Saturday, May 31, 2014

Communion with God

This is my eleventh and final post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 11: The Joy of Intimacy

People think it's about the rules. That it's about the doing. That to join the "club", you have to agree to the dress code: no alcohol, no sex, and certainly no fun. Strap your Bible to a stick and thwack people on the head with it, or consider yourself shunned.

But it's not about the rules. It's about Love. All our carts are before our horses and we are all confused. It's not about the rules; it is about loving to the uttermost. But to understand that Love, we first have to see where we went wrong.

Chapter eleven is about communion with God.

"Communion with God, what was broken in the Garden, this is wholly restored when I want the God-communion more than I want the world-consumption. What that first and catastrophic sin of ingratitude ruptured, what that one bite of the forbidden fruit stole from those fully alive -- union -- can be repaired by the exact inverse of the Garden: lifestyle gratitude and a willingness to eat of the bread He gives in this moment. How badly do I want to return to perfect Paradise, walk with God in the cool of the evening, be fully alive?"

We think it is about the rules when really, the course of history plays out like a love song. It started with perfection and right relationship, and then something went wrong. The relationship was broken; union was damaged. And ever since, God has been weaving the brokenness to bring the relationship back together, to restore a right relationship between us. After the initial ingratitude of doubting God's provision, He has been seeking to show us Himself, to prove Himself to us, that we might trust Him and come back together, united, one with Him.

"Is there a greater way to love the Giver than to delight wildly in His gifts?"

We think it is about the rules, that we must do this or that for God to love us. We must stop our wicked ways to come into His presence. But the only thing that God requires of us is trust in Him. We get it backwards thinking that we must do all the right things for Him to love us, but really it is our love for Him that compels us to act. Trust God first, love God first, and you will seek to see Him, know Him, learn how to love Him. Counting His gifts? Seeing all the ways He has given to you? It opens your eyes to all the awesome in your life, but better than that, it opens your eyes to everywhere God is and all the ways He is seeking you.

"God makes love with grace upon grace, every moment a making of His love for us. And He invites the turning over of the hand, the opening and saying the Yes with thanks... Love bestows upon the Beloved gifts, the Beloved gives thanks for those gifts and enters into the mystical love union."

The rules kept me from God, annoyed me, frustrated me. I didn't want to paint myself up all pretty for some judgmental Man to look down His nose at me and nod His approval while I shuffled past. And then God showed Himself to me in radical, sacrificial love, a love that I knew no person would be capable of on their own, a Love that flowed through them from God. And I could see.

The rules were a roadblock for me, but God was pursuing me and they were no roadblock for Him. He knew my heart and showed Himself to me and I saw that He could not begin to care what broken, dirty road I had been on. He only cared... for me.

The parable of the prodigal son is so famous and so overused but only because it is so true. It is true of every believer who ever sat at God's feet. The son is pig-filthy and hopes for very little from his father, but his father could not begin to care how his son smelled, only that they could restore their relationship. This is you and God. And He is lavish in His coming-home celebrations.

"He chose me -- us! To be His bride! True, that's the intellectual premise of the Christian life, but only as the gifts are attended, not as ends but as means to gaze into the heart of God, does the premise become personal, God's choosing so utterly passionate. So utterly fulfilling."

All of us deeply desire communion with God, even if we are not immediately aware of it. It is that empty spot, that itch that nothing will quite scratch. And God is ever seeking to bring us that communion. Gift upon gift, they are meant to open our eyes to Him. We see the gifts and through them, see the Giver. And as you begin counting and find that you will never stop because the gifts keep flowing and raining down, then you know: this Giver loves. This Giver loves lavishly. This Giver loves beyond the rules and the regulations. This Giver desires our hearts, desires our trust, desires our love. That is what He wants from us; everything else follows from there.

Romans tells us we can know God loves us because "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) That gift-beyond-all-gifts shows (note: present tense -- actively, right now, acts as evidence of) God's deep love for us. And this sacrifice was so monumental, why? "We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." (Romans 5:11) Reconciliation. Reunited. Back together.

We know God loves us because He sacrificed His son to be with us. He didn't sacrifice His son on the condition that we get ourselves together. He didn't sacrifice His son to back us into the corner of obedience. He sacrificed His son to restore our relationship, to bring us back together, to show us His love and make it possible for us to see that Love, to come back into the union of love with Him. It's not about the rules; it's about God's Love for us, His great Love. All He requires of us is to open our eyes to that Love and trust Him.

Affiliate link used

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Receiving to Give

This is my tenth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 10: Empty to Fill

I suppose you could think of this counting gifts thing as a type of hoarding. Gathering up all the moments and scooping them in close to keep -- mine, mine, mine. But God didn't make it that way. The incredible thing about gifts from Him is that they are never only for you. The money He blesses you with, the joy He fills you with, the patience and gratitude and love and gentleness -- even the blessing of the sacrifice of Christ, it is yours, it is for you -- "This is my body, which is given for you" -- but it is not yours alone. Treasuring it, reflecting on it, keeping it close, it is a kind of joy hoarding, but it is also the kind of gift that fills you to overflowing. It is the kind of gift that will undo you so far that you cannot help but share. And suddenly the burden of your joy is to bring joy to others, to share the joy you know.

Chapter 10 is about giving.

"Eucharisteo is giving thanks for grace. But in the breaking and giving of bread, in the washing of feet, Jesus makes it clear that eucharisteo is, yes, more: it is giving grace away. Eucharisteo is the hand that opens to receive grace, then, with thanks, breaks the bread; that moves out into the larger circle of life and washes the feet of the world with that grace."

We started off here seeing the sermon of our lives. Who you are, what you do, it preaches everything about you. It tells the world what you truly believe. And in this searching for life, searching to live the message we want to preach, we named the mysteries and we redeemed time and we learned about the true grace that God gives in all things (yes, really, all things). We started to learn how to see God around us, to focus  on Him, and to learn how to trust Him. We changed our positions from one of worthy demanders to one of humble receivers. It makes us different. We cannot be the same.

If all is grace, then all is gift, and all we have is not ours. Our stuff, our money: God's. Our children, our loved ones: God's. Anything good in us -- love, patience, peace, joy: God's. And He has graciously given, lavishly bestowed. But these are things that cannot be fist-clenched into security. You cannot lock them in a closet and throw away the key, sure to have them forever and always. Every moment of your time with them is continuing grace from God. And the reason for the giving is, what? To bring glory to God. God gives to you that you might give to Him. And we give to Him through our praise, but we also give to Him by giving to others. "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40) When we feed and clothe and visit those who need us, we are serving Jesus, and it is no coincidence that this passage comes right after the Parable of the Talents, after words considering what you will do with what you have been given. 

"Passionately serving Christ alone makes us the loving servant to all. When the eyes of the heart focus on God, and the hands always on washing the feet of Jesus alone -- the bones, they sing joy, and the work returns to its purest state: eucharisteo. The work becomes worship, a liturgy of thankfulness... Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: Joy in Him."

When you look into the eyes of any person and say, "You are gift to me from God Himself," you cannot help but love them. And that love compels you. This person is more than a mouth to feed or a body to clothe; this person is a soul and a spirit and a flame to nurture. They are not a someone in and of themselves, but rather a vessel, an image of God. And even in the most difficult situations any one person could find themselves in, they can be blessed by God... through you.

