Tuesday, July 31, 2012


More on the book I mentioned in my last post.

When I think of the word mortification, I think of putting to death, and rightly so.  But when I think about that word in my life, in the context of mortifying sin, I am beginning to realize I have no idea what that means.  John Owen's Overcoming Sin and Temptation is changing my life.  Radically.

Just reading his words on what mortification is not is enough to make my spiritual jaw drop to the floor.    Mortification is not the end of sin, as that is not possible on earth.  Okay, fair enough, that even makes me feel a little better.  Mortification is not the forsaking of outward sins without radical inward change.  He calls this cultivating a crafty heart instead of a holy heart.  umm...  conviction!  Mortification is not simply cultivating a quiet, sedate nature leading to the same heart problem.  again... conviction!  Mortification is not the occasional false victory over a bad habit, while sin lies quietly taking even more control when we let our guard down.  ACK!  CONVICTION!

This cycle is exactly what I have spent so much of my Christian life doing!  I try to not do bad things.  I figure that being quiet and obedient looks good, so I do more of that.  Yet I have up until now, given little consideration to the ponderings of my own heart.  Those aren't seen, so they don't feel as important.  Occasional periods where I can avoid feeling shame for outward sins make me feel like a rock star.  But when I fall, man do I spiral into cycles of self-loathing and shame and anger and "popish rituals" of self-loathing to make myself feel better.  Then I just start the cycle again by trying harder.

I use the patterns of self-deception, thinking I have escaped sin, when it is simply lying dormant, waiting for another chance to pounce.  I want the appearance of victory without too much of the process of death.  Living in the delusion that I can pacify my conscience through my own effort either hardens my own sense of self-righteousness when things happen to be going well or crushes me with despair when I give in to sin.


So what do you do?  Oh, and this is so delicious.

When we are overcome with sin and shame, when we cannot see our way up and out, when we are hopeless - exactly then - we are called NOT to mortification, but to Christ.  We are called simply to return to the Lord, to the grace of the gospel - the good news that Christ has died for our sin and shame.  We are called to thoroughly convert our soul to the love of Christ.  Then, and only then, when our soul is steadfast in Christ, will the Spirit of God lead us into the process of true mortification.

And what does that process look like?

It is a continual attacking at the root of sin, a studying of how the sin works in our hearts so the we might cut it out at the base.  Instead of covering it up we dig it out and examine how it starts and grows and what enticements it offers so that we might recognize its voice when it calls out to us.  And gradually, ever so gradually, the violent and frequent assaults on our mind begin to weaken - not lessen, but weaken.  The temptations voiced by our sinful nature never leave, and we have to be careful they do not come back with even more strength in another area.


The difference I have noticed, the hope I've gleaned from my very timid journeys into mortification, is first that there are no cycles of victory, failure, shame, and then try harder.  For a long time, I wasn't sure it was possible to escape those cycles.  But lately I've noticed that from my failures I tend to glean fruitful observations to equip me for the next onslaught.  Like a curious scientist, I find myself examining my heart and mind with microscopic intensity.  I still sin of course, but the Spirit, without the slightest bit of shame or accusation, points me back to the thoughts and paths that led me there.

and yet.

This week my spirit has been so full of the weight of sin and shame that I feel crushed and broken.  So I find myself going back to the beginning, to just simply dwell in Christ's love, to renew my steadfastness in his love, and to remind myself not to slip back into trying to do this myself.  I find myself needing to return and rest and just dwell in His Spirit and stop striving so much.  But even so, even this returning feels different.  I'm not loathing myself or wanting to try harder or strategizing a new plan.  I just feel like I'm hiding myself in a safe place for a little while because I'm feeling fragile and weary.  I know His Spirit will draw me out again soon, but for now I sense His protection and help.

How do you get off the cycles?

I have no idea.  For me it took grief - torrential, overwhelming, soul-crushing grief, and lots of it.  I suppose people can get there in a less dramatic fashion, but I have no idea how.  I am now convinced that true mortification is completely a work of the Spirit.  All those "modern self-help, lead like Jesus, twelve steps to inner peace" books have totally missed the point.  I couldn't have even seen the signposts for the path I'm on had not the Spirit opened my eyes and led me by the hand and sometimes kicked me in the rear.  The only thing I could do was to throw myself on Jesus's mercy and hope he would catch me and listen for His voice.  That's not the kind of advice that would sell a lot of books, but it has worked because God is faithful.

