Thursday, December 01, 2011

Understanding the Big Picture


I love stories. I love seeing my kids’ eyes light up when they listen to good stories. And the best stories, I think, are the ones that give a glimmer of something more than. It doesn’t have to be laid out like Aesop’s Fables, “And the moral of the story is...,” but the best stories are definitely the ones that have more to them than a plot-line.

And the greatest story of all is, no question, the story of God’s Big Rescue Plan. Most of us know something of this story, and we hear a good bit about it around Christmas. But usually we only hear one part: Jesus, God’s Son, is born on a starry night and laid in a feeding trough. If we’re more knowledgeable, we know that this baby grows up to do all kinds of wonderful miracles and tell marvelous stories himself, but in the end he’s horribly murdered—for us!—and then, beyond comprehension, rises again!

So if that’s the main story of God’s Big Rescue Plan, what does the rest of the Bible have to do with it? Are the other stories in the Bible just there to give us guidance in how to live our lives (or how not to, as the case often is)? Most children’s books and videos that portray these stories seem to imply this. Two newer contributions to the wealth of kids’ books and videos, though, go a major step beyond the norm and bring out the full beauty and wealth of the greatest story out there.

First off is The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, by Sally Lloyd-Jones. We were introduced to this book in the fall of 2007, and I’ve lost count of how many times our family has read it through since. Colorful illustrations catch the eye of littlest ones, and the creative storytelling grasps the imaginations of kids as young as three or four…and as old as 90 or 100 J . Lloyd-Jones skillfully weaves the truth of Jesus and God’s Big Rescue Plan from Adam & Eve through Revelation. Not every part of the Bible is covered, of course, but each story included shows a connection to Christ. The way she puts things has grabbed my heart more times than I can say. It has deeply affected how my kids see Jesus and heaven, and their place in the big picture. You can find this book at Family Christian Stores, though I’ve found it’s cheaper through Amazon.


Secondly, a new video series, What’s In the Bible?, has been a huge hit at our house this year. The creator of this series is Phil Vischer, otherwise known as “Bob the Tomato” of VeggieTales fame. In these new videos, you don’t have talking vegetables, but rather an eclectic cast of puppets who dig into the Bible and pull out some fascinating stuff. It’s full of the type of humor you find in VeggieTales, along with fun, catchy songs and silly cartoons. At the same time, it lays the Bible out clearly without ignoring some of the tough questions like “What is salvation?” “What is the Trinity?” “Why does God tell the Israelites to kill people? Isn’t He the God of love?” And once again, woven through is God’s Big Rescue Plan. So far six videos have been put out in this series, and they’ve made it through 1 & 2 Chronicles in the Old Testament. It looks like there will be about thirteen videos in the end, and they’re coming out quickly. If you want to find out more about this series, or watch other videos with the characters, check out http://www.jellytelly.com/ and http://whatsinthebible.com/. I just discovered, too, that there’s a new stand-alone video called Buck Denver asks Why Do We Call It Christmas? I want to see it!!!
 
So there you have it! Quality stuff to check out for the Christmas season. Your kids will love it, and you’ll probably enjoy it as well!


Wednesday, November 02, 2011

It's Here! It's Here!


I'm a sucker for good kids' music, and when I say "good" I mean music that has great songs for the kids to enjoy, but also has things I enjoy. So yes, good is very subjective! ...But really, you can't go wrong with Slugs &Bugs, and I'm thrilled that the new album, Slugs & Bugs Under Where? is now out.

I've been trying to find the right word to sum up why I like the Slugs & Bugs music as much as I do...and there's no one word. The songs are whimsical, catchy, hilarious, lovely, thought-provoking, simple, deep--any of these words will describe one or more of the songs. There's a childlike innocence that permeates the songs, but there are truths that pop out and whop this "grown up" over the head. Random silliness is set beside moments of eye-opening truth, just like my everyday life with my kids. My kids love the tunes, and we all can sing them, elaborate on them, etc. In the past year since discovering Slugs & Bugs & Lullabies, I've happily spread it around to infect friends' and family's children. I apologize if you've been a recipient (well, actually, I don't!).

One of the things I've loved about both the first album, and even more the newest, is the broad spectrum of musical styles. I like variety, and appreciate it, though unfortunately I'm not educated enough to define all of it--I just know it's well done. In Slugs & Bugs Under Where? Randy Goodgame, along with a host of talented artists, incorporates (to name a few) New Orleans street jazz, Asian themes, African themes, classical, klezmer, Beach Boys, arena rock and Queen. And some of those are all in one song, "Mexican Rhapsody," that you can listen to here.

The touch is light. Don't expect the glitz and rock of Go Fish, which, speaking of, my kids and I like. Their lyrics are great, and we love to bop around to it now and then. But their tag line, "Great music for kids that won't drive parents bonkers," just doesn't apply to me. After one listen-through of an album, I'm done or I will go bonkers. It's just not my style. On the other hand, the deceptive simplicity of Slugs & Bugs keeps me, my husband, and my kids coming back for more. The other day my four-year-old wanted to hear Go Fish, so we had an album on for a run-through. I couldn't help but smile later, though, when she trotted around repeatedly singing, not a Go Fish lyric, but "Rooster, rooster, rooster, you're a cockadoodle-dooster," from Slugs & Bugs "Mexican Rhapsody." Tonight it was "I am very, very capable of anger.... Tell it to Jesus, he already knows. Tell it to Jesus, before it grows." ...I think I've mentioned in a previous post that I'm fully in favor of brainwashing my children....

So if you're looking for a treat for your kids (and whole family) for Christmas, these are some albums worth getting.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Continuing Saga of Giant Chompchucks (and Various Other Characters)

If you thought that the evil Giant Chompchucks had faded into the nether regions, think again. He was killed again just today (key word: "again"). I don't think anything will hold this creature down....

But then, he apparently doesn't hold anything else down either.

The other day, Ev went into full-Chompchucks mode as we walked home from picking Clare up at school. Chompchucks (who lives in a cave on the other side of our subdivision pond--"See, Mom? You can see it right over there!") carried off the beautiful, kind Princess Lalala...and killed her!

"Oh no!" I said, "Did they have a funeral to mourn her?"

"Yes."

"Did she have a Prince she was going to marry?"

"Not going to marry. She was married to a Prince. His name was...his name was 'Samuel.'"

"That's so sad," I said (really meaning it, as much as one can when speaking of imaginary people). "Did Chompchucks eat the Princess?" (After all, this is his modus aperandi.)

