Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dying and dyeing

Funny that these two things go together at Easter time. Funny that we celebrate the dying Lord (and risen of course too, but I'm trying to make a parallel here) with dyeing eggs. I've never thought about this before. And I'm not really in the mood to analyze it now. But I had to share that I love this season. I love remembering and teaching my kids the truth that Jesus dying means life for us. And I love dyeing eggs. I don't know exactly why. This year, we bought 36 eggs to dye and I wish I had double that. I always forget how much I could go on and on with these suckers and so I always under-buy. Part of the problem was that I only allotted myself 6 to color and the rest went to the kids. So I didn't get enough turns. Next year, will someone remind me to buy a neat 18 all for myself?

So try to take time to dye some eggs (kids or not), and have a pretty plate or basket to put them in. It will make you feel like you have sunshine inside of yourself. And be sure to tell your kids about Jesus this week. Read the Bible story to them (click here for the "early reader" version in simplified language) and help them understand that at Easter, this kind of dying means living. And this kind of dyeing means lots of beautiful decorations on your table, not to mention the sunshine in your heart thing. It made for my favorite day in a long time. And I don't even like pastels.

Monday, March 29, 2010

From the files: Good Friday '08

I came across this article I wrote two Easters ago, and thought I'd post it here just to get our hearts going in terms of what the upcoming "Passion" week is all about. If you were on my email distribution two years ago, you may have read it before, but since I could barely recognize my own thoughts and sentences, I thought you may enjoy a fresh read as well.

Yesterday was Good Friday. As much as it is common to happily anticipate the Easter season, it is hard to look forward to Good Friday. It is a somber day, and a time I usually commemorate by going to church to be reminded of the horror brought upon our Lord for our sake. Honestly, I like to go in a way one likes to get an annual physical – it is not something pleasant, but understood as necessary to stay healthy. Basically, I need to go to the Good Friday service because it keeps me in check. After all, Jesus tells us to carve out time to remember what He’s done for us on the cross. So I go every year, knowing there is no spoonful of sugar to make this medicine go down.

And every year, I am a little disturbed as the account of the crucifixion is retold. The brutal violence, the senseless and angry mob, the evil men in authority…really it is all hard to imagine. I am usually left thinking, “I get that this had to happen, but really how did this happen? Who were those people?” So much of the story is so shocking.

Then, the service always implies that WE are the ones who crucified Jesus because He died ultimately for our sins. Again, I understand the connection and have known my need for a savior my whole life. But in my heart of hearts, I try to put myself in the shoes of all the evil characters in the story and come up at a loss in terms of being able to relate. Would I have been Judas, betraying a friend for a buck? Never. Would I have been in the angry mob? Would I have been screaming, “Release Barabbas! Crucify Jesus!” Can’t imagine it. Would I have been the spineless Pilate, letting a gross injustice (the death of someone he found innocent) slip right by me? No way. I’m sorry, I just can’t identify with any of those people.

So let’s go to theology. This year, the screen in the service was slowly flashing up reasons why we are the ones who crucified Jesus. The first said, “We are sinners by birth.” I get that. We had no choice; we came out that way. (And here I go in my mind…Would I have really bitten into that apple like Eve? I think I would have been pretty content in the garden of Eden, and yet she slaps me with the sentence of a lifetime. Thanks.) Next reason on the screen: “We are sinners by nature.” I get that too. We are imperfect pieces of flesh, another sort of imposed sentence, in my mind, something I didn’t buy into and something I can’t cure as long as I’m on this earth. Then a third reason flashes up, the one that startles and stops me: “We are sinners by choice.” I immediately want to protest, “No, I have no choice because of Eve, because of my nature, because I was designed to fail.” All these arguments sound solid from a philosophical standpoint. But they are not telling my whole story.

I sat in my seat, now totally unaware of what was happening in the service, weighing my own heart. How much am I choosing my sin? A mother must similarly weigh the heart of her child when deciding how to discipline; is he or she simply making childish mistakes, or is the child being truly defiant? It is a very important question for a parent; the answer determines the consequence. But now I am in the position of the child. I do indeed make many mistakes based on my lack of maturity, but I also know there are times when my sin is truly my defiance, my choice.

I let this realization boil down in my heart: I am not a victim of my nature, I am a willing partner. Not only do I at times choose to sin, but if I am brutally honest with myself, I know there are times when my rebellion is bold and prideful and senseless and shocking and I can look at me and say “Who is that woman?”