Monday, July 30, 2012


I started a book called Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen. Just the title makes you want to shelve it and never think about it again. Man is it amazing. Just listen to this:

The truth is, what between placing mortification in a rigid, stubborn frame of spirit - which is for the most part earthly, legal, censorious, partial, consistent with wrath, envy, malice, pride - on the one hand, and and pretenses of liberty, grace, and I know not what, on the other, true evangelical mortification is almost lost among us.
And he wrote that about four centuries ago.  wow.

Too long have I lived in merciless rule following. Too long have I given lipservice to grace while adopting the posture of the condescending legalist. But the journey into the realms of true mortification is staggeringly terrible. I described it to a friend as jumping off a cliff into a vast, wild, unfathomably deep ocean. Allowing the Holy Spirit to have free reign in my heart, to kill and destroy and subject without interference to save my pet sins and favored bad habits - that is terrifying.

And yet.

I was on a bus this weekend where I had the unfortunate grief of sharing my window with a little flying ant-like creature. Despite the open door behind him he flew into the window repeatedly with an unquenchable desire for freedom and perhaps a blinding terror at how he could see, but not reach the freedom before him. I, like this ant, have so long been insensible to the Spirit, tying desperately to hide my sin, to mortify only the outward manifestations of sin without changing my heart. Just like the fly, though, no amount of effort, however Herculean, can allow me to kill what is insurmountably stronger than I am. But unlike the ant, I can finally see the futility of my efforts to sanctify myself.

But having now seen the door of the Spirit, finding the courage to walk through it, to face the death (not just the hiding) of a thousand sinful habits I can't imagine living without, seems impossible. Knowing too that I must live in this constant tension of dying daily, that the soul that fails to fight for even a moment loses immeasurable ground in the battle, can be overwhelming to the point of death. One is tempted to live in the lies of self-sanctification rather than face the all consuming sanctification of the Spirit.

So why press on? Why bother with something so fierce, so terrible in its determination to destroy? Because I have seen what lies on the other side of that window. Because I have tasted the water of life and felt the great cloud of witnesses pressing me towards the door. Because my desire is no longer focused on me, but on a love that gives me the strength to run through the pain of true mortification instead of hiding from it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

all creation

Several nights last week I found myself driving home late at night, an unusual occurrence for a single parent of a small child. The evening air was particularly delicious and I thought about nights like these, long before parental responsibility had a claim on my actions, When I would steal away to some park or another at night and enjoy the stars and darkness and quiet, or just drive an old road until I got tired enough to go home. I had a roaming impulse once again, but not nearly as large as my love, so I just smiled and remembered and went on home.

Then I found myself this weekend at a camp along the fault line towards the eastern end of the state. I'm convinced that Tennessee is one of the most beautiful states in the country  As I sat in the shade of some trees near the edge of a gorge with a particularly ravishing view, I prayed and read and wrote and recalled luxurious days when I could indulge in quiet hours alone in nature. 

And I wrote;

I watch a hawk gliding in effortless circles over the valley as shadows of clouds create moving pictures over the forests below. To glimpse the smallness, the ugliness, of what people have built against the backdrop of such beauty is humbling. I recall a short conversation had with a college friend years ago, probably long forgotten by now, of the connection between beauty and terror. True beauty is terrifying, either in its ability to destroy or create or sometimes both.

Beauty I suppose always looks ugly in the details.  If I were to hike the forest before me, I would be swallowed in cycles of death and decay, exhausted by the twists and turns and climbs, cut down by each thorn or brier that blocks my way. There is little sun on the trail and the darkness makes you feel tiny, and unbearably lonely.

But from here I see the masterpiece, the purpose.  Here I feel the breeze and watch the clouds whirl with intricate steps past the sun, melting and reforming, constantly reshaping themselves. I see the faithfulness of the sun, hidden sometimes, but ever present. I see the enduring shape of things and how each dip and rise creates the whole. Here I am not immune to the mosquitoes, but they eat away at my flesh only, leaving my spirit intact.

I am thankful for the perseverance of life in the midst of a broken and dirty world. I am thankful for each tree that reaches towards heaven, unaware of its brethren that do the same, unaware even more so of the masterpiece woven by all of them together standing alone but faithful. It makes me want to dance and cry and sing and write and wish I could paint. It makes me want to get down on the trail and whisper to each tree, "If only you could see the picture I saw. If only you could get up there. You would see how beautiful it all is. You would see how perfect you were created to be. How it just fits without really making sense."

