Humility: Lesson #1

Most days I pass through a 4 way stop near my house. I’m on my way to drop off a kid or pick up a kid or go to work or the store or…anywhere.

It gets busy around rush hours and becomes more of a 4 way pause instead of a 4 way stop. People honk sometimes. I could be included in the word “people”.

I usually tap the horn when someone has not appropriately observed the law. They should know, right? I’m preventing an accident. They are in a hurry, they should slow down and pay attention.

Well, a couple days ago I pulled up behind a car at the 4 way pause. A million things were floating through my mind that first full week of school and crunch time in ministry.

As I pulled through the stop, I noticed a car start to pull out even though I was in the intersection. How dare he! I thought.

I didn’t tap the horn but I gave a look. You know, the get-in-your-place look. I may not be a police officer but I wish I was at times like these.

The driver did that Texas thing where you keep your hand on the steering wheel but wave your fingers around in a way that says what’s up with you lady?

As I completed my turn I realized I was still pretty close to the car that had been in front of me.

Huh.

Why was I so close to them?

It slowly dawned on me that I had tailgated the driver in front of me through the stop! A cascade of thoughts poured out of me…

I was wrong

I deserved a ticket

I did what I hated other people doing

My behavior warranted a honk and a dirty look

I am a hypocrite!

And I was totally unaware of it.

I also wondered how many times I condemn others for something and fail to see clearly my own behavior that’s worthy of condemnation. I can name a number of times that I encountered this in my life. This incident reminds me that there must be so many more that I still do not see.

I will always need grace and mercy for ways I mess up that I have not figured out.

So will you. So will others.

That other driver I thought so arrogant now seems so merciful. He didn’t blast his horn at me and I deserved it! How many times have I taken the opportunity to come down on something I felt justified in condemning instead of letting it roll on past? Instead of showing mercy…

I really want to thank him for showing mercy! So, if you’re reading this and were driving a nice grey suburban when a lady in a grey minivan gave you a dirty look while breaking the law…thank you for showing mercy.

To me, pride seems like one of those really stubborn, kind of hopeless character flaws. I’m usually very blind to it so how can I possibly grow in humility?

And then humility! The minute you say you’re growing in humility it reveals you’re not! Catch-22.

Here’s my hope straight from Proverbs 29:

A person’s pride will humble him,

But a humble spirit will gain honor.

So, through my pride, I’ll get humbled. Fun! But, I don’t need to dread this beat down. Even more encouraging is that my pride is not a hopeless condition. The joyful paradox, though, is that by the time any honor comes I won’t even care about it anymore!

Humility is content without the honor it engenders. It has its own internal reward.

And I’d love to know what that’s all about!

White Stones and the Deep Soul

My daughter tried to get my dad’s attention by calling to him in ever louder shouts. Poppy…Poppy…Poppy! He wasn’t standing far away and he wasn’t, yet, as deaf as he got later on. So, he really had no excuse.

She kept on shouting Poppy to no avail. Then, MIKE!!!! And Poppy turned his head. We all laughed pretty hard. I think we leaked actual tears.

Ok. He deserves a break. He was less than 2 years into his career as a grandfather. We lived overseas and my brother’s kid couldn’t even talk yet so he didn’t have a lot of practice with his new name, Poppy.

And, I feel this resonate with who I am as a person too. I don’t always know my name. It’s not that I don’t know my given name, its that I don’t know who I am as a person.

So I search. I take personality tests. What kind of animal am I? What are my strengths. My MBTI. A Birkman. Am I a “D”? What number am I? What’s my wing and do I only have one? Is adaptability really a strength?

I was once called a tornado for a certain combination of “strengths.” Tornados are strong, I get that. But a tornado? I’d only find fault if it wasn’t true. It is true, so I have to own that one.

I believe all these assessments can have a place in honing in on how God made us and how we can serve Him more whole heartedly. They can help us understand where we might be blind to sin. I’ve benefitted so much in recognizing certain strengths and sin patterns and learning to honor and trust God for them.

We’re a pretty fascinating thing, we humans. Gazing into how we’re wired and how we are raised and how God made us can get pretty consuming and pretty twisty. Looking into the soul without the guiding light of God’s Word and His Spirit, is like looking into a deep well. We can’t see the bottom. We keep asking our name and keep hearing an eerie echo of our own voices coming back from the void.

