Wednesday, July 30, 2014


From A.W. Tozer's Pursuit of God
Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring him nearer to our own image. The flesh whimpers against the rigor of God's inexorable sentence and begs like Agag for a little mercy, a little indulgence of its carnal ways. It is no use...
...Let the seeking man reach a place where life and lips join to say continually "Be thou exalted," and a thousand minor problems will be solved at once. His Christian life ceases to become the complicated thing it had been before and becomes the very essence of simplicity.
I snapped this picture about a week ago at Canaveral National Seashore, perhaps my favorite beach in Florida because it's National Park status keeps it relatively pristine. Watching children at the ocean is pretty amazing. Fear, wonder, and excitement mingle together in completely unselfconscious exploration. Quinn wanted to watch the fish swim by, dig for crabs, chase a manatee down the beach, play in the sand and waves and water. I loved how he would pick up even the most ugly, broken bits of shell and carry them cradled in his hands like precious treasure to safety. Quinn's first trip into the water was a combination of awe and excitement. He couldn't keep the grin off his face, but his steps were timid and many tiny waves sent him running back up to shore.

Holiness has been on my mind recently. A lingering awareness of the depth of my sin haunts me right now, and the Spirit seems to be opening my eyes to false motives, impure thoughts, and unkind words, so I spent some time looking over my notes from John Owen's Overcoming Sin and Temptation. When I focus on my sin, I'm overwhelmed by how deeply rooted are the currents of my sinful nature. Not content with just leading me into temptation, my own sinful nature tries to deceive me by covering up and excusing my sin so that I might be lulled into complacency, arrogance, and indifference. Owen's first admonitions for overcoming sin are about getting a clear sense of the danger of sin and its offensiveness that one might cultivate a desire for deliverance.

But if I cultivate any more desire for deliverance, I just might explode. I'm realizing more and more, though, that I often desire deliverance from the consequences of my sin rather than deliverance from my sin. I have been whimpering against the the rigor of God's inexorable sentence, begging for just a little more indulgence. So now I need deliverance from my deliverance. Sheesh. Good thing I'm not alone on this endeavor.

But something about this picture reminds me that if I, a broken sinful human, delight in Quinn's wonder as he plays on the seashore, how much more must God delight in me as I play on the edge of eternity. I may build castles that get swept away, store up treasures of little ugly bits of nothing, flee in terror from the tiniest of waves, and chase the shadows of larger wonders down the beach -- but in all of these things, he delights in me simply because I'm there.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

in love

There is something desperately beautiful about the wilderness. There is so little of it left on earth and almost none in my daily life. Winding my way through the tiniest part of the Okefenokee Swamp this afternoon via boat and tour guide made me long to get out in a kayak with supplies for a week or two and just lose myself in the swamp. 

But people have lost themselves in the swamp, which is the benefit of hiring a guided boat. You get to come out alive and hear the stories of those who barely made it out and others who were not so lucky.  We covered just a tiny part of the 438,000 acres in the reserve, and I was already lost in the endless trails of lily pads, with the cypress and pines trailing spanish moss and the purple bladderwort floating everywhere. Every bend looks the same, and every break hints at a trail that really isn't there. With weather already unusually low in temperature (anything under 90 is unusually low in South Georgia in the summer) and a storm rolling in, we were almost cold as we maneuvered through our tiny slice of swamp prairies. Imagine getting hypothermia in South Georgia in July. Never thought that was possible until today.

Despite the stories of people lost in the swamp, despite the threat of being alone in the dark among alligators and giant snapping turtles, and despite the bugs, I think I'm in love with the Okefenokee. I mean the Grand Canyon was beautiful and all, but she's nothing compared to the swamp.

I keep thinking of a quote from Hinds Feet on High Places. Since I don't have it with me, here's the best I can do:
Love is beautiful, but it is also terrible, terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemished or imperfect to remain in the beloved. 
I think that's why I'm in love with the wilderness. It reminds me of the terrible love of God. God's extravagant beauty is needlessly excessive, intricate in the tiniest of details, like how the flower of the water lily closes up each night, submerging itself at dusk and reemerging each morning. But his love is also harsh and demanding, stripping away sin and building holiness through any means available. And yet, like the call of the swamp, I want to pack my boat full of provisions and paddle off into his presence, even if it kills me. Because despite the devastating shame of sin, despite the grief of loss, and despite the pain of failure, I think I'm in love.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


You were taught, with regard to your former  way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4: 23-24

I have a strange love of cemeteries. There's one in Percy Warner Park I stumbled upon in college where I used to sit and read, perched on the wall under a tree near a man named Larken. I always wanted to name a child that, but Emmett was a little horrified that I would fall in love with a name on a gravestone. No idea why he felt that way. I popped into the Christ Church Burial Ground in historic Philadelphia (pictured above) on my trip there last week.  Ben Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried there. American revolutionary history always makes me a little teary eyed and patriotic. 

I had more time than expected to wander historic Philadelphia, and I was struck by how well the city had recreated history through exhibits, museums, storytellers, and actors. One particular exhibit at the National Constitution Center focused on slavery at Jefferson's Monticello, talking about the paradox of freedom in the life of the author of the Declaration of Independence. Upstairs from this exhibit is a round room noting the history of the Constitution and its many changes, including the 13th amendment that ended slavery, but what I'd never considered before was how complex and lengthy this transition was. Even before Jefferson, there was discussion of ending slavery, with the Quakers banning it as early as 1775, and numerous signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution noted the irony in personal correspondence but were unable to reach a consensus to effect meaningful change, despite knowing what was right. The frustration of holding such a passionate desire for change in parallel with the powerlessness to effect such change resonated in my spirit. To know and despise my sinful nature yet be so powerless to put on the new self is my deepest grief.

