions of people, I have a ornery back that refuses to be tamed. I had a cervical disc fusion three years ago and had to give up teaching for awhile. (It’s actually become permanent since then.) Then in June my hubster and I decided to go ahead with a laminectomy to help my disintegrating lumbar. He’d had a reverse shoulder replacement in February, and now it was my turn to get better and get the pesky discs off of my sciatic nerve. I’d gone through a series of steroid shots in my bum area and a few MRI’s and X-rays, but my sciatic pain just kept going and going. So, a laminectomy. And then an infection. And then six days in the hospital with IV antibiotics. And then re-opening the incision and cleaning it out. And then a PICC line (central line to heart) and five weeks of antibiotics at home. And then, just when I thought it was over, a gallbladder flare, which led to gallbladder surgery. The night before the surgery, I broke down and bawled like a hungry calf who’d lost it’s mother—or a sheep that felt abandoned by her shepherd. My sweet nurse just held me and let me cry.

img_3333
My PICC line. I called him, Peter.

Finally, Labor Day. No more antibiotics. No more PICC line. Life could resume as before, but disc fusion in my lumbar still looms; I refuse to think about it. I just want to get strong and postpone the surgery as long as possible. The pain is a constant friend that I try not to acknowledge—until it knocks me around a bit.

During the Summer from Hell, I didn’t have enough strength to tussle with God. I was knocked flat, isolated and weak. God was teaching me through a study of Jeremiah. I was overwhelmed by God’s Word. Enveloped by it. My prayers continued. My prayer wall in tact. But then another metaphor took hold.

The crucible experience might be over, but still I remained in a valley.

“God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision.” Oswald Chambers

I have no idea what God’s vision for me is now. I’m broken and spilled out. I talk to myself a lot. I’m a teacher without a classroom. Lord, why do you place such hunger in my soul and then deny me a place and purpose? Why?

img_3604
I wish my “valley” looked like this one between Lake City and Creede.

I continue to dwell in the valley. Praying. Studying His Word. Waiting to “hear” from Him. Yes, I’ve been faithful to Him. And still silence reverberates. Is it unconfessed sin? I don’t think so; I have to believe and trust that He is true to His Word: He washes me as white as snow. He throws my sin as far away as the east is from the west.

Because of this valley, I haven’t written. I haven’t had anything to say. My creativity dried up. Was God present during this time? Certainly. His Word says He is. Was I praying and listening to scripture speak Truth into my life? Absolutely. Did I experience God in a mighty way? Not in a mighty way, but in a quiet, loving way. He brought friends around me. Friends I didn’t know I had. Friends that were a blessing. So God moved through His people.

Yet, I remain in a valley.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

One of my favorite books about prayer is *Pete Greig’s, God on Mute. He writes deeply and personally about God’s silence during his wife’s struggle with a brain tumor. Despite the constant prayers of God’s people surrounding her and Greig during this time, there was no healing. Despite an operation, Greig’s wife still suffers with epilepsy, an after-effect of the tumor. Despite God’s silence, Pete and Samie (his wife) persevere carrying with them truth and insight only the Holy Spirit can provide.

Working with God during this valley time has been a battle of perseverance vs. despair. Somedays I waver between both. My poor hubster watches and has no idea how to help. But he stands with me and prays for me.

The truth is I don’t know what to do with myself. My identity was so tied to teaching that now I feel lost. I’m a mother whose children are adults and live far away. I’m a Nana to two precious grandchildren, and one on the way, but I’m too far away to be a constant in their lives. I’m a wife to my hubster who loves my cooking and appreciates what I do around the house.

I have no more students. I’m invisible.

Most days I’m alone. I begin the day with Bible study and prayer. Then lunch. Then I take my pup for a walk (trying to get strong enough to have the fusion surgery in my lower back). I read a little. Work on some crafty stuff. Then fix dinner and spend the evening with Steve.