When my dad was dying, he talked of the white stones in heaven that have our name on them. It’s a brief verse in Revelation but what great hope is communicated through it. We will finally know our name, know ourselves as God knows us. That separation we experience in our souls due to sin will finally be closed

Can you imagine what that will be like? To have God, our very creator, lean in and smile (I just know He’ll be smiling) and whisper a name that’s just between Him and me. And it will be true, and right, and without shame, and without want, and have nothing to do with any other ill-formed, incomplete opinion.

It will finally be known to me what God has known all along.

My soul. My name.

So, all those efforts we put into knowing ourselves? If they are not united with what He already tells us about ourselves in His Word, they are woefully incomplete. They’re not a complete waste of time but just know, they will never be able to tell you all of who you are.

Only God can do that. And He will do it.

Before Surrender

We stood there on the tallest point overlooking a historic town, an historic river. Clouds puffed in the sky and I snapped pictures of the scene before me. Rolling hills, a picturesque river, quaint buildings, and boats on the water. All was at peace that warm summer day.

That tallest point? A fortress more than 500 years old. That town? Passed back and forth between warring kingdoms for most of its existence.

The people who faced each other across the river were not always part of the same kingdom either. The vacation boats on the river now used to be vessels of war, of conquering. Hence, the need for a fortress to fight off invaders.

Surrender is a word that comes up frequently in my spiritual life as a Christian. Surrender. Surrender anything that stands between me and the Lord. Surrender my way for His.

Recently, I’ve sensed that my romantic view of the word (picture hands raised and a white bird flying up to the blue sky while sunlight shines down ready to accept the glowing bird), fails to grasp the brutal reality that surrender is more a battle front term.

Back track a little and before surrender comes division and a battle of two or more opposing forces. Similarly in my own life, a battle usually rages until I face that I’m losing, big time. My way, my army, my kingdom is weaker than the one I ultimately fight. God.

Then, there’s an honest reckoning, a realization that I will not win. I cannot win. I will be defeated. At this point, I face a choice. I can continue fighting a losing battle out of pride or I can make some tough calls.

I can be…

A Captive: I lose the battle but think I should have won it. I nurse the idea that I could have won it if I’d just done a little something here differently or fought a little harder there. My allegiance has not changed. I’m still fighting. Life is full of strife as I live in rebellion to the King, constantly seeking a way of escape.

A Deserter: I turn and run from the battle. I live to fight another day thinking I can still win. I live on the run not knowing when I will need to turn and fight again. Life is about escape and hiding from the more powerful and ever pursuing King.

A Defector: I change sides because I reckon that the other side is better, more worthy of allegiance. Now I use my weapons for another King and His kingdom. I live at peace in the protection of the King’s fortress, guarded by Him and sent to do His work. My former identity as an enemy combatant is known, yet I am not sidelined out of suspicion or fear. I’m fully accepted.

The choice to surrender now starts sounding more like a laying down of arms than a moment with a dove.

Sometimes I figure out things fast and lay down my weapons before serious blood is shed. But there are times when I don’t and I come in wounded to my own surrender, a little beat up in the battle. A bit chagrined that I misjudged my allegiances so poorly.

This week it was about a kid’s homework, surrendering a better grade to preserve our relationship. A few weeks ago it was about choosing to happily do a task I didn’t fully want to do.

Every day it is choosing to step out and follow Jesus, rather than stay on my own path, fighting for my own way.

restoration

Flea Market Flip ran last week on HGTV while I exercised. Teams picked out old junky furniture and restored it in a nicely equipped workshop. Then, they resold it to people who found out they paid way too much when they watched the show a few months later. That show cracked open a door in my mind.

Can I be a Flea Market Flipper too?

I browsed Goodwill hoping to find a bike for my son a few days later. I found a bike for my son. I also found a table for me. Do I need a table? Why, no, I do not. But, the table needed me, so I took it home. Now it sits in my garage waiting for me to restore it.  IMG_0372

Which brings up a curious point of drama in this story because I don’t actually know how to do that. So, I pinterested.

I discovered a few options for this kind of project. One involved a few cans of superior grade spray paint. After that, there’s the small step up. I can buy a can of some kind of primer, sealer, base type paint and slather it all over before painting the table some daring color.

I’m not a particularly daring person so picking the color intimidates me. I’d leave that to my friend, Lori.

