Thursday, October 31, 2013

Fear Factor

One night earlier this week ABC Evening News had a story about unprecedented all-out approach to celebrating Halloween this year. It was highlighted that next to Christmas, the eve before All Saints Day has been the most grossing holiday in the United States, billions of dollars funneled into this sweet fear business. 

To summarize the main point expressed in the vignette, many people feel that the reality of their lives is so dreadful that people need a form of scary escape – a fake fear, a decoy dread – to help them forget their living nightmare.  At least for one horror-filled night.

I thought that was very interesting and somewhat irrational.  Fighting fear with fear. Even if it’s imaginary. But, what do I know?!!

Without a doubt, fear is a universal feeling. We all are afraid of something. Germs. Failure. Unknown. Rejection. Public humiliation. Snakes. Spiders. Calories. Loneliness. Loss. Pain. Aging. Death.

Most of us however don’t realize that we mask our fears not only on Halloween but every single day. The masks may not be as scary-looking but they are certainly at least as versatile as the little goblins that come to your door and blackmail you for a piece of candy.

Trick of Treat!

For some, the year-round mask may be an artificial smile. Or an appearance of  competence, self-confidence or control. Others hide behind the mask of sarcasm or activism or service.  

Busyness is probably the most widely accepted form of masking our fears.

But, I wonder sometimes what is it that we are really covering up?

And more importantly, what would happen if … if perhaps just for a moment, or an entire evening we paused… we stopped… and we faced our fear… our worst fear.

Head on.

If we reached out and touched it… peeling the scary mask the Fear itself is wearing?

What would we discover?

You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy; you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. Then He shall become a sanctuary.  Isaiah 8:12-14

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Free At Last

Ever so slowly, I start lifting the frame of the trundle bed, holding my breath. After each minuscule movement I stop and evaluate, making sure I am not doing more harm than good by trying to help. Then I proceed cautiously again.

I know that inside the piggy’s head, he is in a time warp and eternity has gone by. I’ve been in the same stuck place much too often - feeling helpless, praying, questioning, waiting for God to move, to rescue, to do something… ANYTHING… giving up.

I am doomed and nothing – NOTHING - is ever going to change.

But I’ve never seen it from this perspective. 

The piggy doesn’t realize when the bed is moved enough for him to get out.  He just lies there, staring at me though the scaffolding as if he expects me to dismantle the whole thing and take it to the MetalMan for recycling before he can be set free. The path to freedom is narrow, yet more than sufficient for him to escape.

Holding the frame, I call him out and eventually, he gets up, still unsure on his little feet, still uncertain that his ordeal has truly ended.  There is a bowl heaping with lettuce and carrots and tomatoes inside his clean cage, a pile of Timothy hay and fresh water.  He stands at the open door hesitating for a second, than hops in, bounds and popcorns from one corner to the next, finally settles down next to the salad and starts munching away.  

Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-36

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In Over My Head

I could speculate a million things as to how and why the piggy got stuck inside the trundle bed. But none of it would help his predicament right now.

It was quite obvious to both of us that there was nothing, absolutely nothing he could do to set himself free. Clearly, that was my job.

And this is where the real torture came into this agonizing picture.  For the instant he saw me, he was greatly relieved – the help is finally on the way.  However, what piggy didn’t expect was that after I’d I arrived, I would just stand there, stare at him and do nothing about it… at least nothing right away.

What are you waiting for?!!! His little eyes pleaded. How can you just stand there, looking at me and do nothing?!!!

My lack of immediate action must have indicated a reprehensible callousness of heart to the already tormented creature. In his little mind, I had the power to fix the problem and not fixing it on his timetable revealed the cruelty of unimaginable proportions.
While wedged inside his trundle-bed prison everything that the piggy knew was true about me was tested as he waited, and waited, and WAITED... his eye unblinking on me.

Doesn't she love me? Does she even care?... If she loved me, she would do something...

What piggy didn’t understand was that just one wrong move on my part and that would be the end of the piggy.

He had absolutely no idea how dangerous of a pickle he got himself into this time.

Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? Then I said, “It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” Psalm 77:9-10

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lost Piggy

I need to clean your cage today, Piggy. 

Well, it’s about time.

What do you care?!!! You are a pig.

Actually, I do care… and obviously, more than you realize, says the Pig, something akin to reproach inside his unblinking eyes.

