Burdens and Crosses

Some days I am convinced I am a complete and utter fool, seeking to journey forward under a burden I was never meant to bear. And meanwhile, I leave behind that which I am meant to carry with me.

The words are simple enough– lay down your burdens. Take up your cross.

I am continually frustrated and disgusted by my own failure to follow even these simplest of words. I look at my burden– tasks I was never given, responsibilities I am not supposed to carry, worthless treasures, guilt and shame that have already been carried for me, sins I have already been given freedom from– and somehow I think it will make a beautiful addition to my back. You know how we are– we decorate our burdens with puffy paint and glitter and pretend they’re supposed to be there. We look at other people’s burdens of stuff and power and control and we actually envy them. But inside, they’re all the same. Garbage. Heavy, rotting garbage. Garbage that we’re supposed to be free from.

We take up these burdens and in the process we dislodge the cross we are meant to carry. The cross, we think with distaste. It’s not pretty. It’s rough and splintery and carries with it a stigma that we don’t like. There is absolutely no way to disguise a real cross. Those beams of wood set me apart– they identify me with Someone.

I say I wanted to be identified with Jesus, but I lie. Because I refuse the cross. I add a puffy-painted “I Heart Jesus” to my burden and maybe a gold cross keychain to the zipper. I might deceive myself this way. I might deceive other believers. But I never deceive the One who carried a cross Himself.

Here’s the thing. That burden, no matter how much I cover it with Christian symbols, no matter how much I fill it with my own ideas of personal holiness and Christian service, no matter how trendy it looks, how well-decorated it is, how much it deceives others into thinking I really must have all the answers and have it all together and I really just am surely the very epitome of godliness, — that burden is heavy and harmful. It daily destroys my ability to walk with God. It distracts me from pursuing my Savior. It never is full enough, no matter how many idols I stuff into it. It crushes me and leaves me hopeless, fearful, ashamed, and desperately alone.

I am not called to carry a burden. I am called to carry a cross. That cross lacks the sparkle and the glitter and the social acceptability of the burden; it is an instrument of torture and cruelty. But the cross is where Jesus is.

If I want to know Jesus, if I want to have more of Him in my life, if I want to walk with Him, then I’m going to have to go where He is. And He is there, bearing my cross with me. His yoke is far easier to carry than anything else, because He is there in every moment carrying it with me.

This is where I meet Jesus– I meet Him in the suffering of the cross, in the living sacrifice, in the splinters and the nails and the stigma and separation that come from truly identifying with every part of His life and humiliation and dying. Without this fellowship of His suffering, how can I ever expect to know the power of His resurrection? The joy of new life? The glory of daily seeing His face?

I am meant to lay down my burden and exchange it for a cross, but there are days when that cross seems far too heavy for me to bear. There are days when the burden calls me with all its shiny pretty deceitful promises of ease and pleasure and success. There are so many days when I run from my cross– and from the Savior– and snatch my burden back up.

This is the ugly truth. Most days I would rather have pretty much anything besides the cross. Most days I would rather attempt to forge my own way to contentment, peace, joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Most days I attempt to fill the deep yearnings of my soul for Jesus with everything but Him. Most days I live in denial, thinking I can find God without following the way He provided.

But the cross– and the Savior who suffered there– calls me back. Because when I stand for a moment and truly look, when I stop my mad frenzy to fill my burden with more stuff, I discover that here, at the cross, is where I know I’m loved, precious, chosen. This is where I see the high cost that has been paid for me. I cannot stand here long– I fall prostrate here before this wondrous, indescribable love. This Savior who calls me to a cross instead of a burden, He has gone before me and He goes with me. He meets me at the cross, every single day. He saves me from my own ridiculous attempts to find satisfaction and peace, every single day.

Look at Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith. Lay down the burden again. Take up the cross again. Find the beauty of knowing your Savior in the fellowship of suffering. His love has provided this most excellent way.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Words Like Swords

“Okay, fatty.”

It was twenty-four years ago, and I can still remember where I was sitting when a boy in my freshman class struck out at me with those words. I deserved them. I had started it with a cruel remark about his acne.

