The Way We Were

My twenty year high school reunion is next weekend. Twenty years! That’s three years longer than the age I was when I graduated. While my high school years seem like they happened to another person in another time (well, actually it was another time…two decades ago), at the same time it seems inconceivable that it’s been so long.

As part of the reunion planning, the committee in charge of said planning put together a website where alumni (or is it alumnus? Don’t know my Latin!) can register for the reunion, submit their pertinent info, see who’s still “lost” and who’s been “found.” It even plays the school fight song. We the alum’s have been invited to send in pictures to be posted on a gallery page. Some have sent in current pictures, but most of the pictures are from our high school adventures, or misadventures as the case may be. I have to admit I didn’t even recognize a lot of the people in the pictures, partly due to the fact it’s been awhile, like twenty years, and partly because I just didn’t get out much. As you have probably suspected, I was something of a nerd. I am featured in a couple of pictures though. My husband, who did not know me in high school, remarked on how young I looked. I did, and I was.

All of this reflection and remembering has prompted some of the strangest emotions in me. As I began to realize how little I really was a part of the “in” crowd, it began to bother me, now twenty years later. Isnt’ that silly? I mean, I knew I was more of a wall flower, certainly not the belle of any ball. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends and a boyfriend. I was happy. I just didn’t belong. And seeing it in living color so many years later was a surprise.

A friend from high school emailed me a few weeks ago. I haven’t heard from him nor “laid eyes on him” since the night we tossed our mortarboards in the air. We exchanged the usual “what have you been up to” kind of conversation that one would typically have with someone they haven’t heard from in ages. As I typed the words “I’ve been at home for twelve years” (nearly thirteen actually), I thought to myself, can it have been twelve years? (You can see I am having great trouble understanding time and its inevitable passage.) Twenty years have passed, and my accomplishments include getting my college degree, marrying a wonderful man, birthing four children, changing mounds of diapers and now fixing lunches and doing laundry and scrubbing toilets (only occasionally) and transporting children.

I know that I know that I know that THIS is God’s call on my life. Many of you will say to me “it’s the most important job you can do” and you are absolutely right. But, can I say that sometimes I feel the pressure of our culture that tells us our significance is found in our accomplishment? How easily we buy into the lie! As I reflected on the past twenty years, I admit I wondered if I was a waste of potential. I wondered if…maybe…perhaps…

As I peer into the eyes of the former me posted on the photo gallery, it feels sometimes like I am looking into the eyes of a stranger, or perhaps someone I used to know, but now the acquaintance has faded. I think of the hopes and dreams of that girl and wonder if she knew that this is how it turned out, would she be excited? Disappointed?

I do know this. Whether the high school me would be glad about becoming the current me or not, the current me would do it all over again exactly the same way. Actually that’s not entirely true. I don’t want to do it all over again. I want to be here in the now of my life. I know my God now in an intimacy I would have never known possible twenty years ago. I can say with Paul that by God’s grace I am what I am. Thus far the Lord has brought me. He has blessed me so, and I am grateful.

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On writer’s block

Today has been an exercise in frustration. I will not tell you how long I have been sitting before this computer screen attempting to write something, anything. If I were to confess to you the number of minutes I’ve spent here, you would no doubt think that surely I have something else to do, something way more constructive, and you would be right.

Writer’s block would be an apt description of my current state. (or would it be Blogger’s block?) The more I strive, the more I begin to wonder, is this–all of this–just an exercise in futility? As words elude me, I ask myself if I really have something to say after all. Echoes of my first post, for those of you paying attention. Perhaps I am wasting my time, I tell myself. Isn’t this struggle a sign of the self-serving nature of blogging? If I can’t write something profound, a post well thought and carefully constructed, why write at all?

I heard a Bible teacher say that we often hesitate to say yes to God and His plan for our life because we lack the persistence to follow His call. We think that God’s way means the easy way and when it is not, we decide that must be a “closed door.” Not that blogging is necessarily a call from God, but I see in me that desire for the easy route. Today blogging is hard. Today the words don’t come. Today I wonder if anyone would even notice. And today I wonder why blog at all.

