Unimagined

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“There is in Jerusalem near the sheep-gate a pool surrounded by five arches, which has the Hebrew name of Bethzatha….One particular man had been there ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there on his back—knowing that he had been like that for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to get well again?”

“Sir,” replied the sick man, “I just haven’t got anybody to put me into the pool when the water is all stirred up. While I’m trying to get there somebody else gets down into it first.”

“Get up,” said Jesus, “pick up your bed and walk!”

At once the man recovered, picked up his bed and walked.”

 – from John 5, Phillips paraphrase –


Thirty-eight years. That’s how long he had been hoping. Everyday, his body lay, with its withered legs, near the holy pool that some people said was touched by angels. He’d seen some of these healings. The water would swirl and agitate, shouts and delighted screams would rise up all around the rocky ledges of the pool where others like him sat and waited on angels. A fortunate blind woman with a guide or someone who had just arrived leaped into the pool. Their tears and laugher were answer enough. He’d seen blind eyes open wide, no longer milky and opaque–healed.

He’d rehearsed the moment again and again. Adrenaline surged in his veins when he thought about it. Next time…maybe next time he could drag himself into the pool in time. Maybe next time, he could be the one laughing and crying with joy.

Then a stranger comes walking through the bodies of the suffering. “Don’t you want to be healed?”

“There’s no one to help me get in the water,” the cripple replies. Maybe he scowled, wondering who would ask such a dumb question. Duh. Of course he wanted to be healed. Why else would he park himself next to the healing pool, waiting for a chance to be well?

This is the good part! The stranger doesn’t say, “Okay, well, I’ll stick around and help you in next time an angel touches the water.” He doesn’t say, “Here are some crutches–these will help you get to the water faster.”

The stranger says, “Get up and walk.”

What? I wonder if the lame man was confused. Walk? But what about the Healing Pool? What about the way healing had always been done?

Can you hear the expectations shattering?

But he got up and started walking on legs that were no longer twisted and weak. He rolled up his waiting mat. He was done with the pool by the Sheep Gate. He was healed, no angel-water involved!

My favorite thing about this story is that Jesus, the powerful stranger, defies expectation. His solution to the problem was on a completely different level than the crippled man’s default solution. Who would have thought that someone could just say the word to straighten crooked limbs? Who would have thought that no holy water or angelic visitations were needed?

Who would have thought that all he had to do was encounter Jesus?

I make the same miscalculation as that lame man did. I get used to one way of thinking and imagine it is God’s only solution. I set my expectations, calibrate my reality, and think that I’ve got the ways of the Lord just about figured out.

But then, I wait in vain for the heavenly visitations or the stirring up of something miraculous that I can grab hold of on my own.

When Jesus comes by, I don’t always automatically think, “I want to be well.”

Often, I’m thinking, “I don’t have any help getting to the pool” and “This plan isn’t working out. Everyone beats me to the miracle.” Like the cripple, I’ve sometimes looked at my own problems so long that I can’t see other ways of escape.

But then Jesus presents an alternative: “Get up and walk.”

Oh. You meant, just get up? Just walk? No water gushing, no magic wand or swooping angels, no ritual to perform? Just get up and walk?

I wonder what preconceptions are keeping us from getting up and walking? I wonder how many solutions we need to put aside in favor of a God-given solution?

Our dear Father God is more than happy to hear our cries. He doesn’t always answer right away–after all, this lame man waited 38 years for that moment of healing, when the perfect time had come. And physical healing is not always His plan, either. This lame man could best glorify God by getting up and walking. A modern-day quadriplegic, Joni Eareckson Tada testifies to His faithfulness another way. In her book A Place of Healing, she says:

“Little did I know…that in due time, God would heal me–but on a level I would have never dreamed….I found the very peace and contentment that had eluded me. I also found joy, simply because I had embraced His will for my life.

And what is His will?

That you and I be in the best position, the best place, the timeliest circumstance in which God can be glorified the most.

For me that place just happens to be a wheelchair.

That happens to be my place of healing.”

What I learn from this story of the crippled man is that we dare too little. We think too small. We plan and theorize and, in the end, God staggers us with His wonders.

