Consciousness of the Celebrant

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“Art should be a great hallelujah to life.”
― Marty Rubin ―


My friend Lizzie is staying the summer with my family on our farm.

On her birthday a few days ago, the celebration began before she even peeped out of her bedroom. I scrawled a loving note before going out for my morning run. Later in the morning, my mom sneaked into the kitchen and began crafting a fruit-laden birthday cake while I distracted Lizzie with outdoor activities. My brother added his happy birthday note to our stash of notes. My dad planned an adventurous hike for the afternoon.

All to celebrate the life of my friend.

I wonder…is celebration becoming a lost art? 

It’s one thing to make a birthday special, and another to live as a conscious celebrant.

In liturgy, a celebrant is the one who comes to the Lord’s Table to partake — to celebrate with rite and ceremony, to see in some ordinary action like eating an extraordinary thing like redemption. Merriam-Webster also defines the word as “a person who celebrates something.”

So, I want to be a celebrant.

It’s so easy not to be.

I woke up with a tired twinge in my muscles this morning. Beds need made, clothes put away, a lunch packed as I head across town to teach music for the day. Honestly…I really don’t feel like making a big deal of anything. This, then, is why I fear the extinction of the celebrant. I know myself too well.

How can we revive this rare breed of people, the dreamers who pour themselves into creative outlets of celebration? How can I become a girl of conscious celebration?

1. Christians are Called to be Celebrants

It’s true. As Christians, each of us is called to daily celebration. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians. 5:16-18).

We have endless things to celebrate, actually.

The new mercies of the morning, the return of the sun to warm the earth again. That today we are alive. That today is a gift we don’t deserve, but it has still been lavished upon us.

And most of all, that a God of endless worth placed His affection on a unloving people and called them to His salvation. He saved us! I don’t care how I feel this morning — this one trumps all others! No matter if the world crumbles and my life turns upside-down, this reason for celebration will endure. My God loves me.

Oh, Father, give us the grace to live this celebration.

2. Celebrants Think of Others

I doubt I need to tell you how easy it is to go about the day without thinking of anyone else. Deadlines and to-do lists bog us down. We forget about the 7.3 million other people that share this world with us. I honestly don’t understand how I can sometimes be so blind to the people around me.

The true celebrant is one who looks around and really sees.

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave….”

– Philippians 2:3-7a, CEB –

But I don’t think this celebratory nature is determined by accident, by chance, by genetic wiring, or any other uncontrollable force.

I think it is something you can cultivate, if you want to take the time.

The verse says “watch out for what is better for others.” That is definitely something we can actively do. And what about the next phrase, “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus”?

So I guess the question is…how much do I really want to obey? How much do I really want to step outside of myself and see the needs of others?

3. Celebrants See the Miracle in the Everyday

My friend Lizzie is good at this one. I’ll find notes on my pillow, a flower in my room, a carefully-copied poem laid where I can see it.

She’s studied me, and she’s learned what sends my soul into raptures.

And then she does it.

Don’t laugh…but that last part is the key. I study you. I see what makes you light up, what things refresh your heart.

And then I make a plan and actually do that thing.

That is how to be a celebrant.

Another dear friend named Emily inspires me with her creative and elaborate celebratory schemes. With 5 younger siblings, she often plans adventurous sibling dates, puts on lovely teatimes complete with adventures in Narnia, and implements actual Pinterest ideas (rather than just collecting pins like I do…) like jello Lego pieces or mailing letters in plastic bottles.

See…here’s the thing.

It really doesn’t take all that much to brighten up someones life, or make a memory that will never fade.

It takes thankfulness. It takes a little determination. It takes time to see, and the willingness to set yourself aside for a few minutes and focus on truly loving that dear person right in front of you.

You don’t have to be a Pinterest craft master or a romantic soul to do this, either. Just look. Just learn what people love. Just train yourself to listen and pay attention to what makes your family members smile, or your friends’ eyes shine.

Then do it.

Why not have an impromptu celebration today? Curate the consciousness of a celebrant.


In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.

