Posted in Living this Life

Ant wars

OK – it’s time to get really real.

Confessions of a restless heart: Something happens to a spirit that is raised on the other side of the world. It isn’t just the soil of Africa that got embedded in my soul, but the question of what else lies out there. When your normal has always been red clay soil and friends with dark hair and different skin, speaking with dialect so different from your own that you learn to read eyes and body language. You learn to feel more at home in a bustling airport than your own small town ambience. Embedded in you is the curiosity for the unexplored.

They call it wanderlust. And familiar though it is, it can become a dangerous siren call. A source of ill defined pride. A lack of contentment in what is, the beauty that is around you. There is much I can say on this, but for my own protection, my God has planted my feet firmly on American soil for many years. And every time my heart starts to wander away, He gently woos me back to this place – whatever that looks like at the moment. It is always a beautiful place – even if it just my own backyard.

You can imagine what this season filled with words like “quarantine” and “stay at home” – though productive and rich in it’s own unique opportunities – has brought out in me. If there is anything that stirs up wanderlust in a heart, it is being told you can’t.

And in this place, right here, is where I found this scene: my boys, in my backyard.

IMG_6822Watching in awe at the sight of a dead worm. It wasn’t the dead worm that fascinated them, but the lone ant trying in vain to lift the worm and carry it off. Other ants came along to help (or steal), and then left. I don’t know how long they sat and watched this display of heroic strength, but it helped my  heart rest. Because there’s this quote that has rattled around in my head for a while and it came to the surface at the sight of my boys today. It’s by the author and director of one of my favorite nature documentaries (https://riotandthedance.com/), and it helps keep me grounded when my heart tries to run away with me.

“So, we can marvel at our Creator’s abilities and worship Him for what we see, but we can also see these broken things and know that creation groans for the Resurrection… When you’re able to sit in awe of an ant war on the sidewalk in front of your own house, then the awe that you experience looking at God’s creation near you, where he has placed you, will lead you outward. It will give you a desire to see more of His work, to walk through the rest of His museum. But if you sit in your corner of His museum and say, “I’m super bored, maybe there’s something more interesting over there”—well, that’s not a healthy approach. We should not explore because we resent where we live or where we’ve been placed in the world. We should not explore out of boredom or out of numbness, but out of gratitude and excitement and wonder.  – N. D. Wilson

So that’s it. That’s all I have today. A renewed focus on finding the wonder in my backyard because it’s there. I just miss it too often, gazing over the fence into the “vast beyond”. Maybe we’ll get to explore His great museum again someday soon, but until then, let’s all find a great ant war to cheer on (and feel free to add some sports commentary to it, for those missing their favorite teams right now).

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

 

Posted in Living this Life

Prince of Peace

I was probably 13 years old. I heard them talking, and something about the way she spoke caught my attention. So I continued eavesdropping as she and my mom worked on dinner in the kitchen of her home in Duluth, MN. I didn’t know her well, she had no idea I was listening, and I’m sure as the conversation moved on to other topics, they quickly forgot what was said.

cooking

But I didn’t. I can’t tell you all that was said that day, but it planted an idea in my heart that I have pursued throughout my life. As I listened in on that conversation, I heard her talking about peace, and it made my young heart hungry. Before that day, I had always thought of peace as something you stumble across. When the weather is perfect and your heart is unbothered. When circumstances align and everything is magically “right” – you feel peace.

But she talked about it as something you could plan for. An atmosphere you could set boundaries for and pursue. The boldness of that concept fascinated me. To not be subject to the ups and downs of happenstance – to be able to choose my way into a peaceful existence was mind blowing to my young 13 year old heart… and I desperately wanted that.

 

Fast forward more years than I will put in writing … here I sit with a world spinning in chaos. An amazing husband and 3 kids later, and her words still ring in my ears. A peaceful home is a concept we have built our marriage and family on – foundational in so many decisions we make along the way.  Yet the reality can so often feel elusive and many days it can feel like a fairy tale. That happily ever after promise that never comes true.

Kids bicker, frustrations flare, and selfishness takes over. Maybe I’ll feel peace when I get my way. Maybe if my husband would just agree with me all the time and the kids play happily and quietly in the corner. Maybe when I finally get all my projects done and can rest happily in a clean and organized home with perfectly manicured flowerbeds outside. Maybe when the world settles down and we get answers to so many questions plaguing us right now. Maybe when we get clarity on the big decisions that seem impossible to make in present circumstances. Why does the Bible talk about peace so consistently when everything around us screams the opposite?

This morning I woke in the first days of a new month. A new month blaring questions without answers and uncertainty about so many constants in my life. And I read these words – some of Jesus’ last words to His disciples, as their worlds were about to be turned upside down:  “MY PEACE I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. LET NOT your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” John 14:27

Not as the world gives? Is this where I get so off track? Despite what I know, what I tell myself and others, why do I continue to look for peace from outside circumstances?   This is all backwards.  So today I make my confession and prayer.

I have tried to manufacture peace with control. I have interpreted peace as “everyone getting along with each other”. I have been frustrated when reality doesn’t match my expectations and have let it erode the peace in my own spirit. So you will understand when I read this and get spun a bit sideways.

“the fruit of the Spirit is peace…” Galatians 5:22

Fruit … fruit is a product, not an effect. You don’t start with the apple, you start with the tree. You prune, you water, you care for it if you want the best fruit. Isaiah says, The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.“(Isaiah 32:16) Fruit of righteousness? What does that even mean? That big word that sounds so alien at times. It simply means being in a right place before a holy and perfect God. Walking straight when the path feels so crooked.

