Letting Go

It goes against all sensibility, the way Abraham turned to Lot and said “Choose which land you think best for your flocks” as they looked out over the hills stretching away into the horizon– the land God had already given him.  And Lot chose and Abraham just nodded and let him go his way–Lot taking the best of land that wasn’t his to take and Abe giving what had been given, holding his Promised Land with open hands.

Makes me think about the things I hold onto, and why it is so hard to let go.

Maybe it’s the illusion of control when I hold onto things, the deception that still whispers that if I try hard enough I can shape my own destiny and keep my own heart safe, and the ones I love.  Because if I lose that security blanket, what is left is just me and my small concerns in a huge universe, at the mercy of the Creator, and is that really enough?  It is the same whisper that has echoed in the hearts of men since we first heard it in the Garden…. seems like we would have realized by now just Who is in charge, and how much better things were before we fell for that line.

But mostly it’s the fear of losing, when I hold onto things– fear that what is precious can be ruined and my heart can break at the loss.  We came from the Garden knowing just how fragile life really is, and how heavy a grief weighs.  Ever since, we have been clutching onto beauty and happiness with both hands as it runs through our fingers, trying to hold on and never lose it again.

But Abraham didn’t, even though he had left home behind and come so far to get what had been promised him.  Because he knew that it was all gift anyway, he let his nephew take what he wanted and kept on trusting the Giver to be faithful to His promises.  Traveling through the desert should have made him more wary, more mindful of loss, but somehow blessings overflowed into thankfulness enough to fill up his heart and open his hands.

Loosen these hands, Lord, and deliver me from the instinct of Self-preservation and the fear that belongs to mortality.  Let me live in full thankfulness because all is gift, and there is a Giver who does not grow weary; I do not need to hold on tight, because You hold me and all the things I love in Your own scarred hands.

“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.  You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.  The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.”  Psalm 145:15-17

“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” C.S.Lewis


What My Mother Taught Me

I was trying to put it into words this morning over breakfast, how one of the most important things my mom taught was the natural way of gardens and growing things, and how our inside selves are all like that.  I am not sure if she intended to teach it that way– maybe she just believed it herself, deep down, and taught it by living it straight out in the everyday.  You reap what you sow, and seeds produce plants which produce fruit just as surely as thoughts produce actions which produce consequences.

Her home was as basic and simple as that.  Fill it with family and God’s truth and nourishment for the whole person, and children would grow strong.  No space for false words or false hearts, or idle hands, or emotions flying loose.  You reap what you sow.  Speak words that are true, look people in the eye, learn to be useful and be thankful, to make beauty and see it everywhere, to find a balancing point….and never stop growing.  This is how to grow a life that is worth something, no matter where you live or what you have.

And when we did the foolish things that kids do, we felt the consequences and wanted to choose better next time.  Not happy lessons, but we were learning that sowing weeds makes a sorry crop, discovering who we wanted to become by realizing who we did not want to be. The connection must be there… mindfully and carefully… planting and weeding and watering if you want to pile up the fruit in the end.  You reap what you sow.

Jesus pointed to the same thing, that basic parallel between gardening and living. My mother is a gardener and she understood what He was saying, lived that way in front of us and taught us well.  On this Mother’s Day I say “thank you, mom.”

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well.  Then youth will be delightful, old age will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.”  Louisa May Alcott



Mothering Grows More than Kids

I heard Tim Keller on the radio this morning talking about the goals we set our eyes on as parents, and challenging whether we were steering our children towards success or greatness.  Not an easy question to face and one that uncovers our own soul’s  bent toward the things the world values….beauty, achievement, popularity, strength, intelligence.

I remember struggling with that when my kids were teens and how hard it was to push instead toward compassion for others; humility and service instead of competition, integrity to stand up to lies, forgiveness in the face of cruelty.  I had to, for their sake, because if they couldn’t learn it from their mother, who else would they ever trust enough to learn it later?