– Albert Schweitzer –

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The Grand Experiment

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“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matthew 6:21, NKJV –


Last week, I announced that today’s post just might be revolutionary.

My head feels full of a Living God of Love that I can worship, but cannot grasp.

Yet, I still must DO something. Somehow, I have to make the leap from theory to practice. From describing Love to actually living it.

As we have learned in the past weeks in the Practical Love Series, Love can be compared to many things.. We have discovered that even our selves must die in order for Love to be formed in us. All must be given over to Christ. All these lessons are still in place–and vital–as I approach today’s post.


Jesus’ famous words about our treasure were not merely a tool to urge disciples to be more generous in their tithing. Giving away money is only one facet of Love. His statement is much bigger than that.

Have you ever had to work on a project that you really hated? A prospect that dismayed, appalled, and exhausted you? Did you feel the same way about it when you finished? If you managed to do it well, did you find that the despised task gave you just a shred of pleasure when you stood back and saw the results? I have.

Just to let you know, I’m not a fan of concrete.

But a few years ago, when my family decided to expand our garden, we researched and found out that concrete block raised beds were the perfect kind of addition for us. This decision catapulted our family into a three-year building project full of cement crusted gloves, sunburns, aching backs, and a LOT of work.

As I slathered mortar in between block seams, I didn’t particularly care for concrete. When my fingers were trapped under the falling edge of a 30 pound cement block, I certainly did not enjoy the process.

But now….now, it is all different.

I look back and see the labor and the sweat and even the pain, but twelve raised beds stand inside  the garden fence now. They overflow with tomatoes and cabbages and strawberries. Green beans arch over the pathways.

I look out over the fruitful project and say, “It was worth it.”

Mind you, I still don’t enjoy smashing my appendages with oversized bricks. But my persistent labor–and that of my family–turned the difficult task into an abundant harvest.

The process: HARD. The result: WORTH IT.

The practical part of Love is not easy either. Once we understand that our only hope of Loving is if God Himself fills us with His strength, we still have to roll out of bed every day and get to work. How do we do it? From the perspective of giving, Randy Alcorn explains Practical Love in this way:

“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). This doesn’t mean we should give only when we’re feeling cheerful. The cheerfulness often comes during and after the act of obedience, not before it. So don’t wait until you feel like giving—it could be a long wait! Just give and watch the joy follow.” ―Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle

In the same way, you and I can’t wait until we feel Loving in order to start Loving. This kind of Love–the choice–is not hypocrisy. I have heard well-meaning girls say, “I can’t pretend to like that person. That would be hypocritical.”

Dear ones, this is not the case. Yes, you would be a faker if inside you had no desire to show Jesus’ Love to that person. However, if you truly desire to Love and merely do not feel the emotion at the moment (or ever!), do the Loving thing.

That is not hypocrisy. That is the imitation of Christ.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discussed this idea. He pointed out that, as we imitate a person’s actions, we eventually learn to do better and better at the task. A baby is not very agile, after all. He is not born with a vocabulary already downloaded into his little head. Instead, he must learn by echoing his parents’ words or copying his parents’ movements. This is how we learn to Love like Christ Loves. This is how the new life is strengthened in us.

So…are you ready for the Grand Experiment? This week, I am picking a family member whom I especially want to learn to Love better. Every day this week,  I plan to do three things:

1. Pray for this person every morning before I get out of bed. I want to ask God, “How do you want me to show Your Love to this family member today.” Also, I have to remember to pray for God’s strength–the only way to pull of this Grand Experiment.

2. Choose a “Will Not” to focus on for the day. For example, “I will not sigh when Mom asks me to unload the dishwasher” or “I will not object when my sister picks out the movie she wants to watch instead of the one I prefer.”

3. Prepare a “Will” to accomplish for the day: “Today, I will write my dad a note thanking him for all he does” or “Today I will take my brother out for a Sonic drink.”

The idea of this “Grand Experiment” is not to be nice to someone for a week and then stop again.

Rather, consider this our first baby steps toward Practical Love, our first three push ups in a new fitness program–or maybe learning the ABCs of this new language.

Are you ready to be God’s Love to that one person today?