"No," said Ev, "Prince Samuel rescued her body from Giant Chompchucks. He got there, just after she was killed, and he grabbed her body."

"Wow, he was very brave. But that's so sad that she died."

"It's okay. He got married again."

Apparently Prince Samuel married Princess Cinderella, and at this point Ev became Cinderella and I had to talk to her as such for the next few hours. At one point, the saga took a soap-operatic turn when Ev (I mean, Cinderella) came into the kitchen sparkling.

"Guess what!" she said, "Princess Lalala is alive!"

Apparently she didn't see the ramifications of this, so I gently counseled her. "Isn't that a problem? I mean, aren't you married to Prince Samuel now?"

"Yes, but he's married to both of us."

"Um, yeh, but he can't be married to two people at once." (I realize I am brainwashing my child with my biblical worldview. It is very deliberate.)

But this didn't stump Ev. "Then she's married to someone else now. Another prince." His name, as it turned out, is Prince Caspian, and so far they're all living happily ever after.

In the meantime, Clare complained that I was talking to Ev more than her. "Well, talk to me," I said, "and I'll talk to you. Tell me your story."

So Clare told me her saga which involved a Prince with magic powers who could kill Chompchucks and all the "bad guys" just by saying it. "He can kill a trillion people at once! All he has to do is say, 'Die.'"

"But if you're beside him, and he says 'Die,' won't you die too?" I asked.

"No, only the people on the other team."

And there you have it. I'll let you know if something more comes out of this.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Why I Am (Still) a Member of My Local Church

My family came to Michigan, and soon after my church, when I started fourth grade. In eighth grade I took the membership class and became a member. At that time, I did it because that’s just what one did. I’d become a Christ-follower when I was five, professed that in baptism at eleven, so the next step was to become an official part of “my local body.” I went away to college and found a church home there, but afterward God brought me back to Michigan and to my husband, whose family also called my local church “home” though he’d spent most of his life overseas. We were married at our church, and saw no need to go elsewhere. Our church taught the truth, and we had family and friends there. Nothing more was required by us.

According to Merriam-Webster.com, the basic definition of “member” is the following:

1: a body part or organ—as a) limb, b) a unit of structure in a plant body
2: one of the individuals composing a group
3: a person baptized or enrolled in a church
4: a part of a whole: as a) a syntactic or rhythmic unit of a sentence: clause, b) one of the propositions of a syllogism, c) one of the elements of a set or class, d) either of the equated elements in a mathematical equation

Ostensibly, a member of a church goes with the third definition, and fits with my original reasons for joining. I was there. I believed what my local body taught. Therefore, I became a member. In eighth grade I could start to go to business meetings (if I really wanted to!) and could serve in more roles throughout the church. When I was of voting age, I could participate in making certain decisions in the church based on the structure of our organization. Cut, dry, to the point. It was pretty boring for the most part, except for when meetings got heated and certain members argued over issues large and small; then it just got uncomfortable.

But over the years, I have come to have a better understanding of what being a “member” means, and in the past year I’ve had to wrestle with it. When it comes to the church, the first definition of “member” is closer to the mark. I am, by nature of following Jesus Christ, a member of his “body” of which He is the Head, as in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14,

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

Again, clearly, this isn’t referencing one local church. This is speaking of all who follow Christ worldwide. It’s pretty mind-boggling when one thinks of it; I can be a foot over here, and have a fellow hand in Ukraine, or Kenya, or the Philippines—you name it. If you’ve ever had a chance to visit a church in another part of the world, you’ve probably experienced that wonder of joining together in song or communion, even with a language barrier, and have sensed the Holy Spirit there, flowing through, creating unity where there is so much difference. Nothing can compare with this.

And even at home in my church in Michigan there have been local body members who have come and gone over the years. By nature our area is transient. For many years, the car companies kept a regular in-flow and out-flow of families. More recently many have had to move due to economy. Pastors have come and gone, called to other ministries. In all these there was a farewell, and in each case a loss, but while painful in the sense of having to say good-bye, it was not a tearing of the body. That member was simply elsewhere, and God was now using him or her in another place, and He filled the empty place in our local body. At times some of these members have returned to visit or moved back and there is a joy in their return. Some members have died, and that too, while painful, has a sense of hope. It gives us another person to look forward to seeing again someday, and makes Heaven that much more real.

But then there are the other reasons why members leave. In a church of our size it’s inevitable there will be people with different perspectives as to how the body should work. As a result, conflict occurs, and many times the result is a rending of the body. Members tear themselves out, or are torn out. Some say the leaving is due to doctrinal issues, some stylistic or structural reasons. Some leave because they truly feel there is sin present that hasn’t been dealt with, and they aren’t willing to keep pushing for things to change. Some leave because they don’t feel welcomed. We have lost pastors because of disagreements. Each time these losses are a wound to the body. If the wound is dealt with in a godly manner, the result is a healed scar. If it is not dealt with…the result is a festering sore.

Leonardo da Vinci sketch
In our current culture, I’ve seen a growing trend of people attending a church, but not becoming members. There seem to be a number of reasons, a strong one being that desire to avoid the in-fighting and pettiness that many church “memberships” have come to symbolize. There is a desire that coming to church to worship and participate should relate directly to a relationship with God through Christ. It should not be a process of working out, and potentially battling out, church policy. I think many believers genuinely feel that, “If I am part of the body of Christ, then it doesn’t matter which local body I attend. We should all be unified no matter where we go and we are dividing ourselves if we take on membership in one place.”

The situation at our church over the past few years would seem to support these arguments pretty strongly. When our previous pastor resigned, our church went through a process of restructuring how we functioned. Both our pastor’s resignation and our church’s restructuring led to people leaving. In the midst of this, there were growing issues over worship style, and that led to a great loss of fingers, limbs and vital organs. These issues culminated this summer in a surprise upset when our worship pastor received an insufficient number of votes for an eldership role, leading to his resignation. Because of this, elbows, toes and vital organs on the other side of the issue have torn themselves from our local body. I’m sure there has also been a loss of some who were attending but weren’t official members. Why would anyone commit to an organization that is so faulty?

So, why am I still a member of such a faulty organization?

