Friday, August 18, 2017

MY FAVORITE PLACE TO BE

My favorite places to be...

With good friends:














With my awesome siblings:
















With my children:












With the grandkids:




















Walking back on the farm:













But my VERY favorite place to be...

* * *

This week has been an emotional roller-coaster for me. My youngest son left for graduate school on Monday: HUGE happiness and excitement for him and for the opportunities that lie before him, and a heavy sorrow in my heart because I am going to miss him. Such big, contrary emotions crammed together inside my little heart - the walls of my heart ached with the strain.

Then, I received news from a dear friend that she will be moving away at the end of this month. HUGE happiness and excitement for her and for the opportunities that lie before her, and a heavy sorrow in my heart because I am going to miss her. Such big, contrary emotions, on top of big emotions, crammed together into my little heart - the walls of my heart ached with the strain.

New opportunities in my own life (I hope to write more about those in future posts!), bringing with them a tumultuous blend of happiness, excitement, and something akin to terror. Such big, contrary emotions, on top of big emotions, on top of big emotions, crammed together into my little heart.

I have thought this week that, surely, my heart must burst.

* * *

I poured a cup of coffee and headed out to the porch swing this morning in the gray shadow of predawn. A heavy fog covered the fields around the house.

Fog acts like a living thing. It breathes and sighs, lifts and rolls, caresses the hills like a mother's gentle hand on a beloved baby.

I watched the fog, mesmerized. And then, the magic of first light creeping over the horizon...the fog swirled and roiled, gathered itself together into a cloud, and whispered upward into the blue sky of a bright, clear day.

I love to sit on the porch swing in the morning and watch the world wake up. I sit on the swing with my coffee and my Bible and I wait to meet the God whose mercies are new every morning. It's my favorite time of day.

As I watched the fog this morning, with my Bible open in my lap, I thought, "God, you are here every morning, day after day, waiting to meet with me. I open this book, and I know that I will find you here again." The thought that the Creator of the universe condescends to meet with me every single time I open his Word - that He is there and waiting, and that He listens to and speaks into my heart - that thought brought me to tears.

I watched the fog - so beautiful! - and the rising light, and I wept because I felt so extravagantly loved. Not only does God meet me in the cool gray of morning, but, like a most attentive and devoted lover, He brings me such exquisite gifts.

Finally, I turned my attention to the pages open in my lap, to the next passage in my read-through-the-Bible plan, and I began to read.

(Did I tell you this has been an emotional week for me? Did I mention that my little heart has been stretched beyond what I thought it could possibly bear?)

After I watched the fog dance in the predawn and then melt away in the early light of morning, I read in chapter 60 of the book of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.

And I read:

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult...

The word exult had a footnote indicated. I read the footnote (not something I often do during my morning devotion - reading footnotes), and the footnote said:

...your heart shall tremble and grow wide.

I looked up across the brightening hay field. "God," I thought, "it's as if you had Isaiah write these words, what?, almost 3000 years ago?, so that you could tuck them between the pages of this book like a long-hidden love letter, there for me to find and read today. Especially for me. Especially for today, when my heart is sore from so much stretching, when it feels like you are making my insides bigger than my outsides."

...your heart shall tremble and grow wide.

Yes, my Beloved!

* * *

I pray each morning that God will give me an awareness of his presence throughout the day. I KNOW God is always with me - He is everywhere. But I don't always FEEL like He is with me. Sometimes, I forget He is there. Sometimes, I think He is not with me at all, like He has abandoned me or hidden himself away on the dark side of the moon.

I am not always conscious of God's immediate presence in my life.

But when I am - when my heart trembles with the awareness that "God is here!" - THAT is my favorite place of all to be.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE JOY OF BATTLE

I am reading through The Lords of the Rings. The fellowship has just left Rivendell, "the last homely house east of the sea," to begin their tragic quest. My heart breaks for them. (Oh, how I long to visit Rivendell!)

I think this is perhaps my favorite fiction book ever. I am amazed - again - at how precisely and how beautifully Tolkien speaks to the life of the Christian.

This life IS a battle. Are you fighting with joy?