Let’s do it!

“The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he ‘likes’ them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds him liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning…When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity –


 Ideas? Questions?

Let us know how you plan to show the Love of Jesus for your Grand Experiment this week!


 

The Paradox of the Holy Fire

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Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.  All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them.”
– Matthew 16:24-25, CEB –

We’ve talked about Love.

A language, a gift, a labor of prayer, a tree, a song.

For me, this Practical Love Series has impacted me in an unexpected way…


Love has grown from “practical” to Immense.

I can’t pretend I’m an extremely loving person anymore, because I’ve grasped a little more of Extreme Love. Seeing this, seeing Him, I feel no closer to application. I feel like I’ve stumbled into a Magnificent presence, and all I can do is empty compared to His fullness.

I’ve tried to figure out how I can practice Love.

But each day, I wake up on auto-pilot and my own gratification seems to be the destination.

I’ve gotten to Step A: I am not a very loving person.

Even Step B: There’s no way I can love the way I’m commanded to, on my own power.

But where do you and I go from there?

Let’s stop pretending.

People are NOT easy to love. People can be nasty, annoying, selfish, tactless, offensive, apathetic, distant, unjust. Frankly, pretty rotten.

BUT…Sisters, this practice of Love stopped being about “those people” a long time ago.

The problem is not Out There.

It is In Here.

Something inside me has gone desperately wrong and I cannot patch it up on my own.

Love is not a matter of getting everyone else fixed so I can stand being with them.

Love is very much like lighting a bonfire. The light gives–it must, by its nature. Love does not depend on how its object receives it, just as light shines on all around it. Some things reflect back the light; some only absorb it.

But to possess this fire, something in me must burn.

On cricket-creaking nights, I’ve sat by a campfire and seen dull, dry wood kindled. The fire animates it, a resurrection in miniature. And soon what was dead crackles with life–potent orange-blue flickers of heat and light.

And yet, though now alive in a way those branches never could have been on their own, they are being consumed. Living, they die.

In this same way, sin’s entrance into the world abruptly halted the previously unbroken exchange of Love, Creator to creature.Yes, in me, in all of us, something careened off the track. Our taste for good turned sour.

Love became a light that we blind men could not even see.

Now, Love’s restoration requires death. Jesus alone could bridge Love and unloving, or open eyes so the light could come. He, as Love Himself, defined history with the ultimate act of love: His own death.

Love dies.

I shrink from this. It sounds so final, so painful, so awful. Because I don’t want to die. My will doesn’t want to die. I like maintaining my own way, following my own road, chasing my own dreams.

To love, though, I must first die.

It was that way at the beginning, when I first began to breathe resurrection air. Dead in sin, He raised me up. The dry branch was hit with a spark of living fire.

That Spark in me began a cycle of flame that both enlivens me and kills me. It turns deadness into sparkles of flaming glory, but at the same time, it burns away part of me.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis talks about the sanctification of the believer:

“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Fire-starting is a radical thing. At the outset of our faith, we committed ourselves to unabashed following. What many people do not realize is that this commitment does not keep our hearts focused. We have to re-commit each day.

Each day, we must again die–every minute, if necessary. “Oh Jesus, take my life and let it be Yours, forever. Set my feet on Your path and not mine.”

The flesh that battles in us must be battled with this Holy Fire of Love until Jesus comes back to complete our transformation.

Until then, as long as we keep fighting with the power of God, life will be springing up in the ashes where the fire has scorched our sin nature.

Only as we give ourselves to flames can our light begin to shine.

Our parasitic sinful self, as it dies, makes room for our new self to flourish, a fire-brushed masterpiece of the Creator God.

Only then can we get down to the business of Love, as a practical thing.

Dying, we live.


 Join me next week as I launch a Grand Love Experiment! I don’t promise a burst of genius, but I do think it could be revolutionary for my life, at least.

It is simple, but not easy. It is achievable–but not without Jesus at my side. Will you come along?


 “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity ―

 

 

 

Costly Song

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 “Love hurts when it changes us.”

