Sunday, April 29, 2012

chariots of fire

My life has been moving in very slow motion for a couple of days thanks to a resurgence of mono or some other seriously debilitating virus.  I could pay the doctor large sums of money for the privilege of knowing the exact name of my nemesis, but since he's going to tell me to rest and drink lots of fluids, I thought I'd skip straight to the rest part.  So I rest for a while and then do something to wear myself out, like move to the couch or read three pages or eat a cracker, and then I rest some more.  This morning I had a moment when I was dragging Quinn's laundry basket down the hall in slow motion and had an out of body experience where I heard the Chariots of Fire theme music in my head as I pictured myself moving slowly down the hallway.  I may have chuckled out loud at the image.

Yesterday morning as I was recovering from waking up, reading was too painful, so I attempted to recite Romans 8 in my head while impersonating a dead body.   Only I found that this virus has apparently robbed me of all brain cells as well.  After several attempts, I gave up around verse 12-13:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.   For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.
Honestly I probably gave up around these verses because they might have struck a cord.  My spiritual life feels about as about as vibrant and healthy as I do right now.  So while I've been laying around impersonating a dead body, both physically and spiritually, I've been praying for the Spirit to come knock some sense into me.  And if the good sense could come with some good health too, that's be nice.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


I sat down tonight to write a couple letters to some of my senior girls, and I ended up sobbing through them like a baby.  At this rate, my girls will be senior citizens before I get them written.

I got to thinking about the power of words and of the custom of speaking a blessing over someone, and I don't mean when you sneeze.  How can it feel so rich and deep when you read a blessing in the Bible and so awkward and contrived in our culture?

Don't worry.  I'm not going on a culture tirade here.

I just feel a pressing grief tonight about having spent so much of my life without anyone speaking a blessing over me, and I'm so thankful to have this opportunity to speak a blessing over the lives of these girls.

Now if only I could write them down without sobbing.  That would really be nice.

Perhaps there is someone who needs your blessing today.  You never know.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

running home

I mentioned a while back that I was memorizing Hebrews 12, and, well, like the tortoise, I'm making my way slowly through the text during the first part of my quiet time, but this morning my spirit came to a screeching halt on verses 16-17:
See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.
I've memorized these verses simply because they are part of Hebrews 12 and in between other verses I really love, but I've alternated between simply getting past them and wondering why they seem so out of place.  So read it in context:
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. 
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?
Although those couple verses always made my spirit a little squirmy on the inside, my thought process has generally gone something like this...  So I get to the part about not being sexually immoral because, well, I'm pretty much a nun, so I'm okay.  And I don't recall Esau being particularly pointed out for his sexual immorality, so how do those two go together again?  And last time I checked, Blue Coast Burrito took cash, not a signing away of my inheritance for payment.  So what's up with those two verses in the middle of all the other awesomeness of Hebrews 12.

And this morning the Spirit hits me, like an anvil.  BAM!

It isn't a burrito or a bowl of stew I should be concerned about (yeah, mock me, that was a major revelation), but I trade my inheritance every time I stubbornly give in to something I want when I know it is wrong.  And that something could be as large and obvious as a sexual sin, but it could be as small and hidden as a stubborn and persistent pattern of thinking.

In my head lately I have been so whiny that I've wanted to slap myself or run away and hide form my own thoughts.  So I resort to sinful, distracting patterns of thinking encompassing pretty much everything from pride to selfishness to self-pity and lust.  Ever notice how you can stubbornly give into temptation under the pretense of being mad at God because he hasn't given you superpowers?  Maybe you haven't noticed that excuse if you're holier than I am.  But I am pretty much the master at self-delusion, and I have found lately that I use sinful patterns of thinking to escape the reality that it is just plain hard to follow God.  As the writer of Hebrews says, without holiness, no one will see God, so it is imperative that I be holy.  Because God knows (fancy that!) that when trade my inheritance for even something as small and hidden as my sinful thought patterns, I am actually opening the gateway to a larger sin, like sexual immorality or self-centeredness.