Yes, I am sometimes the child who makes mistakes. But I am also a sinner by choice. I choose it, regularly, even if just in my mind. Sometimes it is an indulgent, horrific conversation in my mind that I never plan to have, sometimes it is an attitude of entitlement, or superiority, or self-centeredness. These are ugly things that I can freely embrace, partly because I know each person has his or her own things. I may not ever choose what Judas did, or any of the other evil people in the Good Friday scene, but turning my back on Jesus just once in defiance qualifies me for desperately needing His payment for my forgiveness. Let’s just face facts that my bad choices, and yours for that matter, put Him on the cross because He couldn't stand to live without us.

At the end of the service, I stood listening, absorbing the music. I closed my eyes and I saw a picture of myself standing on the earth. All my sins and weaknesses were ropes and chains connected to the ground. A tangle of them surrounded my legs. But my chin was tilted up toward the sky and I was full of joy because every single one of them was severed. My sins and weaknesses existed but I was bound by none of them. I stood there in the service, having been given this picture of my freedom, and it was a beautiful thing.

Tomorrow morning, Easter, I feel humbled and privileged to be able to celebrate God’s love for me, that while we were still sinners, Christ set us free (Romans 5:8). He didn't wait for us to change or come looking for Him. He just came, in our hour of deepest need. He paid the price we owed, and then called us by name. I pray today you’ll walk with me through this Easter season feeling a deep sense of gratitude that, if you know Him, you’re free indeed.

[photo from www.freefoto.com]

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lessons from my garden, Part 6

Lesson #6: Even the most beautiful flower cut from its vine will be dead in a very short time.

I like short cuts.

Yesterday I was trying to find ways to teach my daughter her multiplication facts without having to resort to flashcards and mundane repetition. I asked friends with older children and checked the office supply stores for something more "fun." But I had no success. I'm settling with the truth, yet again, that for some things in life, there are no shortcuts.

At least in my head, I know that's a good thing. Discipline goes against our nature to choose the easy way. It needs to be learned, slowly whittling away at our laziness and love for comfort. Even a child needs to be taught that certain skills are acquired through painful repetition, working the same problem over and over and over again until no work is required to answer it. Hmm. I know these things to be true as I type them, and yet inside a subtle distaste lingers (remember how efficiency is just my favorite?).

There are no short cuts in our life with God. If I'm honest, sometimes I wish there were. Sometimes I wish the Bible had Cliff Notes. Sometimes I wish I could stock up on the Holy Spirit's empowering. I want to streamline my spiritual life. I want to collect more manna than one day's worth so I don't have to do it again tomorrow. (Exodus 16 tells us about the Israelites who try to streamline God's program for feeding them with manna. Not good.)
So when I lack the self-discipline to spend time connecting with God on a given day, I am as good as a flower cut from the vine. I can look good for a very short time, but an ugly demise follows; graceless parenting, and careless words are the first signs of my wilting.

John 15:3-5 says, "You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Oh, I can do something. I can complete tasks and accomplish a whole day's worth of activities and interactions with others. I can drum up a whole story of how important my jobs are and how well I've met the demands on me. But my focus starts to be on my greatness. Self-sufficiency is a very shallow well from which to draw. Through my own strength, all my efforts are lifeless instead of being life-giving.

More than I want short cuts, I want to truly love and serve people in my life. I also want to spend my energy on the tasks God has ordained for my day, and to do so without anxiety. I don't have time or energy to waste, and I believe we often tackle many things on our to-do lists that aren't on God's. So today, I'm going to remain in Him - pray, read, listen and be filled up by His strength - knowing there are no short-cuts to blooming.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

More thoughts on Part 5

John 8:1-11

At dawn, Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

It is first thing in the morning. Most people are just waking up. And somehow, the religious leaders know when and where a woman is in the midst of an adulterous act. They apprehend her and drag her to the temple, knowing Jesus will be there. Some suggest she was set up to be caught at that very hour. However, in their scheming, the religious leaders overlook the fact that they are using a human being. She is probably half-dressed, crying, disheveled, and drawing much unwanted attention. Embarrassment, shame and humiliation cover her as she is forced through the public square. Can you imagine this scene? The men also carry with them large rocks, intent on killing her with them...just as soon as Jesus gives them the green light.

But the malicious plan goes awry. Instead, Jesus traps them. Many suggest that what Jesus stoops to write in the dust is a list of their own sins. Whatever it was, it was powerful enough to stop the whole operation in its tracks. The eldest leaders drop their rocks first, convicted by their own guilt. The rest follow suit until none are left. In my imagination, the public upheaval melts into silence, except for, perhaps, the woman's sobs. And what she is offered next is revolutionary, not only in those days, but it would be today as well: mercy, and forgiveness, and freedom.

