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.

 

The Mathematics of Grace

It’s no surprise to me that “Math” is a 4-letter word. This is what I am thinking right now as I wait “patiently” (or not) for Chloe to get done with the second of three Math reviews to finish our school year. Yes, THREE. Who needs THREE reviews to end a school year? No one ever, that’s who. For the love of all things bright and beautiful, what are you thinking, Singapore Math? Keep your superior mathematical practices. Seriously, I am ok with the dumbed down American version. This is brutal. Torturous. And I am totally over it. Math. Sheesh. Die already.

Now, I am the teacher. In theory, this means I could do something to alter the schedule. I could abbreviate the Math lesson, or chuck it altogether. Right? Wrong. See, I am the teacher who feels chained to complete the curriculum just as it is written…in its murderous fullness. I toy around with the notion that I have more freedom than that. After all, this is homeschool. Right? Wrong. Today, as I listen to the snap-pop-crackle-hiss of my last nerve endings mocking at me, I must face the truth. I am slave to the schedule. Unremittingly so.

Thank you, Jesus, for lunch breaks and sunshine, or we would be doomed. I am hopeful review number two will go down in the books after we refuel. And that leaves ONE more between us and summer. Bring it, Math. You are going down!

I think we are close enough to the finish line now to thank God for His grace to get us through another year of homeschooling. And to answer the question, “Are you smarter than a 5th grader”? Umm…No.  At least not in &^%! Math. Now that we have that all out in the open, I may as well ask for prayer, because Chloe will begin the 6th grade in the fall. 6th grade!? Middle school. I am not ready for junior high. Can you imagine the end of year reviews? Good grief, each day has enough evil of its own.

It is funny how quickly we’ve found ourselves here. I remember when I started homeschooling – 6 complete years ago! I have almost been homeschooling for 7 years! That is unbelievable. People always ask me, “How long do you plan to homeschool?” And I always answer, “We are taking it year by year”. I guess this many years into it, I have to admit we are in it for the long haul. I am always amazed at how God helps us. His grace abounds more. He truly is all-sufficient. Even more than enough to get this frayed mama and student to the end of Math yet again. Nothing short of miraculous.

1 + 1 = Grace wins, every time. Oh, my friends, I intend to soak up every mathless ray of His matchless grace this summer. Not a gloomy word problem in the sky. :)

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.

Into the Garden, Lover of my Soul

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“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9).

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered loud tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered, and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:7-9).

“In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrew 2:10).

Reverence, submission, obedience, suffering. These are not popular words in our time. I wonder as I read the Holy Scriptures about Jesus if we can draw near enough to listen to His last night in the lonely garden. We seem so far removed from His anguish there. Can we hear the depth of His suffering and distress? Can we understand what was rent for us in His ultimate sacrifice?

It is hard to breathe when I consider Jesus there that night. I know I am like the disciples. Sorrow-laden and heavy with sleep. Keeping watch is hard in the blackness of night. Jesus knew their temptation, and He sees our weakness. I find solace in knowing He understands the depth of my depravity. He went before me for this very purpose. Through the garden, to the Cross, to the joy set before Him beyond it; He opened the path of life and righteousness for us all.

Today, it is fitting to walk slowly through Gethsemane with my Jesus. To think on His overwhelming sorrow and distress, His surrender to the Father, His obedience unto death on a cursed tree. May we, even in our weakness and temptation, see Jesus today….really see what His suffering and death bought for us. By God’s grace, He drank our cup of death, that we might drink the cup of everlasting life.

“Let the King bring me into His chambers….I delight to sit in His shade, and His fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and His banner over me is love” (Song of Songs 1:4, 2:3, 4).

Today, as we sit in the shadow of His death, may the fruit of His life and love be sweet to our taste. May we grasp the goodness and mercy following us all our days; the table prepared for us, His Kingdom that has no end.

As I finish this post, a storm has gathered outside. There are flashes of lightning, thundering booms, and a heavy downpour from the heavens. The rain seems fitting for the mood of today. It stopped as abruptly as it started, and I am thankful in this timing too. My heart responds, Send your cleansing flood, O Lord. Your healing mercy fills me with joy. Sorrow may last the night, but joy comes with the morning.

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:9-11). 

Enter the gates of Gethsemane with thanksgiving and praise. Into the garden with the Lover of your soul. See Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, lower than angels, but now seated firmly at the Father’s right hand. Eternal pleasures in heavenly places. Commander of wind and rain, and angel armies. The Lord Most High.

All glory, honor, and power to you, Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.