I have qualified to run a race. Just like an Olympic athlete, I faced a test - a qualifying contest, if you will - to obtain my ticket to the Big Show, heaven. In this case, the test involved faith, not physical prowess. I got my ticket, through belief in the incomprehensible and all-surpassing grace of God in sending His Son to die on the cross and bear the penalty for my sin. To qualify is an accomplishment - something not every human will do. But that doesn't mean my race has been run, or won! I am still in the process of running it - a marathon, it seems. When I get to the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Olympics of Faith, for a believer like myself), I will find out how my performance measures up. Not that I might gain entry into heaven, but that I might cast my rewards at the feet of Jesus in thanks.
I was pondering my "qualifying events" and the early stages of my marathon this evening while I cuddled my children as they fell asleep. I was 'reborn' at five, when I "so lightly invoked that Great spirit", but it wasn't until my college years that I experienced the oceanic, immeasurable depth of the blackness of my sin problem, and knew the incredible void of sorrow and despair apart from God. I re-invested myself in the Christian faith, and life, in the late years of my college experience and have experienced a gentle, yet unshakable, pull from my Savior ever since. Now is the toughest part so far: that middle milepost of the marathon that finds me winded, muscles burning, at the end of my endurance (and my desire) to continue to fight through the obstacles lined up before me. There are moments in these past weeks when I could easily surrender (and at times do) to the temptation to bitterness, indifference, jagged sorrow, disbelief, anger, or confusion. What anchors me is not my own persistence, my own will. I do desire to make a beginning, to make a start, as Elisabeth Elliot has so eloquently put it. But the true anchor is that draw my Savior is placing in my heart, the victory of the Holy Spirit, long tenant of my innermost being, now slowly exercising power over the presence of sin, that present tense salvation promised to those who abide in Him (John 15:4-5).
Most can continue to exist at the same level of intimacy with Christ for only so long. He will pull you closer, sometimes gently and inexorably, or through crushing circumstances that wring out your human potential like a dirty dishrag. I am that dishrag, only useful today when dredged in the crystal water of my Savior's forgiveness and the replenishment of His Living water. I have qualified, I am running, and now I must continue. It is only God who knows when I finish, only He that can measure what strength I require to finish strong. And in Him I am trusting, today and - with prayer - tomorrow and forever until this wretched race is complete. I intend it, more thoroughly today than ever before.
How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed to hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom
~ Stuart Townend, How Deep the Father's Love for Us
It is simply amazing that God took dirt, sunshine, and water, and made these beautiful, plump, pink fruits, with their spicy citrus odor, and golden, sweet flesh. That's what He's done for me - a little carbon, some oxygen, dirt, and sunshine, and He made a unique human for a specific purpose. I could 'leave my life on the vine', so to speak, until I ripen and fall to the ground, get stomped on and return to the soil. Or I can allow Him to "harvest" my days, making a sweet, unique drink out of my days, which are here only for a moment, yet can be for His eternal glory and honor. I would prefer to be a fine wine, not just another lost nutrient in the soil.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. ~ Romans 12: 1-2 KJV
My heart can't see
When I only look at me
My soul can't hear
When I only think of my own fears
They are gone in a moment
You're forever the same
Why did I look away from You
How can I speak Your name?
Lord, come with Your fire,
burn my desires; refine me
Lord, my will has deceived me
Please come and free me
Come rescue this child
For I long to be reconciled to You
~ Jennifer Knapp, Refine Me
There is a fine line between the beginnings of a great story and despair; I often walk it, and I am usually not sure which side of the line I am on while I'm walking. Yesterday was a prime example of this. I have been on a "cancer diet", ridding my daily diet of things that promote cancer growth - sugar, refined flour, preservatives - while at the same time dropping excess weight from my frame. Cancer has propelled me to a new level of gritty resolve in this area. A healthy diet is not a luxury right now, but a necessity. Part and parcel with changing my eating habits, I have been attempting to increase my exercise and time spent in God's wonderful, healing fresh air. My sister-in-law and I hatched a plan yesterday to take a walk - a speedy walk, for exercise! Doing this with five children and two adults is a feat, let me tell you. Our plan involved two strollers and two slings. However, one stroller had flat tires all around, smashing our plan. Bent on continuing despite the set-back, I attempted to rig a handle for our bike trailer (this involved some zip ties and a hockey stick - does that sound like a bad idea to anyone else?).
We embarked with two slings and the rigged bike trailer. We were soon slowing our pace drastically, as the handle didn't steer the two-wheeled trailer very well, slid through the zip ties if not held just right, and threatened to dump the two nervous kids every few paces! But, doggone it, we continued! We switched riders at the stop sign and headed back (by this point realizing our walk would be quite a bit shorter than planned). Soon all the nervous kids were jogging beside us rather than riding, and we were gamely tugging the trailer home. We nicknamed it the "rickshaw", as it took two adults to keep it steady and we resembled mules while doing it! We nearly fell down in the road laughing at our plight...until the toddler pooped! In her underwear, half a mile from home. Any semblance of speed or heart-rate elevating pace was abandoned. I was carrying one in the sling, dragging the poopy toddler (who cried in angry and despairing protest over every poopy step), and praying for mental fortitude to make it back to my home (and toilet, and wet wipes). My sister-in-law ran ahead, keeping an eye on Katy and Rosy, who continued to jog for home.