Sisters, we don’t have to be anxious about all the pieces of life that don’t seem to be falling into place. We have such a tiny perspective. From our view, we can’t see any way for our needs to be met.

But the One in control doesn’t have the same view as we do.

He has plans so wonderful that we can’t imagine them. He doesn’t need matter to speak a world into existence. He doesn’t need our help to meet our needs.

We don’t need perfect plans. We need to encounter Jesus, expecting glories that we cannot imagine.

He won’t disappoint.


“I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement—that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ—and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself!

Now to him who by his power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine—to him be glory in the Church through Jesus Christ for ever and ever, amen!

 – from Ephesians 3:14-21, Phillips paraphrase –

 

 

Letting Go

misty-hills

“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

– William Butler Yeats –

I am a firm believer in wonderful things.

In fact, I am very good at setting my sights on things I want and wishing for them with all my heart.

If you’ve read my blog long, you know that I’ve talked about surrender quite a bit–empty hands, a whole heart offered to God, trust in the future that He determines.

But all that to say–I apparently still didn’t get the idea.

There are stages to journeys.

“One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.”

― Elisabeth Elliot ―

First, God led me, years ago, to say my first, halting “Thy will be done” to His plans for my future.

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Since then, over and again, I’ve laid my desires out to Him and given them over into His keeping.

Every once in a while, though, a big and lovely dream creeps into my heart.

It’s hard to know what to do with such a magnificent thing. I’ll tell you what I like to do–I like to frame that dream and hang it in the corridors of my imagination. I like to set it high on the shelf of myself and  lean back and smile over that dream a little while, pull it down and stroke it a bit, then set it back up to stare at again. For such a fair and perfect dream, I can spare no expense. Every highest thought, every best energy of my heart goes to it.

I have had such big, beautiful dreams, and sometimes I have handled them well. I have let go just enough to say, “Yet, if You take this dream too, Lord, I will love You and serve You even then.” I have been able to laugh in the dark and give even my desperate tears over to my Master. But still, that dream was something I often clutched. Willing to give it up…yes, for my Jesus. If circumstances made me. If others forced me. If God Himself set blockades in the way. But give it up on my own…why would I do such a thing?

blue-nature-wallpaper-14297133009ozOnce upon a time, I had such a dream–oh, it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. I guarded it and kept it with all my might. Sure, I told God He could have it. I even meant it. Honestly, I wrestled and I came to the sincere conclusion that if this hoped-for thing did not come to be, it would be okay. I didn’t know how it would be okay, but I really did believe it.

But I will tell you something about dreams.

Sometimes, just being willing isn’t enough.

Sometimes a dream grows so large and heavy, so lovely and blinding, that it is a weight to carry along.

I had that big, lovely dream, and I toted it along in my heart. And, even though I said the Lord could have it, I also said, “But please, I like it so much, can’t I keep it?”


A father and his little girl were taking a journey together.

“Father!” she squealed, finding a lovely object on the ground. “Look at this! Have you ever seen something so beautiful?”

He looked down on his hopeful-eyed little girl as she hoisted a too-big load up in her thin arms, and he said, “It is very heavy.”

“But please, I love it. Can’t I bring it home with me?” this little girl pleaded.

And the father smiled to himself, because he knew the treasure was too heavy for the small one. But he nodded and let his little girl heft the weight along.

Soon she began panting.

“Why don’t you put that load down?” he asked.

The little girl’s eyes flew open wide and tears pooled in them. “If you say I must, I will,” she said, quietly. “I know you want what is best for me.” Then she looked up at him tearfully. “But please, can’t I bring it a little farther?”

As they traveled along, she began to moan quietly under the crushing weight of her burden. Each time the trail steepened, she cried a little on top of her treasure and gritted her teeth to carry it up the hill. It seemed like her load was getting heavier and heavier with every small, wobbling step she took. Soon, her arms trembled and her knees buckled. She dropped the load, barely pulling her small hands out from beneath it before it crashed to the path.

“You should leave it now,” her father spoke again, so kindly. “It is only a weight to you.”

“But…” she looked down at it, then saw the red blisters on her hands and the bruises turning blue on her forearms. She bit her lip and grabbed her father’s hand. “Yes, Father.” She got up, tears falling. She started to follow him down the path, but turned back for one last glance. “I will leave it here. I won’t try to carry it myself any more.” She took a few more steps. “Father?”