Honestly, that might be the first time in my whole life I realized how damaging my words could be. I had this random, shocking moment of fourteen-year-old insight—my words hurt that boy just as much as his words hurt me.

Unfortunately, as awesome as it is to have these sorts of deep flashes of understanding—and I mean that with only a tiny bit of sarcasm at the expense of my self-absorbed younger self—understanding doesn’t always lead to a change of behavior. And my words—they are just exactly the thing that constantly get me into trouble.

I think that what people don’t always realize is that guarding our words isn’t just about what we say; it’s also about how we say it and why and when. All I have to do is think of some of the well-meant, terribly-timed words of truth I heard when I had my miscarriages to realize that speaking with wisdom is about a lot more than just quoting Bible verses—even the really good ones.

I’ve been transcribing the book of Job this year, and it’s really fascinating because I’ve never taken the time to read this book slowly. Job is one of those books where we tell the story, quote a couple great verses from the middle, and then move on. I’ve read it before, multiple times, but always quickly for a class or in three-chapter-a-day chunks on a Read Your Bible In A Year schedule. When you transcribe, you must of course move a lot more slowly. It gives you time to really contemplate what is happening. And one of the things that really stands out is the way Job’s friends use their words.

They start out so well, Job’s friends. After Job loses everything, they come and sit with him in silence for days. Sometimes there just aren’t words. I truly believe that if those men had gotten up and left after those days, they would have gone down in history as some of the wisest and most compassionate friends ever. But unfortunately, they all decided they had Something To Say, and they opened their big mouths and ruined everything.

This could be the story of my life. (side note: potential memoir title: She Opened Her Big Mouth and Ruined Everything)

One of the main lessons I am learning in the book of Job is that truth spoken without love and wisdom can cause deep wounds on the heart of someone who already is hurting. This is why Scripture says we are to speak the truth in love. It’s why Proverbs reminds us of the value and beauty of a word fitly spoken—because the opposite is something worthless and ugly and often downright damaging.

How great a forest a little fire kindles!

So much of what Job’s friends say to him sounds just exactly like something out of the book of Proverbs. They are the kinds of words we like to underline in our Bibles, because they are truth. But Job’s friends were so caught up in their own false view of what was happening in Job’s life that they were completely unable to see the inappropriateness of their words.

Job’s friends were guilty of one of the biggest sins, in my opinion, of Christians—using the right words but at the wrong time. I confess my own guilt of this sin. So often—especially with my kids—I am so focused on their mistakes and what needs correcting that I fail to see their deeper heart-needs.  I use my Bible as a club to beat them over the head with.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a time to speak hard truth, and to speak it clearly without backing down. The more I read Scripture, the more I am convinced of that. And sometimes the truth needs to cut like a blade. But that time is not while someone is in deep suffering and grief.

There is a time to sit and be quiet and to just offer straight-up grace and love to someone. A time to remind a wounded friend that they are loved, seen, cared for. Throughout the book of Job, Job’s response to his friends moves from anger to deep hurt to defensiveness and back again. Their words cut him like sword blades, because he knew the truth of their words, only all of a sudden those truths didn’t make sense anymore. Suddenly everything was upside-down; his whole understanding of God and how He deals with people had been turned on its head; and his friends were piling on with accusation and absolutely no compassion.

Whole books have been written on the topic of words—I know, because I’ve read many of them. But as I read Job, I am reminded that the Words of God are powerful beyond even the wisest words of His people. His Spirit teaches me afresh that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent, and that I need Him desperately if I am to recognize those times and do what is right.

Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable in YOUR sight, O Lord . . .

 

