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Monday, August 27, 2012

Frustration and Focus

There are things I want to blog about; there are things I want to say. There are things I want to sit and ponder and discuss and bounce around and see what you think of them as well.

Modern theology and the German theologians, for instance. Whether the world really had a finite moment of creation, or like Schleiermacher says, it is "everlasting" within the structure of time and what in the world he actually means by that anyway. I want to talk about really great things I see happening in a handful of people in my church body, and the way that the spark that was fanned into flame in one place has started just the smallest perceptible ember somewhere else. I want to talk about the way my heart nearly burst today with love and excitement for a little one who is really looking forward to her life. I want to talk about the passing of time in the process of healing, and how very foolish we humans are to always try to rush it along. How many times does our LOVING Lord say to us something like "And it came to pass that the days were accomplished..." He is not structured by time but we most certainly are, and therefore waiting for him to act in proper timing, to accomplish days, must be a very good thing. I see the days being accomplished. I want to share with the few of you who read here how he is working, even when just months ago, I said out loud, "I have NO IDEA how he will get me from here to there, but I believe he has the power to do it."

I don't know who you are that check this blog regularly, but I do see that every single day, someone or several someones do stop by. Thank you for that. It is you, I suppose, whom I am talking to. I hope we are friends. I'd like to know the Contents of Your Head too. Thank you for checking in on me. Thank you for reading.

I want to talk to you. I can't right now, even with a brain swirling with thoughts and ideas. My duty to write for others than myself has my priority and will for at least the next two weeks. I hope you won't forget me between now and then. I hope I won't forget what I'm seeing happen in my life and my world and my learning between now and then.

See you in a couple of weeks, then? When it comes to pass that these days of work overload have been accomplished and a new magazine is born to edify children and point them more along their path of thinking and discernment and celebration of life under the always-working hand of our mutual Sovereign Lord.

Blessings, adelphoi.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Kingdom Glimpses



Moments ago, we arrived home after a week at Edisto Beach, SC. Edisto is the beach my mother took me to when my brothers and I were teens. It's the beach her mother took her to as well. As my cousin Leslie pointed out, my children are the fourth generation now to have enjoyed Edisto with our family and friends.

I had not been to Edisto in over 12 years. It hasn't changed a whole lot, except that there are more houses and the ratio of magnificent mansions to cute cottages has shifted. Years ago, there were a few majestic set pieces on the beach to gaze dreamily at from the warped and peeling deckboards of the humble house your group of a dozen or more had pooled their money to rent that year. This year, our modest (but absolutely sufficient) seaside shelter was dwarfed on either side by three-story beauties. We didn't mind a bit.

This week was, as one friend called it, "epic" for me. It's apt. I began planning this trip back in January while sitting on my red couch in my living room, missing the people I loved. I needed "my people," and I longed at that moment to be surrounded by them. This last year, more than any other I can remember, has come around and around again to that feeling of longing for the ones close to my heart.

My sister-in-law basically told me to "get on it"--search for a house at Edisto and do something about a reunion. So I searched and found nothing we could afford before school was expected to start back. Sadly, though some interest in participating had been drummed up among my brothers and our closest friends, it didn't look like it was going to happen. Besides, schedules are crazy, we're all so busy going here and there, working, studying, starting new jobs, traveling... how could we possibly coordinate it?

Then God did something amazing. Funny how he keeps doing that. A week after I had given up on finding a house, a few things happened all at once. First, my kids' school announced the opening days--a full week later than last year's start date. Then my dear college friend Dave called to tell me that he would be wrapping up his law school summer session more than a full week before my kids went back to school. A bell rang in my head, and I dove for the Internet.

Sure enough, one week of extra vacation was all it took. Beachfront houses both opened up in availability and dropped 30% to 50% in cost. I sent a dozen email inquiries about big, multi-bedroom houses, simultaneously texting the sis-in-law, brothers, cousin Leslie, close friends... Would this newly opened week work for you?