And since we can’t pull it off on our own – we surrender ourselves. And let Jesus who truly did live perfectly carry our mistakes and be our righteousness – our “right-ness”. Is it enough? Can this be real? That His right-ness, can cover me and I get to experience the peace – the fruit of what only He could do? Come, get to know Him if you don’t. Really know Him – you will find Him more real than the most tangible thing you can touch.

Talk to Him and let Him carry it all for you. Let His right-ness bring you peace! And the rest of this promise – it sounds like it was written for today. I think it was…

“My people will live in peaceful dwelling places… though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be…” (Is 32:19-20)

How many of us feel like our “normal” has been leveled? Do we feel blessed in the midst of all the unknowns? This disruption in our lives shows us where our true treasure lies, where we plant our hopes and find our peace. I find myself coming up short some days – still defaulting to myself and the fleeting quicksand of the blaring news cycles and circumstances surrounding me and not the true Source. I want to dig my toes into the firm foundation of our true Source of Peace.

They call you the Prince of Peace, Jesus. Come on in…

 

 

 

 

Posted in Living this Life

The God who thought up noses – Pt 2

“It’s like this: As the darkness feels like it is closing in with each news report, our health and our very future often feel threatened. Amidst the echo of fear I hear from all directions, I wake up each morning and delight to see that God has done it again – for behold, there is a beautiful sun rising from the horizon again and the birds have been singing for hours already.  I’m enjoying coffee with a ridiculous amount of whipped cream on it, and there is still ice cream in the freezer waiting to be savored in a bit. How do I reconcile these two realities?”

 

I believe the answer to this question is the key to finding peace in these turbulent times. The answer to joy when we can’t find our way through the haze. Demonstrated by David in the Psalms and even prayed over us by Jesus Himself, it’s worth our time to take a step deeper into this place.

sunrise

bird singingb62db985-1eaf-4a69-a589-f2030af257c1img_6173

 

They say not to put the cart before the proverbial horse, and yet I fear that is what I did in my previous post. To be fair, we often don’t care much about the horse or where it’s taking us until we see what’s in the cart sometimes. So will you you give me a minute? Let me explain…

cart before the horse

Quiddity. Remember that word? That long deep draw of cool water when your throat is parched? It’s what is in the cart – and I’ve been thinking alot about that this week. Because when we start with the experience of wonder before we look at the how, we get it backwards and can end up even more fatigued and lost than when we started. As Lewis famously interpreted Matthew 6:33 – “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first & we lose both first and second things”

So, I return to my original question: How do I reconcile the tension between these two realities?

I feel a desperate need to hold up the beautiful, to sing with the birds that God still reigns and His glory is breathtaking – is this the song of a lunatic? The tinny echo of a blind optimist who is disconnected from reality? Can we really ground ourselves in this slowing and savoring lifestyle when it feels like the world is burning down around us?

Perhaps this is where the cart has been put before the horse. Because the reality is this: Try as we might, we cannot do it on our own. We are not strong enough. Our attention span falters, we hit a dead end, and then what? When our enjoyment of the gifts around us begins to feel like more hard work, and your very desire to find the wonder leads to a whole other sense of hopelessness, where do you turn?

After all, every created thing has a necessary end in and of itself – we are a finite people reaching for an infinite good. How do we span this maddening gap?

Humor me for a moment. This quote is longer than I usually would include – but it is worth it.

I was standing today in a dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead, I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.” (This moment of enlightenment is brought to us by C. S. Lewis from his book God in the Dock.)

shafts of light

Looking along the beam vs. looking at the beam. This is revolutionary!

When I look deep into a flower, I see depths of beauty that are hard to describe. But when I look along the beam of that beauty to behold that One who created that flower, I stand with Job, who upon seeing the glory of God, said “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know… My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” Job 42.

Piper describes it like this: All of God’s creation becomes a beam to be “looked along” or a sound to be “heard along” or a fragrance to be “smelled along” or a flavor to be “tasted along” or a touch to be “felt along”.  All our senses become partners with the eyes of the heart in perceiving the glory of God through the physical world” 

Do you sense it? This is where it all comes together like the pieces of a puzzle finally revealing their secret beauty. Don’t leave me now – but hold your breath with me as we enter this sacred place!  Don’t let your gaze of wonder stop at the object that takes your breath away. Look beyond – let your gaze travel upwards along the beam of His glory and see, truly see, the face of God.

We don’t will this moment into existence. He took the first step. He breathed it all into reality, and every day He sustains it’s continued existence. But there’s so much more! When we built a wall, He made a way through. When darkness rose up in us, His light shone through. This is the door – the only way to go from seeing what He made to truly savoring it as He intended. It is His communication to us of a newer, brighter, more beautiful way than we could ask or imagine!

Do you know my Jesus? Have you drawn deep of the draft of this eternal life? Lean in, my friend. Hold your breath. Because this is where it all starts. We owed a price we couldn’t pay – but that didn’t stop Him from embarking on the greatest rescue mission of all time! He paid our price for us, died an undeserving death and welcomes all who accept this gift into His family with open arms. And every birdsong, every flower that blooms into impossible glory, every star that appears night after night in the dark sky, every waft of fresh bread, is declaring this unfathomable truth!

We can see the face of the Creator when we accept the payment made by Jesus. If this reality isn’t the greatest good in your life, pause. Right here. Talk to God. Tell Him you’re sorry. Ask Him to carry the weight of your failings for you. Let Him fill your heart with freedom, with lightness, with joy – with all the glory you’ve been craving your whole life. It’s right there – trace the sunbeam up to the author and let the Son fill you!

And let the world of wonder in.