Gallery of Grace

faint-fringes-potterI am a masterpiece of God. So are you.

This isn’t just my idea of a Friday morning pep talk, although goodness knows I could use one. This is the truth of God– that we are more than just this mess of flesh and bone and sin and desperation. We are masterpieces– works of art, each different, each showing in a uniquely beautiful way the fingerprints of the Master Artist.

He is an Artist who doesn’t make mistakes.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

It’s that word workmanship that tells us how God views us– other translations say we are His handiwork, His masterpiece. The Greek word is related to our English word for poem. We are specifically, intricately, carefully created by the very hands of God for a specific purpose– to bring glory to Him.

This is all because of grace. Every human being is created in God’s image, formed within our mothers’ wombs. But this verse goes beyond that– this verse comes in the context of our salvation by grace through faith.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship . . .

God always is working on us, creating a masterpiece of beauty and glory. He does not allow anything to happen to His masterpieces that will not bring us closer to the loveliness He has in mind. All the ugly things,  all the bitter and sorrowful things, all the painful moments and the uncertainties, all of them are part of the masterpiece God creates in our lives. Not one of them is a surprise to the God who has been forming us from day one.

It brings such comfort to me to remember this. It seems God asks me to do so many hard things– things I feel so incapable of, unqualified for. But in His kindness He reminds me that I am His masterpiece, and that He created me specifically to do good works. And He so lovingly reminds me that He has had these particular works– all these hard things that stretch me and humble me– He has had them in mind for me since He began creating me.

Nothing in my life is a surprise to God. He made me, and He made these hard things for me to do, and He poured out grace in lavish floods so that I could be saved to do these things. From the moment He began His good work in me, my loving Father– the Master Artist– was working toward this moment, this hard thing.

He knew that I would approach some of His tasks with excitement and boldness and confidence.

He knew that I would fall flat on my face more than once.

He knew that I would be afraid and unwilling to attempt some of His good works.

He knew that the enemy would attack me, that life threaten to overwhelm me, that I would be weak and tired and so very unable.

He knew all these things beforehand, when He was creating these specific works for me to do. And so as He has trained and formed and purged and purified me, as He has slowly over many years built up this masterpiece, He made sure to include everything I would need.

He gave me His Spirit, His Word, His people. He lavishes me daily with grace sufficient. He promises help, comfort, strength, life, and presence.

He asks me to do this hard thing, but never alone. It is part of the handiwork of God– a way to showcase His beauty and glory and grace in all the imperfections of my life.

faint-fringes-in-the-fireHe composes His poem in my life, forms His pottery, paints His picture, designs something beautiful in me.

I am His workmanship– His masterpiece– created in Christ Jesus for the good works He calls me to do, prepared for those works, empowered for them, never alone– not even for a moment.

And so are you.

 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Photographs taken by Irv Cobb
Faint Fringes Photography

 

 

His Face, His Grace

I wish I could see His face, right now.

I wish Jesus would walk in my back door, help Himself to a cup of coffee, and pull up the chair across from mine. I don’t think He’d mind my pajamas or the dishes in my sink.

No offense, but if He did I’d close this laptop and not give this blog another thought. Because His Face.

I feel like it would make things better, like the painfully slow sunrise outside the kitchen window wouldn’t matter because He would be here. And I think in His eyes I would see what my heart needs.

I’m not even sure what my heart needs, besides Him. I know it needs Him.

I know I’m supposed to walk by faith and not by sight. I know that in some way I do see Him with unveiled face. I know that I meet Him in His Word and in prayer and that He is enough today, even when I can’t see Him.

But oh, there are days when it doesn’t feel like it could possibly be enough.

He told the disciples it would be better for Him to go away, so that they could receive the Holy Spirit– a Helper and Comforter who would lead them into all truth and give them the power that they needed for the work He was giving them.

Despite what my flesh– so physical, so bound to this earth and full of this earth– tells me, it is better to have the invisible Spirit within me. I am blessed when I believe without seeing. I know this, but still I long to see Him.

There will be a day.

