Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Corrie



I was named after Corrie ten Boom.  (Chloe Ferguson being a pen name I assumed to maintain some anonymity, mainly for my kids' sake.)  With age has come increasing awareness of the honor of such a namesake.  How I would love to approach life with Corrie's faith, submission, and strength.  Yet how I shy away from anything closely resembling discomfort, let alone the type of horror that I think ultimately shaped Corrie into who she was.

We've been having repeated conversations around here about the sort of wrapping paper God uses on His gifts.  Both the kids and I need a reminder that regularly, God wraps His packages in all sorts of ugly.  And like walking past a diamond because it's caked in muck and mud, we miss out on incredible blessings if we refuse to press through the messy, sometimes painful wrapping, and look for the gift buried inside.

See, God uses the yuck in our lives to make us into who He needs us to be.  Alan Redpath says, "When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible person and crushes him."

Corrie would simply be a watchmaker's daughter without her stand of faith that landed her in Ravensbruck ... a horror that opened the door for her to inspire thousands and glorify God's name.

And Joseph would merely be a pesky little brother with a colorful coat, and Esther would be Hadassah the Jewish refugee, and David would be a lowly shepherd, and Moses would be an adopted Egyptian royal and the list goes on.  But because of the trials and tragedies and even horrors that God allowed in each of these Biblical greats' lives, they became infamous men and women, inspiring fellow believers down through the centuries to press on toward the prize.

So where does that leave me?  I still am pain-averse, longing to find the magic ticket that delivers spiritual maturity wrapped in a pretty little comfortable box.  Unfortunately, I see no Biblical promise suggesting such a thing exists.   And so, I too press on, discovering that praise is only a sacrifice when said through tears at the end of oneself, trusting that God will do a magnificent work through the impossible situations in my life.

A lyric from a song on the radio today lingers long after the notes fade.   "The more broke you are, the more the light gets through."    I think Corrie would agree.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

When Christmas Seems Cruel



Several times since Thanksgiving I have turned on the Christmas music only to immediately punch it off again, opting for silence over seemingly superficial merriment. Usually, Bing, Nat, and Dean are chums I welcome each December.  This year, however, their cheery voices have at times felt more intrusive and mocking than merry. Because the mess of life doesn't vacation at Christmas.  People still senselessly kill other people, disease tears apart families, and the world aches with longing for a Saviour.

I've seen and spent more tears the last month than seems fair for this time of year ... A friend chokes out a dire prognosis, family quakes with incomprehensible tragedy, elderly eyes puddle as a woman explains she's outlived her loved ones, the news announces another shooting rampage.  And Longfellow's words penned in the thick of loss 150 years ago flit through my mind, and I sigh, identifying.

And in despair I bowed my head.  
"There is no peace on earth," I said.  
"For hate is strong and mocks the song 
of peace on earth, goodwill to men."  

I start to explain to the kids why I don't feel much like decorating, why I'd prefer to pull my blankie over my head, stick my fingers in my ears, and sing "la la la la la".  But even as the words are on my lips I realize that's not fair to them.  They need a reason to celebrate.  We all do.

A. W. Tozer said, "It is doubtful God can use anyone greatly until He has hurt him deeply."  I partly recoil, partly rejoice hearing that.  Afterall, who asks to be crushed, wounded, broken?  But in the truth of Tozer's statement, lies hope.  Hope that at least this pain has a purpose.  That it's not wasted. That beyond my limited understanding and vision, there is a sovereign and loving God who still has all this turmoil under control .... and even more has a great and glorious plan in it all.  The end-story has been written.  And it ends well.

Like a whisper across snow, it occurs to me.  I have more reason to celebrate this year than perhaps any other.  Because 2000 years ago, a wee babe was born in a dank, dark stable descending into our dank, dark, sinful world to shine a light of hope.  And that Light is still shining into our dankest darkest situations, delivering purpose, light ... hope to the pain.  Celebrating Christmas this year may look and feel different.  It may be done with a bittersweet ache, a true sacrifice of praise.  But because of the Christ of Christmas there is reason to celebrate!

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor does He sleep
The wrong shall fail
 The right prevail 
With peace on earth, good-will to men!




Friday, November 20, 2015

Celebrating the Moment



A friend commented today that I hadn't written in a while.  I hadn't realized that it has been nearly a year since my last post.  Gadzukes!  I used to hear my grandparents comment that the older they got, the faster time passed.  I thought it was a quirky quip of my elders.  Now, I'm discovering they were right.

While I have had many periods over the last year of feeling like I had nothing to say, more so, I have realized that I am most inspired in the crisis moments.  God has a tendency to show up greater when I'm floundering and at my whit's end (or more accurately, coming to the end of myself, I can see Him).  I stopped writing in those moments because I didn't want people to think that my life was just one crises after another, that I was some sort of drama queen craving attention.  But perhaps that was wrong.  Perhaps I was silencing my original intention with this blog ... that God would be glorified through the messes in my life.  Maybe I lost sight of that.

