Monday, December 21, 2009

New Account

I transferred my Blogger account to a new e-mail address. This required deleting the account I previously posted from. However, this is still me. Hopefully, now that Christmas break is at hand, I'll be able to contribute once again to this rather scanty blog.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Steel in my Back: Strength and the Weaker Vessel

I love strong women! I think they are magnificent testimonies to Christ. Because if they are complementarian – which I hope they are at our church – then they are combining things the world can’t explain. They are combining a sweet, tender, kind, loving, submissive, feminine beauty with this massive steel in their backs and theology in their brains! I grope for ways to celebrate and articulate such magnificence in women. ~ John Piper
Ah, to be that kind of woman! I was not too surprised to find the above quote in a book I’ve been reading, as God has been bringing to my mind the contrast between strength and weakness a lot lately.

I recently had a conversation with a guy friend about the differences between men and women. My position, grounded in 1 Peter 3:7, is that the woman is the weaker of the two. My friend argued for equality in strength. In the end, we agreed to disagree.

Not long before that, another guy friend attempted to complement me for my strength during a particularly difficult situation. I was somewhat confused, since strong was the last thing that I was feeling at the time.

Throughout my life, I have wavered between strength and weakness. Growing up on a small hobby farm, I learned at a young age to handle hard things. I’ve always been squeamish, and I’ve always had a weak stomach, but I learned that if I grit my teeth, there are few things I can’t do.

But as empowering as that sounds, I don’t have a heart of stone. Life is bumpy, and more often than not, it’s painful. As a Christian, I’ve found myself frustrated sometimes by my womanly emotions. I’ve wanted to be the kind of woman who walks through persecution with praises on her lips and doesn’t bat an eye when her world gets turned upside-down. But, as hard as a try, the best I can do most of the time is make a good show of strength in the day and have a good cry at night.

For some reason, the past few days I have found my emotions identifying with a scene from the classic movie, Gone With the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara runs out on her job at a military hospital, leaving a doctor waiting for her help with an amputation.

Scarlett: Let him wait, I'm going home, I've done enough. I don't want any more men dying and screaming, I don't want anymore. …

Dr. Meade:
What is this? You ain't planning on running away?

Scarlett: And don't you dare try to stop me. I'm never going back to that hospital, I've had enough of smelling death and rot and death. I'm going home, I want my mother. My mother needs me.

Sometimes I feel like I am working in a military hospital, walking up and down rows of dying people, listening to their screams of pain. I am blessed if they let me wash or bandage a wound. Most of the time, they refuse help at all, maintaining there is nothing wrong.

Most of the time, I’d rather be in that hospital than anywhere else. Most of the time I pray that God will give me more patients. Most of the time I am strong.

But sometimes, I’m tired of the dirt and blood. I long for clean things and healthy, happy people that don’t need help. Like a spoiled southern bell, I feel like stomping my foot and saying, “I don’t want anymore. I’ve done enough. I want my mother.”

Sometimes I don’t feel strong.

Then it occurred to me. Strong isn’t a feeling.

Being strong doesn’t mean I’m not weak. It doesn’t mean I don’t cry. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel pain. Real strength is right action despite pain. Strength is a part of grace, a gift from God. Jesus, who was God Himself and Strength incarnate, is known for His passion – His pain. Yet, He was sinless. He didn’t pout or say He wanted to go home. He didn’t get tired of our dirt. Instead, He shed His own blood, washed our wounds, and made us well.

As a woman, I am the weaker vessel. I feel emotions differently than a man, and I am overwhelmed by them more often than a man would be. Yet, God made me that way. It is part of how I image God. For, in that weakness, God is all the stronger.

Recently, as I was wishing I didn’t have to work in this hospital, a fragment of Matthew 9:12 flooded my mind.

"It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.”

We aren’t here on earth to feel happy all the time. Christians, particularly, are called to a life of suffering. Jesus called His followers “those who mourn.” He also called them “blessed.”

And sometimes, in that mourning, we feel weak and hardly able to overcome. But, the yoke we carry is easy and light – easy and light because it is His massive steel in our backs. In Him, we can be magnificent women.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Autumn of the Soul: The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away

Photo by Southern Grace Photography

I have been before God, and have given myself, all that I am and have, to God; so that I am not, in any respect, my own … I have given myself clear away, and have not retained any thing as my own. ~ Jonathan Edwards
I have always loved autumn. It is my favorite season. The cool crisp air, the taste of spiced cider, the aroma of wood smoke that occasionally travels on a gusty breeze – as the July heat of high summer weighs down on me, I find myself already pining after each of these.

