Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent: One Lady Waiting


I recently participated in an online  discussion on Advent. It made me think.

During Advent, we remember Christ’s first coming. Also, we look toward His second, for which we are waiting. Waiting — that is something I am familiar with.

As a single woman, I am waiting for marriage. I may be active in doing things to help marriage happen. I may be praying boldly for God’s intervention. But all the same, I am waiting. And though I may try to just not think about it at times, it’s hard to forget for very long.

Yet, I often forget that I am engaged in another sort of waiting. As a part of Christ’s Bride, I am waiting for the return of my Husband. 

Am I actively preparing for His coming? Do I pray that the Father would send Him quickly?

Do I even remember that I am waiting for Him?

This Advent and in the coming year, I want to live more intentionally within the reality of this waiting. I am waiting for the advent of my King.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Easy, delicious lemon cheesecake

Tis' the season to bake. A lot. Here's a super easy treat to serve up when you are in a hurry!

Ingredients:
1 (9 inch) prepared graham cracker crust
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons squeezed)
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Directions:
Beat cream cheese with condensed milk. Beat in juice and zest.


Pour into pan. Chill. Top with whipped cream and serve!



You can view the original recipe here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

'Tis the season for hot food: slow cooker stew

We made a double batch of this stew for one of our Bible studies a few weeks ago. It's so good -- the perfect finish to a cold early winter day.

Ingredients:
2 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon seasoning salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package stew seasoning mix
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups beef broth
3 potatoes
4 carrots
1 stalk celery


Directions:
Put meat in slow cooker.


Mix flour, pepper, seasoning salt, and salt. Toss into meat.


Chop veggies. Add all ingredients to the slow cooker. Mix.


Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours or on high for 4 to 6 hours.


Enjoy!


You can view the original recipe here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thankful

Turkey. Pumpkin pie. Cranberry sauce. All the trappings of an American tradition, baked, stirred, and served up amidst a collection of family favorites. Is this Thanksgiving?

Don't get me wrong. I love the holiday. But amidst the ritual replay of traditions, it's all too easy to lose sight of the greater truth we are celebrating.

As I sprawled on my living room floor Thanksgiving morning, wrapped haphazardly in my bathrobe, hair a messy pile on my head, giving thanks was the last thing on my mind. I stared frustrated at the laptop screen, glancing repeatedly up at the flat screen TV mirroring my actions on the computer. I'd awakened early to help start breakfast and watch the parade. But now I didn't notice the smell of hot monkey bread beginning to drift through the house. The only thing I could think about was the stupidity of NBC's website. They said the parade would stream live. Well, where was the bloomin' link?

It's amazing how the little things in life can get to you. The traditions become weights, actions you must do or die. I was going to watch the parade. It was Thanksgiving. But the longer I scrambled from site to site, the clearer it was that I'd missed most of the parade. Finally stumbling onto a lame embedded video on NBC's New York affiliate, I magnified the small window for my dad and siblings sitting behind me. Disgusted, I picked myself up and headed for the shower.

I'd like to say at that point I straightened-up, repented of my sour mood and thanked God for all He'd done for me this year. After all, that's what happened. For a few hours.

But as the day wore on, my mind was pelted repeatedly with things I was not thankful for. Memories soured to bittersweet. Small splinters biting at the thought of them. Even the last two weeks had amounted to a string of days most of which I wanted to forget.

So I chopped veggies, smiled, laughed, and occasionally, smarted and stung. So much good from God. And so much bad from man.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

But even the bad, with God, can be good. Each small scar reminded me of how God had brought me through, taught me something, and made me stronger. Each bad day had been a lesson, an opportunity to forgive, an opportunity to repent.

And so as I sat down with my family for Thanksgiving dinner, I was thankful. Thankful for the good times we've had this year, as well as for the bad. Thankful that God loved me enough to walk me through both. Thankful that compared to most people in the very big world, my troubles are very very small.

