What Fools Despise

My childhood summers were shaped by our beach vacations to Cape Cod. Grandpa rented a handsome cottage, and graciously welcomed one-and-all.

The adults studied tide patterns religiously, folding the newspaper length-wise as they scrambled for their readers. High tide times were loudly proclaimed as the women stacked coolers with peanut-butter sandwiches, potato chips, and fruit, completed by multiple thermoses of sun tea and lemon wedges. Aunts and uncles and parents and grandparents herded us toward the cottage steps, screen door banging as we marched toward sand and tide, inhaling the blissfully salty air, fresh upon our sun-kissed faces. We had hours until hightide diminished the sandy shoreline, and were ready to make the most of it.

There were a few understood rules: No swimming at high tide, and no swimming at night. The pull of the deep waves made my grandparents antsy, plus they had lived through enough years to remember plenty of after-dark drownings. So as the tide encroached, we flung our damp and sandy towels over the back of our necks, packed up the chairs and coolers, and flip-flopped our way back to the cottage. The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it (Proverbs 27:12).

By day, I was a fish in those waters, and spent hours swimming in the crashing waves, water cold and salty-clean. I could see the ocean floor beneath me, and feel the hermit crabs scuttling across my toes. We netted fish and dug for clams and collected bucketfuls of irate crabs, returning time and again to the depths to swim.

I noticed, after a bit, that my brother and cousins and I had drifted away from our parents and grandparents, who remained stationed in beach chairs in the sand. They were not difficult to spy, all floppy hats and obsidian sunglasses; zinc oxide pasted across their noses. Occasionally they would stand and stretch and stroll the beach, or partake in a quick dip, but their chairs remained anchored. As children, those beach chairs were our North Star, and after drifting, slowly pulled down shore by the tide, we tromped back to the familiar striped canvas designs and returned to swimming.

One summer I signed up for intermediate swimming lessons. By this time, the crawl, breaststroke, and butterfly, had become second nature. I had enjoyed clusters of swim lessons at our tiny town pond where the water remained still and predictable. But these ocean waters? They were a different beast altogether, and I could not believe how difficult it was to successfully swim against the tide, moving through those magnificent white-capped waves, exerting energy while building endurance, an act of the will which required the grit of repetition. I felt both accomplished and bone-tired after those ninety minute lessons, which carried on for two solid weeks.

Our instructor’s oft-repeated wisdom? When you grow tired, and you will, look for the safety of land and swim towards it. Land does not move, water does.

***

Less than a year after these swimming lessons, our family vacationed in Florida. We arrived at Daytona Beach with our towels and masks and buckets and shovels. This was different from our familiar treks to Cape Cod: this southern sand was hard and hot, the waves were smaller; the shoreline overcrowded with people.

Beach folks warned us, eyebrows raised, of the wicked undertow in these waters.

My parents shrugged. My brother and I were experienced and competent swimmers with years of lessons under our belts. So, hands shielding the sun, they studied the waters from their chairs and pronounced them safe.

We dropped our towels, kicked off our flip-flops and ran, scorching the bottoms of our feet as we raced each other to the waves. We laughed and splashed in the water before practicing our famous underwater flips and strokes. Some ten minutes later, I glanced towards shore, looking for our parents in their striped chairs. Try as I might, I could not find them.

Where are they? I asked my brother.

We treaded water, and kept looking. They had vanished.

I felt panic rising, which only increased as I suddenly realized that the people on this unfamiliar beach were passing by, and quickly. And then my little-girl mind understood that they were not moving, we were.

Let’s go, I told my brother, remembering my instructor’s advice: swim toward land.

We were horribly unprepared for the fierce undertow. The harder we struggled toward shore, the firmer the waters gripped us back and down the beach, clutching us in terror. Years later, I understood that we had been locked in a riptide, waters which seldom appear dangerous, but trap and pull and drown even the strongest of swimmers.

I desperately tried to pull my little brother toward me, while simultaneously propelling both of us toward shore. I could see the safety of land directly before us, but I could not beat this current. Our struggle was futile, and we were now bobbing up and going under, bobbing up and going under, trying to hold our breath then breathe, all of the while being sucked down the length of the beach. I froze, and watched my mother running towards us. She jogged into the water, where the undertow quickly sucked her in, now leaving the three of us thrashing. She screamed and my father appeared, standing firmly in the waves, not swimming, but reaching and yanking us to safety, one by one. I actually felt the grip of the waters fight to keep me as he jerked my arm toward shore.

It was a terribly long walk back to our beach chairs. We had drifted so far.

***

It was foolish to enter those waters.

It did not matter that we were competent swimmers.

It did not matter that the water appeared safe.

It did not matter that we were accustomed to ocean swimming.

It did not matter that we were swimming together, not alone.

We had been duly warned, cautioned by local beachgoers with greater experience and wisdom, yet had willfully chosen to ignore their advice.

***

In April of 1912, the Titanic, a ship deemed unsinkable, crashed into an iceberg, sinking into frigid North Atlantic waters. Over 1,500 people died. While many blame the iceberg, it is not so hard to see the fault lines which appeared before the ship even set sail.

A deckhand on the Titanic was reported to have boasted: God himself could not sink this ship. This brazen arrogance was supported by more foolishness: a lack of life preservers, a lack of lifeboats, and the lack of an exit strategy should something go wrong.

But worst of all? As the Titanic moved through the ocean waters, Captain Smith failed to appropriately respond to the warnings from other ships, who cautioned him multiple times about the dangerous ice floes.

If he had only paused, heeding the warnings from other ships, he might have stopped all forward motion until daybreak, when visibility would improve. Just imagine, with one pulse of humility and caution, so many lives might have been spared.

***

Pride (and isn’t all sin a form of it?) sends us adrift with the tide. We want our own way, stomping our feet like sulky children, captaining our own lives, blatantly disregarding the damage our foolishness causes.

In wisdom, we must continually examine our heart’s posture against the sharp, straight-edge of Scripture, asking ourselves: Am I returning in confession and repentance to Christ, seeking to obey his Word, and humbly accepting correction and instruction from fellow believers? If the answer is no, then according to the Bible, God regards me a fool.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future (Proverbs 19:20).

One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless (Proverbs14:16).

Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored (Proverbs 13:18).

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15).

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is (Ephesians 5:15-17).

And God’s instruction for us when we encounter a fool?

Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge (Proverbs 14:7).

Stormfront

Last night, a storm raged. The wind whistled and branches swayed, thunder raged and lightning struck frightfully close to our home, which sits hilltop, surrounded by thick trees.

The seasons are changing again, and whispers of autumn are beckoning. Cooler mornings and evenings abound, as parcel of deer emerge from woods, their silhouettes slim and still at dusk. Wild turkeys stir, pecking the ground, and the slant of soft lemon-light fades earlier as the days shorten. How I love autumn and its changes.

I anticipated that our summer was going to be a whirlwind, and it was. Ministry, especially during a pandemic, is weighty. I pray for my husband as pastor. Our world is raging, and it takes wisdom and discernment and patience to make decisions that honor God.