The religious leaders see just a glimpse of what is taking place in this woman's life. They see the small spring of mint poking out of the ground. Jesus doesn't even seem to notice the obvious. He sees beyond the surface. He sees how brokenness has twisted and turned inside her, year after year, growing into a disastrous tangle that she couldn't fix. He sees the "why". He sees her, and loves her with a love that she has never known. His love does not turn a blind eye to her sin, it washes it away. And the recipient of that kind of love, that flavor of mercy can only do one thing in grateful response - walk away from her old life.

Lord, help me to remember this story of your great love and unsearchable perspective on us all. So many things fall under the category of "matters too great for me to grasp." Remind me of my limited understanding. And when I begin to collect rocks, intent on condemning someone else, remind me that it is your kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Thank you for seeing past my exterior and offering me forgiveness and freedom in all my mistakes. And let me recall your example of love and mercy when it comes time to look past the obvious in someone else, and offer them the same.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lessons from my garden, Part 5

Lesson #5: Some roots are so far traveled, it is impossible for me to see how to completely remove them (or, The problem with mint)

My husband has created a really cool herb garden in our yard. It is the only cool thing about our little yard. It is a container herb garden, meaning all the herbs are growing in containers. Each of 6 very large, modern-looking square pots can hold 3 or 4 different herbs. They are all individually watered with tiny dripping sprinklers, they all drain into a framed floor of pebbles, and not only does the arrangement look cool, the herbs are yummy and healthy and we cook with them almost daily.

But once upon a time, mint entered our garden. Mint was not a bad idea. We love mint - in drinks, on berries, and in lots of other deliciousness. But mint is to a garden as a virus is to a preschool class. It spreads so rapidly that you can't tell where it came from or is going to go next. Everything is just suddenly dominated by it. I don't really know where the mint was originally planted. I believe it started in a container, but somehow jumped down to the main floor of the garden. I am certain, however, that when I began to try to uproot the unwanted portions, which had sprouted up in about 10 different spots, I quickly realized that it was completely out of my control. Unless I was to literally rip up the entire garden, I was not going to be able to pull up all the roots.

In the same way, I know that there are plenty of issues inside myself and my loved ones that we truly have no idea how to uproot. Some hurts or habits run so deep inside our hearts that only God can see their origins. While I am a major advocate of knowing oneself and living an examined life, I also know that there is a boundary line I cannot cross in understanding humankind. That is why this post is necessarily short: I don't have much to say about that which I do not and cannot understand.

I do know these truths, however, and they help me let go of trying to manage issues inside myself or others that I really can't grasp. This first one is a prayer that I need to remind myself of my own ignorance:

Search me, O God, and know my heart.
Test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24

The next passage assures us that if we have given our lives to Jesus, we have Him in our hearts to advocate for us when we don't have a clue. I love that I don't have to know the answers or even the questions. I can just "be," and He knows what I need, knows what the cries of my heart are about:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
Romans 8:26-27

The last passage is my favorite of these, because it is so direct. David is the one who wrote these words, and titled this as a "song for pilgrims." The whole psalm is only 3 verses long, and has a single point - God is God and I am not.

Lord, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
or too awesome for me to grasp.
Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord—
now and always.
Psalm 131

Elizabeth Elliot writes, "The depths call only to God." There are some things we can work on with God, and some things He has to heal in His timing, in His ways. I may see a problem, have a theory about its origins, and see some evidence that this problem is getting out of control. But that doesn't mean I am capable of uprooting it myself. I took such a firm whack at the mint only because I thought I could manage it. From the surface, it looked simple. Above the ground, the mint had grown up in very small shoots at places. Surely, I could pull it right up. Well, the photo below which captures one portion of the roots I managed to rip up will show you that I was concerning myself with something too awesome for me to grasp, and fail I did.

These thick white roots were like an aerial view of the L.A. freeway system, all just millimeters below the surface of the soil, and sometimes stretching several feet away from any sign of mint itself. And the few leaves of mint that were above the surface paled in comparison. Yet, I kept hacking, yanking, digging, and following the trails. Some pieces were pulled up and severed, but I never got it all. Not even close. Think of this image, when you begin to hack at (or complain about) a problem in yourself or someone else. Do you really know where that thing is rooted? Do you really have a grasp on how far traveled a problem it may be under the surface? Sometimes I just need to put down the trowel, let God handle the mess, and trust that He is a way better gardener than I am.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Wait a minute. Hold the phone. I have a mid-day five minutes to myself and I am actually underwhelmed! That means that I am not overwhelmed by the crazy number of things around me to do. The laundry is done. The kitchen is clean (and I mean really deep down clean). Both kids are occupied outside of my space. Not every stack of paper has been addressed, but if you don't count the scrap booking of my son's first 4 years of life, I am actually CAUGHT UP. I need to take note of this because I usually wouldn't appreciate it for what it is. Even when I am normally underwhelmed, the circumstances don't get celebrated. I just look for the next thing to do.