Leonardo da Vinci sketch
This is the question that my husband and I have wrestled with for the past few years, and here is our conclusion. Being a member of a local church is not the same as being a member of a club or business or institution. I am a part of a family, and more, a body. Christ is the Head, and as long as this local body teaches the truth of Christ, the truth of God, through the truth of the Bible, I have no justification to leave. In fact, if I leave because I am upset about something, whatever that something is, I am not functioning as part of the body is supposed to function. If there is sin within the body, but not in the undergirding truth taught and believed, I must stand for the truth and fight for it until we fall on our faces before our Head, so that the sin is dealt with and restoration occurs. Going to another local church because I prefer their worship style or governance structure will not help me function in the best way I can in the worldwide body of Christ. I may have more uniformity with that local body, but will there be true unity? If my church is made up of noses, where will be the hand to hold the tissue if we catch a cold?

“Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

 “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:15-26)

Leonardo da Vinci sketch
I don’t believe that this blunt and beautiful picture of true body-life can be seen if Christ-followers are not members of a local body. If I am not connected to and committed to a local Christ-following community, how will those around me who don’t know Christ see what relationships within the body can really be like? One may argue, “But all I see is the divisiveness!” Then obviously our body isn’t functioning as it should. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). How does this love look to those around us? Do I love my fellow members simply because I agree with their perspective all the time? Because they never fail? Or do I love them because they are fellow body parts, found, loved, forgiven and put together by our beloved Head…and I wouldn’t be whole without them? I think it would be an incredible witness to our community if they could see my local body and say, “Wow! What a crazy hodge-podge of people…and yet they all seem to love each other. How does that happen?”

My church is not there yet, but it still teaches what is true. There are still a lot of festering sores. I think we are only just beginning to see that the only way we can become whole is if we take these wounds and failings and lay them before our Head. But there are still many members here who know this is their family, their body, for all its warts and underarm hair. These are the members who remain committed through the ups and downs, who stand against trends of culture, and say, “For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health….” My husband and I are committed to being members like this, and we will continue with our local body, serving in whatever ways we can, until or unless God calls us to another local body in far-off regions.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Giant Chompchuks

A new creature of immense ferocity and evil has entered our little dominion. He is a giant, but not just any giant. He is an incredibly detailed and defined giant, at first indestructible, but I think he might be dead now. I'm not totally sure. You'll have to double-check with my four-year-old.

He emerged from thin air the other morning when I was walking home with Ev and Jon after dropping Clare at school. One house that we pass has stepping stones set in the grass going up to its front door, and my girls love to leap from step to step. This morning was no different, and Ev took off on them, telling me as she went that these were a monster's footprints.

"Really," I said. "What kind of monster?"

"A giant."

I decided to find out more, so I asked, "Does he have long, gnarled fingers?"

"Yes," said Ev.

"Does he have a great big nose with hair sticking out of the nostrils?"

"No," said Ev. "It's really tiny, but there's hair coming out of the top."

"Oh, is his head big?"

"No, it's really tiny, too."

"I see," I said. "So are his eyes big and bulbous, or teeny beady eyes?"

"They're really tiny," she said, "and green."

"Does he have lots of hair all over his head, or just little wisps coming out of the top?"

"Little bits of hair," Ev told me. "And he has a really big mouth with lots of teeth."

I discovered later that these teeth "went all the way to the ground." The giant's description continued to grow as the day progressed, and even the next day. For one, to give him a size comparison, he's as tall as our ceiling (about nine feet). Also, at first his name was just "Giant," but when yesterday I said, "So his name is 'Giant'?" she clarified, "His first name is 'Giant,' but his second name is 'Chompchuks.'"

The Giant Chompchuks, it seems, has a love for people. That is, a love of eating people. Animals, too, but preferably people. The good news for us poor people, though, is that he only comes out at night, and not only that, he only likes the cold. I asked her if we were safe in our houses, and Ev informed me that of course we were, because it is warm in our houses. He is loud, and when you hear thunder it's probably him, prowling with his fellow giants (yes, there's a whole group of them) outside our windows. She at first said nothing could kill him, but she soon amended this. There is an army, apparently, who fights the Giant Chompchuks and his minions. This army uses swords and rubber slingshots (a la David and Goliath except for the rubber part). In fact, one army guy shot a slingshot stone right through the eye of Giant Chompchuks and killed him. I think this is why he is now dead...but maybe not. You never know with Giant Chompchuks. He has an evil sidekick named "Kangarooey," but the army has a good-guy named "Kangaroo." Very helpful to know.

What amazes me about Ev's elaborate and frightening description of the evil Giant Chompchuks is that even though she insists that he is real and she's seen him, she isn't at all afraid of him. He's not causing nightmares, though she claims he keeps her awake at night, and she certainly hasn't shown any signs of worry. Despite all his ferocity, he simply is.

And all this from the mind of my four-year-old. The one who plays with baby dolls, who prefers dresses to pants, the one who mothers her little brother and loves to help out with the domestic details around the house. Of course, she is also the supreme drama queen who lately puts on a great show of tears and tragedy when told "no."

If she can stream her drama a bit more into creatures like Giant Chompchuks, I think I'll let him hang around for a while. Oh look! Is that him lurking behind the pear tree?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tigger Tale

You know how parents groan when some well-meaning (or conspiring) friend or relative blesses their child with a "noisy toy"? One of those with all the electronic bells and whistles and obnoxious songs that play over...and over...and over.... I've heard many new parents declare that their children will only have non-electronic toys and the first bell or whistle that comes through the front door will find its way quickly out that back. That usually lasts until the first said toy appears and junior is completely enthralled by it.

But anyway, one of the earliest things that Kraig and I discovered after we had Keren, was that the best toys for her were the noisy, moving, light-up affairs. They helped stimulate her, and we could usually find things that she could manipulate and get going. She loved the lights, the vibrations, the sounds. As a result, when birthdays and Christmas came around, friends and family would go all out to find her toys like these.

On one of these early Christmases, our friend Jodi gave Keren a "Bounce & Pounce" Tigger (or something like that). All you had to do to get it going was pinch the tip of his tail. "Let's bounce!" he'd say, and a snip of "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers" would play while Tigger jiggled on his four legs. Then, "Even fasterer!" he'd cry and do the same bit faster. Finally he'd say, "I think I over-pounced," and that was that. It was cute, and Keren could get the tail bit which was cool, but we did think it was a little low on the output for the fancy toy it was. The box didn't enlighten us further, though, so we figured that was it. Keren liked him--she'd grin when he'd play and vibrate--and that was what mattered most.

And Tigger has remained a part of the family since, making his way through the hands of many small children and loved on more or less, depending on the child. He's just one of those that hasn't been put away or removed from the over-population of dolls and stuffed animals that reside in our home. A few months ago he was one of Ev's favorites because Clare's favorite stuffed pet was a lion. More recently he's been one of Jon's particular buds. All this time Tigger has played his little bit and still jiggles and shakes; we've never even had to change the battery.

