Costly Perfume

I read something recently that said something like, “ Whole fields are crushed to make an ounce of fragrance”. This thought has been rolling around in my mind lately as I am enjoying the short season of bloom happening with my roses in the backyard. Here are a couple pictures taken last week:

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I purchased the roses last year because of their sweet fragrance. Yeah, I was “that lady” walking around Lowe’s sniffing the roses like a weirdo. They were beautiful and so intoxicating. I stumbled around between the aisles, drunk on their lovely scent. I couldn’t narrow it down to just one, so I bought two bushes. Yes, two. $50 bucks in roses. I skipped happily home, imagining a glorious season of clipping fresh blooms, filling my house with beauty and dreams.

But the dream turned nightmarish before I got them in the ground. What did I know about caring for roses? First of all, I about died while digging up the hard ground to plant them. Preparing the soil? Pish Posh. A tiller? Nope. Just me and a shovel in a hole that could be big enough to plant a swimming pool soon. But I persevered.

Roses in the ground. Check.

The next problem I noticed was the blooms were very delicate. I am talking f.r.a.g.i.l.e. The same day a rose opened, the petals fell to the ground. Like the entire flower. Clumps of petals fell , leaving behind an ugly potsherd of a center nub.

Vases of blooms all summer long? Uncheck. Potpourri, maybe? 

I had hope.

Until the beetles arrived.

No one told me about the blasted beetles. Ugly, black beetles took up residence in my roses. I am talking a whole nation of them. In every crevice, everywhere. These beetles brought brothers, and cousins, and nephews, and, well, you get the picture. It was nasty. My beauties were gone in a matter of days. The beetles destroyed them. Completely. All of them. Every.one. My rose bush corpses stood naked and ashamed the rest of the year. I had hoped for roses, now had only thorns. Life lesson, anyone? Something about beauty and ashes? 

So, this year when the roses started to bud and bloom, Glory! I got ready with the camera. I snapped some pictures to remember what once was. I even managed to clip a few that I enjoyed indoors for a minute, until a band of earwigs filed out, and I moved the rose bowl back outdoors. Sigh. No clue about bugs and roses.  Seriously, who knew roses were so hard to grow? So much against them. Such a short cycle of bloom and beauty before the barren begins again.

Is it worth it?

This is the question I ponder as I tend my roses. The Christian life can feel like this. So difficult, and so much comes against us. Can we really hope to be a long-standing sweet perfume unto the Lord? I thought of Mary, who poured every ounce of her costly nard over Christ before the Cross. “Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume” (John 12:3).

Judas, the traitor, objected to such waste. The hypocrite – who later traded his Treasure for 30 pieces of silver. Hardly competent to criticize.

But Jesus, our Treasure, spoke up for Mary. “Leave her alone…it was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial” (John 12:7). The Rose of Sharon, whose hour had come, the hour when His seed would break and fall to the ground, producing many more. He who lived this question out in his own life, “Is it worth it?” HE thought her act was worthwhile, appointed even for the hour. Yes, the roses are worth it, though fields are crushed for an ounce.

Though we are crushed in its making.

Could our lives be a costly perfume? A brief season of fragrance we can offer to the Lord, or not. The choice is ours.

But so is the result.

The life that pours out has fruit that lasts in the treasury of heaven. This life bears more than brief roses, and leaves behind more than naked shame. His promise, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25) means little, until you’ve stood in your own ravaged garden, clinging to crushed remains, believing there will yet again be a season of beauty.

Light that Swallows Shifting Shadows

“Sunny morning
You can hear it
Siren’s warning
There is weather on both sides
And I know it’s coming

Just like before
There’s a black dog
That scratches my door
He’s been growling my name saying
You better get to running

Can you make it better for me
Can you make me see the light of day
Because I got no one
Who will bring me a big umbrella
So I’m watching the weather channel

And waiting for the storm”[i]

My breakfast room faces east. The morning sun streams in through the deck doors and stretches in long diagonals across the table. My youngest, Jamie, is always the first up, although not as early as his younger years. We’ve spent many a morning in darkness at that table, eating cereal to the jolting sound of cartoons invading my quiet first cup of coffee.

I used to resent that – no time of morning without a kid on my heels. I could not get past him. Even when I awoke first, Jamie would hear my cracking ankles down creaking steps, and inevitably come bumping down behind me. I quit trying. Now, Jamie and I sit together at the morning table. He eats and watches the noise, while I tune it out and try to read.

I like to open all the windows and welcome the morning light. Jamie usually lasts only a couple bites before he’s up closing the curtain, complaining about the sun in his eyes. One morning, he surprised me with a deeper revelation. I am learning not to underestimate a child. Just when you think your 7-year-old is lost is his latest Lego creation, leaving a trail of crumbs to clean, he turns and holds out bread. Soul-nourishing, faith-infusing, hope-inspiring bread.