After reading this passage, my spirit feels like it is in this mad scramble back up the muddy slope because I see where I'm headed, and all I can think is, "no, no, no, no, no, no, I have to get back."

But I can't.  Enter Christ.  Praise the Lord.

Because I am sure I will throw myself down this muddy slope again and again because I'm pretty slow to learn lessons.  But we haven't come to the God of the Old Testament, with unfulfilled promises of a savior and impossible commands to be holy.  We have come to Mount Zion.  Read that part again, and picture yourself walking up to the gates.  Right now.  Do it.

Doesn't it give you glorious chills?  We approach Mount Zion, the city of the living God, We get closer and see the angels in joyful assembly, and - wait - could it be, the church of the firstborn?  There are actual people here!  Woohoo!  And then you see him, our God, the judge, and there is so much to fear and be ashamed of, but then wait - there are some righteous men made perfect, maybe, just maybe I can be made perfect too.  And then there is Jesus.  And you just want to die because he's so beautiful.  Because you see his blood and what it has done for you.

How can I refuse that?  If I'm truly honest with who I am and how the world is, how can I possibly refuse that love?  But this morning I realized if I spend my life trading my inheritance for things as silly as my sinful and distracting thought patterns, then I am refusing that love and blind to truth.

So I find myself at the bottom of a muddy slope, covered in filth, chilling with the pigs at the feeding trough before finally coming to my senses.  Only I don't have a physical place I can run to like the prodigal son, which makes going home a little more tricky.  Because today, for me, running home looks like embracing the drudgery of routine without letting myself slip into sinful habits.  Running home means facing a life without my best friend and all the plans we made together and then not giving into the temptations created by that reality.  Running home looks very much like dragging a cross up a hill behind my savior.

Friday, April 20, 2012


I seem to be stuck on a theme like a broken record.  Seriously, somebody slap me.

Jonah 2: 7-9

“When my life was ebbing away, 
   I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
   to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
   turn away from God’s love for them.

But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
   will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
   I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the LORD.’”

It's just that lately I seem to feel like raspberries pressed through a sieve to remove the seeds before making jam.  When David says in Psalm 139 that "You have laid your hand upon me," that doesn't strike me as a gentle pat on the back, more like a Jedi death grip.

Embarking on some projects Emmett and I had been planning for years seemed like a good way to move forward, but the resulting chaos in my house has unearthed a similar chaos in my spirit.  This past weekend it looked like a library had vomited in my living room as I pulled more than a dozen boxes of books and began sorting them and putting them on bookshelves.   As I sorted and stacked and talked myself into getting rid of books I'd never read again, I could feel the tension mounting.  I kept telling myself over and over that it always gets messier before it gets cleaner.  At some point I caught myself saying it aloud like some crazy mental patient wandering the hallway so I decided to send myself to bed before things got really crazy.

I did come across one book that I read over a decade ago in a Bible study with friend.  I don't remember much of the book, but I love the title: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, by Eugene Peterson.  The title pretty much sums it up, a long, long, long obedience in the same direction while perseverance finishes its work in me so that I might be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

But man am I tired.

Drastic times call for drastic measures.  My parenting strategy this morning for dealing with a whiny Quinn was to crawl back in bed and hide under the covers until he found me.  Apparently it worked because he behaved well for the rest of the morning.  My teaching strategy was to give a very long lab for the kids to complete while listening to Snacktime, which may or may not have digressed into watching Silly Songs with Larry for the last 10 minutes of class.  For lunch today I had highly processed chocolate chip cookies and greasy potato chips with a tootsie roll pop for dessert just because I could.

So when Jonah talks about sinking down into the water and having seaweed wrapped around his head before he FINALLY understands, I think I can relate.  I feel like grief is making a sushi roll out of me and I'm hanging out until a big fish comes to swallow me.  And maybe if I'm lucky I will be in the Veggie Tales version of the story where a gospel choir sings to me in the belly of the fish.  Who knows?  It could happen.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


A week or so ago I gave a devotion for a group of mostly strangers and included parts of my story I can't share publicly for various reasons.  Ever since then my spirit has been unsettled, like I've opened a hidden can of personal issues that I haven't dealt with and they're wriggling around my spirit like earthworms.