I do that in other areas of my life as well. There are days my prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. God seems far away and His Word dry and irrelevant. My heart is cold and loving others nearly impossible. There are times I wonder why pray at all. Why read the Word at all. Why serve others.

Saying yes to Christ demands persistence, a pressing on and striving forward (Philip. 3:13-14). Persistence is not persistence when all is easy and comfortable. Persistence by definition requires facing some degree of difficulty and pushing through. There will be times when following Jesus is hard work, plain and simple.

I think of the promise of Isaiah 40:31,

those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I am reminded of something I read by Mark Buchanan where he speaks of the exhilaration of soaring like eagles and running without weariness. Yet most of us find ourselves in the tedium of walking, one foot in front of the other. Persistently, sometimes slowly, going forward, even when it’s hard. Relying on His strength when the words are few and the prayers are dry.

Press on…He will be faithful to us…

Blogging Tutorial

So many have remarked to me that they have no idea what a blog is…hence, a short tutorial. In the interest of full disclosure, I have only a rudimentary knowledge of blogging myself, but what I have, I hereby give to you.

The term “blog” is short for “web log” which as the name implies is an online log or journal. The term has been modified to include the verb “to blog” or “blogging” which is the writing of the aforementioned online journal.

In the blog, there is the opportunity to give feedback or contribute to the conversation. At the bottom of each blog entry, or post, there is a line that looks something like “(0) comments.” This is a link and should you click on it, a pop up window would appear and you could read the comments that have been posted to that particular entry, should there be any.

If you would like to post a comment (which, by the way, is ALWAYS welcome!) you may do so by clicking the same comment link. In the pop up window there is a space for you to type your comment. Since most of you reading this are not bloggers, you would identify yourself either as “anonymous” or “other” and then type in your name and follow the other directions. The user name and password request is for those with blogger accounts.

You may also email a particular blog post by clicking on the little envelope icon at the bottom of the entry, to the right of the comment link.

Blogging also offers the opportunity to link to other blogs. Clicking on the links to the right will take you to other blogs that I read fairly regularly. Same options there for commenting and emailing.

So, there you go!

To rescue the perishing

Several months ago while sitting in traffic headed to the elementary school, I witnessed a car wreck. Actually, to be clear, I witnessed the aftereffects of a car wreck. I did not actually see the two vehicles collide, but I did see a Jeep Cherokee go flying in the air, hit the ground on its nose and roll over, finally landing upright. It was amazing, like something straight off the track at a NASCAR race.

Immediately people pulled over, getting out of their cars, many dialing cell phones. One woman in particular caught my attention. She had parked her vehicle on the other side of the road from where the Jeep Cherokee had “landed.” She had gotten out of her car and was running–not jogging, not walking quickly, but running as fast and as hard as she could–across four lanes of traffic to get to the driver of the Jeep. I can only presume she was some sort of trained medical personnel, and with an urgency equated with a life or death situation, she ran to the rescue.

Now, from my vantage point, I could see the driver shaking his head and moving around. He was no doubt shaken up, but certainly not in grave danger. But the woman hurtling herself across four lanes of traffic could not know for sure. All she knew is he could be hurt and she could help. She could have easily reasoned away her motivation to be of use. “Let someone else go,” she could’ve said to herself. “Someone who knows more should go. An ambulance driver–he’s paid to save people. This isn’t exactly in my job description. Besides, I’m in a hurry and I might be late for work. I might get dirty.” Yet she went. It wasn’t convenient and it surely wasn’t her preference–I mean, who wants to be seen running across the highway at its busiest time of day? She could have used any number of excuses and no one would have ever known.

But instead, she ran.

What an example she is to me! Now, I could offer nothing in this present circumstance but throwing up in the case of blood or offering to dial 911. The latter had been taken care of and the former would be of little help. Yet spiritually, there are throes of people around me in very real life or death situations. It is the difference between eternal life or eternal hell. Am I prompted to rescue those who could be perishing? To run with urgency? Even if it means darting across traffic and other opposition and inconvenience? Or am I content to rationalize away my involvement with any number of excuses?