I wouldn't trade this week for anything. Yes, I love the beach. Yes, Edisto was special to my grandmother and my mother. It was special to me and to Leslie and to Kevin and to Patti. We have precious memories from our past that we have shared with many others over those years of going there with friends, meeting new friends, taking new friends each year. Knitting and weaving together a tapestry of fellowship around a unique and lovely place. This year was no different. A few faces were missing, yes. A few brothers who couldn't make it. Some friends I would have included if they weren't half a continent away. But the ones who did come--each has a special place in my heart and in my life and I saw some new connections being made between my family and my friends, and unfolding and embracing and incorporating that I hope will last a lifetime and even into eternity.

For that moment while we were there, we had each other. It couldn't stay, not for now. But for then, it was there. We were there for each other. There's a Youtube for that: Awake.

God's family is diverse. It is embracing. It is more encompassing than we can imagine. We are living in the "already/not yet" of the completion of his perfect family, in which those he has called according to his purpose are adopted as heirs of equal standing with the very apostles who walked the Earth with the Christ. We are united to that same Son, perfectly ingrafted into God's family. I saw a glimpse of that this week. It filled for me a longing I have for the ones I love who are spread so far and wide in this world. And it ignited even more in me the longing I have for the eternal kingdom brotherhood of God's heavenly vision. I think there is nothing more beautiful than the sincere brotherly love of those who have Christ in common--God's vision for mankind--except for the sincere, completely unmerited, gracious, self-sacrificial Love of Christ himself that makes this unity out of diversity possible in the first place.

God loved those who were NOT like himself. He joined those who were not like himself to himself by his own pleasure and power. And he knits us together into a family of brothers. Adelphoi. Forever.

That's epic.
Emma with her "almost siblings" Jack and Nell.

Dear friend Dave with me and my cousin Leslie--remembering the days we spent cruising around Atlanta together. Lots of laughs. Lots of singing. Pure delight in friendship.

First attempt at my vision for dining on the beach: Dessert with Bill, me, Dave, Donna, Leslie, and Cathy. Not everyone was on board, but it was lovely anyway. We can even disagree, humor one another, and still come out loving each other when the wind-blown, sandy berry juice is all cleaned up.

Bill kayaking with little Jack. We don't have a boy. Thankful our friends are willing to share a little. :)

"A revolving cast of characters" another friend called it. Yes. This time it was a full dinner, with Leslie, Emma, me, Jeremy, Kevin, Sumer (taking the pic), Bill, Jane, Patti (Ed joined us later), Miriam, and Jill. Then the sand-gnats arrived.

Jack, Cathy, and Bill enjoying a talk on the beach. I love it that my best girl friend and my husband are so close--like siblings themselves, it seems.

I flew kites with Dave on Bowman Field in Clemson. This week, he flew a kite with my daughters. Who could have predicted it? Dave with Emma, at Edisto. A beautiful gift of inter-generational fellowship.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Let's Be Empirical!


This Christian life. This idealist. Let's just say, I had expectations. The graph above shows what, at the beginning, I think I expected it to be like. At least in the "I haven't really thought about this all that much" sense, this is kinda what I expected. And I'm not the only one. Lots and lots of folks I know (and whose credibility I promise you I cannot vouch for) describe the Christian life this way. It's got the basics, after that foundational basic of "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." Read the Word, Pray, Repent, Encourage others as long as it is called today. And over time, you see this lovely upward progression, and you can expect joy and happiness and fulfilment. I like the sound of that!

And I will also admit, that at the beginning, it was really that way. I saw myself like this:




But life has this way of happening. And while the basics were still emphasized, other expectations began creeping in. In all honesty, I have to say that as a people-pleaser in personality, and as a person in works-righteousness tendencies, I never fought for the simplicity of the first model. But even if I had, I'm sure life's demands would have started filling in my formerly pristine and formulaic graph. I soon began to think of the Christian life of progress and sanctification not as a straight and soaring oblique line to the heavens, but more as a stairstep. Up, plateau, up, plateau. I think I thought this way for about 47.2 seconds, at least. It was long enough to share the example at least once with some poor soul. (I hope it didn't cause too much trouble.)