― Toba Beta ―


This is Part Five of my Practical Love Series! If you missed the other posts, be sure to go back and check them out! You can find the most recent post From the Roots of Grace here.


I can tell you what Love feels like, what it sometimes does, but writing to you about Love is like trying to capture the sun in a bottle or fit the ocean in a teacup.

I do know something about Love–it is a song, a costly song.

A rock band once wrote a song about their view of love:

“Love hurts, love scars, love wounds
And mars, any heart
Not tough or strong enough
To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
Love hurts……ooh, ooh love hurts
I’m young, I know, but even so
I know a thing or two
And I learned from you
I really learned a lot, really learned a lot
Love is like a flame
It burns you when it’s hot
Love hurts……ooh, ooh love hurts”

These writers came to a conclusion: that Love is a lie. But as much as Love has the power to hurt, its song is much more complex. Love is not a lie–because God cannot lie. In my life, I look around–and I hear it, hear the Love rising. It is more true than they knew.

Mr. Rick goes to  my church. He spent last year watching his father die. Convenience, beloved friends, freedom–this man gave all of these up to care for his father through the last days of his cancer. One Sunday, Mr. Rick described to the congregation the terrible thing it is to watch someone you love waste away. His father was a burly man, one of those people who never get sick. Until the years wore thin and his body began to break. Mr. Rick told us of his shock to see that even his father was vulnerable to the death of this sin-cursed place. By traveling with his father to the end, Mr. Rick learned about death. But I learned a different lesson: I learned about the love a son had for his father. Mr. Rick’s lament rang silver-edged with glory, the touch of God’s love.

Mrs. Kathy is a friend, far away. She too, has taught me the song of Love. Cancer invaded her life too, already stolen away her mother and a sister. Now, another sister lies as the disease eats away at her brittle bones. People call such things tragedies, and I suppose it is. But in the face of death and decay and the gray places of the world a song peals out still–the flagrant tune of Love that conquers. Mrs. Kathy knows the song, as she and her grown-up kids take turns driving 2 hours every day to take her sister to the cancer center for treatment. They play music and talk and pray and shower the love of God on a wearing-out body, trusting in Christ alone for the reward of their labor. For Love is a hard, hard song to sing.

My Dad taught me a few bars of the Love song. A few weeks ago, he packed up and traveled over state lines to visit an aging relative. This relative, kind as she is, wants little to do with him. Phone calls are tolerated. Meetings over breakfast–sometimes. But actual interaction? She has no interest. In spite of her, my dad went to visit. Rumors had drifted in that her house was a wreck. We heard little of the next few days, but later learned that my dad had spent hours scrubbing a home that had not been cleaned for years. The hair of seven indoor cats, along with the stinging smell of ammonia from months of used litter and a collection of garage sale finds–all these things my dad reported to us in understatement. But we knew. We knew when he came home rasping, almost voiceless from the vapors he had inhaled over the past days. What is Love, if not this?

Love is starting to scare me. It’s no longer a matter of clean words and sanitary deeds and primly-dressed intentions.  Love is curiously messy and crazily involved. It is painful and unclear and full of sleepless nights and congested days.

Jesus set an example of Love for us–forgiveness for the traitor, patience for the clueless, tenderness in the pain, unending.

I am frightened. I am supposed to be an adult. But here I am, writing about Love, hearing its song all around me.

And I feel like a child, unable to walk.

Love.

It is the basic Christian virtue–“the greatest of these,” the quality that God claims as one of His names. And I can’t even take a step.

Love’s song should be as basic as humming a few bars of “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” a Christianity 101 of sorts. But I’ve suddenly lost my voice.

These examples–the grown-up people, the true adults in my life–prove to me that the song of Love is not forgotten, and that God’s children can learn its melody.

But they’re playing Beethoven when all I can find is middle C. I know right now that I am not enough. I am incapable of Love–at least, on my own.

But if Love Himself has made my dead heart pound to life, I think He can teach numb lips a new song.

I don’t think I’ll get all the words the first time. I expect some of the lyrics to hurt like a knife to the soul. I think I’ll sing a little flat sometimes. But you’ve never heard a symphony until you’ve heard the sound of Love. Minors of pain, trills of joy–all God’s notes, every one of them.

