Tag Archives: faith

When He was ready…

Christ came not when we were ready, but when he was.

This has been a difficult year for us. It has been a particularly difficult year for my husband who lost his father just at the end of September after long, strenuous health issues. He has shouldered a good bit of stress at work, and we have been stretched to our parenting limits this year. Can you relate? Christmas may have come this year with us feeling weary and unprepared. There is, somehow, good news in this.

The grace of the embodiment of God on earth is partially wrapped in the fact that we were still a mess upon his arrival. We were far from ready. We had forgotten to be expectant, and had instead grown hurried, harried, and lacking in purpose. Christmas arrived before all the cookies were baked and frosted, it arrived before packages were wrapped and bows tied. We were caught in the middle of some major mishaps. Our lives were ugly and twisted. We had forgotten to hope.

The shepherds were leaning on their staffs, cleaning the excrement from their sandals when the heavens were ripped open and angels burst in chorus above their heads. And even Anna, (Luke 2:36-38) who was waiting in the house of the Lord, may have risen from a despondent corner of the temple, doubting anything hopeful would ever happen to her again.

We were distracted and agitated and frazzled. But then, before Mary had time to prepare a nursery, he was born. Before we tied up the loose ends, and resolved the mess our lives had become, he came. While we were embarrassed, stressed, anxious, and lonely, he arrived, donning tendons and truth. Or we were proud, arrogant, and crass, yet he wouldn’t wait for us to clean our lives up. He would not. We couldn’t.

As his infantile arms flailed erratically, he waved them about and cried, “Behold, I am new! Look, I will live next door. I make everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).

As he breathed on Mary’s cheek, so he had once breathed in us the breath of life. As his divinity seemed to take on a weaker nature, he poured into us his spirit of hope (Romans 5:5).

He came when he was ready, not when I was.

As I vacuum the house in preparation for Christmas guests, I feel the frustration of an imperfect house. It will not all get done. Let’s face it, with three boys, and trying to squeeze in time for a math lesson, is the house ever clean? There will most assuredly be dusty surfaces and blankets piled in a corner. It is an imperfect house full of imperfect people. If I am not ready with the house cleaning, how much more unprepared am I with my spiritual life? My soul needs dusting and there are certainly things I need to purge from my character. If I can welcome family into an imperfect home, then I can welcome this Savior into my imperfect world. He is here! Joy to the world!

His uncoordinated knees knock together as he now kicks, but his movements proclaim, “Come to me. My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30). And Mary, not having prepared perfectly for his arrival, picks up her burden, snuggles him deeply, and discovers, it is indeed light.

Merry Christmas.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Advertisements

Are you ready?

A frequent greeting which falls from our lips this time of year is “Are you ready for Christmas?” And by this we mean, have you finished your Christmas shopping, do you have the meals shopped for and planned out, do you know where all the relatives will sleep, or how you will get to both sides of the family on Christmas Eve. We might rethink our intentions with this inquiry.

Are you ready?

Are you eagerly awaiting what has been long promised you? Are you resting in exuberant hopefulness? Is the Advent of the Son foremost in your thoughts? Are you ready to celebrate his once-upon-a-time birth and his most assured return?

May we be open to receiving the divine in our life. May we be open to recognizing the blessings and the light, just as the wise men recognized the bright, auspicious star. May we make room for him as we make room for the others before us who need a place to stay, a warm meal, or a sympathetic ear. Are we ready to welcome him as we welcome others in our lives? As we wait this advent, may we grow into a reflection of the holy Infant’s abiding love.

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!

Luke 1:45

Lilies in Solidarity

With a heavy heart I approach the Easter season. Death is inextricably intertwined with this holiday of faith. In order for there to be rejoicing on Sunday, there must be the death on Friday afternoon. And yet although He died “once for all,” (Romans 6:10) there are still countless lives lost every year because of hatred.  As a Christian, I know these are not pointless deaths. They are horrible and unthinkable. Yet in Christ’s powerful narrative over death He has brought victory.


