Have you ever tried to make monkey bread with actual monkeys? OK, well neither have I, but I did with the closest thing to little monkeys you can find – a four year old and a 21 month old. A … Continue reading
The snowflakes keep falling from the sky. Snow has fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow*. The sky seems to have settled into a permanent shade of chalky gray. Not a shade I would want to paint my walls, exactly, but it is a still, calm color. The snowdrifts are feet high, not inches high. I look up at the sky and down at the ground and straight out my windows and I see the same whitish shade. It is punctuated only by brown tree branches and the faint color of neighborhood houses. It is not the winter wonderland often seen in photographs, a snowy world where the trees turn white with icy sparkles. Instead, its a bit like living in a large milk carton.
I am trying to be fine with the repetition of each white day. There are days that feel leisurely and slow and a bit like living in a candle lit Hallmark commercial, with warm stews simmering on the stove and family gathered together. There are other days that feel like I’ve awoken in a white walled asylum and should just don an orange jumpsuit. And find mini-jumpsuits for the small inmates. The sameness can make me restless.
And yet, every snow fall is different. Every snow flake has a different size and form. Every snow storm has a different atmospheric influence and temperature. The vast whiteness has a form. The canvas stretching across in front of me is composed of millions of particles, all unique.
And there is something refreshing about new. About different. About individuality and love.
The snowflakes fall, looking the same, but they are all individual, unique, and fresh with each appearance.
And then there is God who makes it snow, who creates these innumerable snowflakes. Eternal, forever, the same yesterday, today, forever. And new, merciful, loving, and creative every day. God, the one who brings the seasons, is the same at the beginning and end of each season. Eternal God before horrific acts are done to His martyred children, and eternal God after. The God who gives new mercy every morning, welcoming home His children waking in Heaven and giving grace to His church still on Earth.
If Abraham had been in a snowy climate, I think God might have asked him to number the snowflakes instead of the stars in the sky in Genesis 15. Snowflakes and stars and grass and leaves and waves and flowers and people have this repetitive nature. It is fairly difficult (in most cases) to number them and yet every single one is different.
There is comfort in the thought that God never changes and that when mercy is extended it is never revoked. That sameness will keep one’s mind steady in a dizzying world. But that mercy is not just old mercy that never changes. It remains the same, but it is new every single morning. It is fresh, renewing over and over. It is the same and it is new. It is the mercy that holds the souls of men and women who belong to God from the beginning of time and the mercy that lands upon men and women today. It is the fullness of God, giving us grace upon grace, like snow upon snow. Repeating and replenishing at the same time.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25 ESV)
*paraphrased from Rossetti
I used to think of God as a kind of harsh teacher who would send one lesson after another, periodically spaced, into my life. In this picture, I envisioned that I would head through a hard event and if I could learn the corresponding lesson quickly, the event would end, I would get everything right and then God could be happy and love me. I would then be free to scamper along merrily, until it was time to learn a new lesson. Then He could hammer in another scenario and I would repeat the scene of learning and pleasing Him. These events would repeat one after the other, Him smashing down the hammer of learning, and me responding appropriately and with complete surrender to make sure He was satisfied.
We do not want hard lives. We do not want to suffer. We do not want to be afraid. There are various levels of suffering in our world. There are places in the world that know of more intense suffering than I can handle mentally. Then there are troubles with money, sad relationships, divorce, infertility, monetary struggles, loss, and general fear. I don’t really feel like I have suffered in great measure. Life has been easy, and almost too pleasant. My cynical side says, “you have it too good, something has to correct itself.” After life goes along smoothly for a time, I begin to wonder what might happen next… But, then, everyone’s life is different and what is hard for one person does not come to another’s door. When the potential for hardship looms, it leads me into a place where I am forced to remember that God is loving. That even in the hardest circumstances, God is my help, my salvation. He is the resurrection and life.
