All You Have to Be Is Desperate

By midwinter, the empty canning jars on my basement shelves are beginning to overtake the number of full jars.  Clear glass glints beside the jewel-toned beets, briny pickles, and thick spaghetti sauce.  By practicing the dying art of canning, I pay attention to these containers, knowing that a family of six can put away as many as sixty quarts of green beans in the space of those seasons between gardens.  Truly, the container is secondary to the contents.

A recent back injury is making me conscious these days of another container.  Paul the Apostle would have called it a clay pot.

That image suits me well.
Serviceable.
Functional.
Sturdy.  At least, I’ve always thought so.

But, feeling the brittleness of my mortal clay, it’s clear to me that I’m prone to breaking, and the sharp edges leave me bent and moving about with caution.

On one level or another, everyone fights the battle of fragility at some point in life.

So lest I fall into the mistaken notion that New Testament saints were bullet proof, I return to the words of Paul who strains his apostolic thesaurus to come up with metaphors adequate to the description of his own deep need:

 “We are hard pressed.”

Really?
Did his time move relentlessly forward as the work piled higher?
Did mounting expenses dwarf his income and suck the air out of his dreams?

“We are perplexed.”

Endless word of widespread persecution and death may have mirrored our present-day newsfeed, blaring a stream of events so unbelievable that emotions struggle to keep pace.

How does one meet all the needs, answer all the objections, filter all the choices?

The perplexity and the pressure are overwhelming to me, but Paul seemed actually to be strengthened by it:

“We are not crushed.”

Across the centuries, I strain my ears for the Uncrushable Wisdom, listening for a raspy voice, ruined from the blatant misuse of vocal cords in outdoor speaking engagements and thick with gravel from having traveled around in a tired body.  In exchange for Paul’s emptiness, God offered treasure: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God,” (II Co. 4:6 ESV).  He became so full that the sheer force of Jesus’ life offset the pressure and permeated all the empty spaces.

I’d love to make that man a sandwich and sit down with him for just a few minutes – or even to stand at the kitchen counter.  I want to ask him how it all worked for him.

Here’s what I think Paul would say:

“All you have to be is desperate.”

CaptureFinish reading over at SheLoves Magazine where we’re talking and writing along the theme of “Capacity.”  I hope you’ll visit and join the conversation!

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Pausing in the In-Between

It was a day like any other day in the life-long ministry of Zacharias the priest.  With Elisabeth’s goodbye kiss still warm on his cheek, he went about his business, reporting for duty in his scheduled commitment to serve in the Temple.

It was a day like no other day when the honor of entering the most holy place fell to Zacharias, and his aging eyes found the burning incense eclipsed by angel light. Startling and strange, the heavenly messenger’s words hooked unbelief, earning Zacharias a nine-month sentence of mute pondering.  God’s four-hundred year silence was broken, leaving an elderly couple blinking and gasping at this new way of understanding the word impossible.

“Well stricken in years” is the delicate, traditional rendering, a state that would have made for a challenging pregnancy in any era — even if you are carrying the forerunner of the Messiah.  Like a spavined barn with tar paper siding, Elisabeth’s olden frame would have been covered with skin already stretched and sagging, but with joy she bore the bone-on-bone pain of an aging back and a heavy load.

Did she understand that her glorious passage from barren to fruitful was more a rending of history than a miracle of gynecology?

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It was a December day like any other.  There was dog hair that needed to be vacuumed.  There were lessons that needed to be prepared.  There were emails unanswered and dishes unwashed.  By my calculation, Advent season includes the routine preparation of at least seventy-five meals on top of all the other holiday baking and decorating.

What does it take to transform those December days?

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Join me at SheLoves Magazine today and ponder with me the challenge of staying present to the wonder of the Word made flesh.

May God’s present-day proclamation land with power on your believing heart this season:
God is with us.
Nothing shall be impossible.

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captureCounting down the days until the beginning of the book discussion group on C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. Watch for a reading schedule on January 5!

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Image credit

Weeping Woman of Ramah

(Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15; Isaiah 61:1-3)

There was no angel appearance to my husband —

No timely warning granted for us to flee the danger and death of Herod’s sword.

Know that I, too, would have fled.

I would have flown to the ends of the earth to dodge the flash of steel that ended my young son’s life, snuffed out to satisfy the jealous angst of a paranoid king.

Tricked out of a positive identification of his rival by the stealth of the wise men, Herod reduced a precious population of baby boys to a disposable demographic:
male child,
in Bethlehem and its districts,
two years old and under.

 My son.

Yes, my tears were foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, and the Messiah survived to live and die in the manner God had ordained.
(Is it ironic only to me that my boy died in the place of the savior of humanity?)

