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.

Spiral v. Mastery

I read an article on how Shanghai schools teach math differently from western schools. They mentioned that Shanghai teachers taught mastery before moving on to the next concept. I remember this well. My daughter spent her 1st grade year in an Asian school. They spent a couple of months on number bonds. It seemed so basic but they drove it home over and over again. She became a master at number bonds and it laid the foundation for mental math. She still loves math.

Then, I homeschooled for a while and our math curriculum used the spiral method. Teaching a concept, then another, and another, and then coming back around and going a little deeper. Revisiting each concept a little deeper each time. My daughter is now in the spiral method in her current school. She’s not a fan yet. “We’ve already done this!” she tells me often.

My heart resists relearning things I thought I knew, too. It can be a book of the Bible I’ve read quite a few times and know. Or a concept like forgiveness…yeah, I know those verses. I hear it in time with others and in my own journey of spiritual growth. I’ve already been here! Are we really talking about this again? I know this!

Yet, the Spirit speaks again in a small, soft, ever deeper way and I discover there’s another thing or two or a million I need to learn about forgiveness, grace, or obedience. The spiral concept of learning. I see it play out.

I am beginning to realize the freedom it brings. The desire for spiritual mastery is strong. To know a truth inside out and always know it, like your math multiplication facts or the ABC’s feels good. Who doesn’t want mastery? It feels so good to know something.

But, from the stories shared in the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, Acts, and Paul’s letters, I see a different method at play. Disciples felt they mastered concepts and then were shown how far they were from mastery. Learning, relearning, re-relearning. The spiral method.

I find freedom as I accept the spiral method over the mastery method in growing in my walk with Jesus. It also brings freedom as I endeavor to shepherd others too. Releasing mastery gives us all a breath of fresh air as we abandon the expectation that we can be done learning at some point because we somehow mastered the Christian life.

Letting go of the disappointment of failed mastery allows me to embrace the wonder that I can always, always learn new things about an old thing from God. My lessons are never over, He always keep coming back to make sure I’m getting it. It can be pretty painful and definitely humbling.

The spiral method. May I not act like a brat when presented with a lesson I thought I mastered!

In what ways do you see the spiral method at work in your relationship with Jesus? 

 

Green the Grass

We watered our lawn too much. My husband told me this after consulting other lawn experts, otherwise known as neighbors. He talks about lawns like I talk about cooking.

If we water our lawn too much the roots don’t learn to grow deep and seek out water on their own. Who knew? Well, other people is the short answer.  Seeking roots are important when it gets hot and dry. It’s Texas. It gets hot and dry.

So, we backed down on our watering, but not before we felt the pain of our utility bill. Yikes! The first year of home ownership is a year for learning. What that really means is a year of doing lots of weird things because you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Now its summer again and I find I like my lawn to be green and its starting to get a tad light green in patches. I really want to ramp up the watering so it gets dark green again. I’m scared the grass won’t find the water.

What if it dies?

My own life, my kids lives, the lives of students I work with on campus. I see the same truth play out. Surface green looks so good and there’s really nothing wrong with seeing outward growth and health.

The big question is what kind of roots are being trained? Are they seeking roots trained to strain towards sustenance? Am I? Or weak shallow roots that don’t know what to do when drought comes?

When dry threatens, I want to ramp up the watering schedule. It looks good and works fast. And its appropriate at times, too. The lawn gets green pretty quick when I water it more. More attention pays off in the present tense.

But hot and dry always come at some point and not just in Texas.

How have I trained the lawn? How am I training my spiritual life? My children? Am I trying to help so much that I train shallow and weak people who don’t know what to do when hot and dry come in life? Am I afraid that answers won’t be supplied from the depths so I feel I need to supply from the surface?

Watching my kids struggle to stretch roots down to the foundation of things is difficult. Feeling the pain of it myself is confusing.

Searching for depth is just that…a search.

It is a lack of knowing exactly where the sustenance is but sending out feelers, shoots to investigate. It looks like absorbing long passages of God’s word, the Bible, gleaning and sifting for who God is in new ways. Sometimes searching is finding nothing that feels helpful but absorbing more truth. Later it makes more sense. Or, seeking is trying new things to discover where I fit in the body of Christ.  Learning new skills necessary for a new circumstance in life is a form of stretching to new depths.

The assurance I have is that I will find sustenance, and others will too, if we search for that which truly sustains. It may not always seem enough or produce a green enough lawn to look pretty to everyone, but God will keep me growing spiritually when I am connected to Him, the Giver of life.

My lawn may not look as green as everyone else’s. That’s a challenging reality at times. I am learning again to trust that the exterior appearance of life doesn’t always correlate directly to spiritual health.

Next time I will write about the tree that looked dead for months. Spoiler alert. It’s not dead!

Deep roots, searching roots, trained to send out feelers into the depths during the hot and dry times is health more than shallow and green during ideal conditions.

Not all brown things are dead.

 

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?

Things Lost

After 12 years of constant interaction, my passport is a familiar sight. Until a few weeks ago that familiarity lulled me into forgetting the importance of my proof of identity and my permission slip stuck inside.20130719-135640.jpg

My husband’s passport went missing and the hoops we jump through right now to get a new one…well…let’s just say we planned to do other things with our summer. Instead he looks forward to multiple days carrying papers around that prove his identity so he can one day receive back official proof of his citizenship and permission to live in a foreign country. Most of the process involves just showing up at the right place with the right paperwork so the official with the big red stamp gets the pleasure of bringing it down with force on the properly filled out forms.