How do we do this? How do we make this real and move it beyond words and thoughts and heart-tuggings? Well, good question. This living to give, this reflection of the gift-giver, will look different for all of us. My momma life forces me to confront this every day. Every day, I give my time and my love and my patience and my joy to two sweet little people. And in the tantrums and the giant messes and the frustrations, I remind myself to see through the tears and attitudes and see Jesus there. As I rock and wipe and wash and mend, I remember: all is grace, even this. All is gift, even this. And I remind myself...

"Jesus Christ still lives with a towel around His waist, bent in service to His people... in service to me, as I serve, that I need never serve in my own strength."

I'm not alone. I'm not fighting for joy by myself. I'm not mustering up gifts to give from the pits of my heart. I am serving Christ. And as I serve, I am being served and the cycle just keeps on turning, giving and giving and giving, emptying myself to be filled again. And every time I think that I can't possibly give one more moment, one more grace, one more drop of anything, Jesus turns my water into wine and there I am again, receiving and, in turn, giving. And the deeper beauty of this reliance on Jesus is that then, my children, the ones I serve, do not see me in all my strength, but rather Christ. My very service to them points their eyes to the One I serve.

"I reach out and touch the reflection in the splattered mirror over the sink and whisper into those eyes: Yes, today, again, yes, you can bless! Here you can enact euchariesteo; here you can become a current in a river of grace that redeems the world! ... God can enter into me, even me, and use these hands, these feet, to be His love, a love that goes on and on forever, endless cycle of grace."

We have to be reminded. Just as we have to be reminded of all the gifts we have been given, we have to be reminded of all the gifts we can give. We have to return to God daily, preaching to ourselves these truths. And God, the God who gave us life in Christ, is faithful. He is faithful to use even the hardest days to bring glory to Himself. "You received without paying; give without pay." (Matthew 10:8) We have been so richly given, and now we give, not from the energies of our own hearts and bodies, but from the sustenance of God through Christ.

My own words keep ringing in my head: "Whatever life you lived today? It was from God." And I think, Really? This? Sometimes it feels so small, so insignificant. No one sees half (or way more) of the things I do; how can this be from God? How can this be important enough for Him to see, to care about? Maybe all you accomplished today was not yelling at your friend. Maybe all you accomplished was finishing that one little thing at work. Maybe every last thing you did today has already been undone. (All the parents of littles are raising their hands.)

Here's the thing: The life you lived today was from God, whatever it held, however it felt, whatever you did. Whatever that day brings, it holds people you can bless, no matter whether the world says they are unworthy, whether the world says you are unworthy. Newsflash: we are all unworthy and yet God gives and gives and gives... and so should we.

Tune back in on Thursday, 5/29, for my post on Chapter 11: The Joy of Intimacy

Affiliate link used 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Learning from Disappointment

This is my ninth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 9: Go Lower

My husband and I dated for five years before we got married. You'd think that time would have allowed us a seamless entry into married life, but as it turns out, we had (have) a lot of learning still to do. Thankfully, both of us are avid learners and in the nearly-six years since our wedding day, we have done a lot of studying, growing, changing.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned through my marriage has to do with disappointment. I have learned that for the health of my marriage, it is best if I don't view my husband as a magical mind-reader, but rather, that I practice honesty, laying out my expectations clearly. This might have to do with who takes out the trash and where to put dirty socks; it might have to do with my deepest emotional needs or some way he has hurt me. I have learned that the magnitude of my disappointment is the distance between reality and my expectations. I am brought as far down as the space between what I want and what I have or what I got. If I expected a diamond necklace for my birthday and instead got a $0.99 Walmart greeting card, I would be sorely disappointed. If I expected a sweet note and instead got that same greeting card, I would be mildly disappointed. If I am honest about my expectations ("Honey, I'd love flowers for my birthday," which is exactly what I said to my husband a month ago), then, provided those expectations are reasonable, I suffer no disappointment. My honesty prevents strife between us.

Sometimes, my expectations are unreasonable. Sometimes, my expectations would require my husband to be someone other than who he is. Those times require a healthy conversation and a strong dose of compromise. If I cannot change the situation, I can change my expectations. If we, say, can't afford that diamond necklace, I can work on my heart to change my desires. I can accept our financial limitations and be fully satisfied with a sweet card. I can change the desires of my heart, not by willing myself into a new want, but by focusing outward, not on myself and my desires, but on my marriage, on my family, on my spouse.

Chapter 9 is about humility.

When we confront the wall of our own hearts and minds, we have these two options: make our desires possible or create new desires. Either we can attain what we want -- and we will if it is possible -- or we change what we want to make it something we can have. This is the only way. Otherwise, we end up stewing and hating and coveting and pining and all of it fruitlessly so. It's that worn out serenity prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Ann says it this way...

"The quiet song of gratitude, eucharisteo, lures humility out of the shadows because to receive a gift the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give."

This dance is all about humility. When I approach my husband and demand something that cannot be given, I have a choice: I can beat my chest in pride and force his hand. Or I can bow my head in humility and accept him. In my seeking God, I can either beat Him into the God I want Him to be... or I can bow before Him and graciously accept His gifts.

"Joy is a flame that glimmers only in the palm of the open and humble hand. In an open and humble palm, released and surrendered to receive, light dances, flickers happy. The moment the hand is clenched tight, fingers all pointing toward self and rights and demands, joy is snuffed out. Anger is the lid that suffocates joy until she lies limp and lifeless... The demanding of my own will is the singular force that smothers out joy -- nothing else."

This disappointment/expectation thing doesn't apply only to my marriage. It applies to my connection with God. When I lay my cards out on the table before God and show Him exactly how I want things to be, I am drawing a line in the sand. I am putting conditions on our relationship and I am asserting my will above His. The amazing thing about God is that He always seeks our good and His glory. By submitting to His will, I am actually doing myself the most good.

"Instead of filling with expectations, the joy-filled expect nothing -- and are filled!'

God has made promise after promise after promise to us. He has promised to love us, to care for us, to seek justice for us, to treasure us, to deliver to us the inheritance due His Son. Somehow, we have distorted this to mean that He promises us health and wealth and a pretty, perfect life. We expect these things. We expect our lives to look a certain way and when they don't, we blame God. We bring Him down with our expectations and we only find disappointment. With a heart of gratitude, we can change that. With a heart of joyful, patient waiting, we can find God instead of frustration and anger.

"All these years, these angers, these hardenings, this desire to control, I had thought I had to snap the hand closed to shield joy's fragile flame from the blasts. In a storm of struggles, I had tried to control the elements, clasp the fist tight so as to protect self and happiness. But palms curled into protective fists fill with darkness. I feel that sharply, even in this... And this realization in all its full emptiness: My own wild desire to protect my joy at all costs in the exact force that kills my joy."

It strikes me, the vast pride I display when I indulge in the demanding of my way or a hearty bout of worrying. I can fret and worry over what I think will happen, but how could I possibly presume to know? How could I possibly conceive of what will be? I worry about such-and-such happening (or not happening) when in truth, God could play it out millions of different ways and I can stretch to think of two or three. My pride clutches on to those and becomes sure of the destruction that will come my way, when my reality, a fundamental part of my creation, dictates that I cannot see, cannot dictate. I must... receive.

