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

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.

 

Weathering the Storm

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“O my child, I am coming to you walking on the waters of the sorrows of your life; yes, above the sounds of the storm you shall hear My voice call your name”
– Come Away My Beloved, Frances J. Roberts

We had looked forward to this vacation for months. My family loves the beach. I so enjoy watching my kids play there. My daughter loves to observe the sea life. One of my favorite images is of her, laying on her belly, sandy feet up, examining her latest find. My son runs his legs off, up and down the shore. He loves to chase the birds and dig in the sand. This year, he was delighted with his new board, and announced he is now ready to “boogie”. He graduated from a baby board to a big one. So much growth in the span of a year. So many wonderful memories we have from our trips to the beach. And this year, we almost missed out on more because a storm was coming.

Headed right toward us.

We were so discouraged by the reports on Hurricane Erika. She was moving powerfully, destructively, through the islands off the coast. Mud slides, floods, deaths. Her dangerous path devastated each place she touched, and she was getting a little too close for our comfort. We were alarmed to learn she was expected to hit the coast of Florida by the weekend – the same weekend we were set to arrive at the beach.  The weather reports were not good. Solid rain, thunder, lightning. We didn’t know the protocol for a hurricane threat, and wondered if we’d even be allowed on the island. And, if we were, would we want to be there?

We prayed about it, and continued to monitor the situation. We considered canceling or going someplace else, the opposite direction. I checked the beaches all the way up the East coast. I have to laugh now at the thought of us trying to outrun the storm. Far enough North to not get the rain, yet South enough to get the warm temperatures. It was a gamble, at best. In the end, we decided to head that direction and see what developed overnight, at our half way point. By the next morning, Erika had changed course and was losing power. Good news and answered prayers. The weather still forecasted doom and gloom for our week but we felt we had to at least try to go as planned. So off we went, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

I am happy to report our beach trip was better than anticipated. I praised God all week for allowing us to have this vacation time together. In weathering the storm, I learned some things about life too. As I walked the beach the morning after one of the worst storms, I noticed debris everywhere. Piles of broken sticks, coughed up like giant fur balls, littered the shores.

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I kept hearing, “weather the storm” in my spirit as I weaved through the ruins purged from the sea. Our beautiful beach looked ugly, wrecked by heaps of brokenness. I wondered if it would ever be the same again as I quietly sat – listening and watching. God’s word to Elijah came to mind, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by”. Elijah stood, listening, waiting, try to make sense of his life. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks….but the Lord was not in the wind” (1 Kings 19:11). After the wind, came an earthquake, followed by a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in those either. Finally, a “gentle whisper” came to Elijah. When he heard it, “he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13). The Lord’s question caused Elijah to examine his life. I found myself doing the same in the quiet aftermath of the storm. Each crash of the waves seemed to wash over my worn soul and whisper renewed hope. Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”. Weathering the storm is necessary if we are to hear the whispers that follow it.

Everything about us wants to “duck and run” when trouble rises. But what if it is only by sticking it out, through the storm, that we learn who it is that commands them? Jesus said, “It is I, do not be afraid” to his disciples, who were desperately trying to row a way out. Instead, What if we put down our oars, take a breath, and trust the Lord of the Sea to steer our ship? To the storm, Jesus said, “Be quiet!” Who is this King of Glory that even the tossing waves settle at His command? Have you stood through your storm long enough to hear the whispers rise in the settling?

We live in a world where storms are common, and deadly. Where three-year-old little boys wash up on shore; a life dashed, along with our hope of ever finding a refuge far from the storm. We cringe, we fear, we instinctively turn away. No one wants to face the harsh reality in the wake of the storm. It’s ugly, and life is different on the other side. But there is a sacred rhythm at work in the wreckage. The waves of His love continue to heal and restore life.  I noticed, by the end of the week, most of the debris was gone, and a new path had emerged. A path still bearing the scars of the storm. A solemn, yet sure, sign of survival. I knew it then: the purging had been necessary. I felt it in my soul – new space, with room to breathe, move, grow, change.  I had heard Him whisper in the washing of the waters. His love, like a siren sounding above the noise of my life; peace falling on me, wave upon wave.  The surface glittered like radiant diamonds on my last morning there, a treasure out of the darkness. I turned back toward the hallowed ground of my storm-tossed life with a renewed sense of courage; made brave in the breaking of His Sovereign Hand.

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As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

Read more: Bethel Music – You Make Me Brave Lyrics | MetroLyrics

More photo “treasures” from my trip:

Top: a seagull in flight, whispers, “look at the birds, Your heavenly Father cares for you”
2nd: a hibiscus in bloom, says “see the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin”
3rd: the reeds of the marsh, whisper “a bruised reed He will not break”.
Last: The palm trees shout, “Hosanna!”

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On Living and Dying

I have decided
I called out his name
I’m following Jesus now and
He knows the way
I made up my mind
I’ll leave it behind
-Brandon Heath

The sermon last Sunday was on commitment. “How committed are you to Christ?” was the question posed. My husband and I led worship. We sang about not turning back, following Jesus all the way. We prayed, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done”, even as we strained to apply these difficult words to our lives.

I thought of Jesus in the garden, “If it is possible, take this cup, Father”. It isn’t wrong to ask the Lord for relief from suffering. I don’t have to pretend everything is ok, when it isn’t. Like Jesus, we wrestle in anguish with our own will. And each must come to the place of surrender; a voluntary laying ourselves down before Him, “Not my will, but yours, Father”. Our pastor shared about the cost of following Jesus – the required cross we must take up daily. I found comfort in the realization that even Jesus stumbled under the weight of it all. He staggered and fell on His way to Calvary. But He got back up and continued on. And so do we. This is the lifecycle of a committed Christian.

I just read yesterday that Kara Tippetts went home to be with the Lord on Sunday. How fitting for Him to call her home on His day. She must have entered with singing – the worship of the whole world gathered for Sunday services. My own voice was among the throng ushering her into glory. I wrote about Kara last fall . The link will take you to that post and more of her story. Since then, I have been following Kara’s blog: Mundane Faithfulness. In the past few weeks, I’ve had a stroke of anxiety at each new post in my inbox; fearing this would be the one to say she was gone. I knew the day was close at hand. But knowing didn’t keep me from experiencing deep sadness in her loss, especially for her “loves” as she calls them. Kara is survived by her husband and four children. She was only 38 years old, but she lived and died beautifully.

I was thinking of the fragility of life this morning, which led me to this passage, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12).

The way she carried the cross of her cancer revealed the life of Jesus. In Kara’s brokenness, we see the light of His glory and grace. This is all any of us can hope to accomplish this side of heaven. And to hold firm to Jesus, as Kara did, believing, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Although, those troubles seem anything but “light and momentary” as we strain under them. But in this hope of glory, we press on “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10). Today, I am grateful for the ways Kara’s life enriched my own. Her example has made me rich. Thanks to her, I possess a little more of God’s coming Kingdom. She valiantly fought the good fight of faith ; showing what it is to be living, yet dying, full of the light and life of Christ. Kara was committed to Christ. I rest in the thought that she entered heaven to the tune,  “No turning back”.

CHORUS:
No turning back
No turning back
I’m moving on
Not looking back
I’m giving him
All that I have
No turning back
No turning back

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to support her children. Information is available at this link .