Lord, give me a sense of urgency, an eternal perspective, a compassion for the dying around me who are lost without You. Let me see with Your eyes!

One Smart Dead Guy (or, George Muller on Prayer and Meditation)

I have recently enrolled in Brad Williams School of Dead Theologians–not that he is one, a dead theologian that is. He is most definitely a theologian, yet one that is alive and kicking. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Click here.

Anyway, I have begun reading The Autobiography of George Muller, a fascinating account of one man’s faith and commitment to prayer and the Word…and God’s faithful provision. Consider the following excerpts on “Preaching, Studying and Growth”:

Rather than presuming to know what is best for the hearers, I ask the Lord to graciously teach me the subject I should speak about, or the portion of His Word I should explain…

A preacher cannot know the hearts of the individuals in the congregation or what they need to hear. But the Lord knows; and if the preacher renounces his own wisdom, he will be assisted by the Lord. But if he is determined to choose a subject in his own wisdom, he should not be surprised when he sees little fruit from his labors…

Neither eloquence or depth of thought makes a truly great preacher. Only a life of prayer and meditation will render him a vessel ready for the Master’s use and fit to be employed in the conversion of sinner and in the edification of the saints.

Now, lest any of you are getting worried, I do not consider myself a preacher of the Word, yet even the humblest teacher can gain from Muller’s insights. Just prior to reading the chapter excerpted above, I was mulling over in my mind possible topics and Scripture references for an upcoming teaching opportunity. Okay, let’s call it what it was: worry. I was worrying and fretting, trying to make my plans and ideas “work.” Not praying. Not asking God. Rather, presuming to know what is best, just as Muller described.

I realized how often my prayer consists of “Bless this, Lord” as I continue on in the way that seems best to me. How often I have my own agenda (“there is a way that seems right to a man”), and I am seeking the Lord’s enabling to carry out the plans I have for me. Determined to persist in my own wisdom, and therefore seeing little fruit.

Contrast such willful presumption with the prayer and meditation Mulller describes. A life of prayer and meditation. He certainly practiced what he preached, often spending 6 hours or more in prayer, and sometimes praying all night long. No quick, “bless me and bless this” praying for him.

“if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:3-6)

Calling out, crying aloud, looking and searching, prayer and meditation. And the promise? Knowing God.

One more quote from George Muller, a poor preacher in England in the 1800’s:

“To live in constant communion with the Lord, and to be habitually and frequently in meditation over the truth is its own reward.”

May we all know such reward.

The heavens declare the glory of God

We are (finally) enjoying our first taste of fall, hands down my favorite time of the year. I’ve had the windows open and my “spiced cider” candle burning. The cooler breeze, the brilliant blue of the sky, the gorgeous pink of the sunrise we saw this morning as I drove my son to school–all prompt in me an excitement and anticipation which is difficult to explain.

My devotional reading this morning included Ps. 19:1-2,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands,
Day after day they pour forth speech,
night after night they display knowledge.

God is revealing His glory! We see Him in the beauty of His creation! Isaiah 6:3 reminds me “the whole earth is full of his glory.” I see His glory and I am compelled to worship! What beauty, what glory, what majesty are His! And to think, this is nothing compared to the glory to be revealed…

I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes–I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

In comparison…

The other day I was outside chatting with a couple of my neighbors, all of us stay at home moms. When stay at home moms get together, we tend to chat about one of two things: our kids or the lamentable state of our homes. On this occasion we discussed the latter. One friend spoke of washing her windows and her ceiling fans. In the same day. That very day we were standing in my backyard talking. The other friend confessed to being unable to stand dirty windows, and wished she could only get around to vacuuming out her van. Both neighbors agreed they planned to mow that day or the next.

I went inside.

I am no housekeeper, not in the least. I have tried to spiritualize my lack of domestic achievements by claiming I am fixing my eyes on what’s eternal (2 Cor. 4:18), and neither dust nor the rings in my toilet are eternal. (Are they?)