I’m not so scared after all.

This song….

It’s hard, way harder than I knew.

It’s painful, because every note points to the rebirth of the world ahead, when my Jesus makes all things new.

It’s costly, because in order to sing it right, you have to die.

But don’t worry. Love is worth it.

He always is.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

– Romans 5:1-5 –


Have you heard the melody?

Comment below and share how God’s love has been poured out through your friends and family!


 

 

 

From the Roots of Grace

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“Love is a good thing…Do not fear…

Cause it’ll break your will, it’ll change your mind,
Loose all the chains of the ties that bind.
If you’re lucky you’ll never make it out alive, and that’s a good thing.
Love is a good thing…”

 – Andrew Peterson, from the lyrics of “Love is a Good Thing”


Join me for Part Four of my Practical Love Series! Today, I’ve shared my own struggle with understanding Love. To catch up on the other posts in the Practical Love series, check out the links below!

Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart

Part Two: Cedar-Lined Love

Part Three: To See Like You


The sycamore in our yard was huge. Broad green leaves unfurled like flag-ship signals every spring and shriveled into crunchy litter on the ground each fall. It was the kind of tree that just begs to be made into a tree fort, or support a swing. Generations could have grown up on that swing.

But, instead, one spring arrived and the tree never awoke.

Trees die many ways, I suppose. Insects or diseases can devour the leaves, or lightning can strike, or a drought can hit.

I’m not sure what did our sycamore in. Maybe it spent itself out. Maybe it had too much competition. Maybe it stopped drawing power from the earth. Roots have to dig deep, nestle into subsoil watering places, and seek out nutrients if a tree is to survive.

I’ve been thinking about that.

If Love is a tree, then its roots are Grace.

And right now, my Love feels a lot like that dead sycamore–powerless, decaying,unrooted.

Where do I even get the strength to Love other people?  How do I find the desire?

Because Love, it seems to me, isn’t as glamorous as they say.

It is dragging myself out of bed in the morning.

It is holding my tongue when I want to lash back to that family member’s thoughtless words.

It is trudging down the road to help out a neighbor even when I’m emotionally drained.

Sometimes, it is coaxing my silly little goats onto the milk stand when no one else has time.

It’s a thousand little things that I don’t feel like doing.

And Love hurts.

When a person gets serious about learning an important Biblical truth, it is amazing how quickly roadblocks will pop up. Since I’ve begun the Practical Love Series, Love hasn’t gotten easier for me. It has become harder.

I’m realizing what an immense, improbable, wonderful, and terrifying thing it is to Love.

Did the sycamore fear to stretch its fingers into the sky and grow up? Did it realize that each inch it climbed, the more limbs it exposed to whipping wind, the more bark it bared to the snow, and the more delicate leaves it opened to the scorching power of the sun? Did it shrink from the swinging sticks of the children who ran past, shouting and flailing in their antics?

There is only one way to Love.

That one, single, flaming way is to meet Him, Love Himself. To be submerged in Grace, swallowing it, swimming in it, inhaling it like an unborn child inhales amniotic fluid, the sea in which he moves. “Amniotic fluid is inhaled and exhaled by the [baby]. It is essential that fluid be breathed into the lungs in order for them to develop normally….Amniotic fluid protects the developing baby by cushioning against blows….” (Wikipedia.) This is what Grace does in a Christian: filling us, becoming our inhalation, exhalation. Divine Grace–inside, outside–is the fuel of our sanctification, the outer cushioning that also nourishes us.

So…you’ve  been waiting for three weeks for me to tell you what Love is, how to show it to others.

And, the truth is, I still don’t quite know.

All I know is that, to truly have Love, you  have to meet Jesus.

The tree doesn’t plant itself, the baby does not conceive itself, the Christian girl does not sanctify herself.

You will find the way to Love only through a Grace you cannot control.

Join me in praying, praying to really see. Praying for Grace to swallow me up, and for me to swallow Grace, so that I can see the magnificent Love poured out on my behalf.