The other night as Kraig was reading to the kids, Jon was "listening" as he sat there biting Tigger's tail and making him play his tune. We ignored it for the most part; after all, Tigger's tune has become one of those background noises we don't really listen to any more. Suddenly, though, Kraig stopped mid-sentence and said, "Jonathan, what are you doing? Are you trying to destroy Tigger?" We looked down, and there sat Jon studiously pulling at a piece of flexible plastic that now stuck out from Tigger's underbelly and battery case. I reached over to take Tigger and see what Jon had grasped, and as I peered at it I realized the plastic strip had words on it: "Pull out after purchase for full play mode." By this time we were all focused on Tigger. "No way," I laughed. "We're just seeing this now?" I took hold of the strip and pulled it out. In wonder and anticipation, bated breath on my part, I reached out and squeezed Tigger's tail. After all these years did Tigger have more for us?

And he did! No bit pieces of "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers." Tigger let loose and played the whole tune once through, jiggling away. Then he paused and said, "Let's try even fasterer," and he stopped. Was that it? I cautiously pinched his tail again and he took off "even fasterer" for the whole tune. There were a couple other phrases thrown in that we'd never heard before, and we laughed and laughed at the sheer silliness of it all. Keren would have loved the crazy thing, and Clare, Ev and Jon were loving it now.

So now when Tigger's tail gets pinched (and of course, over the past few days it's been pinched much more than usual) he plays a full rendition of song and bounce. And Kraig and I have learned for the zillionth time that this parenting business is never a worn-out tale. You never know when you're going to discover something amazing that's been under your nose for years.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just WRITE!

Actually, I have been writing a good bit this summer, just not on the blog. This has been the summer of travel, and I was able to keep a journal during our trip to Oklahoma earlier this summer, and I'm finishing up writing memories down from our recent trip to Boston and New Jersey. I had thought maybe I'd take parts and put them into the blog, but so far it hasn't worked out that way.

But I just finished reading a book that I'd seen recommended by a number of people in recent months, If You Want to Write, by Barbara Ueland. It's a fun read because the author is a character. She says exactly what she's thinking, and it doesn't matter that I don't agree with all of her philosophies. It's easy to sort those out and find the nuggets that are true because she's so straightforward, not to mention interesting. And as I do want to write, I have found a lot that I could take home.

For one, she emphasizes that when it comes down to it, every person is "talented, original and has something important to say." The problem is that we tend to either exalt ourselves in our own eyes and so come off sounding like conceited prigs, or we downplay everything we are to the point we become dull as old knives. Neither of those are qualities God desires in us. In His eyes, we are talented, original, and beautifully important--we don't need to prove anything. So, if we desire to write (or paint, teach, sing, research, engineer--anything!), then write, and write what we feel, think, etc. It doesn't matter if no one reads it. If it never gets published, who cares? Get it out!

I needed that encouragement, because writing for me is such a great form of therapy. It helps me get thoughts organized, I feel like I'm using my creativity, and as a result, other things get done better. I'm more on task with home projects and I'm more patient with the kids. There are so many times that I've started to write something and God opens my eyes to truths about Him that I wouldn't have grasped if I hadn't put my questions out there in print. And as a result I know better how to deal with a problem, or God just becomes so much more real to me.

My absolute favorite chapter title was "Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing." I wish I could say the doing "too much housework" was one of my faults, but despite that, I love Ueland's point. She talks about how we give ourselves up for our families so much that we neglect ourselves, and when we don't feed our own passions (the good kind of passions) we end up hurting our families.
"You make them physically more comfortable. But you cannot effect them spiritually in any way at all. For to teach, encourage, cheer up, console, amuse, stimulate or advise a husband or children or friends, you have to be something yourself. And how to be something yourself? Only by working hard and with gumption at something you love and care for and think is important.
"So if you want your children to be musicians, then work at music yourself, seriously and with all your intelligence. If you want them to be scholars, study hard yourself. If you want them to be honest, be honest yourself. And so it goes.
 "And that is why I would say to the worn and hectored mothers in the class who longed to write and could find not a minute for it:
"'If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say: "Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!" you would be surprised how they would respect you. They would probably become playwrights.'"
 So I plan to write, whether here or elsewhere. And something will come of it, I know: God will use it to mold me more into whom He desires me to be, and because it is a joy for me, I will blossom, and I pray my family will, too. What better purpose is there than that?



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Patience, please!"

Have you ever had that prayer run through your mind, "Lord, grant me patience!" or "Lord, give me peace!"? ...And of course, the result is that you find yourself in increasingly stressful situations till you get to the point where you're afraid to pray for these things at all....

Over the past few years I've been increasingly challenged by things I've learned that part of the problem is that these aren't the best prayers to begin with. After all, the truth is that if we are "in Christ," if we belong to Him because we have believed that He is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one can come to the Father except through Him, then we have these characteristics in our lives already through the Holy Spirit. It is fruit that comes from Him, not something we ourselves produce:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."         ~Galatians 5:22&23
The key is not to pray for these things, but rather to realize that they are there and to thank God for them. So, an example I heard recently was something along the lines of, If I'm angry with my children, rather than praying that God will give me patience with them, I thank God for the patience that He has given. As a result, the situation is diffused because I'm resting in the Spirit and letting Him work through me, not striving to accomplish something myself.

But does this really work? I admit I've been leery. I've believed it in my head, but I've fought it in action. On the one very selfish hand there are so many situations where I would much rather stew in my frustration and anger. After all, I have been wronged! Everyone should see this and know it!!! My children should suffer the consequences of being obnoxious when they should have known better!!!! (Can't you hear my righteous indignation?) Of course, the glaring problem with this attitude is that it's all about me.... My pride has been wounded. God should be on my side on this, after all.

Not only am I full of pride in this, but I'm letting fear reign. What will change if I let go of this righteous indignation? What if I don't like how God changes me as a result? What will He make me do that might make me act really differently and stick out like a sore thumb in the world around me? Will I face more suffering if I let Him take control of this? I can't handle more of that! Again, one part of my brain sees these fears and scoffs at them. I know "whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day" (1 Timothy 1:12). Don't I know Him? Can't He guard these things? I've seen Him do it. I've seen Him take suffering in my life and turn it into huge growth and blessing. And yet I still fear.

So can I really just thank Him for the fruit and let Him do the work?