“Yes, dear one?”

“What if that treasure…is supposed to be mine?”

He smiled down at her and scooped her up into his arms. “Then I will carry it home to you when it is time.”


This has been my experience: Even though I battled with my dream, trying to keep it from becoming an idol, truly wanting to keep Jesus first, the battle wore me out. 

Finally, after heart-breaking after heart-breaking, I had to just let it go. I had to leave it at the Lord’s feet and say, “Here is my favorite dream. I’m not bringing it with me anymore. I’m not counting on it to come true anymore. I’m not letting myself imagine it is true, or picture all the ways I will enjoy it, or setting it at the center of my future. I am leaving it behind and letting You do with it what You want.”

I couldn’t keep tugging it along. It was dragging me down, wearing me out.

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

blue-flower-1354931252PeKPeople say that hope is a good thing. “Never give up hope,” they say.

But I think that sometimes you have to give up on a small hope to make room for a Greater Hope.

As the persecuted Chinese Christian Li Quan says in Randy Alcorn’s novel Safely Home, “That day, hope was dashed–and, no matter how painful, it is always good when false hopes are dashed. Since then, many have learned to trust not in man but in God” (page 94).

Every dream I’ve given up, every disappointed hope,  has only driven me deeper into my need for Jesus.

Sure, each time I open my heart to His ways instead of mine, a part of me dies. But isn’t dying to my way of doing things part of becoming who I am really designed to be?

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“If my life is surrendered to God, all is well. Let me not grab it back, as though it were in peril in His hand but would be safer in mine!”

– Elisabeth Elliot –

Dreams aren’t bad–I don’t regret my dreams, my disappointments, or the pain that has been my teacher. I only regret the time spent on lifting dreams higher than I lifted my love for Jesus.

However lovely, no dream is as beautiful as He is.

The question is, do we live like we believe that?


“I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!”

– Romans 8:38, Phillips paraphrase –

 

 

 

 

The New Frontier

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“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
― Anne Frank ―


This is my first time being an adult, and I’m afraid I’m not very good at it.

No trial runs were offered me, though, so I guess I’ll just have to do my best and see what happens. Responsibilities to juggle, decisions to make, futures to determine…it is all very sobering.

One of the strangest things about growing up is how that impacts the family dynamic. We’re in an odd place as a family. Two adult children, 19 and (almost) 23, with both parents working at home. My brother is in college online. I work long-distance, also online. Mom keeps the farm running like the proverbial “well-oiled machine.” Dad works on the farm and does consulting work for a Gulf Coast pipeline company.

Four adults, bound up in one house, who must all work together somehow as a team. I won’t lie…it can be a challenge.

Plus, two of these four adults–namely, my brother and I–have spent the last 20 years or so learning to be obedient children.

Now, suddenly, we have been thrust into the world of adulthood, and I’m not quite sure how to act.

“This is your decision,” my parents tell me, and I know it is true…but what am I to do with this new thing called adulthood?

Honestly, the hardest thing about being grown up is not the responsibilities or the decisions. There is a certain…depth to the new situations I face and the deeper kind of hurts that I receive now that they are not being filtered through my parents all the time. I appreciate how God is using the sometimes-difficult realities of adulthood to grow me spiritually.

However, the hardest thing is knowing how to be a grown-up daughter who lives at home.

And, if you were hoping for a list of answers…I’m afraid I can’t help. I am feeling my way through this too. As an adult-child, it is hard to tell where house rules end and personal choices begin. I want so desperately to please my parents, yet I want to cultivate my own convictions and approaches as well.

Sometimes, it gets messy.

My parents–especially my mom–have been superbly involved in my life ever since childhood. I cannot even count the ways that they have taught me, given me opportunities, encouraged me, toned me down…they have truly been absolutely amazing, godly parents. There are probably a hundred day-by-day things in this family that I take for granted, but know I want to implement someday in a home of my own.

So, for 20 plus years, my parents have been instilling great truths in me. Over two decades, involved parenting becomes a habit. It has been a beautiful, necessary part of my growing up.

Now, I can only imagine how hard it must be for Mom and Dad to re-route these parenting habits into adult-to-adult interactions (especially when I still behave like a child sometimes!)