Yes, I try to schedule lunch dates with friends, and I get out and enjoy the beauty that is NOCO. On weekends (now that I’m 6 weeks out of the infection/surgery mess), the hubster and I take our Jeep out on mini-adventures in the mountains.

img_3428
A mini-adventure in our Jeep. On Fall River Road near Estes Park.

It should be peaceful, yet I’m in turmoil. Why? I think it’s because I’m at “harvest time” and I haven’t grown a crop in two years. I’m not rooted, and God is silent and unmoving.

In God on Mute, Greig explores the way God answers and doesn’t answer prayers. There’s nothing formulaic about it. This guy is direct and never boxes God into a particular formula. He is in awe of our Father. He respects and fears our Abba and creator. He looks at God’s Word without bias and brings a fresh pair of spiritual eyes to the complexity—and simplicity—of prayer. I brought my 50 years of walking with Christ into this book and I found nothing that bothered me—no Holy Spirit warning flags that I’ve had when reading many contemporary “Christian” writers. I’m a cynic about popular writers and test them constantly, looking for scriptural mishandling. I’m good with Pete Greig. I find him compelling and honest. Since I’m “tussling” with God right now, I had another look at this book. One reason for unanswered prayer connected to me right away.

Greig writes,: “Is there an opportunity here for going deeper in my relationship with God?”(pp.142-144). Greig directs me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. There Paul is tussling with God, too. He has a “thorn in the flesh” and he isn’t too happy about it. Completely understand this. I have a chronic disease—a form of arthritis similar to rheumatoid, but not nearly as debilitating. Yet it is affecting every part of my body and pain is my friend. I have a dear family member who is battling ovarian cancer. Her “thorn” is intense and scary. I believe most of us have something going on that we wish would disappear so we could have a better quality of life. Yet our thorn stays.

And God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It sounds like God is telling Paul to persevere. The thorn ain’t going away, so just trust me. I’m enough. Whew. That is hard to do. Persevere.

img_3689
Need I comment?

Since I’m a “word nerd,” I looked up the use of “perseverance” in the New Testament (by way of my huge, handy-dandy NASB Exhaustive Concordance and a magnifying glass courtesy of Amazon). Thirty -two times. It’s used 32 times in the New Testament (in the King James translation). It’s used 25 times in the NASB translation (the most literal translation of the Bible). The Greek word is “hypomonë.” A synonym for hypomonë is “proskartérësis.” Both carry similar connotative meanings: “to endure; to continue in something; to remain under, to continue steadfastly; to tarry somewhere.”

What strikes me here is that the word implies a “continuance.” Perseverance is active. My take-away point? Persevere. Tarry in the valley. Continue in My Word, Cindy Lou. Continue praying and seeking me.

My current life verses speak to my need to persevere:

  1. “A disciple is not above her teacher, but everyone when she is fully trained will be like her teacher.” Luke 6:40 (I changed the pronouns to make it more personal.) The “teacher” Luke is referring to is my Rabbi and Messiah, Jesus. Did Jesus ever experience God’s silence? I think He may have experienced a Divine Silence in the Garden of Gethsemane. We only know what the Gospels have provided for us, but we know that Jesus pleaded with His Father to “take this cup from me,” but ultimately He “drank from that cup” and died for us during Passover—the ultimate and final sacrificial Lamb. Conclusion: If Jesus experienced Divine Silence, then why shouldn’t I experience, too? Why should I be spared this tiny, tiny, infinitesimal cup that belongs to me—this wee cup of God’s silence?  If I want to be like my Rabbi Jesus, then  I must go through the training. I don’t want to fail in this task, so I persevere.
  2. My next verse comes from Jeremiah 15:16.  Here’s some context from 2 Kings 22: Judah had many evil kings who allowed idolatry to creep into the Temple. One such king, Manasseh, was particularly evil (historical tradition has him ordering the prophet Isaiah murdered by being sawn in half) and during his horrific reign, he may have had the “Book of Law” (Deuteronomy) hidden or discarded. However, during the reign of good king Josiah, the Book of Law was rediscovered and the covenant with God renewed. Jeremiah prophesied during Josiah’s reign, and this verse in chapter 15 clung to my heart and mind. Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts!” I love this metaphor of eating God’s holy Word. I want to do that—to eat God’s Word, to digest it, and have it nourish me. I crave that nourishment.