It is like my unbirthday - it is more the rule and not the exception so every unbirthday passes by quite unnoticed. My birthday is the equivalent of being overwhelmed (except I wish that happened only once a year). Anyway, I tend to invent probably more drama than necessary when I am feeling overwhelmed on a given day. That is when I feel the need to "let it out" by writing or inventing a multitude of other tasks to do as therapy for my little self (which helps for a minute, but really makes the matter worse since I'm not covering any of the ground that is overwhelming me).

Not today. I'm choosing to dramatize and celebrate this underwhelmed moment, before someone interrupts it or asks for something to eat. Ahhhhhhh. Thank you Lord.

I'll get back to my gardening lessons soon. I just needed to exhale with this post and encourage you to do the same. The next time you are underwhelmed, though it doesn't mean things are perfect, appreciate it for what it's worth. The moment may not come around again for a while.

I think I'll share a photo or two of another underwhelmed friend. I took many photos of this guy and his buddies on a recent trip to Lake Arrowhead with my husband. These shots were all off the balcony of our room overlooking the lake. The blue jays were shockingly beautiful against the scenery and I couldn't get enough of them. Have a happy day.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Lessons from my garden, Part 4

Lesson #4: EVERYTHING needs pruning.

This is really a combo lesson of two truths that came to mind while gardening. Unhealthy plants need pruning to help them grow, and perfectly healthy plants do too. Cutting the dead and weak parts off the unhealthy plants makes sense to me, and is easy to see how that is nurturing to a failing plant. I'm eager to remove the yucky stuff and leave a healthier, well-groomed little version of the struggler. But it is so hard for me to understand WHY it is good to cut back a thriving guy. After waiting to see growth for so long, after finally seeing some beautiful blooms on it, why on earth would I want to cut some of it away? Isn't that just moving backwards? Isn't the very best thing in life to always be moving forward? I have a suspicion that in God's story for us, the clear answer is "No," at least from our perspective.

Like a good garden-parent, I took my shears to the healthy guys. I had to tell the plants in my head, before I clipped, "This is for your own good!" Snip snip snip. Ouch. I feel the parallel in my own life way too closely. I think perhaps God feels this way when he prunes us, even when we're walking closely to Him, checking off the boxes, doing the jobs He's given us. It is never too long before the snip, "Here's one more thing we need to work on," He says. OK, Lord (eyes squeezed shut). Cut away.

My perspective is so limited because I see life on a sort of linear continuum: there is a backward, a present, and a forward. I only like moving forward (it's that efficiency thing again). But it seems to me that God doesn't know about the continuum. He takes a crazy, illogical path to get me from one stage to the next, and then takes 12 stops along the way to teach me stuff - maybe even the same exact lesson, 12 different times. He'll cut me back in one area, again and again, until the little bonsai in my heart looks just right to Him. I want to be pruned and hemmed in and rounded out. I do, deeply. It's just that I can never anticipate where God wants to take me on my journey with Him, and that feels unsettling. I have to constantly expect the unexpected. Of course He's set it up that way. It's not a cruel joke. It is so that I learn the most important thing I can learn: to completely depend on His plans for me, or I will begin to resist them. I have to trust that my Father knows what's best for me.

There are so many great verses to support these truths. I love Romans 8:28, Hebrews 12:5-11, and this one. These are the words of Jesus, using the same analogy of the garden, and speaking to me every time I'm in mine:

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."
John 15:1-2

A loss of a few flowers now means an abundance of them later. So I'll keep going at my plants with the shears, and try to see the loss as moving forward in the long run. That is the irony of it all - even after the pruning, the healing, the painfully slow growth we experience, and then more pruning - it is all moving forward in God's eyes. His only goal is Christ-like character in me, no matter what path He and I take to get there. I'm joyfully along for the ride; I just sometimes wish He'd let me see the map.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Lessons from my garden, Part 3

Lesson #3: When a weed is left to grow, it eventually hurts healthy things around it.

I alluded to this truth in the last post, so this is kind of an elaboration of that one point, with a Biblical example to illustrate. But I came to this truth because in my garden, there was one patch of weeds so entangled with some healthy flowering plants, that the flowers got mutilated as I tried to wrangle the weeds out from among them. I kept breaking their fragile stems, and as gently as I tried to work, the flower petals kept dropping off as I would try to get around them. It was so frustrating for me to accidentally and repeatedly injure the healthy guys just to remove the weeds! Granted, it was my own fault for waiting until the weeds had such a presence, but still it was painful to see the damage I was doing.