I often live afraid of suffering. I’m more afraid of being afraid of suffering than I am afraid when actually going through something hard and trusting God in the process. But ironically, in some respects, it is easier to be in a place where I have no choice but to trust because the circumstances are so far beyond my control that I have no illusion of having options. I like to think I can control my life and minimize risk. That too is faulty logic. I admire people who say that they want to be closer to God and they know they will suffer in the process. I would never pray to bring suffering on myself. I am too weak. And yet, I know there will be hardness and pain in life, regardless whether I pray for it or pray to avoid it.
The hard part of living in this broken world is to understand why, if God is good, there is suffering. Really, the suffering is not because God is good or bad, but because there is systemic evil haunting us since the Garden of Eden. The fall and the resulting need of redemption is the root of suffering’s stem. The truth behind all of the brokenness is that God is there, always present, helping His beloved children along THROUGH the suffering that the fall has cursed them with, not sending hammers down on their heads to make them stronger or more valuable to Him. His children are of value, otherwise, why the need for a redemption plan? He is the one who said, “don’t”, in the beginning. But we did. So, now He holds us close as we suffer under the effects of that original disobedience.
I once thought God was the sledgehammer. I thought He dangled it over the heads of His children, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to judge us for our missteps, to teach us valuable lessons, to make us more incredibly and mindlessly obedient.
And then I became a parent. And I am by far not a perfect parent, as He is. But in no imaginable scenario would I ever tauntingly discipline my children “just because”. (I have read some sadistic discipline advice that does advocate creating teachable moments for children, to test their obedience, but that is wholly unbiblical or extra biblical, whichever word you like.) No, rather, when the child falls down because they were told not to walk on the ice, or the second child gets hurt because the first child created a harmful situation, or, fill in the blank…., that is when we remind them of how they could have avoided the situation, remind them that obedience matters, remind them that we all are in desperate need of Christ’s help, and comfort them and help them with every shred of breath we have. Of course there is natural frustration at times, because we are not perfect. No normal and healthy parent wants to see their own child suffer. But we know they will, at times. And so we prepare them and help them and comfort them and encourage them as much as we can through these hard times. And that is how God cares for us, but with infinitesimal perfection. The effect of the fall wasn’t God’s revenge on His creation. Instead, He took the evil of Fall and created good from it – the incredible path back to His arms through Christ on the cross.
There is no possible way in which a cosmic sledgehammer would create the plan to redeem His children when they had enraged his wrath by disobeying His command. A loving Father, however, would look at His children’s disobedience and find a way to rescue them from the tangles in which they were trapped. A cosmic sledgehammer would stand by and watch suffering of His creation with snark and cynicism. A loving Father sacrificed His son to rescue the poor souls who distrusted and still distrust Him. When children fail to trust, we reach out again and again, assuring them of our care and love. Most religions have a God or god like figure who exacts some sort of penalizing retribution upon disobedience. But our God is one who looks in pity with grace and says, forgive them, they do not know what they do. He looks at suffering children and says, come and rest, give me your burdens, cast your cares on me, I am the resurrection and the life. The perfect Father, the perfect Savior, is the one to whom we trust our lives and our souls, as little children who need to be held.
It started in the Autumn. There was a birthday in our house. A four year old’s birthday. We left babyhood behind forever, heading officially into the realm of little girl hood. She converses with me in sentences and paragraphs, flits through an imaginary world complete with “pretend friends” who interact with her, states her opinions quite decidedly, and makes observations about the world that make us laugh, make us shake our heads, and make us fully aware that she is a rapidly maturing human being.
Then I began a new hobby of pulling out gray hairs fighting their way from the depths of my hair to the surface, shouting for the world to see. Less than vanity, it bothered me because it was a sign that life was passing by, that youth is farther past me than ever before. While age is just a relative number, it is after all, a non-negotiable figure.
My birthday came at the end of the year. It is always the non-landmark birthdays that bother me. They launch me closer to the milestones and the silent, encroaching progression is worse for me than the actual reality of age. I began to feel restless, unsettled, anxious, worrying about worrying. Worrying about what the rest of life holds.