Here I am talking about the bombings at Coptic churches in Tanto and Alexandria, Egypt this past Palm Sunday. This brief post is a prayer for the families and for the perpetrators that Christ’s love and sacrifice will prevail in all of our hearts. I pray for peace. I pray not only for the kind of peace which erases war and terrorism, but the true peace which obliterates any kind of animosity, jealousy, greed, avarice, envy and prejudices. I pray against even the threat of violence. I pray for the peace that passes our understanding.

The Coptics date their Christian faith and practice back to Mark’s missionary journey to Egypt around 50AD, approximately the time Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians. They broke off from what was then mainstream Christianity in 451 AD at the Council Of Chalcedon over their Christology (their view of Christ’s divinity and humanity). As I am technically a Protestant- although I dislike this term as I am not protesting anything- there are a few doctrinal and practical differences in our faith. This, however, is immaterial at such a time as this. I can only bow my head in prayer for such a people, who for centuries have been persecuted, and yet still seem to endure, who in recent years are only further persecuted, threatened and even murdered for wearing the name of Christ. May He keep His promises and strengthen His church.


We live less than half a mile from this Coptic church under construction. It is a daily reminder of the universality of the Christian faith. Even in the suburban Midwest, I feel a connection to those far away. What could I possibly do besides pray for these people? Indeed, what is the greatest thing we could do, if not to pray?! 

And so I pray. Yes, I pray for peace. I pray for their safety. I pray for the terrorism to cease. But as the early church also prayed, I pray we also have the boldness to live lives of faith.

I want them to know we are praying as well. It may seem trivial, but my husband has been talking about giving them flowers in our support. Ever since the January bombings of last year. And so, today, S and G and I brought them Easter lilies. Lilies in solidarity. I do not know if these Christians have any personal connections to Egypt, or any family members living there. Perhaps they have all been here for generations. But, we take this time at Easter to rejoice together that there is Life even in the middle of death. And I am encouraged that there are others around me who are struggling to live out their faith as well.

And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of the cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself…

Colossians 1:18-20 KJV

Please pray with me for them.

Teaching the Bible story

While I want my children to desire to know God and connect with people on a heart level, I also feel it is crucial for them to have a solid, textually-based knowledge of His Word, the Bible. Even though our morning routine looks slightly different from year to year, it always includes some form of Bible study or learning. In the past, it has been as random as opening the Bible to read a few verses together, to something more systematic like a reading and study of a particular book. One year we covered the Gospel of Luke, another the epistle of James, or enjoyed random readings from Psalms and Proverbs using our Bible verse box. The box is still hanging around on an end table in our basement, but it hasn’t been used in awhile.

This year I have accepted the encouragement from Sonya Shafer from Simply Charlotte Mason to keep key verses written on notecards and file them in an index box. We use no methodology for memorization. I simply read the verse each morning and my kids say it along with me as they become familiar with it. There is no pressure to memorize quickly. Some familiar verses we have learned pat in 2-3 days. Others, less familiar or lengthier passages, have taken us a couple of weeks or so. Sonya Shafer has an easy system of reviewing old verses so nothing is lost over time. Look here for her easy to implement Bible memory verse system. Oh, and if you are tempted to to shorten the length of Scriptures for the younger ones, refrain! The six-year-old, with his agile memory,  is our leader in this. G usually keeps us on track when we forget a phrase or mix up translations. (The King James version was the go-to translation when I was younger.) Regardless of how well we have memorized the text, I feel good that they are hearing beautiful words, words that they can hold on to for life.

