Savoring

 

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I walked into a farm store today to buy lettuce.  The entirety of summer growth was stacked plentifully across the wooden tables.  Why, I wondered, is it that the season seems to come into completed and near perfection right at the end? Why do we realize what we have, often only near the end of the season?

We take for granted what we have much of, while we have it. Even time, although we know it passes quickly, sometimes stretches  out ahead of us, like a desert, for as far as our mind can comprehend. When something is about to slip from our grasp, from our view, we sip in the last dregs, slowly yet furiously, refusing to acknowledge that we may have squandered our bounty.
But even though we meander through life, trying to sip and savor and seek and find, sometimes perfection is an exacting muse, beauty is an illusive sprite.  We chase and watch, but often the true desire of beautiful perfection, beautiful completeness, is to make your breath catch in your throat a little bit, to make your heart hurt just slightly, deep down knowing that the placid perfection of a moment does not last.  Every now and then, we catch a moment, a morning stream of light, an afternoon at the beach, an evening where all is calm. A portal into a perfect world breaks into our view.

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Sometimes the most painfully beautiful part of the summer is the end.  It is painful because warmth and green and growing life cannot linger on forever.  But the excruciating draw of these long sunsets and golden days is the hanging on, savoring, inhaling, trying to capture time that slips away like sand washed back in a diamond studded wave. Gorgeous tension stands overtly before us. The glorious summer, the winding toward the end of summer. The beauty of life, the ephemeral nature of beauty, perfectly complete contrasts with the ever changing messes of humanity. The world is held at bay by a few minutes of perfection.

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What we really know is that in the middle of this broken universe, there is a promise of beauty, a hope of eternal glory, of complete perfection through the cross of Christ. There is a beautiful resurrection behind a broken veil.  There is a something greater than the broken, a Father who will fix all things. There is more to existence than the mundane, because through a perfect and beautiful Creator, all things consist. There are a thousand little moments that are held together by Him. Every now and then, one perfect moment captures our hearts. It makes us look twice. We find that portal into the world of the beautiful. And without trying, God’s beauty comes and compels us to watch the enchanted sunset on a summer night. Perfection taunts us like the clear, still water surrounding us. And having seen these moments we are richer. We are equipped to savor the moments, to seek for beauty, and to head into a thousand other sunsets.

 

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Beauty Rest

 

 

He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

 

(Psalm 121:3-4 ESV)

 

I gently put the sleeping silky-skinned baby onto the soft pink sheets inside her white crib. I quietly latched the baby gate at the top of the stairs and descended, sliding from side to side down the steps, trying to avoid the creaks left by time and wear. A few hours passed by as she slept silently. As the summer night wore on, the dark air cooled, the breeze whirred slightly in between the trees and I headed toward my own soft bed. Enveloped in a white down comforter, the perfect companion to an unusually cool summer evening, I had just slipped into the first stage of sleep. A bleating cry, sad, disoriented, and persistent, blared out of the white monitor on my dresser. I headed back up the stairs, heedless of the creaking floorboards, stumbled through the baby gate and gathered the crying lump up into my arms. For the next hour or so, I attempted various methods of bribing her back into dreamland. For the next hour or so, she fought sleep, and for the next hour or so, I wondered why sleep must be so elusive. I grumpily thought I was the only person in the universe awake when I really wanted to be snuggled under my white down, sleeping, turning an unconscious wall to the world.

 

Sleep is a business in our world. There are sleeping medications, noise machines, customized mattresses and pillows, sleep studies, sleep labs, sleep research, sleep recommendations and guidelines according to age.

 

We lose sleep for a variety of reasons, some self-inflicted, some understandable battles with insomnia or anxiety, losing sleep because a baby or child is awake. Some reasons seem controllable, many are not. Our minds and bodies are crowded ballrooms of twirling thoughts and actions. Rest is the ever elusive suitor who dodges behind plants and doors and evades our embrace far too often.

 

As I held the crying, squirming baby in the dark night, the words of Psalm 121 came to my mind. “…he who keeps you will not slumber.” A parent is often the lucky recipient of the sleep deprivation prize. Some of us never sleep well after we have children. The baby may sleep through the night, but we do not rest fully, knowing there are others in our house or care to think about.

The darkness of that night was a shadowy reminder that God never sleeps. Our children do not realize that they are interrupting our coveted sleep because we appear at their bedside for them, when they cry. To them, they are not interrupting. To them, we are always there for them.

