Thursday, February 28, 2013

show me how to die

My favorite recipe is Cook's Illustrated high roast chicken.  Right now it's in the oven, and I'm about to serve it up with some pan seared green beans and fresh fruit with homemade whipped cream.  All for a five year old who would rather have McDonalds.


You butterfly a whole chicken and roast it over potatoes in a 500 degree oven.  500 degrees?  Yeah.  The skin comes out a little charred, but the meat and potatoes are ah-mazing.  Really, you need to fix it for dinner tomorrow.  It's life changing. I swear.

It's not too much to say that I feel a little bit like that chicken in the oven right now.

Never read John Owen unless you're prepared for you sinful nature to regroup and attack with twice the fury.  It's one thing to acknowledge your sinful nature.  It's an entirely different thing to stir up the soil and wrestle with roots that have wrapped themselves so firmly around your heart and mind.  Learning the patterns you thought were healthy, or at least innocuous, are deeply rooted and unflinching in their desire to drag you away from Christ is humbling to say the least.  Seeing these roots rise up and strangle you with relative ease is heartbreaking.

I was reacquainted recently with this little gem by Audrey Assad from her album The House You're Building.  The chorus keeps running through my head,
"Bind up the broken bones.  Mercy bend and bring me back to life, but not before you show me how to die."
 This year has easily been the hardest of my life thus far, but even a barren desert has a certain kind of otherworldly beauty and a deep, rich fullness if you look closely.  I'm learning the lessons of the wilderness right now, the foremost of which is how to die.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

pinned down and beaten up

Shortly after Quinn was born, I went through a period where Jane Austen films were running in the background continuously.  I finally decided it was the music I loved because I didn't particularly care about the dialogue or even watching the movie since I'd seen them so many times already.  Emmett was traveling quite a lot, and I was working full time, not sleeping, and single parenting.  We had all the movies except the most recent Emma with Gweneth Paltrow, which we had trouble finding at the time.  On one of Emmett's days off, he wandered into a used movie shop in some random small town and happened to run across a copy.  He mailed it to me after watching it at least twice himself.  One of my favorite random facts about Emmett is that he loved romantic comedies way more than I did.

Emma is one of the few Austen novels that I like better as a movie.  I had read the complete works of Austen while nursing Quinn, and I found that particular book rather long and tedious even though I loved the others.  My favorite scene in the movie has always been the scene where Emma gets corrected by Mr. Knightly.  The way he rebukes her is profoundly beautiful, and there is a part right at the end where he says, "badly done, Emma, badly done."  And your heart just breaks because you know how much he loves her and how bad she feels about her behavior.  I've never mastered the art of rebuking someone out of love, but this was an excellent example.

Lately, I feel like God is saying the very same thing to me, "badly done, Wendy, badly done."  And not just because I have an over developed since of guilt, but rather because I truly have been extra sinful and ignorant and awkward and unrepentant.  If my life were princess school, which it kind of is, then I would be failing.  Big time.

Check this out from John Owen.  Of course.  He's talking about how sin manifests itself in the affections as an aversion to God:
It begins in loathness and indisposition; goes on with entangling the mind and affections with other things; and will end, if not prevented, in weariness of God, which he complains of in his people (Isa. 43:22)
And then in another place he says:
And here is the beginning of the apostasy of many professors [i.e. believers], and the source of many foolish sensual opinions.  Finding this aversation [i.e. aversion] in their minds and affections from closeness and constancy in private spiritual duties, not knowing how to conquer and prevail against these difficulties through him who enables us, they have at first been subdued to a neglect of them, first partial, then total, until, having lost all conscience of them, they have had a door opened unto all sin and licentiousness, and so to have a full and utter apostasy.
Wow.  Did you catch that?

What begins with the weariness and indisposition of our spirits to persevere in private spiritual matters of holiness and devotion, leads through small tiny steps of turning away because we are too weary or ignorant of the battle at hand to an ending of complete and total apostasy.  What begins as laziness in the heart ends as full on outward sin.
Even when convictions, sense of duty, dear and real esteem of God and communion with him have carried the soul into the closet, yet if there be not the vigor and power of spiritual life constantly at work, there will be a secret loathness in them unto duty; yea, sometimes there will be a violent inclination to the contrary, so that the soul would rather do anything, embrace any diversion, though it wound itself thereby, than vigorously apply itself unto that which in the inward man it breathes after.  It is weary before it begins. 
It is both freeing and terrifying to realize that the weariness and indisposition following me around like a psychopathic stalker is actually my sinful nature at work in every faculty of my heart and mind to draw me away from God.  It is freeing because if my sinful is working so hard against me, then I must be headed in the right direction, but it is terrifying precisely because the sinful nature is so insidious and powerful to distract me.  Each step towards apostasy is so small and logical and easy and inviting that I am halfway there before I have any sense of what I have done.