After he closed the curtain, Jamie returned to his seat, turned to me and asked, “Mommy, will we have shadows when we get to heaven?”

    “I don’t know”, I answered, “What do you think?”

Jamie paused to consider it for a moment, and then spoke with the full weight of glory, “No. There can be no darkness when He brings us to the light”. Just like that – a theologian emerged from the Captain Crunch. I sat stunned, trying to absorb all he addressed in one simple sentence. So much to hold onto in the face of the shifting shadows and storms of life.

What Jamie didn’t know was how hard I had been wrestling in the darkness. How the shifting shadows were trying to swallow me down. Even my dreams betrayed my fears. I went to bed praying off worry, and awoke with a loud cry in my spirit. I surely have walked in the valley of the shadow of death, and I have been afraid. I have often tried to outrun that “black dog” growling my name, nipping at the heels of my heart. Relentlessly. I have become skilled at forecasting the storm, trying to steer around the worst of it. Jamie didn’t know any of that, or how hard his momma was fighting for hope of a shadowless day, in a Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

Jamie surely is a gift from the Father of heavenly lights. I welcome his boisterous footsteps behind me these days, as much as I welcome the morning sun. What I didn’t know until that day is that sometimes the boy brings the light with him down those stairs.  A ray of sun across the shadows of my heart. Bread of truth to a hope-hungry soul.

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm,
He is Lord, Lord of all[ii]

[i] Song, “Weather Channel” by: Sheryl Crow

[ii] Song, “Cornerstone” by: Hillsong United

When You Have a Thinking Problem

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6)

I was discussing the Meyers-Briggs personality test with my son recently. A counselor in the prison offered it to him as a means of self-discovery. He is an “ENFJ”. On paper, we have some similarities, and one striking difference. Whereas, he is a strong “F”, or feeler, I am a strong “T”, or thinker. As we discussed the differences between the two, a lightbulb of sorts went off in my head.

I’ve realized for some time how my thinking (I should say over-thinking) leads to trouble. I am a person who will think and re-think every possible angle of a situation, looking for anything that I could have done differently to change it, prevent it, or improve the outcomes. This has led me to take on more responsibility than is truly mine, especially with regard to my children. That being said, you can imagine the type of grueling self-analysis and scrutiny that goes into trying to understand a son in prison. Let’s just say, I have been sorting through the “yours, mine, and ours” pile for years, trying to determine what parts I need to “own”, what parts are their responsibility, and what parts are the common pre-disposition of our fallen nature. The sin disposition we all share, whether or not we “own” it, and that can only be dealt with in Jesus. (Praise God for His grace!)

My son tells me often I beat myself up too much. He doesn’t want me to take on anything of his situation. I appreciate that he is in the process of recognizing his responsibility, even if he is slow to acknowledge the true cure (Jesus!). I also appreciated the opportunity to look at my thinking problem again, and glean the learning the Lord is showing me from it.

Years ago, a friend of mine quoted Psalm 139 to me in regard to my situation. “It is too lofty for you”, she had said. And it was true. The situation was so much bigger than me, my frail and limited understanding, and my impotent thinking power. In these years, I am learning (slowly) the meaning of “leaving it all quietly to God”, what it means to “be still” before Him in absolute trust of who He is, and the power He has to redeem life, relationships, and situations.

All in His timing, and His ways….which are MUCH higher than mine.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

He allows us to be put in these situations, I believe, not only to show us our own limitations, but to reveal His limitless power and all-sufficiency. Coming to the end of our own thinking capacity, drives us to our knees – the best posture to receive true wisdom from on high. The only posture where wisdom is possible, because all true wisdom comes from God. We can’t think our way out of a wet paper bag… that is a trustworthy saying worth taking to heart!

Oswald Chambers once said, “You can’t think your way out of a spiritual muddle….you must obey your way out of it”. I love that. Oswald has a memorable way with words, doesn’t he? And his advice also happens to be absolutely true. Take it from a muddler, who has made a long-standing practice of mulling it over, and over, and over. One who has been proud of her ability to think on her feet, think of creative solutions to problems, think her way out of a jam. This thinking is the way of stumbling in deep darkness, we don’t even know it is ourselves we stumble over. The way to light is through obedience, “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4).

Think of it this way: casting down our higher thinking opens us up to thinking from on high. The Lofty One, in high and holy places, dwells with the lowly and contrite in spirit (Isaiah 58:15).

And a note to the worriers: this over-thinking is the road to regret, guilt, and self-loathing. “Godly sorrows brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10). Take Him at His Word, and leave your worries there.

 

When you are Pouting in Patmos

A picture is worth a thousand words. Visualizing something helps us internalize it. I have been working with Chloe on her writing skills. Specifically, describing a character in a way we can “see”. I am learning it often takes more than a first pass to do a good job with this, and that’s where the trouble comes in. Both of us are tired of the activity and ready to move on long before we’ve given it enough work and rework to do our character justice.