I was on the brink of despair. I even cried out to God, begging for understanding - why would going on a walk be so difficult?? Why couldn't He erase these obstacles in my path, knowing the physical exercise was needed for both my body and mind? Why choose to test me over a simple walk on a country road? And where are those proffered financial blessings that would make a good double stroller - or a new bike trailer - a reality?
I am a storyteller by nature. I was able to laugh about this event while it was happening, and learn from it, even while I was crying out to God for mercy and relief and understanding. But I was on that brink the entire evening...hilarity or heartbreak? Despair, disgust, or delight?
I lift my eyes up to the mountains
Where does my help come from
My help comes from You
Maker of heaven, creator of the earth
Oh, how I need You, Lord!
You are my only hope
You are my only prayer!
So I will wait for You
to come and rescue me
to come and give me life
~ Brian Doerksen, I Lift My Eyes Up (Psalm 121)
Fear-of-God is a school in skilled living— first you learn humility, then you experience glory. ~ Proverbs 15:33
Today is my back-to-school day. It is difficult to enumerate the many blessings this education has brought me. Most people my age react with something like abject horror when I say I am a student again! Love of learning is common in my generation - but not love of schooling. I have always loved school, perhaps because I was "denied" some of the trappings of traditional schooling as a home-schooled child. I have always looked forward to that first day back with anticipation - "back to school" still conjures up the sensory pleasures of the feel of a flexible, grainy eraser in your hand...a brand new set of sharp pencils, scraping the page if you pushed too hard...the smell of chalk dust, that acrid, slightly sharp scent as the eraser banged on the chalk board...the stiffness of new clothes and resistance of the new binding on your notebook. Here I am, almost 30 years old, and back in class again, much to my delight!
Getting your PhD is a lot like going to a home school. The online format means I complete my studies at home, at my favorite coffee shop, or in the library...even on vacation, if I must! I work at my own pace and progress mostly due to my own self-discipline. It is a wonderful combination of home-grown education and the opportunity public education proffers - learning from those much wiser than you in your chosen field of study.
My education is a gift of God that came about due to my submission to my husband, odd as that may sound. I wanted to go back to work for years, longing for that sense of personal achievement and a very consequential contribution to the betterment of the human race that nursing offered. Working with your own children is so less...visible, estimable, quantifiable, recognizable! Aaron put his foot down years ago, saying we had agreed to this family and it's subsequent terms together - and we were sticking to it, whether I liked it or not! Tough to swallow, at the time. In the end it led to the pursuing of this advanced degree, which will hopefully aid us in our financial goals, our goals for our family, and future mission work.
School is in! I am content. Seven credits of statistics - that satisfying job of interpreting numbers, so easy to describe and defend. I am so excited to begin! Yet hanging over it all is the specter of September 2nd...
We have an old green van. Whatever our personal preferences in vehicles were, this van became necessary when we added a third child (and carseat) to our lives. For those of you unfamiliar with carseats, they are wider than an adult behind. This necessitates a lot of interior space in the vehicle. We bought the van with cash three years ago, and it was such a blessing! A sliding door, built-in car seats, and room for the dogs. Ahhhhh! Our blessing slowly was returning to dust before our very eyes as the doors rusted out, the frame started to bend in the middle, and various parts stopped working. The malfunction of the van reached critical mass this summer. It has never had AC, but now one of the window hinges is broken, so we are down to three small windows in the back, putting our children and dogs in danger of heatstroke on hot summer days! The driver's door quit working, so we were crawling in and out of the passenger side (there is nothing to further your sense of humility like backing your rather commodious rear end out of the passenger door while the yuppies at Target stare unabashedly, trying to determine what in the world you could possibly be doing!). Soon the passenger door started to stick, requiring that you "bump" it with your commodious rear end in order to get it open. Hmmm. We started a search for a new van.
Aaron is the methodical type. Thank God, because I am rather impulsive. How one becomes both impulsive and pessimistic, I am not sure...probably the product of my parents 'mixed marriage' (my dad is a confirmed and sarcastic 'realist' and my mother the proverbial perennial optimist). The van search stretched out for over a month of test driving and reading the classifieds religiously. There were some moments during the search when I was definitely tempted to insist that we buy something now - but I didn't. I love these verses in I Peter, which so clearly tell me what to do: tell my husband my desires and thoughts, and then submit! My husband also has a list of instructions - namely to care for me. And care for me he does! God provided us a beautiful van for well under Blue Book value. I picked it up yesterday and I am just reveling in worshiping God for His prodigious grace this morning. Two sliding doors, working doors all around, easy to clean leather seats, working A/C, a CD player (!!!), even a towing package! "Good things come to those who wait". For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers...
I write this today because it is just a tiny glimpse into my "answer" - why do I have faith? Why do I praise God instead of cursing Him in the face of suffering? Because He is prodigiously good to me - beyond what I could imagine, certainly beyond what I deserve. I didn't even 'deserve' to live - the very DNA of my being is by His design and for His purpose. How could I possibly respond, besides lifting my life back to Him with open arms?