Moreover, it is not enough to have a heart that wants to be with God.  We have to be willing to do battle with the fiercest and strongest of enemies, that is ourselves, just to stand our ground.  And yes, I know the Holy Spirit helps me, but the battle is fierce nonetheless.  I love what Owen has to say about people who say they don't battle with sin:
It may be some will pretend they find it not so in themselves, but they have freedom and liberty in and unto all the duties of obedience that they attend to. But I fear this pretended liberty will be found, upon examination, to arise from one or both of these causes: First, ignorance of the true state and condition of their own souls, of the inward man and its actings towards God... Or secondly, it may be [the case that] whatever duties of worship or obedience such persons perform, through want of faith and an interest in Christ, have no communion with them; and if so, sin will make but little opposition unto them.
In other words, if you're not sensible of the battle, then you're not in the fight, either because you don't know the enemy or you only pretend to know God.  I should quickly point out that he is NOT saying that moments of peace and rest mean you aren't walking in the Spirit, but he does say that one should be sensible of the battle even when not overwhelmed by it.

I am just discovering numerous ways that, because of the temptations arising from the physical weariness of sickness in the past couple months, I have succumbed to numerous temptations of spiritual weariness.  Small deviations from personal prayer and devotions, from a constant inward watchfulness over my sinful nature, from a patient cultivating of love for God's beauty; all these were deviations so small I never even thought of them as turning away from God.  Surrendering to sin in these small battles has manifested in private, insignificant ways like the inability to control what I eat or how much I spend and in much more harmful ways like using ungracious words against people I am called to serve in love.

I'm glad I've been memorizing the Armor of God passage from Ephesians 6 lately.  Initially I thought I was wimping out on memorizing the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.  But after I memorized the Beatitudes, I just felt an overwhelming urge to memorize the last part of Ephesians 6.  I am in love with verse 13:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
I am learning that the day of evil is always dawning in my heart, and it takes a lot of intentionality just to stand.  This morning I am also thankful I memorized Hebrews 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful man so that you will not grow weary and lose heart...
Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about how God disciplines those he loves.  For some reason those words were immensely comforting to me after Emmett passed away.  I'm learning that discipline and rebuke from a heart of genuine love is one of the most beautiful, tender, and intimate interactions you can have.  I think that's why I love that scene from Emma so much.

Quinn woke up this morning and told me about a bad dream he had.  In the dream he went to Bible study and people kept punching him over and over.  When I asked him if he fought back, he said he wasn't able to fight back because people kept holding his arms down and he couldn't get free.  I was blown away.  That is exactly how I feel right now, pinned down and beaten up by sin, unable to break free because, through lack of watchfulness and prayer, I have taken myself out of grace and sold myself back into prostitution, just like Gomer.  And this morning I am so very thankful to have a God that loves me enough to buy me back when I least deserve it, even if it means a slow, humble, pathetic crawling back out the pit of sin and shame.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

my crazy filter

Sometimes I cradle my cup of tea, rocking back and forth ever so slightly, like a patient recently escaped from the asylum.   I close my eyes and focus all my mental ability on reaching past the crazy in my head towards that unmoving yet unreachable object just beyond my grasp.  On a bad day, I come up with nothing except more crazy.  On a good day, a really good day, I laugh.

I shouldn't say day in that sentence, really, I should say moment.  Today I've wanted to sink into my bed and never get out.  I've wanted to dance.  I've wanted to die.  And I've wanted to sing and run and throw up and quit my job and bake a cake and eat a cake, have twelve more kids, leave Quinn with a friend and run away to Kansas.  That's a lot of emotion for one day.  Welcome to my crazy.

Instead, I got Starbucks, went to church, took a nap, and played with Quinn.  I guess my crazy filter is working.  for now.

I've been reading John Owen.