I have also been searching for a way to teach my guys the Bible in a ‘big picture” format. I want them to see the overarching story line through history, to see the Bible as a cohesive text as well as a collection of histories, poems, letters written in their own contexts. I want my boys to see how they also fit into God’s story, and I think I have found one way to do that through Bible book summary cards. This group has Bible study curriculum for both a homeschool or home use setting, as well as a classroom setting. The cards are colorful 8.5″ x 11″ sturdy stock cards with graphic and mnemonic devices to help you and your child learn (and remember!) the main focus, doctrinal points, or narratives for each of the 66 books of the Old and New Testament. While they don’t take the place of reading the text itself, it is a wonderful way to give your child a thorough overview. Because there is a brief explanation on the back of each card, even those of us who can’t remember the main point of Haggai, can still learn and teach our kids. Some of the cards look like this.

img_7054
Hopefully, the skull and cross bones don’t distract from Bible learning. Come to think of it, I think we talked about Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones that day!

Can you guess which book this card represents?

img_7120

We are only a couple of minor prophets away from completing the Old Testament. I am amazed at how they have already connected with the story lines.

On the back of each card are five or six questions to help review. Each day we name the books already completed and I randomly choose a few for them to narrate back to me based on the pictures. We can’t do all of them every day; it would take too long! Then, we read and learn the next one. All in all, it takes us 15 minutes or so to say our memory verse, and learn our Bible book summary cards. In this way, my boys and I are able to start the day with God’s Word.

img_7118

“…this feeling in being in one’s own place”

Willa Cather’s 1931 novel on Quebec and the last days of Governor General Louis de Buade de Frontenac (1697-1698) is not one of my my favorites, but there is this passage that pulls  at me.

She put the sled-rope under her arms, gave her weight to it, and began to climb.  A feeling came over her that there would never be anything better in the world for her than this; to be pulling Jacques on her sled, with the tender, burning sky before her, and on each side, in the dusk, the kindly lights from neighbour’s houses. If the Count should go back with the ships next summer, and her father with him, how could she bear it, she wondered. On a foreign shore, in a foreign city (yes, for her a foreign shore), would not her heart break for just this?  For this rock and winter, this feeling of being in ones’ own place, for the soft content of pulling Jacques up Holy Family Hill into paler and paler levels of blue air, like a diver coming up from the deep sea.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 2, VII by Willa Cather

Day after day Cecile had walked about those streets trying to capture that lost content and take it home again. She felt almost as if she no longer had a home; often wished she could follow the squirrels into their holes and hide away with them for the winter.

from Shadows on the Rock, Book 5, IV by Willa Cather

It is not only Cather at her most eloquent and poignant, but it also bruises my soul with its beauty and love for a home never fully realized. Just as Cather endured homesickness for Virginia as a child when she was uprooted to the vast plains of Nebraska at age nine, so often did her characters feel the tug of nostalgia and the yearning for ties to land. In fact, land and location were primary characters in many of her novels. It did more than provide back drops to stories, but rather shaped the characters, sometimes even overshadowing them.  Antonia Shimerda from My Antonia, though born in Bohemia, was inextricably tied to Nebraska’s wheat and wind. Here, in the above excerpt, little Cecile born in faraway France, pulls the tiny, illegitimate Jacques through the snow on her sled, and knows she belongs to this “rock.” Quebec has claimed her.

There is a longing we all have to belong that will never be fully satisfied. We may feel awkward and foreign no matter where we go. Whether we fear leaving our hometown or whether we have an insatiable wanderlust, it all comes from the same place – a deep yearning for what is truly home. Last year I wrote about this here more at length using other favorite examples from literature.

Cather may not have recognized this as a spiritual quest, but we see her characters’ repeated struggles with belonging and place. One day, we will be there, never more looking around us, never more torn between belonging and being the “other,” never straddling coming and going. We will simply be in our own place. That place which has long been prepared for us. To which our hearts long. Home.

It was promised

“I am going there to prepare a place for you…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the place where I am going.”

John 14:2b-4

 

 

Storms and mercy

Indiana experienced severe thunderstorms, flash floods and even some tornadoes this past week. While my family has remained safe, and our home unscathed, we have known others in power outages, and have seen videos from neighboring towns with storms knocking down coffee shops and flipping homes. They have experienced the harshness of what nature can bring.