But perhaps more than anything, I look forward to the trees – to the vibrant reds, golds, and purples; to the sound of dry leaves rustling in the air and under my feet; to the sight of shimmering color swirling on the wind, round and round in a majestic dance. There are not words to adequately describe the sensations such scenes produce within my being. Peace and quiet joy – but also a poignant and almost sweet shadow. A shadow of mourning. After all, autumn is a time of death.

It costs something for the tree to shed its leaves. Each green blessing must be released into uncertainty. Still, the tree submits to the power of the wind.

Winter comes, and the trees stand bare, arms raised heavenward in anticipation for the promised life. They make a solemn and almost holy picture. Sometimes, though, that picture is marred.

Amongst the cleansed and empty upraised hands hangs a branch still clutching dead leaves. The only sound that interrupts the perfect peace and silence is the rustling of those withered fragments, the clamoring of a tree that loved its own life too much.

Too often, I have been that tree.

Too often I have held tightly to the blessings that God has placed in my life. After all, God gave this leaf to me, didn’t He? And look at what a good leaf it is, how it has provided beauty and shade all summer? Has it not glorified God? Has it not been fruitful? Besides, why would God have given me this leaf if He didn’t intend for me to keep it?

What all of these questions forget is that the “me” in question is not my own, but His. The tree belongs to nature and must submit to the force of the wind. I belong to God and must submit to the movement of His Spirit. My leaves are no more mine than I myself am mine. All is His.

Obedient trees seem to intrinsically understand what God’s servant Job did. When Job was told that everything was gone, that his family, his servants, his livelihood, and all his earthly possessions had been destroyed, he did not “sin or blame God.” He saw his leaves were blown away, and “he fell to the ground and worshiped.”

"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21b NASB)

Job understood that it was God’s right to strip him naked like a tree in winter. And when the spring came, “The LORD restored the fortunes of Job … and the LORD increased all that Job had twofold” (Job 42:10 NASB).

Autumn is beautiful, nature being led by God through the steps of a perfect dance. The baby greens that burst to life in spring and thrive to a verdant summer wither to be blown away by the autumn winds. Yet, the icy hands of winter’s deathlike sleep last only for a time, in turn being warmed by the sun which brings forth life. The leaves bud. The dance begins again.

A tree repeats this cycle each year. It does not faint, nor become weary. It grows, from a flimsy sapling to a king among flora. The tree stands – dying again and again through centuries, an ancient testament of life.

When we hold tightly to earthly treasures, even ones God has given us for a time, they wither in our hands. When we realize that nothing is our own and allow God to give and take as pleases Him, trusting in His perfect faithfulness, we grow. Like the tree, we stand, dying again and again each day, finding true life in Him.

When he surrenders all to God, the autumn of a man’s soul is beautiful.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flee from riches?

Photo by xJasonRogersx via Flickr

For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. ~ 1 Timothy 6:7-11 (NAS)
As I was reading through the above passage this morning, I was caught a bit off guard by Paul’s tone in discussing the desire for earthly riches.

I have grown up hearing the paraphrase: the love of money is the root of all evil. This proverb is tossed here and there around the church. Everyone is warned; don’t love your money.

I was struck this morning, though, by the cautionary tone Paul takes in not only forbidding the desire for wealth but also instructing Timothy to actually “flee” from such a desire.

Flee from even the desire for wealth?

I look around me at my often prosperity driven Church culture, and I have to wonder.

Far from a “fleeing” attitude, many churches promise earthly riches as a part of God’s blessing to a believer. Other churches seem to condone the pursuit of wealth, providing that people don’t love their money once they get it.

Christian entertainment often highlights families living in material prosperity. Last year’s big hit “Fireproof” showed how the pursuit of wealth added stress to the couple’s marriage, but there was no mention made of how such a worldly attitude ought to be repented of.

I can hear the questions. “How can it be wrong to want to live in comfort? Doesn’t God want me to be happy? Look at Jabez, God blessed him didn’t He? The Bible says I will be repaid for my generosity, doesn’t it?”

It seems that we are missing the point entirely. Paul and Timothy seemed to grasp an idea that we in the modern Church have quite forgotten. That truth is this: we belong to a different kingdom. We aren’t of this world, and we ought to remember that. Our eyes shouldn’t be on things below, but on things above. Later on in chapter 6 of 1 Timothy, Paul reminds people who are rich in this life to keep their hopes fixed on God and to store up treasure in heaven. And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that we should buy as if we did not possess, not making full use of this world.

Indeed, Christ Himself repeatedly told people to give up all worldly possessions to follow Him.

We have come a long way from Paul’s admonition that we should be content with food and covering. Today, “successful” Christian leaders live in million dollar homes, drive luxury vehicles, and wear designer clothing.

But at what cost have we tossed aside Paul’s warning?