Because we think we know, because we think we have this thing under control, we lay out the demands and we fall hard. All this shows that we have not learned how to trust. We scramble fast for what we think will fill us, what we think will bring us joy, and we fall hard in disappointment when we are not delivered, are not given what we want to build ourselves up. We have not learned to trust the God who promises us all good things and that through those things, He will gain glory. We don't see this. We turn our eyes inward and we see everything we lack. But a life of gratitude, a life of thanksgiving, a life of open receiving: that is a life that begins to build trust and, thus, begins to build joy.

"Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust. I can let go."

God brings us to places where this is so clear. Sitting by my daughter's bedside, watching her breathe because I could not hold her, I knew I could not fix her. I could not make it better. I could not will her to live. So I prayed. "God, please protect her, but in all things, Your will be done." I never would have chosen that road; it was hard and it hurts (still hurts), especially her. But I have counted His graces. I know that He is in this place. And even then, I knew that whatever way He had this go was the best way, even if it didn't feel like it.

We can never meet joy if we continue to beat on the wall of our own desires. We cannot force God's hand. We cannot make Him into our image. But we can change our desires. God promises us this. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." (2 Corinthians 5:17) "Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life." (Romans 6:22) We are new creations, set free from our desires and the bondage of sin. We can have new wants, a new perspective. We can adopt the attitude of grace and receive God's gifts in humility, all of them, even the ones our flesh tells us we do not want. We can accept rather than demand. We can embrace rather than fight. We can be reconciled rather than alienated. We can be brought into the arms of love instead of left cold and lonely.

"If the heights of our joy are measured by the depths of our gratitude, and gratitude is but a way of seeing, a spiritual perspective of smallness might offer a vital way of seeing especially conducive to gratitude."

A spiritual perspective of smallness. A spirit that says, "Not my will but Thy will." The humble spirit of Jesus. Jesus who says those humble, those meek, they will inherit the earth. Not the proud and the loud and the chest-beating demanders. Not the control-freaks and the power-hungry and the big, mighty strongest. The humble. The meek. They will have the earth. They will open their hands to receive -- and God will give.

Tune back in on Saturday, 5/24, for my post on Chapter 10: Empty to Fill

Affiliate link used 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Building Trust

This is my eighth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 8: How Will He Not Also?

Chapter 8 is about trust.
I read this chapter on a Saturday evening and the words were still ringing in my head the next morning as I drove my kids to church. Trust. Hard fought for among people and so easily lost, but I couldn't help think about all the things we trust implicitly. How we trust the world. I became keenly aware of the 3000+ pound vehicle I strapped my precious blessings into, this metal, plastic, rubber structure that I press the pedal to 70 miles an hour and there they are behind me, just sitting and smiling. And I take us in that metal box under a concrete overpass, rock hanging above us in the sky. How much trust does that require? I'm willingly, knowingly bringing my children under a weight that would break any vehicle it fell on. I'm trusting that our van drives smooth, that the doors don't fly off, that the tires don't explode, that the overpass hangs up there in the sky like it was meant to do and always has, but I'm trusting that it will keep on keeping on.

Have you ever gone to sit in a chair and thought, I wonder if this thing will hold me. Maybe once or twice on your grandmother's 70 year old dining room chair, but I'd hazard a guess that 99% of the time, you don't give it a second thought. It's the classic Philosophy 101 thought exercise, but I don't care; it has implications. I trust that the chair will hold me because of all the times I've ever sat in a chair, it held me. My experience tells me that chairs hold. My lifetime of chair sitting has preached to me that chairs are reliable and I don't have to think before I sit in them because they will do what they always do: hold.

"Without an active, moment-by-moment trust in the good news of an all-sovereign, all-good God, how can we claim to fully believe? ... Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism."

I may trust chairs. I'd guess most of the world does (except for perhaps the two people I know who have broken a chair they sat in... imagine their trust issues!). I may trust chairs, but I'm far less trusting of God. And when you think about it, my implicit trust in the function of my chair should be way less automatic than my implicit trust of God. But I have fuzzy vision. I lack focus.
When I tune the eyes of my heart in, I can list you thousands of ways that God has protected me, some of them from before I ever acknowledged Him with my lips. Thousands. Maybe more, but I wouldn't have the time or memory to count. This is certainly a track record worth trusting, a lifetime of gift and provision and protection and love. Why is it so hard for me to trust God when it is so easy for me to trust a chair?

"If trust must be earned, hasn't God unequivocally earned our trust with the bark on the raw wounds, the thorns pressed into the brow, your name on the cracked lips? How will He not also graciously give us all things He deems best and right? He's already given the incomprehensible."

It's so easy to see when you look into the face of Christ. Of course God will give us all things. He already gave us Jesus. Even if that was it, the only gift, the only blessing, it shatters any doubt we could ever have about how much God loves us. And if we truly do not doubt His love, we can have the greatest, most fabulous, most wonderful trust in Him. He has far and beyond earned our trust, but we have to work to build it in our own hearts. 

"Thanks is what builds up trust... Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out the planks of trust. I can walk the planks - from known to unknown - and know: He holds."

We build up our trust of God when we thank Him. We extend the hand of gratitude and we learn to appreciate, to see God around us, and slowly, slowly we start to believe in Him. And we build a belief that we can stand on, a belief like the one I have in the chair I'm sitting in, one that is automatic and implicit.  

"This is the crux of Christianity: to remember and give thanks, eucharisteo. Why? Why is remembering and giving thanks the core of the Christ-faith? Because remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust - to really believe."

We look back on all the times God has cared for us, loved us, showered us with grace, and we grow our trust. We grow our trust and we strengthen our belief. This is our whole being; this is our whole life. Seeing and remembering begets gratitude. Gratitude begets trust. Trust begets belief. When we hone in our vision, see God, and thank Him, we build a relationship of trust that will stand firm.

"The God whom we thank for fulfilling the promises of the past will fulfill His promises again. In Christ, the answer to the questions of every moment is always Yes."

I have built a relationship with chairs. I have spent a lifetime sitting in them, and they have always held for me. I don't have to wonder or think or fear that the chair will suddenly abandon me, desert me, not work for me. My answer to the chair is always Yes! I trust you.The same goes for the cars I drive and the roads I drive them on and the house I live in and the houses of friends and family that I visit and the stores I shop in and the trees and boulders I drive by. I trust that they will all hold because they've always held. They have fulfilled their functions for me time and again and by that, we have a relationship of trust. I do not fear while I drive or sleep in my house. I know. The answer is Yes.

We get hung up on God because we can't see Him and we feel like we can't know. It's confusing; is this God or is this something else? How do I know God meant this and not for something else to happen? Is this gift from God or is it from a great decision I made? Is this pain from God or from my sin? Here's the thing: it's all from God. Whatever life you lived today? It was from God. And all those gifts and all that pain, they are all being made into good for you and glory for God. Always. Always. Every moment. YES! God is always good and you are always loved and that means that you can trust Him.