Some things go missing and I give them up quickly as lost. Other things I turn the house upside down for like those gold earrings I misplaced for a time. When I lose things I closely retrace my steps in my head. We lost a fancy camera at the airport once and I didn’t notice for a week. I gave it up for lost with a sad heart but still checked when I took another flight that next week. I received it back from lost and found with tears! Some things come back.

But the passport never came back. We looked and looked.  We asked.  People helped us.  We reluctantly returned home.  Then we called from home.  Then he went back to look himself.  Security officers showed him the surveillance video and he discovered why we never found it.  Someone took it off the floor where it dropped minutes after it landed.  A man ignorant of its importance or purpose.  A man who stood to gain nothing from his theft while it costs us much.  Our hope that it slid under a trash can vanished.  We lived through the time to search and entered the time to give up for lost.

Trading stories this past week with friends about things lost brought a smile to my heart as I saw more clearly.  In searching, in wading through bureaucracy, in looking for things lost I share in the things of the Lord just a bit.  An understanding enters my heart.  He searches too.  He searches for people…he seeks to give a regal identity to the lost.  He searched for me.

I do long for the day when passports and visas and proof of citizenship fade away but for now I remind myself of the importance of contemplating things lost as I fill out yet another form or look up yet another important address.

He searches for the lost.

I Was Here…

What is it about our names that we feel the need to carve them in things?  Wet concrete.  Bathroom stalls. Trees.  The Luxor temple .  Names etched all over the world prove the reality of our experience and existence.  At least we hope they do.

I carved my name on the world one time.  After my first two years overseas I wandered my campus, the campus where I learned to speak an incredibly difficult language, and remembered the moments of my presence.  I purposely journeyed and recalled first days in class, first friends, and my purpose in undergoing such trying two years.

Towards the end of the journey I used my key to carve my name in a bamboo grove near a favorite meeting spot on campus.  A key is an unwieldy tool for carving a name.  My name etched in a particularly fat bamboo pole stared at me in all its amateur ugly but it stuck in there solidly white in a background of green.  I took no picture of my name but it looked worse than this one.DSC_0128

Carving my name felt permanent.  I know now that bamboo is grass.  Bamboo grows fast.  Super fast.  People cut it down to use as scaffolding or to hang laundry on to dry.  It floors houses because of its eco-friendliness which rests in its ability to replace itself and fast.  Did I say it grew fast?  Bamboo can grow a few feet a day which is why people feel not the least sad to hack it down.  Hardly the kind of media to use when one tries to make a permanent mark in the world.

But bamboo possesses a strength which makes it suitable for many tasks.  Asians love bamboo.  They sleep on it, eat it, eat from it, hang clothes on it, paint on it, paint it, carve it, write poems about it, feed it to pandas, and build walls using it.   If ever a perfect plant existed for such a numerous people, this might be it.  After 12 years in Asia I understand the Asian love for bamboo.

My name long since grew up and out and over that bamboo grove.  My permanent mark proved anything but permanent.  But the task of marking my name on something stays with me.  The fact that I chose bamboo of all things seems significant.

It reminds me of the strength that comes not from being brittle and hard and tough but from growing from a strong network of roots connected to the Source.

I think about the way it grows so fast and hope that I, too, grow in season.

Bamboo sways and whispers and sings.  I hope my life also sings a melody of God’s grace as I live among others.

Have you carved your name on something?  What significance does it have for you?

Plain Old Pain and Sore Pain

At 20 bucks an hour, medicinal back massages are a steal.  Last furlough I vowed to indulge in this overseas luxury more often.  Cross cultural life stresses the body and the mind.  Massage works wonders…if you can stand the pain.

Massage in America surrounds you in an experience of soothing luxury.  Relaxing smells and soft music with a fountain trickling in the background usher one into an experience of stressless comfort.  Not so in Asia.  A successful massage in Asia uses one hour to hit every pressure point and problem area with torturous force.  No music or fountains…just hard work.  It is not for the faint of heart.  If I scream, which I do, I only communicate a job well done, not a request to stop!

Two words describe pain in this language and we learned them from the masseuse.  There are more, but these two strike me with meaning.  Pain and sore pain.  Pain is just what it means…pain.  No purpose.  Negative.  Undesirable.  Bad.

Sore pain…now sore pain is good.   The masseuse explained that sore pain means new blood flowing to the knotted muscle and washing out the toxins.  Sore pain eventually allows the muscle to release the poison and relax resulting in more freedom of motion without limiting pain.

Sore pain is why I get a massage.  Sore pain serves a purpose.  Sore pain yields.  Sore pain is not futile.  Sore pain leads to loose muscles that enable me to enjoy daily life without as much plain old pain.

As in my spiritual life there is pain that leads to more pain and serves no purpose.  That kind of pain makes me act funny as I protect myself.  And, then, there is sore pain.  The word a friend speaks that brings to light a sin issue I need to face.  Or, maybe it is doing the thing I fear will incur disapproval from others.  Pressing these areas brings sore pain.  But, sore pain is worth it.  Sore pain brings new life.  Sore pain gets out the poisons.  Sore pain eventually brings peace and freedom.

Sore pain still hurts.  I scream when the masseuse hits certain pressure points.  I cry and can get angry when someone pushes on a stiff spot.   But the promise of cleaning out the toxins and moving unencumbered by a stiff soul makes me crave it even as I want to scream.

When I visit the masseuse I always try to go with a friend.  We bond as we listen to the masseurs grump about our physical problems and as we hear each other yelp.  Taking a friend along on the journey of sore pain of the soul helps me endure.

Between the screams, and sometimes through them, we laugh a great deal.

What stiff places in your soul need to experience sore pain these days?