And perhaps, yes perhaps that is just what God is whispering to me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we're all sinking.
So heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest.

I don't have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way
He loves us.
          -David Crowder, "How He Loves"

Yesterday I woke up with these words on my lips.  My heart was light, and I was overflowing with the satisfaction of joy, and yet something lapped just at the edge of my consciousness all day, patiently and persistently nudging me.  My productivity was amazing, and I rode on the high of getting things done, but something was off.  I felt it during my run at the Y, I felt during dinner with a friend, and I felt it getting Quinn ready for bed.  This morning I woke with the distinct feeling of being fragile.  My spirit was like a bird, flitting around and unable to settle during my quiet time.  I realized I was hyper aware of the presence of my sinful nature, even in the ordinary routines such as getting dressed.  I felt pressed down and burdened, unable to lift my spirit in grace.  Finally, on the way to meet a friend for lunch, I just started crying, but they were tears of thankfulness and relief.  Not because anything had changed, really, but because I was so grateful for the purifying presence of the Lord in my heart and spirit.  I began to look back at the last few days and noticed a sinful laziness and self-indulgence creeping into my heart.  A lack of patience with Quinn, an unkind thought, a lazy quiet time, a self-satisfied thought - so many little things here and there had calloused my heart to the truth.

Lately I've been reading through Joshua and Judges.  I have been struck for some time about how Israel failed to completely obey the Lord by driving out their enemies.  Repeatedly the Lord warned them to drive out the foreign tribes because they would prove to be a snare for the Israelites, and yet they continued to fail to do so.  They subdued the tribes, subjecting them, and yet these very tribes later became a continual source of grief as they led the Israelites away from God and into sin and slavery.  I have no desire to debate Old Testament ethics or the goodness of God here because what the Lord has been pressing on my heart is that I am the nation of Israel, and the foreign nations are the patterns of sinful living in my life.  It is not enough to simply subject them for the moment.  I must completely destroy them.

Most of us can picture someone we know who has lived through this death to self and grown in grace and love as they have gotten older.  Yet we also know of people, very good people, who have grown in blindness to a particular flaw, and the passage of time has turned them bitter or depressed or any number of things.  As James says, they have been dragged away by their desires and found death.  How I see the seeds of future death in the habits of my mind that I dismiss as harmless!

Misplaced desires, self-satisfaction, the need to be admired or loved or praised - man, I could go on and on!  It is not enough simply to discipline myself not to show these sinful thoughts.  What I may be able to hide today will simply find another way of enslaving me unto death.  These desires must die.  How painful is that thought, and how my spirit nearly faints with the idea of what it will take to kill them, what it has already taken in my life to just begin putting them to death.

And yet, how thankful I am for the Lord's tenderness to make my spirit sensitive to His.  No matter how fragile I feel, I am learning to rejoice in the awareness of sin.  And not just to rejoice in the awareness, but to invite it and search for it.  Formerly when I would happen upon sin in my life, I would grieve at the shame, at how it violated my need for validation and perfection.  Awareness of sin used to be embarrassing and something to avoid or cover up or blame someone else for.  Now, though, I find myself rejoicing (mostly, on a good day, that is) in the discovery of sin because it means I am alive and being made new.  There is pain, deep pain, at the grief I cause so many in my sin, but there is also joy in learning to throw off the sin that so easily entangles.  There is breathless joy in running the race and amazing tenderness at being corrected along the way.

I love the phrase above, "my heart turns violently inside of my chest."  I feel the violence of turning right now, the violence of death and conviction and desperation.  Because sanctification is violent, unapologetically and gloriously and jealously violent, and I am thankful for the Lord's violent mercy.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I love my son.  I can't take him shopping for a birthday card without finding every singing card in the store and dancing to it.  It's awesome.  At least until he opened one with a song about beer and I got some dirty looks.  But we danced anyway because that's what we do.

Some mornings I wake up with a delicious feeling of peace, and I stretch in bed like a lazy cat and praise God for new mercies, looking forward with joy to the day ahead.  Other mornings, I wake up feeling like I've been punched in the gut and I put my head under the covers and inform God that now would be a good time to bring me home because I'm pretty sure I can no longer face the world outside my bed.  I sure wish I could bottle some secret formula that would guarantee me those good mornings, or maybe write a 12-step book or develop the perfect diet plan that will allow me to leap out of bed like a saucy spanish dancer each morning and take the world by storm.  