So I have become a desperate explorer of sorts, pulling my magnifying glass from my backpack, searching for beauty in the midst of all that is broken. Autumn is stunning in the death of leaves; a hushing of external growth. From death emerges splendor: red, burnt orange, and yellow. Pieces cascading softly to the earth.

I think of Christ’s blood, which tumbled earthward at Golgotha, a violent storm silenced only after his brutal death and crucifixion, ushering in the fulfillment of believers’ eternal peace with God.

***

Our grandson was recently born, arriving weeks early in the whirlwind storm of an emergency C-section. We received a sudden text from our son: PLEASE PRAY! and the following ten minutes might as well have been ten years. I felt desperate: Please keep them safe, God, please protect them. My anxiety stilled only as I yielded: I trust you, Lord. Your will, not mine.

Now I sit rocking this small bundle, and he is beautiful; a little person gifted into our family mosaic. I study his large eyes, and chunky cheeks and perfect chin, and it is startling to see my own babies etched within his upturned face. I sprinkle him with hushed lullabies, kissing his soft head and repeating the very songs I hummed to his Daddy twenty-five years ago. These ancient paths return, familiar and breathtaking. The weight of this baby on my shoulder is a healing balm. A reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of storms.

***

I could dwell upon current news headlines, rather than lullabies, thinking of the daily terrors encroaching worldwide. But I will not. That magnifying glass of mine is spotting gems even in the midst of terror. My steps fly eagerly on this narrow way, pressing more deeply into the things of God than ever before. Stormfronts, I have discovered, spark change: either a hardening of an already cold heart, fearful, bitter, and complaining, or a softening of the heart, tender and trusting in the holy purposes of God.

The Holy Spirit comforts and warms me through his Word. I persevere with dogged intentionality, responsible for my own faith-feeding habits. No one is going to spoon-feed me, nor should they.

How else may we ever stay faithful, as Christ followers, when basic truths of Scripture are being upended, and professing Christians are thronging the parade, clapping and encouraging blatant heresy and renaming it courage? All under the guise of Christendom?

Our culture is a cyclone, sweeping up people in its deadly path. I will continue to take refuge under God’s protective wings (Psalm 91:4). It is a permanent place of safety.

***

The commonality for survival in all storms? Seek shelter.

As our grandson sleeps in his father’s arms, I see it so clearly. The sweet baby, limp and relaxed, trusts his father wholeheartedly. He is rocked, comforted, and held in unconditional love, wanting for nothing.

If we are to be like Jesus, we, too, will sleep peacefully in the middle of life’s storms.

Chapter 4 of Mark tells of a great windstorm that arose while Jesus and his disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. The disciples grew frantic as the waves crashed into the boat, filling it with seawater. Jesus remained sound asleep on a cushion.

The disciples woke him.

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:38b-40)

I have been wrestling with these words and their meaning. Genuine faith, not fear, is the only way to please our Creator, regardless of stormy weather. He is our Shelter.

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6).

This posture cannot coexist with an ongoing wringing of hands, continual passing on of the haunting news reports, murmuring what ifs and gasping what are we to do? Fear is a deadly contagion, fueling the monster of anxiety as it shifts our eyes from God and his Word to our rapidly cycling circumstances. We become like Peter, fearing the wind on the water and forgetting Christ (Matthew 14:30). We, too, will sink.

Rise up, Christians! May we live with confidence in God, believing in his promises, treasuring the Bible, and surrendering ourselves to the deep knowing that everything passes through his Sovereign hands. He is holding us, safe and secure, through every storm.

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand (John 10:28).

And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20b).

Don’t Tread on Me

My first days of high school were rough.

I had spent the previous four years at a small private Christian School, which offered academics but not sports, other than loosely defined gym classes revolving around Capture the Flag and kickball. By contrast, my large high school thrived upon competitive academics and athletics.

The summer before ninth grade, I tried out for the field hockey team, and understood immediately that I was out of my league. I had never so much as held a field hockey stick, and these girls had been playing together for three years. Not only were they experienced in the game, but they were wiser to the ways of the world, which is a fancy way of saying they formed an impassable clique. Only two of us were cut from the team: another newbie plus me. Honestly, it would have taken months for me to gain traction, and as the competition within our high school division was vicious, the coaches had neither the time nor the inclination to play catch-up. They needed the best, and pronto.

I inwardly paced for the remainder of the summer, knowing full well that these girls had their own language and friendships, secret codes that sent them into fits of hysterics, laughing behind cupped hands. A mysterious and impenetrable barrier. What would high school be like? I thought, terrified.

A colonial minuteman served as mascot heralding our school motto: Don’t Tread on Me. Most people lived out those four words daily. Not only were sports essential, but academics were rigorous and competitive; on par with college academia. New England is fiercely independent, leaning heavily upon intellect and performance and self-rule. Crush or be crushed, as it goes, and Don’t Tread On Me.

While this often produces winning teams (Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox) and prestigious academic institutions (Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Colby, MIT), it also offers a deadly elixir for those lapping up this mentality. A steady drip of heart-hardening poison.

So pair all of that with the fact that I had never opened a coded locker, nor switched classes in long confusing hallways, and you can perhaps understand my stress that first week. Somehow I muddled through, wide-eyed as I sat in crowded classes with perfect strangers, limping home with burgeoning backpack and silent tears. I innately knew that I was expected to push through this difficult transition, but it hurt that my clothes were all wrong, my hair was too short, and I had braces.

To complicate matters, the most popular girl in the entire school sat directly behind me in homeroom, chomping gum and swapping boyfriend stories with her friends. She, too, was a freshman, but dated a senior, and could snap her fingers and have any boyfriend of her choosing. She wielded the power to drop friends if they crossed her, while plucking other girls as willing replacements. She was as cruel as she was pretty.

By week two she noticed me. Jiggling her foot, legs crossed, while blowing pink bubbles during homeroom announcements, she poked my shoulder. I turned.

Ewww, where did you get that sweater? So ugly.

I was devastated. That sweater was my favorite. My difficult grandmother had actually knit it for me. I adored the color and its softness, but most of all was touched that Grandma had actually done something kind.

My cheeks burned and my eyes filled as the bell rang and I dashed to my first class. Later that afternoon, I stepped off the school bus and into our empty home, heart thudding as I balled up the sweater and buried it in the bottom of our kitchen trashcan. I told no one, but my mother heard me crying late that night. She told my grandmother, (which I begged her not to do), and in an odd flush of understanding, Grandma informed me that she and Grandpa would be taking me on a shopping extravaganza for a new wardrobe that weekend. It was both a relief and a sorrow.

***

Over the next several years I changed, bit by bit. I grew my hair long, bought new clothes, and smiled without braces. But there was another invisible modification. A hard, protective wall had grown, brick-by-brick, around my tender heart. The foundation solidified on the day I buried my sweater. I had always lived to please others, but was now taking this notion to a skyscraper level, flip-flopping opinions and habits depending upon whom I was with at the present moment. Voicing a need or holding a strong opinion was unthinkable.

I played some sports, joined a club or two, made friends, got the hang of makeup, and purposefully tempered my opinions and ideas. Although I knew my own mind, I had been badly burned at field hockey tryouts and in homeroom, and did not care to touch that fire again.