It's all Yours, God
My life is Yours, my heart is Yours
My hands and my feet are Yours
Every song that I sing
It's all Yours, all is Yours
All belongs to You
Our gifts are Yours, God
All our dreams are Yours, God
All our plans are Yours, God
The whole earth is Yours, God
Everything is Yours
~ Steven Curtis Chapman, Yours
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
~ T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton
We went on a boat ride on Lake Sylvia this weekend with Ken & Janel. The azure sparkle of the water, the faint smells of fish and grass, the heat of the afternoon sun on the water, the cabins, people jumping off of docks, baiting their children's fishing poles, echoes of laughter dancing over the sound of the wind and waves...it all brought memories rushing back to me. I remembered the rope swing at Lax Lake, the feeling of the water whipping your legs back when you finally hit, the plunge to the murky bottom to propel yourself skyward again. The very first time I tried waterskiing and failed because of my fear of being in the middle of the lake alone, frustrating my parents and grandparents, and most of all, myself. We rented a cabin in Chetek one year: I remember grilling brats, drinking beer with my Grandpa and watching him waterski in his '70's, only to find out a week later that he had a huge aneurysm in his aorta that could have easily burst from the exertion and impact. I remember sitting in my kayak in Lake Superior, forcing myself to bait a fish hook and take fish off the hook myself for the first time, and praying for a husband so I wouldn't have to do it again! Somewhere deep in my muscles lingers the memory of the exhaustion after a day of being pulled in a tube behind the boat, or swimming to the other side of the lake and back with my brother, or paddling down to the next lake in the chain and back to the cabin. I remember crispy corn-flake crusted fish dinners, sunnies fried in oil on the porch, watermelon pickles, California burgers - the first time I enjoyed an onion, at 12! - baked beans, iced tea. I remember taking Katy on her first boat ride, her screams ringing loudly above the noise of the boat motor! Watching Caleb smile on his first boat ride (in the same confining life jacket) was such a contrast.
Memories are so bittersweet, aren't they? I wonder how much of heaven's glory will simply be the ability to linger, enjoy, fill oneself with these experiences...scents, and sounds, tactile richness, fellowship. What makes memories so bittersweet is that they constitute joys that are in the past forever: a new baby, a vacation, a great meal, stimulating conversation, an act of kindness or service, your honeymoon, your first kiss. They only happen once, don't they? I hope I get to experience some of these things again in heaven. Memories just don't do the experiences justice!
In unrelated news, I received some blood test results yesterday - positive ones this time! My tumor marker test is negative, meaning there was none of my tumors DNA found in the blood sample they took August 18. That is a good indicator (although not conclusive - there's always a catch!) that the tumor did not metastasize (spread) before they took it out. However, some of my other blood work is showing definite signs of continued thyroid or tumor function, so the team at Mayo is definitely considering going ahead with the radioactive iodine treatments in September. I will know more after my appointment with them. I am resting on this verse today, one that has comforted me many time before...
"To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory." Isaiah 61:3
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.
~ Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp Unto My Feet
My weakness is not knowing my weakness. It is a struggle for me to involve God in my everyday life, because it doesn't extend me beyond my own ability to cope. I have often wondered if that is why He has allowed me to experience such intensity in such a short life - the threat of my death in high school, when I became acutely aware that I depended on Him for my very breath and consciousness; working with such an intense group of patients and families as a nurse; getting married after one summer of courtship and being blessed with four children in short succession; being diagnosed with cancer at 29. At 29, I have experienced things that many people wait until their old age to see. I have watched many people die; I have comforted the mourning; I have grieved myself; I am forced to contemplate my own mortality. I think this is probably God's way of drawing me close, forcing me to draw near to Him because of adversity.
I love the phrase ora et labora (work and pray), the motto of St. Benedict. I am striving to become better at this - pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17), so beautiful in the Latin: sine intermissione orate. I wrote that motto of St. Benedict, ora et labora, on the inside of my wrist for many weeks while working with a particularly challenging patient years ago. It was a constant reminder to seek God's help through prayer as I worked with this child, dying slowly, and her father, losing faith quickly. I long for this current trial to teach me how to integrate prayer more frequently and urgently into my life as a wife and mother. Sometimes I lose sight of the neediness and intensity of this phase of life, as it pales in comparison to my prior work as a nurse, at least from the human perspective. Being a mother and wife and homemaker requires many more years of vigilant and persistent attention to detail despite the sometime monotonous nature of the work. It was easier to recognize the need for prayer when someone was literally dying on my shift!
I love the above hymn, quoted by Elisabeth Elliot, and it's reminder that neglecting prayer means forfeiting the perfect peace God would keep me in. That is my goal and prayer for today - that I would not forfeit the blessing God has prepared for me by heedless forgetfulness. Keep me aware of You today, my God!
Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to
Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there
will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship
will be our sweet portion there.
~ Joseph Scriven (1857)
Today we may find ourselves summoned to a task which we know is quite beyond us. "Me, Lord?" we quaver, "Who am I?" God answers. "I am with YOU."
