Tuesday, December 6, 2016

LONGING FOR SHALOM

Shalom.

A word used as a Jewish greeting and farewell, typically translated to mean peace.

But shalom implies so much more.

I once heard a theologian define shalom this way: "Shalom means all is as it should be." He went on to describe shalom as a kind of integrity: things are what they appear to be. No deception, no duplicity, no confusion. On an individual level, shalom-ness is integrity of person - it is being the same inside and out, in our thoughts and in our practice, in private and in public.

We are all works in progress. I am not today the same person that I was a year ago. And a year from now, I will be different from the person I am today.

We are all works in progress. I understand that. And yet, I find it very difficult to understand and relate to another who seems frenetically changeable, someone who says one thing this morning and something quite contrary this afternoon, a person who behaves one way in company and a completely different way in private, someone who in a single conversation presumes to maintain and defend completely contrary philosophies.

It makes me feel like Alice, trying to have a serious conversation with the Cheshire Cat. Or like the Psalmist, dismayed by those who say "Peace, peace," when there is no peace. I am confused. I don't know how to engage. Is this Person A today, or Person B?

We are all works in progress. I understand that. And I am thankful - so incredibly thankful - for the assurance in Scripture that Jesus - Jesus himself! - is my peace, my shalom. Where there is duality of character or a conflict of values or motives within, Jesus creates...is creating...one man, a unified person of integrity. Someone who is the same inside and out, in private and in public, in thought and in deed.

A new creation, in whom there is no deception, no duplicity, no confusion.

One day, I will be a person of whom it can be truly said, "All is as it should be."

And he [Jesus] came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. - Ephesians 2:17

Friday, December 2, 2016

THOUGHTS ON MOTHERHOOD

"I do not at all feel like I have chosen an inferior career path. I don't understand why some people feel that way about motherhood." She kissed the newborn in her arms.

We welcomed a new baby into the family last week.

It is interesting, viewing motherhood from one step back, as a grandmother instead of as a new mother. While I pulled Grandma duty in the days just before and just after baby's arrival, a couple of things stood out to me... 

Motherhood requires incredible strength and stamina - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

As I watched my hugely pregnant daughter care for her husband, her two-year-old and her home, I was amazed by her strength. A restless night of labor, a sleepless night with a newborn, another sleepless night...with constant demands on her body and her emotions...and yet she persevered with a patience and steadiness that astounded me.

Instead of complaining, "I am so tired!" (which she was) - she instead exclaimed, "I love my sweet babies so much!"

Motherhood requires incredible sacrifice.

Yes, my daughter has personal dreams. Some of these have been put on hold, possibly forever, while she focuses her time and energy on the tremendous task she and her husband have of raising their family.

Life, interrupted. Is that what motherhood is?

No.

It is life. It is living this day, this moment in communion with the divine, in the company of eternal souls that try the limits of your understanding and your faith and your endurance.

We welcomed a new baby into the family last week.

WE welcomed a new baby into the family last week.

We welcomed a new baby into the FAMILY last week.

Motherhood is about community. It is about the WE and the FAMILY, instead of about the I and the ME.

Motherhood takes a woman out of the narrow confines of her own skin and stretches her soul, her heart, her energy, her dreams...

infuses all these parts of her mother self into the selves of others, who grow up into unique people, very different from herself, and who in turn begin the cycle anew and, by doing so, disperse her mother heart even further, into yet another generation...

so that the teeny-tiny spot one mother occupies on this planet (where she lives, her job, her aspirations, her disappointments, her personal preferences), this teeny-tiny little spot can no longer contain her because she has been so greatly expanded, through space and time, sometimes quite literally around the globe.

* * *

"I do not at all feel like I have chosen an inferior career path. I don't understand why some people feel that way about motherhood."

Why, indeed. Today, as I celebrate this newest addition to the family, my heart breaks for young mothers who are frustrated, disappointed, and depressed because they feel "trapped," the moms who feel like they have given up so much in return for so little, the mothers who have not yet understood the greatness of their calling.

Oh, for eyes to see!


Friday, November 25, 2016

IS IT TIME?!

We are waiting for a baby. Baby's due date is TODAY!

My third child arrived two weeks after his due date. We lived those two weeks on the other side of a wormhole in a dimension where time moved at the speed of dirt.

There is no way to communicate how much the words "Are you having another contraction yet?" irritated me. My nerves were flailed raw by wave after wave of late-pregnancy hormones, all of my bones ached, acid reflux burned my esophagus after every meal, and deep, restful sleep was a fuzzy memory from the far distant past.

All the signs indicate this new baby may arrive TODAY!

I have been saying that - "Looks like it could be today!" - for two weeks now. Every time I've thought that or said it, I have meant it. I still mean it.

Mom is resting now. Big sister is taking a nap. Dad is catching up on some chores around the farm. The laundry is caught up and the kitchen is tidied, and Grandma is sitting here wondering...

How on earth does a person do life...in the middle of life?