Stuff I’m Thinking About

  1. Obedience in one area, and how it relates to my life as a whole. If I’m not following God’s path for me in one area, it can totally derail everything else.
  2. I love to read several books at a time, but if I get too many going I start to panic and then all I can do is read until some of them are finished. This leads to Problems, because I homeschool three children and have multiple marriage, home, family, relational, and ministry-related responsibilities. So I end up either dropping the ball in favor of a book binge or getting super grouchy when I can’t read. Moral of the story: Boundaries are important.
  3. We are having such a mild February here in Iowa that today my daughter went outside in a t-shirt and capris. I’m sitting here with my window open . . . it’s glorious.
  4. One of the things I think are crucial in life is having some go-to Scripture passages for when Satan attacks me with guilt, self-doubt, shame, and fear. My friend Rosanne wisely sent me to Ephesians 1 last summer when I was struggling with this. Today I was really feeling pressed down by the enemy’s attack on my self-worth– just feeling like a failure at everything because of one thing I’ve been struggling with (see #1). I was praying, and I felt that still, small voice reminding me of another favorite chapter– Romans 8, which came up in a podcast I listened to last night. Oh my goodness. Romans 8 is amazing. It starts with “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” and ends with a long list of all the things that can NEVER separate me from the love of God. And in between? So much juicy goodness. Note to self: Read Romans 8 more often.
  5. The kids and I have been memorizing the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. It’s hard because it’s a list that doesn’t have a logical progression, or if it does, it’s not a logic I have grasped yet. But I’m reminded every morning as we work on them how different God’s ways are from my own ways.
  6. We have been deep-cleaning the house over the last couple weeks. I’ve managed to keep our bedroom clean for like ten days straight. I seriously think this is a new record. I’m a super slob. As an adult that basically shows up in my bedroom, because pride forces me to at least try to keep the downstairs clean. I did a very brave thing and changed the toilet seat in our upstairs bathroom. It was nasty in where all the screws are and everything. Apparently when I told my boys to aim, for the love of Pete! they thought I meant at the screws. It’s the only possible explanation. On a side note, my bathroom smells way better now.
  7. My oldest will be reading To Kill a Mockingbird for school soon, and since I hadn’t read it since before he was born, I thought I’d better remind myself of it. It’s actually one of the only books I’ve ever taught in a classroom, because I taught it to high school juniors during my student teaching experience. Angry Ranger is in 8th grade now, and I get to teach it to him. It’s such a good book, but it is so different to think about teaching it and discussing it with my own child. Last night in the chapter I was reading, Scout asked What is rape? and I thought, does my very sheltered 14 year old know the answer to that question? Would he ask if he didn’t? Clearly he needs to understand that in order to understand the issues in To Kill a Mockingbird. All of this just has me pondering the way my kids are getting older and the ways we have to transition them from children to adults. I feel like I’m groping my way forward in a dark room. We live in a world where these issues are so relevant– daily in the news. I want to raise my kids to be protectors of those who are weaker, smaller, less educated, less advantaged. Anyway, as I read this book again, I am so struck (stricken? strickified?) by the courage of Atticus Finch and the way he teaches and models standing up for those who are under attack, treating people graciously (even when those people are the opposite of gracious), and doing what is right whether it’s popular or not.
  8. Writing has become a major challenge for me lately. I know I need to be doing it (see #1), but for whatever reason I have felt very blocked. Trying to move forward, to at least try each day to put words to paper or screen. This verse for this battle: “He who called you is faithful; He will surely do it.”
  9. I have a hot date with Art tonight. It’s been awhile, and I can’t wait. We’re gonna paint things. 🙂

Walk This Way– Of Trouble and Faith and Steadfast Love

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
    and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Lately I feel like I’m walking in the midst of trouble. Most of the trouble isn’t in my own home– aside from some migraines and three children who act, as far as I can tell, like normal siblings, things are pretty okay around here. But I look around me and see so many people walking such deep valleys. Health problems. Death of loved ones. Painful anniversaries. Relationship issues. Fears about the future. Financial concerns.

And then there’s the world outside my own personal circle, which makes me cringe with– disgust? Anger? Confusion? I don’t know.

The truth is, there will always be valleys for us to find our way through. There will always be dark places where the light barely shines. We can learn to face those times with faith and courage, knowing that God desires to use every single experience for our good, but that doesn’t mean that we are never afraid, uncertain, lonely, troubled.

I love Psalm 138, where David’s song of praise and thanksgiving ends with assurance that God cares for him, even in the midst of hard times.

First, David expresses his rock-solid faith that God would preserve his life. Is this a faith we can share? Of course we can’t guarantee that our physical life will be preserved in every trial. Some of us bear wounds that speak to the loss of loved ones, people who loved the Lord but still died. But we can surely say with David, You will preserve my life, knowing that we who believe are guaranteed a life that no physical death can touch. We are guaranteed forever with God. We are guaranteed life, here and now, that is abundant. So we can walk forward, trusting, as David did, that God who promised us life eternal and life abundant is always actively working to preserve that life, to keep us growing and even thriving in the valley times.