The Lord of Hosts is with us
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
~Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet
Isn't this amazing? When I cry out to the faceless sky with those big questions - why do I exist, what is my purpose, why am I being tested, what will happen to me? - God has a very simple answer, "I am with you" (Ps. 46:11). I am learning that this statement is what gives life perspective. (Yes, I know, 'perspective' again!) If God is for me, who can be against me? If God is with me, why am I afraid? It reminds me of nights when I was a little child. When you live in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, nights are very black sometimes, as the trees shut out the moon and even the stars. Stormy nights were the worst, when the wind howled through the trees and there was no light to see by. I remember putting my hand in front of my face and it was as if it wasn't even there, my vision was so obscured by the blackness. I would call out to my parents and they would answer, sleepily, "We're right here." Then I could go back to sleep. I couldn't see them, feel them, smell them...but they were there. All it took was their assurance of that fact to convince me of my safety. I need to trust my heavenly Father like that as I walk through this dark night.
I sing this little song to my kids as a lullaby. When Katy was about two, she suddenly became very concerned over the lack of hallways in our home. It took me several weeks to determine what the problem was - she had misheard me, and thought I was singing about the "Hallway of His hand"!
Safe am I,
Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand.
Sheltered o'er, sheltered o'er,
With His love forevermore
No ill can harm me, No foe alarm me
For He keeps both day and night.
~ Mildred Leightner Dillon, Safe Am I
"It was never yours to begin with."
~ preview for "My Own Worst Enemy", this fall on NBC
I find it hilarious where you hear truth sometimes. This show is not on my top 10 must-watch list for this fall, but I really like this line, delivered with acrimony and not a hint of sarcasm in this preview that has been running during the Olympic broadcasts. Yet another example of "what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) My life is not my own, from the dust humanity was created from, to the breath that now fills my lungs. I think that, if this truth would truly absorb through my thick skull, it would radically change how I live my daily life. I have always been the sort of person who takes more care when responsible for something that belongs to someone else. My own possessions get less attention...because appearances, justice and personal responsibility are very important to me. So if this life is not mine, if I truly believe that, I need to care for it. I need to be conscious of every decision, from the food I put in my body for fuel or joy, to the amount of sleep I get each night, to how I spend my energy during the day. Whose possessions do you care more about - your own or those placed in your care by others? "To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it." (Deuteronomy 10:14)
"What is at stake in the sovereignty of God over sin is the ultimate aim of the universe, namely, the exaltation of the Son of God in the greatest act of wrath-removing, sin-forgiving, justice-vindicating grace that ever was or ever could be. The praise of the glory of God’s grace in the death of Christ for sinners is the ultimate end of all things.
Christ is the aim of all things. When Paul says, “All things were created . . . for him” (Colossians 1:16), he means that the entire universe and all the events in it serve to glorify Jesus Christ. May the meditations of our hearts take us ever deeper into this mystery. And may the words of our mouths and the actions of our hands serve to magnify the infinite worth of Jesus and his death. This is why we exist."
~ John Piper, Thoughts on Why Everything Exists
I feel like my brain (and soul) have been twisted into a pretzel today! Every time I tried to answer a question, I found eight more questions. Ecclesiastes is really the perfect book for that, especially if you are sardonic by nature. Here is where God speaks to me as a "confirmed pessimist" (as my mother would say)! "Yes, you're right, the world is cursed, we're all destined to die and things probably won't make much sense to you no matter how hard you try!" Isn't it amazing that God gives us such a range in one inspired Book with 66 chapters? We read the heights of joy and prosperity - the underdog victories of the Old Testament to the resurrection of Christ and boatloads of fish in the New Testament - all the way down to the pits of life here on earth - scraping your boils with a broken pot as you sit in the dust by the roadside, mocked and pitied by your friends. Then books like Ecclesiastes that confirm that God's plan will not be laid bare for human understanding until the end of time. What is a Christian like me to think of all this? How does it help me to cope to know that I can't understand?
Perspective, perspective! I have decided that should be the label of my soapbox here on the internet, this blog of my experience. It is all about perspective. To people with cancer, my cancer is a "good" cancer - "oh, you just have that little kind of cancer, the one specific to the thyroid...you have a 80% chance of surviving compared to my 40%". To people without cancer, my cancer is a tragedy - I am a 29-year-old mother who has been given a "survival rate"! To people with no children, my four are overwhelming, a brood of noisy, bodily-fluid excreting, a demanding and hostile undertaking that seems insurmountable at times. To those with seven, I have a mini family! So how do I view my life - the actual lived experience of it? More importantly, how does God view my life? I am reading so much that is confusing right now - two books that make me question who I am as a person, especially since I am a woman. From what is my worth derived? Why did God create me?
It is difficult to know how to gain perspective on the eternal side of the coin while still existing in the temporal. I spent a long time on the phone with my good friend today, whose son died while Aaron and I cared for him in Minneapolis. She is an expert at seeing the eternal, yet living the temporal. She could see the intervening years as a bog to wade through in her quest to be reunited with both son and Savior. She could try endlessly to extract the maximum amount of eternal reward from her daily life with her family and friends, to the exclusion of understanding or enjoying that daily life in it's own rite. She doesn't...she keeps a healthy dose of perspective handy and puts one foot down in front of the next, trusting that her faith in a sovereign God means she is not in the driver's seat, she is not drawing the blueprints. She just has to nail one board to the next, and as long as she keeps the blueprints (God's Word) in front of her, the house will come together as the Architect planned.