Without realizing it, worry becomes a part of our life, even when we do not recognize it as worry. It begins by hearing someone’s bad news and feeling sympathy. Sympathy turns to empathy, where we envision similar circumstances upon ourselves. We hear too many news reports in a day and our processing attempts lead to worry. In my world, the distracted nature of my current life leaves me little time to process my thoughts from beginning to end. Instead of trusting a good God, I build a collection of random facts, speculations, headlines, observations, probable health hazards, and simplified answers to childish questions about complex realities. I teach my daughter Isaiah 41:10 to help her diffuse worry about monsters in closets. I repeat it to myself to deflect fears that clamor to be heard.
I was scrolling around the other day, landing on Sally Lloyd-Jones’ blog. She had highlighted a favorite GK Chesterton quote of mine from Orthodoxy.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
G K Chesterton
God is our eternal Father, who never ends. He does not begin or end. He is both older and younger than we are. He is timeless. The Creator of beauty, the author of redemption, sustainer of life, and the essence of love does not plot the harm of His Children has an eternal presence, allows us a childlike confidence in Him. He is constant, the Father of light with no shadow of turning, and yet as Chesterton says, He makes each daisy separately, the designer of creative repetition.
Stop worrying, I remind myself. Age is not a reason to worry, because our Father is in fact, younger than us, unhampered by sin’s decaying process. While day in and day out propels me closer to older age, my God is timeless, unbounded by age or the sin wearied monotony of our world. He carries the loving joy of a child and the loving mastery over every piece of life on earth.
There are so many incredible digital resources for pretty much every part of life. There is literally an app for everything and I am going to ramble on profusely about one of my favorites.
The mainstream Christian community has (thankfully) pulled themselves out of their hesitancy toward progress and come along with the digital world. Because of that, there are also thousands of theological digital resources from Bible software to verse memorization apps. This array of resources is a terrific problem to have, but sometimes I get overwhelmed by how many choices I have.
By no means do I consider myself the highest authority on digital resources. But, I am extremely picky about the layouts, efficiency, and benefit of any resource I use. If it is not easy to use, easy to browse, and contains little benefit to me in sharpening my mind, my soul, my creative thought process, or my productivity, I am not going to mess with a resource. I lack the patience to deal with complicated things in life – this is not a mark in my favor but it is my reality. So these days, one of my most favorite apps has become the Redeemer Presbyterian Church app for two extremely important reasons.
I downloaded the app a couple of years ago. At first, I was merely interested in feeling connected to a church whose preaching ministry had blessed my life. But it got even better.
Quickly, I found the sermon podcast section. There are over 80 free sermons in that section, some recent, some not so recent. I have listened to them mainly when I am driving without anyone to talk to. Some of them I have played repeatedly and can list off by title because they have left me stunned, speechless, in tears, and ultimately in awe of our God and His saving grace, as I spin miles away under my tires. Now, if you are thinking that you cannot imagine anything more boring than listening to a sermon podcast, give one a try. If you hate it, fine. But there is something intriguing about these sermons, the classic Keller mix of literature, philosophy, scientific research, cultural relevance all tied together with clear Scripture, pointing the numerous threads of our world together, toward the Creator.
Then last year, I realized that there was a daily Bible reading plan on the app. I’ve read through the entire Bible, at least in college, and I go back and forth about the importance of “reading thru the Bible in a year” plans, but it is simply helpful to be reading somewhere in the Bible throughout the year. I always start reading with great resolve, along with everything else that happens the first week of January. And then a weekend happens, and life occurs and I lose a day. Then, in order to keep on track for the next 50 weeks or so, I have to read approximately 25 chapters in one day and I give up and just dabble around in my favorite books like Psalms and Isaiah and Romans for the next year. So back to the app. I opened it to look at where the reading selections started. I saw this amazing little button on the bottom – a listening icon. I hate pulling the mom card for excuses, but for anyone who is constantly moving or who often feels spread thin across various responsibilities, that listening icon is like a little present wrapped up with a beautiful bow. Now, yes, the regular Bible app that I have on my devices also has a listening option. But this reading plan has the chapters all broken down and ready to go, Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, a little from each. It doesn’t really matter where you are in life, parent or not, you can probably listen to something for eight minutes a day.