God’s economy is strange.

I would never have removed a creature so fine as he before his time.
There is a great hole in the universe now.

But I am a daughter of Deborah, a woman of the Covenant, and I know Who it is that sits at the Potter’s wheel, Who molds the clay.
I am the work of His hand.
My son was also His vessel.

God is building His kingdom; I know this in my head.
But I am a mother, finite, and I see through a glass darkly.

And I would trade all that promise of righteousness, all that prophetic fulfillment
for one more day with my boy.

Is there ever an era or a set of circumstances in which a bereaved mother does not
sob ragged to frame these words:
Why my child?
Why not some other?

I do not understand, and Jeremiah was cruelly accurate in his prophecy,
for I will not be comforted:

Not by time.
Not by the kind consolation of thoughtful words.
Not by the probing questions, thinly veiled queries, which, over the years
have come to revolve around a single theme:
“Isn’t she over this yet?”

Weeping, I wait for my heart to heal.

Weeping, and finding no ready answer to the evil in the world—the evil in me—
I discover that my suffering creates a space in which I wait for the deep comfort promised by another ancient prophet:

Healing for the brokenhearted.
Consolation to those who mourn.
Beauty.
Joy.
Praise.

I wait for another coming of this Jesus, and I long to believe,
for I know
that shortly after I see His face,

I will see, once again, the face of my boy.

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A few verses in Matthew are all that are granted to the tragedy of slain baby boys following the birth of Jesus. As the mother of four sons, I’ve never experienced this depth of loss, and I find myself wishing with all my heart that these women could have been among those who “sorrow not even as others who have no hope.”  I love to think that there may have been those who knew from their exposure to the writings of the prophets that a Messiah would come to live and to die and to give beauty for ashes.

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine where we were writing for Advent 2015 on the theme “Paused and Present.”

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Image credit: Guilherme Yagui

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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Celebration and Lament

The walls had been rebuilt.

The people living in and around the city of Jerusalem had gathered.

Along with the fresh aroma of new lumber from Ezra’s wooden platform and his strong voice ringing out over the hum of the crowd, celebration was in the air! Within the barely-renovated city walls of Jerusalem, there was a party brewing, and it was no token religious observance.

For the first time in a thousand years (Nehemiah 8:17), the Nation of Israel was gearing up for the Feast of Tabernacles. “Booths” — little huts, really -– would be cobbled together from branches and set up on rooftops and in courtyards, and families would live in their booths for seven days to commemorate Israel’s wilderness wanderings. Remember, too, that, although Jerusalem’s protective outer wall had been restored, this is all taking place in a city where many houses had still not been rebuilt, (Nehemiah 7:4).

I’m actually a little jealous when I picture this holiday:

An Annual Camp Out!

Gathering piles of branches with the kids, making a cozy nest inside the booth, and hearing the small voice:

“Tell us again, Mum . . . why are we doing this?”

Then the magic of storytelling under the stars would begin in which history flows from memory into the hearts of another generation — with everything made tangible by the show-and-tell of celebration.

Of course, in the re-telling there would be sadness for Jerusalem was still a city in captivity, its citizens still an oppressed people. Forking over up to 50% of their earnings in taxes to the Persian Empire, they were only just beginning to recover from the exile’s comprehensive shattering of their self-perception as God’s people. They were still in the process of learning their way back into fellowship with God. Governor Nehemiah’s gracious pronouncement to kick-off their feasting was desperately needed:

“Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” —Nehemiah 8:10

And so it is today.

We live with one foot in celebration and the other in lament. Whenever we gather on this planet, it is for an imperfect celebration in which our only hope for joy is to look squarely at the empty seat, at the strained relationships, at the imperfect execution of all our Pinterest-worthy plans. Our only prayer for peace is to own the sadness; to recognize the power that grinding sorrow has over our hearts—and then to throw the door wide open to the feast.

By acknowledging and even embracing lament—an art we have lost here in North America—our celebration can be restored. Our feasting can be deeply sincere, even in a context of deep suffering or deep disappointment.

In the case of Israel, the people had just stood outside for about six hours (yes, stood), “from morning until mid-day,” listening to Ezra as he read aloud to them their saw-tooth record of rebellion. Their tearful response revealed that they were cut deeply with the weight of national failure over the centuries, but Nehemiah’s instructions proclaimed that the time had come for the people to begin, once again, to eat and drink blessing to themselves:

“Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

Until Jesus comes, it will be this longing and this feasting that keeps my heart’s sonar trolling for Kingdom shalom. I will lament the family that could have been if not for alcoholism, if not for mental illness and garden-variety selfishness.