But I left the conversation with my neighbor friends terribly discouraged and absolutely convinced that I was the worst housekeeper ever, the worst mother ever, the most worthless, horrible excuse for a stay at home mom in the history of stay at home moms. I totally hated myself. I had compared myself to them, found myself different, and saw it as lack. We women do it all the time: I am insecure about myself, I compare myself to so-and-so, and end up despising myself.

Or, sometimes I compare myself to so-and-so-number-two, and instead of feeling worse about myself, decide that, next to her, I’m pretty good, and suddenly I’m all puffed up with my own self-righteousness.

Both are deadly. Whether I am consumed with how horrible I am, or consumed with how much better I am, I am still consumed with ME. There’s one word for that: PRIDE.

And it all began with comparison borne of insecurity.

I was insecure–wait, who am I kidding? I am insecure because I equate my significance with what I do: I don’t do windows and it never occurs to me to clean my ceiling fans nor vacuum my van, therefore I must be worthless and insignificant. While it certainly does matter that I maintain my home with some semblance of order (and please don’t get the wrong idea, it may be chaos, but it’s not unsanitary!)…my worth is not found in my housekeeping skills, nor my blogging skills, nor how well I taught Bible study last week.

God has called my neighbor friends to maintain their homes with a certain degree of excellence and I applaud that. He has called me, well, to something different, but not necessarily less. I am not significant because of what I do (or don’t do for that matter). My significance lies not in my self-worth nor my self-esteem. I am full enough of myself as it is. My significance is in God. As John Piper says in Taste and See:

“the preciousness of knowing God and mirroring him well enough by my delight in him that others can see his worth in me and join me in enjoying him. Now that would be real significance!”

As much as I may sometimes wish I were, I am not my friends. Perhaps one day some of their housekeeping skills will rub off on me. Whether I become a domestic diva or not, it matters little. What matters is that whatever He calls me to do, I “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), delighting in Him so that others can see His worth, not mine.

Quo Vadis

Last night I finished reading Quo Vadis, a beautiful love story set in the Roman empire during the reign of Nero. My good friend Cindi had recommended the book, having ordered it as part of her son’s homeschool history curriculum. Written well over 100 years ago, Quo Vadis tells the story of the Roman noble Marcus who falls in love with a young Christian girl, Lygia. In the course of Marcus’ pursuit of Lygia and his search to understand her faith, Rome is burned under Nero’s orders and the Christians blamed. Unimaginable persecution, torture and execution follow. Men, women, and children are fed to the lions and other wild beasts. Others are crucified. Others are used as human torches to light Nero’s wild parties. All for Roman entertainment. All because they placed allegiance in Christ above all.

In this novel, the Christians meet death with peaceful dignity, which inflames the Roman hatred against them all the more. They sing hymns. They rejoice “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41) They know that “to die is gain.” (Philip. 1:21) They eagerly anticipate heaven. They are grateful for the privilege of martyrdom.

I think to myself–what if (perhaps when?) such persecution were to come here, to me? Would I stand? Would I claim Christ in light of such torture? Could I joyfully embrace death? I want to think I could and would. But what about my children? Wouldn’t I denounce Christ to save them? But what kind of salvation would that be?

Hard thoughts. Oh, for faith to stand…

Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned ; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated– the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith… Heb 11:36-39

(By the way, despite the solemn nature of this post, I really do recommend the novel. It reads slowly at first, and I wouldn’t read it for its theology necessarily, but on the whole, a wonderful, intriguing read.)

A Heart Set On Pilgrimmage

I was on my way out to sit on the back porch with my coffee and my journal (you know, those blank books people used to write in before there were blogs). I am facing an unusually hectic day and wanted to pour out my woes in paper form, which is generally the form my journal entries take. Woes, that is. I wish I were a faithful chronicler of my journey with God. Instead, I tend to only turn to my journal when overwhelmed or panicky or some other extreme emotion. Rather than an account of my journey of faith, my journal becomes instead the record of one “fit” after another. Before God, of course.

Awhile back I was cleaning out my bedside table and found a couple of old journals, one from over ten years ago, when my firstborn was my only-born. Intrigued, I sat down to read and remember. As I glanced through the entries, I began to realize these pages read like my current journal. Same struggles, same stresses, same “fits.” In fact, you could almost rip the page out of one and paste it in the other and never notice the difference. And over ten years’ difference between them.

