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.

On a Date with Jesus…

Friday in my day planner contained an enormous, bold X encompassing all the hours from 8 until 3.

But not for vacation, a shopping trip, or bingeing on Netflix. Friday’s assignment from 8 to 3 is time with Jesus. It has all kinds of names but on our ministry team’s calendar, it is marked DWL or Day With the Lord.img_7624

What a gift, right?  A whole day to spend with Jesus. Who doesn’t want that? My daughter commented that it was a vacation. And it certainly looks like that, and feels like that sometimes. I’m thankful that our director sees that we need to be refreshed to pour into the lives of others.

But it is also a challenge. A whole day with Jesus confronts my distractive tendencies, it stands against my desire to produce something, and it reveals the state of my heart. After about 2 hours, I start to squirm, wanting to do something else, wanting to check that phone, the social media, accomplish that task. All the while knowing and wanting to delight in Jesus longer. Ack! The Civil War of the Soul.

Spending extended time with Jesus is a discipline. Meaning, we gain capacity for more through practice and training. So often discipline conjures up a harsh experience that is no fun at all. Discipline…like eating limp broccoli or cleaning up your room when you don’t want to…gets a bad rap.

But what about discipline that trains us for more joy, more capacity to receive from God, more faith? Like training for a 5K, discipline allows us to go farther and experience more delight because we trusted God for more and got to see Him provide.

So, how do you develop the discipline for spending an extended time with Jesus? Here are a few things I’ve discovered that have helped my capacity and enjoyment of Jesus expand during a longer time spent with Him.

  • Be a hedonist. Hedonism has negative connotations when it pertains to seeking after our own pleasures apart from God. But what about seeking pleasure in God? By definition hedonism is the doctrine that pleasure is the sole or chief good in life. Well, pleasure in God, loving God, is the chief good in life, so go for it!

How I live out hedonism with Jesus:

Read what I want to read in the Bible as long as I want to read it and as slowly or quickly as I want to read it.

Journal whenever I want to journal

Enjoy a cup of coffee, a candle, or the warmth of my down comforter

Appreciate the ways God has brought good into my life

Indulge my creative side by writing a blog post which I always post on a different day due to the following reality…

Wear comfortable clothes.

  • Own my weakness. Days with the Lord have been part of my life for a long time. Years. I have experience with this discipline. Experience doesn’t mean good experience. It means I’ve had good days and I’ve had bad. Since we’re going for good and not regret,

Here are a couple of things I take into account:

I will desire to “produce” instead of “be”. I combat this by planning the whole week to eliminate as much temptation to be productive by completing what I need to complete or surrendering what I cannot complete in time.

I have a limited attention span. I will get to the limit. At that point, I can choose to tap out or change my routine and keep going. Changing my location, what I’m reading, or how I’m interacting helps. I will go to a coffee shop or to another room in our house. It helps to know I will need to face this reality and have a plan for how to adapt.

  • Ruthlessly Protect. Time with Jesus doesn’t just happen. There are too many things begging for my attention. Jesus invites but He doesn’t ever seem to shout or twist my arm or force me to connect with Him. I must choose to follow Him. So, I must choose to pattern my life to enable following Him not just for a Day with Jesus, but every day too. For a Day with Jesus, I find I must diligently protect that time.

Here are a few tips:

Dedicate the day in advance. How much in advance is up to you and up to your spiritual needs. Maybe you’re spiritually crashing and burning and tomorrow needs to be the day. Let folks know, cancel appointments, carve out the time.

At least a week helps to give the time to complete necessary work, eliminate distractions, and gather an idea of what you want to read or focus on.

Guard the Day. All week my mind was set on protecting Friday. Guarding against saving an errand for Friday, scheduling an appointment for Friday, leaving a text to answer on Friday.

Silence your Phone. This is a hard one for me as a mom. I feel that I cannot always do this with kids in school. If you can do it, do it.

  • Surrender. As a mom of three, I’ve had to accept that there are times when I cannot indulge a Day With the Lord in the way I dreamed. A kid gets sick and needs care. A house repair or errand just really cannot wait (think overflowing toilet, or power outage). Or, when our kids were babies and we lived overseas, my husband and I traded out halfway through the day. There was always a very awkward interchange about who got to go out in the morning and come back in time for nap time!