Join me in reading, searching the Bible like the mountain of treasure it is, seeing how Love Himself dared to enter this mess of mine.

So….we really want to know how to Love?

First, we have to know the Grace-Giver.

And it is only from that Root of Grace that Love can bud out, a tree unafraid to stand in the sunshine.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are!

– 1 John 3:1, CEB –


  How has the work of God in your life shown you what Love is really all about? Has this changed how you see others?

Comment below and share!


Thanks to Yinan Chen at Public Domain Pictures for today’s lovely tree photo!

 

To See Like You

Prayer-September 10, 20131

“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together.  Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

~ Charles Finney ~


In Part Three of my Practical Love Series today, I’m taking a closer peek at how to really love brothers in Christ. If you’re like me–and I’ve found out that most of us girls are more alike than we’d like to admit–this kind of love may just be one of the hardest to figure out.

How do we love as brothers and sisters, “with all purity”? (1 Timothy 5:2)

If you’re just now stepping into the series, you might want to go back and look at my other explorations of practical love in Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart and Part Two: Cedar-Lined Love.


Dear Father,

When you look at your sons, these joint heirs in Christ, what do You see?

I  wonder.

Because it’s really hard for me to see them like You do, to love them like you do. Your kind of love must, in fact, start with really seeing the person.

Of course, the difficulty of doing that starts here at home, with the best brother ever. But some days I chafe and wrestle and wonder if I’ll ever get this sister thing right. How to encourage. How to really, whole-heart love.

And not just biological brothers. Christ-brothers. Those set free with me. My family in Him. Blood brothers bought with more precious blood than that of earthly parents.

It’s hard to see them right. My glasses get colored rosy and it becomes about me, myself and I–all my dreams, goals, aspirations. And guys can so easily become only a means to an end, a way to fill up and be satisfied. Only it doesn’t work like that.

But then–how do I treat these soul-brothers right? How do I love like You love? How do I get past fleshly goals and get to the deep encouragement of hearts sold out to one Master?

I’ve begun to pray. I pray–and You’re letting me see. A peek. Just a vision.

But what a vision!

I look at one–wow, Lord. You’ve got Your hand on him for sure. I can see passion for You when he smiles. I can feel the pulling current, that pushing toward you, when he shares a struggle to the group, asks for prayer.

Another–God, You’re working in him too. So much energy, so much direction. I’ll pray for him–sure. And I as I do, I sense a deeper tie that only begins when brothers and sisters lift up one another before their Father. Surely this is Your kind of love, that makes me want the world for him. Wish I could pray it all down for him.

And yet another brother. When he shared in a few words the pain, what he’s come out of, I trembled inside. Trembled, because I sensed the power, the depth of Your working, how much You could do with him. I still pray, still long, that he will proclaim Your story. You have done–are doing–great things in that life.

What is it about this kind of brother-love? It’s so much like my yearning for my sisters, but different.

Different, because there’s so few good men.

Different, because there’s vision here. There’s passion here. There are lives being poured out for You.

And I hunger to see more of it, more fruit, more leadership, more You.

So I pray. And as I pray, the temporal fades.

My own future isn’t nearly as important as whether these guys are walking with You. My heart stops hungering so much for filling and starts longing that You would fill them. In praying, I learn that I don’t want nearly so much to get attention–I only want to see You get their attention.

And when You bring them to triumph, I want to be there and smile.

‘Cause these guys, they may never know I prayed.

But one day, maybe You’ll tell me that it made a difference?

That I prayed, and that day that one’s soul was encouraged?

That I prayed, and You saw fit to bless with that job, that one?

That You prompted me and I wondered, but prayed anyway for that guy I really didn’t know, but knew You must have a plan in spite of the wreck he’s made so far? And You worked in him.

This warrior thing–can I be strong for them when they fall? They’ll never know.

Never know that I saw the shadow fall over their face at those words.

Never know that somewhere a girl whose name they couldn’t quite recall knelt beside her bed or stared up at her room’s ceiling and felt an ache in her soul that a brother was hurting. Prayed a prayer for vision, for joy, for peace, for courage.