I'm trying to take on the challenge. Today was a long day with the kids. We seemed to have meltdowns happening every couple minutes for good portions of the day. Tonight there was a continual rain of tears from Clare and Ev as they scrubbed down and readied for bed. In the midst of it I found myself praying, "Lord, thank you for giving me your patience." I prayed it, though I wonder if I prayed it with a tinge of sarcasm. "Yeah, right.... We'll see...." And then, after stories were read and the kids were tucked in, and more tears were falling from my eldest because her daddy had to work late and couldn't be there to pray with her, there in the midst of all that I realized that I wasn't frustrated with her and snapping at her. The patience was there.... I hadn't changed me at all. God had.

I am in awe. I am humbled.

Now onto tomorrow....

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Books Worth Reading

Saturday morning I finished the second book of a series that was recommended to me by a librarian friend. I enjoyed both books--junior fiction fantasy with some allegorical twists and nods to C. S. Lewis in that a boy is swept from our world into another. So, a fun read, particularly for someone like me who is one of those strange creatures that thrives on certain fantasy and sci-fi :) .

However, I didn't regret putting the book down because another was waiting for me. It is a novel that I'd originally planned read later this summer when we're traveling, but the author has hosted a competition for a great blog post review and I succumbed to the irresistible temptation.... That, and the fact that I don't think I could have waited three more weeks to read it!

The book is The Monster in the Hollows, the third segment of The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, who is also a talented singer/songwriter. Once again, I was delving into the junior fiction fantasy realm (personally, I think the majority of quality stories are in junior fiction!), but based on the first two books in the series I had a feeling that this experience would be more than just "a fun read."

And it was. No question.

Last fall when I plunged into the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, it was well worth the adventure, though I admit that initially I wasn't sure if the book would rank among favorites. I liked the humor, and there was something greatly appealing about a complete work of fiction that had footnotes referencing fantastical historic instances and lofty-sounding texts as if we should all be able to find them at our local library. But at first the book didn't seem quite serious enough with its lizard-like "Fangs of Dang," despite the main characters' fears of the Black Carriage which periodically appeared to carry children away to the realms of Gnag the Nameless. As the story unfolded, however, layers were revealed, and suddenly it was so much more than a funny story. The characters fleshed out and grew, the plot flipped and turned and surprised, and by the end of the book I was hooked. The second book, North! Or Be Eaten, was even better, and by the time The Monster in the Hollows came out last month I knew this was one of those series we'd want on our own shelves. (And it is now--or it would be if I didn't keep lending it out to friends :) .)

So what is it about a book whose protagonist is a twelve-year-old boy that hooks a mom of young kids (kids so young that it will probably be another year before they're able to enjoy the stories)? I've come up with my top nine reasons....
  1. There is nothing like escaping from a world of laundry and dishes into a land where the humdrum of daily life is punctuated by threats of toothy cows (and worse).
  2. You discover that your worst fears for your children's safety and well-being are pretty unfounded in the grand scheme of things. After all, they aren't likely to meet a cloven, or be captured by Stranders, or taken by the Black Carriage, etc.
  3. You find yourself standing taller, because you feel that in some small way you are as gracious and queenly in your children's eyes as the mom in these stories (and she's not perfect; she's just a cool mom!).
  4. When you see your neighbor's overgrown puppy chewing everything in sight it crosses your mind that having a family dog might not be such a bad idea after all.... (NOTE: This is one of the dangers of reading these books!)
  5. When your kids start squabbling, you smile because you know that down deep they really love each other and will stick up for each other, just like the Igiby children--and you have the chance to help guide them in that.
  6. You may have a hard time putting the book down, but you know that you will be well-satisfied when you finish each book, because even though certain themes still need to be resolved, the main plot of each book has been neatly wrapped up. There's no mess left at the end that will nag you and interrupt your day until the next book comes out!
  7. There are songs out there worth singing, drawings worth sketching, stories worth telling, and you get the opportunity to hand them on to your own kids.
  8. Even though the books are set in a different world, the people are real with feelings and internal struggles to which you can relate (and as a result, you see new ways you can handle your own).
  9. No matter how hard things get, no matter what we suffer, God has His hand on each of us. He wants to change "something twisted into a flourish" and take something "bent and make it beautiful" (The Monster in the Hollows, p. 205), and He can do that with our lives when we let Him.
So yes, there are some books that are fun...and then there are other books that are well worth reading.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dogwood Awakening


In the summer of 2009, we revamped the landscaping in our front yard, eliminating two annoying weeping mulberry trees and a lot of lava rock. In place of these horrors of creation, we created a grassy sward (sounds nice, though it's still a work in progress) and planted a dogwood tree. The tree is in memory of Keren, though I know that if we ever move, we aren't exactly going to dig up the tree and take it with us! But for now, it's our memorial tree.

I love dogwoods, but I've had a slight disdain for dogwoods in Michigan after spending my college years in the warmer climes of southeast Pennsylvania. In that part of the world, dogwoods are great, gracious ladies who in spring shake out their pink and white skirts with elegant flamboyance. They're a little like this picture, but even bigger.

In Michigan, dogwoods are delicate ornamentals, resilient in our cold winters, but fairy creatures that hide their beauty behind the flashier pears and crabapples.

The longer I deliberated on what tree to place out front, however, the more I returned to the dogwood. Maybe it was the romance of the legend of the dogwood, or maybe it was just that I love its beauty more than any flowering tree.

Our little dogwood weathered the winter of 2009, and in the spring of 2010 I started to scrutinize its branches to see what it would put forth. As a result, I discovered that the dogwood is more amazing than I ever dreamed.

The first thing I noticed were tiny woody nobs growing on the tips of some branches, while on others sharp points seemed to break right through the wood. It looked a painful process.
 Slowly the nobs grew, till eventually they opened to reveal the starts of the blossoms. Even then, though, they didn't burst out fully-formed like crabapple blossoms. Each flower unfolded its warped, but colorful petals with careful deliberation.

Meanwhile, the sharp-tipped branches forced out pairs of leaves, raised upward like hands in praise....

When the flowers finally unfurled, they displayed their colors with dignity and grace, their very blemishes a part of their beauty.

This literally took place over the course of a month last year. This year it went a little more quickly, but happened later in the season.

I have never seen anything like it. It amazed me how God had given us such a perfect tree to remind us of our beautiful, "imperfect" Keren. How He had created her to be one that blossomed slowly, letting us drink in every step of her development. She was warped and flawed in so many ways, and her successes came through excruciatingly hard work, like the dogwood blossoms breaking forth from tough wood. And yet like the dogwood leaves and blossoms, Keren lifted her eyes heavenward, seeing things we could only imagine.