After dinner we watched a movie, and I skimmed my Google Reader. My eye's caught on an entry in the Boundless Line, provakatively titled "Thanks for Nothing." Author Lisa Anderson echoed my thoughts:

As Thanksgiving is upon us, I’ve naturally been thinking about thankfulness. Without a doubt, I have many things to be thankful for. But I started thinking about the things I don’t have. The things I’ve been denied. And I’m thankful for those, too... Failures, disappointments, losses – all things that seemed devastating at the time, but now go on my growing list of things to be thankful for.
Thanksgiving day had dawned stormy outside. The rain softened into snow and laced the trees and rooftops as the day grew older. As I snuggled on the living room futon in the evening, surrounded by family and reading words of encouragement, I was truly thankful. God is good all the time.

I was also getting hungry. How about some of that apple pie...


You can view the full Boundless Line article here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mexican Bean Salad: Had to share this one!

My mom found this recipe online, and it's already become a family favorite. It's easy and delicious, not to mention healthy!


Ingredients:

Salad:
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 red onion
1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn kernels

Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons white sugar (I use Splenda)
1 tablespoon salt
1 clove crushed garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 dash hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:
Chop bell peppers and onion. Add corn.



Drain and rinse beans.


Combine with veggies. Mix dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Chill.


Enjoy!

You can view the original recipe here.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Autumn Reading: Paul E. Miller's 'A Praying Life'

God has always used books to bless me and mold me. The most recent is Paul E. Miller's A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World.

I read this section tonight, thoroughly enjoying Miller's summarizing of the Christian life. It's not exhaustive, but it's challenging. It's not comprehensive, but it's thought-provoking.

I thought I would share.
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, and 7 is a blueprint for getting in touch with your self-will and letting God take control. Jesus introduces us to what it means to be a child of our heavenly Father. To understand the sermon, think of your life as a room filled with open doors called money, sex, power, and fame.
Jesus begins the sermon by telling you he is going to go through your life and close all the doors to human power and glory. In the Beatitudes he says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). In other words, he is saying, "Give up power in relationships, and I will show you an entirely different way to do life. Don't be afraid of being a codependent, of disappearing. I will take care of you."
In the rest of chapter 5 Jesus closes one door after the other. He tells you to empower your enemies, those who abuse you, to think of their needs (5:43-47). If you suspect that someone is irritated with you, don't wait for that person to come to you; go to him or her even if it isn't your fault (5:23-24). Jesus closes the door to revenge, even emotional revenge through distance (5:38-43). And when you are selling something, don't try to get power over people by using oaths or by promising more than you can deliver (5:33-37). He closes the door to a secret life of sexual pleasure by telling you to remove your eye if it is looking at women to use them (5:27-30). If you do what Jesus says in chapter 5, you start to feel spiritual.
In chapter 6, Jesus deals with wanting to look spiritual. He tells you to keep your prayer life hidden so you don't use it to make yourself look good. If you pray, do it in private (6:5-8). If you fast, pretend you don't (6:16-8). If you give, don't tell anyone (6:1-4). Don't use spirituality as a means for getting power and glory. Jesus closes the door to getting our identity from your own righteousness.
Then Jesus closes the door to getting your security from money. Instead, he says, give your money away (6:19-24). Now that you've lost the security of money, you begin to panic an say, "Who's going to take care of me?" Jesus says, "Your Father will. Look at the lilies of the field. Seek my Father's kingdom first." So not only do you have to give up money, but you have to give up worrying about money (6:25-34). Two more doors close to human power and glory.
As you begin chapter 7, you have a new view of the world. You've learned how to put God at the center. Everywhere you look, people are so caught up with stuff. Now Jesus taps you on the shoulder and says, "Stop judging. When you see someone else's sin, instead of using that information to correct them, use that information to humble yourself by first finding the beam in your own eye." Instead of using your insights into other people's issues as a spiritual hammer, Jesus wants you to take these insights and deepen your own repentance (7:1-5). Argh! How do I do life?
Having closed all your doors, Jesus opens  the door to prayer and tells you how he gets things done (7:7). He asks for help from his Father. He talks to his Father and tells him what he wants. Prayer is the positive side of the surrendered will. As you stop doing your own will and wait for God, you enter into his mind. You begin to remain in him ... to abide. This is the praying life. (Miller 158-160)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kitchen trip to the Keys: Too easy lime pie

Last week, we took a trip to the Keys. At least, that's what it tasted like.