THE JOY OF BATTLE
- originally published August 20, 2011

I think I am just beginning to understand, perhaps the tiniest bit, the joy of battle. JOY. "They sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them..." - is this not the call of the Christian?

From our ladies' study this morning:

Many Christians look for some secret to make their lives free from struggle, but no such secret exists. The Christian life is always a battle. If people don't realize this and fruitlessly wait for the fighting to abate, they will either think that God is not faithful (since He is not providing an end to the struggle), or that they are doing something wrong. Either way, such persons will be continually frustrated....Only people who look reality right in the face and realize that they are engaged in a lifelong war against their sin, the world, and the Devil will live the Christian life with zest. It is in this reality that we apply the gospel, resting and rejoicing in Christ's sacrifice.....Struggle changes us, preparing us to live in God's presence.....the battle belongs to the Lord. - Tim Keller, study notes on 1 John

Reminded me of this post from back in December 2010:

RIDING HARD TO GLORY December 10, 2010 
I am halfway through the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - I am going to hate for this story to end.

Last night, I read of the fall of Theoden on the fields of Pelennor and of the fall of Denethor in the tomb of his father. Could the deaths of two men be any different?

Against the evil forces of Mordor, each was faced with certain annihilation. As the day of battle dawned before the gates of Gondor, both Theoden and Denethor understood that they would not see another sunrise. But consider how each faced death....

Theoden, king of the Rohirrim, rode into battle - rising in his stirrups he cried in a loud voice, more clear than any there had ever heard a mortal man achieve before: "Arise, arise, Riders of Theoden! Fell deeds awake: fire and slaughter! spear shall be shaken, shield be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises! Ride now, ride now! Ride to Gondor!"

Hours later, as Theoden lay dying on the gore-strewn field, his last words were: "My body is broken. I go to my fathers. And even in their mighty company I shall not now be ashamed....A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!"

Eomer, to whom Theoden had given the charge to rule the Rohirrim, honored his fallen king thus:"Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing. To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking: Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!" Tolkien writes of Eomer, And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it..." Having paused to consider his fallen king - his example in life and in death - Eomer passionately led yet another charge against the terrible army opposing them.

But consider Lord Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Faced with imminent death, Denethor despairs and sinks into madness. Fleeing the conflict, he takes his wounded son Faramir to the tomb of his fathers and there builds a pyre on which he plans to destroy both himself and his son. He has no hope for himself or his son or his country - if Sauron and evil are eventually going to triumph anyway, why not at least choose the time and mode of their own deaths? Racing to save Faramir, Gandalf confronts Denethor: "The houses of the dead are no places for the living..." But Denethor replies, "...soon all shall be burned. The West has failed. It shall all go up in a great fire,and all shall be ended. Ash! Ash and smoke blown away on the wind!" Although Gandalf is able to save the wounded Faramir, Denethor leaps to the top of the bier and lights the wood at his feet, thus destroying himself.

Theoden lives fully, right up to the moment of his death - and his last words to those around him are a reminder that this life is not all they have. This life is worth fighting for, and dying for, precisely because of the glorious life that comes after. He passes from pain and broken-ness, through a "glorious sunset," into the sunrise of life eternal with his fathers. The Rohirrim are not afraid to fight, to live gloriously, because they are not afraid to die.

Lord Denethor, on the other hand, had only Here and Now - this present life was all the glory to be had, and it had all come to ruin. He was terrified of death and shadow and of fading into nothingness. Unlike Theoden, Denethor saw no "glorious sunset" - he saw only ash and smoke, blown away on the wind. Denethor wanted desperately to live a glorious life...yet was impotent to do so because of his overwhelming fear of death.

Thankfully, life for most of us isn't as horrific at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. But still, in small struggles or great, I yearn to face this life's difficulties and trials with a heart like Theoden's. A heart riding hard to Glory.