So I did not live my faith boldly, but tucked those truths in deep pockets, scared to be called out at school; terrified of being humiliated. I studied, obeyed rules, and remained an average student with decent grades in a sea of highly functioning overachievers. Laboring diligently to remain hidden in plain sight came to be my new and insulated normal.

People-pleasing at its finest.

Which, if you think about it, is quite common.

But we do not serve a common God, and he is not pleased when we choose to obliterate who he created us to be: image-bearers glorifying him.

Fearing man is serious business, with disastrous results. It comes across as sweet-tempered and gentle, helpful and unthreatening and kind. A blank slate. What a lie.

In my blindness I had assumed that I had dodged the arrogance of Don’t Tread on Me. As it turns out, I was grieving the heart of God by giving others the glory that was meant only for him.

***

In short, it was a rocky, torturous road, decades later, as I finally dealt squarely with my sin and exited the Fear of Man way of living. As I rapidly discovered, folks grow happily accustomed to people-pleasing people. When this faucet is turned off, and the flimsy facade collapses, so do many relationships.

I could write a nice little paragraph offering suggestions for Ten Ways to Become More Assertive, or How to Grow a Backbone With Extended Family, or How to Stop Saying Yes to Every Perceived Need in Church, but that would miss the heart issue.

People-pleasing, bullying, gossip, slander, pride, sullenness, bitterness, covetousness, and every other sin are children of the same root: idolatry. Stark rebellion against our Creator. Our way of pumping a fist at God with: Don’t Tread on Me.

I am not ignoring the fact that the human heart is fragile and often breaks open: unkindness of any type tears a deep and throbbing pain. We all have scars, and we all inflict wounds. Sin hurts.

What I am honoring here is the better news that true joy remains untainted by any ugly circumstance. True joy doesn’t dry up when we are teased by homeroom girl, or slighted at work, or undone by gossip or slander. Yes, we acknowledge the ache and deal directly, but deeper still is our understanding that we are held and known and loved by God himself. He is our peace.

And we cannot have true and lasting joy until God is supreme in our affections. As believers, our unshakable contentment is draped upon the cross of our Crucified King. This is the mystery revealed: joy amidst the ashes and scars.

Life will always wreck us if we cling to anything other than God. Our love for him, and our pursuit of him actually draws him near to us (James 4:8). If pleasing people is your priority, you will soon find yourself miserable and deeply frustrated. We are not created to thrive this way.

I picture my faith in Christ to be a pearl, embedded in an oyster, hidden in the depths of the sea.

The pearl forms through the abrasion of sand: an intruder to the oyster. The oyster then secretes a fluid to protect itself from the irritant, coating it with layers that ultimately form a stunning pearl. Trials are like intruders, beautifying and strengthening our faith if we only trust God through all of those painful situations, knowing that he works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).

We are his.

Both the simplicity and difficulty of this truth are staggering.

This is why Corrie ten Boom could forgive her Nazi tormentors.

This is why Elisabeth Elliot ministered to the very tribe that murdered her beloved Jim.

This is the reason we may live joyfully through the hard, jagged edges of life. We give our yes to God in reverence, pleasing him through obedience to his Word.

Knowing and Enjoying God

Back in time, some seventeen years ago, after our family had moved across the country, and I was lonely and sad yet wearing the brave face, God intervened. He kindly scooped me up, through a series of seemingly ordinary events, and used the writings of John Piper to stretch wide my heart, pointing my withered soul directly back toward the Bible. I began to consume Scripture daily, and to diligently study everything that makes God happy and satisfied: truths highlighted in The Pleasures of God, an astounding book by Piper. My world was quickly turned upside down in the best of ways.

I began to realize just how little I knew God, and I was thirsty for more. My whole perspective had shifted, and I was now seeing Genesis through Revelation in its totality: no more plucking random verses and hoping to thrive. I craved meat, deeply desiring to love, know, obey, and enjoy God more. Soon, I discovered the writings of Elisabeth Elliot, and her matter-of-fact obedience and steadfast love for God sparked something deep inside. So, in addition to the Bible, I was now reading John Piper’s books, everything Elisabeth Elliot, plus a third author: Tim Challies.

His blog was unique to me, as he generously shared the writings of others, linking to articles and essays and blogs that consistently gave me pause to ruminate; always under the authority of Scripture. He also contributed with thoughtful writings of his own. His blog quickly became a staple of conversation in our household. I remember my husband coming home from work, and as I served dinner while he loosened his tie and told me of his day, I would invariably ask: Did you see the article Tim Challies linked to today? or Did you read the article he wrote this morning? Our children, even now, remember these dinner conversations.

Time is the great revealer of genuine character, and as the years passed, I knew that I could trust the words and the links that Tim Challies shared. Just like John Piper and Elisabeth Elliot, he consistently and faithfully leads others toward God and his Word. The Bible is clearly his benchmark; his anchor.

This is why I am thrilled with his new book: Knowing and Enjoying God. True to form, Tim Challies has humbly highlighted the words of others, taking the finest quotes, and pairing them with short, corresponding devotions of his own. Artist Jules Koblun has designed the graphics, which are stunning. The book itself is beautifully bound, with high quality paper.

I could not resist posting this unsolicited review. Knowing and Enjoying God is both lovely and true; a book designed to strengthen one’s faith. I am choosing to pair it with my daily Bible reading, and am already finding myself more challenged and encouraged in my pursuit of God.

Do Not Feed the Alligators

It was as dark as pitch that morning, as the street lamp closest to me had burnt out. Fast-walking on the grass, I remained one step inside of the sidewalk, attempting to assuage tender shin splints as I circled the lake.

Suddenly, my foot hit a boulder. Hard. Before I could even yelp in pain, the boulder hissed and lunged. A scream stuck in my throat.

I had kicked an alligator.

There was no time to think, and I did not need to. My body knew exactly what to do. I fled, in a zig-zag pattern, as quickly as I could. I must have looked ridiculous, but did it matter? After a time, I glanced back in the darkness, relieved that the alligator had given up.

I hightailed it home, heart pumping.

***

Many years ago, when our family lived near this lake in Florida, we quickly grew accustomed to spotting alligators. They usually stayed in the water, lurking, waiting for prey. More than once, I watched them emerge, with scarcely a ripple, from beneath the surface, silently plucking off a delicate white ibis or tiny cattle egret, with an unmistakable and forceful crunch. It was both magnificent and unsettling. Ample grass surrounded the lake, safely separating the lake from the sidewalk, but as a mother to four young children, I remained vigilant. I had seen one too many birds perish, victims of silent, deadly speed and stunning force.

Each January, when the weather cooled off briefly, the alligators crawled to shore, thumping and settling on the grass, eager to warm their cold-blooded frames in the tropical sun.

Lake residents would pause their walking, jogging, and bicycle riding, stopping to marvel at these behemoths who slept lazily, stone-still in the sun. My little boys were enthralled, and borrowed bunches of reptile library books, lugging them to the breakfast table with: Mommy, listen! You will never believe this! as they shared interesting facts. Many, many facts. Facts that were repeated day in and day out for weeks. I can summon the memory now: tanned little fellows, shirtless and sleepy, hair standing on end, eyes wide with the wonder of carnivorous animals in our very own neighborhood.