This year has been one of learning to be thankful for and in the moment.  Of looking for the gift even in the yuck.  Of floating my way through life like a balloon, unburdened by worries or cares because I have cast them on Him.  I would love to announce that I have learned the lesson, can check that one off my list and move on to the next.  Not so.  Every day presents a battle, some bigger than others, and God seems to offer frequent opportunities to practice the lesson He wants me to learn.

Today, thankfully, I am at peace.  Because I know so well the restlessness of fear and anxiety, peace's presence is so, well, peaceful!  Circumstances may be anything but peaceful with outstanding medical tests, unrest in the east, tragedy in Paris, etc yet I serve a God who offers a peace and rest that we, in our finite minds, cannot comprehend.  How grateful I am for that gift.

So this evening, I will rejoice in the little things ... the gift of song, croakily crooned by a sick boy cuddled on the couch playing Lego Star Wars; rich comforting soup on the stove; a reprieve from the gray drippy skies; coffee with a good friend; the dog at my feet ... and I will give thanks for the rich, abundant life that is mine, only by His grace.

Friday, January 9, 2015

...her floors are sticky and she laughs a lot



It's Friday night, the fireplace is ablaze, and I'm curled on the couch, legs and feet tangled in a blanket with those of a lanky seven year old.  I think a stuffed snowman is cuddled in here somewhere too.  Empty pizza boxes litter the counters, paper plates scatter the floor.  Jammies replaced jeans much before bedtime and the kids and I are settled in to enjoy our end of the week movie night.

It has been a long week of sick kids and late nights, unfinished to-do lists and traitorous hormones.  I have spoken out of turn, given stress the upper hand, forgotten 2 Peter 1:3.  I need this cozy down time as much as the kids.  And so, I have given myself (and thus the rest of the family) a (guilt-free) gift this evening:  the luxury of paper plates, take-out, and each other.  The list of chores can wait until tomorrow (or Monday!).  I am relishing the peace of the undone.

This summer when we were traveling, I ran across a mug with this quip:

"apparently she gave up on being perfect because her floors are sticky and she laughs a lot."  

While witty and cute, it resonated.  How many memories have I soured or missed because I was focused on messes or chores, needing to finish one more task, wanting everything "just so"?

So potential visitors beware ... I am learning the art of dancing on sticky floors.  If you come to my house, you may find dishes in the sink, dog hair on the carpet, and clothes in the laundry baskets ... and laughter in the halls.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Reflections



It is the first night I've sat quiet under the Christmas tree.  The kids are tucked snug in their beds, the house is still, the lights dim.  This is my favorite part of the season, the reward at the end of my to-do list, the reason I (try to) start planning for the holidays early.  There is something peaceful and reflective and cozy about this setting, something that seems absent or overlooked the other months of the year.  Perhaps this peace is always available and it's seeming allusiveness is my own doing, as I'm distracted by the glitz of the TV or the false need for noise, oblivious to the fact that I'm exhausting my soul rather than feeding it.  Or maybe it's that God in flesh seems so much tangible this time of year, the reality of a mighty God entangling Himself in human flesh to free me from the entanglement of sin.

And so I sit under the tree and reflect, consider the life God has given me.  I am blessed beyond description, although sometimes it's hard to recognize the blessing in the normal without stepping back and looking with new eyes.  The weight of the day-to-day tries to overshadow the grace God weaves through the mundane.  Tonight, I am keenly aware of that grace as I look at the ornaments on the tree, recognize the passage of time each represents.

When I was a new mom, strangers would stop me, and they all offered the same message: "enjoy it, they grow so fast."  And I'd smile and nod and wonder if they had any idea how exhausted I was, how tired I was of wiping noses and bottoms and sticky floors, how time must be treating me completely different than it did them.  And then suddenly twelve years have passed in an instant and instead of wiping noses and singing lullabies, I'm having tough conversations that range from sin and atonement to mini-skirts and the opposite sex.

As I sit under the tree tonight, I realize that while I was deep in the toddler trenches longing for sleep, I was wishing away precious moments.  In retrospect, I see that those strangers were trying to tell me to embrace even the mundane moments;  to slow down, ignore the piles of laundry and cheerios on the floor and be fully present with my children.  I regret that often times I felt I had nothing left in me to do just that, to have the conversations at bedtime, to laugh and be silly and enjoy the chaos that was my life ... ultimately to find beauty in that chaos.

While I'm out of the toddler trenches (and admittedly, it's hard not to say that without doing a bit of a happy dance), life comes so fast, it is easy to let the moments pass and simply ride the momentum.  As I see the rate at which my children are growing, I'm trying to get off the ride.  I'm discovering the value of playing Legos past bedtime, of postponing my to-do list to address the deep questions, of reading to them while they still want me to.  Part of me feels like I'm starting all these practices a little late.  But regret will accomplish nothing, so I push on, thankful that God is opening my eyes and rearranging my priorities before I lose any more time.  I know I will have setbacks, nights that I go to bed frustrated with myself.  But my prayer is that next year, as I sit quiet under the Christmas tree, I will be able to look back at a year full of seized opportunities, deep conversations, and abundant laughter.  That God's grace will be woven through our chaos with a scarlet thread proclaiming His intimate involvement in our lives.