The danger in trying too hard to understand the eternal is dualism, an ideology that has existed as one framework in Christianity for centuries, since Paul's time. Dualism was a fundamental philosophy of the ancient Greeks, and persisted in the early Western Church, with modicums such as "Multi quidem facilius se abstinent ut non utantur, quam temperent ut bene utantur" ("To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation") and Luxuria est inimica Dei ("excess is the enemy of God") which provided the foundation for the Monastic tradition. It is the idea that the spiritual and physical realms are forever distinct and do not coexist. Is my daily life merely practice, an exercise in rigorous self-discipline, making my life an example for all to plainly see that God trumps flesh? Is it worth anything in and of itself? If it is all fading away and returning to dust, why invest myself in it? If we espouse dualism - the idea that what I do here is truly worthless and silly unless specifically done God's glory - we are walking a risky tightrope. It inextricably separates the spiritual (eternal) from the physical (temporary) and states that everything temporary is inconsequential and thereby unworthy of pursuit. This worldview has led to beliefs like sex is only a tool to conceive babies, wine is only good as a means of sterilizing water, sweet food is totally frivolous, science is only worthwhile if it directly proves God is our Creator, jobs are only good if they are in ministry, women are only necessary to help men, etc. The problem with this idea is simple: people, animals, food, grass, flowers, cars, jobs, wine and beer, sex, physical, emotional and mental pleasures, books, thoughts, softball games, the Olympics, cancer, suffering, pain, tears...they all matter intensely to that Creator who envisioned them, created them, allowed them, blesses them, watches them through the thousands of years of this cursed world, the fruit of His hand and the passion of His heart. To cast it all aside, abandoning the living of our life to pursue only those limited activities that make our "eternal" list, is to render ourselves irrelevant and our Gospel ridiculous. Who wants a Gospel that is of no relevance to sinners, only applying to mini-gods who follow every letter of the law and dare not show weakness? Christ came to save us - because He values us immensely, in and of ourselves, even in our sinful condition. He loves me, here and now, in all my flawed nakedness, not just the vision of what I will someday be in the perfection of heaven! We are not a means to an end or some megalomaniac's experiment. He created us to love us and so that we might love Him. He created us to experience pleasure, joy, beauty, along with the whole range of negative emotions and sensations.
"The fragmentation fostered by Greek dualism ultimately breaks down any relevance for Christianity in the post-modern world. Because Christians are called to live "spiritual" lives, our dealings with the material world become less and less relevant to us; we separate ourselves from our neighbors, our co-workers, and our culture at large. And we will have little impact on our world because we have little contact with it. As a Christian sub-culture, we have abandoned the arts, literature, films, music, and science to post-modernism. And we have called this abandonment spiritual.Integrating our view of the spiritual and the material world might have far reaching consequences. Perhaps we can reclaim in the arts and sciences the beauty of creative expression for which God created us. We can cease to frame everything as either/or, and enjoy the many gifts God has given us in our earthly, material world. Perhaps we will value more firmly the creation itself, and become better stewards of the natural resources God has given. We can better see that the material world is imbued with the splendor and majesty of its Creator, and we can rejoice in His presence in all these things. But most of all, perhaps we can have a voice to communicate the relevance of the gospel to this dying generation."
Nancy Scott, "Dueling with Dualism"
Swinging was a new and potentially frightening experience for my five-month-old, Caleb. Yet look at that smile! Face to face with the comforting presence of his mama, there was nothing to fear! I think this is a powerful visual reminder of how our Father would have us trust him...no matter how uncertain or unstable the territory in which He places us feels, He is ever present to comfort us and keep us safe. I might not think I am safe right now - just like the baby in the swing, the stable ground I am familiar with seems far away right now, and I am placed in a moving, shifting seat that offers me none of the certainty I am used to. Yet my Father sees the whole picture - He sees that the "swing" of my situation is undergirded by the everlasting chains of His eternal sacrifice and that I will not fall! I need to trust Him like the Father He is...one who has plans to "prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
Though the enemy comes in,
I will not be shaken
Though I may have fallen,
I will not stay down
You are my Sanctuary
I love Your sweet embrace
You are my Sanctuary
Hide me in the secret place
When I long for more of You
You're my revelation
Lord the softest whisper
brings the strength I need
~ unknown, Sanctuary
I learn so much from my children. Our entire family has been fighting a bad cold for about a week now. I am hit so much harder than ever before since I lost the lymph nodes in my neck. It is a stunningly different experience for me to be sick these days! My first glimpse of aging. Caleb and Amelia are teetering on the edge of pneumonia, as usual, hampered in healing by genetically weak lungs. This morning, between wiping "boogs" and giving nebulizer treatments, I decided that both were ready for a morning nap within an hour of waking up! I attempted to put Amy in her crib, but she was too beside herself to sleep there. After correcting her for screaming, I felt such a surge of compassion for the poor little girl, and cuddled up with her and Caleb in our bed (finding the rest was much needed for me as well!). A beatific smile flashed over her face, and she was asleep in seconds, murmuring little toddler dreams out loud as she slept on my arm. Caleb was just as peaceful, nursed for a few minutes, and fell soundly asleep between us.