Even while I may have planned, God might have other plans.

On those days, as disappointing as they are, I began to begin to recognize that I could enjoy Jesus’ care for me in a different way. He sees me and He sees my plight. He can meet me where I am even if I don’t get to spend the day with Him like I wanted to. Sometimes I can rearrange and choose another day and try again. Sometimes I can’t.

Always I have every morning at 6 that I can wake up and spend time with Him.

A Day with Jesus will not make up for every day walking with Him. So, don’t wait for a day in the distant future to spend with Him, answer His invitation every day.

 

Come, Follow Me!

It probably looks really sweet to the observer. My boys with a hand around my waist and close by my side guiding me. Little do they know this action is totally self-serving and only happens when they think mom has talked to enough people and we really need to get home and eat, for goodness sake.

My boys seriously detest waiting around while I talk to people. Schools, grocery stores, on a walk, in church. There are so many places we see friends and I do what most women do, I seize the opportunity to gab.

They’re pretty effective at moving me along while I’m talking to them about poetic things like the gift of community.  But, they’re not buying it yet. I get it. I grew up waiting in this big room called the narthex (what kind of name is that?) staring at a world map while my parents spent hours, I’m sure it was hours, talking to people at church. I’ve always been pretty good at geography.

Sometimes I wish it was possible to do this for people in their spiritual lives. Escort them a little forcibly to the next destination. But it is not so. My husband pointed out to me simply, God is on the move and people have to leave stuff to follow Him.

I should know this. It’s not like I haven’t seen it time and time again in the Bible. Come, Follow Me! But my eyes have skipped over this passage so many times, I began to miss it.

Each person He invited had to leave something. A job. A task. An appointment. A lifestyle. Friends. Family. A home. To answer the call, they had to move physically from their present activity and start walking. img_7629.jpg

Jesus didn’t come over and force them. He didn’t escort them around their waist along the road. He invited and only the willing accepted the invitation. They left what they were doing, and followed Him.

Sometimes I find myself trying to do a little more than just invite. I smooth the path extra flat. I try to make an offer they can’t refuse. I bend over backwards to wait around and hope they start moving towards Jesus.

But I can never make the choice for someone. There is no detour around the fact that we must leave things to follow Jesus. And the truth is not everyone will answer the call to become a disciple, a learner of His way. Some people will not leave their way to follow Jesus’ way.

It saddens me as it must have saddened Jesus. They’re missing out. There’ll be a price.

But I cannot ever force someone to be a disciple. I can only invite. They must answer the call themselves. They must make the decision to put aside what they’re doing to move with Him. Only then can they be with Him.

As a former youth pastor said, wherever you go, there you are.

So stupidly profound.

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.

High Places

Our bus roared up the side of the mountain as the announcer introduced our tour. The buses, he informed us, were specially designed for the steep inclines and sharp descents. As the intercom spoke calmly to us, telling us some history, the bus navigated turns with terrifying familiarity up a very winding road.

My palms began to sweat as I glanced at quaint villages shrinking below me. My stomach dropped and that familiar feeling of fear invaded. I believe I felt my adrenal gland squirt out all its adrenaline.

I’m not so good on the high places.

My children noticed my growing anxiety and jumped at the opportunity to claim superior courage. They were fearless, mom was not. They reminded me that clutching the armrest provided absolutely no help if the bus left the road and tumbled down the mountain. We were all goners.

Yes (tightly), I know!

They estimated how far we would roll and why we would need the tool hung up on the side of the bus to break the glass since, of course, there would be no survivors. They deduced the tool was there to calm the passengers on the ride.

Thank you for pointing that out. Good job on the deductive reasoning, children.

I became the focus of the ride as they did their best to exacerbate my fear and have some fun. We finally came to the top and the kids ran to the open fence that any large adult could slip through to see the views of the valley way, way, way below. They turned back with sly grins to wait for my inevitable, uncontrollable, completely expected, tense reminder.

Do not climb the fence!