David next expresses his faith that God would protect and deliver him from his enemies. This also is a faith that we can share, for though our enemies might be very different from David’s, God has promised us victory over our Adversary, and strength to stand against his temptations, his tricks, his lies. I often discover that my own flesh is also my enemy, so that I cry with Paul, Oh wretch that I am! Who will save me from this body of death? The truth is, I already have the answer to that question– it is Jesus, whose name means Savior, who came to save his people from their sins. The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, saves me daily from the power of sin in my life, so that I can have victory over my enemy and deliverance even from my own sin nature.

Finally, David expresses his faith in God’s purpose. David, unlike many of us, knew very clearly from childhood what God’s calling was: he was to be the king of Israel. Nevertheless, I imagine there were times when he was tempted to question God as the years dragged on with no throne, no crown, no peace. Yet time and again, David showed his strong faith in the God who had called him, and here he bases his faith in God’s purpose in what he understands of God’s love. The love of God is steadfast, unchanging, eternal, faithful. David walked with God, chased after His heart, and knew that He was entirely trustworthy. And we can know this too! The more we walk with God, the more we open the Bible, read it, meditate on it, pray over it, obey it, the more we discover the firm reality of the steadfast love of God. And the more we can trust Him to fulfill His purpose in our lives– purposes for our good, always.

David walked in trials, but he had a deep, unshakable faith in God, a faith based in experience and a loving relationship. He knew that He could trust God’s preservation, protection, and purpose, and so he could walk confidently through every dark time, every wild jungle, every desperate heartache, every chaotic storm.

We can have this same confidence in the God who never changes. He is faithful. His steadfast love endures forever without diminishing, regardless of our own faithfulness, or woeful lack thereof. My friend, if you’re walking through trouble today, there is hope. Have faith in the God who loves you with unchanging, steadfast love.

We are the work of His hands– His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for a particular purpose.

Forsake not the work of Your hands.

January Joy

In January
when the clouds and the fog conspire
to hide the sun from my face,
it seems that joy is hiding too.

I don’t want to play hide-and-seek
with joy;
who has time in the midst to set aside
all
the
things
and look for joy?

If only
the sun would shine
the kids would stop fighting
the mud would dry up outside
everybody would stop trying to shout louder than everybody else.

Maybe then joy would come out of hiding?

Oh, but You tell me
that the joy is not found in the absence
of all the things that annoy and frustrate and depress and distract.

You tell me that the trials
are given to bring the joy–
that I should see them
as sources of
–are You sure?–
joy.

Of course You’re sure.

Joy comes in January,
and maybe I do have to go searching for it,
or maybe I need to just look up,
look expectantly away from
all
the
things,
and find Your face, even in the days of fog and clouds.

Even in the mud.

Joy is set before me,
as it was set before my Savior.
Like Him, I must endure.
But He has made the way for me.

I follow Him,
and in His presence is
fullness
of
Joy.

©Erin Kilmer, 2017

Walk This Way: The Steps of Jesus

There is a way, and it has already been made for me.

I forget this. I think I am some kind of pioneer, forging my own way ahead through a harsh land. But the truth is, if Someone had not already gone before me, making a way, I would never be able to walk even one step forward in this my year of walking.

The work of my Savior in me and for me did not stop at the cross.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, after I began my year of walking (sometimes it feels more like a year of crawling, if I’m honest), I wrote this on the chalkboard in my kitchen: “We should follow in His steps.” It’s a quote from 1 Peter 2, and if you were around in Christianity in the late nineties, you might recognize it as the verse that inspired the WWJD movement. What Would Jesus Do? It was everywhere. Everyone had those rubber bracelets during my freshman year at Bible college.

It’s a valid question to live your life by, although like anything– like the verse on my wall– you can look at something and wear something and even say you are something without it ever really affecting your mind and heart and actions.

