Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Before we can pray, "Lord, Thy Kingdom come," we must be willing to pray, "My Kingdom go." ~Alan Redpath

If there’s to be any drama in the house these days, I have to invent it. I never realized just how much Josiah was the life of the party.

Sometimes heroes fade into the past, not only in history, but also in my mind. Once upon a time, when the first flush of vision struck me, and when I was still wrestling with trying to make sense of it, I read every book about inner city missions I could find. As the vision matured in my teens, latching onto orphans and orphanages, I embraced singleness whole-heartedly and gathered biographies of Gladys Alward and Amy Carmichael. Slowly, time and circumstance and conviction eroded away the larger parts of those dreams, but a few of the books remain on my shelf. Lydia had been reading Amy’s biography, reminding me of anecdotes and events. And I have to confess, blushing as I do, that I think she might have been better balanced had she married. Still, every one of us has feet of clay. And the Lord used her work in a special way.

The story that struck me most was her account of one of her girls, young and simple, who gave her theological rendering of Satan’s fall. “In the beginning,” began Leela in unctuous tones, ‘the bad devil was good. He was an angel. He lived in heaven. One day all the angels came to sing to God. Then the devil was angry. He got angrier and angrier. He was very rude to God.” Here Leela seemed to freeze all over, and her voice sounded quite deep and awful. Irreverence was far from her intention. “That bad, bad devil said, ‘I won’t stand before God’s chair anymore, and I won’t sing to God anymore. I want to sit in God’s chair, and I want God to sing to me!’” There was a perfectly horrified pause, as the enormity of the transgression became evident. “So God took him and tumbled him down out of heaven and he was turned into the bad devil.” (A Chance to Die, pg. 192)

And there we have it. That simple declaration of the heart of idolatry. And a description that does, I am afraid, all to often fit me. Because even as I wrestled with dreams of inner city missions, I wanted to sit in God’s chair. And as I embraced singleness, I wanted God to sing to me. I wanted to do things my way and in my time instead of simply worshiping God. As I was created to do.

Tonight I sit and look back on the years of frustration and confusion, of wrestling and weeping, unable to really understand what are the passions in my heart and what must be done with them. All the moments that pierced me, the nights of insanity, the days of longing. The opportunities that were still-born, the years when nothing happened and the painful chiseling and reshaping. They weren’t meant to uproot the desires to help the orphan or to serve the poor or to save the perishing. They were meant to uproot uglier things that grew alongside those purer desires. Still do. Self-reliance. Impatience. Rejection of the mundane. Discontentment. Selfishness.

How often must I be brought to the place of repentance for my lack of trust? As often as I try to ascend the throne and dispense justice.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

“Oh Yahweh, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell in Thy holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart.” ~Psalm 15:1-2

“Are you purging again?” Lydia groaned, standing in our bedroom doorway. “You’re always purging. Don’t touch my stuff.”

First, my defense: that’s an exaggeration. I’m not always purging. Quite. I have been trashing and getting rid of rather a lot lately. Well, I think it’s a disease I caught several years ago that has just been growing in intensity. I just don’t like stuff. It makes me feel tied down. Heavy. Like being fifty pounds overweight. But don’t worry. I’m not obsessive. I still have a bed. And a few keep-sakes. And a box of old letters from friends. Yes, the keep sakes and old letters are fewer than they used to be, but still.

Second, my confession: I was purging. I was cleaning out my file cabinet and trashing old documentation that I simply don’t need. I hadn’t meant to start purging. I was actually looking for the files of writing and speech classes that I’d taught and noticed that, well, there were a lot of other files full of papers that I really didn’t need.

Oh yeah! And third: I wasn’t purging Lydia’s stuff. Although I probably could do a splendid job of it, if she’d ever let me.

Among one poor, neglected file of awards and accomplishments, I discovered a couple of pages from 1994. My baptism request, submitted to the elders of Topeka Bible Church, and a letter from a dear, old lady in the congregation, encouraging me afterwards. Both made me chuckle. The baptism request was filled out in Papa’s handwriting, but there was no doubt as to the originality of the word choice. My favorite verse? Psalm 15 which we were memorizing as a family at the time and which was a very important Psalm to me, since I wanted to dwell in the hill of the Lord. And my testimony? It went like this: “When I was 4 I heard my Mom and Nathaniel talking about his baptism. Then I decided to ask Jesus into my heart—to take control. I’ve been happier ever since. Now I don’t wish that I had everything that I don’t have.” Signed with my full name.

A covetous little urchin, apparently.