I picture myself, in that crowd of His people, and I feel myself straining on tiptoes, searching for just one glimpse. And– you’ll forgive me if this is selfish– I imagine Him looking for me, too. I imagine our eyes meeting across the sea of faces and the smile on His face, and I know that in that moment everything will be okay. Because the One who loves me more than life itself will be there with me, finally in the flesh.

 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

As we look to what is unseen. Only eyes of faith can do this. Faith is the evidence of things unseen.

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Hope does not put us to shame. Another version says it does not disappoint. Because God’s love is available through the Holy Spirit with me. And it is enough.

My needy desire to see is weakness; I know this. Strong faith loves without seeing, trusts when everything is veiled. But my faith– it is weak and my heart longs to see.

What hope there is in that sweet promise that His strength is perfect in my weakness. He brings me here again and again– when I can’t be strong anymore and I long just for deliverance, when my faith seems so small it’s barely even there– He sees, He knows, and His grace is sufficient. His strength is still perfect.

Here is a hope that does not put me to shame.

The sunrise, when it finally comes, is glorious.

We Run

runWe run, and it’s hard. We start together, all five of us, Art and I pressing start on the running app at the same time. For five minutes we stay together, warming up with a brisk walk, stretching our arms as we walk, conversing about books we’re reading or what so and so did yesterday. And then the phones chime, and we run.

Art is the fast runner in the family, and he’s three weeks ahead of us. His runs are now nearly half an hour of solid running, while the kids and I are still doing intervals. It’s not long before he leaves me in the dust, trailed by Angry Ranger and Pooka, with Darth Piggy and me taking up the rear.

We run, slower than a sloth swimming in molasses, around the back of the ball field, marking off little milestones. Park bench. Scoreboard. We turn right over the bridge and our feet echo as we jog. The water looks high, my running buddy comments in a quick push of words between hard breaths.

It rained a lot the other night, I gasp back. We make it off the bridge, to the corner, quick right and quick left. There is a long sidewalk between a dirt road and a soybean field, and we fix our eyes on a yellow pole marking a gas line and run for that as if it were the holy grail. Our slow, steady, jogging steps are punctuated occasionally by grunts– my knee hurts— and groans– it’s so humid— and words of encouragement– we can do this. Before we make it to the yellow pole, the phone chimes again. WALK!!! I yell to the children ahead of me. We all slow down to a walk, try to catch our breath. Pooka walks toward me instead of away, so she can give me a fist bump. One interval done.

It is hot and sunny and the grasshoppers jump out of our way as we bear down on them. We are not ready when the chime sounds again, but we set our eyes on a telephone pole and start to run. Art comes running back toward us, and we give him high fives and gasps of encouragement. It feels like maybe we won’t make it. My breath comes hard.

But if I don’t make it, neither will these three kids running with me. Whether I like it or not, they are all counting on me to keep going, and if I stop so will they. In my weakness, He is strong, I remind myself.

We run. This is really hard, I push out between steps and breaths. I don’t feel like I can make it.

Me either, Darth Piggy agrees, already slowing down. His uncertainty– the way he mirrors my own feelings– spurs me on.

Yes we can, I force myself to say. That telephone pole right there. It belongs to us. God is our strength, and He’s totally strong enough to get us to that pole. Somehow our feet keep pounding, our hearts keep beating, our lungs keep breathing, past that pole and another and another, to the place where we turn around and all the way back, until the voice tells us it’s time to walk again.

I am learning in this running that I am weak. That is no surprise, but it is good to be reminded of it. This physical reminder of my weakness– the complaining muscles, the blisters on my feet, the sweat pouring off me–  is something good because it drives me again and again to my God. Does He care about whether I can run five minutes at a time? I think He does. He wants me to remember my need for Him, and He wants me to glory the strength He gives.

We aren’t quite back to the bridge when the app chimes and we must run again– the last time. Deep breath. Here we go. Your grace is enough for me— the song runs through my head in slow time to the pounding of my feet. As we cross the bridge, my eyes scan ahead for my husband, but he is out of sight, somewhere where some trees or the curve of the path keep him from view. I’m so proud of him.