I don't mean to portray her as a saint; she was just as human as any of us. Actually, I think her life and the awakening of the dogwood are quite a bit like me. I am a hard little tree with nobs and points at the end of my branches. But God is slowly, slowly helping me grow. He's prying open those nobs and unfolding beautiful, stunted blossoms that will someday be fully formed. He's opening those tiny, sharp points and making them soft, open hands lifted up to Him in prayer and praise. He's giving me the strength to weather the winter storms so that each spring I can put forth a little more show. And one day I might even be one of those elegant dogwoods of Pennsylvania.
 






Monday, May 16, 2011

Hosanna!

Last week was full of spring. The kids and I walked to school each day, relishing the calls of the robins, cardinals and red-wing blackbirds. We caught sight of a mother duck with her ducklings, played "Pooh Sticks" on the bridge, counted the fish we spotted in the stream, and watched the dogwoods unfold their flowers. We breathed deep the fresh air and the fragrance of the crabapple blossoms, and stared up into the blue, blue sky. Even the dandelions in the field were golden treasures scattered on an emerald carpet.

One would think it was a perfect week. But the beauty in this world only reaches to a certain point in the soul, and when the soul is sore all the beauty in the world won't cure it.

My heart, mind and soul seem to have been aching all spring and I'm not sure what will be the cure.

On the one hand my objective brain can analyze the situation: The weather has been, for the most part, miserable this spring--cold, wet, gray. There are some big issues that I've been working through that relate to my posts over the past few months (note: no posts for almost two months), and there hasn't been resolution (except that Kraig and I know where we are on the issue, and we're together on it; can't complain there!). The kids have been hit with a number of spring bugs, and two weeks ago I was hit upside the head with a nasty cold as well that is finally getting better (and Kraig has just gotten it, lucky guy :( ). In the middle of that cold, I managed to pull off a major personal failing--one of those where you wonder why God didn't give you a nice, big nudge in the midst to let you know that you were about to make a royal mess of things. As a result I had an epiphany that while I may have learned the vital truth that we must "fervently love," I have still to figure out that others perceive love differently than I may show it. On top of this, I've been short with the kids, I miss Keren, I'm not writing, my kitchen (not to mention house) has reflected my state of mind, yada, yada, yada....

So yes, my objective brain looks at all this and says, "Loren, you are depressed."

Nice to know, isn't it? But immediately a chorus from my subjective brain takes off:
"Why, Loren? Why are you depressed? Is this a chemical imbalance? Do you need to see someone? Or is this all spiritual and you need to hand it to God to take care of? Remember, 'Cast all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you!' How long do you think this is going to last? How long does it need to last before you know you need to do something about it?" Etc., etc., etc.

What I really feel like is what Paul cries out in Romans 7:24 after he has gone on about doing what he doesn't want to do, and not doing what he does, and that continual struggle between the heart that longs to follow God and the body that continually acts against it. "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" I deeply relate to the words from Andrew Peterson's song, "Hosanna," "I am tangled up in contradictions. I am strangled by my own two hands...." My own actions seem to turn around and trip me. I feel I'm floundering and failing at everything.

And yet even in the midst of this wallowing (there is a self-pitying giant rumbling beneath this) I know the unalterable truth. "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" That clarion truth-call cuts through all the webs around my soul, and my objective brain knows that I am caught up in lies when I could be singing praise along with the world burgeoning with spring about me. But for me right now, my song is "Hosanna," which appropriately means, "pray, save us!" I know the truth, but I'm not sure how to break free of the webs. I know only Christ can show me the way, and I'm not sure when He's going to show it. I am in a waiting period, utterly dependent on Him because I don't have the strength to fix this.

So in other words, I am exactly where God wants me.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Love is...

I have a quote running through my head that I'm almost positive is C. S. Lewis, but I can't track down the source. "Just because I have to love someone," Lewis states, "doesn't mean I have to like him." I can't tell you how many times I've referred to that quote, or appreciated it, when faced with very unlikeable people or situations. But it's not an excuse, because we do have to love....

In Bible study we've been working our way through 1 Peter, and this week we finally got to dig into chapter 1, verses 22 & 23:
22 Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23 for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.
I've been wanting to delve into this because it's something I've been dealing with a lot recently. How do I truly love "the brethren," that is, other Christ-followers, particularly when I'm not thrilled with what they are doing?

We had to check out the root words for the two "loves" used in verse 22. Not surprisingly, "sincere love of the brethren" is from the Greek word "philadelphia" aka "brotherly love" (or a city in Pennsylvania :) ). So in a nutshell, our "sincere love of the brethren" is a result of being born again "through the living and enduring word of God," an act of obedience on our part. We love one another because God desires us to. But it's not just a nod of "Okay, I love you, brother!" It's not a matter of liking or feeling warm-fuzzies for other believers. It's a lot stronger. We're to "fervently love one another from the heart." "Love" here is the hard, strong "agapao," the love that God has for us--unconditional, engulfing, encompassing. It is a love that delights in someone or something by an act of the will, a choice, not an emotion that fades or a passion that fizzles. It's not something we can question, "Do I really love that person?" It's a matter of choosing to love. To use a quote I did find from C. S. Lewis: "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone you will presently come to love him."

So after digging into these words, the follow up in my study was, "List some practical ways you can love one another from the heart."

And that's where the rubber meets the road. Instead of practical, active deeds of love that would reveal that great secret of love, my mind was filled with questions:
How do I love the person who seems to deliberately ignore me when I am in her presence? 
How do I love the person who refuses to be humble; who will not take suggestions because if incorporated they might indicate the person giving suggestions was "right," while he was "wrong"?
How do I love the friend who is struggling to feel accepted, no matter how much acceptance is extended? 
How do I love my kids when I'm completely frustrated with their stubbornness? 
I know on the one hand that I can't love them in and of myself. It is only in my obeying the truth that I can love, and the truth is that Christ saved me and chose to love me when I was unloveable and I couldn't do a thing about that. In the same way I must choose to love these people in my life, to delight in them even when I don't particularly like them....

How can I demonstrate this love? Last week one of the women in my study shared a situation where a friend who had hurt her was suddenly in need and asked her for help. She didn't feel like helping at all, but she prayed about it, and God filled her with compassion for this hurtful friend. She said it was amazing, because it wasn't her own feelings at all--it was all Him. And I think that's the key. And while it sounds simple, it's so hard to let go of my hurt, my frustration, my anxiety, and bow to Him and say, "Okay, Father, take away my pettiness and replace it with your agape love."