They’ll know that the victory came from God. But maybe they won’t know that part of the battle was fought on the knees of a sister who prayed.

I know, Father, that I can’t take any credit.

I know, that You are the one who grows.

But You do promise to work through prayer.

And there’s this joy that bubbles up when I get to work hand in hand with You in molding a life.

So all the Jake’s and Joshua’s and Peter’s and Paul’s and Luke’s and Lance’s that You have me pray for may not ever know.

But You, gracious Creator, are doing the work. And I get to tag along and watch the building.

I get to pray, and I get to rejoice at the results.

I like this job.

Thanks.


 

“May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be blessed! On account of his vast mercy, he has given us new birth. You have been born anew into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time.

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. You are receiving the goal of your faith: your salvation.”

– 1 Peter 1:3-9, CEB –


Who does God want you to hold up in prayer? Pray for His kind of love to overflow in you.

Comment below and share what you’ve learned about being a true sister in Christ!


Thanks, Atalie, for a beautiful photo! Everyone, please check out Atalie’s hard work at Atalie Bale Photography!

Cedar-Lined Love

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“Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web ―


Today, in Part Two of my Practical Love Series, I take a moment to remember the incredible friendships that God has given to me. The Bible says that the greatest love is to lay down your life for a friend (John 15:13), and some of my friends have done that in an eminently practical way–they’ve made a hundred sacrifices, both small and huge, in order to bless me.

If you missed the first part of the series, please do go back and read Part One: The Language She Knew By Heart.

To my dear sisters who have stuck by me through the years and always inspire me to cling to Jesus in everything: This is for you.


I wasn’t there.

But I can see her.

Her long fingers—often busy plucking strings and wielding pens and stirring up biscuits and feeding sheep—glide along an old piece of varnished cedar. Old, but the two-toned wood gleams still.

Her eyes, those sea-foam green orbs that glisten when she tells me about her latest story idea, sparkle now too. She’s stayed up at night trying to dream up something for my birthday. Then she saw the wood. And she knew.

She knows me, the girl-woman she only sees at church. Knows that I truly care, maybe care more than most have dared to love her.

She knows that I understand the inner draw to characters, the unquenchable spark inside to tell a story. She knows that sharp words or cringing shyness or late-night discussions or you-are-totally-crazy looks won’t drive me away. She knows I’ll keep coming back, because God’s put me here, with her.

In a way, she’s my little sister. I thank God for the day He made our lives intersect.

So, in the weeks before my birthday, she scrounges around and finds a still-radiant piece of cedar and a sheet of smooth particle board and a couple old hinges and she pours her heart and love into crafting a treasure straight from her heart.

And, that Sunday at church, the week of my birthday, she gives me her heart-gift.

A lap-top writing desk.

“So you can write in the car,” she says. She bites her lip. “It’s not very good, I know.”

My throat swells and I want to shed tears right there. All I can do is hug her and keep saying thank you.

But my heart said so much more.

Inside, I marveled that somehow God had found for me a place in her heart.

I don’t love her perfectly. I don’t know how, all the time. For having spent twenty-one years in a world full of people, you would think I ought to understand them better.

She is the same way–with love in process, like mine.

Perhaps that is what made my heart swell with unshed tears that Sunday as I caressed the smoothed sides of the cedar lap desk. We both were unfinished, imperfect, not quite symmetrical–much like the dear box that she labored over. A friendship with a few loose nails, a few cracks that need filled with glue.

Remembering now, my heart has a joyful kind of ache, like the rise of a symphony’s crescendo.

My friend’s gift reminds me of the widow who put in her last pennies, or the woman who poured out her perfume, or the child who gave up his lunch to Jesus.

They gave all they had. Imperfect, perhaps. Sin-marred, yes. But, swelling from awakened hearts, the gifts were accepted. Jesus opened His arms with joy.

Those people were unfinished, imperfect, not quite symmetrical. They had a loose nails and cracks in need of filling. But Love does that–it covers and washes and purifies and finishes the less-than-complete, making it not just acceptable, but absolutely Perfect.