My mom found an incredibly easy and delicious recipe for Key lime pie. We tried it once ourselves, then made it again to share! The second time, I doubled the recipe, and it still turned out.

Ingredients:
1 (9 inch) prepared graham cracker crust
2 cans sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup Key lime juice (about 10-15 Key limes)
1 tablespoon grated lime zest

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grate lime peel to make zest. Squeeze limes to make juice. 


Combine condensed milk and sour cream.


Mix well. Then mix in lime juice and zest.


Pour into prepared crust. Bake for 8 minutes, "until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie." Do not brown.



Serve chilled. Top with whipped cream if desired.


Enjoy! I know we did. 

You can view the original recipe here.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My new piano

When I was about 9 years old, my family bought our first piano. It was an old player model, having belonged to a family friend. Two years later, we sold the instrument to move to north Idaho.

It wasn't a bad trade -- a piano for farm life on 10 acres. But I missed playing music, and after I sold my second 4H market hog, I bought a piano. Like my first one, it was about a hundred years old. Heavy, clunky, and full of character.

But, like all good things, farm life in Idaho came to an end. I sold my piano back to it's original family and headed east with the rest of my clan, back to the land of our heritage: the Ozarks.

That was in 2003. Since then, I have often thought of buying another piano. But with life as unsettled as it has been, first with finding the right town and then finishing college, I didn't put any real effort into the task. But for the last year or so, I've missed having a piano in the living room. I started praying about it. Being a poor college student, it wasn't something I could afford.

And God seemed to provide, through the willing vessels of my grandparents, who gave me a hefty financial present upon graduation in May. Finally, I thought, I would buy a piano. But it wasn't until the last month that I started reading Craigslist seriously, inquiring about many instruments. And I kept praying, all the while, that God would show me the right instrument -- the one He wanted me to have.

This morning was like many others. As I sipped coffee and flipped through social networking feeds and email accounts, I opened a tab for Craigslist. As usual -- I prayed God would show me the right piano.

He did.

A man named David was selling his mother's Kimball. 35 years old. Good condition. $1. He gave a phone number, but I replied with an email. I figured it was either junk or gone already.

It wasn't gone. It was just a couple miles down the road.

Now, it is in my house.







God answered my prayer in an unexpectedly tangible way. But knowing Him, why should I be surprised?


If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11 ESV)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another autumn day



It is Autumn. And, once again, I am captivated by his beauty.

The rustling of wind dancing in the trees and dancing with the leaves already resting on the grass or clothing the naked pavement. The crimson, gold, burgundy, chestnut, copper, and purple creeping down the tops of trees and tips of leaves like the whimsical stroke of an impressionist painter. The sun beaming in deepening blue heavens and falling through the thinning trees making shimmering pale shadows. The scent of earth and smoke drifting on the robust breeze.

I don’t know when I first loved this season. As a child I adored the heat and sun of summer, the escape from the confining walls of house and education. But I’ve always been enchanted by the refreshing cool of autumn, the calm of routine, the quiet of home after the rush of vacation.

This year has been one of change for me. As I gaze in the mirror of memory, I wonder at all that has passed these 12 months . I am no longer a college student, an English major, a college newspaper editor. So much that defined me is now reduced to a piece of paper packed in a cardboard box in the garage. And while I walk almost daily the grounds of my alma mater, I don’t know the faces I pass on the street.

But the trees are the same. And so is the wind. So the season returns, an ever changing constant. The year – God’s circular hourglass, ever tipping back and forth – recites the beauty of change and sings the glory of season.