We run. My children are around me, except Angry Ranger who likes to keep out in front. Pooka is our little athletic cheerleader– Come on, guys! You can do it! She runs the whole way on her little seven- year-old legs and isn’t even out of breath. We clap for each other. We cheer each other on to the next bench, to that bush up there, to the place where the sidewalk branches.

There is a moment where I’m really sure I can never run again. One minute left, the phone tells me. I look at my kids, sweating and laboring with me, counting on me, faltering as my steps slow. It is good for them to see me weak, good for them to see me gather up my determination and ask God for help and keep going. We can do one more minute. Of course we can. Come on guys. God’s helping us. We can totally do this. We’re going to rock it.

And somehow we run, right to the end.

Fighting in the Valley

christian-soldier The question-asker and imaginer in me often wants to know the things that the Bible doesn’t tell us. I want to know how people felt, not just what they did. I want to know what Hannah experienced that last night before she took Samuel to the tabernacle to serve the Lord there– her little boy, her holy vow. I want to know what Noah’s wife thought when he told her he was going to build an ark, and whether his daughters-in-law were okay with spending a whole lot of time shut up in a boat with a bunch of animals.

As I walk this journey God has called me on, I want to know about the spaces in between the mountaintops. I want to know about the valleys.

I’ve been transcribing Genesis, and I’ve reached the story of Abram who would become Abraham. God called Abram, and he obeyed and went to Canaan– mountaintop followed by obedience. But then there was a famine– valley– and Abram went to Egypt and convinced Sarai to lie and generally showed his lack of faith in God’s ability to protect Him– disobedience. This cycle of obedience following mountaintop experiences, with valleys leading to disobedience, is repeated over and over in Abraham’s life. God makes all these amazing promises to Abraham, but then waits for a long time to fulfill them. And Abraham fails in the waiting.

It is not until Mount Moriah that we see obedience in the valley. Finally, it seems, Abraham has learned to obey when the way seems entirely impossible. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son– that promised child, in which all of God’s promises lay, in which all of Abraham’s hopes were placed. I can’t imagine a deeper valley than the one that Abraham walked through the night before he obediently began his journey to the altar.

I wish Genesis described it. Somehow in the deep darkness of that valley, Abraham found a new kind of faith, and he found strength to take servants and fire and wood and son and knife to the mountain of God.

We know the end of the story, but Abraham didn’t. We just know he had faith. He trusted God and walked in obedience, and we can argue what God’s purpose was in all this, but in the end a good thing was accomplished in Abraham’s life, because Abraham saw the ram provided and he heard the voice of God.

Sometimes I picture spiritual warfare as a dramatic scene at the top of some mountain somewhere– and I, this great warrior, brandishing my sword above my head with strength and courage. I picture Elijah and the prophets of Baal– this glorious, raw display of faith and courage and the power of God. And maybe sometimes it’s like that. But more often than not, the real battles are fought in the valleys, in the darkness, on our knees. The real battles are fought in the places where no one sees or knows. They are not battles to gain an acre of ground, but battles to gain a foothold. They are not battles that end with glory and recognition, but that end with the ability to stand again, to take another step, to see the face of Christ a little more clearly.

Perhaps the real battle wasn’t David with the slingshot and the Giant; perhaps it happened much earlier, in some lonely valley, with a bear and a lion. Perhaps the real battle wasn’t Gideon and the soldiers and the pots and the trumpets;  perhaps it was Gideon creeping out in the night to destroy the altar of Baal.

Today I am fighting a battle– a valley-battle against principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this age. I am fighting against the old self and the lying voices. If I didn’t write it here, you wouldn’t ever know. Maybe you are fighting a battle too. Maybe you’re deep in a valley, barely holding on. And maybe nobody knows, because they’re all looking for Peter at Pentecost battles instead of Peter on the night after Jesus died battles.