So here I am. Not where I thought I’d be after resolutely committing myself to prayer this year. I don’t know exactly what I expected? A major epiphany? An aura of spirituality that people would take note of and then invite me to teach? A great calling? A recognition that I was somehow not…ordinary?

How completely self-centered. What a sham! And a shame!

Father, forgive me for my selfish desires. Forgive me for not recognizing that Your Word is enough. You are enough. Help me to walk forward and to continue forward into the ordinary…and into the glorious.

Persevere, dear brothers and sisters. Persevere.

*God on Mute, by Pete Greig was published in 2007. Greig is the founder of the 24-7 prayer movement. He leads the Emmaus Rd. church in Guildford, England. Read more about him and the 24-7 prayer movement here: https://www.24-7prayer.com/team/14/greig/

Here is my inspiration for this blog: Christy Nockels performing, “Into the Glorious.”

Into the Glorious

If I Had a Hammer…And I Do

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29

IMG_3286

As a teacher, I loved seeing my students make “progress” in their writing skills. I used to hammer this idea into their brains: Good writing reflects clear thinking. Writing is thinking on paper. If you ain’t thinking deeply, you ain’t going to write deeply. I knew that if I could guide my students towards complex thinking, they’d eventually progress in their writing skills.

Progress is a good thing, right? Moving forward and not backwards. Moving from the rotary telephone to a portable device able to manage our own private worlds is progress, right? The ability to stream endless entertainment to our flat screens, tablets, and portable-private world-managing devices is progress, right?

Lately my old brain has been wrestling with the idea of progress and being progressive. Now this word is political. The implication of a “progressive” party versus a “conservative” party is the idea that one party is moving forward while the other seeks the status quo, or even a backwards movement. Maybe there should be a couple of new political parties: the cautiously progressive party and the optimistically conservative party. Or some such nonsense. I shudder as I watch this political circus unfold.

How did ordinary words like “progressive” and “conservative” develop into such divisive trigger words? Oy to the vey.

I prefer to  think of myself as neither. I think of when the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus into making incendiary remarks against Rome by asking a seemingly ordinary question about paying taxes to Rome. Jesus asked to see a denarius. “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Duh. Caesar’s. Jesus then replied: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:13-17 ESV and mine) In light of this passage, I say that first, I belong to God. It’s in Him that I move and breathe and have my being. Second, I’m an American who respects the law. But first I’m God’s. Always first.

Right now I’m watching a beautiful goldfinch hang on tightly to a blowing tree limb. It’s a momentary distraction from hard thoughts. That such beauty exists in a world where terrorists kill around 200 people in one weekend deserves a pause.

 Maybe I’m just feeling my age. Maybe I am a dinosaur and completely irrelevant to social progress. But maybe I see more clearly. Our culture keeps marching us towards a secular definition of progress…a social change that fights to make morality relative. As a result, I see chaos and hatred fueled by intolerance on all sides. I see God pushed to the side as if He is an elderly man with an addled brain unable to grasp humanity’s superiority to its creator. We struggle and strive to make sense of the world and our purpose in it, and then praise great human minds for answering the unknowable for us. As if…as if we can fully know the mysteries of God. But we keep striving to know and to explain in order to gain truth and push an elderly, inept God aside. (See Job 38)

Progress is equated with a movement away from God’s truth. The more societies push aside God’s moral law, the more depraved, angry, greedy, and violent we become. Christ followers! Where are we?