In psalm 77, the psalmist is recalling the wonders of God and he says 

The waters saw you, God,
   the waters saw you and writhed; 
   the very depths were convulsed. 
The clouds poured down water, 
   the heavens resounded with thunder; 
   your arrows flashed back and forth. 
Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, 
   your lightning lit up the world; 
   the earth trembled and quaked.

The imagery here is recalling how God parted the waters for Moses, but it feels like my soul right now. By exposing parts of my heart that were previously hidden, I've let in the light of the gospel and now my spirit is writhing and convulsing in the presence of God's mighty hand at work.

     So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place.  And then I just scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully...In a minute or two I just stepped out of it.  I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty.  It was a most lovely feeling.  So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.  But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly  just as they had been before.... So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped...  Well, exactly the same thing happened again.  And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off.  
    Then the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - "You will have to let me undress you." I was afraid of his claws, i can tell you, but I was nearly desperate now.  So I just lay flat and let him do it.   
     The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right to my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off....   
     And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch... I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on.
Right now I feel like I'm in that uncomfortable shedding phase, not quite willing to let Christ have his way with me because I'm still sore and tender for the last time he dug his claws into me. So Psalm 73 is particularly relevant to me right now:

Surely God is good to Israel, 
   to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; 
   I had nearly lost my foothold. 
For I envied the arrogant 
   when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have no struggles; 
   their bodies are healthy and strong. 
They are free from common human burdens; 
   they are not plagued by human ills. 
Therefore pride is their necklace; 
   they clothe themselves with violence. 
From their callous hearts comes iniquity; 
   their evil imaginations have no limits. 
They scoff, and speak with malice; 
   with arrogance they threaten oppression. 
Their mouths lay claim to heaven, 
   and their tongues take possession of the earth. 
Therefore their people turn to them 
   and drink up waters in abundance. 
They say, “How would God know? 
   Does the Most High know anything?”
This is what the wicked are like— 
   always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure 
   and have washed my hands in innocence. 
All day long I have been afflicted, 
   and every morning brings new punishments.
If I had spoken out like that, 
   I would have betrayed your children. 
When I tried to understand all this, 
   it troubled me deeply 
till I entered the sanctuary of God; 
   then I understood their final destiny.
Surely you place them on slippery ground; 
   you cast them down to ruin. 
How suddenly are they destroyed, 
   completely swept away by terrors! 
They are like a dream when one awakes; 
   when you arise, Lord, 
   you will despise them as fantasies.
When my heart was grieved 
   and my spirit embittered, 
I was senseless and ignorant; 
   I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you; 
   you hold me by my right hand. 
You guide me with your counsel, 
   and afterward you will take me into glory. 
Whom have I in heaven but you? 
   And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 
My flesh and my heart may fail, 
   but God is the strength of my heart 
   and my portion forever.
Those who are far from you will perish; 
   you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 
But as for me, it is good to be near God. 
   I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; 
   I will tell of all your deeds.

I find my heart tempted, so tempted to envy the arrogant and wonder why I have sought purity in vain. I find a strong resistance to the cleansing work of the spirit.  Like verse 14 I have been plagued and punished every morning noon and night, and like vs 21-22 my spirit has been grieved and embittered so I find myself senseless an ignorant.

And I need to enter the sanctuary, to realize the destiny of the evil, and embrace the goodness of God. I need to know that he holds me by my right hand and will take me into glory.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


When Emmett was experimenting with pasta making, he tried his hand at making gnocchi.  We quickly determined that he needed a potato ricer, which presses the cooked potato through these impossibly fine holes so that you're left with something very much like a pasta dough that you then shape into those tasty little gnocchi nuggets.

I feel like one of those potatoes, but much lest tasty.