Anger, resentment, and bitterness are weeds often left unattended. By the time you're in the fourth chapter of Genesis, the very first book of the Bible, God addresses this very thing. Cain had this problem - he had a weed of bitterness sprout up in his heart against his brother. Look at the amazing advice God gives him, "Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it," (Genesis 4:6-7). My translation is, "You must uproot that weed." We know that Cain did not. He let his resentment grow, surely watered by the enemy's lies. In the very next verse, Cain proves he has no mastery of his anger, opens the door to sin, and finally chooses to kill his brother.

Now, none of us will likely take any emotion that far, so it's tempting to distance ourselves from the story. However, the Lord's words are chilling to me; that sin is "crouching at my door" and "desires to have me" are universal facts that honestly scare me straight. I don't want to be "had." I want to choose what I do with my emotions, not let them navigate me.

You and I are both familiar with the fallout when anger is left unkempt. We know who we become when our words are being spoken through a filter of bitterness as well. We've all dished it out, and no doubt taken it too. Let's just agree right now that for the sake of the much loved people around us, there is no better course of action than to pluck out the weeds of anger and bitterness as soon as they break the surface. If your emotions run deep and the weed is already overgrown, if you can no longer just pluck it out cleanly, then the ultimate Gardener would love to help. He'll uproot the weed and heal that spot little by little, in gentleness and love.

The Bible directs us to one more way to combat these weeds: dependence on one another. I love the beginning of this verse:

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.
Hebrews 12:15

Isn't this verse well put? Take care of each other. Be attentive to the potential of these weeds in your friends' hearts. In love, help them prevent damaging others with out of control emotions. It reminds me how grateful I am for those who look after me. Thank you, friends. What would we do without each other? Well, we'd have really ugly gardens, for starters.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Lessons from my garden, Part 2

Lesson #2: Some weeds actually look pretty.

In my garden, I found several kinds of weeds. Some were scraggly and stood out like a sore thumb (do sore thumbs really stand out all that much??). But others were not offensive at all. In fact, some weeds were more like soft patches of clover. I thought, "Why can't I just leave them there? These are actually quite nice looking." The camouflaged weeds really blended in nicely with the other plants. But I decided to uproot every one of them, because they were, in fact, weeds. They were not something we had planted, but something that was springing up uninvited, and would at some point grow to the detriment of the other healthy things around them.

In the same way, I sometimes don't even recognize my own weaknesses. There are things in my heart that need to be uprooted, but perhaps are more socially or relationally "acceptable", whether in my circle of friends, or just in my own mind. I sometimes call them "my personality," and own these weaknesses, because I buy into the lie that it is just who I am. Really, I am simply comfortable with these weak areas of my life, and it would be a lot more work to address them. But if I'm honest with myself, I know they are weeds in my heart. I know they are habits or feelings or fears that were not planted by God, and that I choose to let grow.

Some of my weaknesses are offensive. They are ugly, visible weeds. But what about subtle things that sometimes look quite nice, even positive in some situations. For instance, I love efficiency. In many areas, I'm super efficient. Sounds like a good thing, right? Well, I am also annoyed by children who take forever (and I mean forever) to brush their teeth. I am annoyed when the dishwasher gets loaded in the "wrong" way. And I am angered by people who sit in the middle two seats in a row of four empties at the movie theater so that the two seats in which WE could have sat, now split on opposite sides of these individuals, are wasted. I am the person who asks them to move over because I am appalled at how inefficient that is during a sold out show. AGGH. I think I've just proved my point that things I can call "my personality" just might be coping mechanisms for my weaknesses. The weed here for me: wanting undue control. And it's one of many.

What happens if I let these pretty weeds grow? I suppose their growth will dominate the garden of my heart more and more. Eventually the fears and lies that are feeding them may even choke out other pretty things that are planted by God, like truth and security. I'm thankful for this truth in particular, in light of the messed up way I can view the garden of my heart:

"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks
at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
I Samuel 16:7

Here's my prayer: Lord, show me the areas in which I've become comfortable with weeds, and the ways I've made excuses for them. Please reveal to me the things that you have not planted in my heart, and the things You desire to uproot. Open the eyes of my heart to see past appearances, in myself and others, and give me the strength to accept myself as much as You accept me. Amen.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lessons from my garden, Part 1

Today I finished some spring cleaning in our garden. It was a mess, left unattended through several weeks of cold weather and rain. Dead flowers, a carpet of weeds, and messy bushes all needed my attention. As I started my work, I realized something. Every time I work in the garden, as soon as I get to the business of tending to the plants, an onslaught of analogies involving them in the Bible comes rushing towards me. I totally think that if I had a more agricultural lifestyle - like, lived on a farm in some state that has those - I’d be a stronger, more spiritually mature person. I'd be constantly reminded of so many great truths from God's word, illustrated in stories about plants. Darn that Industrial Revolution!