Jesus warned us to be wary and alert. He told us not to be surprised at what was going to happen around us. And my old brain keeps thinking, “salt and light, salt and light, salt and light.” Jesus knew what was coming. He has always known that cultures would move towards darkness rather than towards light. He used metaphors like salt and light in order to permeate our self-centered hearts and remind us that we shouldn’t expect anything different from those who don’t follow Him; but we—as followers of light—must always be beacons of light. Salty folks permeating the darkness, preserving Truth, and offering Hope.

In him (Christ) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (note the use of present tense verbs!)…The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. John 1:4-10

I’m writing this from the solitude so familiar to me now. And comfortable. I don’t mind my enforced solitude, though I long to be out in the community doing something “salty” for the kingdom of God. But my Lord keeps telling my heart to rest. I have another surgery coming—one I dread—so there is no moving from the solitude just yet. Instead I’m devouring God’s Word. It’s a hammer that pounds my conscience and breaks apart my illusions. It tears at my heart and shapes the way I view the world.

I see a Church that has become too comfortable with itself. One that allows us to stay safe within its confines. We go to Bible studies, small groups, prayer groups, and mission trips to foreign places. We give money to help missions and to feed the poor and to rescue human trafficking victims. Church: It is a haven from a volatile culture. I think Jesus might be right in the middle of the volatility. He never shied away from discomfort. If He is my example, then why am I playing it so safe?

I hesitated to even publish this particular writing because I don’t like to be confrontational. I hate hurting people. But Jesus showed us that we can show truth in love. And we must. We have to be salt and light to a world drifting further and further away from God’s Word for our life. We’ve allowed culture to shape our understanding of God’s Word. We hesitate to use the word “sin” in a culture that rejects the term and rejects the folks who use the term.

Christ followers, we have to quit dwelling in comfort. We have to step outside our Bible studies and small groups and move into the brokenness. I don’t know what that looks like, but I believe it has to happen and that God will direct each of us according to His good purpose.

As our culture progresses and moves away from God’s truth, I have to stand on His eternal Word. I have to trust in a God whose throne is righteousness and justice. I have to be uncomfortable and touch the untouchable and love the unlovable—just as my Savior did. I have to be salt and light in middle of the storm. I must be a living metaphor for Jesus. “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!” Rev. 22:20

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:32-33

Small Kitchen Theology

IMG_3055I’m learning to live with quiet and a more restful spirit. I’ve been railing against my enforced solitude and non-working status for almost two years now…striving to find something to fill me the way teaching did. Truth is: teaching consumed me. I missed so much of my family’s touchstone events because I believed that what I did was more important than anything else. Ok, I didn’t consciously believe it, but I acted as if I did. My actions were those of a woman entangled with her own sense of self-importance. My identity rested with my ability to do my job well. Exceptionally well. And I was dedicated to my craft and perfecting it. I was also dedicated to my students whose love fed my need for purpose and meaning.

As my life flew away from me three years ago, I began to fight against the loss of meaning and purpose. I clung to a vision I’d had since I had returned to college as a 32-year-old single mother of three: I wanted to teach at the college level. I still had visions of writing my master’s thesis on WWI poetry and how it reflected an ideological fracture that expressed itself in new modern art and writing styles. I had planned to work as a teaching assistant while I finished my PhD and then find a wonderful university where I would get to teach my favorite things to sponge-like undergraduates who would savor every lecture.

IMG_3188
One delightful clump of irises.

It sounds ridiculously naïve when I read it in print. It sounds like a romantic novel’s innocent heroine. It sounds like a woman’s need to hold fast to a dream that was anything but her reality.

It was a necessary dream at the time, but dreams have a way of dissolving themselves…and sometimes God dissolves the dream so He can make something more purposeful from a life spiraling out-of-control quickly.

Yesterday was one of those yucky days I get sometimes now. My body has a mind and mood of its own, and yesterday the pain and exhaustion overwhelmed me. I kept pushing forward doing small tasks. My life has become quite small now. And quiet. And lonely sometimes, but mostly it’s quiet. After my husband leaves for work, I have a pattern: take shower while listening to podcast (usually Ravi Zacharias or Kay Arthur); do upstairs chores while listening to podcast; do lower back exercises while listening to podcasts or music*; do Bible study (in silence); finally, I pray. Yesterday it was hard to do anything. I just wanted to lie down and close my eyes and wait for the day to pass. But I didn’t! I persevered! HAH! But I did move forward and tried to follow my routine.*NOTE: Apparently I need podcasts to fill the silence!