Looking back I see how much being a mother has shaped who I have become, thrown a spotlight onto my own values, uncovered my own weaknesses, challenged me to grow so that I could be what they needed me to be in their own becoming.

There’s nothing like the helplessness you feel as a mother to drive you into the all-powerful arms of your heavenly Father.  Nothing like too-short nights and doctor’s appointments and constantly hungry mouths to put Self right to death no matter how much it howls.  And nothing like the weight of a warm little body to teach you grace and forgiveness and love that keeps on persevering.  As a homeschooling mother of six puts it: “The parent must always self-parent first, self-preach before child-teach — because who can bring peace unless they’ve held their own peace?” (Ann Voskamp)

I think, looking back, that these children were shaping me while I was shaping them….that we have grown up together into God.  Maybe that’s how it is in the Family of God too, us reaching out to become what others need so they can grow…. and us growing with the effort, all unaware at the time.

“A wise mother knows what powerful men can forget — that the way to move heaven and earth isn’t with a strong arm but with a bowed head.” (Ann Voskamp)

Someone is Listening

It always strikes me how the only woman who named God, breathed her very own revelation of Him into words, was a slave and a foreigner, desperate and far from home.  I wish I knew her story, how she came to be traveling in a nomadic chieftan’s household as a maid to his famously beautiful wife.  And whether she was herself beautiful enough to be used, or plain enough to be discounted?….certainly young enough to be fertile when her mistress was not, and resented enough to be mistreated.  But she was not alone and Someone who knew her (inside and out) met her in the desert and spoke peace into her wounded heart, and hope into her life.

And this girl-slave who met God in the desert named her Creator with words; called Him “the living One who sees me.”  In a culture where women could easily be used and overlooked, whose sole value lay in their dowry and their ability to bear sons, it is of breath-taking significance that God shows Himself to this used woman.  Even more precious are the words He spoke to her.  No grand theology or proclamations about the fate of the world, just intensely personal interest in the things that concerned her most– the future of her unborn child, and her need for a strong deliverer.  Isn’t this still what we need most from Him as women: interest and involvement in the things of our hearts?  In household and family, and all the relationships that matter so much to us?

He told her to name her child Ishmael, “God hears”…every time she said his name, for a lifetime, it would be a reminder that Someone was listening to her and Someone cared.  It is a promise and a reminder to women everywhere: He still does.

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:11-13

For the story of Hagar and Ishmael, read Genesis chapters 16 and 21.

What Makes You Remember?

We talked about it this morning, when I pulled this band over my wrist:  What are these colored bands for, anyway?  To proclaim our interest….to make people ask why….to get a chance to tell someone how important it is….to remind us to pray….to remind us to focus on things that matter.

I know a young man who wears a braided leather one, asked for and bought specifically to remind him to live in God’s presence.  I wondered for a minute what would happen if we all wore bands to remember God-with-us, and I thought of the way we will pass the bread and the cup on Sunday to remember Christ… Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh…“Do this in remembrance of Me.”  What if we all wore bands to remind us every day what Christ has done for us, and proclaim our cause to everyone who sees?

And there was that sudden twist of perspective when things shift and turn to fit together in a new way.

Maybe the bands are of His choosing and not at all what I expect.  Maybe the things that I mark as burdens, the very circumstances that I count trials, are the bands in the everyday that remind me to seek His presence most clearly.  Disability of joints and nerves that constantly remind of weakness but point me to the things that matter most.  Grief that pushes me to pour out my heart to the One who hears.  Earth-shaking changes that lead me to the Rock that will never be shaken, the peace that passes all understanding.  Don’t these things make people ask why, give me chances to tell someone how important this walk of faith is?

The ugly hurtful things that I would rather escape might look different from the vantage point of heaven’s grace….they could be the brightly colored bands to wear on a life, to remind of the cross and His faithful love, as tangible as a leather cord, as visible as this plastic wristband.