Merry Christmas!




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My Source of Life



I pulled into the gas station this morning, the 5 miles 'til empty light daring me to test its accuracy.  Rolled down the window to place my fuel order with the attendant, only to realize I had parked with the wrong side of the car facing the pump, testimony to my distracted state.  I was running behind.  The gas station attendant was not.  He could have been on vacation-time at the rate he ambled across the expansive station to get to my car, the only customer.  I tried not to be impatient.  I had just left Bible study, after all.

When he struck up a conversation I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I needed to slow down, and gave the moment back to God.  He asked me if I had just gotten off work and was heading home.  It was one of those split-seconds filled with 100 possible answers.  Should I tell him where I had been?  "I've been at Bible study," I responded.  His eyes lit.  For the next 15 minutes he talked about his new relationship with God.  He had just started reading his Bible.  He had started praying.  God was answering his prayers in miraculous ways.  He couldn't wait to tell me, a stranger.  I tried to wrap up the conversation several times.  I had a coffee date with my Bible study friends to get to.  He had no interest in me leaving and ironically no other customers arrived to distract him.  I allowed the chat to continue.

In the end, I missed my coffee date.  Yet while disappointed, I was at peace.  I couldn't ignore the fact that God gave me something in its place -- a reminder that His agenda is far superior to mine ... if I'll give Him the reigns.

The other day I was listening to author Ted Cunningham talk about marriage.  He made a profound statement that has kept returning to the forefront of my thoughts.  He said marriage will always be frustrated as long as we're looking to our spouse for our source of life.  While definitely true of marriage, I can see how this truth applies to so many additional aspects of life.

Since hearing that message, I have added a new inner dialogue.  When the kids are growly and complaining I say to myself "they aren't my source of life.  Christ is my source of life.  My joy and contentment come from Him not them."  When my spouse is out of sorts I say to myself, "he is not my source of life.  My joy and contentment are found in Christ.  I don't have to feel weighed down because he is."  When my body is dragging and I'd rather curl up by the fire than fix dinner, I say to myself, "God, You are my source of life.  Please help me serve my family joyfully even when I don't feel like it."  When my agenda is interrupted, I say to myself, "as much as I like to have a tidy little world with predictable schedules and marked to-do lists, my agenda is not my source of life.  God may have something better if I invite Him into my schedule.  Slow down.  Be flexible."

I could have missed an opportunity today.  Had God not been reminding me to be plugged in to Him, I could have easily rushed on my way, frustrated by the slow service at a gas station.  Instead I made a new friend, encouraged a brother in Christ, and went away encouraged myself.  God is good.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Israelites 'n' Me



"Why couldn't the reprieve have lasted a little longer? " I was throwing myself a five-star pity party, confetti and all.  We had finished a much needed week just the two of us, the kids farmed out to grandparents.  No sooner had the little one gotten back, and she was complaining of a sick stomach.  I watched the days' plans of me and sunny berry fields dissolve as she curled up in bed.  It seemed like all the relaxation and rejuvenation of the past week vanished in an instant, and I was frustrated.  Yet in those frustrated moments as I whined in the shower (all the while knowing I should be surrendering my plans to Him), I recognized something in myself.  During the vacations of life, it's easy to get caught up in the fun and ease and put God on the back shelf.  Frighteningly easy.

As I was working on my summer study of Nehemiah this morning, it struck me how the Israelites suffered the same malady.  Nehemiah 9 gives a rich, concise history of God's people, a history that seems to be a cycle of God's blessing, Israel's rebellion, God's discipline, Israel's repentance, God's forgiveness and blessing, Israel's rebellion .... repeat.  Verse 28 says, "...as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in Your sight..."

As much as I don't want to see myself in that cycle, I admit I can.  I'd love to say that I feel closest to God during times of ease and smooth sailing.  Sadly that often is not the case.  While there are easy times in which I am overwhelmed by God's provision, rest, reprieve, I usually walk closest to God when times are challenging because I'm forced to press into Him.  And somehow He miraculously infuses a sweetness into trials that makes those difficult times stand highlighted in my memory far more than the periods of calm waters and favorable winds.

Perhaps God does not allow the reprieve to linger for my benefit.  Perhaps it is one of the mysteries of His sovereign love for me.  As contradictory as it sounds, He's doing me a favor.  Protecting me from the pride (Deut 8:12-14) that lurks behind a life of ease.  In his sovereign and omniscient way, He's balancing mountains and valleys to strengthen my spiritual muscle, to shape this lump of clay to resemble His Son.

Somehow I think when we read about the abundant life Jesus promises, we see it through the lens of American culture, lumping together Jesus' abundant life and the fulfillment of the American Dream.  Surely, in so doing, we commit a grave error, one that results in some measure of doubt and second-guessing when trials come and we're left reeling.  We'd be doing ourselves a favor if we soon welcomed the speed-bumps.  Like a splash of lemon juice to a berry pie, those sour times accentuate the sweetness of God in our lives, delivering true abundance.