After lunch my energy started to return, as did the sun. (Let me just say that I love the sun in Colorado. Northern Colorado’s spring season starts later than it does in Oklahoma-my home state. It’s the first of June and mornings are still 40 degrees. Highs are in the mid 60’s or 70’s. Zilch on the humidity. In the last two weeks, the trees have filled out and my garden is opening up.)

IMG_3184
A small window box my hubby made out of old wood and antique door.

I’ve been refinishing an antique window to use as a frame for family photos, and I needed to finish distressing the window and then add a little antiquing wax to emphasize the grain of the wood. The sun acted like a tonic on my old bones and I spent the afternoon listening to Schubert and finishing the window. In between coats of wax, I read a novel and drank an espresso (made in my fun, Italian moka pot). As suppertime got closer, I decided to start chopping tomatoes, onions, and peppers for a salsa I’d put on top of the fish tacos I’d planned. Quiet, right? Unassuming? Non-tumultuous? No lesson plans. No essays to grade. No conferences to attend.

Here’s the thing I’m noticing about my new life as an unemployed teacher living in a new town: I like it. I like the deliberateness of chopping the veggies for salsa while looking out my kitchen window and watching the irises blossom in the backyard. I like letting my thoughts wander without worrying about what I must achieve in order to feel valuable to the world. I like having my husband help me when he gets home and then hug me because he appreciates the supper.

IMG_3033
My kitchen window. Rosemary, the pig, contains–what else–rosemary. What can I say…I like pigs.

These are all things I missed before . . . before the small kitchen and the small life and the smaller dreams. It sounds corny, but I love listening to the birds—even the squawky blackbirds that chase off the smaller birds in order to eat at my bird feeder. I like sanding a piece of old wood and turning it into something new. I like to hear the children’s chatter and laughter as they play now that school is out. My new quiet life feels like a gift today.

And that’s the revelation. I’ve been striving internally for months now trying to figure out the next stage of my life once my back gets strong again. I’ve been begging God for answers and for purpose. Then today I finally “got it.” The gift. Anyone who really knows me and knows my history, also knows the nightmare my life was in my 20’s and 30’s. They know the despair and the rejection and deep sorrow. The helplessness and hopelessness. They also know that my children, family, and job provided me with the healing I desperately needed. And thus the Gift. I heard God tell me (in that still, small voice that I can only hear when I’m quiet): Cindy, be still. Your purpose rests in Me. Your dreams are secure in Me. It’s time for you to rest, heal, and be amazed at the life I have given you. Be still my daughter. Be still my child. Be still.

Suddenly, ZAP, just like that I realized that this quiet year has been God’s gift to me. A relief from the last 26 years of college, teaching, raising children, surgery, more college, and a move away from the familiar and comfortable. Instead of worrying about my financial future, God is telling me to enjoy this time. Relax in it. Don’t see it as a pause button until my real life begins again, but as a well-earned vacation.

I still strive, of course. But today the sun is out again and my garden is calling me. Weeds continue to bloom and I must be diligent in my weeding so I can keep gazing out my small, kitchen window and watch the birds fly and the irises bloom.

IMG_3193
More irises and Jeremiah, the gnome. 

 

 

 

Prayer: Not for the Faint of Heart

prayerwall
My “Wall O’ Prayer Post-Its” 

A Passive Aggressive Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

It’s been a hard week (month or year) and, I’m not sure why I’m praying…it’s not like you can do anything, can you? Or will you? I’m just a lowly creature whose problems don’t mean much in the scheme of the universe. Do you even care? I mean, why should you? I’m a pretty awful example of a Christ-follower. But I’m praying anyway hoping you’ll actually listen and move. But I doubt it. You’re just going to do what you want to do anyway. Sometimes it seems like you’re a tyrant god who likes to watch us squirm so we can see how incapable we are without you. Right? But I’m going to ask anyway…just in case. But I don’t expect much. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

And so it goes.

