Tag Archives: Inspirational

Towers

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When I was in (Christian liberal arts) college , I was the angst-y sort.  I listened to Counting Crows and Ani DiFranco. I dated a guy who wrote a play about an intelligent but melancholy chick who questioned everything.  Her name was Sarah, and she was (TA-DA!) me.  In the play, titled The Bridge, Sarah (played by moi) stood on a rickety old wooden bridge with different people in her life and discussed deep issues like how-far-is-too-far and did-my-parents-screw-me-up.  The play was a huge success.

I made a friend who was a kindred restless spirit.  He and I would sit around on the (for real) old railroad bridge near our school, smoke cigarettes, and contemplate weighty topics with the earnest duality of angst mingled with idealism.  We decided that there are two types of people – blinking lights and steady lights.  We based this insightful metaphor on the radio towers that peppered the endless Indiana horizon.  These radio towers gleamed blinking lights on their pinnacles and steady lights on their lower rungs.

Blinking lights were on top, we mused, but they paid the price by switching off half of the time.

Steady lights were, well, steady. They were unfailing, dependable; but lower.

(D to the RAMA…….)

I lived like a blinking light.  After all, I had a well-developed metaphor to justify, right?

Throughout my twenties, I danced a long, broken rhythm of failure and salvage. Through both extremes, I learned that I am the beloved object of divine pursuit.  I began to recognize the steel underpinnings of mercy in an inconsistent life.  Slowly, I understood the cost and the glory of holiness.  The Holy Spirit transformed me deliberately, excruciatingly, through a lifeline of grace in the murky waters of regret and loss.  The joys of those years far outweigh the pain. I finished college and graduate school, moved to breathtaking Colorado, met and married my best friend, gave birth to two miracle babies, experienced indescribable healing, settled into a beautiful life.  The theme of my twenties was REDEMPTION.

though i have closed myself as fingers, 
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens 
(touching skillfully,mysteriously)her first rose. (e.e.cummings)

As I approached my thirties, to be blunt, I wanted to get off the crazy train.  No more aching crashes and burns, no more falls from earthly grace.  I began to hunger for my long redemption to produce the quiet solidity of righteousness. The theme of my thirties is PURITY.  I ask God to transform me from a wrecking ball into a rebuilder as He purifies me.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach and it will be given to him. James 1:5.

The Lord whispered the theme of PURITY for my thirties through my friend Tosha, who has a theme for every decade of her life.  To cultivate PURITY, I prayerfully decided to devote myself to developing a PURE character trait through every year of my thirties.  Last year, the character trait was truth.  This year, it is forgiveness.  

(Why do I choose forgiveness?  Click here to read why.)

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Heb.12:12-13.  I thought I was good at forgiving, but, to my shame, I have discovered recently that my arms are feeble and my knees weak. This year, I pray for strength deep and abiding to be a grace-giver.  I remember well my seasons of limping, falling forward into grace.  I want to shine a light of grace on those in darkness.  I want to build a towering monument to forgiveness in my life.  Blinking or steady, it does not matter; I want to shine forgiveness from a glowing countenance free from shame and strongholds.  This is the year of forgiveness.

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Eve

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Tonight’s the night the world begins again.  Goo Goo Dolls.

Everything changed when Mary heaved and strained that night.  She birthed Messiah in a rush of blood and water, delivering SomeOne entirely new, entirely transforming, into the brokenness.  Bethlehem was swollen with census travelers, so nobody noticed the young woman swollen with Christ-child.  She brought Him to us in the shadows of a humble stable, frightened and young, torn by birth pains, all alone but for farm animals and an exhausted fellow traveler, Joseph, certainly inept in the feminine wisdom of childbirth.

But then He came, sliding onto straw, held for the first time in human hands, beheld for the first time by human eyes.

In excelcis Deo.

 And everything changed forever.

So take these words and sing out loud
’cause everyone is forgiven now
’cause tonight’s the night the world begins again….

Light dawns.

The wait is over.

The heaviness lifts.

Advent is fulfilled.

He is here.

Living Grace, Incarnate Messiah, God wrapped in flesh, King of Kings, Lord of Lords.

Hallelujah.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. Is.9:6.

Emmanuel

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14.