Joy belongs to today, for it is almost gone.

Photo by Southern Grace Photography.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Only one?: God's sovereignty in matrimonial choice

“I thought,” (the Lady) said, “that I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things He sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms, as when we go swimming … It is a delight with terror in it! One’s own self to be walking from one good to another, walking beside Him as Himself may walk, not even holding hands. How has He made me so separate from Himself? How did it enter His mind to conceive such a thing? The world is so much larger than I thought. I thought we went along paths—but it seems there are no paths. The going itself is the path.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Perelandra

This week as I skimmed the discussion topics at a favorite social networking site, I came across an all-too-familiar question: “Only One?”

The responses were a parade of the usual quandaries: Is there only “one” person out there for me? Or am I to choose from among many? What if I marry the wrong “one”? Will my true “one” be left alone? What if I’m single because my “one” married the wrong person? Will I be left alone? What if my spouse dies and I remarry? Which one was the real “one”?

Like most singles I know, I’ve wrestled with these questions, searching scripture and pondering its implications.

As many on the thread pointed out, these questions are rooted in our understanding of one of the greatest theological debates of Christian history: God’s sovereignty vs. human free will.

I’d like to suggest another option – God’s sovereignty working with human free will. This idea is hardly original to me, yet it seems often neglected in this discussion of God’s sovereignty over our matrimonial choices.

C.S. Lewis illustrates this idea beautifully in his Perelandra (see introductory quote). We know that all good things come from God, and like Lewis’ Lady, we see the blessings roll into our lives like waves hitting a beach.

When it comes to who we marry, we know that God must be involved. As Christians, we recognized that marriage is one of the most sanctifying institutions we will ever be a part of. God knows who best we need to help us grow closer to Him. God also knows who we need in order to serve Him best, who has the talents and skills to best be united with our own. And finally, we know that it is God who creates man, generation upon generation. He knows the children he intends us to have, and whose genes need to combine with ours for them to exist.

This list is far from exhaustive, but already it seems obvious that God must be involved. But at the same time, experience teaches us we have choice.

We make choices every day. We choose when we will get up and what we will eat for breakfast. Throughout the day, we make hundreds if not thousands of tiny decisions. As Christians, we ask for God’s wisdom as we make these, and we surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But even so, we often fail. Every day we make a wrong choice, and we sin. We know the responsibility is our own. The existence of sin necessitates the existence of choice.

For centuries theologians have done their best to make sense of this seeming paradox. God chooses? Yes. We choose? Of course.

As confusing as it seems to the human mind, scripture maintains this tension. I think there are few stories that exemplify this idea so well as that of Isaac and Rebekah, recounted in Genesis 24.

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:1-9 ESV)

In this passage, Abraham tells his servant that God’s angel will go before him, but if the woman “is not willing,” the servant will be released from the oath. He recognizes both the working of God as well as the choice of man.

Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and departed, taking all sorts of choice gifts from his master; and he arose and went to Mesopotamia to the city of Nahor. And he made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water at the time of evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder. The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known. She went down to the spring and filled her jar and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water to drink from your jar.” She said, “Drink, my lord.” And she quickly let down her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw water, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the LORD had prospered his journey or not. (Genesis 24:10-21 ESV)

This passage in particular highlights the role of God’s sovereignty. The servant recognizes that God has “appointed” a wife for Isaac. Still, while the servant sees clearly the sign he asked for, he waits to learn “whether the LORD had prospered his journey,” presumably because he has not yet received the confirmation of human will.

(Note: While we may not conclude with certainty from this passage that God appoints wives for all men who He wills to marry, we can see that at least sometimes God is involved in this choice.)

When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of both straw and fodder, and room to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master's kinsmen.” Then the young woman ran and told her mother's household about these things.

Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister's arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, “Thus the man spoke to me,” he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. He said, “Come in, O blessed of the LORD. Why do you stand outside? For I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.” So the man came to the house and unharnessed the camels, and gave straw and fodder to the camels, and there was water to wash his feet and the feet of the men who were with him. Then food was set before him to eat. But he said, “I will not eat until I have said what I have to say.” He said, “Speak on.”

So he said, “I am Abraham's servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master's wife bore a son to my master when she was old, and to him he has given all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I dwell, but you shall go to my father's house and to my clan and take a wife for my son.’ I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ But he said to me, ‘The LORD, before whom I have walked, will send his angel with you and prosper your way. You shall take a wife for my son from my clan and from my father's house. Then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my clan. And if they will not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’ (Genesis 24:22-41 ESV)

Again, we see that the servant’s oath may be dissolved if the woman chooses not to return with him.

“I came today to the spring and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you are prospering the way that I go, behold, I am standing by the spring of water. Let the virgin who comes out to draw water, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also,” let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master's son.’

“Before I had finished speaking in my heart, behold, Rebekah came out with her water jar on her shoulder, and she went down to the spring and drew water. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels drink also.’ So I drank, and she gave the camels drink also. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor's son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to take the daughter of my master's kinsman for his son. Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.” (Genesis 24:42-49 ESV)

After revealing the sign God had given him, the servant still allows Laban a choice.

Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing has come from the LORD; we cannot speak to you bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before you; take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master's son, as the LORD has spoken.”

When Abraham's servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the earth before the LORD. And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. And he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they arose in the morning, he said, “Send me away to my master.” Her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the LORD has prospered my way. Send me away that I may go to my master.” They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her.”

And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” (Genesis 24:50-58 ESV)

Rebekah has a choice. And she says yes.

It is clear from this story that the patriarchs believed in God’s sovereignty and human free will. It is indeed for us to choose. It is for us to plunge into our lives with our own legs and arms, swimming with all we have. But it is the Lord who is beside us, rolling towards us wave upon wave of good.

Solomon once said, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 ESV).

Indeed, it is a delight with terror in it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Song: The Maker of the Universe



This song has been going round and round in my head for the last couple days. I grew up listening to it, but it still has the power to move me to tears.

The Maker of the Universe

The Maker of the universe,
As Man for man was made a curse.
The claims of Law which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough,
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.

He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o'er His head,
By Him above the earth was spread.
The sun that hid from Him it's face
By His decree was poised in space.

The spear which spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rocks His hands had made.

The throne on which He now appears
Was His for everlasting years.
But a new glory crowns His brow
And every knee to Him shall bow.

Lyrics by F.W. Pitt
Music by Phil Keaggy

You can listen to it here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let my heart be broken: C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves"


Life this summer has become a swift monotony. Every day melts into the next as the humid heat seems to sit heavy on time itself.

The miracle of summer, of course, is the transfiguration of the Cold. Once guarded against with coats and scarfs, it is pursued, courted -- dare I say, worshiped. The extra time granted by summer is spent on watery pilgrimages to lakes and rivers. Men, women, and children perform the primitive dance around the lawn as the sprinkler keeps time.

Between dips in the pool and glasses of iced tea, I have also been blessed with time to refresh my mind as well as my body, taking Mr. Darcy's advice to "improve (my) mind by extensive reading."

Most recently I completed C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves." As many better pens have spoke before mine, it was brilliant. I know it is a work I will revisit over and over again.

I could write innumerable blog entries and try to paraphrase Lewis' prose, or I can simply share a taste by his own hand.

I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God's will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness. It is like hiding the talent in a napkin and for much the same reason "I knew thee that though wert a hard man." Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness. If a man is not uncalculating towards the earthly beloveds whom he has seen, he is not the more likely to be so towards God whom he has not. We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

How many of us have shied away from loving fully, afraid of the pain our intellects assure us we will experience? How many of us have picked our friends based on emotional security? How many of us have dwelt on the edge of community out of fear?

How many hungry have we failed to fill with kindness? How many thirsty have we failed to pour into? How many strangers have we left on the front porch of our hearts? How many cold have we failed to clothe with love?