But I think that if we really want to understand what it means to follow in His steps, we have to look at the context in that passage in 1 Peter. This book was written by the apostle Peter– our good friend who walked on water until he didn’t, who confessed that Jesus was the Christ but rebuked Him for doing the things the Christ had come to do, who claimed he would never deny Jesus until he did. I love Peter. I can relate to Him so well.

Peter wrote the book of 1 Peter as a letter to believers who were suffering for their faith, and the whole book is an encouragement to stand fast and do right and trust God. We can’t understand what it means to follow in His steps without understanding that Peter was not talking to people who were living happy sunshiny Christian lives with no problems.

When Peter called upon believers to follow Christ– to walk in the path He had made for them– He was specifically talking about a path of suffering. He was talking about the same thing Jesus was saying when He told people that if they wanted to truly follow Him, they needed to daily take up their cross and walk behind Him.

Friends, I am so guilty of looking at the cross as little more than a decoration that hangs at the front of my church. This is a way that we are deceived and led astray– when we forget for a moment that the cross was an instrument of torture and death and violence. To take up a cross does not mean to wear a necklace or to get a tattoo. It means to go the way that Jesus did, and to expect suffering and sacrifice when we do it. It means to deliberately, daily say Yes, Lord— not just to the beautiful and the precious blessings, which are many, but to the painful steps and the hard, wearing trials.

If we are to follow in His steps, to take up our crosses and follow Him, we must remember that His steps led places that were filled with poverty, with shame, with disease. His steps led to needy people and to foolish people and to sinful, desperate people. His steps led Him to kneel down and wash the feet of His betrayer. His steps led Him, bruised and bloody, up the tortuous road to Calvary.

We cannot expect– I cannot expect— to follow Jesus and to at the same time live a life of ease, of physical comfort, of nothing but flowers and sunshine and skipping through parks under blue skies.

And this leads me to the question that plagued me for years– If this Christian life is so hard, why on earth would I want to live it? If my salvation is a work of grace, why would I choose to do the hard thing anyway? Does it matter?

Finally dumping all the ugly of this question before God began a slow but dramatic change in my life. Show me, I said. What’s the purpose? Why bother?

Here’s the truth. There is no other way to find peace, joy, and satisfaction in this life than to follow after Jesus, even on the way of suffering. God created us for this. It feels all upside-down, but isn’t that always the way of God? We are made topsy-turvy by the fall, our world is wrong when it says that peace and joy and satisfaction come from stuff and relationships and power and prestige. God’s way is best. We have to take it on faith, step out, walk the road– and discover that it is true in the nitty-gritty reality of every single day.

We cannot know Christ without understanding suffering. Paul considered the privilege of knowing Christ to be the main purpose of his life— “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” James said that it is the hard trials that lead us to perseverance, to maturity, to completion. And Peter said that enduring during suffering is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

Here is what I have learned, though I forget over and over, and God has to keep on teaching me. The road of ease and materialism and popularity that the world says will fill me up and give me purpose is a lie. It is, at best, treasure on earth that will be destroyed, and at worst it is nothing more than a quick trip to misery here on earth with nothing to show at the end. But the way of Christ– the way of the cross– the daily sacrifice and the suffering and the hard endurance– this is where true joy, true purpose, real abundance, and eternal reward lie.

There is nothing better than to know Christ today, even in His sufferings, knowing that He is there at the end of my journey. I want to hear Him say well done, good and faithful servant.

Everything else is loss.

To this [endurance during suffering] you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

 

Everyday Sacrifices

I am not so good at the everyday sacrifices. I expect it’s not just me. How many times have I taken the plunge– the leap of faith– prayed, and meant, take my life and use me as You will? And to be honest, I guess I have expected fireworks, maybe a ticker-tape parade in honor of my great sacrifice.

I’m not saying I have what it takes to be a martyr, but I am saying that oftentimes the really painful sacrifice is not dying for one’s faith, but living it out. Because we can surround martyrdom and persecution for our faith with a kind of romantic glow, but that glow disappears entirely in the day-to-day reality that God doesn’t necessarily want me to be a martyr; but He surely wants me to be a living sacrifice. And that sacrifice is made in the piles of schoolbooks, the unwashed socks, the plate-scraping and the floor-sweeping and the getting up early to have time with the One I said I’d give my life for.