Mommy, they have the most powerful bite in the world!

and

If an alligator is chasing you, be sure to run away in a zig-zag. They are fast but lazy, and get tired easily.

I patted their heads and poured their cereal, thanking them for these important pieces of information.

While they were passionate about everything alligator, I was passionate about the cooler weather, no matter how slight, and the joy of nature-walking, embracing the lake breeze and chill, regardless how negligible.

Which is what led me to exercise at 5:30 am on the day I kicked an alligator. It was cool by Florida standards, and in my excitement I did not pause to remember that the lake would be too chilly for these reptiles. I likewise forgot about the marshmallows.

***

A substantial number of teenagers in the neighborhood had started carrying bags of marshmallows to the lake, carelessly laughing and throwing them to the alligators floating on the edge of the still, sparkling water. Ironically, the youth actually clustered directly in front of the sign: DANGER: DO NOT FEED ALLIGATORS, while they tossed handfuls of the fluffy white sweets to the eager animals.

The alligators snapped up these new delicacies, which, of course, required zero effort on their part. That is another fact I had learned at our breakfast table: alligators prefer easy prey. They do not want to struggle to hunt, and even though they have voracious appetites, they are lazy. So marshmallows? You bet.

Some adults grew alarmed with the marshmallow saga, especially as the gators continued to creep further up the embankment and closer to people. By the time the bright yellow school bus chugged into our neighborhood each afternoon, the creatures were positioned and waiting, salivating like clockwork. They wanted marshmallows, and they knew exactly who provided them.

Someone finally reported the feedings to an authority, and more warning signs flooded the sidewalk, this time posting penalty fees for transgressors. The feedings stopped, but the gators remembered and continued to inch closer.

***

I remember a time, some twenty years ago, when a slim book, entitled The Prayer of Jabez, was released. Many Christians scooped it up, madly flipping pages, certain that it carried the secret cocktail to an easy life of wealth and health. The book is based upon 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, a mere two verses, regarding a descendant of Judah named Jabez, who asked God to bless him and increase his borders, and for God to keep him from harm and pain. God granted his request.

It seems impossible that an entire cult could be fashioned from these two verses, but that is pretty much what happened. It was complete foolishness, but for people who did not know the Bible, it was enticing. I remember the cultural pressure to buy into this cheap trick. People I knew and loved grew alarmingly glassy-eyed, reciting these verses like a desperate chant, completely disregarding the totality of Scripture.

The book ultimately fizzled, probably as people realized, regardless of their 1 Chronicle chants, that pain and suffering and tragedy and hardship and ultimately death eventually happen to us all. It sold millions of copies, exposing the utter lack of discernment and commitment to God and his Word.

Here is the truth: poor theology, lack of devotion to God, and crummy living are the results of a refusal to engage in serious Bible reading and study and meditation. We are each responsible for delighting in God’s Word and joyfully obeying it. The posture of our individual hearts will be revealed in our day-to-day life.

The Prayer of Jabez scenario reminds me of Florida’s alligators, crunching up the easy prey of professing believers who are entirely anemic in their personal Bible consumption. People who choose to casually play with alligators, feeding the beasts with lazy, marshmallow-thinking.

I only knew to flee in a zig-zag because our family had studied the book of alligators, were familiar with their habits, and steadily reminded each other of an escape plan.

Although I had escaped, it was my own lack of discernment that led me to walk a dark and deserted lake alone at that time of morning, especially given the recent problems regarding marshmallow feedings. I had not stopped to think.

It is a cinch to see the stupidity from twenty years ago, but what about the foolishness of today? Are we deep enough in God’s Word, immersed in such truth, that false theology is immediately evident?

None of us are immune from straying from God’s truth, and it would be prideful to think otherwise. But it is far less likely to happen if we savor Scripture daily. This requires time, intentionality, and softened hearts that are tender to the Word of God.

We are a deeply distracted people, aren’t we? Reaching for our phones, trolling social media and news as though it is our lifeline; our oxygen.

Satan knows this. He is an alligator, devouring the easy prey.

It is not too late. Switch your lifeline to the living Word of God, and watch the Prince of Darkness flee.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ~Hebrews 4:12

Everything Important

I invite you, Christ-follower, to quiet your soul.

Turn down the volume.

Walk away from the chatter; the soul crushing opinions of this world.

Find a quiet space, for only you and your Bible.

Close your eyes, and thank God for this moment, this breath.

Be still.

All will be well. Christ died for his own, and will gather, protect, and care for us, without end (Isaiah 40:11; 1Thess 4:13-17). He is our Conquering King, and he has already won. Our future is preserved.

The drama, the disobedience, the division swirling in our world, even within church walls, is inevitable: an unveiling of fault lines formed some time ago.

As you open your Bible, open wide your eyes to the ancient drama, the ancient disobedience, the ancient division within its pages. Familiar, isn’t it? Our ancestors battled the same selfish sins as we do, and we are united with them in reaping the consequences of Eden. We want what we want when we want it.

It is tempting to grow downcast, discouraged and despondent, curling up into a crumpled heap of despair. Careful: this is also a form of rebellion: Things are not going my way.

We build these glory towers, don’t we? Brick by brick, like Babel, firm, yet eternally-flimsy structures dedicated to ourselves. Ornate buildings that must be kicked, destroyed, felled to ruins and rubble. Good riddance.

God will not share the throne of our hearts with any idol.

As Christians walking this lifepath, we still stumble and sin. But as we confess this to God, and repent, (true believers will repent) our fractured hearts will awaken again, growing humble and soft and eager to swiftly obey God. Peace rushes in, regardless of circumstances. And now despair turns to: I want what you want, Lord. Your will, not mine.

***

I recently had some wonderful conversation with one of our sons. We were discussing choices that we, as Christians, must make for ourselves, not others. Personal convictions, anchored in Scripture, and pleasing to God.

My whole aim in life, he said, looking directly at me, is to be spiritually well.

I sat with that for a moment, a lump forming in my throat.

And there it was. Everything important had been spoken.

***

Even as Christians, there are times we may appear smooth and ordered on the outside, yet are conflicted within.

I read an article, recently, about a woman who is an alcoholic. She wrote of her journey with drink; how she deeply craved every aspect of it: the clinking of ice in the glass, the pop of the cork, the glug of the smooth, flowing wine: a liquid that swept away her anxiety, her awkwardness, her fears. It was beautifully satisfying at first. She controlled her craving, creating complicated rules for her drinking habits. No one knew of her secret and she even flourished at work, rising to the top.

But slowly the need for more wine beckoned. The drink called her name, first whispering, then pulsing relentlessly, and at odd hours. Her hands began shaking, steadied only by the clink of ice, the glass in hand. As she obeyed the urges, the shaking subsided, her anxiety quelled. But soon the problems increased: those periods of shaking and desire grew closer and closer and closer together, until her life become a frayed blur of perpetual wine in her tired hand. It ultimately destroyed her health, her relationships, and her livelihood.

It consumed her.

Isn’t this the very picture of sin? How it disrupts and disorders our life?

Those seemingly small idols, if not put to death at first glance, grow taller and stronger and attach their talons to our throats. You know them: that ache for more and more money, or acclaim, people-pleasing, pride, over-spending, greed, stinginess, bitterness, complaining, self-pity, covetousness, lust, gossip, laziness. Take your pick. Our sin-sick hearts are prone to something selfish.