...the battle-fury of his fathers ran like new fire in (Theoden's) veins, and he was borne up on Snowmane like a god of old, even as Orome the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young. His golden shield was uncovered, and lo! it shone like an image of the Sun, and the grass flamed into green about the feet of his steed. For morning came, morning and a wind from the sea; and darkness was removed, and the hosts of Mordor wailed, and terror took them, and they fled,and died, and the hoofs of wrath rode over them. And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City. - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THIS SIDE OF THE CHRYSALIS




A beautiful end-of-summer morning. If I were six years  old, I'd still be in my pajamas, eating Lucky Charms and drinking chocolate milk while watching cartoons at my grandmother's house. Instead, I'm enjoying the weather out on the porch swing as I work, wearing stretchy pants and drinking iced tea, chilling with the cat.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other, as the saying goes.

* * *

"Eeeeew!" This was my teenage daughter's response when she learned that our 80-something-year-old neighbor was dating again. When we drove past J's house, he and his lady friend were riding a four-wheeler together in the field next to the highway. "Old people should not be dating!"

I laughed and tried to explain that, inside our heads, we "old people" feel as young as we ever were. Our bodies may be wrinkled and saggy, but our eyes and our hearts are as bright as ever.

My young daughter remained skeptical. Apparently, she thinks there should be an age limit to new romances. "People in their 80s should not be dating," she protested. "That's just weird!"

I decided it would be pointless to bring up my friend who made the newspaper for being, at the age of 98, the oldest person to apply for a marriage license in Obion County. What about Abraham and Sarah, in the Bible? Well, that wasn't a new romance, so maybe their story didn't weird her out so much.

* * *

There are some songs that, when they come on the radio, you just have to dance to them, no matter how old you are.

"Is that your daughter?" The middle-aged man on the other side of the gas pump nodded toward the van I was fueling.

"Yes."

"Well, tell her I didn't mean to be rude. I was staring at her rather hard when I pulled in next to y'all. She was acting kind of strange," he explained, "and I wondered if something was the matter. She looks about the same age as my daughter. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."

"Yeah, everything's fine," I smiled. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Thank you, Jesus, that he didn't notice her mom, car dancing alongside her in the front passenger seat. He'd have thought we were both completely whacko!

Maybe my daughter and I should act more mature when we are out running errands in town and our favorite songs come on the radio. Maybe, but why?

* * *

When Sally directed us into the chair pose at yoga practice this morning, knees around the room crackled like Pop-Rocks in Dr. Pepper, my knees included.

When I practice yoga, I feel like I am about twenty-three years old. I feel strong and alive and positive, like life has many good things and lovely adventures in store.

My knees remind me that I am fifty-three, actually, not twenty-three. Such disparity between the physical me and the me inside my head!

* * *

When the kids were little, we did one of those butterfly garden kits for a science lesson. Eggs hatched into caterpillars. The caterpillars wiggled and squirmed and fed on rich brown goo until they grew large and swollen and stiff.

Like creaky grandfathers, they slowed to complete inactivity, wrapped themselves in small woolen blankets, and slept the sleep of old age.

But in their hearts, they were not old at all. They were young. Young and very much alive.

In fact, these ancient larvae were so young that they had not even truly been born yet, not born as what they were ultimately meant to be.

Then one day, immobility and brown wrinkles gave way to ravishing color and lighter-than-air new life.

Such magic took my breath away.

* * *

Inside our heads, sweet daughter, we are all very young. Does that seem strange? It shouldn't. Not when you think about it, really.

Here, whether we are eighteen or eighty-eight, we are all still this side of the chrysalis, and that is very young indeed.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

GO DOWN SWINGING

A repost today, because it is still a struggle to not be anxious...

GO DOWN SWINGING
(originally posted June 19, 2013)

I am a fearful person. I fear what people think of me and how they'll respond to me. I fear for the safety and welfare of my children. I fear that I'll say or do (or write) something that will hinder someone else in their faith. The list goes on and on.

But Scripture tells me there is only one thing I should fear, and that is God. A reverent fear. In a strange way, a deeply comforting fear.

Scripture, on the other hand, tells me NOT to fear men, or what they may do to me. Not to fear for tomorrow, what I will eat or wear. Not to fear for my safety - my life is God's anyway, right?

"The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." - Philippians 4:5b-6

Do not be anxious about anything.

But still, I am afraid.

One of the lovely side-effects of being 50-ish is that I rarely sleep through the night. I usually wake up around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, still tired but unable to sleep. I have found this to be an awesome time to pray - the house is quiet, and I'm not distracted by the chores that need attending. Basically, I just lie in the bed and pray, pray, pray, until, eventually, sleep returns.