But when I grasp warm hands and gaze at the faces around my table, by faith I will celebrate the family that is because of the forgiveness that lubricates our relational gears; because of much-beloved friends who have been grafted in; because of the cords of grace that hold our hearts in joy.

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This post first appeared in SheLoves Magazine (November 2015).


If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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A Legacy of Striving

You opened your new eyes
in the garden that God Himself had planted.
Born a woman, you bypassed childhood,
and came into yourself with a rush of speech,
a flood of images,
and a seamless, three-way companionship:  you, Adam, and Elohim.

Was Eden’s bird song the first sound in your perfect ears?
Or was it the world’s first love ballad, crooned by sleepy-eyed Adam
the moment he clapped his eyes on beautiful you?
“Bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh . . .”
Lonely no more, he riffed on the theme of his heart’s delight.

And so began the days of one flesh,
the days of naked and unashamed,
and the joyous sound of Elohim’s footsteps in the cool of the day.
But you and I, Sister Eve, are all of a piece in our restlessness,
For I, too, am prone to hanging around the wrong tree at the wrong time.
One glance too many at the forbidden fruit,
And suddenly there’s
The sibilant invitation:

“You can easily become like God.”

It’s all we can hear.

Unaware of the deadly implications, you were convinced
to want to be something other than what you were meant to be.

But then, your striving to be like God
is so much like my own cobbled-together omniscience:
Two parts worry,
One part hubris,
Larded through with a need for control.

I, too, would jump at the chance to know everything all the way from good to evil,
to see what’s really going on,
to be just like God.  (Genesis 3:5 – MSG)
In my own ceaseless strivings, I have also thoughtlessly questioned the motives       and challenged the truth claims of God.

Today, we call it “The Fall” . . .

And some days it seems as if we just keep right on falling.

Today, over at SheLoves Magazine, I’m writing about Eve’s legacy to us, the heartbreak of all that’s been lost and the great lengths to which God was willing to go in order to bring about glorious redemption.

I hope you’ll take a moment to join me there!

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Sometimes, Instead of Bread, I Ask God for Stones

 

I have a battered notebook that has been with me for so long that four of its pages date back to the birth of each of my sons.  It is in this notebook that I write down the requests – big and small — that I bring to God.

Should our family take the adventure of a cross-country trip in a mini-van? 

Who gets my vote this time?

Lord, help our church family to find a shepherd.

Certainly, my notebook is a record of God’s faithfulness, but even after all these years, I don’t pretend to understand the pattern of scattered checkmarks – or the replies from God that they denote – for the notebook also chronicles my uneasy relationship with prayer.

At some point, it’s bound to happen to everyone who believingly follows the One who said “when you pray”:  the bubble of predictability is pricked and horror comes rushing in regardless of prayers to the contrary.  My notebook speaks into this tension.

  • Fervent prayer for a missionary friend with cancer – dead six weeks from diagnosis.
  • Focused supplication for a marriage to survive . . . and another . . . and another. All have dissolved, and are barely a memory now.

Even the Apostle Paul with his inside track to the third heaven never claimed to understand the ways of God.

Instead, he said, “I know whom I have believed,” (II Tim. 1:12).

Therefore, he took grace —  and the power of Christ —  as glorious consolation prizes that came instead of the healing for which he prayed three times, (II Cor. 12:8,9).

What has been your experience with prayer — especially when God says no?  This tiny confession of mine is part of a month-long theme over at SheLoves Magazine, so I’m hoping that you will join me over there to read the remainder of the story — and, hopefully, to be encouraged to persevere in your prayer life.

And while you’re there, do take a moment to visit the thoughts and shared wisdom of so many others!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

Sharing the Story

Whether it’s a movie, a novel, a picture book, or a tale spun around the dining room table, we are drawn to stories.  In I Corinthians 10, the Apostle Paul looks back on one of the most well-known stories of his people and uses the important images there to illustrate sobering truth for a fledgling church.

Unconsciously, we do the same thing when we look back on our own stories. Events that seemed trivial at the time reveal themselves, on further inspection, to have been pivotal moments.  Periods of time that seemed to have been empty and without purpose — surprise!  They were no more devoid of activity and life than a drop of pond water viewed under a microscope.

Recently Mary Hill asked if I would be willing to share my story on her blog — and she even provided a list of questions to guide my thinking.  She’s a great friend who works hard to build community through her writing ministry.  I always enjoy the mingling of stories that happens at her place each Monday.

This is your invitation to click on over to her site to read about the events that have shaped my faith and my writing. While you’re there, I hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the stories of others!

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.