February 25, 2011

The Measure of a Life

His textbooks cover the table, their mere presence exhuming dreams that died hard. I catch myself thinking back on the variations of the big life I imagined - the big career, the big ministry, the big blog.

Sometimes what I have seems so small.

Is my life what I dreamed it would be?

Am I where I thought hoped I'd be?

The map I had for my life is lost. Visions of a big and extraordinary life that once filled my head now vanished, vapors long ascended into the skies.

Sometimes I  find it difficult to accept this small, ordinary life that is mine.

Small and significant battle each other, polar opposites in my mind.

Sometimes I feel like Kathleen Kelly in You've Got Mail , who asked
So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?

My discontent runs wild. I bristle at these words

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
~Psalm 16:5-6

And the ESV note: the song promotes contentment with the arrangements of one's life, seeing them as providentially ordered. (emphasis mine)
I am ashamed of my own laments, my own selfish desires. My sin. I have been too proud to accept the lines that God has placed around my small life, to see that they are for my own good and for His glory. For  His Name is the only one to be glorified. This life is His gift to me. How can I be so callous and ungrateful to wonder why He didn't give me another?

Even the largest, longest life has finite boundaries. Tangible things are counted. Intangibles are measured. Time runs out. Breath stops. Yet the infinite God cannot be measured or bound by time or fully comprehended here. He exceeds all boundaries.

Kathleen Kelly had it backwards, and so have I. My life should remind me of something I read...in the Bible. The men and women hidden in its pages poured out their lives - He poured out His own -  to tell His story.  Few of them had great possessions. Their fame was the notoriety that comes from being labeled as different, radical. They are considered giants of the faith because their small lives made much of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

They are a beautiful inheritance, a great cloud of witnesses. For me. For you.

*edited, from the archives

February 23, 2011

The Morning Hour

My sleepy hand emerges from the covers
to silence the loud beeping.
Slumbering senses come alive slowly.

The seafoam mug dotted with white
cradles the steaming liquid.
The muddy hue and the faint smell of vanilla, inviting.

The chair waits empty.
Pens stand in a vase, at the ready.
A light burns low and calming.

The pages rustle softly as angel's wings.
Enveloped in stitches sewn decades ago,
I am soon lost in the wonder of it all -
the story of the Prince who left the castle to claim me.

We meet somewhere between the earthly and the heavenly;
for I know even the most divine communion here
cannot compare to knowing Him fully.
I have slipped the bonds of the temporal and into the eternal.

These moments - this hour - is sacred.
It shadows all others to come.

The day intrudes, brash and demanding.
Chores beckon and duty calls.
I crash back into the boundaries of time and flesh.
And I count the hours until we will meet again.

holy experience

February 21, 2011

Less Than Perfect

I glanced at the report card and back at her, tears streaming down her face.

Knowing this would someday come doesn't lessen the pain. It's there, ugly and uncontrollable. She puddles before me, all preteen hormones and disappointment.

I fold her into my arms, speak soothing tones as my hands brush through those tousled curls I envy and adore. But what consolation is there when you realize that you tried so hard and came up just short? When the hope of perfection shatters into a thousand tiny shards that slice you to the very core?

Later I tell my parents the story. My mom smiles knowingly. The apple didn't fall far from the tree. I still remember too well those years of striving - needing - to be perfect. So afraid to fail and disappoint anyone that I nearly destroyed myself.

Is this the legacy I'm leaving my daughter?

There are many things I want to pass down to her.

~quilts made by my great-grandmothers

~family Bibles filled with scribbles of generations before us, lessons learned and heritages traced

~a love of classical music

~the joy of reading

There are many things I hope to cultivate in her.

~a hunger for the Word, written and made flesh

~a heart of gratitude

~a spirit of contentment and obedience

~an appreciation of God's mercy and grace

But this - this need to be my own redemption, my own accomplishment? I never wanted her to feel the sense of hopelessness that ruled over me for years.

And yet God used that very thing to bring me to Him. It wasn't until I accepted my glaring insufficiency that I could accept His complete sufficiency.

