Dandelions and Violets

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Spring in New England means a delightful and dramatic return of living and growing things outside. This year a bevy of a dandelions, liberally seeded by an exuberant two year old last year sprung into bloom, dotting the yard with yellowness. We also played host to wild violets, delicately commandeering our yard, gardens, walkways, and any possible corner and crack.

The exuberant two year old has turned into a three year old whose exuberance has only been punctuated with self assertion and initiative. Her joy of living reigns free and flowers possess no pass when she decides to fully enjoy her little world. And so with the spring came bouquets of dandelions and violets, hyacinths and tulips, any flowers within her reach picked in handfuls and delivered with kisses and sheer excitement.

She would grasp the flowers, and run to me calling for my full attention. Her enthusiastic gift giving required equally enthused receiving. Once she secured my delight, the adventure to bring more beautiful and living things into the house immediately resumed.

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Dandelions and wild violets are not the finest of flowers. They are mildly pretty as wild things, but bring their own category of annoyance of a yard owner. To many homeowners, subduing the earth means eradicating these flowers. They bring color and variety to the world and serve a purpose in their own right. But they fade and they wilt rather quickly. However, there was a peculiar beauty in them for me. I found myself smiling and matching her delight as she ran, fist clenched full of yellow and purple. She saw wonder in this life around her and her instinct was to share it with the people she loves best in all the world right now.

God created His children to enjoy Him. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with “Q. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
In our fallen world, we see the beauty and structure of a perfect Father. We enjoy the gifts He gives us. He grants us the joyful ability to converse with Him, to see His hand in creation, to mirror Him with our creativity, to share our hope with those around us. By participating in these abilities He has given to us, we too offer gifts to Him as a way to glorify and enjoy Him. Our gifts are, in reality, like those dandelions and violets. Unnecessary, fading, and incomparable to His gift of redemption. But He still delights in our living and moving and enjoying. I certainly don’t need the piles of dandelions I was given this spring. But I treasured them because they symbolized life and joy. I didn’t need the bouquets of violets and hyacinths when I had vases of roses. But violets became as beautiful if not more so than roses because they were given with sheer enjoyment and passion. I didn’t really want the two blooms from the lone tulip plant plucked off the stem the very day they bloomed.

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But I took those short blooms, salvaged them, joining  them with lilacs into a reconstructed and simple bouquet. God takes His children, and our gifts, and our failures, and in our souls He salvages the the beauty of His creation by looking at Christ. He takes the mess and the temporal and the unvaluable and makes it treasure in which He delights because He sees Christ. He looks on us and sees life. He created us for joy and thru Christ, we share this gift. The delight in dandelions and violets should never be discounted because God has ordained that they serve a purpose. Just as He has ordained that we live fully in Him, living, moving, glorifying, and enjoying.

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Beauty

“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located
will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them,and what came through them was longing.
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we
really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols,breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

CS Lewis

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When All Is Made New

Spires
Spires

 

Not to belabor children’s books, but I read the account of Heaven in “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones to my daughter recently.

“I see a sparkling city shimmering in the sky glittering, glowing-coming down! From Heaven… and from the sky… Heaven is coming down to earth! God’s city is beautiful. Walls of topaz, jasper, sapphire.  Wide streets paved with gold.  Gleaming pearl gates that are never locked shut.  Where is the sun? Where is the moon? They aren’t needed anymore.  GOD IS ALL THE LIGHT PEOPLE NEED. No more darkness! No more night! And the King says, ‘Look! God and his children are together again. No more running away.  Or hiding. No more crying or being lonely or afraid. No more being sick or dying. Because all those things are gone.  Yes, they’re gone forever. Everything sad has come untrue. And see – I have wiped away every tear from every eye!’And then a deep, beautiful voice that sounded like thunder in the sky says, “Look! I am making everything new!” (pp. 346-7)

As I read, the happiness came.  I was happy to read this particular book myself, hearing the familiar words and message in a fresh way. It made me happy to read such beautiful, descriptive language about Heaven to my daughter. I can tell her there is a happily ever after for the children of God. In simple but rich words, I can explain that we anticipate a time when everything will be made new.

This description of Heaven is our joyful hope.  The good intentioned defenses of doctrine, the glittering personalities in churches and beyond, the out of control Twitter feeds, the strivings, the evening news, the lost friendships, the frustrating weeks, the job promotion, the platform building, the intellectual prowess, the creative achievements, the human accomplishment on Earth is not where our final hope is rooted.  These are the things in which we dabble because God is honored through our participation in the culture of our present world. But no present city can bring the joy that this city will hold.

The hope that is in us is our future hope. The reason for our hope is that we are children of God by His love and through the work of the cross.  We are at peace with God through the blood of Christ- and one day faith will be sight. The culminating hope of Heaven is so beautifully described in these words, paraphrased for a child to understand and for an adult to treasure. The love of God anchors us and this future hope propels us.

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11

 

In Defense of Fairy Tales

It is Children’s Book Week and since I already talked about books earlier in the week, I thought I’d stay on the path.