In similar fashion to our children, we do not interrupt our God. He is there for us when we cry. At any hour, in any time zone, anywhere, and everywhere, our God is awake, listening to the voices He created. He is coming to our aid, responding to our cries, receiving our joy, hearing our jumbled prayers that pour out from crowded minds and noisy hearts.

He has created us to sleep and at the same time has given us children to care for through sleepy nights. As we wake in the night, our lack of sleep underlines our great needs. We recognize that God our Father is by our side, without slumber or sleep. He is our rest, without needing rest. Only a perfect parent could be this complete. Only an eternal Father could be a perfect parent. We stumble and struggle and hope to not fall down stairs while holding a baby. We sit in the dark, bleary eyed, hearing the tick tock of a second hand propelling us closer to the start of a new day. We dread the dawn when sleep has eluded us. But God is not caught off guard by our neediness. He watches over each of us and our tired rivers of thoughts, as we do our children, without a thought for His own rest.

 

“…He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” The nations fight. God does not slumber or sleep. He hears the cries. He ordains the kingdoms of Earth, He raises up leaders and sets down leaders. Without pausing for a rest, He sees His royal priesthood of believers, the Christians displaced from their homes, those who are persecuted, those who live in peace, those who worry over the future, those who worship in safety and in danger, those holding their own babies in the dark of the night, those awake praying for their children in the small hours of the morning.   He does not slumber or sleep as He holds us in His care.

“Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,” God is our rest for us. The rest that needs no rest. Because of the Cross, because of our adoption into God’s family, we can have strength through unrest because He is our rest. We can sleep because He is our rest. The Cross takes away our fear, it removes our loneliness in the night. Through the darkest hours, we have a Father- who does not sleep.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8;

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Summer Stillness

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I took an inadvertent break here through July. Some people announce their breaks, others give a schedule of who will blog for them or that they have prepared posts ahead of time. I did neither. I planned to post, but didn’t. Summer time has its own unique rhythm, for writing and reading. It does not mean that writing and reading do not occur. In fact often, these activities occur more.  But, our mind and souls move differently as the seasons pulse. July was full of movement, people, laughter, sunshine, and very little physical stillness leaving behind wonderful memories of sand covered, salt scented children. I love being busy. I like mental activity as well, but during some seasons, it is hard to correspond physical movement with quality mental activity. Driving on car trips to visit gorgeous places and amazing people provide plenty of time to think, but little time to write out thoughts or process them well. I made the decision early on in July, that rather than pound out words for the sake of hitting the “publish” button, I would process internally, to absorb the life around me, to enjoy the gifts God has given me. I like to plan, but I have learned that plans can only be gripped with a loose thread rather than an iron chain. Instead, sometimes life just comes and writing as a reflection of life sometimes requires less planning and more merely existing.

When wars ravage the Earth, and God’s people are sent fleeing from homes and livelihoods and all earthly possessions, it is hard to sit on a beautiful beach and not feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed because I do not deserve to sit on a beach while others suffer. Overwhelmed because I realize that the same God I praise for the calm, breezy beauty around me is the same God who has promised good to those fleeing their homes. Overwhelmed because I begin to imagine myself in their shoes and become terrified. Overwhelmed because our Father has told us not to be anxious and that can only happen through His grace. Overwhelmed because our minds cannot comprehend the suffering that some endure, pulling them closer to the cross, to Christ’s image, while others seem to live without care. Overwhelmed because over all, the Creator of the Earth has made each life, cares for each of His children, and will hold each of them without failing.

There are instances each day where my little children do not understand why we are doing what we do. They do not see the larger picture of why we leave the beach at a certain time or why ice cream at 8am is not the fabulous idea it seems to them. They do not know why bedtime tonight is part of the plan for tomorrow. They do not connect why certain choices we ordain for them now, like educational options, cultural exposure, social activities, or event the books we read are carefully planned, thinking of their individual needs, their future mental abilities, or the view of God we hope to give them. In the same way as small children, we cannot see all that God is doing in our world and lives. We live, trusting that our Father loves us, more than we even love our own children. This is the love that compels us to rest, to breath in and out, to know there is a future joy for us.

The peaceful beach, the calm summer evening, the laughing family time, the afternoon with friends, the joy of living are all foreshadowed slivers of God’s good nature. The happiness we know compared to the pain that now exists, is a tiny piece of the joy we will know. The beauty around us gives us the promise that God is not broken, that He will heal us, cure our pain, and right all wrongs one day.