I finished up a sweet little book by Brother Lawrence recently called Practicing the Presence of God.  These collections of his letters to various people contained numerous exhortations to concentrate the soul's attention on God.  His descriptions are understandably vague since we relate to God as unique individual.  Nevertheless, the vagueness was also extremely frustrating.  By happy accident I followed that book with Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion,  where he conveniently opens the book with a long discussion of simultaneity, in other words, practicing the presence of God.  He describes the process thusly:
At first the practice of inward prayer is a process of alternation of attention between outer things and the Inner Light.  Preoccupation with either brings the loss of the other.  Yet what is sought is not alteration, but simultaneity, worship undergirding every moment, living prayer, the continuous current and background of all moments of life.  Long practice indeed is needed before alternation yields to concurrent immersion in both levels at once.  The "plateaus in the learning curve" are so long, and many falter and give up, assenting to alternation as the best they can do....But the hunger of the committed one is for unbroken communion and adoration, and we may be sure He longs for us to find it and supplements our weakness.  For our quest is of His initiation, and is carried forward in His tender power and completed by His grace.
When I write a post about loneliness or grief or any of the myriad forms of heaviness my spirit experiences, I wonder if people don't quite get the right idea, only I haven't really had the words to express it until now.  In James 1, he says "perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything," and then he goes on to say that "blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."  

Now I really don't know what those mean completely, but I'm beginning to realize that it is not the particular trial, but the act of persevering that brings a deeper awareness of the Spirit's presence and leads me further into the simultaneity that Kelly describes.  Not that I've perfected this by any means.  I've got a whole closet full of crazy that comes out when I'm not persevering in the Spirit and I get all kinds of sinful.  But there are moments, sometimes even rare hours or days, when I'm able to taste this concurrent immersion where worship undergirds every moment.  And I finally realize why it's so freaking hard to explain.  

Because while I feel the bone-crushing weariness and the overwhelming loneliness and the painful brokenness, another part of me feels like Quinn in the greeting card aisle, dancing this ridiculously awesome-ly awkward dance with the Spirit of God inside me.  It's hard to explain how broken and dry and just plain done I feel and yet also communicate how content I am to be exactly here.  Because exactly here is where the Spirit of God has carried me, teaching me how to live this life of simultaneity, which I suspect has something to do with the crown of life James talks about.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The lights in the sky are dancing tonight.  I suspect that heat lightning is the cause, but the verdict is still out.  Tonight on the porch, last week in a hotel room, a thousand times a day lately I seem to be haunted by loneliness.  It follows me like a stray dog, mangy and lean, keeping its distance cautiously but never ceasing to follow me with its insatiable eyes.  I wonder sometimes what will happen when it gets comfortable enough to draw near.

I realized, last week in the hotel room, how such a feeling could lead to all sorts of evils, and I'm developing sympathies for every kind of sin I can imagine because I can see how they all get started.  For some reason I seem to be able to pluck thoughts from my head and stare at them in wonder, thinking, "hm.... if I followed that particular thought, then I suspect it would lead me down this path to such and such a sin."  I don't feel particularly tempted to follow these thoughts, but it has made me pray very differently for the people that come to mind.

I used to cry out to God in my loneliness for relief, and sometimes I still do, but for a while now I've been praying to walk in it, to really feel it, to allow it to come close and follow me home.  I like to watch people, myself included, and I think I'm coming to the conclusion that most of the unpleasantness about people, most of my unpleasantness I should say, comes from trying to ignore the very thing that is bothering me.  If I feel like a failure, I will become ridiculous in my attempts to make myself feel better than other people.  If I feel I feel afraid, I will hide away from any chance I might get hurt.  If I feel lonely, I will heap activities upon myself until I drown.

And very much like I felt God had brought me to the edge of a vast desert some weeks back, I now feel   the sunbaked skin of my soul all blistered and peeling.  Sweet oases like I had a couple weeks ago are rare and treasured, almost intoxicating after such long spells of dryness.  But the vast majority of my life is spent trying to stay sane in the midst of so many voices of temptation.

The last word that I would use to describe my outward life right now is triumphant, in fact it both looks and feels quite the opposite.  Yet I feel no need to create a frenzy of activity so that I can live under the illusion of my life being other than it is.  Every self-help, motivational, leadership, and contemporary Christian book would probably tell me I'm not ____ enough (fill in the blank with your own adjective: holy, good, kind, funny, charismatic, etc), and I just need to ______ (fill in the blank with your own verb: pray, try, plan, research, etc).  But I have to say I think I am exactly where God wants me to be right now.  Maybe that's why I've decided to read only books whose authors are dead for a while.  These dead authors seem to be much less preoccupied with how to get something done and more concerned about walking with God.  Maybe I'm nuts, but they seem to be gnawing on the real problem instead of simply giving me more motivation to try harder in my self-delusion.