My three year old loves stories of princesses and princes, almost a little more than I like. There are numerous articles encouraging parents to discourage the princess effect and princess adoration in their daughters. I occasionally wonder if I’ve ruined any chance she has at high self esteem, self confidence apart from a man, and so forth, already- at three years of age. Then I remember the sovereignty of God rules our lives, not the advice of child psychologists and writers. So I look for balance where I can, but I’ve been surprised to find incredible themes of truth paralleled in her princess stories.

Take the story of Beauty and the Beast. One night, while imagining ourselves into the Beauty and the Beast world, she stopped playing and started telling me about the story. Suddenly, she looked up and said, “Belle took her daddy’s place in the Beast’s cage, Mommy.” I stopped and said, “Yes, she did. Because she loved him.” Without reacting I casually said, “That is like the way Jesus took our place and died on the cross for our sin. Because He loved us so much.” She looked at me seriously, quietly thinking thoughts that I couldn’t read. I plowed ahead, “And Belle learned to love the Beast, just like he was, even though he was ugly and scary.”

 

I sat there on the bed with her, considering how clearly Belle loves like Christ. She takes the place of her beloved father. He is old, he will die anyway, but a young, intelligent woman gives up her life so that her father can go free. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13   Then she loves the Beast because she sees beyond his gritty exterior and finds value beyond his monstrous persona. She believes there is something worth loving and saving there, just as Christ saw us. In the end of course, the father is saved, the Beast is transformed to a handsome prince, and love wins.

The other popular fairy tales, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, even the more recent adaptation of Frozen, have similar elements. There is always a character(s) in need. There is always a a character who saves. There is a character imprisoned and there is a character who sets free. There is a character who is deceived by evil. There is a character who undoes the effects of deception. There is a rescue, a fulfilled hope, and a happily ever after….Just as there is a needy people living on Earth and a loving God who meets our ultimate need thru the Cross. And, He will one day fulfill our hope, providing us with a happily ever after where Christ and His redeemed people will be united for all time.

 

Fairy tales linger in our broken world of dark art and literature. Deep down we long to hear about the hero and the rescued because we are aware of our own neediness. We crave the “happily ever after” because we long for the day when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

 

I love that my daughter’s “comprehensive” knowledge of fairy tales has made the story of God’s love for us and Christ’s work of redemption easy to connect for her. I do not want her hope to be in men, but I do want her to hope in the man, Christ Jesus. PThe wonderful thing about the story of redemption is that it does not hide. It is not just a discussion for Sunday dinner. In our coming and going, we see themes of the gospel in something as simple as story about a princess and a monster. If the reality of Christ’s work on the cross propels us through each day, we will easily recognize how to share this beautiful redemption with our children.

*congratulations to Carol, winner of our Made For More giveaway!

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the eliana child

Her name is not Eliana, but my second daughter’s existence carries the meaning of Eliana to me. “God has answered my prayer.”

I’m this proud person who loves to think I don’t doubt God. I like to think that I learned to trust God years ago and have never swerved from that trust. But in the middle of this firmly rooted jargon and head knowledge, I occasionally find myself like Eve, reaching out for that shiny piece of fruit. I find myself like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, forgetful of that giant salvation act from slavery in Egypt. I forget that God has given manna, the ordinary everyday provision of my basic needs, without fail. I forget that, here and there, I am given quail instead of manna, delicacies that I don’t need, but want, because He delights in giving good things to His children. I’m the apostles cloistered away in an upper room, fearful that God won’t remember to take care of me as He promised. I doubt God’s goodness. 

And then, God swoops in, reminding me that he overlooks no detail. No hope of my heart is unknown to Him. As a parent with a child, He does not just care that I am part of His family, He delights in giving good to me. 
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

I was an only child. There was nothing wrong with being an only child.  It had, in fact, several advantages over having siblings and I had a great childhood. It was the perfect path for me. But from the time I was a child, I determined that if I ever did have children, I would find a way to have at least two. I knew God could have different plans, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. 

My oldest daughter was born eight weeks early at 3 lbs, 6 oz. I had a rapid onset of severe preeclampsia, which crossed over to HELLP Syndrome
syndrome. The doctors told me there was a 50% chance it could happen again.

I tried not to think about the possibility that I might have an only child. I focused on adjusting to life with a baby. I watched God’s faithfulness to us through difficult circumstances and rejoiced. I did not want to risk my life or the life of another baby irresponsibly.  I wanted a second child, but I feared this could be God’s hard way of teaching me to be content. 

Why I ever try to read God’s mind is beyond me, because I’m usually wrong. Two years later, I was completely surprised, excited, and terrified when I found out I was having another baby. I worried about having another preemie, an earlier, not as healthy baby. I held my breath from 6 weeks to the 32 week mark, the point when my older daughter had been born. I worried something would go wrong with this birth, with this baby’s health. 

What I had to learn, again, is that God doesn’t sadistically laugh at us from Heaven as He puppeteers our lives.  He wants to make us happy- like we want to make our own children happy.  He sometimes uses dark providences to draw His beloved children to Him, to help us depend on Him. Suffering exists because of the Fall. But He came to redeem and give life. The lie that God does not want us to be happy has been craftily used for generations to play out the enmity between God and Satan. 