I wanted to share a few of the lessons that came to mind while I pruned and uprooted today. But when I sat down to write, I quickly listed 9 of them. Like I said - coming at me from all directions. Too many for one post, so I'm going to spread them out in a series of posts.

Lesson from the dirt #1: The biggest weeds are the ones that are sheltered.

I pulled a zillion weeds. Most were tiny with shallow roots, and out in the open spaces between the plants. But as I worked my way through the garden, I realized that under the shelter of the trees and at the bases of some flowering plants, giant weeds had grown. I'm not sure if they were able to draw nourishment from their neighbors, or if they were just more protected. But these weeds were healthy and thriving under the shelter of something else. Also, these weeds were harder to see up against another thing green. They were almost hidden, and surviving that way.

How can we escape the fact that we do the same with our sin. Seeds of temptation are planted, and then one barely noticable decision is made. A small weed sprouts up out of the soil. But it's hard to see, up against the rest of our polished selves. We think no one notices anyway. It's easy to shelter our early indiscretions and compromises. But hiding them is the very thing that feeds them. Soon one choice is a habit, and the growing weed gets harder and harder to hide.

For me, I tell myself these areas of compromise are too small to deal with; besides, I'm not committing any "big" sins. Up against the rest of me and who I appear to be, who really knows how often I may "lose it" with my kids, or choose selfishness over serving my spouse. Well, God does. He's sitting there, waiting for me to acknowledge my sin to Him, and let Him gently pull the weeds. This line in a song by Hillsong that I love called Hosanna (it may make the NFS one day) truly speaks to my soul, as it contains a plea to God, "Break my heart for what breaks Yours..." I pray for an ever-growing discomfort with my sin, so that I can allow God to come into all areas of my heart. Here's to transparency before the Lord, because He is so loving, and He's promised us grace every time.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5:8-11

He who conceals his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
Proverbs 28:13

Friday, March 05, 2010

Fortune Cookies

Let me start off by saying that God can use anything to say something to us. He can use a friend, He can use a book, He can use any number of things that don't even have anything to do with Him, directly. This includes fortune cookies. Yes, I confess I have a teensy belief that those little white strips of paper can be possible messages from the Lord. I'm actually not kidding.

If you're still with me at this point, then I have to assume you either agree with me, or you are just so fascinated by my departure from all things true that you can't look away. Back to my explanation. Here's the thing: I am always looking to hear from God. One of my spiritual gifts falls under the Teacher/Learner type, and so my nature is to be constantly taking in whatever I can. I crave learning as much as I need to get out what I've learned. And because I know that God is always interested in teaching me something, I try to keep open eyes and ears to my surroundings. If He wants to remind me of something, the Holy Spirit will show it to me in His creative, often unexpected way. So though I'm not hunting for secret messages from the Lord in a mystical way, I just try to maintain a teachable heart.

As a family, we happen to love the Chinese food. Tonight we went to a new place nearby with the exotic name of Red Velvet Asian Cafe. I don't remember seeing any velvet anywhere, but in addition to the yummy food, they have really great Jasmine tea and a turquoise tea set for sale that I'm dreaming about. As we finished eating, the owner, the most smiley Chinese man ever came over to bring our cookies; this place is high class because it gives you both almond cookies AND fortune cookies! That's exciting to me. But the fortunes were different. They were double sided, for one. Upon first glance, the side I saw said "Banana," with Chinese characters below it and an English pronunciation in parentheses for each character. Odd. Sophie opened hers to find it said "Watch." Nate's said "Driver," and Kevin's said "June." What??? We waved the kind man over to the table, and Kevin held his up and asked what it meant. He basically replied, in broken English, "June. It's a month. You know, June." No no no. Kevin says, "But WHY does it say June?" The man then proceeds to tell us that it is to teach you the word in Chinese! Chinese vocabulary enrichment! Have you ever seen that? Hilarious. So the next time I'm in China, in a taxi, and I need to say, "Driver, cool watch. Can you grow bananas in June?" I'm like almost totally prepared. Kevin thought we should go to Red Velvet all the time and save up tons of them so we can learn Chinese. You know, the right way.