I am so thankful my God allowed His heart to be broken by me.

God, let my heart be broken.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Road: Would I have made the world just so?


"When he went back to the fire he knelt and smoothed her hair as she slept and he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different." Cormac McCarthy, The Road.

As I sat on the futon, watching the browns and grays of The Road flash in high-definition into my living room, I was pulled once again into the creative imagination of the Cormac McCarthy. The best and worst of humanity brilliantly displayed in the novel moved in drab color across the screen. Beauty. Sorrow. Love. Hate.

Hope, when there should be none. And faith.

In almost musical tones, Viggo Mortensen, as "the man," narrates the film with versions of McCarthy's original lines.

In one moving seen, he strokes his wife's hair as she sleeps in the car and says, "If I were God, I would have made the world just so and no different."

As my eyes took in the story, my mind turned around these words.

How often have I hinted at the opposite in my heart?

Often, I've felt like the man in film when he says, "Each day is more gray than the one before. Each night is darker -- beyond darkness. The world gets colder week by week as the world slowly dies."

Surely, God created good, but we destroyed it. The light seems to be fading, and the shadow seems to grow.

How often have I been blinded to the lingering beauty of the good creation by fixing my eyes on what might have been?

In The Road, McCarthy shows how goodness can thrive amidst ugliness and depravity. The image of God, surviving in the love between father and son, shines into the darkness and creates beauty where there was none.

It is true that there is ugliness in the world. It is true that darkness threatens at the edge of light.

But it is also true that God has not allowed His good creation to be wholly destroyed. Our Father gave His son -- who took on the frailty of creation -- to offer us hope.

Through the ugliest act in history, the most beautiful love was displayed.

And so, God began to bring goodness back to His creation. He gave us strength to light up the darkness. He allows us to be His hands and feet, pouring out beauty where ugliness abounds.

The world will never be fully restored until He returns, but He has not left us without goodness.

If I were God, I would have made the world just so and no different.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Castles in the Air

Photo by Fallingwater123 via Flickr

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." ~ The Declaration of Independence
In 1776, when the founding fathers signed into existence a new country and a new hope, I wonder if they considered the way that centuries would erode the connotations of the words Jefferson penned that Philadelphia summer.

Among the smudged and often misquoted phrases is the beautiful and titillating "pursuit of Happiness." Two hundred years after the words were penned, this phrase is the foundation of the American Dream. It is our culture's creed.

So, almost from the time we are born, we are taught to build our castles in the air. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" the chorus sings as we grow to understand that, whatever our answer, our dreams can come true. Shoot for the stars. Better to dream big than to dream small.

Eventually, reality rains down on our parades. Some dreams come true. Most don't. Some kids do grow up to walk on the moon. Some boys grow up to be president. Some girls become princesses. But the majority of us grow up to button-up blue-collars, settle down, and tell our children to dream big. Maybe their castles in the air will become a reality.

The problem with this system is not only it's absurdity, but it's blatant self-centeredness. Too often, our pursuit of happiness is "all about me." After all, isn't happiness subjective? Isn't it for me to decide what makes me happy? And don't I have a right to have that?

The answer, when you are a follower of Christ, is, "No. You most certainly do not."

Jesus Himself said we cannot serve two masters:
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." ~ Matthew 6:24a, ESV
When we come to Christ, we renounce all masters but Him. Too often we forget that this renunciation must include ourselves.

Jesus becomes our breath. Our bread. Our water. Our life.

He also becomes our hope. Our life-goal. Our dream.

When Christ is our Master, we pick up the keys to His Kingdom, and we begin building His heavenly castle in the air.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Contentment: Looking at life with the eyes of Christ


"True contentment is a real, even an active virtue - not only affirmative but creative. It is the power of getting out of any situation all there is in it." ~ G.K. Chesterton

When I came across this quote last week, I was feeling particularly introspective about the topic of contentment. It's something I've thought a lot about over the past few months, having spent several class periods discussing it during my last semester of college.