"All fear is but the notion that God's love ends. Do you think I end, that My bread warehouses are limited, that I will not be enough? But I am infinite, child. What can end in Me? Can life end in Me? Can happiness? Or peace? Or anything you need? Doesn't your Father always give you what you need? I am the Bread of Life and My bread for you will never end. Fear thinks God is finite and fear believes that there is not going to be enough and hasn't counting one thousand gifts, endlessly counting gifts, exposed the lie at the heart of all fear? In Me, blessings never end because My love for you never ends. If My goodnesses toward you end, I will cease to exist, child. As long as there is a God in heaven, there is grace on earth and I am the spilling God of the uncontainable, forever-overflowing-love-grace."

Do you hear that? That... is a song of Love. "All fear is but the notion that God's love ends." And God's love can't end so we can't fear. But our sight is fuzzy and our eyes need help; our hearts need focus. So we build the bridge, plank by plank, thanks by thanks, and yesterday carries us to tomorrow and into the forever infinite love of God, and before long, we have built a road of trust, a trust that we can count on in all things.

Tune back in on Thursday, 5/22, for my post on Chapter 9: Go Lower

Affiliate link used 

Thursday, May 15, 2014


This is my seventh post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 7: Seeing Through the Glass

My day started with a frustrating phone call. The doctor who needs to review my daughter's scans to tell us if she is a candidate for a cochlear implant is out of town this week, won't be able to meet with us until the end of next week. We have a two week window from the time she is old enough for the surgery until he goes on his yearly month-long vacation across the world. Time is running out and we keep getting pushed back and pushed back.

I hung up the phone and immediately launched into a barrage of how-it-could-have-been-differents. I chided myself for not getting on their case sooner, calling and following up to push them. I lamented the ploddingly slow medical process. Then I flung myself forward and started worrying about how this will impact events to come. Will we get pushed back to after her surgeon's vacation and have to wait until August to get this done instead of doing it in mid-June? What will that mean if she requires two surgeries instead of just one? Will it be September, October even, before she is activated and we can finally start working on her hearing instead of July like we've been hoping? Three months could make an immense difference and what will it mean if we have to wait that long?

Suddenly, in the middle of all that mind-spinning, my thoughts stopped and to the surface of my mind came a text message from a friend who, struggling with anxiety herself, has been texting back and forth with me, each of us sharing our struggles and our hope in Christ. She said,

"Thought I'd encourage you with a friend's thoughts re: staying focused on the present. [Today is the best day to live in. The past always holds some kind of regret, and the future always a worry. It's not worth it. Jesus is here now. That's worth everything!]"

I marveled as I thought... that's exactly what I was doing! I was stewing in the regrets from the past, things I can learn from, sure, but things I can't possibly do anything about, have no power to change. And then I flew into the future, worrying about whatever will come. Again, this can do me no good. I can think carefully and plan, but I cannot dictate what will come. I don't hold tomorrow in my hand.

Immediately after this, a Facebook post (of all things) popped into my head. It wasn't even one I meant to read; I haven't been checking my news feed, just following the folks I love most. But in checking a message, my cursor flicked over to the little ticker in the side bar and hovered over this status, one God clearly meant for me to read:

"I must go into each day with the single expectation that You will go *with* me. All things beyond that blessed fact are beyond the scope of my vision. I should not seek to gaze upon the future--because, in gazing, I often forget that You are there, too. A Godless glance into what-ifs is the very threshold of anxiety. But eyes shut in faith, clinging to Your Hand, heeding to Your whisper, is the very essence of faith. I do not need to *see* what lies ahead; I only need to *know* Who leads me.

"Therefore, I will all the more gladly glory in my weaknesses & infirmities, that the strength and power of Christ (the Messiah) may rest (yes, may pitch a tent over & dwell) upon me!" (2 Cor. 12:9, AMP)

Pitch Your tent over me this day, Lord. Help me leave my anxieties at the Door."

It doesn't take much to realize what God wants from me. He wants my eyes closed, my hand open. He wants me waiting for Him and watching for Him. He wants me peaceful in Him, not regretful or fretting in myself. This is the heartbeat of counting gifts, the patient expectation of what God has for us. But how quickly I can forget; apparently, it only takes one phone call.

Chapter seven is about focus.

"[Jesus] looked up to heaven, to see where this moment comes from. Always first the eyes, the focus... Contemplative simplicity isn't a matter of circumstance; it's a matter of focus."

My focus had been on myself, on my daughter's medical team. They messed it up, making it take longer. I didn't do everything I could have to push this forward. Together, we have failed my daughter, holding up something she needs. But as I thought about it, as I searched my own heart, I acknowledged God's timing. The scans coming from a different doctor? We needed that done, but it held things up. Her doctor being out of town this very week? It meant we had to push back the appointment. His vacation in July? He takes it every year; it's not a surprise. God is in all these "circumstances", these things I wish to change. These events are His movements, His doings.

"Why do I reduce The Greatest to the lesser instead of seeing the lesser, this mess, as reflecting The Greatest? I have to learn how to see, to look through to the Largeness behind all the smallness. Isn't He here?"

My eyes always immediately fall to my circumstances, how all this is messed up and wrong. What I fail to see is God in this place. All around me, these babies and this home and our family and everything we have been given, they are all reflections of Him. And instead of seeing how these things are broken, I need to fix my eyes on how they reveal Him. Instead of a wait for surgery, I can marvel at the miracle of bringing hearing to deaf ears, be it in June or July or August or ever. Instead of an inconvenience, I can trust in the wait, knowing that God has gone before me and is laying these stepping stones in exactly the way that brings Him most glory and does His children most good. This is a God I can trust and I know that... But I must remember.

"Oh, son. So hard. To see all this material world as transparent, glass to God. To practice migrating one thousand gifts on paper to one thousand all eyes to one thousand smiles on lips. To transfigure the principle to the skin."

I have seen the glory of God and forgotten it. I return daily to His Word and disremember. I seek the holy and get caught in the earthly. This is our life on earth. It is why we long for heaven, to the day when we will no longer get bogged down in ourselves and our things and the mess and will instead have eternal peace with God, a right relationship, all healed. The only way, while we're here, to make it through the mess without shunning God, without casting Him off, is to seek -- constantly -- for Him. To search out the holiness is all this earthliness. 

"Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)" We can only see this part-way. It's like we're looking into a mirror with the light so low we can barely make out the image. Manna-style, what is it? And in light of this, Paul goes on to say, "So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)" So now... Because we only know in part right now (though we will one day know in full), because we don't have the full picture, we must walk... how? In faith. With hope. In love. These abide. Not our knowledge, not even the prophecies or gifts.

Faith -- a belief that God will keep His promises, even though we cannot see it at this moment. 
Hope -- an expectation of the great joy that will be ours in Christ.
Love -- the highest expression of gratitude, of thankfulness, of eucharisteo, that we can offer to God, to our fellow man. The highest expression of sacrifice that God showed in Christ reflected by us in our obedience to God and our seeking good for fellow man.

These are the pillars that hold up our lives. Not our ability to understand it all or dictate it all, to command the future and redeem the past. But rather our eyes-closed, hand open faith, waiting, with all trust in that great hope that has been proven to us in a majestic display of love in Christ.