Frederick Buechner –

“Christmas is not just Scrooge waking up the next morning a changed man. It is not just the spirit of giving abroad in the land with a white beard and reindeer. It is not just the most famous birthday of them all and not just the annual reaffirmation of Peace on Earth that it is often reduced to so that people of many faiths or no faith can exchange Christmas cards without a qualm. 

On the contrary,

if you do not hear in the message of Christmas something that must strike some as blasphemy and others as sheer fantasy, the chances are you have not heard the message for what it is.

Emmanuel is the message in a nutshell.

Emmanuel, which is Hebrew for “God with us.” That’s where the problem lies.

The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place “the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity” came to be with us himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One whom none can look upon and live is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts himself at our mercy.

Year after year the ancient tale of what happened is told raw, preposterous, holy and year after year –

the world in some measure stops to listen.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. A dream as old as time. If it is true, it is the chief of all truths.

If it is not true, it is of all truths the one that people would most have be true if they could make it so. 

Maybe it is that longing to have it be true that is at the bottom even of the whole vast Christmas industry the tons of cards and presents and fancy food, the plastic figures kneeling on the floodlit lawns of poorly attended churches. The world speaks of holy things in the only language it knows, which is a worldly language.

Emmanuel. We all must decide for ourselves whether it is true.

Certainly the grounds on which to dismiss it are not hard to find.

  • Christmas is commercialism.
  • It is a pain in the neck.
  • It is sentimentality.
  • It is wishful thinking.
  • The shepherds. The star. The three wise men. Make believe.

Yet it is never as easy to get rid of as all this makes it sound. To dismiss Christmas is for most of us to dismiss part of ourselves. It is to dismiss one of the most fragile yet enduring visions of our own childhood and of the child that continues to exist in all of us. The sense of mystery and wonderment. The sense that on this one day each year two plus two adds up not to four but to a million.

What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us. 

Emmanuel. Emmanuel.”

Emmanuel.

God                    With                 Us

A neverending kiss of endless Incarnate Grace.

Hallelujah

Preparation

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Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Is.40:3.

I work fast and furious at the end of a long clamor of day hours.  My shoulders clench at what is still undone.  I mix gingerbread pancake batter, stir coconut milk hot cocoa, google advent verses, clean a bathroom that is simply too gross for me to have in my home for one more moment, tidy what feels like swamps of clutter, handwash dishes because my dishwasher is kaput (again. first world problems.)  My phone and computer blink as my inbox and voicemail bloat, unaddressed.  Unwrapped presents sit in piles downstairs.  Lucy needs a new winter coat before we leave for Vail.  The dog has not had a walk in days, and I neglect my writing.

I place the advent wreath in the center, the heart, of the dinner table.  I trace my fingers over the tiny porcelain baby Jesus. “Remember to remember Incarnation,” He whispers to me,”I AM the source of this season of swirling preparation.”

Jack and Lucy bounce at the garage door in anticipation of Daddy’s arrival.

The garage door finally rumbles.  The joy of Daddy’s homecoming lives daily triumphant in our home, resulting in a rousing game of CHASE.  Dreamy Scott kisses me hello, smiles into my eyes, but I see the creeping fatigue, the reckoning of endless hours. I recognize my story, too, in those weary eyes. This decade should be called the Tired 30s,” I remember sweet friend Kristen saying one night.  Yes.  We all live so tired from the effort of building a life worth rejoicing in.  It is hard work creating a safe place, beating back this fallen world.

CHASE reigns for a loud era of the evening.  Finally, we sit around the table, preparation finished, dinner hot and inviting. We eat and laugh.  Our shoulders relax; the tangled knots of stress fall away in the warmth of happy voices.

We light the Candle of Hope with a flare of fire.  We review our prayers of Hope from last week.  Then I hold steady the Candle of Hope while Jack tips the waiting wick of the new candle, Preparation, into the flame.  The Candle of Preparation – ignited by Hope.  We sit in silence for just a moment as we gaze at the glimmers.

“Do you know what preparation means?  It means getting ready for something.  What are we getting ready for right now?  Yes, right, Christmas!  Advent is when we remember to wait for God.  He is already here, of course, but Advent reminds us of waiting for the very best gift in all of history – baby Jesus.  Tonight we celebrate preparation, getting ready for Jesus.  We remember that is is valuable to work hard for something that has not yet happened, but will certainly come.” 