That was a lot of rambling beside the point toward which I'm wandering, which is the other side of my fortune. It was not so much a message from the Lord as it was a validation of one of my most valued philosophies on life.

A day is a span of time no one is wealthy enough to waste.

Yes!, I say to that. That is why I do a lot of what I do. That is even why I write for this blog, to make the most of my time and learning and even my pain while I'm here. God doesn't want us to waste any of it, and He will definitely multi-task your experiences in other people's lives, if you allow Him to. I cannot store up time. I cannot watch it grow like an investment. No one on this planet is wealthy in terms of time because we are not guaranteed a tomorrow. This one fact levels the playing field across humanity.

So how can we make the most of today? What does "making the most of the day" even mean in your world? Don't be tempted to think that changing 47 diapers is not as valuable as building a home in Haiti. God has put you in your roles with your people in your shoes for His good purposes. That's not to say He doesn't like to mix it up at times, but you just need to stop yourself if you feel anxiety about where you are not. It's easy to feel stuck...in a job, in a home, in a marriage...but the entertainment of that kind of thinking will only take you farther from understanding why God has you there. It helps to remember that His ways are so much higher than ours.

Wise man once say:

"So be careful how you live. Don't live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don't act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do."
Ephesians 5:15-17


My NFS stands for my New Favorite Song. I felt the need to acronym-ize this phrase because my NFS changes so often and I like to share my loves. So I had to make it shorter. You know, for efficiency.

The current NFS is called "Born Again" by Third Day. I usually don't love Third Day. Not for a good reason, it's just not my favorite sound. And I usually don't love the term "born again" in reference to Christianity since it carries an awkward connotation in some circles. Also it is one of those super-religious terms, and I don't love being seen as religious, I just love God. BUT I love this song. It's beautiful and you should listen to it right this very minute.

(try not to be distracted by the random photos; I couldn't figure out how just to get the song and not the video with it! now since I mentioned it are you just gonna watch the random photos? well, just listen twice.)

Music Playlist at MixPod.com

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Why is it that once you have kids, you start using the word "grown-ups" to describe what you used to call "adults"? I suppose it is because children are not yet grown, and since adults are, that's a more easily understandable word to them. OK, I just answered my own question. But, I still think "grown-up" is a strange term, because it also implies maturity in a way that the word "adult" does not.

This is on my mind because today at the table, my 4-yr old son had a revelation (I could see it in his eyes and the way in which he said this), "Mom! You are a kid who's now a grown-up!" My instant thought was, "I sure hope so." But I said, "Yes, that's right!" knowing he was only expressing the realization that I used to be a kid.

So I've been thinking about what it means to be a grown-up. I'm sure there are 600 self-help books out there that offer answers. But those writers probably have their own blogs. I know that being a true grown-up has something to do with wisdom, which is different from simply having knowledge. People can accumulate knowledge their whole lives and still lack the wisdom to live a healthy life. Even if it's really, really good knowledge, Biblical knowledge.

Last week, I was listening to Christian radio - a sermon I caught the middle of (I don't know by whom) - and the speaker was talking about the analogy found in Matthew 7 of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man builds his house upon the rock, the foolish man builds his house upon the sand. Then bad weather comes, and you get the idea. The speaker said something that stuck with me, though. He said that the original word for "fool" in this context literally means "one who fails to weigh matters." The foolish builder is reactive, impulsive, and probably doesn't ask for counsel when he's making a decision. The converse of this must mean that a wise person is he who judges a situation before acting. It took much longer to build a house on solid rock; it involved more planning, more effort, and more time. But the reason the wise man chose the rock was that he weighed the situation and decided against the easy way out; he looked at the pros and cons, probably got advice from people who are experienced at building things on rock, and expected the unexpected in terms of misfortune. This guy was a grown-up.

Jesus is the one who tells this story. There is much more to the meaning of this story because He is saying that those who hear His words and do not put them into practice are like the foolish builders, and those who choose to act on the knowledge He's given are like wise builders. It is not enough to just know what He says. I'm gathering that a grown-up, then, is a person who weighs a matter, and then puts one's God-given knowledge into practice accordingly. Makes you kind of not want to use that word "grown-up" so casually anymore, huh? This is no doubt a high calling.

I do a lot of analyzing; not on purpose, it's just how I roll. Lots of words, lots of thoughts, and lots of examination of myself and the world around me. So I'm in a mental position to weigh matters before I react to a situation, but whether I do so is another story. I realize that I will fail to be the grown-up in every circumstance if I allow my emotions to get ahead of me. Weighing a matter requires a pause, and a pause requires self-control. And the more I talk about this, the more nervous I'm getting. This is not easy when our lives are soaked with busyness and conflict and vulnerability.