But even those simple little words brought conviction to me. I decided to let Jesus take control. And I’ve been battling to do the same every day since. And the words of Psalm 15 came back to mind, still firmly embedded in my memory, and still shaping the measure to which I hold myself. And fall short. The one who may dwell with Yahweh is the one who walks with integrity, works righteousness and speaks truth in his heart…he swears to his own hurt and does not change. I remember how aware I was of the necessity to be righteous before God and my inability to achieve it. That’s why I needed Jesus to take control.

Sometimes I forget the simplicity of the truth that I so clearly grasped when my mind and life were so much simpler.

“Now I don’t wish that I had everything that I don’t have.”

Right now I wish I had contentment. And trust. And integrity.

Because I don’t have them.

And I should.

Lord, who may stand before Thy throne,
Or dare to call Thy temple home?
For all of us have missed the mark
And stand before Thee, naked, stark.
Integrity, we don’t possess,
Our hearts are home to wickedness.
Our tongues speak evil, greed and pride.
Our fig-leaf works can never hide
Our desecration of Thy name,
And so we hang our heads in shame.
Yet this Thou dost, for broken man,
Thou broke Thyself to make us stand,
Thy holy name and grace to bless,
Enrobed in spotless righteousness.

Monday, January 3, 2011

“Sow with a view to righteousness, reap in accordance with kindness; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek Yahweh, until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” ~Hosea 10:12

“Come look at this,” the Papa of my dream said. The we of my dream crowded around him as he showed us a facebook profile picture of Dathan…and a blue-eyed blond girl. It was definitely not Freckles. Every morning I wake up remembering very normal-seeming dreams. Very convincing normal-seeming dreams. What is this new phenomenon?

My dream wouldn’t be entirely ridiculous, considering what I see every time I do sign into facebook. As Jacinda put it, “Spring is in the air. Early.” It’s not just the young crop, but now I think all the signature singles are finally tying the knot, leaving room for the next generation of signature singles. That would be me and Jacinda, since our friends are rapidly forsaking us. Tsk, tsk.

In other news, Lydia handed me down a pair of shoes and we traded jeans.

My mind is still on vacation. I struggled to recapture it and get in gear as I sat down with Rosa for our ESL lesson. We’re working through the first book, which really is below her. Mostly. She always knows far more vocabulary than we have, but we’re working on pronunciation and learning grammar as we go. I try to get her warmed up with some easy words and exercises, then let her read a bit and work into some conversation last. I’ll ask her questions to step her through a conversation with me and then I write down what she has told me and let her copy it. It’s a fun way to get to know her while working her toward being able to converse with others. I had no idea that she lived on a little farm of sorts. With a cow and a calf. They are going to eat him, she told me. Poor boy. Her sense of humor is charming. She named her sheep dogs Kirby and Kirbina. Next week, she tells me, she wants to work on prepositions. I think I swallowed more air than I could hold before answering, “Okay.” Prepositions?! How will I ever explain and teach prepositions?

Lydia helped me wrestle the furniture back into the clinic counseling rooms Emily and I painted over the break. Big ideas are undoubtedly my specialty, and I have a million of them in mind for “modernizing” the look of the clinic. If only I existed in three persons.

“I have a baby bump,” my regular client beamed, standing up as I entered the waiting room. “Look at you!” Sure enough, she’d bubbled out while I was gone. I learn all the interesting maternity tricks from my clients. Like using a rubber band to allow for more waist room or sucking mint candies first thing in the morning to help with morning sickness.

Our new year regrouping meeting stretched on as we caught up and refocused on a new year and new goals. Sherry bounced ideas and thoughts off of us, encouraging us to think of ways to restructure the Earn While You Learn curriculum to really get single moms on their feet and refocused and to change lives. We’d like to figure out a better way to disciple girls who say they want to follow the Lord. And we’d like to be getting girls off of welfare and preparing them to have healthy families someday. My mind felt like scrambled spaghetti as I listened. I’m there, one hundred percent, on the “we need to” end. But how? How do you help someone change their life if they aren’t interested in changing? And, obviously, only God can truly change lives.

The year has just begun and already I feel numb. Overwhelmed. “How?” echoes down the hallway of my intellect. I see the goal and I see the present. In between lies a yawning chasm of human weakness.

And. Well. God spanned the infinite chasm between God and man. And that is how. He can do whatever He pleases. He will be great and greatly magnified.

Praise Him.