With that kind of response, no excuse for further procrastination seems compelling enough.  I open the door and let the piggy out.  I do this almost every day, allowing him to stretch his little legs and roam around the house. He loves it. He popcorns from the coffee table to the music stand, zooms around the love seat and into the library, the wind messing up his fur, yelling,

Freedom!  Free-eee-dom!

I never fear that the Piggy will get lost, because he knows my voice.  Whenever I call out to him, he always calls out back to me – Squeek, squeak! - and scuttles towards me, because he knows that where the Voice is there his food will be also. 

The cleaning of the cage turned into watering of the garden which turned into picking up the mail which turned into chatting with the next-door neighbor.  Suddenly I remember!

The Piggy!

I race into the house calling out from the door:


No response.

Piggy!  Piggy!  Where are you?!!! Nothing.  I check all the usual hiding places but Piggy is nowhere to be found. By now my heart is pounding, panic galloping behind. My kids are going to kill me if anything happens to the Pig.


Then, I hear a very faint squeak coming from the back of the house. I run into my daughter’s room, checking behind the desk and the laundry basket. Still no piggy.

I am here, under the bed! He says feebly. I’m stuck… can’t move…

I lift up the dust ruffle and there he is, wedged securely from all sides between the bars of the trundle bed.

Some of you were locked in... cruelly confined behind bars... hard sentence... your hearts so heavy    and not a soul in sight to help. Then you called out to God in your desperate condition... Psalm 107:10-16

Saturday, October 26, 2013

No Shortcut

It took me a long time, but I finally had it all figured out…or so I thought.  

I’ve never been much for baking, but our family’s love affair with fresh French bread was sufficiently motivating.  

I learned a lot in the process – the measure and the timing, the order and the key ingredients. Of course, there is always the magic and the mystery of turning something bland and tasteless into delicious goodness that fills the entire house with its mouth-watering aroma.

I got to a place where I didn't need the recipe because I had it memorized.  I always kept it handy, though, mainly to confirm I am doing it right.

Then, last week, after a long string of successes, a fiasco. We stood around the distorted loaves, puzzled over their shape and texture.

What in the world happened?!!!

I have no clue.  It must be a fluke. I dismissed the failure, certain it won’t happen again.

Then, few days later, it happened again.

The same fluke repeated itself!

Maybe it’s the yeast.

I just bought it.  It’s fresh.

Too much flour…?  Troubleshooting is our family’s middle name.

The oven temperature, the humidity, the outside temperature… We went through all the factors that could have affected the dough. I kept shaking my head, No.  We simply couldn't figure out, after a long string of successes, what caused the most recent string of fiascoes.

Then, I remembered. Just a tiny change I thought I should implement… Something small, to speed up the process… To shorten the time the yeast naturally takes to leaven the dough… I was getting a bit impatient and a little shortcut wasn't going to make a big difference...

Well, it did. It practically ruined the dough. And I realized that for some things in life, there is no shortcut. No shortcut to making bread, just as there is no shortcut to godliness or love or maturity.

Love is patient. I Corinthians 13:4

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. Hebrews 10:36

Friday, October 25, 2013

Made-to-Order God

The complexity of the moral dilemma accompanying made-to-order children only reflects the complexity of the easily overlooked and yet still very real and quite tangible moral dilemma of made-to-order, 'genetically engineered' spouse, or workplace, or church, or... made-to-order, 'genetically engineered'… God? 

A made-to-order, Pinterest-'perfect' life where I first get to determine what is favored and what is frowned upon, what is acceptable and what’s annoying and then proceed to sanitize out all the annoyances, eliminating everything offensive and everyone that doesn't fit inside my shriveled up worldview - keeping the insides of the bubble clean and smelling Glade fresh.

It’s the disease that in some measure plagues all of us on one level or another - parents and children, husbands and wives, employers and employees… But how do I bring these cookies down to the shelf where my 12 year old can reach them.

Well, it’s similar to the moral dilemma you would face if you could choose a made-to-order... sister. What would you do? What issues would you face? Would you chose all the characteristics that make your life easy, comfortable and annoyance-free…Or would you allow God to chose for you, trusting His wisdom and love to give you not necessarily what you want to keep you happy but what He knows you need to grow up and mature... Would you pick and choose, or wholeheartedly embrace this messy, mixed bag reality for what it is, for only then can you become a man of kindness and compassion as well as competence, a man whose heart grows along with his amazing mind and skill...

