When Life Knocks You Down

snowball-in-hand2.jpg“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”

― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief ―
Last week, the snow was light on the ground, drifting only in sparse piles on top of the vehicles and the edge of the driveway. I looked out the kitchen window, and this is what I saw.
Around the driveway drifts, two young friends of mine gathered, rolling snow into lopsided balls in an attempt to build a snowman. Somewhere along the way the lure of the snow was just too much for one of them and snowballs began to fly.

Before you knew it, the round snowman torso was being plundered for ammunition. One of my little friends, laughing in the thrill of the moment, suddenly caught a huge wad of snow in the head. He went flying backward into the snow, his red coat a streak of color against the blank palette of yard.

It was one of those magical moments.

Laying on his back, he grinned, laughing at being bowled over. Soon he was up again, and before long, not a trace of the original snowman remained.

This is the joy I seek.

To go down laughing when this world bowls me right over.

The boys playing in my snowy yard plowed through the cold like it was a joy to do it. They lay down in the stuff like it was comfortable. They took hits like troopers. It was all a blast–a game without risk or reason to fear.

Life seems a little more heartless. Its snowballs are packed a lot harder, carry a little more ice inside them. Adventures we once craved, we now see in their true light: cold, wet, hard things that we really don’t want to go out in.

No wonder so many of us stay inside ourselves, where it is warm and comfortable.

But there was something marvelous about my little friends trouncing through the snow. Their exhilaration in the beautiful discomfort. Their embracing of being swept off their feet.

So I think I know a secret, how life can be like a snow day. You can get cranky because the snow went down your neck and into your boots, and your gloves are soaked clean through, and your nose is dripping off. Or, when the big snowballs of life knock you off your feet, you can lay there a while and laugh at the sky above you.

Maybe that’s the best place to see the sky–when you are flat on your back. Sometimes it takes being knocked down to get you to look up. 

Maybe that’s when you can stop trying to prove how well you can stand up to the barrage, and you can just flop over and laugh into the cold sky.

“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.”

 – Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p.31 –

I think that hope teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Life can be very, very hard. It is true.

But when we are knocked down, we can cry over our smallness and weakness…or we can laugh at it. We can marvel at a God who loves the little person bowled over by the snowball. And we can trust that the God of the snow knows all about snowballs…and He knows just how much we needed to take a long look at the sky and ponder what kind of Creator would gift us with such blue beauty.

“This is why we do not lose courage. Though our outer self is heading for decay, our inner self is being renewed daily.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:16, CJB –

The God of snow days and of little boys and long, happy falls into snow banks is also my God. He has promised to make all this world into something fresh and new one of these days.

Until then, He gives grace for the days when we are knocked right off our feet. His redeemed daughters “smile when they think about the future” (paraphrase of Proverbs 31:25, The Voice.)

It is easy to be discouraged when life knocks us down.

But take a deep breath and look up at the blue, blue sky and laugh. Your Father is making it all come out perfect in the end.

That’s why snow days are worth celebrating.

As cold as everything looks in winter, the sun has not forsaken us. He has only drawn away for a little, for good reasons, one of which is that we may learn that we cannot do without him.

– George MacDonald –

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The Making of a Lion Heart

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“The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

– Proverbs 28:1, NKJV –


Perhaps C.S. Lewis’ Aslan is the most beloved lion in all literature, the great king of a mysterious place extending beyond the borders of Narnia.  And, as his subjects declared, he is not a tame lion…but he is good.

Symbolic of power and royalty, the lion is also one of the names of Christ, “Lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:5).

Interesting, then, that this majestic beast would be used to describe the righteous.

Me, a lion?

It sounds so strange and foreign to my ears.

But the idea is compelling and hauntingly reminiscent of childhood longings to be the kind of girl who could set her face to the rising sun and have no fear of the day ahead.  Courage to set out to sea and hear the wind scudding on foamy crests and whipping in the sail, ready for whatever God has in store just over the next wave.

What does it take for me to have this unnatural boldness?

I recently heard the story of John Paton, a man who left his comfortable life to take the gospel to an unreached area of South Pacific islands inhabited by cannibals. Before his departure, people confronted him, trying to persuade him to turn back:

“Amongst many who sought to deter me was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument always was, ‘The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!’ At last I replied, ‘Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms.’”

Oh, to have that spirit in me! This is the victory-march of the Apostle Paul, when he wrote:

“…according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)

This is the face of a lion, the mindset of a ransomed child who walks with upheld head, clear eyes, and a song. This is the face of a woman who has been with Jesus, who “is clothed with strength and dignity;she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25, NIV). This is the face alight with glory and joy, because it has seen the Lord.