So I've been resting in Psalm 131:

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
Traveling through this desert is quite possibly the hardest thing I've ever done because every part of me wants to run screaming back to a mad, frenzied life of self-delsuion.  And yet it feels like home.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


In a couple weeks Emmett and I would have celebrated ten years of marriage.  For practical reasons, I can't usually make it to his grave site on special days, so in keeping with our tradition of never being able to celebrate our anniversary on the actual day, I headed over there last week while I was visiting the farm.  I smiled as I got out of the car.  Other people bring flowers, sometimes stuffed animals for children.  I brought an ice cold, glass bottled Cheerwine.  I could picture Emmett's smile.

I didn't say much, but as I sat there, I was struck by the change of my own heart.  Thomas Kelly says it well in A Testament of Devotion:
Yet God, out of the pattern of His own heart, has planted the Cross along the road of holy obedience.  And He enacts in the hearts of those He loves the miracle of willingness to welcome suffering and to know it for what it is - the final seal of his gracious love.  I dare not urge you to your Cross.  But He, more powerfully, speaks within you and me, to our truest selves, in our truest moments, and disquiets us with the world's needs.  By inner persuasions He draws us to a few very definite tasks, our tasks, God's burdened heart particularizing His burdens in us.
God is most certainly particularizing His burden in my heart, disquieting me with the world's needs and   simultaneously cultivating a holy longing for heaven.  

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


"Thirst" by Mary Oliver from her collection of poems entitled Thirst

Tonight I managed to overdose on three things: homemade kale chips, 80s music, and dancing.  I felt like the richest person in the world, so I took advantage of this little oasis of joy in my life to clean and organize, pray for friends and process so many good conversations I've managed to have lately.

When I was listening to this song: ("Desire" by Phil Wickham) at the gym today, it occurred to me that every conversation and so much of my reading lately has been about desire: misplaced desires, unmet desires, holy desires.

One particular question keeps bouncing around my head.  A friend asked how Christian men in her life could be so unappealing and the sinners so vibrant and transparent.  Because it's just absurd for me to even attempt to give dating advice, I immediately turned the question around and posed it about myself.  Why am I, as a Christian, often such an unappealing representative of Christ?  And then I found myself in a conversation with some close married friends about the roots of brokenness in marriage and the misplaced desires of men and women in relationships.  And I wondered why I so often desire the very things that destroy me and find myself powerless to resist them when I know I don't want these things?

I hope you weren't looking for answers.  Because I don't have them.  I mean, I get the big picture, sin entered the world and we became selfish and it was all downhill from there.  But once having found everything that my soul desires in Christ, then why is it so hard to keep my focus on him?

I've been dwelling in Psalm 119 lately, and not just because it's freakishly long and I'm mind-numbingly slow.  I keep reading parts over and over again, and I began to realize that this guy has these issues too.  In one verse he laments, "Oh! That my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees," and in another he says, "I have done what is righteous and just."  Which is it buddy?  The writer goes back and forth between pleading and declaring, courageous and fearful, victorious and defeated with dizzying speed.  The constant is this Psalm is not the situation of the Psalmist, but his desire.

Earlier this week a conversation with another single mom, I admitted that if it weren't for my love of Jesus, I would be all kinds of messed up (I may have inserted a Biblical reference to an unsavory character in Revelations that doesn't need repeating).  And as I pondered this thought and the struggles that I currently have with all kinds of desires, holy and otherwise, I feel fairly certain that God is not calling me to kill my desires, but rather to train them on himself.  It has been a wonderfully freeing thought to know that I am not killing off parts of me, though it sure does feel like it sometimes.

And all this swaying back and forth in my head and emotions isn't all because I'm crazy.  Well, maybe some of it is.  But to maintain the essence and fullness of all my desires while learning to train them on Christ, is like a kid trying to draw a straight line.  It's going to be full of wiggles.  But like every picture that Quinn draws for me brings me joy, God thinks my wiggly attempts at holiness are beautiful.  And he loves my desires, I'm convinced that is his favorite part of me.  He's just helping me remove all the ugly parts without losing any of the intensity.