I detect little flickers of lights slowly coming on in those big brown eyes... where the rubber meets the road for him... and for me. 

What would you do? Would you want  to play God in your own life… or do you let Him be the God of all that He already is?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Made-To-Order Children

Our sixth grader came home this week with the following school assignment:  

What are some ethical issue accompanying made-to-order children?

Made-to-order children?!!! Like made-to-order furniture or Build-a Bear... children?!!! I gasp. The colossal moral conundrum instantly assails all my faculties while a pair of eyes rest calmly on my face. Unperturbed, he waits for me to lead the way. This is not the issue for him to grapple with… at least not yet. 

This is purely academic, right? I ask, not quite ready for a Huxley's Brave New World reality, or some other version of a sci-fi scenario where human babies can be made to their parents’ specifications... an assembly-line, pick-your-own-flavor kid from a tube.

I am about to jump on the high horse and bear into those parents who would be presumptuous enough to choose the exact spelling of the genetic script of their progeny… cherry-picking syllables that make their own lives easy and convenient, their job of parenting smooth and undemanding...

Those selfish and controlling parents who hide inside a protective bubble, who want to ensure that their children’s future is wildly successful, sealed against failure and heartbreak, fear and disappointment...

But, even as the words form in my brain, I realize that even though I may not be able to manipulate the genes I still desperately want to manipulate the circumstances and my children’s choices to mold them according to my personal preferences, my idea of what's best for them... I want to bubble-wrap their minds and hearts inside carefully controlled environment where they are kept safe and happy and our lives are easy and stress-free…

This is more complicated than it first appears…  I clear my throat… A lot more complicated in one sense… and yet, in another it’s quite simple…

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Naked and Unashamed

About once a week I get my scuba gear and go deep sea diving into our laundry basket. There, amidst the stinky mismatched socks and dirty underwear, crumpled up T-shirts and pants with inverted legs, I wish I lived in the time before the Fall, when people walked around naked and they were unashamed.

Naked and unashamed.

Alas, those times are gone by and, as testified by my laundry basket, the clothing industry has gone a long way since the first fig leaves were sewn together in our desperate attempt to cover up our nakedness and hide our shame.  Its business, in fact, has proliferated quite nicely and gone beyond the fabrics and textures, form and design.

Yet, even when fully clothed, some of us still feel exposed.  Still covered with shame. When latest fashion proves to be insufficient, we move onto other things, in search for adequate covering.

Activity, including religious (especially religious!)... tireless...

Achievement... endless...

Approval... insatiable...

All these may provide temporary relief, but eventually they wear off and run threadbare, launching us off into the next search… and the next.

As I sort and separate the darks from the whites, I think of a different kind of wardrobe provided to us at no expense, no money out of our pocket. The well-stocked, full faith wardrobe of Christ-life… 

His righteousness. 

His gentleness. 

His humility. 

His patience and kindness. 

His grace and His truth and forgiveness...

His rest...

I realize in my own self, even with the overflowing laundry basket, my wardrobe is empty and my garments sin-holed are threadbare. Instead of trying to patch them up, I can exchange it for a different, royal closet where I can find all the clothes I need so I don’t run around naked.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Galatians 3:26-27

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Secret Power of the Hidden

We are all out of bread, Mom.

There is plenty of frozen pizza.  And there are tortillas.  And lots of pasta and rice…

…But still... no bread.

I guess we’ll just have to starve then.

Of course, eventually I relent from dooming my family to starvation and decide to make some home-made French bread. I know I am a sucker.  I also admit that the smell gets to me as much as the crunchy-on-the-outside-soft-and-smooshy-on-the-inside dripping with buttery goodness.

I don’t necessarily like to bake.  Mostly I put up with the process.  It’s a chore. It’s one of those things I would much rather delegate to somebody else, and pull my chair up to the table when everything is ready.

Unglamorous and ordinary as it may be, we still need to eat bread, I am told, so I get the flour from the pantry and measure out three and a half cups. Almost a pound of white, tasteless, boring powder heaping inside the bowl.

Throw in a quarter of an ounce of yeast. That's seven grams.  

Approximately one to sixty ratio.  The yeast gets practically lost in the mound of flour.

It’s then that it hits me.

The kingdom of heaven is like…

… yeast…

… which a woman  took…

… and…

… hid…

… in three pecks of flour…

Yeast. It doesn't take much.  It’s seemingly insignificant.  Mostly it’s hidden. It’s so outnumbered, outweighed it appears to be a lost cause. Practically hopeless against dismal odds.