 

Somehow, though, the more we seek holiness, the more we get advice. And we get ideas on our own. And before you know it, the Real Stuff gets lost in the aspirations of Perfect Living. But the Perfect Living can't be wrong, right? So I had to adjust my expectations. Sometimes we aren't walking up that stairstep. Sometimes it's all we can do to hoist and pull ourselves to that next level of Spiritual Maturity. Just keep plugging along, right? I think I can, I think I can. Do more. It will come. 

 

 But I found my model was still inaccurate. Because it still wasn't an up, plateau, up, plateau progression. I've given this example many times. (Please forgive me, those of you who learned it from me.) The Christian Life must be like an escalator. And I'm on it.


Jumping Rope.

That's it! Jumping rope on the up escalator! That's why I feel this way--making some progress, not making progress. Up, down, then MORE down, but then a little bit up... but I'm no athlete, spiritually speaking. I can't maintain this. I think it was while thinking along the lines of this model that I've had my deepest crashes.

  

Take a look at the overlay. Is this an encouraging graph of the Spiritual Life?



No wonder my anxiety is what it is! If this is as good as it gets... who can juggle "All the Christian Stuff" with such unpredictability?

So after church on Sunday, after hearing a sermon about Who the Holy Spirit is and being given some deep questions to ponder, I met up with the pastor again for a little discussion. He had made reference to that constant question for the Christian: Are you growing closer to Christ? Are you loving him more? Are you seeking him more? And I saw again my oblique line, shooting up diagonally, straight as the proverbial arrow, toward a glowy, happy me in the heavens. So I cornered him. "Nope," I said. "Not soaring. But it isn't that I don't believe. I KNOW I believe..."

He stopped me. He'd heard this before, I think. "I should clarify," he said. And then he wiped out all my years' worth of thinking in terms of this upward-progressing chart in any version. "It isn't about how high you get," he said. "It's about WHO you come back to."

Did you hear that shattering sound? Listen:
"It isn't about how HIGH YOU GET. It's about WHO you come back to."

He held up a hand and drew a circle in the air in a flat plane front of it. "Here's Jesus," he said of the hand. "And here's you." (I'm the finger of the other hand.) He touched his finger to his palm and explained. I'll paraphrase. You're bound to Jesus. What you know and what you experience are all part of being human. You'll always know him. But sometimes life or experience or trouble or doubt or you name it draws you away. (The finger leaves the palm in an orbit around nothingness.) But you always come back around. Always. Back to Jesus. That's proof the Holy Spirit is in you.

I now have a new set of visuals, and they make a lot more sense to me now than the upward graph. As he was talking, I was picturing myself as a playground toy. Remember the tether ball on the pole?


 

Only I'm not tethered to a useless old pole. I'm tethered to the Cross. I'm tethered to the Christ. I'm tethered to the one I always come back to.


So when the things of this life weigh in on me, or as is often the case, KAPOW!--blindside me, it's only natural that I start swinging. That's part of this Christian liberty. We are bound to a sovereign God, but at the same time, we are free agents, acting and responding within the safety and context of his guiding hand.



But because of that permanent bond, the tether that is secured by the Holy Spirit, no matter how far and away I swing, I will always come back to him. And when at the farthest point away--guess what! The next degree brings me closer to home!


 Now if you've lived at all, then you know, that the out and around, out and around, keeps happening throughout life. And sometimes, it feels more like you're caught in the whirlwind. In fact, I'd dare say many (maybe most?) of us feel this way more of the time than not. But when I think about how the promise is that we'll always, always undeniably come back, I can't help but hear Cowper's truth in the raging storm. Because what's actually happening, then, when it feels like this:


Is really guaranteed to be something like this. And the result of something like this, almost undeniably has to be

 

 the resulting closeness and security in the end that is exactly what I've been looking for all the time.


The Cross was a lowly place. It isn't about how high you get. It's about who you come back to. Amazing. Grace.