Like many people in my culture, I've sometimes struggled to live in a state of contentment.

Jesus Himself said "blessed are those who mourn." And the older I get, the more I realize how much there is to mourn over.

Every day the news recounts the suffering of thousands worldwide. We read about wars and famines across the globe. Government policies threaten to bring us into economic crisis. And waring political functions in the government and the media reveal a truth that is murky at best.

Close to home, my eyes are opened more and more to the lost all around me. Friends and family struggle, and not everyone stays on the path. The wheat and the tares look very much the same, and there are no guarantees when it comes to who you can trust.

Yet, the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi that he had found the secret to being content.

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need,” he said.

He revealed his secret: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV).

The “him” to whom Paul refers is, of course, Jesus Christ. But despite the beautiful simplicity of Paul’s secret, what every Christ follower knows is that the way of God is rarely easy.

Chesterton points out that contentment is active. It is Christ that gives us the power to get "out of any situation all there is in it," but we must actively seek the mind of Christ to see our situation with His eyes.

Lately God has been opening my eyes to the small joys that surround me. The smell of honeysuckle wafting through an open window. A sip of hot coffee on a cool morning. The pure color of blooming flowers. A firefly blinking his love song in the darkness. The laughter of a table full of friends. The quiet companionship of sleeping house full of those I love best.

If I look at my life through Christ's eyes, I see how blessed I am. Even on my worst day, I have so much to rejoice about.

No matter how hard it rains, the sun is always shining somewhere.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Words Without Action: What good is that?

There’s a lot of talk lately. There’s been a lot of talk for awhile.

“We don’t want nationalized healthcare.”

“We want the sanctity of marriage protected.”

“We want to save the lives of the unborn.”

There is nothing wrong with these statements. I agree completely with each of them. I think we need to say these things. We need to fight for what is right.

The problem is, too often we fight with words instead of actions. And as Christians, we are often stepping into the fight to late.

The healthcare debate raging in Washington and in living rooms across America is the latest development of a very old problem.

We are ready protest the government’s involvement now, but where were we when the needs of our neighbors were going unmet?

As Christians, where were we when the elderly lady in the pew next to us lost all her teeth because she couldn’t go to the dentist? Where were we when the family had to sell their house after the dad died of cancer? Where were we when the man down the street lost his job because of a back injury he couldn’t afford to have fixed?

Or take the fight for the sanctity of marriage.

Christians for years have kept quiet as law after law was passed legalizing all manner of divorce and making it an ever easier process. Most of us don’t bat an eye of a man has three wives, provided that he doesn’t have them all at one time. And as for premarital intimacy, we tend to look the other way on that too, as long as nobody talks about it.

Or take the ever raging abortion debate.

Christians perhaps are the most vehement among the anti-abortion activists. Yet, we swallowed whole-heartedly the ideology that made children a choice to begin with. And while we are ready to condemn the pregnant teen for her act of desperation, few of us are willing to lift a finger to offer her another solution.

When it comes to fighting society’s wrongs, so often it’s too little, too late. What we have failed to do with action we try to do with words. But when it comes to broken bones, words are hardly helpful.

But suppose things were different. Suppose all the Christians started acting like Christ.

Suppose Christians healed the sick. We may not all have supernatural power, but we may have time to volunteer at a free clinic. Or we may have money to donate for a church or community medical fund.

Suppose Christians held themselves to God’s standard for marriage and supported their brothers and sisters through the tough times. Suppose instead of judging those suffering from gender confusion, we actually offered hope for a better way.

Suppose instead of looking down our noses at the unwed mother we actually offered assistance.

Loving people doesn’t mean we are condoning their behaviors. Jesus met the physical hunger of the 5,000. That doesn’t mean He approved of every lifestyle represented.

As Christians, we are called to words and actions. One without the other is useless.

James 2:15-16 says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”

Maybe we should consider this question more often.