But, small and insignificant and hidden, it's the powerful, key ingredient that works its magical way through the entire batch…

Until it’s all leavened.

That’s what kingdom of God is like, says Jesus. 

A woman.  Seemingly insignificant, unimportant, largely ignored less-of-a-person...

The flour. Ordinary, boring, run of the mill stuff of life. 

A tiny speck of yeast. A microscopic, invisible to the naked eye unicellular fungus.


Mix it all together… Wait...and wait some more. Bake at 450… and you get...

… a tantalizing smell for the nostrils…

… a joyous celebration for the taste buds…

... a grateful satisfaction for the stomach...

... shared and enjoyed with those we love…

Just a tiny foretaste of what the Kingdom of God is like...

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened. Matthew 13:33

Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. John 6:35

He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, so you would learn that men and women don’t live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from God’s mouth. Deuteronomy 8:3

Monday, October 21, 2013

How to Pack a Coffin

I heard the following quote in our church yesterday…

…most missionaries back then would typically pack their possessions in their own coffin. They would say good byes to loved ones to board a ship with the realization that they most likely would come home horizontally and not vertically. ..

...They would pack their coffins…


Back then.

That was the expectation of the destination of the missionary call…

How do you pack your own coffin?!! I ask myself. And what do you put inside?

But before I could answer the swarm of my own questions, another one is asked from the pulpit

What changed from back then?

Good question. 

What changed from the time when the call of Christ meant the call to pack up your coffin and die?

When leaving for the mission field meant funeral procession rather than tourist destination? Or a family vacation?

What changed?

Could it be that the price of the ticket has changed?

Could it be that in the modern religious market, the cost of discipleship has changed?

Or perhaps the location of the coffin has changed? 

Is it possible that at least some, if not much of the missionary activity today is no more than a wonderfully exotic way to escape the burial plot, the coffin nearby where Christ has placed us to die…

Indeed, what changed?

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. Luke 9:23

Friday, October 18, 2013

Finger Food for the Foolish

Every day, in fact, several times a day, I feed our guinea pig a fresh vegetable snack.  He always has his regular food and water inside his cage, easily accessible whenever he wants them.  But treats are special.

Over time we have developed our little routine.  As soon as he hears my footsteps, he knows the time is near.  This is a cue to get ready. He calls out to me and I respond. He knows my voice.  It is the Voice of Food.  He even recognizes the sound the refrigerator door opening.  It is the Sound of Food. He perks his little ears when he hears the water running in our kitchen sink as I wash the vegetables.  It’s the gentle Gurgle of Food.

Clearly this piggy is finely tuned to the great symphony of food in our household.

By the time the snack is in my hand, ready to be delivered into his bowl, he is clambering up the sides of his wire cage.

I open the door, place the food in the bowl and point,

There, Piggy, there’s your food.

He stops. He tilts his little head. He looks at my finger.

No, silly piggy! Food is over THERE! I point more emphatically towards the corner of his cage.  But, my pointing makes him stare at my finger all the more.  He comes near and starts nibbling at my fingernail.

You dumb, stupid pig! That’s NOT FOOD.  That’s MY FINGER! By this time, I am frustrated since it happens every day.

I tell you, he is not the paintbrush with the most bristles inside his head.

I slam the door shut and eventually he finds his way to carrots and celery, romaine and apples.

I shake my head, marveling at the incredible inanity of the dumb creature.

Then, I realize that I am not much different from him.

For, just like him, I am finely tuned to all things food - for my stomach as well as for the nourishment of my soul.  I know the food source and the sustenance it gives. But more often than not, just like my piggy, I find myself staring at the finger that points to the Food – in books and blogs, other people’s lives and Facebook links, expecting the wise advice, the well crafted words of a story to provide what my heart craves for.  But, they are not food themselves, just a finger that points to the One and Only Source of true food that alone can satisfy the deepest hunger of our souls.

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.’ John 6:35

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Foggy Faith

I woke up to a dense fog this morning. It’s so rare to experience this kind of weather where we live.  I know this may sounds terribly attractive to somebody from London or Seattle, but I assure you it's not always what you may think. For our usual lot is the glaring extremes.

Blazing sun?


Ominous thunder clouds?

Count on it.

Ear-splitting lightening?

We are the world capital for lightening strikes.