I long to instill this truth in her heart, berate myself for not doing a better job. The dull ache in the pit of my stomach comes fierce.  Sometimes I forget that I am not sufficient

to live the life I desperately crave

to love those around me with the love of Jesus

to praise Him as He deserves

to pass down anything of lasting worth to my daughter, except the One alone whose grace is sufficient.

I cannot change my heart or hers. I can only grab her hand and bring her alongside, together learning to accept His marvelous, scandalous, miraculous, infinite, and all-sufficient grace.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
~2 Corinthians 12:9-10

What's on My Nightstand - February 2011

What's On Your Nightstand

The reading plan was a good idea. Not successful, but good.

Interruptions aplenty - two blog tours I couldn't resist, a library request fulfilled, and a husband who wants my opinion on a book he's reading for a class - have pushed my February plan aside and caused me to reorganize. Here are the results:

Finished in February:

Walking with Lincoln: Spiritual Strength from America's Favorite President - The one book on my list I managed to read - at least a portion of it. I didn't finish it because it wasn't what I'd expected. The short chapters read more like a devotional than a biography, which wasn't at all what I'd had in mind.

The Mountains Bow Down - I've documented my love for Raleigh Harmon novels. When this blog tour was announced, I could not resist. I'm so glad I didn't, and am looking forward to sharing more on upcoming the tour.

Coming up in March:

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. After hearing so many raves on this one, I requested that my library purchase it. I had no idea it would come in so quickly, though. I was thrilled to pick it up this weekend, even though it's 500+ pages.

Tough Choices: A Memoir. R is reading this for a business class, and asked for my perspective. In 18 years, he's never asked me to read a book along with him, so I jumped at the chance. So far, it's been an interesting read.

What's It Like to Be Married to Me?: And Other Dangerous Questions. This is another tour, and one I really wanted to participate in. I'm looking forward to cracking this one open. Maybe I'll even be brave enough to ask my husband the questions.

I would still like to get to Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives and Amy Inspired, but I'm not sure that's realistic. Still, a girl can dream.

Visit 5 Minutes for Books to see what others are reading this month.

February 16, 2011

Redeeming the Time

He thinks we're not making memories. That this new path is crowding out everything else we do and are. I wonder if he's afraid we'll never find our way back. I'm afraid that even his broad shoulders can't bear this weight he's put on himself.

This is just a season, I tell him. I silently pray my words don't fall flat.

For this is just a season. A time under the winnowing fork. A time of sifting, until all that remains glorifies Him.

I think back to summer days on my grandparents' farm. Granddaddy was gone early, caring for the tractors and the hogs. Near lunchtime I would take my post at the window, watching eagerly for his pickup to return. I'd fidget while he ate his lunch, drank the cold milk that kept bones strong for his work. When he was done, I'd scurry out the door. We walked the fields together, checking the progress of each row. Granddaddy knew the harvest was still to come, but he never stopped working. He redeemed the time.

I stare at a picture of my grandfather, his boyish grin lighting up the smoothness of face I never saw. The young man is unfamiliar to me, but I can look into those eyes and see the patience he wore like a second skin. I imagine his leathery deep voice telling me The harvest is coming. For now, redeem the time.

I resolve to do just that. To quit waiting for what will be and to live in what is. To realize that our lives haven't been put on hold and to know that we are living. To stop saying when he graduates... and to start seeing each day for the beautiful miracle it is. To stop saying no to the present, for it truly is a gift.

When harvest time came, Granddaddy could look back on the days of caring and maintaining the fields and smile. He could treasure the memories of that season and know the satisfaction of a job well done.

May it be so in my home, Lord. May it be so.

holy experience

February 14, 2011

The Celebration of Love

He is busy with projects and midterms. Our Valentine's dinner will have to wait. He's spending the evening preparing a group presentation. His time away from home tonight speaks more loudly of his love for me and our family than anything else could.

Every day is Valentine's Day.

My heart flutters at his words.

This is the 20th February 14th we've shared together. Two decades building a life that celebrates our love for God and for each other. And for the girl who's suddenly taller than her mama. I am a woman who loves words and he is a man of few. But who needs a store-bought card when everything he does whispers how much he loves me?

He agrees for me to pursue something my heart must, despite the complications and inevitable questions. His understanding, encouragement and support are far more lovely than the most poetic card.