Being a God-watcher

It is the posture of a worshipper and the habit of a desperate heart, keeping your eyes fixed on God.  King David lived that way, for both reasons.   When you are writing songs and running for your life, you learn this; when  there are no other options and few resources, where else would you look except to the Maker of heaven and earth?  “… my eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign LORD.”  (Psalm 141:8)  And you learn to listen, there in the desert, to strain your ears for the still small voice of God and the touch of His Spirit.  You learn to watch for every breath of wind and stirring of sand, not knowing what it will bring, but knowing Who guides it all.  “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10)

In the dry and hungry desert places a heart learns to listen for God, watch for Him with held breath to bring any change, a deliverance… “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” (Psalm 25:15)  And when your own strength and courage are running low and you’re not sure how to go on from here, where else would you turn but to the One who made what is here and hears you when you call?  “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Ps. 62:8)  It is the only way to survive in the desert, as David knew… and Hagar…and Moses….you pour out your heart to God and then listen and watch for what He will do.  And that is the kind of habit it’s hard to learn in the distractions of more abundant places.

At first you might learn to fix your eyes on Jesus to survive, so you can make it to somewhere else, or maybe just because you are young and enthralled, but after awhile you realize it is the best place for a heart to be, and to simply wait and look for what He is doing next.  Because the heavens declare His handiwork and the skies paint His unfailing love for those who are watching.  Selah

I’ll be a God-watcher in all the places of life; I’ll be a worshipper and a desperate heart.  I will be content in the deserts and in the garden, if You will give me eyes to see You and ears to hear You.  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”  (Psalm 139:5-6)

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever….as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge….”(Ps.73:25-26)



Of Giants and a Great Big God

His little voice stammered and strained as he told me about his fear of getting up in front of people, his dread of everyone looking at him.  As I listened to this little friend with the big eyes and sensitive heart, I could hear every one of his words echoing as if they were my own.  How could I tell this precious child that when you are born shy the fear doesn’t ever really go away, you just learn more skills to cope with it?  The world always seems larger and faster and louder than you are, and you either withdraw to safer, smaller circles, or you learn to walk beside your Father with your small hand firmly in His big one.  “Hear my cry, O God…from the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint.  Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for You have been my refuge, a strong tower…”  Psalm 61:1-3

I thought of older friends who were facing dreads of their own: cancer, the death of a child, the breakdown of a marriage, loss of a business.  How to tell a preschooler that the giants of fear and shame just get bigger as you grow, but so does faith?  I’d rather shield him from that for now, but then how does one learn to trust unless you can take the first step?  No use covering up the giants and pretending they don’t exist…this is the way life is, and yes, monsters are real.

It’s okay to feel nervous and embarrassed, I told him.  Everyone does.  But that doesn’t stop us from doing the things God has for us to do….because if He wants us to do these things, then He will give us what we need to get it done.  I used to tell my own children this, that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, and that anything really worth doing is worth working for.  And He promises to never leave us alone here.

So we talked about David fighting his giant and how all he had was a slingshot and a great big God, and we sang and we prayed, and I hoped this one would remember the shepherd boy who became a king, when he faced his own life giants.  I thought of my own faith-prayer that I read at night, that often goes through my mind when I walk up in front of people:

“Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess, but not more than is found in thee, the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells.  To thee I repair for grace upon grace, until every void made by sin be replenished and I am filled with all thy fullness.  May my desires be enlarged and my hopes emboldened, that I may honor thee by my entire dependency and the greatness of my expectation.  Do thou be with me and prepare me for all….May I find thy grace sufficient for all my needs.”  (taken from The Valley of Vision, p.116)


Some Days Are Like That

There are days when it’s hard to see the bigger Glory in what’s right here.  Floors need mopped and the piles of laundry hang raggedy over the basket’s edge.  I am answering the phone and mixing brownies and listening to someone else’s story, and I wonder what mine is.  Can’t back up far enough to see the bigger picture, and from here it feels so trivial, looks so jumbled.