"Like Jacob, we ask, breathless and heaving, where He is, who He is, for His name here, the only real blessing. 'Please tell me your name.' We have named the graces and there found His name, Glory, and in the face of man we have seen the face of God. Then Him, the blessing, God, joy-water in the desert.

But wells don't come without first begging to see the wells; wells don't come without first splitting open hard earth, cracking back the lids... It takes practice, wrenching practice, to break open the lids. But the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is."

We first have to beg to see the wells. And everyone's life offers opportunities for this. We all have moments of dire thirst, moments in the wilderness when we desperately need relief. Those moments require of us only one thing: to cry out, in faith, with hope, toward Love.

"I'm blind to joy's well every time I really don't want it. The well is always there. And I choose not to see it... If I am rejecting the joy that is hidden somewhere deep in this moment - am I not ultimately rejecting God?"

We must seek to see. We must have faith that God is here, even here. We must walk out in hope that we will find Him. We must trust in the love that God has proven for us. God is here, even in the mess of doctor schedules and flub ups and missed opportunities. We have a choice -- we can see the well. Or we can focus on the dirt on the mirror. We can ask for God; show Yourself! Or we can point fingers and blame and worry. God wants for us the peace of trusting Him. He wants for our hearts to dwell in the moment with Him. And He waits for us in love, an ever-present well, deep and cool and quenching.

Tune back in on Saturday, 5/17, for my post on Chapter 8: How Will He Not Also?

Affiliate link used 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Seeking to See

This is my sixth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 6: What Do You Want? The Place of Seeing God

During my education courses in college, I came across a quote that got me thinking: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." The quote is attributed to Einstein, though it seems he never actually said or wrote it. And while I don't necessarily agree with it (I, for one, am no genius), it unearthed a bunch of questions about my assumptions regarding my students and what I (and others) required of them. What standards are we holding them to and why? How can we help our fishes excel at swimming and our monkeys excel at climbing? But mostly it made me think a lot about what we're meant to be and do. If the idea is that a fish is meant to swim and asking it to do anything else will set it up for failure, what are we meant to do, meant to excel at, and what pursuits will simply set us up for failure?

Chapter six is about seeing God.

With these big questions, these heady theological deals, it's best to turn to the professionals. The Westminster Catechism is a favorite around our home, and while I would love to memorize it one day, I only know the first question by heart. And now that I'm thinking of it, I should make myself say it, out loud, every day, first thing in the morning. It asks: "What is the chief end of man?" Answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Well, there you go, fish. This is our swimming. Anything else is our climbing trees.

I think it would be safe to ask me now... What does this mean? Or as Ann asks: "How do you open the eyes to see how to take the daily, domestic, workday vortex and invert it into the dome of an every day cathedral?" We live on this very earthy earth and we do earthy earth things. We have dirt to clean up and hunger to satisfy and fatigue to remedy. How do we take our physicalness and make it spiritual? How do we meet God, see God, hear God so that we can enjoy Him and glorify Him? We need to look.

"No matter how manifested, beauty is what sparks the romance and we are the Bride pursued, and the Lover pursuing, and known or unbeknownst, He woos us in the romance of all time, beyond time... Any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down. Do I have eyes to see it's Him and not the thing?"

We embark on this journey to find joy and light in the darkness and we begin counting, see gifts, bringing them up close, naming them and so stopping the torrent of time to embrace the gift of the Giver. And she's said it before, it's not the gifts that fulfill but the holiness of the space, the God who gave them. But we have to go beyond simply seeing these great gifts, opening our hands to receive; we need to look beyond those gifts to the One who is giving. We should consider how He reveals Himself to us in these gifts and what great things about Himself He wishes to teach us. And when we see Him there, we can't help but give thanks.

"The truly saved have eyes of faith and lips of thanks. Faith is in the gaze of a soul... The art of deep seeing makes gratitude possible. And it is the art of gratitude that makes joy possible. Isn't joy the art of God? ... Joy that fills me under full moon is the joy that always fills God... He is not a tyrant or despot. I smile under the moon. For God is happiest of all. Joy is God's life."

We open our eyes in faith. We see the gift. We thank God for it, and this thanking brings us joy. Joy is wonderful and all, but we don't seek joy for the sake of joy. We seek joy for the sake of God. God is joy. And us? We're meant to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. This joy that comes from the gratitude that comes from the gift... it is our function. It is our purpose. It is our swimming. And it is the one thing that we must have to exist as we are meant to exist. To thrive. To live.

"Because isn't my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship? Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don't see God, I'll bow down before something else."

Here's where this gets essential. This isn't a matter of joy versus sorrow. This isn't a matter of having a "happy" life or having a crappy one. This is a matter of all importance, beyond any other endeavor you could pursue. You were made for this one thing -- to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever -- and you will always seek to do that thing (just like fish will always try to swim, even on dry land). You can't not bring glory. You can't not search for joy. But you can bring glory to all the wrong things and you can seek joy in all the wrong places. Cast your eyes out your door (or not-so-deep into the internet) and you will find a million ways to bring yourself joy or bring something or someone glory... in any way other than glorifying and enjoying God. We must seek God, or we will serve ourselves or our jobs or our families or our desires. We will get caught up and we will lose sight and we will end up fishes climbing trees.

"I am a wandering Israelite who sees the flame in the sky above, the pillar, the smoke from the mountain, the earth open up and give way, and still I forget. I am beset by chronic soul amnesia. I empty of truth and need the refilling. I need to come again every day -- bend, clutch, and remember -- for who can gather manna but once, hoarding, and store away sustenance in the mind for all of the living?"

Any extra manna the Israelites tried to collect would disappear in the heat of the sun. They needed to return to God, every morning, for their sustenance, their fuel, their very existence. It's this same mystery, how we can know and see and experience God and within a day, within moments, we forget and we turn aside. So we must return, we must seek to see, we must find, or we will turn aside. We will lose our way without an aim, without an end in sight.

Can you see how this won't happen on accident? Can you see how easy it is to miss this? We wake up and get to our doings and we whoosh by in the doing and we forget to swim. And after a whole day of trying to climb a tree, we are tired and frustrated and unfulfilled and we seek out any temple, any pleasure to bring us back to our rightful place, to fulfill our need to glorify and find joy. The placebo effect works for a little while but after days, weeks, months of this, we start to wonder why we are here at all. We have to train our eyes to see God. And we can't just see Him once or twice or here or there. We must seek to see Him daily. 

"Faith is not a once-in-the-past action, but faith is a way of seeing, a seeking for God in everything."

This is our walk. This is our faith, an intentional seeking and seeing of God that we might glorify Him, that we might enjoy Him. It is why we are and it must be who we are. And here's the thing: it always ends in our joy. It may feel like work at first, begrudgery, an obligation. But God is a God of joy and this thing he wants for us, it is what we are meant to do. It is the air we are meant to breathe. And it is the "secret" to our eternal fulfillment... in Him.

Tune back in on Thursday, 5/15, for my post on Chapter 7: Seeing Through the Glass

Affiliate link used 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

True Grace

This is my fifth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 5: What in the World, In All This World, Is Grace?

Chapter five is about suffering.