What if He wants me to give my living to Him, not just my life?

This walking through this new year is already off to a rough start, I’m not going to lie. Because maybe in my hidden dreams I thought I would be climbing some sort of golden ladder, walking in Jesus’ steps. Maybe I thought that just committing– I will walk– was enough to make the walk more of a glorious frolic through sunshiny meadows. And yes, maybe through the Valley of Shadow, but always with a stoic, holy face, shouldering my cross, following my Savior, as some kind of glowing heavenly light fell from heaven on my faithful steps and angel choirs sang in awe at the great steadfastness of my sacrifice.

I guess whatever I was expecting in my arrogant foolishness was not a path that would lead, again, up the stairs to a child who needed me, again, and again, when all I wanted was to curl up in a ball in my chair and read. I guess I wasn’t expecting a path through all those crumbs on my kitchen floor to the fridge to make yet another meal for my hollow-legged children. I wasn’t expecting a path straight to my word processor, fingers hovering above keys, with apparently no words to be found.

I knew that following Jesus in 2017 would be hard, but I never learn my lesson and remember that it’s going to be daily life hard, argumentative kids hard, lack of motivation hard, saying no to the cookies hard. I never remember what God has tried to teach me– that my real need is seen not just in the huge moments when I have nothing else to depend on, but in the daily unexciting life, the daily grind, the routine and the repeated schedule of day after day. That’s where I need Him most, maybe because nobody is watching.

Who’s going to know if I fail to get up early, if I fail to honor my commitment to do the work? Who’s going to know if I lose my patience with my kids, if my attitude stinks, if I bang the pots on the stove because I don’t feel like cooking another meal? So much of what I do seems to be based in receiving affirmation from others.

Today, my life is all just life. I am called upon to fold towels, to scramble eggs. I am called upon to write this blog post, to attend a meeting, to teach spelling and math and writing. I am called upon to love my husband and children, to teach the church kids that Jesus is the Lamb of God. I am called to live my life, to take today’s steps across that messy kitchen floor (maybe even with a broom?), to step across the gap to my child who needs a hug instead of a lecture, to step up to the sink to wash another dish.

I am called to walk with Jesus– and His steps lead faithfully through the everyday sacrifices of a normal, everyday life.

He who called you is faithful; He will surely do it.

 

Worthy Unworthy

I am unworthy.

This reality– it wounds me, but there is no doubt of its truth. I cannot look in the mirror, look at my unswept floor and my unfolded laundry, look in my own heart, and think for a moment that I am worthy of a single one of the blessings God has poured out on me.

We can sink under our unworthiness and let it define us, become paralyzed by mistakes or inadequacies or fear or sin. We can ignore our lack of worth and instead try to focus on all the great things about us, awash in prideful self-deception that can take us a pretty long way and then will surely leave us stranded, face to face with truth again.

Or we can take our eyes off ourselves altogether and put them on Jesus. Time in His presence reveals to me my own smallness, but even more it reveals His greatness. He is everything I am not, all that I can only dream of.

I am nothing, can do nothing, without Him. This is truth. But there is an even greater truth: I am never without Him. In fact, I am in Christ– and the mysteries of that little phrase are deep and beautiful and unfathomable.

In Christ— this changes everything. In Him I am a completely new and recreated person, with a worth and a value and a purpose and a beauty that I could never have on my own. Somehow, because I am in Christ, God sees me as worthy, though in myself I am unworthy. And the more aware I am of my own unworthiness, and the more aware I am of the riches of His lavish love poured out on me, the more I understand the meaning of grace.

I was stricken yesterday morning by this verse in Revelation 5:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!

Someday all God’s people will sing that around the throne. And truly, Christ alone is worthy of all those amazing things– but consider this.

He is worthy to receive power. But He says to us–

you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . .

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power . . .

He is worthy to receive wealth. But He says to us–

God, being rich in mercy, . . . made us alive together with Christ . . .  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. . . .

And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. . .

He is worthy to receive wisdom. But He says to us–

 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

He is worthy to receive might. But He says to us–

[We pray you will be] strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.

He is worthy to receive honor. But He says to us–

There is laid up . . . the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to . . . all who have loved His appearing.