What seems to man a senseless plan
Is wisdom vast and deep
For man must rest his weary head
In God, who does not sleep.
What seems to man a worthless lamb
Is that the Shepherd seeks
Because the cross is for the lost
God’s strength is for the weak.
What seems to man a senseless plan
Is mercy vast and deep
When that same man can understand
That he is Christ’s lost sheep.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Apart from God every activity is merely a passing whiff of insignificance. ~Alfred North Whitehead

This year started so quietly, creeping in as we slept. Well, it did creep in as we slept. And then it wasn’t so quiet. Just after midnight, Papa trooped into our room, shining a flashlight, saying, “Happy New Year! Is your window rattling? Did you hear fireworks? Something is terribly noisy.” I hadn’t heard it, but I sat up and groggily tried to give him many returns. Lydia mumbled something and rolled over.

At breakfast the next morning, Lydia commented, “Last night I dreamed that Papa came into our room with a gun and a flashlight.”

Church this morning was a quiet affair with only Nick and Kirby gathered around our tiny dining room table. I guess tiny is only in comparison to the monstrous slab that we sold just before Christmas.

Two days in, and all is well. Or quiet, at least.

I remember the first New Year after moving to Arkansas. I looked back and thought, “Wow. That was the hardest three months of my life. Scratch that. That three months was harder than the rest of my life.”

That might as well have been a century ago.

Excuse me for a moment while I get nostalgic and misty-eyed.

In fact, January of last year feels like a life-time ago.

Last year started out so quietly, so peacefully—even more so than this year. And then, it exploded. And nearly all of it is a blank page in the annals of my past. Such irretrievable loss. It leaves me no visible excuse for my serious case of insanity.

Okay. I’m done.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Over the year I collected together the things I feel I am failing...and here they are for me to, by God's grace, grow in this year.

Resolved to try:

To put my whole mind into whatever I am doing, as an act of worship to God. Therefore to be careful that whatever I am doing may be done whole-heartedly as worship to God.

To seek the Lord in quietness and solitude first thing every morning, that being with Him may color my outlook on life.

To refrain from speaking any ill of anyone not present and to confront only that person if there truly is an issue of character or obedience.

To keep a careful account of the Lord’s dealings with me and all that I learn of Him and to share His goodness with all who will listen.

To keep continually in mind God’s grace, truth and beauty in order to keep uglier things from dwelling there.

To learn as much as I can of God’s creation and praise Him for it.

To employ both time and money in seeking souls for the Lord.

To be bold to offer mercy, to speak of God, to speak truth, to love as Christ, but innocent of any evil or selfish ambition.

To be slow to promise, but swift to deliver, slow to speak, but swift to hear, slow to affirm or correct, but swift to love, slow to judge, but swift to forgive.

To consult the Lord and His wisdom constantly and to seek His answer fervently and without giving up.

To praise character, encourage holiness, focus on God’s grace as being the means of true beauty.

To rejoice always, pray unceasingly and always give thanks.

To never regard circumstances except in the light of God’s wisdom and Word.

To never be satisfied with anything less than perfection in myself, yet eager to regard attempt in others.

To never grow weary in doing what is right or compare myself to the world with envy or self-satisfaction.

To offer love and service without regard to “fair treatment,” “personal rights” or return of either.

To keep in mind the cross as my own just end and the picture of God’s wrath from which I am delivered and God’s love which paid the price. And to remember that, in the cross, I am delivered from God’s wrath and God’s justice is satisfied, therefore all that befalls me—even discipline which seems unpleasant for the moement--flows from His mercy, grace and love, lavished on a daughter.

To accept weakness as a tool of God’s strength and to be willing to be wholly dependent on Him.

To do what is right, regardless of results, rumors, rewards, remarks or revilings.

To keep perspective that God, the powerful Creator, Who alone is imperishable and dwells in unapproachable light, has granted me confident access to His throne of grace, that I might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need, and to make full use of this access.

To never suggest, by my words or actions or thoughts, that I might be more righteous than God. For He does what is right and this is what I must trust, when He does what is different than I expect or wish.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I claim I am Yours,
Yet I act like my own.
I say that I know You
Yet if I were known
With the depth that I offer
(Of which I am proud)
My sensitive nature’d
Be shouting aloud
That we were still strangers—
Still heart-years apart.
Is that how You feel
In the depth of Your heart?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

At the moment I feel:
Small, sad, hopeless, helpless, weak, confused, tired, disillusioned, empty, at a complete loss

But that’s okay, because He is:
Infinite in size, the source of joy, the Helper of those who trust in Him, perfect in strength, omniscient, never tiring, keeper of promises, overflowing with grace and entirely sovereign

I know I am not holy or godly or pure or good or kind or patient or loving. How well I know it! I know I am not humble or wise or discrete or perfect. How well I know it! But Jesus, the spotless Lamb is. Conform me to His image.