Last night I woke up with such a heavy weight of anxiety on my heart! My kids are scattered to the four corners of the world. Yes, I fear for their safety. I am concerned for the choices they make. Mostly, I am anxious because I want so desperately to be certain that their hearts belong to God. And so, I prayed about these things.

But still, I was haunted with a nagging uneasiness.

I know that God is sovereign. That He is good. That He loves me, very, very much. I KNOW these things. Where then does this disquiet come from?

I think Satan sometimes haunts us, shadows us with an Eeyore cloud of gloom, so that we are unable to rest in and enjoy the peace and assurance that are ours in Christ. Satan cannot make Christ's work or God's sure promises ineffective; instead, he clouds our vision so that we don't feel like God's promises are true, we don't feel like God's Spirit is close at hand to comfort and guide us. What do we do then, when we are troubled by lying feelings?

I read once a piece of advice a father gave to his son. This man told his son never to start a fight. . . but to always finish every fight he was in. Don't start fights. But, if someone else starts one, and you find yourself in the middle of it, make sure that the fellow who starts it walks away limping, that he has reason to think twice about picking another fight. He told his son, it's okay to lose a fight - just make sure the other guy never wins.

This has become my strategy for dealing with these anxieties that sometimes pile in on me in the middle of the night. Yes, I may be discomfited, but Satan is not going to walk away with a win.

So, I pray...for the health and safety of my children. For my husband's job. For the ministry I am a part of at Grace. For the friend living in bondage to sin. For whatever troubles my mind. And if, after praying, I still don't have peace...

I sing. Not out loud (at least not at 2:00 in the morning!), but silently. Words of classic, soul-edifying hymns. Whate'er my God ordains is right: his holy will abideth; I will be still whate'er he doth, and follow where he guideth. Words of praise choruses. Oh, Lord, you're beautiful! Your face is all I seek! The Doxology. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below.

Amazing how this exercise quiets and calms my anxious soul.

If sin and the devil want to "pick a fight," if they want to play on my fears, then I will hang in and finish the fight. I may not win - my fears may be back to haunt me another day - but I will go down swinging. I intend to leave my adversary with a bloody nose and a blacked eye.

Am I a fearful woman? Yes. What will I do when Satan punches my fear buttons? I'm not even going to give him the time of day. No, I'm going to praise the God who made and keeps me.

Praise God.
Praise God.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

OUT OF A JOB - NOW WHAT?

I have worked myself out of a job.

My youngest child graduated from high school in May. She begins classes as a full-time college student later this month, at a nearby university.

For the first time in 25 years, I have no homeschool students gathered around the kitchen table.

No more lesson plans.

No more text books.

No more school uniforms.

(Just kidding! We never had school uniforms...except for maybe that one stint when the boys were little and they all insisted on wearing overalls.)

What is a no-longer-homeschooling mom supposed to do?

Hmmm...

I could clean my kitchen cabinets.

Or, I could de-junk the attic.

Or, I could learn jujitsu. At least, that's what Ben and Tom tell me: "Mom, you should come learn jujitsu with us!"

Jujitsu? Sounds more appealing than cleaning cabinets or sweating in a cluttered attic!

Now that I am out of a teaching job, I also want to read more, to write more, and to take more long walks back on the farm.

I want to breathe more deeply, love more intentionally, and live more bravely.

I want to hold my grandkids more.

I want to learn more about what God is doing in and through his church around the globe.

I want to pray more with friends, to write more letters of encouragement, and to sit more in silence and listen for the still, small voice of God.

And, yes, I think I'd like to try jujitsu. For real.

Hey, Ben, when's the next class?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

THE BROKEN ROAD TO GLORY

At the end of the book bearing his name, Joshua gives this charge to the people of Israel (see Joshua 24):

"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness...choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."

The people answer: "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods...we will also serve the LORD, for he is our God."

Joshua's reply to their enthusiastic profession of faith? "You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is holy."

Then follows a short back-and-forth between Joshua and the people of Israel:

People: "No, but we will serve the LORD."
Joshua: "You are witnesses against yourself..."
People: "We are witnesses."
Joshua: "Put away the foreign gods that are among you..."