Yesterday I shared my heart and I have been so overwhelmed by the kind response of my readers. Friends, we were not meant to fight these battles on our own. We do not have to hide in shame when we are under attack, when we are weak and vulnerable and afraid. We need one another, and as the Body of Christ we are created to support one another in weakness and during those valley-battle times.

We draw new strength from the encouraging words of our fellow soldiers. When we share our battles and our fears and our broken places, we give others the chance to encourage us, to come alongside us, to share their experiences, to fight on their knees with us, and to see the glory of the grace of God made perfect in our weaknesses.

knight-prayingI do not fight alone. And you shouldn’t either.

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints

True and Truer

I think that one of the hardest things about being who I am– a pastor’s kid, a Christian school graduate, a Bible college graduate, a pastor’s wife– is the fact that I know all the so-called right answers to all the spiritual struggles I face in my daily life. I know them in my head, I mean. The journey from head to heart is a surprisingly long one.

It is so easy to tune out and take the Word of God for granted.

So easy to internally roll my eyes at the precious truths of Scripture, because I’ve heard it all a million times before.

So easy to let the words fly through my brain and never realize that they have the ability to change me.

Recently I have come to a place in my walk with God where I have been reminded how easy it is to quote verses at people and how very, very hard it is to live those verses out in my daily life. I have prayed for God to change my heart, to do what it takes to make me like Jesus, and in that process He has led me into a valley of discouragement and even depression. When I said whatever it takes, this isn’t what I was picturing.

I have tried to be real on this blog, tried to share my journey as God has deepened my faith. I have tried to share my struggles so that those who read these words can know that there is hope for real people with real problems. Sometimes the truth has been painful to share, and sometimes I have felt like I was so vulnerable that I might be sick.

I don’t want to stop now. I don’t always understand why God has me writing in this dusty old blog on this tiny corner of the internet, but I believe He wants me to do it, and I believe He wants me to share what is true.

Today what is true is that the only thing I want to do is to sleep. Today what is true is that it is taking every bit of energy I have to live my life right now– to teach my kids, to clean my house, to make meals, to be a wife and a mom and a friend. Today what is true is that I feel weaker in my spiritual life than I can ever remember feeling.

The enemy of my soul has me in his crosshairs right now, and I find myself being assaulted almost every moment by lies and twisted truths, doubts and fears and temptations. I have given in far too many times.

The adoration part of my prayer life has seemed like a mockery as I strive to see the goodness of the Lord. I read Psalms and seek to pray them back to God, to pour my heart out in worship, to bless the Lord at all times. It feels like hypocrisy, yet I am commanded to praise, and so I try, and I pray for God to be glorified in the worship of a broken and weak child.

This is what is true. I am very weak. Everything seems so hard. And I am sharing this today, even though it makes me feel a little sick to let down my guard, because Paul said he boasted in his weaknesses and gloried in his infirmities. Is this even possible? Paul was no superChristian. He was a man, a man who found in his weakness a deeper, richer access to the strength of God.

And I want that. So desperately.

Because what is even more true than my brokenness is God’s grace abounding in every broken place. What is even more true than my weakness is the glorious, mighty power of God. Whether I see it or not, whether I feel it or not, what is true is that there is nothing that can separate me from the love of God that it is in Christ Jesus my Lord. What is true is that the Holy Spirit has been given to me as my Comforter, the One who comes alongside me when I am stumbling, and that He will never leave me.

What is true is that God’s grace is sufficient for me, right here, right now, when all the truths seem trite and my weaknesses feel like gaping holes that can never be filled. What’s true is that God has led me to this place, that He has a purpose for it, and that He will lead me out.

Isn’t this what faith is? Living the life I am called to live whether I can see or not? Pressing on, even when it feels impossible, even when it feels foolish? Refusing the cries of my flesh and my feelings and putting one foot in front of the other, tiny step by tiny step, until I see the glory again? Drawing near to God again and again and ignoring the lies that creep in, that say He doesn’t care, He can’t use me, He’s finally given up on me, He has turned His back on me?

That is a thing He will never do. He has promised, and He who promised is faithful.