IMG_6695

The sky has displayed both the frightening power and the soothing gentleness of its Creator. The LORD is both mighty and tender. He is angry storm clouds, moaning winds. He is a barely detectable sweep of a butterfly’s wing, a placating touch lightly lain on a shoulder. He is all of our talents manifest at the peak of their practice. He is the mercy when we fail in our constant fragility. He is love, and all in between.

This past weekend I went with some girlfriends to watch the Meryl Strep biopic Florence Foster Jenkins, the peculiarly popular opera singing with the infamously off key voice. As she lay in her bed dying tears welling from her eyes, tears of disappointment, she finds a moment of triumph with a somewhat self-deprecating smile. She tells her husband,

Some may say that I couldn’t sing, but no one can say that I didn’t sing.

At the end of the day, as I lay my head on my pillow with eyes either welling with tears, or feeling a sense of triumph, I can say equally well,

Some may say I didn’t parent well, but no one can say I didn’t parent.

And the mighty hand of the Creator will bring power and gentleness to rest in their appropriate places. There will be storms of mercy that fall, filling in the spots where I was off key.

IMG_6713

 

Ode to the Sunday School Teacher

Unashamedly, I am still basking in the glow of my Prince Edward Island adventure. Upon returning home, I have read The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery for the first time, which incidentally, I purchased from the Site of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home. The paperback proudly bears the stamp.

And I have been re-reading The Story Girlsupposedly the author’s favorite of her novels.

Combine these readings with the fact that our church has been talking about our responsibility of reading for the sake of the community, and throw in the fact that I just completed Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith, have been planning Bible home school curriculum for this next year for my boys, and the fact that I have substituted teaching in children’s Bible classes a few times at church this summer, and it is not difficult to see why a couple of these passages spoke sweetly to me.

Montgomery, who married the Presbyterian minister Ewen MacDonald, was a theological thinker in her own right. With a knack for describing hypocrisies and frivolous loyalties to tradition and prejudices, Montgomery often snuck in satirical statements through her most upright and judgmental of characters. Remember the proudly outspoken Mrs. Rachel Lynde? In a letter to Anne in college, she writes,

“I don’t believe any but fools enter the ministry nowadays….Such candidates as they have sent us, and such stuff as they preach! Half of it ain’t true, and what’s worse, it ain’t sound doctrine. The one we have now is the worst of the lot. He mostly takes a text and preaches about something else. And he says he doesn’t believe all the heathen will be eternally lost. The idea! If they won’t all the money we’ve been giving to Foreign Missions will be clean wasted, that’s what!”

~from Anne of the Island, chapter 5 “Letters from Home”

Now contrast Anne’s enthusiasm for the young and lovely minister’s wife, Mrs. Allan.

“I never knew before that religion was such a cheerful thing. I always thought it was kind of melancholy, but Mrs. Allan isn’t, and I’d like to be a Christian if I could be one like her.”

~Anne confiding to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, p. 172

Wouldn’t we all want this to be said of us?

So, for those of you who are teaching a Sunday school class, who open the Bible in front of young minds and share words of truth and life, you are filling more than an hour’s void.

“The social life of juvenile Carlisle centered in the day and Sunday schools. We were especially interested in our Sunday School, for we were fortunate enough to be assigned to a teacher who made our lesson so interesting that we no longer regarded Sunday School attendance as a disagreeable weekly duty, but instead looked forward to it with pleasure, and tried to carry out our teacher’s gentle precepts- at least on Mondays and Tuesdays. I am afraid the remembrance grew a little dim on the rest of the week.”

~ from The Story Girl, p. 26

You are providing a vision of what it means to be part of a kingdom of grace and love. It is a great service in which the subjects are only coincidentally small. If nothing else, you are narrating a picture of God’s appealing beauty. May your story be consistently bewitching and inviting.