Then there’s classic restoration. It’s time intensive and complicated. It takes elbow grease and new tools. Sanding, staining, putty, glue, varnish, oils. The result is a beautiful, classical table in the style first envisioned by the maker.

I’m not sure I’m up for that. And, do I want another dark wood table? Not really.

Of course, all of this connects on a deeper level for me. If you haven’t gotten there yet. I am the table. A little loose and damaged needing quite a bit of sanding and staining to bring out what’s underneath all the crud. I’ve always needed restoration. I’ll always need restoration.  Until the end of days I will need restoration.

So, what kind of restoration am I opting for? It depends on the day or the hour or the minute. Mostly, I want the fast spray paint type of restoration. Just get me looking a little better. Cover over the worst of the transgressions. Blot out the huge blemish on the surface.

But, there are days when I understand that spray paint fails to do the job. It’s fast, easy, and noticeable on pieces that got a lot of problems. I got a lot of problems. I don’t really ask often because who wants to know the truth about themselves?  But we all kind of know, don’t we?

It takes creativity and time but in some areas I take a step further and really try to cover up the problems. It’s takes years to manufacture the hard shell that covers the really big stuff, those huge gaping wounds and gashes. Add a daring coat of paint to distract. Voila. I’m repurposed.

I’m longing more these days for more restoration in my life. I know its painful to feel sanded, stripped, and scrubbed but I want it. I can see a glimpse of what can be and I want more.

I’m in a good workshop now. Lots of skilled restorers of lives, lots of tools, lots of space, and gentle spirits that walk with the Lord. It’s a good time to restore. I’m realizing I need to keep a workshop in my life in years to come too. A place and people who restore. A place where I can be involved in the restoration of others too.

One person mentioned a few weeks ago that when we’re tired…bone tired…we need to work backwards from the physical through the mental and relational back to the spiritual. I ponder that these days and I wonder if the table is God’s answer to my prayers. I prayed that I’d connect with Him in a new way soon, that I’d see His hand.

Did He give me this flea market find to engage me in the ongoing work He’s doing in my life? Why, yes! I think that’s exactly what He did.

So, now back to the real table that is not me. I want to go buy that good primer, sealer, coater all-in-one paint today.

The allegory only goes so far, folks. I’m going to paint that table in my garage.

 

 

 

Themes of 2013

Here in the beginning of a New Year, I like to plod through a few thoughts and pause enough to give some mental and spiritual nods at the passing of a year…a beginning and an end.  That pause took place on New Years’ morning while kids and kids’ friends slumbered away after a night of “partying”.

IMG_0172Usually I like to mark my pause a little more seriously but fever (mine), travel (my husband), and school breaks (one day only) conspired and I found myself sneaking in a moment on New Years’ Day.  I noticed a few things in my review of 2013, the root lines God grew deeper this year.

Farewell:  Flipping back and forth to my review of the year 2012, I noticed a theme of farewells in 2012.  It bit a little because today I bid farewell to another family with even more farewells on the docket later this spring.  Farewell was a theme for 2012, 2013, and will be a theme for 2014.  Hmm.  Not a theme I enjoy but a very present theme in life overseas.

Provision:  I shed a few tears that morning as I listed some disappointments and remembered some painful turns in our path this fall.  That tearfulness stayed with me a for a few days.  In fact, it’s still with me now.

But what brings me to tears is not so much the disappointments as that I was never alone.  And, I saw that I was not unprepared for the journey the Lord prepared for us.  Lots of little provisions and preparations flooded my memory.  That brought tears to my eyes.

Fellowship:  When I hear this word, a picture flashes through my mind of cheap coffee in Styrofoam cups in the midst of a din of talking.  Growing up, the main gathering place at the church was the “Fellowship Hall”.  But that is a cheap and incomplete image of fellowship, I know.  It makes me smile and give thanks for my roots.

No, the fellowship I’m talking of is more of the Fellowship of the Rings type of fellowship.  I only half slept through the movie so I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of that series.  But, I do know that the fellowship of the rings was about a mission.  It was a calling followed together by a band of misfits and unlikely heroes that desired to do something necessary  and sacrificial no matter the cost.  The bonds formed in this kind of journey transformed all involved.

That is the true fellowship of the brotherhood of believers and I experienced more of that this year.  Even as I write that sentence I want to say more…but it must wait for another time.  It changes one, that kind of fellowship.  Know that.  It is much more than coffee in Styrofoam cups inside a church.