Here is truth– I am weak, and when my faith is tested I despair and I complain and I give up.

Here is greater truth– my God is strong, and when my faith is tested He is always near me and He will bring me forth as gold.

Oh Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

 

Learning, Reading, and Looking Ahead #2

So I know I’ve learned stuff this week. I’m hoping I can remember it at 9:00 on a Saturday evening when I’m pretty much ready to go to bed an hour ago.

This week I’ve learned–

  1. That the reason corrugated cardboard is so strong is the same reason you might fold a piece of pizza to keep it from flopping down and splurching cheese all over the ground. I learned this on the podcast Surprisingly Awesome, which is a pretty fun thing to listen to while you’re driving.
  2. That a 12-sided shape is called a dodecagon. Darth Piggy has been studying geometry and that was a new one for me.
  3. That apparently dodecagon is not a word recognized by the spellchecker in WordPress.
  4. That there are only a few shapes that can be used to create a repeating pattern– equilateral triangles, regular quadrilaterals (squares and diamonds), and hexagons. I’m co-teaching a math class at our homeschool co-op, and this week we used glow sticks to create repeating patterns in the dark on the floor in our room. Super fun!
  5. That mastering a subject before moving onto the next subject is probably the smartest way to learn, and that if we allowed kids time to master a topic in math, for example, before hurrying them onto the next thing, more kids would be able to reach higher levels of math in high school. This was on a TED talk by the guy who runs the website Khan Academy, and it definitely has me thinking about how I’m educating my children.
  6. That sometimes you just really need to go to bed at 8:00 on Friday night, and there’s no shame in that.

What I’m reading–

Nothing new since last week. I finished The Pastor’s Kid and Confessions of a Prayer Slacker last night and haven’t started anything new. Still working through Seabiscuit (I’m about 40 pages from the end) and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

What’s on my plate next week–

  1. Friends for Sunday dinner! And we haven’t had to do any panic cleaning, because my new cleaning schedule is working pretty well. So that’s fun.
  2. Hopefully more of this beautiful fall weather. Today has been absolutely amazing.
  3. That fun day when we go through all our tubs of clothes and decide what we need for winter. Pooka is the only person who enjoys this day, because if there is one thing that child likes, it is trying on clothes. I’m pretty sure none of my children are going to have anything that fits, so that’s sad.
  4. BIG GARAGE SALE!!! Every September, my mom and I have a tradition to go to this huge garage sale in Nebraska. It takes up a whole county fairgrounds. That’s why I’m going through clothes this week– hopefully I can find some deals. Even if not, it’s one of the best days of the year.🙂

Have a great day!

He Who Called You

God has been teaching me about faithfulness. I have always been one who likes my reward immediately. Delayed gratification? No thank you. Mostly what I want is instant success and a whole lot of people telling me how wonderful I am. You know, like how people were with Jesus when He was on earth. Oh, wait.

I’ve come to realize that there are two kinds of faithfulness– God’s and mine– and that they both center around that root word faith.

God’s faithfulness means He is who He says He is and He does what He says He’ll do. He keeps promises. He is worthy of my faith. He is completely trustworthy in every way. Like most truths in my walk with God, this is easy to give mental assent to and a lot harder to actually believe and live by. Of course God keeps His promises, we think– and then our prayers aren’t answered how we expected or a tragedy happens or we wait and wait and wait for our needs to be met. And we panic or get angry or fall into worry or fear or doubt.

Our faith is so small. This does not change who our God is.

I have prayed so many times, Lord, I believe– help my unbelief! He patiently and mercifully teaches me who He is. What I need is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. What I need is more than a mental assent– “of course God keeps His promises.” I need real, solid faith.

I need to know that when God says He is loving, He is loving even when tragedy strikes my family and I am devastated. My faith in His love causes me to be faithful to Him– to live as though I am loved.

I need to know that when God says He forgives when I confess, that this is a promise I can cling to. I am forgiven once I have confessed my sins, and I need to live like that. I need to refuse shame and meditate on truth when Satan attacks my mind with His hateful reminders of my sin. I am forgiven, redeemed, set free. It cost Jesus everything. Who am I to cower before the lies of a defeated enemy?