Those days I walk by faith, that there are certain things in this world that God has for me to do, and since He made me to do them, I can.  And because it is His story, it is worth something….faith clutches hard to this hope.  How do I keep on being faithful in days when it all seems a loss, and I wonder if anyone would even notice if I stopped walking?

Paul knew the secret of days like that: “One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal….” (Philippians 3:13-14)  He used the word-picture of a race often, because it was something his readers had seen and could understand.  When you are a runner you understand it on a different level.  After the thrill of a strong start passes, and the end goal is still too far away to be seen, that’s where you learn perseverance.  Because every foot forward, every measured breath, every response of your body means more ground gained…and you settle into the rhythm, discipline yourself to stay in the moment and not focus on the past or the future or you’ll become discouraged, frustrated with this snail’s pace…it’s just your body and your will and the pavement in front of you… until you suddenly turn a corner and you can see the end up ahead.

That’s how it is on days like this. Just do the next thing, in a manner worthy of your calling, for the glory of the One who called you– one foot in front of the other, and leave it to God to get you to the end of the race.  If I keep my eyes and ears open for what He has for me to do in this moment and be obedient in the here and now, turning it all into worship, the moments have a way of flowing… one to the next, and into years….a whole story written before you know it.

“I am thankful for right now.  God, I AM, is present in this moment, and in His presence is fullness of joy.”  (Ann Voskamp)

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:16-17)

Oh be Careful Little Mouth What you Say

Words matter.  I taught my children that when they were little.  Words are powerful because they shape reality.  The first words we know came from the mouth of God and brought our universe into being.  “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Gen.1:3) Jesus is the living form of God’s words, Truth itself walking among us.  “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  (John 1:1)  And again, reality conformed to His utterance, turning inside-out everything under the sun and transforming it by His resurrection power: “It is finished….Behold, I am making all things new.” (John 19:30, Revelation 21:5)  Words are no small things, however much we take them for granted.

Words shape a person’s reality too– the direction we grow, how we see ourselves, the way we handle life all molded by the words of the people around us.  A picture is worth a thousand words perhaps, but just the right word can change the picture entirely.  So speak with care.  It is a frightful power, this ability to build up or destroy– it mimics the power of the Creator Whose image we bear.

No wonder that without love our words are like a clanging cymbal.  No wonder that Solomon’s wise proverbs spend so much ink addressing what comes out of our mouths.  No wonder that James compares the tongue to a raging fire, and the beast least likely to be tamed in this world.

Words also matter because they reveal what is in our hearts.  Maybe that is why James also says that controlling our tongue is a clear proof of our faith, the litmus test for Jesus-followers.  If Christ’s love and grace has taken up residence inside, the tongue will surely show it.  For the only way to tame the tongue is to let God tame our very nature, fill that fountain with Living Water so that it flows sweet and clear.

Lord make me mindful of my words; may I speak words that build safe places for others, that refresh and encourage, and point to You.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”.  Ephesians 4:29

“Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles.” Proverbs 21:23 




Three Months Later

Tonight as I looked around the room at these women who have spent the last three months growing together, I was amazed, as always, at how sharing one evening a week has turned us into sisters.  From that first night when we were all so careful and tentative we have come through long days and mothers’ heartaches… prayers upon prayers… worries and laughter and many cups of tea…until tonight we share final requests and insights.  “Pray for me; I need wisdom.  Pray for my children.  Pray that I will stay close to God.  Pray that I can forgive.”  The murmured requests written down and rising up to Heaven.

And so we leave this study on love behind and press on into the future.  Have we become Women of Love?  Not yet, but still becoming, and hopefully understanding Christ’s Law of Love more heart-deeply than when we started.  Committed together to the pursuit of love, for His sake.

“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  Mostly what God does is love you.  Keep company with him and learn a life of love.  Observe how Christ loved us.  His love was not cautious but extravagant.  He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.  Love like that.”  (Ephesians 5: 1-2 The Message)