I find it’s the same with life. We often don’t look long enough to really get the lesson. This keeps coming up for me again with an area of struggle. As I mentioned before, I am studying Revelation this year. And it is full of vivid imagery. Crazy, in fact. Hard to know what to take as literal vs. symbolic. And even harder to know what/how to apply it to my actual life. But I keep coming back to John – the disciple who received and wrote down the Revelation. God won’t let me get distracted by all that’s happening. He keeps bringing me face to face with the character of John. Clearly, there is a life lesson he wants me to look hard and long to learn.

John, who has pastored the first century church. John, who had been an elder in Ephesus. John, who took care of Mary, the mother of Christ. John, who enjoyed years of fellowship with other believers, faithfully doing the work God had given him.

But that’s not where John is now.

Now, John is alone on the island of Patmos. Exiled unjustly by persecutors. I am sure at great personal cost, sacrifice, loss of comfort, etc. Possibly even in shock, confusion, and trauma. This most certainly must have been a difficult change for John. I can think of more than a few reasons I would have been rather unhappy about it, if not downright disgruntled.  But not John. We don’t see any evidence of pouting in his part. John, in faith, kept right on doing the things he did all those years of fruitful ministry.

“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…” (Revelation1:9-10)

Here is John in worship and prayer on the Lord’s Day. Like always. Even alone, even when experiencing the pain of persecution. John keeps doing what He is called to do, trusting in God’s purpose, presence, and provision in Patmos. Hmm. Is that so?

This is the part when I became vividly aware of my brooding spirit. Sure, I’ve gone through the changes of the last year, and I have kept doing what I feel God has called me to do. But reluctantly, and fighting a pervasive poutiness all the way. I’ve confessed a rotten attitude to the Lord many times, and asked Him to renew my spirit. But frankly, it is still a struggle on most days.  John’s steadfast spirit has encouraged me to persevere despite my poutiness. To “see” that John received a greater revelation as He continued to serve the Lord in faith – making no provision for the flesh that wants to sit down and sulk. And resisting Satan, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy our faith and our lives. What change are you wrestling with? Confused by what God is doing and what it means for your life? What is your Patmos, the place where you are sorely tempted to pout?

Here is a trustworthy saying: God does not speak to sidelined saints.

Rise up and do the things you did at first. Even if you feel futile, empty, and alone. Especially then. And know you are not alone. The God of Revelation stands behind you, ready to speak to him who has ears to hear.

A Word and a Prayer

Where did the year go? Here we are once again on the edge of a new year. New grace for the hour. Renewed strength for the days ahead. Praise the Lord for how He guides us, often in spite of ourselves. I pray your Christmas season has been full of the presence and peace of Christ, as we prepare to go forward into this new year, ever-trusting in our Savior.

Have you picked a word of focus for 2016? My word is “devotion”. It is connected to the idea of wholeheartedness, of coming back to Christ as my center, the Fount from which all of my life flows. I hope to reestablish a more robust daily devotional time with the Lord, and grow in my devotion to Him through prayer and meditation.

One of my Christmas gifts this year lends perfectly to this aspiration. It is a collection of Puritan prayers from the 16th and 17th centuries, entitled, “The Valley of Vision”. It is said, “the strength of Puritan character and life lay in the practice of prayer and meditation”. Many of the Puritans recorded “God’s intimate dealings” with their souls, “to test their spiritual growth, and to encourage themselves by their re-perusal in times of low spiritual fervor”.

I love that expression. Basically: to regroup, rethink, come back to center. Devotion.

To start the new year, below is a prayer from the book to give voice to our praise for God’s faithful love to us this year and to express our desire to go deeper with Him in 2016. Happy New Year, dear friends.

Year’s End, Valley of Vision (page 111)

O LOVE BEYOND COMPARE,
Thou art good when Thou givest,
when Thou takest away,
When the sun shines upon me,
When night gathers over me.
Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world,
and in love didst redeem my soul;
Thou dost love me still,
in spite of my hard heart, ingratitude, distrust.
Thy goodness has been with me during another year,
leading me through a twisting wilderness,
in retreat helping me to advance,
when beaten back making sure headway.
Thy goodness will be with me in the year ahead;
I hoist sail and draw up anchor,
With Thee as the blessed Pilot of my future as of my past.
I bless Thee that Thou hast veiled my eyes to the waters ahead.
If Thou hast appointed storms of tribulation,
Thou wilt be with me in them;
If I have to pass through tempests of persecution and temptation,
I shall not drown;
If I am to die,
I shall see Thy face the sooner;
If a painful end is to be my lot,
grant me grace that my faith fail not;
If I am cast aside from the service I love,
I can make no stipulation;
Only glorify Thyself in me whether in comfort or trial,
as a chosen vessel meet always for Thy use.

Amen.