Times of quiet are sometimes not quiet at all. They are often the busiest flurry of activity, thought, and noise. There is a point to being quiet, not adding to the noise. In times of noise, in times of silence, the words of Psalm 146 echo off the caverns of our hearts.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, through the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, thought its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.

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Psalm 146

 

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Continuing

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Growing up, I had a pastor in the house (He was my dad). With a resident theologian nearby, I became familiar with an incredible amount of Biblical and historical material at a young age. There was a vast array of commentaries, Bible study tools and various books a few steps away from me at all times. I had Bible verses and characters and stories all memorized and categorized in my little brain. My worldview was established very early – through the lens of Biblical plots, terminology, and concepts.

My daughter is three years old, and suddenly we have been thrown into the “WHY” year. I stress at times, wondering how she will learn all the same information I had without a resident pastor in the house. But, if you tell your preschooler a few Bible stories, and mention a few connections between life and Godliness to them, you will launch yourself into a barrage of questions –  seemingly out of nowhere that send you scrambling for just the right answers – for the preschooler and for yourself perhaps. As in any field of study or skill, teaching the concepts are sometimes the best way to fully grasp the answers.

Throughout life, I’ve questioned enough to solidify my own personal beliefs and worldview, but I never questioned the reality of God. I have trampled through a few figurative minefields, confirming my belief in the goodness and love of God. I am determined to teach my children about God in a way that reflects His grace and goodness and without tripping into clichéd language and un-intentional theological pitfalls.

So, we have started on the quest to read Bible stories regularly, to teach her about sin, about our neediness, about Christ’s sacrifice, about redemption and about how each of these things affects every day life. We pray, we talk about Bible verses, and we try to help her understand that by Him all things consist – along with all the implications of that concept. Recently, some of the questions that have come out of her mouth are:

 

  • Will God be mad if we do X?
  • What does Amen mean?
  • Why do we pray at bedtime?
  • God will heal my boo-boos, right?
  • Are Jesus and God the same?
  • Will God be happy with us if X happens?
  • God will not love us anymore if we do X, right?

I have been extremely careful to explain to her that God loves His children no matter what. I was floored the day she mentioned some action and proposed to me that God would not love us anymore if something specific happened. Here in a little three-year-old brain was a question with which adults grapple often. I realized, sitting there in a mall parking lot, that the oldest human struggle between good and evil was taking place. In the parking lot, on a rather boring day, I was talking about God’s grace to future generations,  denying imaginative views of a fair weather God.

Once again, I saw God at work in His ordaining of parenthood. Parenting is not an egotistical boost where we see beautiful little creatures, looking just like us, carrying on our best character traits while prancing around in adorable Ralph Lauren clothing. Parenting is a reflection into the window of God’s nature.  Parenting forces God’s nature to glint and bounce like sunbeams into the glass, piercing our sight. These questions from little mouths, learning about and processing thoughts on faith, drawing connections between Heaven and Earth, make parents constantly indulge in thoughts about our beliefs. While we may not doubt God, the re-telling of our beliefs reinforces our own faith. We look at the whys of our convictions from new angles, with new perspectives. These little people who drop crumbs on our floors and climb in our beds at unearthly hours of the morning are a means God uses to make us continue in the things WE have learned and been assured of, to strengthen our resolve as we continue trusting in Christ. God, as a loving Father, is revealed to us more clearly as we watch and hear these small creations learn, think, connect, and question.

There is a distinct reason that the Bible uses the analogies of parent and child and the language of generational continuance in faith over and over. Throughout history, stories of Scripture are given from one generation to another. Tell a few Bible stories that you learned as a child, share a few connections, and suddenly the faith of past generations meets the rising faith of future generations. Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. Continue in the things that you have learned. Over and over, the plea is given from one generation of Christians to another – learn, believe, share, teach, remain steadfast.

This generational connection occurs between biological parents and children. It also occurs between spiritual parents and children. Paul refers to Timothy as his son in the faith. The analogy of parenting, of teaching and nurturing, while simultaneously growing and modeling, holds firm even beyond biological confines. This is discipleship in its most organic form. But, the incredible reality is this – we tend to think of parenting and discipleship as one sided and nothing could be further from the truth. I may not learn from my daughter in the sense that she is not teaching me Greek translations of the Bible. I may not learn new Biblical facts or figures from her. But God is using her existence and her questions to teach me more about His nature, His sovereignty, about His ordination, about His calling of sons and daughters to Himself. He is teaching me that His power to draw future generations goes beyond the stacks of commentaries, beyond the seminary degrees. Those things are needful, but He  transcends their presence and absence.