Meanwhile, from my perspective, I am trying to figure this whole grown-up thing out…and certainly not always succeeding. I’ll be honest–I skipped out on the teen rebellion, but my hardest battles with honoring authority set in after I became an adult.

These are uncharted waters. Old ways are familiar, yet they are like too-tight shoes long grown out of. New ways…how do I begin to lay a foundation for interacting with my parents as an adult?

There are many perspectives on the proper relation of a single, adult daughter to her parents. My views might seem too loose for some of you, and far too conservative to others.

Bottom line: I am an adult, responsible before God for my decisions. God has told me in His Word that I am to honor my parents–not any longer as a child obeys, but as a mature adult, who seeks to respect and bring praise to the many years of self-sacrificing parenthood that both my mom and my dad have given to me.

This is complicated by the fact that I live under their roof. I want to be useful at home–not a drain on the family finances. I want to honor the “house rules,” while somehow deciphering which parts are “house rules,” and which are optional approaches that I must decide for myself.

I will be utterly honest here: I tend to have an independent spirit. 

This can be both good and bad.

Good, because I don’t want to shirk responsibility. Good, because I know that God has created me for good works He has laid out for me individually to accomplish. Good, because I can approach certain new situations with confidence.

Bad, because God sets His people in the context of community. Bad, because the healthy desire to be grown-up can grow into a resentment of any constraints. Bad, because I often expect the right to rule myself without any advice or interference.

There is a certain measure of initiative, confidence, and self-possession that is healthy for a child of God–but it can be overrun by pride.

Mine rears its ugly head, typically in a scenario like this:

Mom: “How is work going today? Are you getting all your hours in?”

Me: (thinking): She is checking up on me. She doesn’t think I’m responsible enough to get my work done without being reminded. (I start to get irritated.) “It’s fine.”

Mom: “Do you think you’ll finish it in time?”

Me: (now biting my lip tightly to keep the frustration from spilling over) “Yes, I think so. I can take care of it.” (Not a raised voice…but a tight one. Definitely not the joyful, communicative soul I aspire to be…)

What just happened?

Well, Mom wants to be involved in my life and wants to help me succeed. I remind my family members of things all the time. So why is it that I start to get hot under the collar when someone else  reminds me of something I should do?

Pride. 

I want to chart my own course. I want to control my own way. I want to be my own boss–so much so that I cannot even listen to advice without quietly arguing my own opinion. I’ve never ranted or railed or outright rebelled–but I’ve done plenty of pouting and quiet resisting of godly advice.

So what if I don’t need a reminder or I have a different opinion than my parents? They are still the parents God gave me to honor. My pride can take a hike and I can humbly listen to wisdom.

The balancing act of relationships transitioning is marked by uncertainty. Keep the communication open and your ego squashed.

I am learning as I go. I’ve never done this before…and neither have my parents. They are doing a fantastic job, steadily giving over more responsibility and freedom as I mature.

We are charting a new frontier together.

If you are passing through this same journey into adulthood, be patient with your parents. They aren’t going to get it right, and neither will you. Ask God for grace to squash down your pride and just listen. As an adult, you are not bound to obey, but you must whole-heartedly honor them. Honestly, they’ve seen a bit more of life than you. Being an adult is no piece of cake, and they have invaluable experience at this whole grown-up thing. Make use of that…it is God’s gift to you.

Beating your chest and yelling about your rights Tarzan-style is never a good choice. Just because you can make certain decisions as an adult, doesn’t mean you should. There is a lure to the unknown, the unexperienced, the new, all things “out there” away from accountability.  Whether you are away at college, or working, with an apartment of your own, or living with your parents, remember: They love you. Don’t take it personally. Advice doesn’t mean they think you’re a failure without them. It means they care. Receive the advice with grace. Learn from them as much as you can soak up. Appreciate their involvement–lots of people don’t have that. And if you come to a decision where you and they just don’t see eye to eye…douse it with prayer. I can’t tell you what to decide, but whatever you do, do it with honor and the knowledge that they can often see a lot better than you can. Just because we’re “legal” doesn’t mean we get an automatic infusion of wisdom. That’s what parents are for.