He doesn't complain that the floors haven't been mopped and the clothes haven't been put away. His quiet acceptance is far more meaningful than jewelry that sparkles.

He stays awake long after the lights are extinguished, listening to my heart secrets there in the dark. Our conversations are richer than even the most exquisite chocolate.

It's not the stuff movies are made of.

It is much, much more.

My beloved is mine, and I am his. - Song of Solomon 2:16 (ESV)


February 9, 2011

Fiery Love - Revisited

More questions from the girls.

"Has it been hard?"

Oh my, yes.

I searched for words to adequately describe the work required in a marriage. The tremendous effort. The sacrifice. The death of most expectations harbored in a teenage girl's heart. Knowing their limited life experience would give no point of reference, I let the cliche' Marriage is hard work tumble past my lips.

They didn't get it. They won't until they're in my shoes, looking back at a commitment that's lasted for most of my adult life. Marveling at God's grace. Knowing there's no way we would be standing here without Him.

Yes, there are still goosebumps and winks and stolen kisses. There is laughter and passion and respect. There is also foolishness and selfishness and pride. We may be perfect for each other, but we are far from perfect. We are sinners, this man I love and I.

I read the words of Zechariah, and I see the picture of us.

In the whole land, declares the LORD,
two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
and one third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call upon my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, 'They are my people';
and they will say, 'The LORD is my God.'"
-Zechariah 13:8-9 (ESV)

We are a marriage of three. He, me and Him.  The three of us work together, carving away everything that isn't Him. It is a painful, arduous work that won't be finished. Not here.

As two individuals are cut away, the remnant is placed in the fire. Melded together in the furnace, a far better offering. In the scorching fire, our parched throats cry out to Him. We plead for deliverance. We praise His Name.

At just the moment when we can bear the heat no more, He tenderly pulls us out. He wipes off the soot. Allows us to rest, cool. Then with the love of a Father, He gently begins carving again.

(*from the archives)

holy experience

February 7, 2011

Around the House: February

It's not quite as dark when I arrive home from work these days. The field behind our house is bathed in hues of pink and purple. The clothes line stands bare, beams stretched wide like arms waiting patiently to embrace its work. The garden boxes are groaning under the weight of weeds, desperate to be cleaned up and to birth new life.

These are the final days of playing games in warmth of the fireplace glow, snuggling under quilts stitched with love, and the coziness of flannel pajamas. The quiet winter evenings will soon give way to longer days marked by the boisterous chirps of spring and the kaleidoscope of colors bursting forth.

I am not ready to let go, so I cling tightly to soft music that washes over us during dinner, the conversations about middle school days and college days and work days. The Light of Life still burns brightly on our table as we read His story.

The music continues, ushering in our nightly routine of study. He pours over the business books while she works through The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and I think long on the spiritual journey of a past President.

Sometime during the evening, I drink in the sound of piano keys playing the same tune again and again. I pray for this gift to grow, thankful for her eagerness to use it for His glory.

I soak up the mornings dark when he reaches for my hands and says, "Are you ready to pray?" I listen intently as his voice changes before the throne of grace and I choke out whispers in agreement.

I wonder if I will just pool into tears at the beauty of these sacred moments.

Then laundry and dishes demand attention. Floors need sweeping and surfaces need cleaning. Bills have to be paid and apologies have to be spoken. Real life invades hard, splintering the image of the perfect home I have conjured in my mind.

But in those last moments of consciousness, after we've kissed goodnight and declared our love, I smile at the memory of the day He made and know that it was good.

February 3, 2011

Behind the Label

Once I started reading the labels on boxes, I stopped buying them.  The lists of ingredients I couldn't pronounce frightened me. No longer fooled by clever packaging and unproven claims, I saw them for the imitations they are. I determined that artificial is no longer good enough.

Trips to the grocery store take longer because I am still investigating packages to find what's best for my family. It's worth the time. I've become wise enough not to trust the product label. I search to see what's inside.

Labels are deceiving. They make us believe we know what we see. I think about how many times I've bought something - food, theology, relationships - based upon its label without considering all the ingredients.  I've allowed labels, rather than the actual contents, to define my choices.