I need to know that God favors me, that He delights in me, that He sees me as precious and is pleased with me. When no one else notices my hard work, my little victories, the sacrifices I am making– He sees. His approval is enough. I need to live like the most beloved child of the King of the universe, unafraid and unconcerned with whether anyone notices me or not.

Faithfulness in my life is not like God’s faithfulness, because it’s not based on my ability to keep my promises but on God’s ability to keep His. It’s really faith-filledness, and it is the only way to live this Christian life. The rewards are sweet, but most of them are as yet unseen.

As a mom, seeing my kids growing so fast and yet seeing their struggles and areas where they so need to grow, I need faith in God’s promises. I have to believe that when He says in due season you will reap, if you do not give up, that He is talking to me, that He will reward my labor to teach and disciple and train my children, that His due season may be different than mine but that does not make it any less real. I have to live with that fruit before my eyes. When I get discouraged or feel like my labor is in vain or wonder if there is a single person in all the world who has any idea what I’m dealing with in here (sometimes I get a little dramatic)– and this isn’t just with parenting, but with nearly every aspect of my life– I have to fix my eyes back on my faithful God, who does not ever fail, who is who He says He is.

Just like an athlete, who trains hard and eats right and makes sacrifices for his sport because he believes in an end result that he hasn’t attained yet, so we are called to work hard and do right and make sacrifices for our Savior, because we believe that the God who called us is faithful.

Let us not grow weary in doing good . . . He who called you is faithful . . . He who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ . . . your labor is not in vain in the Lord . . . be steadfast, be vigilant . . . in due season you will reap, if you do not faint.

Oh Lord, teach us to keep pressing on, for You are faithful! We need nothing but You.

Leap of Faith, Leap of Grace

roadYou walk with Jesus, and you seldom see where the road is going. At the end, you know what awaits you—light and glory and the face of your best Friend and no more pain. But the road between the starting place and the finish line is long, and much of it is hidden.

Nevertheless, you walk, for where else would you go, and sometimes you speed up to a run, and sometimes you barely make a step a day. Now and then there are the glorious soaring moments on eagles’ wings. But most days, you walk, and you are never alone.

You see other people walking on roads that seem so different than yours—exalted roads that seem so easy. It is hard, sometimes, to accept your own obscure road, but as you walk you begin to learn that the lessons of that high road are just the same as the lessons of your low road only with much farther to fall. And you learn to be content to faithfully walk your own road, looking not at the roads of others, but at the Savior who leads you.

You walk through dark valleys and balk, perhaps, at the depths and the dark. You look up and can barely see that promised glory, though it is all your hope in the valley. Your Shepherd teaches you to trust, to not be afraid. He comforts you with rod and staff and Presence unspeakable. You begin to see light, here where you thought there was no light, and you become, in some small way, a source of that light to others who see you walk with grace.

You climb high mountains, winding paths that seem purposeless. You wonder whether you’re on the right way, but your Guide provides you with the signs you need to assure you that He is still leading you. His Word becomes a lamp for your feet, a light for your path, and your Friend does not fail to walk beside you.  Patiently He teaches you to walk with patience, to endure, to be faithful to this meandering path. You feel like you are climbing to nowhere, but in the long stretches of wasteland high in the mountains He teaches you to have faith, to look only to Him, to lay aside the sin and weights that make it harder to climb.

You come to altars and learn to lay yourself down, to rickety bridges and learn to not look down, to crosses and learn to take them up. You spend days thirsty, wondering when you will find water, and then laugh for joy at the sound of a secret spring. You search for food in desert places, only to discover that the Living Bread that fully satisfies is walking beside you every day.

You wonder if anyone sees, notices, cares that you are here on this road. Then one day you can hear it in the rhythmic crunching of your feet on the path beneath you—I see you; I know you; I love you. You begin to recognize the voice of truth more clearly, to focus your ears on that quiet voice. You follow as a trusting sheep follows a shepherd.