What a picture of how my Savior wishes me to be in His arms! Why do I struggle along, fighting peace like my children fight sleep? I need to better recognize those times when He is reaching out His arms to me, to enfold me and let me sleep in His embrace, safe, warm, content. He hasn't put me alone "in my crib", so to speak, to deal with this trial alone! He wants to cuddle me as I rest during this waiting period...He wants to keep me in perfect peace, "whose mind is stayed on Thee". Not nervous excitement, not staving off anxiety for the most part, not in denial, not stressed out but trying not to show it...PERFECT peace. I am going to have to think about that all day now, the image of my sleeping, peaceful children burned in my brain! What faith means - believing without seeing, trusting without receiving - is to believe that God's plan is better than mine, whatever the outcome! Whether He heals me, has me suffer, or takes me home, His plan is best. I am reminded again and again not to fear - for what have I to be afraid of? If God is for me, what, or who, can be against me? I may not receive the promise this time, but still I need not fear!
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. ~ Hebrews 11:39-40
"We assume the sun will always rise. It always has. But it rises because God continues to will it so, not because it must in and of itself. I breathe, not because I am a smoothly functioning breathing machine, but because He who holds my breath in his hand wills me to breathe, as He wills the squirrel to breathe in the oak grove beside my house and the crow that perches in the scrub pine.
The will of God is not a given quantity. It is creative, dynamic, flowing action. Jesus participated in that action by submitting to the Will and moving with power along the "appointed way," according to the "appointed time," choosing the Father's will above his own.
The sun does no choosing. God chooses--every morning so far--to make it rise. Yet the Lord of the universe asks me to choose to follow Him--to participate, as Christ did, in the flowing action which is his ill. "Dwell in my love. If you heed my commands, you will dwell in my love, as I have heeded my Father's commands and dwell in His love" (John NEB)."
~ Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp Unto My Feet
I am watching the Olympics - I love the Games, and my joy has been enhanced this year as we have satellite and the Games are on pretty much 24 hours a day! Aaron and I enjoyed watching them together last night, and I am home with sick kids this Sunday morning, with a water polo game going in the background. What a pleasure! We watched U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps win his first gold of the Games last night. I was struck by the incongruence of his total athletic prowess, paired with his complete human weakness. He broke down into tears, very obviously against his will, when he said he couldn't find his mother in the crowd after his win. Here is this stunning specimen of humanity, at the height of human accomplishment, crying because he can't find his mother! I pondered this a little further and it struck home, again, that this man relies on God for his every breath, whether he recognizes his need or not. We are not so very different, this Olympic athlete and I. This very moment is a gift to us from God. How humbling! How little control we really have in this world or even this life.God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we'll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. ~ Ephesians 6:10 (Message)
- clean house
- do laundry
- fold laundry
- put away laundry
- upstairs - esp. bathroom
- clean garage
- decorate garage
- call Mama re: decorations, tickets
- bake cake
- bake brownies
- bathe kids
- potty train Amelia
- nurse Caleb x 8
- read stories
- sing songs
- laugh with Katy
- kids devotions
- my devotions
"A faith untried is no faith at all," someone has said. Today I declared my faith before a hundred women and came home to a startling piece of bad news. Hopes were dashed, plans ruined, over a seemingly trivial thing. We did not know what to do. "Trust me" is always the word at such a time. "But Lord, we did trust You. You answered us and everything was working so beautifully. Now this. What shall we do?" "Keep on trusting me. That is my assignment for you tonight. Commit your way to Me; trust in Me; stand still and see."
Why, of course, Lord! I see what You mean. How could I be sure I'm trusting You unless You keep giving me "pop quizzes"? These are the exams in the school of faith.
"More precious than perishable gold is faith which has stood the test. These trials come so that your faith may prove itself worthy" ~ I Peter 1:7 NEB
~Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet
I am thankful for my current pop quiz! For one thing, this ordeal has shown me areas where I have grown a lot as a Christian in the past 10 years (it was about 10 years ago that I was in the midst of my last health crisis). For another, it has shown me exactly where I need to grow! I remember the same clarity after taking an exam in college - I knew without a doubt what knowledge I had complete possession of and confidence in, what I was uncertain about, and what I knew nothing about! In that way, tests accomplish exactly what they set out to - examination or evaluation of the present condition of the student's mind.
In many ways, that's what cancer is: a "stop and think about that!" moment in what is otherwise a hectic life. Being forced to stop and think about things and re-evaluate them in the light of potential catastrophe is more of a gift than I can explain easily to the casual observer. For example, my house is in complete disorder this week, there are dirty dishes littering the counters and sinks, laundry in various stages of folding covering our dining table, rugs that need to be shaken, toilets that need to be cleaned, and a pile of outdoor things right smack dab in front of the front door that I really should move and sort! Why? I am usually borderline neat nick! Because my Amelia needs to be held more this week, that's why! Because we all have colds, the kids are fussy, and the only thing that makes them happy is sitting in a big pile on the couch, with Mama reading stories. Last night, we giggled in bed for nearly an hour while reading "Madeline" and scheming up some games for Katy's carnival birthday party on Saturday. I am finding more joy in motherhood now than I ever have before - because the frustrations of my other, more mundane daily tasks (cleaning, dishes, organization) are put into perspective. The truth is, my house is returning to dust, and in 100 years, it will probably be like many of the other farmhouses on this road from years past - sheltered by a clump of trees Aaron planted, it will slowly disintegrate, a sunken, rotting relic of a time past. But those moments spent with my children are so precious..."gold, silver, precious stones...his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames." I Corinthians 3:12-16
I do not want to be "as one escaping through the flames" on that final day. I want to be standing tall beside the choices I made through this trial, watching them come forth shining and bright as they pass through the Refiner's fire.