It took me awhile to adjust to the high places. My view was initially limited because it was mainly the ground in front of my feet. By sheer will, I looked out tentatively. The villages below so tiny. The fences so non-existent. The air that stretched out before me when there should be hard ground.

I knew I was missing out on enjoying the spectacular sights because of my fear. Fear is so overpowering and irrational, it steals the moment. I didn’t want to miss out on this moment. The beauty, the grandeur, the awe of the high places.

I had a choice of whether I was going to embrace the high places with all their danger and beauty. My memories could consist of dirt and rocks below me, or vast distances of beauty before me.

When I did start looking farther out, I saw deep blue shimmering lakes nestled between mountains. Green and yellow patchwork fields rolled between quaint cottages. Blue skies stretched far with white clouds and jutting grey mountains meeting.

It was spectacular.img_7517

My husband and I agreed that the kids needed him to fully enjoy climbing the rocks. I wandered the high places, a bit farther back from the edge than some, reflecting on that book I love, Hinds Feet on High Places.

The ascents to the high places with God are terrifying. Medical issues suddenly come to light, conflicts arise, disasters happen and we’re on a red bus screaming up to the high places where we are forced to trust Him or be miserable.

No one wishes for these things. On those ascents, I often live in the very immediate circumstance rather than lift my eyes up and out to look at the expanse of His creation, the beauty and the majesty.

After many ascents, I know the views from the top with the experience of His faithfulness on the way up, they are not to be traded. When I clutch the armrests of life, thinking I can save myself, the control I exert ends up controlling me.

The trip down the mountain in the special red bus was better. I looked out the window and enjoyed the views. My palms didn’t leave as much of a slimy residue on the armrests. The kids gave up their antics as they saw mom had finally gotten a grip on reality.

I suspect surrender always involves a battle, a reckoning, and a white flag. My regrets looking back on those ascents are that I didn’t acknowledge God’s sovereignty sooner.

I might have experienced more freedom and seen more of His wonder had I surrendered earlier.

How to Doubt

Every night I peek in the garage to make sure the garage door is closed. Then I glance at the front lock and the back lock. After perusing the kids bedrooms to turn out errant lights and music, I head safely to bed.

Everyone pays when I don’t do it. Snuggled all cozy in bed, I’ll ask did you check the back door? That’s always a fun marriage question. No one wants to check it, that’s what the question is all about. I’m not sure. Are you sure? If you’re sure, I can be a little surer, but not completely sure. The preferred response asker wants is always, always…that the other person goes and checks.

That, my friends, is what multicultural books call indirect communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel bad that I don’t want to check…but not bad enough to go check. Lest I not properly warn those thinking about marriage, this question has many forms. Locks, babies, water faucets, lights, and coffeemakers are all eligible subjects of this annoying habit.

Now, don’t you want to get married?

But what about when it comes to doubt that goes deeper than a visual spot check? Doubts about God. Questions about future direction in life. Qualms about how honest someone is being with you. All these eject us into much murkier territory emotionally.IMG_1282

For me, doubting has come in many forms. Doubting my faith is less my thing than doubting whether God is going to take care of me or my family. My questions about God has of yet to plunge me into an existential crisis. I’m no philosopher. In fact, I just looked up existential crisis on wikipedia to make sure I was using it correctly!

So, when I doubt God, its not like doubting whether my garage door is closed or not. You can’t just go look and say, oh, God’s good because I can see x, y, or z has happened. There’s a lot of ways to explain away the good in life or get stuck on the evil we all experience to differing degrees. Doubts don’t seem to just go away.

So, how should we doubt?