I really appreciate that this church understands who they are reaching – the busy people of NYC and beyond. We live in a rushed world, hungry for relevance and intellectual prowess, in need of efficient ways to pour Scripture into our souls. This app meets these needs, simply and effectively. I know it is almost the end of the month and many people have already expounded on the best possible resources for listening and reading this year. But just in case you’re still looking or feel like you’ve already lost a battle early in the year, here you go. Download this app ( type in Redeemer Presbyterian Church in the App Store) and enjoy. Pick up where you can. Listen, and rejoice in our great God and the vast beautiful world He has given us.
(All of the thoughts above are my own. Redeemer Presbyterian Church had nothing to do with this post)
“Do you have any resolutions for the new year?”
The text from my friend came onto my screen.
I responded with ever so slight sarcasm, giving an incredibly ridiculous list of near-impossible items (like making my kids eat vegetables and keeping my house clean)
She responded, “I said resolutions, not hopes and dreams.”
The reality is that it was January 1. A new year, a fresh start, a brand new beginning. A breath of fresh air, everyone resolutely typing away, sharing their own dreams with the world, giving advice for making goals, giving fool-proof tips for keeping resolutions, and even offering the elasticity of grace as a solution for the resolutions that we do not manage to keep.
My morning started with two little wiggly bodies in bed next to (and on top of) me, until they could stay still-ish and quiet no longer. The three of us left the poor father to sleep longer and slogged our way toward the kitchen, otherwise known as the Paradise of the French Press. One fell by the wayside and headed for the toys and television. One lay on the hallway floor screaming because she wasn’t Koala-baby-attached to her Koala mother. (When I say screaming, think human sacrifice equivalency.)
We managed to land on the sofa, with Curious George, a bottle, and coffee to leisurely lull us into the new resolution of being awake in this new year. Breakfast was requested. The request was deferred until coffee had been further consumed. Within a short time, graham crackers had been smuggled into the living room. The capable four year old even thoughtfully brought some for her sister, in a plastic bowl. Lovely. It was not until I went to refill my coffee that I found a few feet of graham cracker crumbs strewn across the granite counters, with the disheveled box and wrapper mangled nearby.
The next few hours went on to hold the simulation of a lake in the kitchen, mysterious trails and craters of water in the living room, messes of various forms, each one suspiciously appearing at the end of clean up from the previous, as if they had were coordinated attacks. The crowning bit of fun happened when one child needed a bath from a diaper situation. I may have inadvertently subjected her to a polar bear challenge in the bathtub with some cool water. She seized her chance for revenge by wetting my bed in the pre-diaper-attachment-phase.
My friend’s text came after this flurry of activity had occurred. There was a part of the day that felt incredibly ordinary, just full of normal messes, cleaning, frustration, and laughter, rather than a brand new start to life with no mistakes in it. Even though the calendar page flipped and the numbers shift, life continues on through toddlerhood and preschool-hood, and work and marriage, and living, day after day after day.
There is something enchanting about the idea of New Years. It is a chance to start fresh. We can determine to begin again, putting away failures and chasing perfection. But all of our determining and smart planning can end in frustration, unless we really understand why the idea of a new year is so intriguing.
A new year is a tantalizing reminder that someday all will be made new. We are a weary world, in sin and error, pining for redemption’s reality. We know that a new and glorious light has broken, but we live, waiting for the complete and whole realization of that shining light. We live in darkness and we who know God have seen a great light, already, but we have yet to see the full glory of that light.
Resolutions fascinate us because we long for the chance of redemption. But in our resolution making, we are often (not always) trying to save ourselves, to perfect ourselves. I have no problem with resolution making and determining to work toward a goal is extremely healthy, mentally and physically. But, our resolutions need the reality that redemption and perfection are God’s work, not ours. Our work is to make His redemption our anchor and to trust His perfecting to be good.
I love the turn of the year, the change of the seasons, the chance to regroup and jump into goals and press toward dreams with powerful determination. I love knowing that one day, all will actually and truly be made new. Our God will wipe every tear away, just like we wipe away tears from our children’s faces. Perfection will not be an illusion any longer. Redemption will be realized completely. That brilliant promise is what we cling to, as each day passes and each season pushes forward into our lives.