At first those small sips slip down nicely, warming our ravenous bellies. And as the sin soothes, initially quieting our restlessness, we continue to partake, recklessly pouring our drink into a pretty goblet, gulping our way to intoxication, medicating ourselves with poison. Before we know it, we are desperately ill.

God hates this stubborn pride and rebellion; a refusal to hear and obey him (Jeremiah 13:10).

To please God, to be spiritually well, we must kill our personal sin, plucking those stubborn weeds from our hearts. Don’t wait: rip them out now, at the very root. Confess, repent and turn to Christ. Keep feasting on the Bible, thus creating rich, fertile soil for the Holy Spirit to work, which ultimately births in us a peaceful heart.

A tranquil soul remains anchored. At rest in the finished work of Our Crucified King, recognizing that all things, including tremendous suffering, pass through his sovereign, merciful, hands.

Stay the course, Christian. With joyful heart, as you gaze toward eternity.

Paradise awaits.

Doxology

One autumn, during my early high school days, our church youth group piled into a van and headed north to scale Mount Monadnock, a New Hampshire beauty which stands an impressive 3165 feet tall, much of it rock. While I was accustomed to outdoor ambles, nature walks, and occasionally skiing down mountains, I had never before climbed up anything larger than a hill.

Our youth leader warned, at great length, about the need to mentally and physically prepare for this daunting excursion. I half listened. How hard could this really be?

Unsurprisingly, I was appallingly unprepared. After twenty minutes of climbing, my attempts to appear relaxed and casual were proving difficult, at best. Fifteen-year-old pride kept me in the middle of the group, and sheer determination not to fall behind led to an adrenaline rush. My lungs were exhausted, and instead of pacing myself, I basically ran up the rocky mountainside, shocked at the sharp slope and level of difficulty. My legs were screaming in despair.

A friend’s shoelace eventually came untied, and I was relieved for an excuse to pause. I chugged my water, parched, and now wished that I had taken this whole trip more seriously. Climbing a mountain, especially a rocky one like this, was no small endeavor.

The biggest surprise for me, however, was the false summit. I had not previously even known such a thing existed, but when I breathlessly told my experienced, mountain-climbing friend: Finally…I can see the top! she only grinned and shook her head.

Almost a third of the way, though! she cheered. I was crushed. It appeared that we were on the cusp of reaching the peak, but she was right. The journey had only begun.

Bleak reality set it, and I decided that if I was to survive, something needed to change. So rather than focusing on the monster of a mountain before me, I turned my gaze to the narrow path at my feet, and to the beauty of the surrounding trees and wildlife. As I continued to climb, I was now free to delight in simple pleasures: pudgy chipmunks nibbling nuts, squirrels scampering, the slant of sunlight sparkling through the swaying trees, and songbirds trilling. Nothing around me had actually changed, but everything about my journey had. I was paying attention.

I then recalled my happy school days back in second grade, and our weekly nature walks. Our teacher had told us to take our time, and to enjoy the beauty of being outside. We hunted for rare lady-slipper flowers, which we were not allowed to touch, but were encouraged to admire. Our teacher modeled how to carefully flip wet stones in order to catch tiny newts as they scrambled to escape. We studied their shape and texture before freeing them to their natural habitat. Butterflies fluttered along our path, and we sketched their bright and varied colors and patterns. We delighted in gathering autumn leave samples, burnt crimson and orange, placing them in small paper bags to study later. It was an invigorating weekly event. Inhaling fresh air while exploring the beauty of God’s creation was deeply satisfying.

This Mount Monadnock climb was obviously more strenuous than a simple nature hike, but when I slowed down and noticed my surroundings, my perspective changed. I could do this hard thing with a happy heart.

But there was a gaping hole in my approach, a missing component I had neglected. At first I had been focused on the arduous climb, and mere survival. Then I became consumed by the beauty near the path. I had quite forgotten the entire purpose of this exhausting, dangerous, and beautiful journey: the destination itself.

***

As we finally neared the peak the air turned frigid. I plucked a sweatshirt from my backpack, and quickly slipped it over my head. Ten more paces, and I had arrived.

Stepping upward through the clearing, I halted, gasping and speechless.

The view.

So this was why people willingly scaled mountains across the world.

It was utterly majestic.

I sat down on a rock, and promptly forgot about that difficult trek up: the hazardous climb, the stumbling, the thirst, the discouragement, the ache in my legs, the burning in my lungs. I also forgot the pleasurable moments of my ascent.

The glory of this peak superseded everything.

The foliage burned brightly, the sun warmed our upturned faces despite the chilly breeze, and I became miniscule in the scope of God’s world. Our group gazed at the miles that spread before us. This view felt eternal; and flung everything into proper perspective: God is the ruler, and we are his creation.

I was perched on a boulder near the heavens, and the magnificence of God was beautifully undeniable: his power and perfection engulfed me. As exposed as we were to the elements, the cliffs, and the danger, I instinctively knew, as a Christian, that I was both created and cradled by the Creator.

Our youth leader began to sing the Doxology, and I saw a tear slip down his face. God’s glory was spread before us; our hearts were pierced.

In that moment, my longing for God grew. I had tasted his holiness on Mount Monadnock.

***

We are warned about mountain top experiences, and the dangers they present.

And I get it.

In this life, we must eventually descend the mountain.

We are also admonished to enjoy the journey. See the beauty. Squeeze the goodness out of life.

I have discovered, that I am actually traveling two simultaneous roads: First is the narrow, daily path: family, church, work, chores, responsibilities. These are good and holy and sanctifying. Yet there is often a weightiness as we walk through our numbered days. These moments are certainly to be savored, and often enjoyed, yet such attitudes are hard-won. Crushing pain is always interwoven with our pleasures.

The second road is invisible: our mental, upward, soul-longing for God as we anticipate our heavenly home. The unspeakable joy that awaits us forever. As we stumble along the narrow path, let us look higher, bringing to mind the imperishable treasure, now hidden, while continually pursuing the heart of God though our earthly obedience. Eternity spent with Christ must steer our daily pursuits.

Enjoy the journey as it is a gift from God, but remember: we were created for more.

This is the way to suffer well, Christians: reminding ourselves that God has a grand purpose in our sorrows of sickness, tragedy, financial ruin, relational aches, and loneliness. Things we would never choose, as we are not God. He knit us together in secret and designed us for eternity, and no earthly terror may ever separate us from his love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Unspoken

I was recently in line at the grocery store, and two older women were chatting in front of me, bemoaning the fact that their children and grandchildren never call.

I wait and wait, but the phone never rings, harped one.

I know. And after all we’ve done for them…

I looked away, thinking of Grandpa, and knew precisely what he would have said: The phone works two ways, ladies. Pick it up and call them.

I smiled, thinking of his voice.

And quite suddenly, I recalled a specific day…

But before I tell you the story, I first must paint the backdrop.