The candles gleam a circle of golden light dancing on the faces of the Three I love.  My heart turns over in the candlelight. I remember why I spend my days in constant movement.  I do it for them.  I look at Scott, reach out to touch his fingers.  He does it for us.  We are so tired from the busy preparation for the sake of worthy goals.  

We need the warm blaze of hope to redeem cold preparation. The fallen core of this world will not repair until the end of days.  Until then, we spin in endless cycles of renewal and dying. We live tired because all that is worth fighting for costs the best of who we are.  

My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. Ecc.2:10-11.

But Hope ignites Preparation.  I whirl, exhausted but happy, in ever-circling revolutions of entropy because I lift my eyes to the Hope of Incarnation. Immanuel-God-With-Us transforms our tired stories into a preparation for eternity, for everlasting worship, for celestial reward.  Christmas is a vortex of busy-ness, yes, and that will always be.  Beyond this season, simply living a faithful life on this side of eternity wears our souls ragged.  But living zealously is worth the effort, since our dead souls have been resurrected by Immanuel’s flame of hope.

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 

 To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness. Ecc.2:24-26.

Roots

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Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord.  He will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. excerpts from Psalm 1.

A man tours an orange orchard in the midst of a drought.  The sky is endlessly dry. An irrigation line is broken, so the heavy limbs crack under the relentless sun.  The thirsty roots wither.  The trees are dying, the tour guide explains.  The drought has drained them dry.

The man asks many questions about the dying trees.  In response, the tour guide takes the man to his own orchard many miles away.  The trees grow sturdy and sweet in spite of the blaze of the fiery sky.  The man asks the tour guide what irrigation system he uses to conquer the drought’s power.

None, the tour guide responds.

How can that be?  Why are your trees so healthy? The man asks in wonder.

The tour guide explains.  When my trees were saplings, I periodically withheld moisture from them.  To survive, their roots grew deep and strong. The healthy roots sought the moisture they needed in the rich soil of deep earth. 

 It was a risk, the tour guide mused.  But now my orchard grows the deepest-rooted trees in the region.  Other orchards die in the drought, but mine have found nourishment in the depths of the earth, and they thrive.

What has God withheld from you?

Many years ago, God thundered a calling over me.  In the years after, life dried up.  Miscarriage, failure, loss, conflict, attack – my story withered and cracked.

Now, as God rains benedictions, my eyes widen in awe as I see the lush fruit of a mighty grace.  My roots have not failed.  I still stand.  Not because I am strong; I am only an orange tree under a sweltering sun.  But only, only because of amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  This mysterious grace has one source – the God who offers the cool waters of truth and life for those who will stretch strong to receive.

Are you an orange tree in a dying orchard?  Does your life drain away under the oppressive heat of a withering story?  Me too.  There is only one way to thrive in a drought – through the roots.  O, beloved, do not let yourself die under the blaze of suffering.  Oppressive sun cannot kill a tree with roots entwined deep into the endless well of Life.  Drought protection comes from within, from the strength of well-watered roots that feed life into limbs and leaves.  Stretch your roots down, down, down into the Word, into prayer, into community, into an intentional battle against the lies that scorch you. Wrap yourself around Truth and Life – they will course through your veins and strengthen you through your dry season.  

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, 
   whose confidence is in him. 
They will be like a tree planted by the water 
   that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
   its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
   and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8.

Hope

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It is good to wait silently for the salvation of the Lord. Lam.3:26.

Tonight we welcome advent as a family.  Advent is defined by purposeful waiting for a sure Salvation, certain but not yet grasped.  Advent is hope promised but still deferred. In Advent tradition, the Christ-child, the Savior, is nearly come, but He is not here yet.

Jack lights the Candle of Hope, his posture strong yet shy as he navigates the flame.  He catches Daddy’s eye in awe as the blaze licks the wick, catches, flares, then settles – Hope newly aflame.  

This week God ignites a fresh flame of hope.  My past four years were a crucible, characterized by crushing failure, aching loss, relentless opposition, piercing judgment, intervening rescue and infinite grace upon grace.  My life became a long season of Advent, of hope-certain-but-not-yet.  My fragile humanity crumbles to fragments, but I am safe, upheld by divine mercy.  I lived in dust, waiting, hoping, for my God to someday lift me out.

It is good for a man to bear the yoke 
   while he is young.