Before I get carried away by the sheer odds against me ever becoming a truly wise builder, thank God, literally, He has one promise that I have to hold onto, and tightly. James 1:5 says:

"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

Amen to that. Isn't that promise way too simple? It seems like we should have to work harder for wisdom. But no. There isn't a series of painful events that have to take place before we get it (though God can use pain to teach us). There isn't a maturity prerequisite for getting wisdom. There isn't even anything we can do to earn it. You just ask. The only stipulation is believing God is going to do what He says. The very next verse says:

"But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."

OK God. I can ask, I will ask, and I will ask today. I will add one more brick to my house on the Rock. And there is no doubt in my mind that You will come through. You are a promise-making, promise-keeping God.

So there you have it. I just celebrated completing 35 years of life, and I'm still pushing for "grown-up" status. Will I feel this way when I'm 45, or 65? Probably. But my house on the rock will be looking really awesome by then.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Cry of my heart

I have a memory of making a necklace at church camp. I remember being in the store, which was facing the lake and near the pay phones. It was summertime, it was very hot, and it was sometime around 1990. Either bead necklaces were really "in" at the time, or they are just always "in" at church camp, I'm not sure which was more true. But all my friends were making them, and the exciting part was that the store had beads with letters on them so you could spell things out. Being rather indecisive when faced with any open-ended decision (such as what to spell out on a bead necklace), I sat and stared at the beads for a long time. What kept resonating in my head was a song we had sung at camp probably two dozen times called Cry of My Heart. It had a kind of slowish, reggae beat, which would always inspire clapping and the moving of groups of teen girls with linked arms into the aisles to groove together. The song was quite simple, and often repeated the phrase "It is the cry of my heart to follow You all of the days of my life." I really liked that song, and I couldn't get it out of my head in that store, and so my necklace turned out like this: beadsbeadsCRYOFMYHEARTbeadsbeads.

Tonight I thought of that necklace because the cry of my heart has changed so much since then. The message is still the same; I do still long to follow the Lord all the days of my life. But the cry itself is so different. When I was a teenager, freshly choosing God without really knowing what I was choosing at all, my cry came with the equivalent of emotional pom-poms and a big smile. "Yeah, God! It's great to be rooting for You!" I'm not saying that that phase was ridiculous in retrospect; of course in my stage and at my age, it was totally appropriate. It was a part of my journey.

But now, I mean right now, right this minute, the cry of my heart sounds much more like a real cry. It is not even standing up. It is folded over on the ground, and it is so needy for God. I am reminded of something I read not long ago. In 1 Kings chapter 18, the prophet Elijah is having a full scale political war with the Israelites, including one naughty king named Ahab, who get caught up worshiping false gods. Because of their naughtiness, God allows drought and famine to ravage the land. Everyone hates Elijah because he keeps telling them what they don't want to hear, and some even want to kill him. But God in His goodness is about to change it all. He is about to bring rain, break the famine, prove He is the one true God, and save the day. The problem is that Elijah doesn't know exactly when. He needs God to show up; he needs rescuing too. And he probably feels like he just needs a break from this prophet job. In verse 42, it says Elijah climbed up a mountain, had a guy watch the horizon for rain clouds, and then "bowed down on the ground and put his face between his knees." It doesn't say he prayed. It doesn't quote any magical words or profound wisdom he came up with. Maybe Elijah was past words, and the only thing he could do was assume a position of humility. The cry of his heart may have been just, "Please, God." Without even being sure what the "please" is asking for, that's how I feel.

I know on a daily basis I'm not as humble as I'd like to be, but sometimes my desperate need for Him brings me to that place. By "need" I'm talking about that deep down loneliness and thirst for something you can't pinpoint that never quite goes away (unless you're practiced at ignoring it or medicating it). That is what God wants to get at in your life and mine. When I let Him, it is absolutely amazing how He meets me there. The affirmation, the acceptance, the love and the guidance...I can't explain it, you just have to try to let Him in for yourself, either by just praying/listening, or by opening your Bible. Every time, I'm left with a thought that strikes fear into me: I almost didn't go there. I almost just turned on the TV, or found something else to get done. Wow, I would have missed the very thing that I truly needed.

I wish I still had that necklace. It would remind me to go there. To get on the ground (whether literally or just in my attitude) and let God in. The current cry of my heart, I think, is actually wordless. It is just embracing with my will the fact that He is God and I am not. And then, I can look to the horizon and expect the rain.