That's the starting point. I think I still have to think through some practical outworkings. I know God can provide the love, but I'm not sure how to show it. Does He give that answer, too? I'm praying about that.   
 4 Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous ; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5 does not act unbecomingly ; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6 does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.... (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Maps...And Using Them....

This morning I double-checked my directions before heading to a baby shower. My dear pal Google Maps gave me numerous ways to make the ten minute trek; unfortunately the most direct route meant wending one's way through one of those golf course subdivisions where there are boulevards and odd turns. I've made my way through that sub before, but I don't think I've ever done it without backtracking or getting completely turned around. Despite this history, I looked at it this morning and thought, "No problem. I can pull it off this time!" I didn't print out the directions, but I wrote down the directions figuring that would be enough.

It wasn't.

Twenty minutes later I had managed to get out of that sub, but due to overconfidence on my part (in this case that the road I would emerge from would be the road I was supposed to come out on) I didn't know where my next turn was. Thankfully a call to the party hostess resolved my problem, and I got to the shower.

Later, as I drove home, I thought of the old analogy of how the Bible is our map on this road of life. We may know our destination--where it is, the general route, etc.--but if we don't use the map on our way we're bound to get mixed up, have to backtrack, and at the worst get completely lost. In my case, too, while I had written out the directions, I didn't look at them again until it was too late because I was so sure I had the streets straight in my head. How many times do I do that with Biblical truths? I've learned them many times, I've written about them, studied them, but when I'm faced with a situation I don't go back to the Source to make sure I'm remembering correctly. ...And likely as not I've gotten overconfident and headed off on the wrong road. It's often it's stretches where I've gotten lost before--the Mire of Worry, the Cesspool of Self-Pity.... Thankfully I do have the Holy Spirit, and I'm slowly getting better at turning to Him for help as soon as I realize I'm lost. Like the hostess of the event I went to today, when I call on Him, He helps me back to the right road.

Now to not get off track in the first place!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Words, Words, Words....

Natural formation named after Lot's wife who became a pillar of salt
On Wednesday evenings this year I've been helping my parents with an ESL (English as a Second Language) Bible study. We started in September with a brief Bible overview, then jumped head-long into Genesis, with the goal to study the book of Genesis in the course of the year. We're currently in chapter 18; almost halfway through! In our small group we have a mix of Jordanians, an East Indian, a few Chinese, some believers, some not. There are also five Americans helping out, though I think I can honestly say we're learning as much as the students! There's nothing like delving into the Bible with international perspectives!

Every week along with reading and discussion, we deal with new vocabulary words (pronunciation and meaning). Last night was no exception as we plumbed the depths of words like lunge, bolt, pillar, and righteous. The other week, a young German woman who's been staying with my folks was able to come and while her English is flawless, she's been having a blast learning new words. The word of the night that week was "carnivorous." You just never know how a word will hit a chord...or a funny bone!

I love words! I love how they can be simple yet beautiful, or simply repulsive just in the way they sound. Recently I read a blog post that used the phrase "limn loveliness" and my heart soared--how awesome a word is "limn!" It just sounds wonderful as it comes off the tongue! (It means, by the way, "to depict or describe in painting or word, suffuse or highlight (something) with a bright color or light.") Then there are words like "mush" which I believe is my sister's all-time least-favorite word (correct me if I'm wrong, Carg!). Just try saying it a few times and I'm sure you'll understand.

But there are times that words are so frustrating. There are times when I'm trying so hard to communicate an idea and I feel like I'm failing miserably, either because the words I'm using are not the words of my audience, or the idea behind them is not carried across. I've spent this week trying to write a letter that is of vital importance to me and I want the point to come through clearly. I want my audience to hear the point, understand it, and most of all agree with it, but I don't know if I can pull it off. My words are limited, and my emotions are a huge encumbrance. Emotions tend to make communication almost impossible at times. Then there's the added pressure of wanting them to be Godly and wise...which is where copious prayer comes into play. Thankfully the Spirit "intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance to God's will" (Romans 8:26&27). If only that always worked in talking with other humans!

On a totally different part of the communication spectrum, I'm enjoying the beginning of words. Just this week my eighteen-month-old Jon-Boy has crossed a line. He's communicated very well up to this point, considering his vocabulary has been made up of "Ommy," "Addy," and something indecipherable that refers to his sister Evie. He also has managed the signs for "please" and "thank you" quite well accompanied by a big, cheesy grin and "EEASE!" But I think we've stepped into new territory. Yesterday he came running over to me clutching something in his fist. "Ba-uuw! Ba-uuw!" he said, and handed me a little ball. Ah! "Ba-uuw" is "ball"--got it! Then this morning we were on a walk and some ducks flew overhead. "Ducks!" I cried excitedly. Jon and Ev were duly impressed and when more ducks flew overhead, Jon stopped and pointed, "Dut!" Later this morning he was trying to copy Ev's rendition of "Happy Birthday," and it was almost recognizable (not the tune, really, but the fact that he was stringing some words together in a sing-song way that ended with "oo"). Someday, that child will have words at his command...if he can ever get a word in edgewise with this sisters!

Never underestimate the power of words....

...And those are my deep thoughts for the day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gollum Tears and Dragon Skin

I've been thinking about Gollum today (of Lord of the Rings "My Precious-s-s-s" infamy). I haven't read the books in a long time, nor watched the movies in a while for that matter, but I recently pulled out the theme music from the movies. I wanted to hear "Into the West" which I hadn't listened to since Keren's funeral. It's one of those songs that I've always associated with Keren.

Anyway, listening to that cd (Return of the King soundtrack) led me on to all of the movie soundtracks and this morning I was struck by the words of "Gollum's Song" at the end of The Two Towers. The song is sung with an aching, longing, lonely voice. You feel the angst of Gollum and you hurt for him; he's been so abused! But the more you listen to the words you also realize that he's brought much of his pain on himself. Here's a taste:
So in the end
I will be - what I will be
No loyal friend
Was ever there for me

Now we say - goodbye
We say - you didn't try...

These tears you cry
Have come too late
Take back the lies
The hurt, the blame!