This week I'm at Carnegie Melon working on educational robotics. Outside my door is the CMU CHIMP robot, part of a multi year robotics competition where students have to create a robot that can negotiate a series of tasks a human might encounter after a natural disaster. This team has created a humanoid like robot that can climb over rubble, open doors, turn valves. It's pretty amazing stuff, but if you've ever worked on robotics or computer programming, you know how painfully tedious the process can be. One misplaced semicolon, one wrong line of code, and instead of opening a door, your robot spins in circles. It can be maddeningly frustrating, and yet this team has been working on this guy for more than a year, patiently testing and retesting, writing and rewriting the code. Such an unassuming display of patience was both humbling an maddening. 

In many ways I had the expectation that being a widow would be difficult, but being a widow is far less difficult than single parenting. Every once in a while I miss Emmett, but almost every day as a single parent brings me to the edge of crazy. This has been a hard year of parenting, with generational sins creeping into my parenting style, relentless work and school pressures causing tension, and bone wearying loneliness when disciplining Quinn. Traveling for work has offered me opportunities to rest, reflect, and pray, also probably saving Quinn from watching his mom experience a complete meltdown. 

These moments of rest have helped me persevere, but they have also deeply convicted me of the stranglehold sin has on my life. Wandering alone through the streets of a strange town, I am hard pressed on all sides with the depth and power of my sinful nature and its devastating effects on the people around me. My spirit has been groaning so loudly as I wait eagerly for my adoption as a daughter of Christ, the redemption of my sinful flesh, that I sometimes wonder if other people can hear it. I'm reminded of John Owen's work, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, and his description of the long, arduous battle that will claim every second of my life until I am made new. I am reminded by history that the fight is long, but it is not eternal. There will be an end. 
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by his Hoy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5: 3-5

Thursday, July 3, 2014

here I am

It's July in Nashville. I'm outside in sweats with a cup of hot tea. And I'm freezing. Somehow I can't wrap my mind around those three sentences ever possibly coexisting to form a truth about my life, and yet it seems to be true despite my inability to comprehend it.

I also can't seem to wrap my mind around these verses from Romans 5:
For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved through his life. Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
I memorized the first nine verses of Romans 5 like a pro, and then slammed my head up against the verses above. It's been two weeks and I still can't spit all the words out without sounding like a bad Yoda imitation. Two weeks on two verses? That's pathetic, even for me.

I was recently at the Stallings's farm in Georgia for a few days to visit Emmett's grandmother, pick blueberries, and see some family. I love picking blueberries, patiently hunting for the biggest, fattest berries, passing over inferior berries in a quest for a bucketful of absolutely perfect berries. That's somewhat of a challenge when quite a few of them don't make it past my mouth. If I'm not careful, when I find several together, one of those perfectly round, fat berries just might just roll right down my fingers and off my hand into the grass instead of into my bucket.  And then there's the sadness of picking one that is ever so slightly still pink - oh the awful sourness! Quinn dared me to eat one still green, and the mouth-puckering power of that little dude nearly glued my lips together.

I finished East of Eden by John Steinbeck while at the farm. Steinbeck is a master storyteller, weaving the lives of these amazing characters through a 600 page exploration of the Cain and Abel story. I'll spare you the analytical essay, but the central question of the story hinges on the word timshel, a loose translation of the original Hebrew word God uses in Genesis 4:7 to tell Cain what to do with the sin crouching at his door. Is God telling Cain that he must master the sin or is he promising him that he will be able to master the sin? The nuances here are important because there is little hope for the man who struggles with sin if God is using the imperative case here with Cain. Although people have spent their whole careers on that one word, I found it more interesting how each characters' behavior was dramatically impacted by whether he thought he was loved by his father. Where the father's love was not felt, jealousy and hatred and sin were not far behind. In fact, the ability to master sin seemed to hinge not on the presence of the father's love, but on the perception of the father's love by the son.

Ouch. Talk about a mirror to the soul. My holiness is in direct proportion to my perception of God's love for me. I've been swallowed up by a wide range of sin lately, overwhelmed and feeling generally unloved. Steinbeck's characters made me realize though that I wasn't felling unloved because I was mired in sin. I get myself all mired in sin because I'm feeling unloved. My misperception of God's love is not the effect of my sin, but the cause of it.

Memorizing Romans 5 has been like picking this beautiful cluster of berries only to have them roll out of my hands into the grass. I know there is something amazing there, but I can't seem to lay hold of the truth. It feels so obvious. If God sent his son to die for us while we were still sinners, then once we've been reconciled, he's going to save us through Christ's life too. I mean, duh. He knew what he was getting into. If he went far enough to die for me while I was still a schmuck, he's probably not going to leave the job half finished and give up on me now. And it's not just that he's not going to give up on me - read the passage again - it's how much more will we be saved. The saving isn't an afterthought or happy coincidence to the reconciliation in Christ, it's the whole point of the reconciliation  - so that we can be transformed.

So why can't I wrap my mind around it? Because my sin, God's love, Christ's death, my reconciliation and transformation - these things can't possibly seem to coexist in a coherent truth. It's like being cold outside in July in Nashville. Not possible. And yet here I am.