The hurricanes and the tornadoes?


Gray and fog?

Not so much.

Well today it came and its thick wooly blanket rendered our usual intensely sun-bathed world virtually invisible. At least temporarily.

The fog, of course, didn't change the reality, just our perception of it. I say 'just' with tremor, for much of our lives is about our perceptions, regardless what reality truly is.

We knew the street and the trees and the neighbor’s houses were still there.  We knew the Sun was shining above, and the earth was still firmly under our feet.  It’s just we couldn’t see it.  Because we couldn’t see, it made us somehow insecure. We had to slow down.  Our steps became tentative and even our conversation became hushed. 

We had to strain our eyes to discern, and even so quite dimly, the retention pond and the gray heron, the muscovies and their fresh batch of baby ducks. 

This is what faith is, I think, peering in the direction my daughter is pointing, for she always spots them first.  I may not see, but I know they are there… and one day, when the fog burns off, we will all see, without the strain in our eyes, without falter in our step…

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

It’s impossible to please God apart from faith. And why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that He exists and that He cares enough to respond to those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When a Kindergartner Replaces a Kinkade

Undoubtedly, the print before me met somebody’s aesthetic standards.  Actually, the very fact of it being a print – mass produced, framed and sold – testifies of its somewhat universal appeal. It caters to the artistic taste buds of a lot of people. Before it, however, I am flat. Indifferent. Unmoved.

Am I just being a snob? Or is there something more here?

Then, I glance at the artwork I have in mind to replace it with. There is not a question in my mind that this one is not going to a printing press. But, in my eyes, it’s amazing and beautiful and…  priceless. My heart leaps just thinking of it.  It’s one of a kind. It’s a unique expression of something of the heart and soul of the little hands that made it. It’s the Mona Lisa of our family’s personal Louvre.

So, I open the tube of black, and squeeze the paint out.

No turning back now.

Seeing the black scar on the print makes it final.


I feel like I’ve just ripped up a perfect Thomas Kinkade to make room for the scrawl of a Kindergartner.

As the paint does its work,  I think how sometimes it seems like God does something similar.  He takes a thick brush dripping gooey with heartbreak, with failure, with loss and disappointment and spreads the hues of midnight across the picture-perfect, cookie-cutter print of our lives.

What are You doing?!!! We object. You just ruined my perfect picture!!

I don’t need your mass produced perfect picture, cranked out of some religious printing shop, my dear one. All I need is a solid, even dinged up frame… and a simple matting of your life  to display My True Original.

We who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Corinthians 4:11

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Original Copy

I got it at some garage sale awhile ago for fifty cents. The woman tried to convince me that I got a great deal,

It’s the original copy,  she claims as she slips the two quarters into her pocket, pointing at the mass produced image pawned on the kitsch market as art.

I nod politely, ignoring her comment. She doesn't need to know that I don’t care for her cheap print.  What I am really after is the frame.  Simple old wooden frame of sturdy construction. Somewhat beat up, few dings and scratches only increasing its beauty in my eyes.  She tries to cover those up with her fingers as she is handing me the picture, I guess fearing I might change my mind if I notice the imperfections.

 The exchange completed, I go home. I know exactly the true original artwork created by somebody I know and love, the frame is destined to show off.

The only thing missing is the matting.

Then a somewhat sacrilegious thought occurs to me,

Maybe I can paint over the print and use it as matting?   

I bought the print. It is mine and I am free to do with it whatever I see fit. I hesitate for a moment before I reach out for the painting supplies. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where The *ell Is The Bad Word?!!

So, how did the Ben Franklin project presentation go? I ask our son, having anxiously waited for him to come home after working so hard for days on a school project.

It was okay.

What do you mean, ‘okay’.  I thought it would be awesome.  You did such a great job and I loved those few finishing touches we added to the report. What did the teacher think of it?

I didn’t submit  it.

You didn’t submit  it?!!! All that work and you didn’t… Why would you not submit it?!!!

There were bad words in it.

Bad words?

Yea.  Remember, I asked you to edit it… and you… you put bad words in it.

My eyes pop wide open. I know I didn’t put any ’bad’ words. I don't even use bad words in conversation... well, most of the time. I wreck my brain searching for the culprit. Finally, one syllable pops into my mind, that rimes with ‘well’.

You gotta be kidding me… It was perfect for the context.  It was a figure of speech. I used it to make the story more juicy, more descriptive, because it was kind of bland... At least  in my opinion...  