Pursuing what is good

Growing up I think I had this perception of heaven as the perfecting of all things.  God would somehow smooth over all wrongs done. We would forget about any pain we had experienced, and we ourselves would instantaneously, miraculously be perfected, no longer with struggles or any of our former shortcomings.  Now, I am not so sure that this is the case.

IMG_4342

Last time on this blog I shared my thoughts on why I am thankful I don’t feel a complete sense of belonging in any one location.  If this is true, I pray it is because my true home, my eternal home, is still not fully realized.  If I want to recognize it as home it may be that I need to have more than hope in God magically transforming me, but also in a focused plan to hope in the fact that he is transforming me even now.  If I am disciplining my heart to think and feel with the heart of God, then it may be that eternity will be as recognizable and comfortable to me when I arrive as if I truly do belong.  In a sense our change will occur in “the twinkling of an eye,” (I Corinthians 15:52) but its beginnings are here in the midst of the mundane here on earth.  Our steps toward wholeness or perfection begin now, incrementally.

Therefore I….urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received.

Ephesians 4:1

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.

Romans 12:2

Eternity starts now.  Let’s get ready.  I am preparing my heart for it now so it will not seem foreign to me then.

See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.

Rejoice always!

Pray constantly.

Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I Thessalonians 5:15-18

Resources: “What is that in your hand?”

DSC_0051

What is the mightiest tool I possess?  A keyboard?  A recipe for spaghetti puttanesca?  A seemingly pointless master’s degree in Slav(on)ic  studies?  These meager resources seem insufficient to tackle the task at hand- namely, raising three boys from childhood to boyhood, and eventually to manhood with grace, strength, consistency and wisdom, turning their hearts solidly toward God.  It is more than I could do on my own.  It is more than any of us can do.  As I sigh over bread crumbs kicked into distant kitchen corners, or over another petty squabble between my boys, or even a missed opportunity to encourage someone, my impoverished resources appear pathetic.  As I focus on my weaknesses, I largely see problems and never solutions.  I get bogged down in the now and forget to rejoice over the future’s victories.

I see my puttanesca recipe only as a means of getting dinner on the table until I remember a couple of loaves of bread .

Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?

John 6:9

My arms seem weak and tired until I recall a shepherd’s staff.

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

Exodus 4:2

A random and ancient oxgoad.  A slingshot and a smooth, well-chosen stone near running water.

After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.  He too saved Israel.

Judges 3:31

Could they be synonymous with a pen’s scribblings?  A healing conversation?  With words of truth spoken in earnest?

What they have in common is their negligibility.  They are nominally useful things in human hands.  Yet in the hands of a foreign judge, backed by the LORD Almighty, an entire nation gains freedom by way of a farm tool.  Guided by the Jewish Messiah, surrounded by crowds, a boy relinquishes his lunch and feeds thousands, highlighting deity in human form for all in the vicinity.  Leaning on a staff a shepherd strikes fear in the world’s leading ancient empire.  Alone in a remote town, among an insignificant tribe, a married couple turns construction and home design into a powerful sanctuary for a holy prophet.

Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him.  Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.

2 Kings 4:10

Whatever we find in our hand He infuses with power and substance and relevance.

And there are times that as we search about us we may discover that we have inadvertently dropped whatever had been in our hands.  There is no longer a shepherd’s staff or even a small stone.  Or maybe we had never even grasped anything at all.  A flash of light, a midnight escape in a basket, (Acts 9:23-25) a couple of Roman floggings, and we no longer possess our prestigious diploma in the Torah.

DSC_0034

And that is when we fall, only to take up the most powerful tool of all – prayer.