So I'm tasting a small bit of what it must feel like for the Psalmist to be able to say, "I run in the paths of your commands for you have set my heart free," which of course only magnifies my desires to the point of feeling like I might explode if I don't make it to heaven soon.  No wonder John ended Revelation with the phrase, "Come, Lord Jesus."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

birthday insomnia

This summer I have what I like to call 2:30 am insomnia.  No matter how tired I am, if I go to bed before midnight, there's a good chance that I'll be up at 2:30 am.  It's turning me into quite a night owl because I've actively started staying up later since I'm not going to sleep anyway.  If it's a bad day, those painful hours of the morning are filled with anxiety and continual prayers for help and deliverance.  If it's a good day, like today, then I tend to smile and stretch and pray all sorts of random prayers.

Today is a good day, and not just because it's my birthday.  My heart is filled to overflowing for so many reasons, so I decided to sit on this, my new deck.

I know it doesn't seem like much, but it's a small picture of the ridiculous unnecessary extravagance of God's love.  The deck was a gift from Rodney and Stacy Kennedy who are raising money for their adoption through the Both Hands foundation.  An amazing group of contractors came out and donated their time building this deck and several dozen people helped take care of some lawn care needs I had.  It's absolutely the craziest idea ever - to raise money for an adoption by doing work on a widow's house.  No one understands it when I explain it to them, so you'll just have to read about it for yourself and hopefully be inspired to donate to the Kennedy's adoption because they're going to be amazing parents.

When you're a single mom and you have to remind your child to put on shoes to go on the deck so he doesn't get a splinter the size of a tent stake or put a hole in his foot from the nails sticking up, you sigh and think, "one day I should do something about this." Or when a friend goes to the emergency room for stitches after mowing your lawn while you're out of town and being nearly decapitated by one of your trees, you think, "huh that needs to be fixed."  But life is generally too big to wrap your mind around, so these things go un-fixed since feeding your kid and spending time with him are higher priorities.

But I'm not happy just because I got something new or because people were nice to me.  Yesterday I read a little book of collected letters and writings of Brother Lawrence, who lived almost four centuries ago, called The Practice of the Presence of God.  Whenever he was confronted with such amazing gifts from God, he would often respond:
It is too much, O Lord! it is too much for me.  Give, if it please Thee, these kind favors and consolations to sinners and to the people who do not know Thee in order to attract them to Thy service.  As for me, who has the happiness of knowing Thee by faith, I think that must be sufficient.  But because I ought not to refuse anything from a hand so rich and generous as Thine, I accept, O my God, the favors Thou givest me.  Yet grant, if it please Thee, that after having received them, I may return them, just as Thou givest them to me; for Thou knowest well that it is not Thy gifts that I seekst and desire, but Thyself, and I can be content with nothing less.
And some may say, sure, it's easy to say that when blessings overflow and people love you in all sorts of tangible ways.  But I remember another 4 am a little over six years ago when Emmett and I bowed our heads and sang the doxology after holding our baby girl while she died.  Or another 4 am a little over one year ago where I sang the doxology with family and close friends shortly after Emmett died.  And I'm confident that I can say with Job that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, may his name be praised in both circumstances.

Yesterday I was able to sneak away to the gym for a workout, which is too rare a pleasure in the summer months.  I put on my sparkly tutu (long story), started a new music running mix I finally got around to making, and determined to have a good long run (although long for me isn't really all that long for most people).  Now I have a tendency when I run to music that makes me happy that I grin like a fool (when I don't want to hurl, that is), and I can't help slightly singing along (although not loudly, I promise, especially since I'm usually wheezing).  Usually this isn't a problem because people at the gym have a quirky way of avoiding eye contact and remaining plugged into their iPods at all times.   But I happened to look over yesterday at the treadmill next to me and the little old man (precious!) didn't have headphones in.  If it had been possible to turn a deeper shade of purple (which it wasn't because I turn all sorts of ghastly colors when I exercise) then I would have.  So I just kept smiling like an idiot.

For once, though, I didn't really care about being ridiculous.  This is a season of life where I have learned to treasure joy when it comes, knowing that struggle and sin and sorrow are always near enough.  It's like learning to enjoy your new deck at 2:30 in the morning because if you went out during the day you would fry like a piece of bacon.  I need to learn to open my eyes to the unusual timing of the Lord and, like Brother Lawrence writes, to have a heart sensitive to God's presence in all activities and at all times.

Now it's time to go back to bed and sense God's presence in my sleep, hopefully.