“The way of fools seems right to them,
    but the wise listen to advice.” – Proverbs 12:15, NIV

So, maybe I haven’t cleared up much for you. I sure don’t have this figured out. Tomorrow, I’ll probably be speaking this truth to my heart again, doing some more pride-squashing.

Jesus never promised uncomplicated answers. But God does promise wisdom to the true seeker (James 1:5-6). I can pretty much guarantee this: If I consistently put the priorities of Jesus ahead of the priorities of Shelbie, much of my adulthood-angst would vanish. It’s when Shelbie gets in the way that things get muddy.

Adulthood is a wild, uncharted frontier, but we do not walk it alone. God has built special people into our lives to cheer us on and share their experience.

That’s not a reason to groan. It is something to make you deeply, overwhelmingly thankful.


“Blessed be the Lord,
Who daily loads us with benefits,
The God of our salvation!”

– Psalm 68:19, NKJV –

 

 

 

Grace upon Grace

old-flower-pots

 “The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace.”

– John Owen, from The Holy Spirit, p. 108-109 –


My mom and I drove by a ramshackle house a few days ago, with littered yards and patched-together exteriors. Scrap metal of all kinds dotted the yard. Faded flags and neon orange plastic netting decorated clotheslines and posts.

“Do they think that’s attractive?” I wondered. Honestly, it looked like a dump.

On the bedraggled porch sat a little terra cotta pot. This pot held tiny, pitiful green things, supposed to be a flourishing miniature garden…but, like the rest of the place, had never gotten past an attempt at beauty.

And then I caught my breath, realizing that I decorate the same way.

This must be how my efforts at cleaning up my own mess look from the outside. Just like that homeowner trying to make a cultivated, beautiful spot with her sad little plant, I tidy up a little corner inside of me and say, “There! Now I’m all fixed!” Meanwhile, the rest of me may be in shambles–ripped mattress in the front yard, bare engine sitting in the driveway, rusting-away lawnmower gathering weeds around it in the middle of the grass.

Seeing that poor little dwelling reminded me of just how useless it is to try to make myself beautiful or acceptable before God. Our most diligent efforts are like that dried-up little terra cotta planting: dead, lifeless, useless.

 I will never outgrow my need for grace.

This past weekend, I stood singing these words: “And needing more each day Thy grace to know…” (from “We Rest on Thee,” by Edith Cherry)

I realized that, however subtle, the idea had crept inside me that, as I grew in the faith, I would get stronger and need less grace. Somehow, I thought that I’d outgrow it.

“But you, my friends whom I love, are forewarned, and should therefore be very careful not to be carried away by the errors of wicked men and so lose your proper foothold. On the contrary, you should grow in grace and in your knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—to him be glory now and until the dawning of the day of eternity!”

 – 2 Peter 3:17-18, Phillips Version –

I don’t know where I got the notion that grace was merely a good starting place. I guess that is why we are warned to beware the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).

In reality, grace is the air we breathe as Christians. I can outgrow grace about as easily as I can outgrow my need for air by running faster. Actually, the opposite is true, isn’t it? The faster I run, the more air my body needs. The more mature my faith is, the more grace I need to live it out.

Spiritual growth doesn’t plateau into an easy ride to the finish line. As long as we live, it is an uphill climb, plunging us stronger and deeper into Christ with each step.

It is far too easy to coast as a Christian. Those few words of that song reminded me of my built-in need for God. He is not trying to grow me into an isolated, self-sustaining being. He knows that my best future lies in Him, seeking His glory. As John Piper puts it, “…God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.”

So I can be like that little gardener, trying to coax life into my one attempt at beautifying myself, or I can see the futility of cleaning up my own mess and turn to the One who can actually make ashes into beauty, my only True Satisfaction.

Happily, grace doesn’t get old. Like God’s mercy, grace doesn’t run out, grow stale, or fall short.

Toss out the terra cotta plantings in your life and cling to the grace of the Master Gardener. He alone can breathe life into our dried-out souls and make us grow, grace upon grace, into a well-watered garden that He alone has planted.


“How refreshed I am by your blessings! I have heard the doom of my enemies announced and seen them destroyed. But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him!”

– Psalm 92:10b-15 (TLB paraphrase) –