***

My father’s German parents dwelt in a pretty, tree-lined suburb of Chicago. My Grandma Flo both entered and departed this life within the same four walls, and never lived a moment elsewhere. She and my grandfather married, and raised their four sons in that very house. The yard and flowers and shrubs were tended and lovely, as Grandma possessed a green thumb. She preferred her plantings and gardening to people. Other than gardening, her interests centered around creating beautiful pulled rugs while watching the Chicago Bears, and heaven help anyone who blocked the television on Sunday afternoons. A complicated and difficult woman, she married her extreme opposite. My Grandpa Herbie was every bit as sweet and mild-mannered as Flo was stubborn. Yet when she laughed, tossing back her head, I knew exactly why Grandpa had fallen for her. Her wedding photos are stunning.

Grandpa was quite handsome himself, hair slicked back with olive skin, set off by clear blue eyes. He quietly watched the Bears with his wife, pot roast and German potato salad perched upon the plate balancing atop his knees. He chewed slowly, mild-mannered even in eating, washing down bites of pot roast with hot coffee, every now and again murmuring: Oh Golly, as the Bears fumbled. Herbie smiled passively and smoked cigarettes liberally, humbly watching life pass by like a slow parade. He was a hard and steady worker, a housepainter by trade, timely and neat in his work and appearance, yet never rushed.

After a spell, when the pot roast was gone, he softly slipped to the garage. His hobby was woodworking, and he labored carefully cutting and sanding and blowing away sawdust in the garage. I have a toy bench with my name burned in the bottom, plus a doll cradle he built, my heritage from this grandfather. That and his blue eyes, same shade.

When my grandparents passed away, their four sons found decades worth of Christmas gifts we had purchased for them: belts, gloves, shirts, sweaters, vases, cologne, and picture frames, neatly stacked in the guest closet, unused. They also discovered thousands of dollars hidden throughout the house, in coffee cans and unmarked tins. My grandparents had been excessively frugal, plus mistrustful of all banks, unforgiving even decades after the Great Depression.

I grew up one thousand miles away from these grandparents of mine. Whether or not they sent birthday gifts, I do not recall. Christmas gifts arrived, painful evidence of their ignorance of us, their own grandchildren. But it was their lack of relational pursuit that stung. In my entire life, they visited us one time, Out East, as they said, and that was before I was even in kindergarten.

We traveled many summers to visit them, driving nearly twenty hours. I remember finally arriving at their home, which smelled of coffee and aftershave and cigarettes. I was quite young and beyond excited, combing my hair repeatedly minutes before we pulled into their driveway. Yet after shyly saying our hellos, there was nothing for my brother and me to do. No games, no outings, nothing special planned. They did not ask us about our friends or pets or hobbies or school. We were perfect little strangers; our heritage invisible regardless of both shared blood and last name.

After a time, we ran outdoors, screen door banging, ready to play with neighborhood children and our younger cousins.

It was always thus.

***

I grew up in New England, where the magnificent seasons spun in brilliance. My maternal grandparents also dwelt in New England, on Washington Street, the only childhood home my mother and her four siblings ever knew. Their home remains at the center of my childhood memories: a fenced yard, woods in back, a wide front porch with French doors, bunches of loud holiday gatherings and meals, and most importantly, Grandpa.

Grandma was certainly there too, but as moody and difficult as my other grandmother. She excelled in bookkeeping and running numbers, plus her secretarial work. Grandma kept a clean, tidy home and was an exceptional cook. But people were simply not her thing. She could knit circles around everyone, and she adored her Boston Red Sox. Grandma and Grandpa spent evenings in their television room, ball game blaring. Grandpa was more interested in reading by lamplight each evening, donning a noise-blocking headset, while amicably seated next to his wife. He rocked in his chair, turning pages, lost in story, while Grandma rocked, knitting needles clicking while she clucked at those Red Sox players: correcting, criticizing, and cheering them to victory.

Grandpa was the best people person. It did not matter where you came from from, what you wore, or what you believed. He found a friendly commonality, and in a snap put even the most reticent person at ease. He was a salesman by trade, and a delightfully honest one. People simply adored him.

God was kind to gift my brother and me with such a grandparent, who made up for all of the withholding from my other grandparents. He was a Go Big or Go Home Grandpa, lavishing us with laughter and gifts and complete presence. Grandpa took the mundane, and wrapped it up in adventure. Errands to the hardware store and town dump and the gas station were fun. He shared stories and sang songs, and treated us to ice cream cones at the funniest times of day without batting an eye. We felt like royalty in his presence, cruising around town in his Volvo. We were cherished and honored, deeply known and forever loved.

Grandpa remained trustworthy: he protected his family, drove safely, was consistent in working hard, and although he spoiled his grandchildren, he was fun without being embarrassingly silly. There was a steadiness at his core that allowed my stomach to relax. I was a quiet child, and preferred a bit of personal space, while my brother was far more social, interacting and talking constantly. Grandpa seamlessly honored both personalities, understanding our depths like no other. His favor over us had no strings attached and never increased after our achievements. It anchored us, and remained as steady as the rising sun. He was proud of us simply because we were his grandchildren.

His love dazzled through his actions, and I do not recall him telling us that he loved us. He did not need to. His love was strong and unspoken. The very best kind, because it was proven; a steady stream flowing through our childhood. Likewise his devotion to God. He never announced that he was having his quiet time. Instead, he simply prayed and read and marked his Bible. Who Grandpa was was evidenced in his daily living. It was beautifully uncomplicated.

As it goes, bees are drawn to nectar, not vinegar. I loved my Grandpa.

***

The other day, while cleaning out my dresser, I found Wormy.

Wormy was my beloved childhood bookmark. He is a very thin leather shoelace, with an orange head and two googly eyes. He kept my place in more library books than I could ever count. Wherever I meandered, I brought a book, and that book contained Wormy.

The year I began first grade, I had one wish for Christmas: my very own dictionary.

Word spread through the family, and my uncle could not let this go. A first grader who wants a dictionary? He grabbed my mother’s elbow. Should you take her to the pediatrician? What first grader wants a dictionary?

Grandpa did not make fun. Of course she needs a dictionary! His voiced was clear; certain. Every true reader needs a dictionary!

That Christmas morning, on Washington Street, I ripped open my gift. I was now the proud owner of a Macmillan Dictionary for Children. I had been given the world. Wormy did his job and marked pages as I expanded my vocabulary.

Grandpa softly elbowed me with a twinkle in his eyes. We bookworms must stick together.

***

One spring, we packed our bags for a long weekend trip to Maine: Grandma and Grandpa, my parents, my brother, and me. I must have been seven or eight at the time. There was to be plenty of fishing and outdoor fun, eating out and after-dinner ice cream cones. My brother and I couldn’t wait.

The rain began to fall as we headed north in Grandpa’s Volvo.

We arrived hours later at the cabin door, soaked, suitcases in hand.

The cabin was not quite as advertised, and there was scarcely enough space for two, let alone six people. Grandpa promptly announced that everyone was to get back into the car, as we would be dining out.

It took an hour to find a suitable restaurant. When we had finished dinner, Grandpa asked to see their dessert menu. No ice cream.

We left, and Grandpa said that no vacation was complete without ice cream for his grandchildren.

Oh really, Bob. We are tired, said Grandma. We’ll get a cone tomorrow.