And then, one day, far in the distance you see something new—a leap. Really, Lord? Is that my path? You freeze in fear. You’re okay with walking, climbing, and maybe even running if the road is smooth and flat and safe. But leaping?

Do you trust Me?

Fearfully, slowly, you put out one foot, then the other. You are not sure you like where this road seems to be going, but you have learned this—there is nowhere else for you but where He is.

The path to the leap is longer than you expected. The climbs are higher, and the plunges into valleys are sudden and steep and scary. You get bogged down in swampy places with no clear way forward. You learn to be content with the tiniest inch of progress a day. You plead for strength, for grace, for all that is promised. Your prayers are always answered, sometimes in unexpected ways. Friends come along and offer a hand just when you thought you could never move again. You are never left alone.

Some days you run toward the leap with joy and excitement. Sometimes you fall flat on your face. Sometimes you try to go a different way, because that leap up there looks pretty impossible. Some days you waste entirely in fear and worry and doubt, until you fall before your Master and cry with brokenness, help my unbelief!

He gives more grace.

And then, you are suddenly there—just a day or two from that leap you’ve been preparing for. No, your Teacher says, I have prepared it for you, for you are My workmanship, created in Me for good works that I prepared for you beforehand. You realize that nothing here surprises Him, that though the landscape seems unfamiliar and though you’re really not sure what’s at the bottom and though those definitely look like stormclouds, nevertheless this is all part of His good plan.

You stand on the edge, and you look searchingly at His face. He is all love and all grace and His eyes dance with His pleasure in you.

Do you trust Me? He asks, holding out His hand.

Yes, you whisper fiercely, taking hold of Him.

And then you jump.

Suffering, Sacrifice, and Knowing Jesus

For too much of my life I have been content with knowing about Jesus instead of actually knowing Him. I expect this is a problem faced by a lot of kids who grow up in church and in Christian school. Maybe it’s an even bigger problem for pastors’ children. Our faith becomes less of a faith and more of a subject to be mastered, like fractions in math and capitals in geography.

But to truly know Jesus requires something different. It requires a relationship, not a mind full of facts. It requires humility and a teachable heart and a recognition of the deep need of our hearts.

Don’t get me wrong, because I want to be very clear here: I believe in the importance of theology, of knowing Scripture and studying the attributes of God and even memorizing prooftexts and definitions. I believe that God’s Word is absolutely necessary for our lives, that knowing what is true is crucial for having a discerning spirit, and that discernment is far too valued in Scripture to be tossed aside just because it requires study and hard work or because it isn’t popular.

I believe in the importance of knowing what we believe and of being able to defend it. I wouldn’t trade my years in Christian school, Sunday School, Bible college, and all the rest for anything.

But all that head knowledge is not the same thing as heart love. It is not knowing Jesus. I know this because Paul had all the head knowledge in the world and still said that the main goal of his life was to know Jesus.

I am beginning to understand that knowing Jesus requires a whole-life identification with Him. It requires following Him in every way. If He was humble, I must be humble. If He was gentle, I must be gentle. If He was fearless, I must be fearless. If He was holy, I must be holy.

If He suffered, I must suffer.

Who is Jesus without His suffering? Sent to reveal to us God’s character and to offer us redemption, Jesus had to suffer in order to fulfill His mandate. God’s character is holiness so pure that we cannot stand for one moment before it. His character is love so great and strong that He would do anything to save us from the curse of sin. Where do we see this character more than in the suffering of Christ at Calvary?

How can I possibly hope to know Jesus if I do not know what it is to suffer? How can I dare say I know Him if I have not died to self? How can I call myself a follower of Christ if I fail to take up my cross daily as He Himself commanded?

How can I ever know the power and glory of resurrection if I do not first know the pain and horror of death?