Farewells, Provision, Fellowship.  Rich soil, I think, for the plantings of this next year, 2014.

What themes did you see in your life in 2013?

Reading Elisabeth Elliot

I remember hearing Elisabeth Elliot speak in college.  The packed room filled with women and a few men as I sat towards the back with a few friends.  Passion and Purity ranked high among the must-reads of my college crowd at the time.  I thought it a strange book…a bit over the top.  Now, she stood telling me she thought girls should wear skirts.  I’m sure I smirked.

Now, 16 years later I still hold to a different view on skirts but I sit more and more often at the literary feet of Elisabeth Elliot.  I liken her to a spiritual grandmother, a little old-fashioned in some areas but consistently delivering piercing truth.  Truth pierces the heart and draws me into closer fellowship with the Lord…when I listen well…I, the young granddaughter of the faith.

These Strange Ashes, A Chance to Die, and now The Path of Loneliness rank at the tops of my list for the beginning Elisabeth Elliot mentee.  Meat for the soul I call them.

These Strange Ashes recounts Elisabeth’s first year on the field and it still speaks to what one can expect the first year on the field.  I lend my copy out and make it clear I expect it back!

A Chance to Die takes a thorough look at the life of Amy Carmichael.  Elisabeth doesn’t shy away from Amy’s strengths and weaknesses.  Wrestling with the complexity of Amy’s character and her service give me great hope for what the Lord can do through me with all my “complexity.”

DSC_0241The Path of Loneliness required me to choke down a destructive mental barrier as I saw it on a friend’s shelf this past week pondering what book to borrow.  I don’t like to tell people when I am lonely.  I even wanted to hide this book while I read it instead of leaving it on my side table!  Ahh…pride!  Today I finished the book and I just might start at the front and read it again copying down favorite passages.  I might end up copying the whole book.  I do plan to buy a copy… plus a few to give away as I feel led.

Passion and Purity…well…I still need to go back and pick that one up again and rethink it.

I read Elisabeth Elliot now expecting to feel the rub and pull involved in taking a vigorous hike towards greater trust and obedience to the Lord.

As with any hike, the anticipation and joy of the summit compels more strongly the farther I get on the hike.

What author or book challenged you lately?

Cisterns and Springs

Mountain walks provide soul nourishment I never fully appreciated until I lived life surrounded by the noise of dense population.  Exploring and listening to the myriad sounds of silence lifts my soul.  On one such walk, I stumbled upon an interesting contraption to gather rain water and irrigate a small plot of land.  I snapped a picture and filed it away, not knowing for what I wanted to use it. DSC_0019

Fast forward 6 months and here I sit, thinking of that picture.  This image of a cistern captures my attention again.  Cisterns hold finite, defined amounts of water to sustain life.  Someone rigged this one to fill by itself but in general, cisterns require significant labor to fill because water weighs a ton.  Cisterns lose their effectiveness quickly.  Water left a few days becomes stale.  Containers break and they run out when drought arrives.  With cisterns, one knows how much water one possesses, making it easier and practical to divvy out and a source of fear as water runs low.  Rationing is reasonable and necessary with a cistern.

6 months after taking this shot I see what I missed then.  So often I live life as though my sustenance comes from a cistern.  A limited, contained, quickly stale, rationed source.  A fearfully fragile pot that I fill myself through much hardship.  Water weighs a ton.  My spiritual life feels like hard work and I decide on my portions.  I ration my efforts based on how much water I see in the container and the labor I know it takes to replace it.  Exhausting.

So when Jesus speaks of a spring bubbling up, my ears prick.  Springs produce water through no effort.  They spill water all around for anyone to gather.  Their limitless supply confounds the mind as the source stays mysteriously buried underground.  Springs clean themselves and never sit to stale.  Rationing?  Impossible and unneccesary.  Drought may come but the spring reaches farther down to draw up water.  Fear subsides as I see Jesus, the fountain of living water.

As I contemplated the cistern spiritual life I’m prone to lead or the spring-fed life Jesus offers, I want to throw down my heavy buckets and come to Him.  I search for ways I ration my outpouring–and the Lord reveals many–and gather with others at the spring for my daily drink.  The spring always bubbles up and I rest, quenched.

What differences do you see between a cistern and a spring?