Grandpa was not as mild-mannered as my other Grandpa. If he said we were getting ice cream, then so be it we were getting ice cream. And we did, over an hour later, as we drove through the winding woods in rain.

***

It was still drizzling the next morning, when we scurried to the Volvo, to take a drive to an outlet, something to do since fishing was out.

The rain was torrential. We eventually picked up sandwiches at a local deli, and ate silently, scrunched in the car. I pulled out my book and read, passing time as we waited for the rain to lighten. It finally did, and the sun peeked out. We emerged from the car to stretch, and to throw away our lunch wrappings.

Things were definitely improving. Without rain we could finally go fishing and perhaps even play mini golf.

Thirty minutes later, while Grandpa was driving, I picked up my book that had fallen at my feet earlier when we had exited the car to stretch. Wormy was gone.

I frantically flipped through the pages, felt near my seatbelt, and looked on the floor. Nothing.

My eyes filled.

Wormy’s gone, I told my mother.

She helped me look, but to no avail. We stopped at a gas station and everyone got out. We searched the Volvo, but Wormy had vanished.

There’s nothing we can do, my parents said. Your bookmark is gone.

I began to cry.

Why is she crying? my grandmother asked. It is just a bookmark, for Pete’s sake.

Grandpa grew serious.

He is not gone, he said matter-of-factly. In fact, he is probably waiting for us back at the spot where we ate our lunch.

I felt a spark of hope.

The three adults began murmuring at once: It is too far and This is our chance to fish and It is just a bookmark and These things happen and She will get over it and…

Who died and made you boss? Grandpa’s eyes were wide. My brother and I giggled.

So we headed back, and it was a long drive. The rain picked up again, just as we sailed into the parking lot. Grandpa hopped cheerfully out of the car, and walked around, opening my backseat door. I felt like the luckiest girl in the entire world, with a Grandpa who understood and cared enough to go back for Wormy.

We looked around for a minute, before I spied his orange head in the dirt.

I knew he was waiting, Grandpa offered with a smile.

He opened the door for me with a low bow, and I am quite sure that I felt more cherished in that moment than I ever have.

***

Real love is costly and unselfish. A gigantic mural, painted with sweeping strokes of unmistakable goodness in action: colors vibrant, alive, and utterly impossible to hide.

Grandpa died nearly thirty years ago, but I remember.

Thank you, Grandpa for loving well, for not leaving me mere crumbs, wondering if I belonged or if I mattered. Thank you for giving me an entire banquet feast, a surety of belonging and love through presence and pursuit: the likeness of the heart of God.

Sorrows of Gold

We had recently left Texas, waving goodbye to the dusty, high heat of one state while inching mile-by-mile to the sweltering humidity and palm trees of another. Our children were no longer babies, but still young. After a gazillion hours spent driving, followed by days of unpacking and quartering endless peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches while trying to find the boxed paper plates, I hit pause.

Perched alone amongst stacked boxes in our bedroom, I closed the door and wept. By nature, I am not a frequent crier, but when I do, it comes in a whooshing, quiet rush.

But on that particular day, some thirteen years ago, the crying felt more like a torrential downpour of honest introspection of my lack. I remember catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. You are a wife and a mother and a sister and a daughter, Kristin. People need you. Pull it together.

Pulling it together is my default. I prefer to do hard things alone, and to not be a bother.

But here’s the thing that has taken me forever and a day to acknowledge: it is okay to be broken and fragile, and to ask for help. Self-sufficiency is the noblest of lies, rooted in pride. Our hardships are not meant to sanctify only us: the sharing of burdens is God’s means to also grow others. While we all have our own responsibilities to carry, self-sufficiency can stealthily morph into selfishness.

Plus, there eventually comes a day when our old bootstraps break as we attempt to pull ourselves up, and what then?

While my Pull it together, people need you sounded good, and was true, there was pain swelling in my heart. My husband’s job uncertainty, his new ministry, the financial needs of our family, and the chaos of moving and beginning again invaded and crushed my spirit. I was tired and scared and worn down from being brave under pressure. I was drowning in an invisible puddle of insufficiency, quite unable to handle the large tasks looming, and even worse the lesser things, like cooking a dinner sans pots and pans (which were stuffed in a box somewhere). A dinner consisting of something other than cereal and toast.

My tears eventually stopped, but my heart remained flat and dull and weary. From a reasonable perspective, how would all of these loose ends come together?

I wish that I could twirl back time, and be that person to comfort my younger self, while speaking truth:

Hold on. There is purpose in your suffering. There is goodness in your lack. Be honest with others in the sharing of your struggles. Keep your Bible open, and pray. God loves you, and he is going to lead you directly through situations far worse than this moment. Trust him. There will be years of fiery furnace living, and God is THERE. You will also experience tremendous joys, and God is THERE. Remember: His ways are not ours, and your faith will be tested. Press into him, because you are his. Study Job. Read Jonah. Immerse yourself in the Psalms. Comfort your spirit in the Gospel. Heaven is coming. Obey God and you will grow, as the dross of life melts away in the pain of refinement. God is working. Formation in affliction will cost dearly, but it will also make you.

I had so much to learn but was too busy fumbling with my tired bootstraps.

***

A few weeks after my crying jag, a friend called and invited me to a women’s Monday night Bible study at her church. It is small but we have a godly teacher, she offered.

I accepted.

The crowd was indeed slim, and we began by singing an old hymn. Our teacher, an older woman, stood and prayed. She spoke reverently to God, sincerely thanking him for another day of life, for his gift of faith, and for blessing us with the Bible. Her words were simple; unadorned and humble. She asked God to soften our hearts, and to guide her teaching of Scripture, that she would be found faithful.

Amen.

And then she began teaching us from the book of Ephesians. Chapter two. And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…But God, being rich in mercy…

I still have notes from that time, jotted in the margins of my Bible. She walked us through each phrase, step-by-step, teaching us God’s Word patiently and thoroughly. During the following weeks, I learned that she had suffered severe illness, poverty, early widowhood, the death of her son, and betrayal. Every single time she shared of her trials, she gently highlighted two components: her responses to the particular trial and the overarching faithfulness of God. Her words were neither fancy nor pity-laced. She was transparently tutoring us in what she had gleaned through what seemed a life filled with losses, stacked terribly high. We leaned in.

We must never think we are self-sufficient, she warned. God is in charge, and he is always enough, she added, eyes filling. Trust him through it all. He knows what he is doing. We all face pain, but it is our personal response that matters. It reveals our true allegiance.

Her sorrows had become our gold.

Her words were treasures that held sway because of her intense sufferings. There she stood before us, in a simple dress, clean and starched and faded. Her face was wrinkled, surrendered, and content. She radiated peace.

God is our rock. He is the only thing in life that may never be taken. He is solid and unchanging. Anchor yourself to him.

I had been in Bible studies before: power points and videos and expensive clothing and bright lipstick and polished filming. This was not that.

Before me stood an elderly woman with her Bible and her testimony. She treasured God, and it framed her countenance, adorning her words and her life. I hungered for what she had.

***

Not too long ago, I was introduced to an older woman who had once been a pastor’s wife.