 Let him sit alone in silence, 
   for the Lord has laid it on him. 
Let him bury his face in the dust— 
   there may yet be hope. 

Lam.3:27-29.

Today is a step into Hope.  It is my first day officially back on the women’s ministry leadership team at church, the same church that released me four years ago.  The enemy of our souls snarls and snaps, but Living Grace is my everlasting Hope and I am undone by His neverending cascades of loving favor.  My role on leadership is quiet writing for a season as the Lord builds a new vision in the women of our church.  God is birthing a dream within in our team for a deeper teaching ministry to women, so I will create a Bible study curriculum scheduled at this point to launch in Fall 2012 at Vanguard Church.

My heart brims over as I watch the Candle of Hope flicker on the faces of my favorite Three.  I rest in the glow of Advent, the long arriving redemption.  I remember the long trail of brokenness behind us.  I remember the bloody, battered talons we inserted into the Hope of God-promises through that long season of bitter gall.  I remember the joy of steadily dawning freedom shining over our recovery path.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul, worship His Holy Name.  Sing like never before, O my soul, and worship His holy name.  Matt Redman. 10,000 Reasons.

I exult that the Lord keeps His promises, that our Hope is eternally sure.  I revel in the grace of family in the glow of candlelight. I rejoice that God gives me a new voice to proclaim His brilliant glory to His beloved.

What do you hope for from the Lord right now? we ask each other in the Light of hope.

Lucy says, Blue and Pink.

Daddy & Mommy say, we hope that the Lord will alleviate personal and professional pressure & attack at work.

Jack, the little theologian, says this, I hope for faith, hope and love.

YES. And Amen.

Eucharisteo

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Giving thanks, this is an awakening — the breath of God upon the face, close and warm. Ann Voskamp.

Eucharisteo is Greek for Thanksgiving.

It evokes eucharist, bread-and-wine-communion, the absorbing and taking in of Christ.  We take communion to remember how He bled His new covenant of grace over our fatal wounds, our slow dying.  Do this in remembrance of Me. Luke 22:19.  Eucharisteo is a life of communion, a face turned upward to glory in forever-remembering.  Remembering has one pure result: eucharisteo, thanksgiving.  Read this, an invitation to be changed by a thanksgiving life.

Sometimes eucharisteo is a flame that burns purifying pain into a broken story.   It can be a sacrifice that feels too great to bear, a deep and holy offering from shaking hands.  I have walked that desperate journey (perhaps will walk it again).  I know, Lord, that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort. Psalm 119:75. 

Then, other times, eucharisteo is as easy as breath.  Sometimes God dazzles us with grace upon grace, a heaping of YES and AMEN.  Sometimes His bottomless mercies shower like rain.  Then eucharisteo is an anthem of joy that rises from a dancing heart.  The Lord your God is with You, a victorious warrior. He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. Zeph.3:17-18.

Then again, sometimes eucharisteo is sweet and still.  Sometimes thanksgiving is entwined within the sturdy fabric of daily rhythms, yearly traditions, simple fragments of a righteous life.  Often, eucharisteo is woven through roasted turkey, spiced cider, pumpkin pie.  The precious rituals of the fourth Thursday in November are not the true Thanksgiving, but they can be the tethers that anchor us to a deeper truth, a richer worship.

I wake early on Thanksgiving morning, linger over coffee and Matthew 1, the whisper of advent.  I grind wheat to make the first of the year’s batches of Christmas bread dough, a rich recipe that tastes like warm tradition.  I shape the dough into cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls and loaves – the recipe is bountiful, like the season.  Lucy and I don matching aprons.  She licks the honey spoon, eyes alight.  It is over 60 degrees in Colorado on Thanksgiving Day.  Dreamy Scott and Jack play football and soccer in the unexpected sun.  A quiet heart day, spent readying ourselves for a feast of thanks.

We eat late, as the sun sets, after a day of shining and play.  We pray over the five kernels of corn hidden under the napkins (hidden like so many jewel of grace that we do not see) in our salad bowls.  We remember the pilgrims who died by the scores in the terrible first winter with only five kernels of daily corn.  They still praised God, and He heard their cries, providing a way to future abundance.  True Thanksgiving is always a remembering worship of His Story.  We linger over conversation, pecan pie, mulled wine and football.  The Lord has blessed our family with a mighty blessing, and we remember the God who loves us with an everlasting Love.