Don't act so surprised.  You knew I had an addiction problem.  Listen to this:
In this unsearchable heart dwells the law of sin; and much of its security, and consequently of its strength, lies in this, that is is past our finding out.  We fight with an enemy whose secret strength we cannot discover; whom we cannot follow into its retirements.  Hence, oftentimes, when we are ready to think sin quite ruined, after a while we find it was but out of sight.  It has coverts and retreats in an unsearchable heart, whither we cannot pursue it.  The soul may persuade itself all is well, when sin may be safe hidden in the darkness of the mind, which it is impossible that he should look into; for whatever makes manifest is light.  It may suppose that the will of sinning is utterly taken away, when yet there is an unsearchable reserve for a more suitable object, a more vigorous temptation, than at present it is tried with.... It can lie so close in the mind's darkness, in the will's indisposition, in the disorder and carnality of the affections, that no eye can discover it.  The best of our wisdom is but to watch for its first appearances...
The larger context is a discussion of Romans 7 and the nature of indwelling sin in the life of a believer, but the real shot to the kidneys is that he is explicitly talking about professing believers, people who want to love Jesus.  In other words: me.  People outside of grace have no context for talking about sin.  In the same way that a fish swimming with the current has no understanding of that current until he tries to swim upstream, a person has no understanding of sin and temptation until by grace, he tries not sin.  Then, whammo!  Enter the big fat current of my sinful nature dragging me off to who knows where while I try to wriggle my little tail fin to get somewhere.

And while that should feel very convicting, it was actually quite encouraging.  In one of those lightbulb moments, I had two thoughts.  First, relief - "Oh, that's why this life is so freaking hard, at least I know I'm on the right track because my sinful nature is in overdrive working so very hard against me." Second, despair - "Aw, crap.  This isn't going to get easier."

I mean, I can't even trust my crazy filter, and if my crazy filter is broken...  Well, what happens then?

I was talking with a counselor friend about marriage for a Bible study she's leading, and it occurred to me that all my problems come down to the fact that so much of my crazy filter (and I suspect your's too if you're honest with yourself) has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit.  And I repeat, if I can't trust my crazy filter, then I just don't know what to do with myself.

And don't try to give me some pat answer that makes you look all super spiritual.  Because telling me to read my Bible and pray may sound like the right answer, but it's really you just telling me your crazy filter is broken too, so you're no better off than me.  Besides, everything I read and pray gets filtered through that crazy reclusive sinful nature of mine that's just as happy being a self-righteous prig as it is being a psychopath.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to hide under my bed.  Forever.  And despite all the reading and praying and asking and searching... I still have no answers.

I met with a friend earlier this week who is going through all sorts of family medical drama.  We swapped stories of awkwardness so shocking you could only laugh about them.  I haven't experienced it much first-hand recently, but I was reminded at how long term illness bothers people because they want nice, neat answers.  People used to ask Emmett and me all the time how many more rounds of chemo he had.  When we would respond with, "well, until God heals him or he dies," you could see how uncomfortable it made people. Where did we get the idea that faith involved having all the answers wrapped up in a nice, neat package with a bow worthy of Martha Stewart perched on top?

I am such a mess right now.  I feel like a caged nut case.  I have no idea what God is doing in my life or heart.  I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing this minute, much less next week.  And if you look at me the wrong way, I'm equally likely to burst out crying or start laughing uncontrollably.  My crazy filter is broken, just like everybody else's - except that I have no desire to pretend it isn't.  Which leaves me at a complete loss for what to do next.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


I should have known that it was going to be a rough year when, two weeks into kindergarten, Quinn got strep throat on my first day of school.  Strep throat for both of us, a couple random fevers for Quinn, two broken arms, a never-ending sinus infection for me, and now another fever - possibly the flu- for Quinn.  Seriously?

My soul, like my body and my mind these days, is limping along as I begin to understand more and more of the emotions Emmett had to fight every day when he woke up sick.  Although I'm sure I have lots of mental problems, I haven't really struggled with depression.  Moodiness, stupidity, and a general lack of social skills - absolutely, but never really depression.  With all the physical tolls on my body this year, though, I've seen how much my mental state depends on my health.  I'm understanding why Satan wanted to tempt Job to curse God by attacking his physical body.  It's one thing for the world to fall apart around me, but it's another thing for my body to work against me.

And as much as I feel like an insect wriggling under God's thumb waiting to be crushed, I know this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.  I just really wish the pressure would stop rising.  Because every once in a while, you just need to want to get out of bed and something about being physically sick has reminded me just how much I want to get out of bed.  And lately, I've needed that reminder, so I'm thankful even for sickness to remind me that today is its own gift.