I will give you the crown of life.

He is worthy to receive glory. But He says to us–

those whom he justified he also glorified.

He is worthy to receive blessing. But He says to us–

God . . . has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places . . .

Every single thing that the saints in Revelation say Jesus is worthy to receive has already been given to me. What can we say to this kind of love?

My friend, I am unworthy, and so are you. But this Savior– He loves me so much that He didn’t just give His life, He gave His very worth to me. He saw me in all my unworthiness and said, I love her anyway. I will give her everything I am.

This kind of grace, I am learning, growing to understand, is the only thing that can motivate a life of service to God. My fear can’t sustain me. My desire to earn favor can’t sustain me. Taking up my cross– this is too hard, too painful to be sustained by anything other than a growing, overwhelming understanding of the beautiful, unfathomable love of God for me. When I see and understand and know the love that has been lavished on me, what response can I possibly have but to pour myself out, small as I am?

By the mercies of God we present ourselves as living sacrifices, made holy and acceptable to God by the dying sacrifice of His Son— for this is our reasonable act of worship.

My worth, or my lack of worth– it doesn’t matter. In the end, all that matters is Jesus, Savior, the Lamb that was slain.

Hallelujah.

 

 

When I Grow Up

dsc_9721My older son is almost as tall as me. His feet are the same size as mine, and he eats considerably more food than I do, packing it into some mysterious bigger-on-the-inside digestive organ that apparently only teenage boys possess. He is intense in his pursuit of whatever he is pursuing, like science fiction and computer stuff and looking for the lost screwdriver and bossing his siblings. He has always been this way– so intense that he used to wear me out with the obsession with Thomas the Tank engine, and, even before that, his never-to-be-distracted scrutiny of ceiling fans. How many times was he so convinced he was right— that that triangle WOULD fit into the circle-shaped hole? He would try and try and get so mad that triangle and shape ball would eventually fly across the room. He knows a whole lot about a whole bunch of stuff, and is juggling two years of math in one and two different history classes and three long, complicated, to-be-memorized piano pieces for his recitals in the spring. He frequently fixes my frying pan when the handle starts getting all wobbly, and I’ll find it all firm and sturdy in its place in the lazy susan and smile, because he can be so thoughtful. And then I’ll find my measuring cups all tossed carelessly into the cupboard and roll my eyes because he can be so thoughtless, too. Teenage boy? Yes, ma’am. Completely amazing and completely human? Of course. I love this young man. I could use some of his intensity sometimes, his hardheaded pursuit of his goals. I give up far too easily.

My younger son needs a haircut and revels in the helpless messiness of his shaggy brown locks. He laughs so hard sometimes I’m afraid he’ll fall down. Sometimes he does fall down laughing, literally rolling-on-the-floor-laughing, and who can help but laugh too? He isn’t a teenager yet, but the day is coming– there are signs, and not just the way he can wolf down two bacon cheeseburgers and a helping of waffle fries in the time that it takes me to eat my smallish salad with lowfat dressing. He reads a million books at a time and who knows if or when he finishes any of them, and when he grows up I’m pretty sure he wants to go off with Han and Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon, but I have hope that he will eventually choose a career path in this galaxy. He used to be my cuddliest child, but he’s starting to think that maybe it would be better if I didn’t put my arm around him or–horrors!— kiss him in public. And heaven forbid I refer to him by anything other than his regular old first name outside the confines of our home. Nicknames are not cool when you’re twelve and play a shiny blue guitar and deliberately make your hair stand up just to make your mom crazy. He struggles with school, but I see his progress and I rejoice in it and respect him so much for coming back day after day to try again, even though English spelling rules are basically nonsensical and why do we need eight different ways to spell the sound of long o anyway? He is caught in that stage between teenager and kid, and he goes along with his brother’s schemes just as well as he plays with his little sister, and he is funny and makes me laugh and sometimes puts the coffee mugs in where the glass measuring cups go, but who’s keeping track anyway? I could learn from this boy– learn to go with the flow a little bit more, learn to get lost in a book or in my own little world, learn to follow sometimes and not worry so much about always being the boss of everything.