Most obviously, the answer is time. The time that we should spend on our families, churches, and ministries is spent working long hours. And that’s saying nothing of the Spiritual wasting that results when we give our attention to anything other than our Lord and Savior.

It’s not that we shouldn’t strive for financial security. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that they were to work with their hands so that they would behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

The point is that we shouldn’t desire earthly wealth. Instead, our desires have to be centered on our true kingdom – we should “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” Only then will we live lives truly rich in Christ.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ruined: Church vs. Culture

"Well," [said Cathleen,] "this Mr. Butler took a Charleston girl out buggy riding. I never did know who she was, but I've got my suspicions. She couldn't have been very nice or she wouldn't have gone out with him in the late afternoon without a chaperon. And, my dear, they stayed out nearly all night and walked home finally, saying the horse had run away and smashed the buggy and they had gotten lost in the woods. And guess what--"

"I can't guess. Tell me," said Scarlett enthusiastically, hoping for the worst.

"He refused to marry her the next day!"

"Oh," said Scarlett, her hopes dashed.

"He said he hadn't--er--done anything to her and he didn't see why he should marry her. […]”

"Did she have a baby?" whispered Scarlett in Cathleen's ear.

Cathleen shook her head violently. "But she was ruined just the same," she hissed back. ~ Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

Times have changed since a single girl was “ruined” for being out late with a man.

In fact, times have changes since a single girl was “ruined” for living with a man. Today, the single girl can live with as many men as she wants before she settles down with one. And, if she decides she doesn’t like the one she’s settled down with, she can get rid of him and try another.

Today’s girl is never “ruined.”

The U.S. culture has long been influenced by Christianity. Today, all that is changing.

A hundred years ago, the U.S. society upheld virtues like sexual purity. Divorce was a family disgrace, and if someone “gave his word,” that really meant something. It wasn’t unusual to seal a deal with the shake of a hand. Today, you’re stupid if you don’t have a signed contract. If you can get it notarized, that’s even better.

Christianity’s influence on the culture has waned to say the least. On the other hand, the culture’s influence on Christianity is going strong. And for the most part, it doesn’t seem like the church even notices.

The U.S. church has been spoiled. Since the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we’ve had religious freedom with the added bonus of living in a society that upheld our morals.

Our fathers came from countries where they had to be countercultural. Today, we hardly understand that concept.
Like the girl from Mitchell’s story, the church is being led out into the night. If she is not careful, her Bridegroom will return to find her “ruined.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Spiders in the Night: The Secrets that Haunt Us

Photo by Ellyjonez via Flickr

I saw a spider last night.

It was after midnight. The house was dark, except for the corner of light that fell from the bathroom into the hallway where my mom and I stood talking.

It was a dark shadow, hardly visible, that scurried into my brother’s room. “Mom, there’s a spider. Quick, get me some tissue!”

I watched it until she returned. “Oh, I think it’s a recluse.” My mom turned on the light. “Oh, oh, oh, I can’t do it. It is a recluse. I need to kill it. Oh, oh!”

Luckily for me, my dad heard us and came to the rescue. He killed the spider. Then he looked it over and discovered it was, indeed, a Brown Recluse.

We had been concerned about the existence of the poisonous arachnid in our home. Several weeks ago, a bite had appeared on my ankle, looking suspiciously (according to my LPN father) like a recluse bite. I had tried not to think about it, though I had watched the bite with some concern.

I hate spiders. One of my most recurrent nightmares surrounds being attacked by spiders, being covered in them, finding them in my pajamas, etc. And, of all the eight-legged monsters, I have feared most the Black Widow, who’s bite can kill you, and the Brown Recluse, who’s bite can rot holes into your flesh.

I had tried to convince myself that the bite was not from a recluse. Now, it seemed clear it was. My dad, knelt to look at my ankle once again, and told me I was lucky. So far, there is no hole, just a dry patch of skin.

Then I went to bed. Or, I should say, I tried to go to bed.

First I pulled down all the bedding. Nope, no spiders there.

Then I reached my hands around the foot of the mattress, where I couldn’t see. No spiders.

I climbed in bed, then pulled all the bedding up onto the bed. I didn’t want the spiders to have an easy climb to me.

I laid my head on my pillows. My pillows! Could there be spiders in there?

I lay there in my bed, afraid. A grown woman, scared to death of spiders.

Spiders – tiny little creatures who hate me as much as I hate them.

Spiders – creatures that were in my home all along. I knew they might be there. I just hoped they weren’t.

Spiders – one of which my dad had killed. There were less spiders in my house last night than the night before.

Spiders – I had been bitten by one and lived to tell the tale.

People – what funny creatures we are.