Seeing Him, even a tiny shadow of his power and holiness and overwhelming love, I ask you one question:

“What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:4b, NIV)

Today, you and I are not physically setting sail, or scaling a mountain, or going to face a host of cannibals.

More likely, we’re headed to work or class, to prepare meals, to deal with conflicts, to make decisions, to play with siblings.

Not cannibals in the least–but fear still penetrates our days, doesn’t it? It seeps like an icy current into every crack of living.

How do we find peace in this Wasteland haunted by terror?

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).

Fear comes from what I expect, what I believe. If I anticipate that each difficulty or tragedy that rolls my way will toss me out of commission, then I will be paralyzed. Although Jesus never promised us that troubles would go away, He did give a solution–peace in the middle of the battle, because the war has already been won.

How can I be Lion-faced today?

My Lion-King has already broken the floodgates and here comes the joy, spiraling in like a golden sea.

John Paton learned this–what can anyone really do to a blood-washed son of God? Worst case scenario, we get to see our Savior’s face. To me–well, to me that sounds awfully like my best case scenario. In a recent sermon I heard, the story was told of a man commanded to renounce the name of Jesus or face death. With a smile, he lifted his head and asked, “Are you going to threaten me with heaven?”

In the Bible, Satan also is described as a prowling lion, a devourer–but this lion has been wounded to the head with the heel of a King and his last desperate staggers proclaim his certain doom. Always aspiring to be as God, he puts on illusions–light, truth, beauty, even the royal nature of a lion, a hollow, fragile imitation of the True Lion. This head-crushed impostor roars against the might of his conqueror (1 Peter 5:8).

Again, the Apostle Paul testifies:

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (2 Timothy 4:16-18, NKJV, emphasis mine).

And so, this is my prayer:

God, give me the heart of a lion, the passion and love to serve fearlessly, with all that is in me.

Give me the face of a lion, to turn like flint toward trouble and plant my feet in Your strength, trusting You that I will not be moved.

Give me the confidence of a lion, that boldness will flow from my absolute belief in Your love.

Give me the song of a lion, that I may roar with undefeatable joy and toss my mane in the golden glow of Your glory.

Great God of the heavens–and Lord of my soul–make me bold as a lion in Your righteousness.


What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:31-39, NKJV, emphasis mine –


 

Thank you, Petr Kratochvil and Public Domain pictures, for our lion photo today.

In These Hands, Part 2

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       2013 is almost over. New Years is approaching. 2014 is days away. And you’re back! I’m so glad we can share Part 2, after In These Hands, Part 1, was published two weeks ago!  Let’s dive in!

“God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell… In the bottom line realm of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word ‘deserve’ does not even apply.”

– Philip Yancey, emphasis mine –

– Perfect Gifts –

God is really good at filling open hands.

If faith is ” two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord,” as Alan Redpath says, then what is it that we receive?

Most important, if we belong to Christ, the most glorious gift is Him. God with me, God with you, always.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

 – Romans 8:31-32, NKJV, emphasis mine –

So, “all of the Lord” encompasses not only His sparing us from wrath but also His freely giving us all things.

I’m coming to realize, like a bright dawn that slowly lifts out of the darkness, that open hands are not necessarily empty hands.

Augustine had something to say about this: “

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

This goes beyond a cotton-candy gospel and reveals that our sins are still clinging to us–or that we are clinging to them. Our self-will, our determination to hold on to our own ways, the control we crave–all of these show our fingernails-dug-in grasp on our idols.

That age-old quest, the prelude to the angelic fall–“I will be like God.”

Like God, able to hold on tight to things. Like God, controlling every detail. Like God–that power would feel so good, fill the empty places. We think so, anyway.

And so, even in our nice Christian wrapping, in our church-face facade, we bow before idols, wrapping our power-hungry hands around their feet.

Our hands are too full of trash to hold the good things.

In order to hold Him, to cradle the Best there is, we have to believe that He rewards the seeker. We have to trust that He is Who He says He is. We have to be awakened to the fact that our idols are coals burning us up even as we hold them tightly. We have to turn away in disgust at the filth we’ve been clasping fondly. Repent and believe. That He is. That He will reward you when you seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

When we open our hands and release what we’re holding so tightly, our Father doesn’t strip anything away without giving us much more. This isn’t a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel or a follow-this-formula princess theology, as worldview teacher John Stonestreet calls it. This is God’s promise.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV. emphasis mine –

When He awakens us and we see that He is a far greater treasure than anything else…

When our eyes open and we stare up into the face of a God  who comes down to our level….