My daughter– she is silly and sensitive and so hard to explain. She loves her friends so much, and she loves singing and dressing up and running around and playing with her dolls. She shrieks like a banshee and sings like an angel and likes to curl up on my lap and talk to me. She loves it when I tickle her, or really when I do anything that shows I’m paying attention to her, because she is the poster child for Quality Time as a love language. She panics whenever I try to teach her something new– panics and cries and says she doesn’t understand as I show her again and again how to regroup the numbers or write the cursive m or solve the equation. And then suddenly she stops crying and she’s rolling her eyes and saying she gets it and why do I keep showing it to her anyway? People say she’s my mini-me, but I see plenty of her daddy’s family in her strong jaw and the way she quirks her mouth when she’s smiling all coy. Personality, though? She’s so much mine– all the big drama and big voice and big extroverted tendencies. And the insecurities, too. How do we pass those on? It doesn’t seem fair. What if she could be that big wide-open girl without the fear and worry and insecurity? I don’t know how to help her except to keep on loving her, offering those snuggles, trying to point her to Jesus. I could be like her, too, you know– more buoyant and full of fun, more willing to just love people with a big, fierce, wild love. I could be more willing to forgive, more quick to laugh.

Do you ever wonder, when you stop for  a moment and think, who’s teaching whom anyway? I’m just a mom, lost in a mess of schoolbooks and laundry and dreams and fights about whose turn it is to take out the recycling bin. I’m unworthy and inadequate and completely clueless how to do all this parenting stuff.

These three? They amaze me. I want to be like them when I grow up.

Untangling

I’m not sure I know what to say today, what to write in this space. Right now I have a lot of voices speaking into my head and my heart, and it feels like almost too much to really distill into something worth writing. I’m still trying to untangle it all.

Untangling my mom’s heart and three stents and all that close unexpected fear. What does it mean for me to have two parents with heart problems? Right now it means I bought egg substitute and have been exercising a little more faithfully. A little more. Baby steps?

Untangling the voice of George Muller’s hardcore faith as I read his autobiography– I love how he talks about the reality of God in this world. He says it is our job as believers to live such wild, on-the-edge faith that the world can see in us that God really is at work right now. What does this mean for me? It’s another piece of this knot in my brain that I’m trying to work free, to braid into words, to work into my daily life and heart. Isn’t that always the challenge?

Untangling my own schedule as we start back into a new semester at school– this is no small challenge after six weeks off. Am I best meeting my kids’ educational needs? What about their personal needs? Their spiritual needs? I feel very weak in this area, and Satan attacks me often with doubt. Will I believe that Jesus is enough in all of this– in my three ridiculously different learners, my own wild schedule, all this balancing of home and family and ministry and friendship and marriage and calling? Maybe it always comes down to this– will I believe enough?

I am untangling the scrunchy, knotted cord that is this evil word cancer. This weekend it took a friend– a woman my own age, with children the ages of my own children. She and I were pregnant at the same time, nine years ago, when I lost my son and she didn’t, and she was so kind to me when I could barely look at her because she had what I did not, and now she is in heaven and I am here on earth and my children have their mother and hers don’t and in the last year and a half my grandmother and my husband’s friend and my friend’s young son have all died of cancer too– and maybe you can see why this particular cord is so very hard to unknot and loosen.

I am untangling what I believe and who I am and all the words that my God says about me, how it’s all going to work and what I’m supposed to be doing with this precious gift of life and these precious people that surround me and each of these days. I am untangling threads of fear and hope and love and anger, threads of anxious nights and wild days, threads of laughter with friends and tears into my Bible, threads of important eternal gold and threads of wood, hay, and stubble.

Some days everything lies flat and smooth and the words come easily, like my daughter’s hair the morning after a good shower and a good long soak in the conditioner, all brushed out and glossy and shining down her back. And some days it’s all this jumbled knot, and the work of untangling it all involves patience and tears and a loving Parent and a whole lot of detangler.

But I believe that all this wild jumble is here for a purpose– a beautiful purpose. I believe in the weaving of my Father, creating a good thing in my life, from my life. I believe that what looks so confusing right now– so chaotic and grievous and complicated– is seen by my God, known by Him, and being braided into place a little at a time.

Today, I don’t see. But I know the God who does.