It occurred to me, as I lay there thinking, that spiders are a lot like secret sins. They haunt the dark corners of our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. We know they might be there. We figure, they probably are. No one is perfect after all; we all have our own skeletons (or spiders) in our closets. But, we like to think they are only the harmless type – little ugly bugs we’d rather weren’t there, but aren’t going to do any harm staying where they are.

But sometimes, light falls on a dark place, and we see a spider.

Sometimes it is poisonous. And then, we can become afraid.

“Why God? Why have you let this spider in?”

Often we sink into our fear. We check our beds, climb under our sheets, pull the covers over our heads and hope to God the spider goes away, knowing all along it won’t.

Other times, we call our Father. And He comes in, and kills the spider.

But, instead of rejoicing in the victory, we can become timid. If there is one spider, there might be more. Who knows where one might be hiding? No place is safe – not even my own bed.

Oh, we of little faith. The spider was there all along. Now our Father has killed it. Why be afraid? We are safer now than before. Now is the time to rejoice!

And all along, we have the scars on our bodies of the spiders we have survived. Why, when God has protected and strengthened us for so long, are we now afraid? Again, I say – oh we of little faith.

There is darkness in the world. We are living in the night. And in the night, there are spiders. But thanks be to God that our lives are filled with light that reveals the spiders. Thanks be to God that we have a Father that never sleeps, but waits for us to call on Him to kill our spiders. And thanks be to God that He heals our bites and makes us whole again.

We have nothing to fear from spiders in the night.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Standing in the Hallway

Photo by Randy Son of Robert via Flickr

…the anxiety that shadowed too many of my days was that I should miss the path of righteousness. Better that anxiety, perhaps, than a cavalier carelessness, but the years since have proved to me over and over again that the heart set to do the Father’s will need never fear defeat. His promises of guidance may be fully counted upon. Does it make sense to believe that the Shepherd would care less about getting His sheep where He wants them to go than they care about getting there? ~ Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity
I remember my mother tucking me into bed when I was little, assuring me that airplanes really don’t fall onto houses very often, and that the trains I heard in the distance were much to far away to run into the house.

As I grew up, I learned Christ’s teaching on worry. We can’t make ourselves grow more with worry or make ourselves live any longer. Besides, perfect love casts out fear.

When I became a woman, I put away childish things. I think little of airplanes that pass by over head, and I find the sound of train whistles very soothing.

But though my childish fears were uprooted and thrown away, I have found that the fertile soil of my mind has sprouted new life.

While my earlier worries were obvious weeds in my spiritual garden, these new ones look suspiciously like the cultivated plants. After all, is not the desire for God’s will quite holy?

Yet, as I have examined this plant, I have found that its roots go down to a different system than those of the other garden vines. This weed is noxious, chocking out the nourishment from the other plants.

Its fruit looks like a desire for God’s will. But as soon as she who hungers for righteousness takes a bite of it, she finds her mouth full of bitter fear.

How do I know God’s will? What if I do the wrong thing? What if I fail?

I have found that life is a labyrinth of hallways lined with doors, with each door leading to yet another door-lined hallway. There have been times in my life when I have ran up and down a hallway, trying each door only to find it locked, beating upon the doors, crying out for God to let me out. But as terrifying as this scenario might seem, there is another situation that is far worse.

God always opens a door, and in the moment I am overwhelmed with joy and peace. I am out of the hallway, and I know beyond any doubt that I have done God’s will. After all, He only opened one door.

The waking nightmare that haunts my sleepless eyes these days is not the hallway with no way out. Rather, it is the hallway with more than one open door.

I stand there, heart racing, knees trembling, shivering with fear. Which door do I go through? Surely God has one that He has ordained. But which one? I cry out to God, but I hear no answer. I am paralyzed.

I was curled up in bed, reading Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity, a book I’ve long considered a favorite. I had thought about reading it again because it deals with the idea of making choices. And as a 24-year-old college senior, I find my life almost overflowing with choices right now. Then, when three people in three separate situations recommended I read the book in the course of a week, I thought perhaps God was trying to get my attention.

And, as I read the words of the above passage, I understood why.

I realized that God is with me in the hallway.

The hallway isn’t scary. It isn’t dark or dank. It’s lit brightly with the light of Christ.

Sometimes the hallway is right where God wants us. Sometimes we have to wait there for Him to open a door. Sometimes, we have to wait on Him to show us which door to walk through. Sometimes we have to take a step of faith and trust that God will intervene if we are making the wrong choice. But in each situation, we have nothing to fear. Our Father loves us. And, like any good Father, in His time, He will take our hand and guide us through the right door.

But until then, it’s okay to stand in the hallway.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Coming Soon

I am finally starting a blog. This site is a work in progress. Eventually I hope to post journal entries, creative and academic writings, and possibly book and movie reviews. All of this will take some time for a blogging newbie like myself. So, watch for updates!