It was as though Ann was in my head. I'd been working hard, naming gifts, redeeming time. But I couldn't hush this nagging in the back of my mind. If I thank God for the gift of a bird's song and the sweet "Yai wuv yoo" from my son and the way my daughter always, always, always sleeps with her right arm crooked above her head or across her eyes...

"What are all the other moments?"

What is everything else? What are the days with nagging upset tummies and attitudes a mile long and naps all broken? What are the scary doctor phone calls and the three-hour-old ambulance rides and the yet another cancer diagnosis?

"Do I believe in a God who rouses Himself just now and then to spill a bit of benevolence on hemorrhaging humanity? A God who breaks through... only now and then, surprises us with a spared hand, a reprieve from sickness, a good job and a nice house in the burbs -- and then finds Himself again too important to deal with all... suffering and evil?"

This is real and it is weighty. This truth finds itself in the hearts of mothers cradling their sick babies. This truth finds itself in the heart of mothers who have lost their babies. This truth finds itself in orphans and widows, and shake a hand and you have met someone who has hurt. And we can name big hurts and small hurts, but they are all hurts and in the grand scheme of things, all hurts hurt. We don't need to lay down our measuring sticks to compare them. They are all real and they are all pain and they are all worthy of asking: How is God mixed up in this?

Everyone's journey is their own. And there are many people who have walked through pain and their walk looks very different from mine. I will share with you what was my experience. A man asked me if I felt abandoned by God when my daughter came sick and I was able to tell him, truthfully, no, I did not feel abandoned. But I did cry out. I did ask why.

"I won't shield God from my anguish by claiming He's not involved in the ache of this world and Satan prowls but he's a lion on a leash and the God who governs all can be shouted at when I bruise, and I can cry and I can howl and He embraces the David-hearts who pound hard on His heart with their grief and I can moan deep that He did this -- and He did."

The Psalms are full of shouts and groans and "whys" to God, and in the midst of suffering and evil, they are absolutely appropriate. The virus that infected my growing child, that ate away at her soft tissues and left her in a silent world, I will call that what it clearly is -- evil. The depression that breaks so many souls into ending their earthly journeys -- evil. The anger and pride that swells men's hearts to put guns in the hands of children to fight their wars -- evil. The poverty that nags at bellies and leaves children dying from emptiness -- evil. It is real. It is impactful. It hurts. And in this symphony that God is conducting, there are minor notes. There are sore spots. And it breaks God's heart.

"I can hear Him soothe soft, 'Are your ways My ways, child? Can you eat My manna, sustain on My mystery? Can you believe that I tenderly, tirelessly work for all the best good of the whole world -- because My flame of love for you can never, ever be quenched?"

We are not privy to the big picture. We can't see where this has come from and where it is going. But how many "overcoming adversity" stories have you seen? How many people have you heard about on those heartwarming sections of the news broadcast who have taken their broken legs or broken minds or extra chromosomes or war-torn childhoods and from them, run races and healed hearts and brought joy and created peace? I can't even number them. I can't number the hands that have held mine and told me, "I have seen what God can do with loss."

"I awaken to the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places,
and hasn't it always been?
Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life. And there is no other way.
Then... yes: It is dark suffering's umbilical cord that alone can untether new life.
It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace.
And grace that chooses to bear the cross of suffering overcomes that suffering."

We live in a world that has tumbled far and broken and we live in bodies that are trapped and wounded. And we cannot escape that, not while we are here for our little while, for our but-a-breath. But while we are here, breaking and being broken, we can know that God is redeeming.

"The God of the Mount of Transfiguration cannot cease His work of transfiguring moments -- making all that is dark, evil, empty into that which is all light, grace, full."

I have known the power of fear overcome by trust in God. I have looked into the eyes of the brave and marveled at their courage. I have known that fear myself and marveled at its own dissolving in the face of grace after grace after grace. God taught me more about Himself through my walk with my daughter than He ever did in anything else. She weighed as much as a small bag of flour and she was covered in bruises and her spleen was chewing up every last platelet her body could make. And I watched God transfigure her. I watched transfusion after transfusion sustain her while her liver and spleen healed. I watched those bruises fade and her sweet eyes open wide. I watched her gain ounce after ounce and round out. I watched God take dark, evil, and empty and make it into light, grace, and full. Miracles, every one.

Here's the thing: God didn't owe my daughter miracles. He didn't owe them to me or my husband or our family or anyone else who loved her. He chose healing for her, but He just as easily could not have. 

"When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become gift? For He might not have."

Those ways that are greater than my ways, the plans man means for evil that God means for good (Genesis 50:20), these are not things I understand. And maybe "if I had the perspective of the whole, perhaps I'd see it? ... Is it a cloud to bring rain, to bring a greater good to the whole of the world?" And there is comfort in knowing that from evil, God can transfigure good. But the reality of our experience on earth is that we may never know that good. We may never see the grace upon grace upon grace. We may never see the miracles. But it does not change the story.

"I have hacked my life up into grace moments and curse moments. The chopping that has cut myself off from embracing the love of a God who 'does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow' (Lamentations 3:33), but labors to birth grief into greater grace. Isn't this the crux of the gospel? The good news that all those living in the land of shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun. That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart -- and mourning and dancing are but movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty. Can I believe the gospel, that God is patiently transfiguring all the notes of my life into the song of His Son?

What in the world, in all this world, is grace?

I can say it certain now: All is grace.

I can see through the woods of the world: God is always good and I am always loved.

God is always good and I am always loved.

Everything is eucharisteo."

We look around the world, even in our own little corners of it, and we see evil and we are right to name it so. This is not a land that has been healed. This is not a land where tears are no more. Right now, there is weeping and sorrow and it is real and it cuts and burns and destroys and we are right to tear our clothes and beat our chests. But never for one second believe that God is not weeping too. That God is not mourning too. He, too, waits for the day of our reunion with Him, of the peace that will reign in the place of upheaval, of the joy that will permeate in the place of sorrow. And that day is coming. We must trust in that.

In the meantime, while we wait, know this grand truth, this truth that will cut through any evil cloud lurking and any painful road waiting ahead of you or haunting behind you: God is always good, and you are always loved. It is true, not because I say it is true, but because God says it is true. And our beliefs must be ones that we hold onto even when they don't feel true. And there will be many days when this does not feel true. But when it does not, stop yourself and take a deep breath. Really feel your lungs fill with air, pushing out of your chest and filling up your heart. Grace. You are here to breathe and live another day. Grace. Of all the walls and hammers that could have brought you down, God has you here, right here, right now. Grace. And man may mean evil against you in ways you could not have possibly imagined, but God means it for good and you can stand on that. Grace.

In none of our moments guaranteed and in all the woods this world will grow around us, we must see through and know this truth. We must. And we must fight to preach Gospel to ourselves, to find the graces in the unlikeliest of places. Because the world will not do that for us. Our hearts will not do that for us. God does that for us. God opens our eyes to what we once could not see. And while we may wait for heaven to know the "why", we can trust in the "what is" -- God is always good, and you are always loved. And nothing -- no thing -- "neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:39)

Did you catch that? Nothing can separate you... from the love of God. How do we know this love? What is our assurance of this love, our security in this love? Jesus. The God-man come and killed, broken for our repair. If God showed love like that, how can we ever doubt? If God was willing to give up His own son for us, "how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) It may look dark. It may feel dark. It may be dark. But look for the holes. God is always good, and you are always loved.