Maybe that’s why a small wooden box looks a lot like love to me. It’s not about the gift itself. It’s about a girl who let me see a little more of what love really is.

Something like a lump steals to my throat.

And, in my heart, something like redemption breaks into song.

If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

– 1 John 4:12-16, NKJV, emphasis mine –


 

How have your friends shown you the real meaning of love?

Comment below and share!

 


 

A super thank-you to Lisa Runnels at Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

 

 

The Language She Knew By Heart

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“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

– Julian of Norwich –


What is love? A raw emotion? Something sacred to family? Romance? A word that works overtime as a noun and a verb? A churchy kind of feeling? An emotionless action? Something grown trite?

I want to know.

A while back, I was talking on the phone to a friend and we found that our spiritual struggles overlapped in an interesting way–we had both been questioning “practical love.” That is, we were hungry to know just What God wanted us to do and How He wanted us to do it, especially in our families. Mostly, we wondered how to pull off love when we just didn’t know how to begin.

So, the next several posts will make up a Practical Love Series, my ponderings and questions about what love really is.  This is the goal:

To pause and reflect on the Biblical portrait of Love, so that, by seeing Him, we might better see.


 

Our connection was immediate.

Disparity of age–more than twenty-five years, perhaps.

To communicate, we had to lock eyes. My friend is, mostly, deaf.

And years–I’m not even sure how many had passed since our last meeting. Five? Ten? I was a child last time I saw her.

Yet she pulled me into her arms like a dear friend. Her lips carefully shaped tones to speak my language.

English, my language. A language she could not hear.

Her fingers flowed with her enunciated speech, punctuating words with fluid American Sign Language.

Two women–almost strangers, a generation apart, and separated by state lines. Her finger-words and my oral language seemed to be barriers. Our bodies decreed the separation–I with ears young and whole; and she, who could be my mother, living in shuddery echoes of silence.

But a language transcended all these walls, a language of the heart that shone bright in her eyes.

I dove into the conversation, almost trembling with joy with the way our eyes drank in every lip movement, every finger twitch, of the other. I was caught up in rapt concentration, full immersion in the exchange.

I had long adored the mute grace of ASL, and it was pure excitement to be able to converse with someone bridging the gap between the language I knew and the language I loved.

Unmistakable was her energetic expression of abundance. This once-again friend shone with the joy of Jesus Christ. Patiently–apparently with all her soul–she sat with me and encouraged me.

You know that feeling, when hearts twine together?

“I’d love to learn to sign,” I said, with a radiant, wistful look.

She smiled. “You can pray that God will bring someone to help you learn.”

I laughed. “But I love to do so many things that I don’t know what to choose.”

“Take all the opportunities you can,” she advised. “Some doors will close.” A twinkle shot through her eyes. “Then look for a window to crawl through.”

I showed her, faltering, my attempt at the ASL alphabet.

“I”ll just stop you if you mess up.” She leaned back after a few signs, nodding. To my relief, she did not have to stop me at all.

“I think you could learn fast,” she told me.

Although our whole conversation overflowed with ecstatic words, one moment nestled the woman’s beautiful spirit into my heart.

“God has great things planned for you,” she said.

That night, lying in bed, I closed my eyes and could still feel the glow of our meeting.

We live two separate lives, with few intersections. But the grace of God bloomed at one of those brief moments and the love of our Savior became a language we both knew by heart.

Her fingers and my mouth weren’t even necessary to translate the language.

And now, I remember that sacred joy that welled up in my heart, and I long to take that same breathless love into every conversation, every day.

A thirty minute conversation opened a window to heaven for me. For a moment, I saw more than the woman seated across from me. I saw the evidence of Christ within her. In her smile, in the light of her eyes, in the joyous proclamation of her life that God is good, I recognized the imprint of my Master.

Through His strength, she loved me.

Weeks before, a telephone conversation began my quest for the “how-to” of love. This, my first lesson, fills me with inspiration.

For my first teacher, words weren’t even necessary.

I wonder what will come next on my journey?


My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge….”

– Colossians 2:2-3, NIV –

 

 

 

 

A big thanks to Public Domain Pictures and George Hodan for the photo today!