I never thought of myself as a passive-aggressive person. I don’t try to manipulate people to do what I want them to do through subtle derogatory remarks intended to zing or pinch. Well, sometimes I do. It’s a cowardly technique. I should just say I what mean instead of trying to get someone to feel the way I want him or her to feel. Even writing it sounds tacky, but I do it and I practice it with God sometimes.

I’m trying not to do it anymore. My New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to develop a prayer discipline that was consistent and focused. I resolved to read Christian authors I respect and study the scriptures regarding prayer, from Old to New Testaments.

I also determined to keep “prayer promises.” Whenever I tell someone, “I’ll pray for you,” I do. I write it on a post-it note and stick it on my prayer wall. I have a big sheet metal board that my hubster made for me a few years ago. It hangs over my desk and I used it to keep my teaching plans organized. Since I don’t teach anymore, it has become a catch-all for “meditation notes,” pictures, quirky magnets, coffee sleeves from favorite coffee shops, and now it’s also covered with family photos and post-it note prayer requests. I may need another board…

I wish I could say that in these last four months I have discovered some great prayer insights. Maybe even a step-by-step process into manipulating God into answering prayers. I didn’t though. Some of my prayer post-its haven’t changed at all, while others have been removed and altered. But the big ones have stayed in place. No movement from Heaven that I can see.

However…do I walk by faith or by sight? Does the character of God change just because I don’t see answers? Is He a Father of love who listens and moves, or is He a judging, condemning Father who likes us to suffer so we learn to be stronger individuals?

(Quite frankly, I prefer not to have anymore “character-shaping” moments. I prefer being weak and wimpy if it means life goes more smoothly. In fact, I kind of like my “ostrich faith.” Sticking my head in the sand so I don’t have to feel fear, disappointment, anguish, or grief. My character is shaped enough, thank you very much. God disagrees.)

Prayer is more complex than all my whining. It isn’t a “fix,” but nor is it empty and fruitless. It is an essential component—even “THE” central component for a Christian. But be forewarned! Diligent—and sometimes urgent—prayer requires concentrated time and effort, and it will reveal your true self while also revealing a fearsome glimpse of the God who created all.

Here is a bit of what I have learned: 