I hated every single minute of it, she spoke bluntly, eyes narrowed, hands on hips. And my former husband did, too. It was a miserable existence. She told me that they had divorced long ago and she was remarried. I had known this woman under two minutes, yet her bitterness was draped like a neon cloak upon her slim shoulders, evident to anyone with a pulse. She went on to share a few more difficulties in her life, her words caustic and cutting and drenched in anger. There was no disputing that her life had been peppered with difficulty. I am not going to pretend that I truly know of her pain, and the stories behind her life. That would be unfair. But it was clear that her bitterness had grown impenetrable. It was a weighty and unattractive beast.

I returned home from this encounter and opened my Bible, which placed me in Ephesians 2. As I studied those worn pages, marked from Bible Study some thirteen years ago, I remembered our teacher.

It is what we do next, after our heartache comes, that matters, she said.

I always have a choice: I can allow my personal hardships and tragedies and pain to become my identity. A stubborn, spoiled pet; chained to excuses and self-pity. Or I can glorify God, gratefully surrendering to his path, which often includes pain. This is my daily choice, an act of the will. Easy to type, and hard to flesh out. This is deeply personal. No one can accomplish it for another.

I am grateful my Bible Study teacher chose the latter. She scattered seeds of gold, treasures born of affliction, now flourishing far and wide. God gave the increase. An imperishable inheritance awaits her.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:3-7

Tethered to Christ

I studied and researched paint colors for days: Partly Cloudy, Courtland Blue, Borrowed Light, Little Pond, Saphire Berry. Observing the swatches at different moments of the day, while stepping back and noticing shadows caused changes in the feel and true color. Some I liked, a little bit, but not wholeheartedly. Paint colors hold weight, and one thing remains true: if I don’t love it at first blush, I never will.

So I finally took a picture on my phone, and held it up to the tired man behind the counter. This is the one, I told him. Can you help me?

He shook his head. We can only match a color from paper or an object or a paint chip. The pixels do not work from a phone. They trick you.

This blue I was hunting is relaxing and steady, both calming and invigorating. An open-sky space inviting me to string words.

As it turned out, the long line of color samples I played with were forgettable. Every swatch missed the mark. And then, one evening, I stumbled upon a review of Honest Blue from paint company Sherwin Williams.

When I gazed at the color online, I was not enthused. It seemed too dark, too flat, and too gray. But then I remembered the tricky computer pixels and paid attention instead to the description from Sherwin Williams, along with a plethora of reviews: This color brightens up a room with little natural light. It appears far softer and prettier than shown. It is magnificent. According to its description, Honest Blue is infused with light reflective tones that permeate the darkest of crevices, much to the delight of consumers.

So I went for it in a slim act of faith, trusting the description, and returned home with two gallons in eggshell finish. I flung drop cloths over everything and went to work. Within a few hours, the room was lovely. Transformed. It looked nothing like the swatch, but resembled stretches of sky and ocean. I could have wept at its beauty. It was perfect, just as its makers had noted.

By trusting the words of the designers, my office was made new.

***

With each passing year, I embrace with growing clarity the truth that there are no shortcuts to personal holiness. Clinging to Christ is the solution for making every moment a holy offering. This passion stirs deep before bubbling to the surface: I am responsible for my own love and obedience to Jesus, whose yoke is easy and burden light.

Like my freshly painted office, God has provided a perfect means of rescue for the sin pulsing through all human veins, covering our ugly walls with fresh, light-infused paint as we repent and turn to him in faith. This is the Good News. A Redeemer to gently touch our pitch dark, hidden spaces, imprinting and softening us into the image of Christ. Our Rescuer is our Lifeblood, our Healer, our Vine, and we are the small branches. Our slave-chains to this world have been severed.

God’s affection upon his own is Honest Blue. Our Creator knows with precision what brings growth and health and beauty to our poverty-stricken souls. Our freedom is found in our chains. Bound to Christ forever. It seems unlikely to be free while remaining tethered, doesn’t it?

The paint might first appear flat or gray or dull, but the reflective light tones of Jesus radiate to the darkest of corners, infusing beauty and brightness to the uttermost, wiping away the grime and cobwebs of our ugly sin. We are new creatures, transformed.

***

I will be a grandmother soon. I shiver with excitement at the thought of holding that tiny bundle of sweetness. My husband and I pray for our children and grandchild each day. We pray that all of our grandchildren will love God at an early age. Waiting and praying for this baby has caused me to consider the means of personal holiness in a child’s life. I am grieved at the thought of so many children within the universal church, being entertained on Sunday mornings with merry-go-round games and shallow teaching.

No individual, regardless of age, may ever be fettered to Christ without a reckoning of personal sin. A grieving of its grip. How harmful, how confusing to wave a Jesus flag, while skipping over the dark stain of sin? Jesus Saves we warble, which is absolutely true. But saves from what? children wonder. The teaching of our human wickedness and hopelessness without a perfect Rescuer to take our blame is paramount. It is only as we recognize our death sentence that we may fling our souls upon Jesus Christ, tethered to him, cradled in sweet relief.

Remember, that as Christ-followers, we have a God who sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17).

Our Maker sings over us.

Contemplate that for a moment.

Do our children and grandchildren realize the incredible beauty and power and tenderness of our God?

As parents, we may never own our children’s faith. But if we treasure Sunday mornings, holding them sacred and dear, our children are prone to follow. This is the delightful joy of discipleship that is often overlooked: parents to children. Teach them the truth of sin’s horror, followed by the sweetness of God’s mercy and forgiveness and grace and complete rescue.

Sunday mornings at church must never be optional or casual. We are worshipping the highest of Kings, the Creator of all. Our God is set apart and holy. Enter your church in a state of humility, hungry to worship and learn and encourage others in their faith. Spear to death all casual indifference. Display awe and reverence not out of ritual, but from a tender place of highest respect. Your children and grandchildren will then see the goodness of God, and long for the things of Jesus Christ, rather than the poor substitutes of this world.

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A few days ago, I stood at the edge of our backyard woods, enjoying the many different types of trees. Little crab apples are forming upon one. As I took in their green plumpness, I had that uncomfortable sense that I was being watched. Peering into the woods, I scanned the area, and saw nothing unusual. Yet I could not shake the feeling. Slowing my gaze, I perused the woods again. Six eyes, camouflaged and still. Three young deer were watching me. Gentle and wide-eyed and still.

If I had not intentionally stepped outside, observant and eager to seek the great outdoors, I would have missed those deer. They still would have been there, but I would have remained pitifully unaware.

God desires for us to seek him (Proverbs 8:17, Deuteronomy 4:29, Psalm 9:10, Psalm 14:2, Psalm 119:2, Lamentations 3:25, Amos 5:4, Psalm 27:8). Do not forsake the spiritual disciplines, which move us toward Christ. Staying tethered to God for a lifetime takes an act of the will. Fortitude. It is arduous to swim against the tide of culture, but I have discovered that personal faith is immeasurably strengthened by obedience, step by step. Our reward will be heavenly. Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

It is a choice to practice gathering to worship, reading our Bible, meditating on Scripture, praying, and receiving the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of his stunning sacrifice. These are pursuits that rightly follow a heart bent on serving our Father. God is in our midst, patient and gentle and watching.

Tether yourself joyfully to him and live.