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

The Trifecta of Christian Life

If you are like me, you might be a little sleepy this morning. I have been staying up way too late watching the Olympics – waiting for the gymnastics to begin. What is especially silly about this is knowing hours in advance who already won the medals. Each time Simone won the gold, I saw it posted on Facebook long before the recorded event on television. But I still wanted to see her perform, to experience that moment of victory with her.

Am I trying to live vicariously through the Olympians?

Perhaps, a little.

Staying up so late sure isn’t doing much to perfect my game here at home, where the demands of my life are often more than I want to give. Especially when I just want another hour of sleep. Paul said, “Run in such a way as to get the prize”. But it’s hard to psych yourself up, knowing the only “prize” in my immediate future is settling the dispute over who gets the one in the cereal box today. Not exactly Rio, you know? Everybody wants the Copacabana life (how come Ryan Seacrest gets all the good gigs?), but, in reality, we are living Coco Puffs. <<<<We aren’t getting our faces on a cereal box anytime soon, either, if we keep eating that stuff.

So, how do we embrace our actual lives with the same spirit, discipline, and work ethic of an Olympian? Because one thing is for sure, we will need every bit as much drive, determination, and devotion to get there. Paul wasn’t being superfluous in using the picture of an athlete to illustrate the life of a Christian. He was, as always, dead serious. This is what I am reflecting on this morning in my bleary-eyed haze. I think it’s time to get serious about running this race “marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1), which I am totally planning to do as soon as I guzzle another pot of coffee and recover from my last night of Olympic coattail-riding. (Thank God, gymnastics is over!)

I say my calling is to “faith, hope, and love”. Not as tangible as gymnastics or swimming, but these are the fruits that last in God’s eternal Kingdom. I once heard a Bible study leader refer to these as the “trifecta” of the Christian life. I looked up that word, “trifecta”, which means “a variation of the perfecta in which a bettor wins by selecting the first three finishers of a race in the correct order of finish”. Kind of like betting on who is going to win the gold, silver, and bronze, but the trifecta is a term used more in horse racing. And like a horse, I must wear “blinders” to all the distractions and get focused on the track before me, submitting entirely to the every lead of the horseman who is driving me to the finish. Yes, I just said Jesus is our jockey, but I think the picture works. He knows the order of our victory: faith, hope, and love – the triple crown of the Christian life.

Last night, I heard Aly Raisman’s coach told her “she is stronger than ever” and should consider returning to 2020 in Tokyo. This is the same coach who wouldn’t even look at her when she came back to the gym and said she wanted to train for Rio 2016. Even he didn’t believe that Aly could get back to an Olympic level. My, my, how things have changed. Aly proved she still has what it takes to compete and win. I am grateful that we have a Coach who always believes in us, even when we doubt ourselves. He coaxes us out, back to the track, no matter how many times we’ve walked away. Jesus has set our race before us, carefully marked out the lines, and the order of finish. He knows exactly what He is aiming at, and, even more, He has the power to bring us all the way home. Champions of His grace – a prize worthy of our all.

 

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.

 

Spring and Random Things

Hi friends,

It has been too long since I’ve written. I often have leanings toward writing, just little time to sit down and get it down before it’s gone. I am trying to embrace this season, and there are a lot of good things happening. But honestly, I miss the quieter times, and hope to return to a more regular rhythm of writing….someday.

For today, just wanted to check in to say, “Hi” and update you on a few things around here. First, Art for Adoption is in full swing. We finished out the gallery show for the Schaadt family, making about $700 more to add to their total of over $1700, matching grant grand total: $3400! The Schaadt family leaves tomorrow for China! It is so gratifying to be part of something real-time and tangible. Nyah, your Mommy and Daddy are on the way! There is a lovely, supportive community forming in Art for Adoption. People are buying my art, but they are doing so much more! Truly, this God-inspired initiative is eternally significant, and I am honored to be part of it.

We’ve identified our next feature family, the Whitacre’s:

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Actually, Jon and Jessi are friends of ours. We go to the same church and homeschool co-op. They are the couple who spoke to our church about adoption on Orphan Sunday. They adopted a little boy from China last year, and God has called them to adopt again. This time, a little girl from China named, Elsie:

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We’ve held one round of auctions for them, which raised $271. I am busy making art to continue with another round or two of auctions in April. Here are some tulips, from my table at Easter, I painted the other day in  watercolor. They will be in the next round of auctions:

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I love the flowers of spring, and hearing the birds chirping outside my door. This is also the time of year when we are straining to the finish line of our homeschooling year. The birds and flowers spur me on in my morning prayer times. We are in the last quarter now (Hallelujah!) and in full swing of planning for next year. This week is the annual homeschool convention that I and many of my mom-teacher-friends attend in Cincinnati. I have so been looking  forward to hearing the keynote speaker, Ann Voskamp , this year. I love her writing and her story, and, frankly, I am in need of some encouragement in the mother-schooling-life department. Ann is great at that. Her writing always lifts my vision and my spirit. And then, God did something really cool this week regarding that. I am going on Saturday with Jessi (Whitacre – above, Art for Adoption). Jessi had planned to wait outside and have a little time to herself while I listen to Ann, but then she saw a blog post from Ann this week with an announcement. Ann is also adopting a child from China, also a little girl, and she is traveling to China next week!! I thought it was so sweet for God to connect Jessi and I in this work of Art for Adoption and then bring this connection with Ann Voskamp. So, now Jessi is going with me to hear/meet Ann, and I am beyond excited for how God might encourage us all through it!!!

And, finally, one more thing I wanted to share…

Easter Sunday I had a tiny breakthrough. I started to realize how the enemy of our souls tries to victimize us with our past (and present) struggles. I caught a glimpse of Jesus – our Victorious Risen Savior – and decided it is time to put a stop to Satan’s torment. Stop allowing him to haunt my mind with the grief and pain of yesterday. I decided to refocus on today, and rise with Christ to a bolder, more confident faith. This is the power of His resurrection in real, daily living.

My life circumstances did not change on Sunday. In fact, I had a deja vu of sorts during worship. We sang the song, “Death in His Grave”. Here is the chorus:

On Friday, a thief, on Sunday a King
Laid down in grief, but woke with the keys
Of hell on that day, the firstborn of the slain
The man, Jesus Christ, laid death in His grave.

I remember singing that very song a few years back on Easter Sunday. I remember this specifically because I had to leave in the middle of the service. I had a visit with my son that morning, who was in the county jail at the time. This was the last song I heard before I headed out the door for the visit. That memory came back along with the stinging realization that my son is still in prison. Not a lot has changed. But yet, it is changing. I am changing. My son is changing, as we both grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus.

I thought about how God used the lyrics of the song that day to embolden me to go and share the Gospel with my very troubled boy. And then, how He was using those same words right then, in that moment, to cause me to rise in victorious faith. I thought of how many of us live in prisons of our own making, when Jesus holds the keys.

Believer, the door is open. You can walk out of the cell of painful circumstances. You can choose to lock up Satan’s continual accusations and torment. Jesus has the keys. He can lay your pain right in His grave. Make this the year to put it to death, and rise to a more glorious and victorious life in Him. Amen?

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

 

 

 

 

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.