  1. Prayer reveals the status of my own heart first, and it can be a very painful experience. I don’t say this lightly. It is very painful. During this prayer process, I’ve become acutely aware of my own failures. My “dirty-ness.” It’s like I’m looking at an overview of my entire life and seeing all the places that I’m ashamed of—all the things I thought were secret play out again and again. Emotions I thought I had dealt with long ago resurface. It’s crushing. I am not the person I thought I was. I am a frail, sinful person who hurt people I loved over and over again—not through intentionality, but through my choices and behavior patterns. Oy to the vey. This is not what I expected to have happen through disciplined prayer. I guess I thought I’d become respected and admired for my righteousness. Woe to me. A Pharisee by nature; however, I am a child of God through Christ. Prayer has tuned me into my base nature and thus my need for a Savior.
  2. Prayer doesn’t always have to be an emotional heart cry. Sometimes it will be, but when I look at my prayer board, I see a journey I need to take everyday, and it’s hard to keep that emotional state going daily. Nor should we. Prayer is disciplined. Emotional outpourings are also necessary and will occur, but most days, prayer will be a steady procedure anchored in faith that God hears and Heaven moves according to HIS will and not mine. And some days, I merely plod through my wall in a circular pattern because I promised I would do so. Usually during my plodding, more sincere and even new revelations happen that shift my prayers slightly. But sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it stays a steady plod forward. That’s ok…I hope. I’m trusting God that He still finds pleasure in my supplication even when I don’t feel that emotional pulse that exhilarates.
  3. Bible study is essential. Experts continually write books that explore the Lord’s Prayer, the Gethsemane prayer, Jesus’ quiet times in the wilderness (40 days and nights), fasting, the Psalms, Daniel’s prayers…seemingly every prayer written in God’s Word. These writers analyze and pull biblical prayers apart at the seams trying to decode the secret to making things happen. Prayers for prosperity and healing leave hurting people cynical when their formulaic prayers aren’t answered. So many well-intentioned folks try to figure out why these prayers aren’t being answered and often turn the blame back on the pray-er. There must be secret sin in your life. You’re not praising God enough before you make a request (as if God doesn’t understand when He’s being manipulated). There’s a tinge of condemnation and self-righteousness in those remarks. I’ve been on the receiving end of those well-intentioned folks, as have so many that I love. I have found this to be true: the only authority on prayer is God. And it follows that the only way we can know God is through His Word. The character of our creator is spread out through 66 books written by man, but inspired by God. He has given us everything we need to know about His character through His Bible. Nothing added. Nothing taken away. The more I understand who God is and what His plan is for the world and people He created, the more I can pray with assurance that God will not act outside of His character. He is an unchanging God, full of love, compassion, mercy, and holy justice. I am to stand in awe of Him, and the Bible shows me why He is deserving of my awe. Read the Word. Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church of Chicago) talks about “chair time”—15 minutes a day in God’s Word. I love that.
  4. Pray with a sense of the eternal: The soul was not created for the body, but the body for the soul. We are eternal creatures stamped with the image of God. We defiled that image, so now we are but poor shadows of what God intended for us to be. But we will be like Him. In a moment. In a twinkling of an eye (God does love poetry!). My life feels so rooted in the “right now,” but I’m also very conscious of an ache for something more. Something purer. I think that is part of our eternal longing. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:10-11: “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We long for something that we can’t name (but advertisers certainly can!). I notice it most when I’m in nature. Colorado is so beautiful and majestic, but people continue to defile it and make it less so! Stop it! An example: Steve and I went on a short traipse the other day—a trail we had been wanting to try for a while. We parked the car, got out and started walking. The grasses were high and the red-winged blackbirds sat on them without bending them. We could hear their songs, as well as the rustle of critters scurrying around us. But shading the sounds of nature was the steady thrum of traffic. All those cars and trucks flying down the road depleted my joy. Then as we headed back to our Jeep, the wafting smell of pot from a nearby truck sealed my mood. I became very aware of a sense of the eternal. Cars became symbolic of man’s need for more and more while depleting natural resources and finances, and pot…well, outside of medical usage, it’s just another drug used to alter a state of being rooted in dissatisfaction or unhappiness. God has placed eternity in my heart—a longing for Eden. For what was intended. When I pray, I try to remember that God has eternal purposes that I can’t see. I let that shape my prayers so that I don’t pray without hope.