I come with my own chains
From wars I've fought for my own selfish gain
You're my God and my father
I've accepted your son
But my soul feels so empty now
What have I become?
Lord come with your fires,
burn my desires, refine me
Lord, my will has deceived me
please come and free me
Refine me, refine me
~ Jennifer Knapp, Refine Me
~ C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
Being deemed worthy of life is one of those compliments we never even thought to desire. I was deemed worthy of life, somehow, for some reason I do not understand! Why in the world did God decide, "I should create Genevieve!"? What possible purpose could I, His created being, have, if not to worship Him and serve Him with my life?
Suffering is another compliment I wouldn't have ever dreamed to ask for - for compliment it truly is, a conferral stating that I am capable of suffering this trial while still bringing Him glory, capable of looking to Him instead of cursing Him in the face of my calamity. He will exact His glory, whether through my strength under pressure (for which I give Him the credit), or as I struggle and fumble, yet another example of the crushing burden of the curse that may drive others to seek His face. There have been so many choices like that in my life already: I could have persisted in childhood complacence at age four, when I felt the first tug of uncertainty about eternity. I could have continued to stretch out my conscience in college, when I felt the gentle tug of the Holy Spirit whispering that I was called to a higher standard than my peers. I could have let bitterness and uncertainty creep in when I was faced with a health problem that doctor's couldn't fully explain as a teen. I could have become angry at God when I was forced by circumstance to watch the immeasurable suffering of parents losing their children to a horrible and tragic death. I could have cursed Him for 'blessing' me with four children in four years, stretching me far beyond my human limit. I could be railing at him now, for allowing me to have cancer at 29 and undergo painful surgery and an uncertain future, along with all the side effects of losing one of MY organs!
Yet if "the world is His and everything in it" (Ps. 50:12), my thyroid isn't really my thyroid, is it? My cancer isn't really mine either, is it? The next breath I take is no more my right than my thyroid is my right...for I come from, consist of, God's creation. I did not decide to be, and I will not decide to die. What I do decide is my response! Do I praise Him and run to Him for strength (for true strength, that 'peace that passes understanding', can only flow from Him, as much a gift as my next breath)? Or curse Him for allowing my pain, or even my existence in the first place? What, really, would I be asking for if I demanded release from this particular trial? Would I be asking that He lessen my opportunity to learn, asking Him to let me persist in my complacency, stupidity, and stubborn oblivion? I don't want to be oblivious. I want to acknowledge, know, and understand the eternal dimension. I want this suffering to bring Him glory for all eternity when I finally cast my jewels at His pierced feet!
the cross before me the world behind
no turning back
raise the banner high
it's not for me
it's all for YOU
not to us
but to YOUR name be the glory
our hearts unfold before YOUR throne
the only place for those who know...
~ Chris Tomlin, Not to Us
I 'lightly invoked' the great spirit at age four. I had no idea Who God was when I accepted His free gift of salvation. I had the vague notion, which persisted into my college years, that He wanted me to go to heaven (for some unknown reason) and cared little about me beyond my eternal fate. I read verses about 'good works', but thought little about them, except to determine that they were not necessary for my initial salvation - as per Ephesians 2:8-9, "for by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast." I was puzzled and irritated by the inner pull I felt to honor God with my life, and irritated still further by the social constraints of being raised in a Christian family. I carried out my sins in private, boldly still wearing the badge of Christianity in friendships sullied by my poor choices after dark and behind closed doors. Irritation was not the only emotion I felt - I was torn, broken, battered, crushed, beaten, and heart-broken by my seemingly uncontrollable desire to sin, and confused as to why it crushed me so. Was I not "free in Christ"? Freed from the burden of a destiny in hell, couldn't I do anything I wished, without fear of the future?
I wasn't free. I was bought with a price. My life turned once again one dark night when I contemplated suicide because of the blackness of my heart and my actions. Afraid it was futile, I remember kneeling by my bed (one of the first times of many that I prostrated myself physically before God as a sign of my inner brokenness) and crying out, truly crying and begging God for answers. In His amazing grace, He sent them: first my parents, loving me still despite my faults and wrong steps; my brothers, who passionately and fiercely protected me and told me that I was to be treasured, not used and discarded; my aunt and my grandmother, who asked no questions, yet knew more of the truth than I would have ever told them in words, and with quiet words and sweet silences communicated their love; my friend, who all through college persisted with me despite my depression and anger, then lived with me and supported me as I turned my life finally in a different direction. God saved my physical life from the myriad ailments that weakened me and brought me time again to that silent brink that separates life from death. And finally, He sent me to a job where I watched true suffering, bringing me perspective and a deep gratitude for His grace in sending me smaller trials. Then a husband, who loves me like the "consuming Fire" Himself, passionately, jealously, fiercely, yet quietly and gently - with a depth I didn't imagine possible. Through him, children who desire me and need me insatiably, demonstrating what it should look like to seek.