And you will weep
When you face the end alone
You are lost!
You can never go home
It's so sad; he's been betrayed and no one loves him. But is that really true? Or is it his perception? If you know the story, you know that the hobbit Frodo takes Gollum under his wing and tries to give him the path to restoration. We see glimpses of the Gollum he could be/once was, but in the end, Gollum chooses his personal desires, addictions and his pain over the chance to be restored and renewed...and find ones who love him....

The older I get the more I meet people who are caught in Gollum's trap. They want to be loved--they long for it and need it (obviously we can't exist without it!). But they want it on their own terms, by their own definition as to how it should work. And they aren't willing to sacrifice anything to get it; there's no giving up of certain selfish desires. And so they are stuck, and cry out like Gollum that they are betrayed and forsaken and "can never go home." And yet you can see that in the end the choice to be rejected is their own. There was still the chance to accept hard love, but it was considered too high a price compared to giving up their own perceptions of what love should be.

There are some would-be Gollums I've tried to help...and others, regrettably, that I've ignored, given up on completely, or had to step away from for fear of getting sucked into their black hole of self-absorption. It's so hard to know when to let go of them, knowing they will forever think they have been rejected, and never know they could have been transformed.

Of course, I probably shouldn't leave this yet.... How many times have I shed Gollum-tears of self-pity? I'm alone, no one understands me, etc., etc., etc. But each time I've known that it's really a lie. I am not alone; God is with me and He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). I am not misunderstood or unloved; Christ can sympathize with my weaknesses because he is "one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). I have only to believe this, to know that this is true.... But that is the hardest part in the end because it means I have to let go of me and be enveloped by Him.

We've been reading C. S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with the kids and just finished the part where Eustace is un-dragoned by Aslan. Eustace tries to peel off the dragon skin on his own, but he can't get it all off no matter how many times he tries. Finally Aslan says, "You will have to let me undress you." Eustace describes it:

"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off..." When Aslan removes the skin he catches Eustace up in his paws and throws him into the water of a well. Eustace said, "It smarted like anything, but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious...." and Eustace was a boy again, but the "dragon" in his nature, the selfish peevishness, was removed. He wasn't perfect from that moment on, but he was transformed and progressing. He'd let the Lion peel off the dragon.

It really comes down to a choice in the end. Do I want to be like Gollum, lost in my self, grasping at a gold ring until I am lost in fire? Or do I want to be like Eustace and let Christ peel off my dragon skin, leaving me vulnerable, but then throwing me into the excruciatingly painful, joyful effervescence of his never-ending love?



Friday, January 28, 2011

Thinking On Two Years....

What is most mind-boggling is that it has been two years since I saw Keren. Two years ago today she left us here. In some ways it seems like an eye-blink, and then it seems a lifetime. So much has happened since that has formed our lives now, and it's hard to know that she hasn't been here for them. It is hard to look at pictures of her, knowing that I will never see her older than she is in them, to know that her siblings will be older than her before I know it.... But there is so much joy, too, and thought Keren's not here in person, she is still very much a part of our lives, and for that I am thankful.

Recently I had some cds on, and when the final song of one cd transitioned into the first song of the next I knew I wanted to share them today, because they truly reflect the divided state of my heart. The first song is "More," by Andrew Peterson, on his album The Far Country. It's a song of longing for that inexplicable beauty and joy that I know is waiting for me in heaven. The second song is Fernando Ortega's "This Good Day," from his album Home. This song resounds with joy, praise and thanksgiving for each day and moment hear on earth.

Below are the songs. Apologies for the low image and sound quality, but it's clear enough to enjoy.

video

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Resting In Christ

I just read this post on one of my favorite blogs, www.therabbitroom.com. You can see it with a number of great comments here: http://www.rabbitroom.com/?p=11243. I couldn't resist reposting it, because it hits the nail on the head of a truth I've been slowly learning over the past few years. It also (at least in my mind) is related to my previous post about what unity in the Body means and how we can work it out. But I'll let Hudson Taylor speak for himself....

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret

POSTED BY Ron Block
hudsontaylorFrom a letter written by Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, to his sister.
“…I felt assured that there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was - how to get it out. He was rich truly, but I was poor; He was strong, but I weak. I knew full well that there was in the root, the stem, abundant fatness, but how to get it into my puny little branch was the question. As gradually light dawned, I saw that faith was the only requisite - was the hand to lay hold on His fulness and make it mine. But I had not this faith.

I strove for faith, but it would not come; I tried to exercise it, but in vain. Seeing more and more the wondrous supply of grace laid up in Jesus, the fulness of our precious Saviour, my guilt and helplessness seemed to increase. Sins committed appeared but as trifles compared with the sin of unbelief which was their cause, which could not or would not take God at His word, but rather made Him a liar! Unbelief was I felt the damning sin of the world; yet I indulged in it. I prayed for faith, but it came not. What was I to do? When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter…was used to remove the scales from my eyes, and the Spirit of God revealed to me the truth of our oneness with Jesus as I had never known it before. (I quote from memory):
 “But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One.” As I read I saw it all! “If we believe not, he abideth faithful.” I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!) that He had said, “I will never leave thee.”
“Ah, there is rest!” I thought. “I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has not He promised to abide with me - never to leave me, never to fail me?” And…He never will.

Nor was this all He showed me, nor one half. As I thought of the Vine and the branches, what light the blessed Spirit poured direct into my soul! How great seemed my mistake in wishing to get the sap, the fulness out of Him! I saw not only that Jesus will never leave me, but that I am a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. The vine is not the root merely, but all-root, stem, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit. And Jesus is not that alone - He is soil and sunshine, air and showers, and ten thousand times more than we have ever dreamed, wished for, or needed. Oh the joy of seeing this truth! I do pray that the eyes of your understanding too may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ.

…it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Saviour, to be a member of Christ! Think what it involves. Can Christ be rich and I poor? Can your right hand be rich and your left poor? or your head be well fed while your body starves? Again, think of its bearing on prayer. Could a bank clerk say to a customer, “It was only your hand, not you that wrote that check”; or “I cannot pay this some to your hand, but only to yourself”? No more can your prayers or mine be discredited if offered in the name of Jesus (i.e., not for the sake of Jesus merely, but on the ground that we are His, His members) so long as we keep within the limits of Christ’s credit - a tolerably wide limit!

The sweetest part…is the rest which full identification with Christ brings. I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize this; for He, I know, is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me, for in the easiest position He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult His grace is sufficient. It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money and brings me his purchases. So if God should place me in serious perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in places of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that HIs resources will prove unequal to the emergency! And His resources are mine, for He is mine, and is with me and dwells in me.