“Haven’t I learned anything?” I cried out to God. “Am I really so shallow? So un-teachable?”

I thought of Psalm 84:5, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimmage.” I want to journey with God. I want to go forward. I want to “set the Lord ever before me” (Ps. 16:8) and follow Him wherever He leads. I want to know Him in ever-increasing intimacy. I want a heart set on pilgrimmage, a heart that refuses to settle for status quo, a heart that “strains toward what is ahead.” (Philip. 3:13)

Yet the Holy Spirit is teaching me there is no shame in taking the same issue to Him. Even for ten years or more. He is the only safe place to take it. Whatever weighs on me, whatever weighs on you, keep taking it to Him. Daily. Hourly. Minute by minute if necessary. “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Ps. 62:8). What’s on my heart today? What’s on yours? Pour it out before Him. He wants it all.

So today, as I head out to the porch (after this little side trip to the computer), I will set my heart on pilgrimmage, looking to Jesus. I will pour my heart out before Him, casting my cares on Him, knowing He is my refuge. May you do the same, and be blessed as you find in Him your strength. Let’s be pilgrims, not settlers.

Let the games begin!

I am a soccer mom. I drive a mini van, with folding chairs, umbrellas and a lone goalie glove in the back. I can probably drive to the soccer fields in my sleep. I know not to yell “Kick it! Kick it HARD!”, but rather “Cross!” or “Switch!” or “Shot!” I understand red cards and yellow cards and know, thanks to our good friend Bill Simmons, that one cannot yellow card a coach (another story for another time…let’s just say it involves my zealous soccer coach of a husband and an equally zealous albeit misguided referee from another city). I am fixer of gatorade bottles and washer of uniforms. I can explain the offsides penalty to the uninformed. I watched the World Cup. With interest. The number of soccer matches I have attended probably numbers in the hundreds. I am the quintessential soccer mom.

The thing is, for all my soccer expertise, it’s only secondhand information, based on observation (much, much observation) and what others (my patient soccer coach husband) have told me. I’ve never actually played the game. Well, except for that one time a couple of weeks ago when my husband got me out in the yard to demonstrate proper defensive strategy to our youngest son. It pains me to admit this to you, but I think I may have kicked the ball with my toe.

No, I much prefer the superior wisdom (that self-important kind) of my chair on the sidelines. There, I can talk the talk, loudly if necessary, yet properly maintaining my status as a spectator, not player. Not unlike many in our churches: those who know the whole Christian lingo and appear to know of what they speak, but really, if you get down to it, it’s only secondhand information. They only know what they’ve observed and what someone else has told them. They do not know Jesus any more than I know how to play soccer. Here’s how Jesus put it:

Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Matt 7:22-23 (NIV)

I know that life is more than a game and it is not my intention to suggest otherwise. However, I do believe that our pews contain spectators thinking themselves players who attempt to come near to God based on their words and their works and will instead one day hear the ominous words “Depart…I never knew you.”

As I watch my sons play a game they love, I am sometimes envious. Oh, it’s hard work all right. They sweat and run and push and get knocked over. Yet they know something I have never known: the thrill of the game, the exhilaration of getting out there and getting dirty. At the risk of sounding terribly trite ( and despite this post I really do hate sounding trite), I’m called to play on God’s team. He has a game plan, “good works, which he prepared in advance for [me] to do.” (Eph. 2:10) Yes, there are the spectators posing as players, yet sometimes I am the player choosing to be a spectator. It’s far easier and way more comfortable sitting in my folding chair on the sidelines with my sweet tea in the cup holder. Getting in the game involves some risk. There is that chance of getting knocked down. There are trials and suffering. All is not easy on the playing field. Yet there is much at stake: the glory of my all glorious God and not to mention an enemy who has a few licks coming to him. May I forgo the temporal comfort of the spectator and choose instead to strap on my shin guards and lace up my cleats and get out there and get dirty, for the sake of the gospel and for the kingdom of my Lord Jesus!