The belittling words of a respected church leader still ring in my ears, sting my heart. He applied the label with a nervous chuckle that did little to hide his lack of understanding. My feeble reply came soft.  Then, unwilling and too weak to argue, I seized the first opportunity to escape.

Did the labels stick to Jesus' heart the way this one is sticking to mine?

Since that hurtful conversation, I read  some wonderfully wise words written by John Piper. I am studying them, along with the Scriptures listed, to prepare myself to make a defense for the hope in me (see 1 Peter 3:15). 

I don't know if I will have the courage to face the one who categorized me, but I do know that I am more than a congregant of a particular church. I am more than a member of a particular denomination.  I am more than a believer in a particular theological school of thought. 

I am so much more than a label.

I long to be, as Piper so eloquently writes, a [r]adical, full-blooded, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, God-centered, mission-advancing, soul-winning, church-loving, holiness-pursuing, sovereignty-savoring, grace-besotted, broken-hearted, happy follower of the omnipotent, crucified ChristAnything else is not good enough.

I have not attained it, but I keep pressing on. In the meanwhile, I find solace in the words of my Sovereign, who looks behind the label.
For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart. ~1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)

February 2, 2011

A Losing Battle Revisited

"Do you fight a lot?"

The last question from the girls.

No, not really. Rarely, even.

It's true now. In that first year, that year of learning each other and making two into one, scared of losing our individuality and independence. Oh yeah...we fought.

In the years that followed, typical marital spats arose. One topic always stirred the anger. R would avoid it, but I foolishly jumped on it every chance I could. Beating it to death, only to resurrect it and start all over again. In God's grace and mercy have I been able to walk away from it. Finally, I have enough security in Him, in this marriage He's put together, and in the love for me He's placed inside my man's heart that I can leave it alone.

In the process, I've learned a powerful truth.

Many things are worth fighting for.

Many things are worth fighting against.

Few things are worth fighting about.

Joe: You know, sometimes I wonder...
Kathleen: What?
Joe: Well... if I hadn't been Fox Books and you hadn't been The Shop Around the Corner, and you and I had just, well... met...
Kathleen: I know.
Joe:  Yeah. I would have asked for your number, and I wouldn't have been able to wait twenty-four hours before calling you and saying, "Hey, how about... oh, how about some coffee or, you know, drinks or dinner or a movie... for as long as we both shall live?"
Kathleen: Joe...
Joe: And you and I would have never been at war. And the only thing we'd fight about would be which video to rent on a Saturday night.
Kathleen: Well, who fights about that?
Joe: Well, some people. Not us.
Kathleen: We would never.

*reposted from the archives

holy experience

February 1, 2011

Living on the Altar

It is still dark and my mind's a little fuzzy. It rolls over these two words, time and time again. Contemplating...

living sacrifice

What does it mean to be a living sacrifice? I delve deeper, scratch some notes in my commitment booklet.

My thoughts immediately rush to that scene in Genesis...Abraham taking the son long awaited - the son of promise - up that hill, bearing the weight of God's command. In faith he assured the child of God's provision and goodness. How do you praise and proclaim His goodness when He is requiring your very flesh and bones?

I remember a verse I've been meditating on for several days in my Bible reading plan.

John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven."
~John 3:27 (ESV)

The man who ate locusts and honey recognized our depravity, our complete and utter lack of anything of substance. Abraham knew it, too. He knew the pain of the enormously hard task, but also the grace and peace in the moments of quiet obedience. They are God's gifts to us.

My own inadequacy presses down hard on me.  The life I've been asked to sacrifice has died hard and cruel, the moments of quiet obedience too few and far between. I have plodded up the hill begging God for any other way to teach this lesson, waiting for Him to provide another sacrifice. But here I am, bound by His protection, His love, and His sovereignty.

Did Isaac chafe against the ropes his father wrapped around him to bind him to the altar? Did he fight until the ropes burned into his wrists and ankles?

I see the marks of my own fighting against this life on the altar, the wounds of one who lacks faith. They are still tender. I pray that His grace will pour over them as a soothing salve, bringing peace and healing.  Life on the altar is not comfortable, but it is the truest place of worship I know.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
~Romans 12:1 (ESV)

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