For a brief stretch of time - a day, a week, two weeks - all of life shifts into a slow-motion orbit centered on one particular, who-knows-exactly-when event. A quick run to the grocery store, a walk on the farm, starting a load of laundry, a pan of bread in the oven...every ordinary, this-is-just-life-as-usual activities swing on the thread of one simple question: "Is it time?!"


It's not time yet, or I wouldn't be sitting here typing. Not right this moment, but maybe - very possibly - an hour from now, or two hours, or two days, or a week.

And when, finally, the answer to "Is it time?!" becomes an emphatic "Yes! Now!" -  everything else STOPS. When the answer is "Now!", who gives a frog's tooth about clean laundry or dirty dishes in the sink?!

This is life lived very much in the moment, with eyes wide open toward the near future. "Is it time now?"

I can't help but wonder...

This living life in such an urgent, focused pause, this place of such deliberate action and such intense anticipation - "Is it time?!" - is this not where we all live, or where we all should live, every day, between Christ's ascension and his return?
* * *
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye... - 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

SPECIAL DELIVERY

I am sitting here trying to think of something to write, when the cat begins meowing frantically at the front door.

Is Kitty injured? Is she frightened? I hop up and dash to the door.

Kitty has brought me a very small, very dead mouse. She lays her gift gently on the door mat at my feet. Lovely.

"What a beautiful little mouse. You are such a wonderful hunter!" I praise the kitty, then close the door.

The emphatic meowing begins again.

I open the door. "What?"

What, indeed. Kitty wants to come inside, and she wants to bring her treasure with her. I am perfectly fine with Kitty coming in out of the cold for the night, but the mouse is a No-Go.

A stare-down commences. I open the door a bit wider. Kitty steps forward, then reaches down to pick up the mouse in her teeth.

"No mouse!" I close the door slightly. Kitty drops the mouse and sits back. I open the door wider. Kitty steps forward again, then pauses to retrieve her trophy. This continues until I am cold and bored. "You are not coming in the house with that mouse!" I close the door until the latch click!s and return to my seat at the computer.

The meowing stops. I guess Kitty got the message.

I sit here staring at a blank screen for several minutes. My brain is tired. It idles in neutral, refusing to engage the gears.

* * * * *

"Meow! Meow! Meow!" The earnest meowing resumes.

I cross the room to the front door, exhaling a sigh of frustration. What does Kitty want now?!

I open the door. Kitty sits like a dainty princess on the sisal door mat. There is no tiny brown mouse. Kitty looks up at me and winks her eyes. Kitty stands, and with stately dignity, she steps inside.

I swear she is smiling.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

THAT KIND OF FRIEND

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. - 1 John 5:1-2

If I believe that Jesus is the Christ (and I do), then I have been born of God. If I love God (and I do!), then I love whoever else has been born of him.

What does that love for fellow believers look like? It looks like this: I love God and obey his commandments.

Personally, I tend to make relationships and loving others so convoluted. How? By demonstrating a fear-fueled lack of personal and relational integrity. By loving the relationship more than I love my heavenly Father. By neglecting the command to "...let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil" (Ephesians 4:25-26).

Relationships - even between believers - are messy this side of Glory. Inevitably, we disappoint and hurt one another. When that happens - the messiness of relating - I tend to downplay the situation.

"It's no big deal," I tell myself. "This relationship is too important to risk it by making a big issue out of little things."

"This is not a good time to talk," I tell myself. "Everything will blow over with time."

"The other person...they don't really care what I think anyway," I tell myself. "If I try to talk to them about this problem, they'll just get mad and defensive. They won't really listen to what I say."

I tell myself all these things instead of doing the uncomfortable work of exposing myself to another and admitting my hurts, instead of confronting the person whose friendship I value.

This morning, in the midst of all kinds of relationship mess that I would truly rather downplay or ignore, I read the above passage in 1 John. Then, in case I missed what God was saying in 1 John, a friend shared a link on Facebook to an article by Allison Fallon, "Why you have so many acquaintances and but not many friends."

After describing me and my relational trepidation to a T in the first third of her article, Allison writes:

There's an epidemic of loneliness in our culture and I think our unwillingness to be honest is causing it.

So what's the answer?

I don't think the answer is to take a guns-blazing, honesty-at-all-costs approach, because I've seen this blow up for people and leave them just as frustrated and alone.

I do think the answer is to get really good at being honest and vulnerable.

It doesn't take much to say, "you can be a real jerk sometimes." But it takes courage and resilience to say, "when you said that to me, it made me feel insignificant and small."


(You really should take a minute to check out Allison's entire article HERE. It is short and worth your time.)

Honesty and vulnerability.

Courage and resilience.

Love and obedience.

And so I come full circle, back to the cross, back to where Jesus, on my behalf, exhibited honesty and vulnerability, courage and resilience, perfect love and perfect obedience.

I want to love like that.

I want to be that kind of friend.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

WHERE IN THE BIBLE DOES IT SAY...

I occasionally have someone say to me something like this: "You talk about the importance of reading Scripture and about the relevance of Scripture to daily life. But how do I find the specific passages in Scripture that address the particular struggles I am facing today?"