A couple of things jumped out at me from this passage recently. First, the people seem sincere in their profession: they truly desire to follow and serve God. When Joshua instructs them to put away their idols, they do...at least for a while.

Second, the people believe they are capable. When Joshua, in response to their commitment to serve God, tells them that, no, actually, they are not even able to serve the LORD, they come right back with Oh, but we WILL serve the LORD. God's people do not yet understand the depth of their depravity and brokenness, the vastness of the chasm that lies between their good intentions and the holiness of the God they desire to serve. These people who are so zealous to serve God will soon sink into grossest religious and moral degeneration. And yet...

They are God's people.

They are God's people, not because they are capable of loving and serving their Creator as they ought, but because God himself redeems and keeps them.

The thing that astounds me is this: God chooses to glorify himself not through the ability of those who profess to love Him, but through his own faithfulness in preserving and sanctifying his people even as they demonstrate their complete inability to fulfill their vows and good intentions.

Once again, I am brought back to brokenness. In brokenness, God's people can have no confidence in themselves, but are forced to rely completely upon God. In brokenness, we can claim no glory for ourselves, but can glory only in our Savior.

As long as I think I bring something to the table - my good intentions, my sincere desire to please God, my gifts and talents, my confidence in myself that I actually can serve this holy God as I ought - to that extent, I stand, like the children of Israel stood before Joshua, as a witness against myself.

And yet...

I am God's child. Not because I am capable - because I am not - but because Jesus is capable, and He stands in my place. God himself redeems and keeps me. And, as in the case of Israel, God does this peculiar thing of showing me my utter brokenness (Oh! I did so want to be good enough! To be competent!) and then He uses that brokenness to bring glory to himself.

To the extent that I hide or draw back from the brokenness that God exposes in me, to that extent, I still entertain the self-delusion, the lie, that I can - I CAN! - serve this holy God as I ought. And to that same extent, I seek to glorify myself, not my Savior.

This is Upside-Down World, people! I give God my brokenness and abject poverty, and He gives me his glorious self in return? What kind of transaction is that?!

I so want to do great things for God with my life. God wants to BE the ONE GREAT THING in my life.

In a bulletin from a couple of week's ago, I scribbled this (it had nothing to do with Sunday's sermon, but, obviously, with my own heart):

naive/ignorant → willfully blind → false gospel/self-reliance → true brokenness → JESUS

I begin naively ignorant of my own sinfulness, my own inability to love and serve God as I ought. (Like Israel before Joshua, I say "I will!" - fully believing that I am able.)

As a shadow of conviction begins to spread, I remain willfully blind. (My sin is not that bad/no big deal. My motives/intentions were good. My circumstances are to blame. Well, you know, there are always two sides to every story. At least I'm not as bad as ----.)

Then, I embrace a false gospel. I profess repentance with my lips, but resolve to power through in my own strength. (That was a one-time slip-up - I'll do better. Maybe my sin is an offense to God, but my sincere resolve to serve and honor Him from here on out more than atones for any sin I've committed against Him. I will pray more/fast more often/go to church more - that will make me able.)

The only problem with self-reliance is - it never, ever, ever works. All my personal adequacy and competence and resolve and zeal are ground to dust against the immovable mountain of God's absolute holiness.

Finally - FINALLY - I reach the place of true brokenness. Finally, I understand that when God's prophet says, "You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is holy" - that means me. I am not able. I am completely destitute, empty, incapable.

I - have - nothing.

Like the psalmist, I lie prostrate at the feet of God, crying, "Save me! I am yours!"

And it is here, on my face, that I hear the voice of my sweet Savior say, "Look up, for the day of salvation is at hand."

God does something glorious with brokenness: here, at the foot of the Cross, God transforms complete wretchedness into life and hope and transcendent joy.

Do I want to testify about the greatness of God to others? Do you want me to sing to you the praises of my Savior?

I would LOVE to tell you about my holy, holy, holy God and about my sweet, sweet Jesus. But I must warn you first: this is a story that begins with great brokenness. I can hardly bear to tell it. Do you think you can bear to hear it?