God hears us when we pray- and when we do not. God knows the desires of our hearts. He created and loves us and knows us better than we know our own selves or our own children. The night before I was full term (37 weeks), I sat in the hospital ER and my tests showed hints of preeclampsia surfacing. That night, my healthy beautiful second baby girl was born at 5 lbs, 12 oz.  No major complications occurred; there was no time spent in NICU rooms.

We forget something in our worrying and stewing and chasing after dreams.  A Father who would sacrifice His son in an intricate redemption plan – to rescue our lives and souls- cannot possibly have our demise in His heart. There is only goodness and love in the Father’s heart. 

God is not a magic genie, granting our wishes as we squint and rub a lantern. But, God hears us, just as I hear my children speak. Just as I know what they love and want. He listens and answers. He did not have to give me a second baby, but He graciously did. He knew we had more to learn from adding a person to our family. He has unique plans for each of us and every family is different. But no matter the situation, be assured that God is loving and good. He does want us to be happy, to dwell in His grace, to find our peace and fulfillment in His arms. 

My Eliana child will be a year old this week. I watch her, trying to take steps on her own. I see God’s gracious character personified. I see the result of His listening and answering. I look forward to recounting to her one day soon, the goodness of God in her very own existence. 

Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

* Make sure to stop by tomorrow for a great book review, author interview, and… a GIVEAWAY!

 

 

 

 

Who Made Heaven and Earth

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I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 121:1-2, 7-8

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An Ever Fixed Mark

I sat on a swing, holding my youngest daughter, watching the lines of trees, full of flowers, white veils, pink shrouds, coloring the world with swarms of blossoms. The green leaves are in their youngest stage, with pale green – almost yellow – canopies just covering the bare branches like a light, spring sweater.  Daffodils and forsythia, azaleas and cherry blossoms are splattered brilliantly across the newly green grass and freshly mulched gardens.  The world feels young again. For the moment.

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And I realized as I swung, back and forth, feeling the breeze and listening to the delighted squeals emitted by my swinging partner, that this is the last spring I will hold a baby.  A real, by definition, baby, who does not yet say connected words or walk for more than two steps at a time.  A baby who is squishy and cuddly, who waves haphazardly at me and grins in delight when I appear around a corner.  A baby who still needs me for most items relating to survival.  Last Spring, I was impatiently waiting for this baby to make her appearance.  This Spring I listen to her giggle.  The reality is that I will never have another baby to hold like this – unless of course, one appears on my doorstep, abandoned, which I think only happens in books.  There are a number of reasons why this is the right decision for our family.   But, there is something slightly sad and intensely powerful about holding a baby close and recognizing that life flits by too quickly, punctuated by seasons and human age categories.

 

I watch her. I feel like her first year has slipped like sand through my fingers in a flurry of life changes, job transitions, and schedule adjustments. I watch this tiny baby start moving forward with shaky steps and I wonder about her life. I wonder about the plan God has for her days.  Some people are waiting to meet babies.  I know that some people long for new babies.  Other mourn their babies.  Some worry about their babies, with good reason. Some people are saying goodbye.  Our lives change, constantly, each day different from the one before.

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Psalm 139 talks about how God searches out our paths and knows our ways before we ever speak a word.  He is behind and before, all around us, the beginning and the end.  I love verse 6.  “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”  It makes our human heads hurt when we think that God has gone before us, and yet knows our ends and all the in betweens. He knows all the seasons, the times, the joys, the tears. He is the giver of life –  the one who wipes aways tears, through the giving of His life.  We cannot understand this plan to give us eternal life, to set love on us, to give His life to ruin death.  The knowing of this knowledge is too wonderful.

When I think about the season here now, I am happy.  I wonder what other seasons will hold. Perhaps they will be happy ones.  Perhaps they hold sadness.  But here is what I know.  There was a cross.  There was a sacrifice.  God had unfathomable love  to rescue us. He had unimaginable ability to know the beginning from the end, because He is the beginning and the end.  Shakespeare talks about love being an “ever fixed mark… that looks on tempests and is never shaken,” in Sonnet 116.  This can be true of human love, but ultimately this is the Cross. An ever fixed mark.  God is not shaken by our season changes.  He has always known about them.

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John Donne writes the last stanza of A Valediction Forbidding Mourning 

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
   Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
   And makes me end where I begun.
The imagery is of a geometry compass.  The middle stays, ever fixed and holds the rest of the instrument in place.  Again, humans can only mirror love found in God.  “Thy firmness makes my circle just, and makes me end where I begun.”  The beginning and the end meet – in geometry, in the Cross, in God’s love, in our lives.
We might be wildly happy or soul crushingly sad.  We may have constant mental stimulation or be living in isolation.  Spring flowers may gather in bowers around our lives or growing briars may push on our hearts. The Cross remains an ever fixed mark that gives us a place to fall and rest. This knowledge keeps the wonder in every season of our lives.

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