Tune back in on Monday, 5/12, for my post on Chapter 6: What Do You Want? The Place of Seeing God

Affiliate link used 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Redeeming Time

This is my fourth post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

Chapter 4: A Sanctuary of Time

Oh, chapter four. Chapter four had me whooping and hollering. Chapter four looked me straight in the eyes and said, "This is for you. Enjoy." Chapter four opened a gate somewhere in my fence and let me out, let me run, set me free. Chapter four is about redeeming time.

Ever since I became a mom, I feel like someone has been siphoning off my time. Surely I used to have more. Where is it going? Once my daughter arrived, this only compounded. I know our experience was strange at first; not all second-time-parents spend the first two months shuttling back and forth from the hospital. But still. Even once she was home. Even once things evened out. I just felt swamped all the time, like I was running this crazy race only to end up still behind, someone whining or crying because I couldn't bring it all together fast enough.

I tried reading about time management and strategies to get myself together a little better. That helped some. But it didn't touch the reality that so much of my life -- so much of every parent's life -- is doing for the kids. If not directly (feeding, diapering, bathing, playing, loving, soothing), then indirectly (cleaning, considering, mothering myself, sleeping). I can organize my life like I'm running a ship, but I still have to contend with all the things that need to be done -- and do them. The other day, I read a really lovely post from a blogger I enjoy in which she shared a quote from her husband's grandmother (who raised eight children): "Whether you have one child or eight, that's all you do." YES! Megan goes on to say, "My days were filled with mothering when I had only Dacey, and my days are filled with mothering now that I have a nine year old, a six year old, and a pair of one year olds to keep up with." This is me. This resonates so deeply with me.

Ever since these babies, I've been in a little war with time. I never have enough and I never know exactly how to spend the minutes I have. I needed to redeem time.

"I don't really want more time; I just want enough time... not to feel hounded, pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done -- yesterday. In a world with... its 'live in the moment' buzz phrase that none of the whirl-weary seem to know how to do, who actually knows how to take time and live with soul and body and God all in sync? ... I just want time to do my one life well."

This is where I whooped. "YES!" "YES! YES! YES! Thank you!!!!" People tell you, "Your kids grow up so fast and you'll miss it if you blink, cherish every moment" and then other people respond with, "You don't remember how hard it was to raise your kids, you don't want to cherish all these moments" and it leaves me feeling... whirled, as Ann says. So yes, tell me to "live in the moment" if you wish but I have no idea how to do that without feeling like my head might explode. Anyone can experience this, not just parents with littles. The moment is here, and then it passes. How do I live in it? How do I grasp onto it when it's a moving object? I feel like you're telling me to jump onto a moving train.

But here it is, y'all. Here is where the light bulbs all flicked on and the switches all clicked. Here is where I learned to redeem time:

"The real problem of life is never a lack of time.
The real problem of life -- in my life -- is a lack of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving creates abundance; and the miracle of multiplying happens when I give thanks -- take the just one loaf, say it is enough, and give thanks -- and He miraculously makes more than enough... When I fully enter time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here... I redeem time from neglect and apathy and inattentiveness when I swell with thanks and weigh the moment down and it's giving thanks to God for this moment that multiplies the moments, time made enough."

Seriously, with all truth, with all honesty, this made me cry. With a baby nearing a year old and a two-and-a-half year old who I swear grew three inches last night, I feel like my life has been slipping away from me, numbered not in moments but in baths and diaper changes and in feeding yet another mouth. I feel like the hour glass has been poured open and I'm grasping desperately to catch all the falling sand, just to hold on for another moment, to go back, to see again, to really live. I've not known how to live in those moments, only that I feel like I should, but I couldn't get it all together, couldn't get all the pieces working as one.

At the heart of this for me is a thoughtfulness. I can't live my days unengaged. I can't spend my time frivolously. It drives me bonkers. I have to know what I am doing with myself. And I have to know why. The real problem in my struggle with time is that my control freak nature did not know how to receive. I thought my problem was ordering, that I needed to name all my ducks and put them in their rows and suddenly I would have enough time; I would be able to live well. No. Instead, I needed to receive my time from God, see Him in my moments, and thank Him for every one. This is my what: giving thanks to God. And this is my why: to bring glory to Him. I thank God for the coffee my husband brewed me and I bring glory to Him. I thank God for fresh vegetables and give glory to Him. I thank God for the clover in the cracks of our sidewalk and I bring glory to Him. I know my what and my why. I have redeemed time.

"It's not the gifts that fulfill, but the holiness of the space. The God in it."

When you stand before God, hands open, ready to receive, God gives and gives and gives and gives. And the gifts are wonderful. Coffee, sweet peppers, life growing in hard places. They are beautiful and tantalizing and heart-swelling. But ultimately, they are from God. And that gives them worth. That gives them value and weight and necessity. We have to spend our lives hands open and waiting because "here is the only place I can love Him." 

"Life is not an emergency. Life is eucharisteo... 'Wherever you are, be all there' is only possible in the posture of eucharisteo. I want to slow down and taste life, give thanks, and see God."

I have redeemed time. And now, I have so many moments. Open-handed, I receive the gift, I name the gift, I thank God for it, and I offer it back to Him. It was not mine to begin with, and it is not mine to end with. But this process, this eyes- and hands-open waiting, this seeing and naming, this thanking: it redeems time from "neglect and apathy and inattentiveness" and it gives me back my moments. When I read back over my journal of gifts, I am transported. I am taken back to those moments and I can see them again as if I were standing there. Instead of trying to hang on to those pieces like clinging to the back of a moving train, I offer those moments back to God and the gift of my true presence there, the "reward" for my offering, is the honor of seeing God and the joy of remembering Him there.

Living "in the moment" absent of finding God there can only be fulfilling for so long. I can only swell with existence in the same place so many times. I can only appreciate the same people and trees and flowers so many times. But when each seeing and feeling and being is an opportunity to meet God in the moment -- it never gets old. We never tire of meeting God. It is our heart's deepest and most real desire. I can see my son's serious shaking head as he tells me, "No hold punder (thunder)" and I can feel my heart laughing at his sweet two-year-old mind, the creativity and the life that God has given him. "You don't have to hold the thunder, baby." I can see the clouds rolling in through the sky, heavy and dark, and remember the exact smell of the air before they opened up, and I marvel -- again and again -- at the majesty of God. I can remember that bunny rabbit hopping through our yard as the woman on the other line delivered me strange and scary news, and I can remember thinking, "Thank you, God, for bunny rabbits and for strange and scary news," and I can feel my heart drop and soar and wait, hands-open, for what God will give next.

I get to feel this life. I get to live it! No, I don't receive every moment like this. I forget and get hurried and flustered and worried. But then I remember and I stop. And I smell my hungry toddler's clean head and I give thanks for him. The frustration in the room melts away and I feed him with a smile of true gratitude. I wipe my angry baby's tears and I thank God for her tenacity (without which she might not still be with us) and I hold her with an open heart. I apologize to my husband and I thank God for the security of our marriage covenant, knowing that he will forgive me because he promised (nearly six years ago) that he always would, and we repair the wounds that life brings between us and we see each other as gifts.