Grace, Theology and Autism

Inaccurate theology.  Sometimes it is a conscious choice.  There were times when intellectually I knew my feelings didn’t make sense nor were they based on my understanding of God through Scripture, but something in me felt I had been jinxed with a child on the autism spectrum as a direct result of my past experience with it.  If someone had asked me if this were true, or even if I had asked myself, I might have laughed and said, “Of course not.”   And intellectually I never really believed this, but some latent fear lay brooding, feigning a dormant state, some primordial superstition hid behind a stronger faith that perhaps it was true.  Perhaps if my mother-in-law had never been a special needs preschool teacher with the Department of Defense….Perhaps if I had not known so many people with autism…Perhaps if I had not read so many articles….

My husband and I saw the signs.  We knew what to look for, and we had diagnosed our son ourselves years before we felt the necessity to seek a formal, medical diagnosis.  It was as if all these people and situations were highly contagious and I had now become infected.  If I had not been so well informed on autism, then I never would have given birth to someone on the spectrum.  There.  Fleshed out in a sentence – cause and effect –  in all its explicitness, it looks utterly ridiculous.  And yet…there are times when we operate this way, aren’t there?  If I pray a certain prayer, use special words, God will answer me….If I fall asleep praying, tomorrow will be ok… If I ignore a pain in my chest, it will go away… If I stop thinking about something bad, it will just disappear…. If I think about happy things, I won’t have problems… Have you ever felt yourself reverting back to humanity’s ancient cultural myths?  Out of desperation, helplessness?  The visceral takes over not because we are not intelligent enough, or faithful enough, but simply out of fear.  It is the knee-jerk reaction of humanity to hedge our bets.

Praise be to God for his grace and understanding.  I thank God that he does not always take my every random thought and fear too seriously.  I am thankful that he allows me from time to time to try something on for size, even at my most ridiculous, and gently helps me disrobe and discard the illogical and theologically unsound thoughts.  He provides grace to dress my thinking with something finer, something more beautiful and clearly from him.  An accurate vision, a heavenly help.  Grace in the providential stream of our lives.

Because, of course, the fact is that God did not bless me with a son with Asperger’s because I had accumulated enough autism run-ins, but rather he blessed me with the gift of preparation.  Slowly, over time I was afforded opportunities to learn about people with differences.  My mother-in-law was a huge asset particularly when my son was smaller and guided me through tips on occupational therapy and sensory sensitivities.  As an undergraduate, years before children, my husband and I were employed by Group Living in the tiny college town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas.  (Laugh if you want; the towns exists.)  It is an amazing organization which allows developmentally or physically diabled people to be a vital part of their community.  Group homes are offered for those needing more attentive care.  Regular visits and life-skills training are provided for  those who are able to live independently.  Group Living also runs and operates a very popular breakfast and lunch place called The Honeycomb, serving quiches, sandwiches, salads and American fare.  The Beehive also employs Group Living clients in the second-hand shop similar to  the nation-wide Goodwill stores.  Many of the clients we worked with had autism.  I remember attending as an undergrad a training session on autism.  There, in the mid-90s, I first heard of Temple Grandin and her squeeze box.  I am so thankful for these moments.  And for the wonderful people I worked with there.

One of these people was also my neighbor.  Sammy Landers and his caretaker lived in the apartment below my husband and me.  He was moody, enjoyed being alone, and spoke very little.  Yet he was one of my first encounters with autism.  Sammy is an artist and is featured in this wonderful blog post from last year.  I have one of his pieces which was presented to us as we left Arkadelphia.  It currently hangs above my four-year-old son’s bookcase in his bedroom closet.  Another touch of grace- this one in purple marker.

DSC_0017_2660

Honestly, the issues my son struggles with are not severe, just daily.  He is easily frustrated, gets caught up in rigid thinking, becomes easily obsessed with a topic, but also has phenomenal memory, is exceptionally perceptive about others’ feelings, and has a deep longing to be helpful.  Grace has not only given me a greater appreciation for the preparation I have received over the years, but also for my son himself.  What would I change about him if I could?  What would you change about anyone whom you love?  And here is another theological inaccuracy – by God’s grace, my son will be fine.  Perhaps all these careful lessons are not to help shape him, but me.