  5. Prayer “tunes me in” to God’s will. The older I get, the more I understand that religion is man’s feeble attempt to understand God. God is not religion. Jesus did not come to earth, die, and then return to Heaven in order to create a religion. He came that ALL men and women might know God and repent–to serve the one true God and only the one true God. We mess things up by trying to make God completely knowable. Sometimes I think religion tries to shape God in order to make him smaller. We set up rituals and doctrine to explain the character of God. There is nothing wrong with rituals and doctrine as long as it is rooted in biblical truth. Yes, I am one of THOSE Christ-followers who believe that the Bible is inerrant. Everything that God needed us to know is in His Word. And if you study it—really study it with a searching heart—He reveals Himself. I taught books for years. It’s my identity, I’m afraid: A teacher of books. I love great writing whether it’s classic or whimsical, but literature only reveals truth about mankind’s nature; it can’t reveal the nature of God. Only the Bible can do that. The more I pray, I find myself getting a glimpse of our world through God’s eyes. His word becomes a filter through which I see the heartbreaks and joys of life. As I watch our culture move so far away from God, I can’t help but contemplate what the world would have been like had Jesus never come. And the vision I get breaks my heart. Such darkness and hopelessness. Such hedonism and selfishness. Such desperation and searching. I hesitate to make this statement, but I must: the Church has failed to be salt and light as Jesus commanded. Culture will go the way cultures will go, but Church—we should have been salt and light. We should be praying and seeing through Jesus’ lenses. Loving the poor and broken, not lashing out at them in fear. There is no fear in God. And there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We should be proclaiming this truth instead of condemning first and then trying to justify our condemnation. No, I don’t agree with the direction of our culture. Making everything morally acceptable is not how God wants us to live. But how will they know if we don’t tell them? How will they know if we don’t show them by our actions through love…not fear. Consistent and disciplined prayer, with Bible study, allows me to glimpse the world through God’s eyes and for just a moment, I feel His agony for a lost and striving people. God’s eternal purpose moves me to action and prayer.
  6. Unanswered prayer. This is my last category because I could write another 10 pages on prayer and never get to a conclusion! Unanswered prayer can defeat us and cause us to turn away from prayer in cynicism and disappointment. One of my favorite teachers is Amy Orr-Ewing. She is an apologist out of England who works with Ravi Zacharias. One of the many “meditation notes” on my prayer board is a quote from a YouTube video I watched of her. It says “Disappointment can blind us from seeing Christ.” When our prayers go unanswered, we begin to doubt that they even matter. We doubt that God is in action for us. When healing doesn’t occur, when that pregnancy doesn’t happen, when a wave of depression or anxiety overwhelms once more, unanswered prayers turn to anger and rejection. It seems safer to reject God than to trust Him in circumstances that appear hopeless. Despair is dangerous, and unanswered cries to God can build a wall in our hearts that is difficult to tear down. It’s easy to travel along our path of anger and disbelief because God has not performed. The world cries, “If God exists, why did he let _________happen?” Yesterday—Mother’s Day—two young brothers drowned in the Big Thompson River in Lyons, Colorado. They were both under the age of 10. The police spokesman was shaken when interviewed.Those on the recovery and investigation teams were clearly devastated. I think of that mother and what she is facing today as she wakes up and realizes her sons are gone. Where was God? Why couldn’t He have prevented this? I don’t know. Such tragedies happen every moment across the world. Suffering is a common thread across humanity. Yet God reigns. He wins in the end. And because He wins, I can face the unanswered prayers and questions about the future. My hope must rest in Christ alone. It must. Right now, a dear family member is in isolation at a hospital in Arkansas fighting to defeat the cancer that has invaded his body. He is a good man. A good husband. A good father. A good son. People need him. We pray for healing every day. We pray the transplanted stem cells will start doing whatever those stem cells were created to do. Prayers for healing haven’t been answered yet, but we remain determined in our seeking for God’s hand in this dear life. Yes, he struggles, but as he struggles his emails show all of us how God is sustaining him through this time. I picture our prayers as God’s hands holding him close, and I feel a sense of urgency to pray and pray, as if our prayers keep God’s hands in place.

Are my prayers actually moving God? When I ask myself that question, I remember the character of God: loving, compassionate, merciful, just, fearsome, and above all, HOLY. Ultimately my prayers connect me to my Father. They empower me to move through this tumultuous life with hope that is based on the truth of God’s unchanging character. I may never know or see the results of my prayers. I doubt the angel, Michael, will show up as he did for Daniel and say, “Cindy, your prayers have moved heaven!” I’m just an itty-bitty light (as my Bible study ladies said) with an itty-bitty voice. A speck on the earth for a brief moment of time. An itty-bitty blink. But God’s Word—His sacred covenant—promises that I am a child of God. And He loves me with an infinite love that I can’t even fathom. His character is my promise, and prayer reveals that character even when He is silent.

I’ve learned so much more than this and may write a “Part Two,” but right now, my prayer board is calling. Time to pray.