C.S. Lewis' words are so rich; he is one of the few authors whose works I read one page at a time, so that I can process and comprehend the entire meaning of his words. He says that our suffering is a sign of God's love, not His indifference. Do we take more care and pay more attention when teaching those we love or those we hate? I am learning through suffering. God is removing another curtain from before my face, and, oddly, I am finding a new layer of answers to my big questions through the experience of cancer.
Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking. When God spoke from Mount Sinai his voice shook the earth, but now he makes another promise: “Once again I will shake not only the earth but the heavens also.” This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain. Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire. ~ Hebrews 12:25-28 exc. NLT/NIV
Fan into flame
a passion for your name
Spirit of God
fall in this place
Lord have your way
Lord have your way
Come like a rushing wind
Fill us with power from on high
Now set the captives free
leave us abandoned to your praise
Lord let your glory fall
Lord let your glory fall
~ Tim Hughes, Consuming Fire
"I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more."
~ Hebrews 10:11-17 ESV
When you are forced to consider the imminence of your own death, you are also forced to consider the many things you have done completely wrong, out of malice, out of anger, out of impatience, or perhaps sheer laziness or inattentiveness. Over the past few months, I have been struggling with the weight of the knowledge of all my past sins. Some particularly painful memories were brought to mind over and over again. But this past Sunday, I felt the burden lifting...what had seemed an inexorable process of remembering was brushed away completely by the comfort of these verses in Hebrews. I have, truly, been washed whiter than new fallen snow. I do not need to remember these sins, as they have long been confessed and therefore forgiven and forgotten. I need to strive to be Christ-like in the forgiveness of those petty inconveniences and hurts I suffer because of others! I need to forget...something that is not easy for me to do, with the memory God gave me!
I received news last Friday that my right vocal cord is still partially paralyzed, which explains my trouble drinking, eating, singing, and raising my voice. I am also still losing my voice completely and seemingly at random, sometimes for just a few sentences, sometimes for a few hours. It is just an inconvenience at this point, but one that is particularly difficult to bear. I continue to request prayers for the complete healing of my vocal cord, which is becoming less and less likely in the human realm the longer it remains non-functional. The specialist feels it could potentially be nerve damage after all, as I have now exceeded the time frame for healing from the normal swelling and crush damage following surgery.
God never moves without purpose or plan.
When trying His servant and molding a man.
Give thanks to the Lord though your testing seems long;
In darkness He giveth a song.
O rejoice in the Lord, He makes no mistake,
He knoweth the end of each path that I take,
For when I am tried and purified,
I shall come forth as gold.
~ "O Rejoice in the Lord", Ron Hamilton
~ Rick D. Winter, Editorial, Mission Frontiers, July/August 2008
As a doctoral student, I have been asked to identify a conceptual framework within which I will perform my research. As a child of God, I have been asked to use a conceptual framework - one that at first seems foreign and ill-fitting - as I walk through each day of my life. This framework is Jesus. Several people I know are preachers of Jesus in their everyday conversation: whatever they are saying, it boils down to Jesus. When they succeed, they give Him the glory. When they fall, they praise Him for forgiveness. They are vigilant about letting nothing distract from the cross - even those issues which, in our religion, can tend to take center stage. Christianity should not be about numbers of nominal converts, or size of outreach events, how many tracts you handed out today or how many people you proselytized, nor should it be about assimilating others to a Western religion. It should be about the true and transformational power of Christ's work on the cross. I don't want the 'taste' of my Christianity to be abhorrent, a thinly-veiled attempt to get you to think or act like me, but a sweet, overwhelming burst of grace and delight in the one true God! If the world is a dark curtain of sin and despair, I want to be the pinhole that is a glimpse of the Light. On the other side of that dark curtain is Christ and His all-saving power, if we would but turn around to see it! It is really all about perspective, isn't it? My cancer could be another swath of despair, my own personal patch of the black curtain that is human existence. Or it can be a shared suffering, little compared to what my Savior willingly and humbly suffered on my behalf that day at Calvary.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. ~ Romans 12:1-3 KJV
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While Calvary's cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes to tears.
~ Isaac Watts & Ralph D. Hudson, At the Cross
Cheffins, T., Chan, A., Haan, E.A., Ranieri, E., Ryall, R.G., Keane, R.J. et al (2000). The impact of maternal serum screening on the birth prevalence of Down's syndrome and the use of amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling in South Australia. British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 107 (12), 1453-1459.
Khoshnood, B., De Vigan, C., Vodovar, V., Breart, G., Goffinet, F., & Blondel, B. (2006). Advances in medical technology and creation of disparities: the case of Down syndrome. . American Journal of Public Health, 96 (12), 2139-2144.
Wortelboer, J.M., De Wolf, T.H.M., Verschuuren-Bemelmans, C.C., Reefhuis, J., Mantingh, A., Beekhuis, J.R., & Cornel, M.C. (2000). Trends in live birth prevalence of Down syndrome in the Northern Netherlands 1987-96 : the impact of screening and prenatal diagnosis. Prenatal Diagnosis, 20 (9), 709-713.