It's not that suddenly my days are all sunshine and roses without a problem or care in the world. It's that suddenly, God is in every moment of my day. And His holiness fills my life like air and I breathe Him in until I can't any more. And then I exhale with total thankfulness, and breathe Him in all over again. This is life. This is living. This is how we redeem time.

"This is where God is. In the present. I AM -- His very name. I want to take shoes off. I AM, so full of the weight of the present, that time's river slows to a still... and God Himself is timeless... This is supreme gift, time, God Himself framed in moment. I hardly breathe... and time is of the essence, because time is the essence of God, I AM. This I need to consecrate: time."

Tune back in on Saturday, 5/10, for my post on Chapter 5: What in the World, In All This World, Is Grace?

Affiliate link used 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Naming the Mystery

This is my third post in a series on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. Each post will cover one of the eleven chapters of this book on seeing God and learning how to live fully... right where you are. Each post will be tagged 05/2014 and One Thousand Gifts. All quotes in italics are from the book.

"When one is thirsty one quenches one's thirst by drinking,
not by reading books which treat of this condition."
- Jean Pierre de Caussade

Chapter 3: First Flight

"I would have to do something... I scratch it down: Gift List. I begin the list. Not of gifts I want but of gifts I already have."

Chapter three is about the doing. Our lives preach a sermon, and to preach a sermon of God's goodness, we have to live as though God is good. There are as many ways to do this as there are people, but one, simple, practical way to live out your thanks is... to simply give thanks. And not just general thanks for your life or health or this day. Not just once a day or in the prayer before dinner. But to live thankfulness.

"Though pastors preached it, I still came home and griped on. I had never practiced. Practiced until it became second nature, the first skin. Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation... I would have to learn eucharisteo."

Ephesians tells us to give thanks for everything, and so we say, "Thank you for everything, God," and go on about our day, never giving it a second thought. But a different kind of living, a kind of seeing God around us always, requires different eyes. It goes beyond an intellectual assent to God's goodness and His gifts and looks instead to find those gifts, each and every one if it were possible. And so my list began... 

1. My daughter's impossibly loud laughter
2. My son singing
3. Fresh music (Paste playlist)
4. Rain and clouds to help babies sleep
5. Warmth
6. Pizza Hut!

So simple, right? And I practiced. I practiced for a few months, three things a day, doing my duty to count and see. But Ann had more in mind. And I didn't know until I read her say it...

"In this counting gifts, to one thousand, more, I discover that slapping a sloppy brush of thanksgiving over everything in my life leaves me deeply thankful for few things... Life-changing gratitude does not fasten to a life unless nailed through with one very specific nail at a time."

And so instead of summarizing my day at the end with three things I remember, I started keeping the journal open and writing down each and every little thing. And this is what I found:

343. My son's creative play
344. Homebaked bread
345. Rainbows in the water drops of my coffee grounds (promises)
346. Ann's words ringing in my ears
347. Smell of rain
348. My son's golashes
349. Fighting blue jays at the top of the tree
350. Pockets, rocks, and running through raindrops
351. Motown!
352. Bunny in the rain
353. My daughter, exactly the way God made her, "just the way she's supposed to be"
354. Sun after rain
355. Oozing cheese on my salty, creamy egg sandwich
356. The way my son says crocodile: "cow-cow"
357. Holding hands up the stairs
358. The moment before and after you know
359. Hearing the rain before feeling/seeing it
360. Tires on wet road
361. Not "what if" or "why" -- what is
362. My son knocking on the door
363. Crispy stromboli
364. Olive oil sealing dough seams
365. My son saying "good morning!" when opening doors (any door, any time)
366. Friday night guitar jam
367. Snuggles with my daughter

24 gifts. 24 gifts!!! In just one day! (Sorry if I made you hungry. Food is an easily seen gift for me!) And the best part of all... is that I needed that to be the day. Number 353 tells you why. That day, that morning I woke up, read this chapter, and said this -- this is what I need to do. I need to number all day. And so I did. While I watched that bunny in the rain, I heard a woman on the other end of the line, a nurse from my daughter's neurologist, tell me about something they called "widespread tissue loss." Not any tissue... her brain tissue. Widespread. Loss. And there goes that bunny, hopping through the rain. And I began to rain. I sat a bit stunned and confused and not really sure, until I heard her, my daughter, screeching with laughter because her brother ran by. And I smiled through my tears (like those promise rainbows in my coffee grounds) because my daughter just is -- she was before I knew and she is now and she will be... exactly who God made her to be. And I needed to count the gift to see it.

"I look at a day, a thing, an event in front of me, and it may look manna-strange: "What is it?" But when I name it, the naming of it manifests its meaning: to know it comes from God. This is gift! Naming is to know a thing's function in the cosmos -- to name is to solve mystery."

That day, I had been handed mystery. This news, what does it mean? And no one can say. No one knows (but God). We only understand a fraction of what the brain is, of what it does, of how it works. We say it is plastic and we can grow new cells but what do we know? I woke up that morning, hand open, ready to receive the gift, even though I did not know what it would be. And I gathered those gifts and named them, one by one. And as I named them, I solved their mysteries.

"The gift list is thinking upon His goodness -- and this, this pleases Him most! And most profits my own soul... If clinging to His goodness is the highest form of prayer, then this seeing His goodness with a pen... these really are the most sacred acts conceivable. The ones anyone can conceive, anywhere, in the midst of anything. Eucharisteo takes us into His love."

"Eucharisteo takes us into His love." Without a name, without a solved mystery, that phone call could have cut me apart from God. He knit my daughter in the womb and when she came to us, she came sick, and this phone call? It was just another thing on that list, on that list of brokens. Without a name, without solved mystery, I would have raised my fists to the air and demanded to know, "What is this, God? What is this?!"

But I already know. I solve the mystery. I name the gift.

353. My daughter, exactly the way God made her, 'just the way she's supposed to be'" (as a lady in Once Upon a Child told me just days earlier)...
354. Sun after rain...
358. The moment before and after you know...
361. Not "what if" or "why" -- what is

This is me learning through gifts, me seeing God in the mystery and knowing it is Him. Knowing He wants me to love and embrace my gifts as He gives them (gift #353), that He has promised goodness in all things (even when it looks like rain, gift #354), that our knowing is only to point our eyes toward Him (because He already knew, gift #358), that we don't need to search for the other ways it could have been or ask why things are the way they are but rather we need to see what is and name it -- gift (gift #361).

"Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks."

I do my daughter no good to beat the ground and cry, to curse at God and hurl my hate at Him. It changes nothing and it does no one good, not her soul, not my soul, not the world. Instead, to stand in the face of fear and uncertainty and trouble, and say, "God is in this place. This is gift" -- that changes lives. To look in my daughter's eyes and tell her, "You are not trouble. You are not accident. You are gift." -- Those are the words every last one of us is waiting to hear. Those are the words every last one of us needs to hear. You are gift because you are of God. You are gift because I see you and I name you and I solve your mystery. Thanks be... for you.

Tune back in on Thursday, 5/8, for my post on Chapter 4: A Sanctuary of Time

Affiliate link used