Living a life for Christ means being crucified with Him, complete with the agonized soul-searching and submission to God, the humiliation, the torment. Death to self is painful, and offering ourselves as living sacrifices is going to involve fiery pain and losing what may feel like more than we can afford to give up. But if I refuse this—if I say that I will be God’s child only so long as I don’t have to make any truly painful choices or difficult sacrifices—then I am missing out on the greatest joy of life, which is knowing Jesus.

Because the Savior who came, who so fully showed us the love and perfection of the God of the universe, who invited those who followed Him to join Him in suffering and self-denial and servanthood, is worth knowing. And He is far more than a list of prooftexts or facts about His life. He is more than a conglomeration of stories and attributes. He is unknowable God made knowable, and every step we take into a life of sacrifice and, yes, suffering, opens our eyes a little wider to see Him as He is.

It is this seeing that transforms us into His image, the beautiful image of the perfect Son of God, a masterpiece of grace doing the good work God created for us to do long ago. Day by day we must choose afresh to lay down our lives as He did for us, trusting that He is worth it, even when we can’t see it.

And as we do, He is revealed, and we discover that there is nothing anywhere that is more precious than knowing Jesus and so becoming more like Him.

Monday Meanderings, Week 17

There is a beautiful sunset just visible out the window in the front door, and Art is reading out loud to the kids. My feet feel cold while the rest of me feels overheated, and I really need a haircut. The house smells like whatever’s in the wax warmer mixed with the smell of sauteed onions and the lysol I used to mop the kitchen floor, and I’m really tired but satisfied that I have had a profitable day.

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I am currently in pursuit of organization, in hopes that perhaps I can feel less like my life is about to spin so out of control that it explodes. My next task is to declutter. Basically that means I am going to be stuck in chapter three of Homeschooling at the Speed of Life for quite possibly the rest of my life. However, I am really trying to attack my big projects one bite at a time, like all those wise people say to do, so this week’s task is the hall closet, which pretty much literally has exploded.

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Aside from Tuesday, when I got to have the super fun adventure of sitting with my mom during Dad’s heart cath procedure, this past week has been pretty unthrilling around here. We are gearing up to start a new children’s program at church as well as our homeschool co-op (both start this week), but last week was pretty much mostly just school and housework and life. It was kind of a calm before the storm, and it was much needed. Now I just need to get through the storm, which according to my calculations, might let up sometime around New Year’s for a couple days.

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Currently Pooka has a cold, which is making life highly joyful. She couldn’t sleep last night (I am talking wide. awake.) for hours– which, of course, means neither could I. I even brought out the big guns of back rubbing, song singing, and eyebrow/nose stroking– which worked on 99% of the daycare children I used to care for– to no avail. She did eventually go to sleep around 1, only to wake up before 3 again. Then, in a mad marathon of slumber, she slept till 7:15 this morning.

Thankfully, ever since infancy, when Pooka is sick it’s usually the first night that’s the worst. I’m praying this is true today because I feel like I can’t actually survive another night like last night, especially on a school night!

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Today was the first time since I started Couch to 5K that I couldn’t finish the run. The app I’m using has you do intervals of running and walking, with the running intervals increasing each week. Well, the transition from week 3– two sets of 90-second runs and two sets of 3-minute runs, with walks of equal lengths after each run– to week 4– two sets of 3-minute runs and two sets of 5-minute runs, with shorter walks between– was rough. Throw in high humidity, midday sun, a sore ankle, a different route than normal (more hills), and less sleep than I should have had last night, and I just couldn’t. I feel really good about what I did accomplish, though. I missed about a minute of running near the end of the second 5-minute run, and then got back and ran the last minute before the cool down. It was still a lot more running than I have ever done before, and I just keep reminding myself of that. Also of the fact that fall is coming, and the humidity really should go away eventually. Which should give us a really fabulous week of running before the snow comes.😉

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smiling potatoI know this isn’t very interesting. I literally had three pictures on my phone from this week, and one was blurry and one was of a potato that I thought looked like it was smiling. I’ll try to be more exciting in the week to come.

Who am I kidding. My plans involve teaching prepositions and cleaning out a closet.

I’ll try to take more pictures of my children this week. They’re the really interesting ones around here.🙂