  • Face to Face. Its tempting to discuss my doubts at length with others, to live in the philosophical, to totally twist my mind in knots on my own without ever addressing my issues to God Himself. If I’m to cast my cares on God, to pray without ceasing, to not worry but pray, then it makes sense that when I feel anxious about God Himself, He wants me to talk to Him about it. Is it impertinent? Or rude? Or prideful? I would say it depends…
  • Expectantly. Kinda weird. What I mean is, that we should expect that God wants us to know Him, wants to guide us, and has all power to do so…in His time. Expectant means we wait for His answer which can come in many ways. My basis for this is Psalm 23. A shepherd feeds his sheep and leads them through danger. I cling to this passage when I need to be reminded that He is my shepherd.
  • Actively. Check things out. Read your Bible. Seek. Its easy for doubts about God to live in the realms of our head and the hallways of our emotions instead of treating them more seriously. The first place to seek is the place where He communicates to us. The Bible. Read. Read. And read some more as you wait expectantly on the issues you have talked about with Him face to face.
  • Shamelessly. Distancing yourself from others because you feel all over wrong, because you have doubts is the wrong move. Shame is the all over I am wrong feeling we all get at some point in our lives. Shame isn’t all bad, its like an indicator light on the dash to get you to pay attention. We are made in God’s image but we are fallen so life will mean experiencing shame in various degrees. Jesus came and took care of sin, the primary reason for our shame, so that we could live shamelessly in fellowship with him. By shameless, I mean like children. Kids ask the darnedest questions because they are young and curious. They get answers too. Why? Because they ask the questions! If we are to come to Jesus like children, he wants us to come with those darnedest questions–the ones everyone is dying to ask but because we fear looking foolish, we don’t. That’s when we lose out. When we don’t ask the questions.

Am I saying you should doubt? No. Don’t seek it out. I’m saying if it comes to you, think about how you are doubting. Doubts should prompt us to search for God. He wants to be found.

Kind of like playing hide and seek with a child in some ways. The goal of most of my kids when we used to play hide and seek was to be found. They felt they had lost when I didn’t find them right away and would bark and cough to give away their position.

I suspect God does the same when we search for Him. He wants to be found so don’t stop seeking.

 

On Inheritance

I bet I’m not the only one who’s ever thought man, I wish some free money came my way. Lately, this crops up in my heart because I want to do something to my house like Joanna Gaines does to everyone’s house in Waco. Maybe I should move to Waco. Or stop watching Fixer Upper. 

In line with this thinking that I want to purge from my brain, I’ve been filing away thoughts on inheritance over the past few months. One of which comes from a book I received at Christmas.

C.S. Lewis wrote about his early experience as a Christian in his Reflections on the Psalms. Get this, for the whole first year after bowing his knee to God, C.S. Lewis didn’t know anything about the inheritance the Bible says awaited him in heaven. He didn’t become a Christ follower because he expected an awesome return on his life investment.

And, he doesn’t think that was a bad thing for his first year as a Christian.

It got me thinking again about inheritance.

What would it look like to serve someone based on a promised inheritance v. based on it being the right thing to do. Seems like C.S. Lewis bowed his knee in a much truer devotion than I usually do. He did not expect his life to get easier. Even called himself the most reluctant of converts. He expected no inheritance.

Then, there’s the prodigal brothers. The prodigal sons. I read the story a few more times. Both brothers received their inheritance in the beginning of the story. One brother took his. He owned it. He took it away and, then, he wasted it. He got to thinking as he was eating slop, my life would be better as a slave in my dad’s house. I can’t be a brother, but slavery is better than this. So, he goes back home prepared to serve as a slave.Actual Factual Slop. Yuck.

His older brother received his inheritance but stayed at home but not happily. He complains to his dad about how he never got to have a fattened calf with his friends. Wah, wah.

But, why not? Wasn’t the calf technically his? Hadn’t the father given his inheritance to him too?

The older brother didn’t ever seem to clue in that he owned the calf himself. He never took his inheritance. He never enjoyed being at home with his dad, it seems. He inherited but he didn’t own his inheritance. He could’ve invested it, stewarded it, spent it. Point is, he could’ve enjoyed it.

Neither brother lived out inheritance in a good way. One took it and wasted it. One didn’t take it and resented the lowly position he made for himself.

And neither one realized the true benefit and riches they had as sons. They had their father’s love. The one who wasted his inheritance didn’t lose his sonship. Neither did the one who labored reluctantly. Relationship and love was free for the taking all the time.

Oh, how things could be different if we really understood it’s not about the inheritance as much as being part of the family and all that brings with it when the family we are talking about is God’s family.