Wednesday night I went to bed with a cold, feeling overwhelmed by everything in front of me.  And my prayer for a good night's sleep was answered by waking up three hours later with a painful sore throat.  After administering the usual remedies, from Neti to Jack, I was wide awake.  So I did what any sane person would do and cried for the next four or so hours until I had to get ready for work.  I managed to incorporate the entire spectrum of subjects to cry about, from self-pity and loneliness to sin and shame and fear and exhaustion.

I find emotional purging to work something like a 24 hour bug, just vomit everything out at once and be done with it.  But like a stomach bug leaves you physically exhausted and weak, I went into Thursday feeling emotionally drained, like a zombie.  I still had not recovered emotionally by the Good Friday service, incidentally my favorite church service of the year.  The Good Friday service usually brings the fullness of Christ's sacrifice into stunning clarity for me, but during the whole service I had this picture of myself, just like Mary, wandering in the garden near the tomb, weeping and looking for my savior.  Where have they laid him? I can't find him!  From John 20: 11-16

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.  They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” 
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” 
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

I read that passage several times this weekend, and I still can't get over how much I love it.  Frantic with grief and a desire to be close to her savior, Mary just sits there and weeps.  She knows her insignificance, her inability to change anything, yet grief and love drive her just to be there, as close as she knows how.  And that is exactly where Christ meets her.  But why did he wait so long to call her by name?  Why the questions?  Why the same question twice?  Christ was drawing out the most desperate desires of her heart, to find Christ, but she misunderstood, and in her misunderstanding she was unable to see who was right in front of her.

And boy do I feel like I misunderstand, only I'm not sure what it is that I misunderstand because I can't read the ending of my own story.  But I come, and I cry, and I make up ridiculous answers to simple questions because I so don't see what is right in front of me, just like Mary.  But I come because he knows my name, and I know he will say it, but only after drawing out the truest and deepest desires of my heart.

This weekend has felt like a wandering in the garden, revisiting how much I long for my savior.  If you had any sort of conversation with me, I probably looked a little lost and didn't make much sense because that is how I felt all weekend.  This evening was the first chance I've had to process my thoughts, and I was looking for some of the music we sang when I came across this little gem:

Alive Again by Matt Maher
I Woke Up In Darkness

Surrounded By Silence

Oh Where, Where Have I Gone?

I Woke To Reality
Losing Its Grip On Me

Oh Where, Where Have I Gone?

Cause I Can See The Light

Before I See The Sunrise


You Called And You Shouted

Broke Through My Deafness

Now I’m Breathing In

And Breathing Out

I’m Alive Again!

You Shattered My Darkness

Washed Away My Blindness

Now I’m Breathing In

And Breathing Out

I’m Alive Again!

I'm listening to this song on repeat as I type this blog, and it makes me want to get up and just run!  And I find myself struck by the tension between loitering at the tomb and running the race with perseverance.  But really those two actions must coexist in bizarre juxtaposition.  If we want to run the race, we can't really ever leave the tomb.  We run because he knows us and calls us by name.  We run because he breaks through our misunderstanding.  We run for sheer joy knowing that a risen savior means death has been defeated.

May the eyes of our hearts be opened to the sound of his voice.

Monday, April 2, 2012


I opened the door this evening to find myself ambushed by the overpowering scent of the lilac bush from across my yard, and suddenly I wanted to do some sort of borderline inappropriate primitive tribal dance.  I think heaven must smell like lilacs, and most likely also have an indecent amount of dancing, but more importantly, smell like lilacs.  I couldn't help but walk across the yard in my socks with my nose stuck awkwardly out in front of me - because of course the more awkward you look, the better your sense of smell - until my nose was buried in that purple and white cone of flowers.  I passed by the irises, azaleas, and phlox, all blooming inappropriately early, as if they couldn't wait to jump out of their skin.  I now know why the butterflies were so busy in my yard last year producing the gazillions of caterpillars that are crawling on every possible surface.  I keep flinging them off my plants with a near religious zeal, only to find five more have taken the place of each one I remove.