When we throw off all we call life for a Better Prize

He strips off the sin, washes the guilt, pries our fingers off our idols, and then pours abundance into our open palms. He’s a God that blesses the cursing, gives gifts to the thieves, and ransoms the mockers. He’s a God that washes clean our pig-sty hearts and makes us hate the sin-wallows. He’s a God that tells you to let go.

Not because He doesn’t want you to have good things.

The truth is…you will never have good things if you always hold on to your things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words can penetrate our “God wants to make me miserable” fears:

“The right way to pray is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”

It’s faith again, girls. When we open hands, we have to keep stretching, keep unfolding, keep those fingers pried back. But the good new is that faith isn’t mustered up. You see, even faith is His gift to us.

And one step of faith gives birth to another. Stormie Omartian, a writer of women’s books on prayer, says,

“When we step out in that faith, God increases our faith. In other words, acting in faith begets more faith.…We have no idea what great things God wants to do through us if we would just stop out in faith when he asks us to” (The Power of a Praying Woman, page 232, emphasis mine).

Open hands are the only way, you see, to hold His gifts.

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

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Open Hands are Brave Hands

When I was a little girl, I loved a book series about a girl stolen away by Vikings. I adored her fortitude and how her faith flourished in exile, as she became so much more than she ever could have by staying safe in the Irish hills.

When I read those books, one of her prayers thrilled me. It still is almost like a heartbeat to me:

“Give me a heart of courage.”

But now I see it’s not just my heart that needs a bravery boost. It’s my hands.

Only brave hands are strong enough to open.

Only brave hands can open and then receive God and all His gifts that He delights to shower.

And only brave hands can use those open fingers to reach out and grab another hand.

We can’t reach if our hands are balled into fists. We can’t receive anything. And we certainly can’t give. Closed hands reveal a closed heart. Whatever the reason for withdrawing, closed hands close off relationships.

Join me, will you? Join me in opening my hands from now on.

And those of you who are already working up New Year’s resolutions? Forget 2014 for this one.  A year’s too small. Let’s make this the Life of Open Hands.

Open, Gift-filled, Brave, Blessed Hands.

The prying-back might hurt. But can’t you see how much it’s worth?

And it all starts with saying yes to Him, in this moment.

“Yes Lord.”

Always yes.

“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise….

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love….
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

–  Frances Havergal, emphasis mine –

 

Thank you, Atalie, with Atalie Bale Photography, for today’s photo!

Courage That’s Better

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I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

– John 14:27, NLT –

Part of me pulls toward the leaning sycamore tree, leaves filtering sun down on cropped grass outside the conference center.

Wind tickles my skirt around my ankles.

But my thoughts are too tumbled.

How part of me cringes because I don’t measure up.

And another piece of me wants You so much, so close, that it stills my depths.

And I’m a little empty. I feel inadequate.

I sense the problem and even the solution. Fear not. Is it You, dear Comforter, who I so much forget, Who whispers to me this way?

Fear.

Fear of man.

Fear of losing friends.

Fear of the future.

So many fears.

Whispers darting around my ears, bringing on winds of shaking. And I move away, nestle in a corner with people buzzing and speakers’ microphones piercing through chatter.

Stone wall against my back, stone-cold, chilling straight through to the back of my heart.

Like fear creeping in the back door.

And the speaker is Don Hart, talking about the morale of a soldier.

That we’ll never win if we walk defeated.

‘Cause we’re not.

Are not defeated.

Why am I fearing?

When my eyes come away from Your face.

My whole arm’s now chilled from the stone.

But I’m Yours.

Why–why on this earth of Yours–do I let fear infect my joy, my goals?

And a smile, heart-deep, springs up because joy is welling up and the what appeared to be the burden of others-centeredness is shifting into the glory of it. Can You use me here?

Can You make me smile in the corners and brave out front, and humble in the masses and deep-in heedless of others’ thoughts?

I want these deep-in, Psalm 1 roots.

And this Psalm 27 fearlessness.

And these words that Don-Hart spoke,  a Marine’s saying:

“Not dead. Can’t quit.”

And Psalm 27:4-5: His beauty drives out the fear. Abiding in His place of safety gives all the confidence I could long for. Beholding Him, looking into Love’s eyes.

My blinking, my knowing.

Parts of me that cringe at my inability.

But still the speaker pierces through, “Do you believe God?”

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord….”

– Psalm 27: 13 –

He says wait on Him.

He says be of good courage

(I wonder, how much stronger good courage is than just plain courage?)

And He promises the strength just when I’m in need.

So, Jesus, where do You want me to go?

Thanks to Larisa Koshkina and Public Domain Pictures for the lovely photo!