We want a tabbed index or a search engine. If I enter "My dog just threw up on Samantha's new prom dress. What should I do?" and then hit the little search icon, I am immediately linked to a book, chapter, and verse that tells me, "Apologize and offer to replace the dress."

But Scripture doesn't work like that.

How, then, can I find the verses that speak to the unique challenges I am facing today? How do I know where to look to find answers for my deepest heart questions?

All I can say is: Read the Book!

Last Thursday morning, I woke up feeling hopeless. I was tired of struggling to pursue holiness, and yet seeing so little tangible fruit. I was discouraged by the dry, dead, lifelessness of my own heart and the dry, dead, lifeless response of another with whom I desire meaningful relationship. I lay in bed praying, "God, there is no strength left in me. I feel so dried up and dead. I have no will or breath to continue."

Then, BAM!, God spoke to me and told me that if I would look on page 1191 of the Reformation Study Bible, I would find 10 Easy Steps to Personal Holiness and Relationship Restoration.

Nah.

Actually, I crawled out of bed, got dressed, hit "brew" on the coffee maker, and sat down to read the next passage in my daily Bible reading plan. Let's see . . . time for Ezekiel 37-39 and the little book of Jude.

And I read . . .

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones...and they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord God, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD . . . Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live . . . and you shall know that I am the LORD." (from Ezekiel 37:1-8)

I continued reading through my tears. This section of Ezekiel 37 concludes:

Then he [the Lord] said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people . . . and I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD." (Ezekiel 37:11-14)

People, could God have spoken any more precisely to the cry of my heart earlier that morning?!

Here's the weird thing: I am following a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan a friend shared with me last December. It is not my "usual" reading plan, not the one I used previous years.

Also, when I say I "follow" a reading plan, I am using the term very loosely. Life happens and, often, when it does, life is crazy. I read ahead; I get behind; I progress through a reading plan like a Slinky lunging haphazardly down stairs.

Last Thursday, November 10th, I read the assigned passage for Sunday, November 27th.

God had me exactly where he needed me to be in his Word in order to speak directly to the cry of my heart last Thursday morning. He is that good at hearing and speaking to his children.

So, once again . . .

How do you find the specific passages in Scripture that speak to the particular struggles you are facing today?

Read the Book.

Friday, November 11, 2016

HIS HAND WAS ON THE LATCH

The Chicken and I rolled up the driveway to the house at half past midnight last night/this morning after a long, full day of livestock judging with Obion County 4-H-ers. We had a blast yesterday, but I am scrambling this morning to catch up on a couple of writing assignments. My head is fuzzy and the words are coming slowly - this seems like an appropriate morning to share a repost!

I am grateful for the pause at the beginning of each day, when I can sit down with my Beloved...

HIS HAND WAS ON THE LATCH
- originally posted Friday, October 19, 2012

Nate and Tom headed down the driveway at 6:50 this morning.  Steve followed ten minutes later.  As I washed the dishes from "early breakfast," it occurred to me that since we had all been up very late last night, the "late breakfast" crew would probably come dragging downstairs even later than usual.  Excited, I rushed to finish washing the dishes and to switch the first load of laundry over to the dryer, anticipating perhaps as much as an entire hour of uninterrupted calm.  My Beloved's hand was on the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me! (Song of Solomon 5:4)

Some mornings - too many mornings - life is crazy busy from the get-go.  The day gets all on top of me almost before my feet hit the floor.  As I rush from breakfast to school books, dentist appointments to piano lessons, a longing tugs at my heart - a yearning for my Beloved because I missed Him at the door.

The house I grew up in sat at the end of a long gravel driveway, way out in the country.  No one drove down that driveway unless they lived at our house or they were someone coming expressly to see a member of my family.  I can still remember the sensation caused by the crunch of tires on gravel - heads turned, ears strained.  One person might peer out the front window, while another bounded to the door.  Crunching gravel meant: Visitors!  Company!  And that was always a big exciting deal, way out there in the country.

When Steve and I were dating, way back about a hundred years ago, I think my ears could hear the very first stone shift when that redheaded boy turned his Dodge Colt off the paved road onto our driveway.  Talk about a sudden thrill of excitement...My heart raced, my cheeks flushed, and you did not want to be the unfortunate person to stand between me and the front door!

I didn't feel quite so excited about Jesus way back then, but, well, I didn't know Him very well then, either.  But in spite of my initial coolness, in spite of my distraction with a bazillion other things, in spite of my clouded eyes and divided heart, Jesus persistently and gently pursued me over the years, like a devoted and faithful Lover.  And, oh, how beautiful He has become!  How exciting the thought that He wants to visit with me - today, this morning!

Maybe now you understand my excitement as I stood at the sink this morning and suddenly realized, "An hour!  Together, uninterrupted!"  It was like hearing that first crunch of gravel...the thrill of excitement, the increase in heart rate.  How precious the gift of an hour alone with my Beloved, before the demands of the day set in!

Yes, I raced to answer the door.