The concept of continuing in beliefs goes far beyond feeling empowered and inspired during a week of camp, a semester of Bible college, or a weekend conference. Rather, it is a way of life on the dripping rainy days, and in the routines of brilliant sunshine. Continuing means knowing or finding the answers to questions; it is the belief that finding unknown answers is a worthwhile endeavor. It is the understanding that questioning is normal and right and that God’s sovereignty is stronger than any doubt. Find one of your kids or a friend’s kid, or a kid who no one will hang out with. Let them ask you a few questions and you will suddenly view a broad canvas with God’s loving care surrounding you, stretching far away beyond yourself, arching over you, from one generation to another.

 

A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, and Wonderful Day

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I woke startled, realizing I had slept later than planned. I stumbled into the hallway and noticed the Swiffer mop propped outside of the bathroom, left there by my husband, after an attempt at “post-sickness” bathroom cleaning. At 6:45am, my day commenced as I re-cleaned vomit from corners of the bathroom that I didn’t know existed– a bathroom that had JUST been scoured the previous day.

By 10:00am that morning I had re-scoured the bathroom, been spit up on multiple times, and changed my children’s clothing twice each, thanks to typical small child issues. I was annoyed, aggravated that some days make life seem like a sadistic wheel of repeated tasks, trapping me, messing with my mind. As one task finished, another mess sat laughing at me from the corner. On top of my aggravation, I expressed my frustration in a way that made my little girl cover her face with her hands, in tears. I hate seeing her suffer at the expense of my own shortcomings.  It was, an epic failure of a day, as a parent, as a human.

As I considered how the day had gone, and how it should have gone, I tried to tell myself that everyone has “those days.” I tried to think of ways I could be a better parent and wife. I tried to remember that some days I am a great parent, who is patient and fun.   Surely those good parenting days outweigh the bad parenting days.

Reality often crumbles the pedestals we camp out on. The reality is that every day we live is an epic failure – without Christ’s redeeming power. We have no goodness of our own, no strength within ourselves to be patient, kind, loving, and wise. No matter how hard we try. Our hope can only be in Christ and His gospel that transforms us. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

What does this truth of failure and transformation mean for us? Christ, as our Savior, is sitting at God’s right hand, interceding for us, saving us, keeping us, even as we show our sinful natures to our children. And, He is also able to help us live well with our family and others. (Romans 8:34) Through the power of Christ’s work on the cross for us, He has taken our self proclaimed good days, which are like polluted garments, (Isaiah 64:6) and our bad days that are equally trashy and scoured them clean Himself. He removes the need for our pitiful human efforts and makes us instead, into treasures redeemed for His glory.

The words from the hymn, Arise My Soul, Arise, came to my mind.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
 His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
 His blood atoned for all our race,
 And sprinkles now the throne of grace.”  

 When I wrench life away from my children by wounding their spirit, Christ’s blood remains poured out. It atones for my horrific, life quenching sins. That blood covers our acknowledged “bad” days, and our piously “good” days. His blood is sufficient to draw out children to redemption despite our best and worst efforts.  The implication for us is that, as His children, Christ is interceding for us. His blood, poured out once, has paid for our sin – not just one time, but through every single moment of each day.

Our days on Earth are only of value to our families, to our churches, or to our workplaces as Christ’s redemption is realized in our lives. While our children should not suffer at their parents’ expense, it is important to remember that God is a powerful Father, working in their hearts to teach them the neediness of humanity and the beauty of redemptive transformation. Despite our best efforts, He is the one who captures and keeps their souls. We are to be responsible stewards, but even our stewardship is empowered by the cross.

The truth is that without those terrible, horrible, no good days, we would fail to see and want the wonderful reality of His grace. On the days when frustration builds and threatens to trample us, we see our need for the cross. Without these days we would sail through our lives, proud of our abilities and righteousness. The next time that epic day of failure comes to visit we can give thanks for our scars, confident that Christ has battled sin and won for us. We embrace His strength, knowing that in this strength, we are not captive to scars, wounds, and failures, but freed and living by His mercy.