I decided not to garden this year, but Quinn begged to plant something, so with a ridiculous carelessness, we scattered seeds in the garden last week in such a way to make even the most basic gardener turn up his nose at me.  Now I have no idea what little seedlings are popping out of the ground, and it kind of feels like Christmas to see them poking out of the dirt without any idea what they will be.  This year will probably be my best garden year, just to spite me for all those years I actually tried.  And I learned to use the weed eater today, and I giggled the whole time because it jiggles your arm like those machines in infomercials that claim to tone your muscles without you having to actually exercise.  I only got half of the back yard weed-eaten (weed-eated? weed-ate?) because I kept getting distracted by cleaning out the wood pile and then cleaning out the stick pile (yeas, there is a difference between a wood pile and a stick pile) and then ripping out most of one of the beds because it annoyed me when I tried to weed eat around it.  Working in the yard felt strangely exhilarating, as I was finally catching up after years of neglecting my yard.  Though I'm exhausted, I'm also invigorated by the joy of the work.

And I keep thinking about jogging on the cruise ship.  Yes, I know that sentence was not like the others, but I promise to bring it full circle.  The first day we were on the cruise ship was a day at sea.  I was looking forward to laying around in the sunshine and just being warm and lazy like a fat cat, but 40 mph winds and 9 foot swells made laying in a deck chair more like a scene out of a Seinfeld episode.  So I gave up and decided to try out the jogging track, and man was I hooked.  When I rounded the corner of the track and the wind was at my back, it was all I could do to make my feet touch the ground.  I think it may have taken me three strides to cover the 50 or so feet on one side.  Then I turned the corner and tried not to get launched overboard as the wind blew me sideways.  I must admit I did hit the railing once when I wasn't paying attention, but I could probably do that without wind.  Finally coming around the other side, I hit the wind head on and it was like running on a treadmill because I never felt like I got anywhere.  The distance that I covered in three strides on the other side of the ship felt about two miles long.  But there is no better feeling in the world than reaching the end of that side, turning the corner again and feeling the wind at your back after such a long and painful struggle.  I may have laughed out loud once or twice when I rounded that curve.  I am sure people thought I was nuts.

So when I stepped into the lilac scented air this evening, or when I participated the Team Emmett 5K Saturday morning, or any number of times lately that I've been intoxicated by how light I feel, I am reminded of my short jogs on the ship, and I feel a strange urge to laugh out loud.  Because right now, in this moment, I am feeling the wind at my back.  After coming out of a hard winter where I felt like I was doing everything I could think of just to stay on the treadmill, I am finally finding space to breathe.  For a couple years now I've been coming back to James 1:2-4:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work in you so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
and then verse 12:
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
Mostly those verses just made me dislike James.  I would read them and think to myself, "I'm sure that perseverance is nice in theory, but really, isn't it just a little overrated?"  There is no way to explain, and yet I am sure everyone who has tried to persevere through something painful will immediately remember the bone-crushing weariness of just getting through another day with as little collateral damage as possible.  And James tries to tell me there's something worth it at the other end?  Here I am barely able to lift my head and he expects me to skip through this struggle as if I'm doing nothing more than going to smell the lilacs?

Yes.  Why yes, he actually does.  Well, not skip and smell lilacs, exactly, but he does expect us to lift our heads and, maybe through gritted teeth, remind ourselves that the lilacs are out there.  But the beauty is that Jesus holds us in faith, even when we can't hold ourselves.  My pastor spoke a couple weeks ago about the failure of Peter, and he reminded me that God is active to build our faith even in our failures, and that we are kept in faith, despite our failures, by Christ whose Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

So I've been reading Psalm 139 to myself quite a bit recently, and I absolutely love verse 5:
You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
 I can't seem to get enough of that verse.  To be hemmed in, to be held, to be kept.  I felt the pressure of God's hand when Emmett was sick, I feel it when the waves of grief crash over me, and I feel it when I open the door and get swallowed up by the delicious spring air.  But even when I didn't feel it, his hand was still there.  And I'm thinking that next time I hit that wall (as I'm sure many more will come), that maybe, just maybe, it will be a teensy bit easier to remember that truth.