Well, your ‘juicing it up’ made it unacceptable for a sixth grade report. End of story.

You are serious. Do we need to edit out my edits from the report?

No. It’s all over now. He pauses for a moment, weighing his predicament. 

But, it’s alright, Mom. Thanks for trying to help. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Blinding Glory

I had to drop my husband off  at the airport this morning. Going back home I wanted to bypass the rush hour traffic and took the toll road - a straight shot east. The position of the sun on the horizon made the drive feel like a blind ride at 70 mph on glowing liquid directly into the sun.  It was nerve-wracking. The only reason I didn’t miss my exit was because I’ve taken this road so many times I knew where it was without needing to see it.

When I finally got off the ramp and turned north, the shadows of the buildings provided instant relief.  The clenched fingers around the steering wheel relaxed and the muscles around my neck and shoulders loosened. The blazing light was now behind me, and I could see again – the shapes and the colors, the road and the cars in front of me.

I thought of Moses in that moment, asking, pleading, begging God:

Please, show me Your glory. I want to see Your face!

Sometimes I find myself doing the same.  I feel like I need to see God. I need more... something more...

Show me Your glory, God! I need to see You!

You don’t know what you are asking, kiddo… it’s like asking to stare straight into the rising sun driving east on 528. You would go blind.  … But I’ll show You the tiny reflection of My glory in the dew on the grass…. in the faces of people going to work… in  the gentle shadow of My hand…and you will know that I am good and kind, gracious and compassionate… And you will be satisfied with My goodness…

But He said to Moses, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live! But there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.’ Exodus 33:20-23

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature Hebrews 1:1-3

 ... and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. Revelation 1:16

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Contageous Joy

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.

Written by Henry van Dyke to set it to “Ode to Joy”, a popular theme from the final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s last symphony, Symphony No. 9

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Finer Points of Fantastic Failure - When a Parent gets an F

A pair of huge brown eyes stare at me as if they finally got a convincing evidence that their mother has officially gone crazy. I see confusion and agony battling behind those eyes, searching for adequate frame of reference and finding none.

How could you be  glad about my failure? What kind of mother are you?!!! I know - a failure mother! There! You get an F on your parenting report card! How does it feel to you now to get an F?

I look back, for the first time at a loss for words… for how can I possibly convey in words alone that failure is an irreplaceable ingredient of true success.

That it opens doors that success keeps bolted shut?

That it filters our motives and intentions…

… foster humility and compassion…

…feeds empathy…

… and it’s by far the finest, fail-proof antidote against pride.

For, how can I communicate in letters and syllables alone that true learning doesn't commence until after one has failed… and become trained in the gentle art of overcoming. ..?

For how can I express that one must discover for him or herself that sometimes being knocked down is the best thing that could ever happen to you, because you are finally on your knees…

…finally at the end of your rope…

finally at the end of yourself…

… so there can be more room for the Father…

...more space for Jesus… 

...more opportunity for the Spirit to breathe… 

...fresh breath… 

...fresh life… 

...when there is less of you… and me. 

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. Matthew 5:3

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

F is for Fantastic Failure

You can call it incredible stroke of luck or extremely gracious providence, but we have gone through seven years of our children’s education without them ever bringing home an F. 

Their progress and report cards have always been, we all unanimously agreed, exceptionally boring.

All that, however, changed yesterday.

Unlike my children, I started my education in the minor key. I was in first grade when I got my first F.  I can still recount the details of that day with painful precision.  Our neighbor found me under a large oak tree not far from our house, weeping and wailing from the top of my lungs, for, I didn’t get just one F that day – the first of many in my long academic career.  I actually got FOUR! 

Four Fs in one day! I genuinely thought that the world has come to an end.

Well, yesterday, the world came to an end, of sort, for one of our precious straight-A students.

Are you mad at me? The used-to-be-straight-A child asked, handing me the paper for teacher-requested signature.

Mad? No! Not at all. I paused, weighing my response. I am kind of… glad.

Glad?!!! How can you be glad about an F?!!! 

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Not Yet Cup

Mom, it’s perfect morning for hot cocoa, but we are all out of Swiss Miss.

It’s early October and morning temperatures have briefly dipped into ‘chilly’ upper 60’s, enough for my children to call for the cool season's favorite. True products of the instant generation living inside the micro-second culture, they are paralyzed when anything 'instant' is out of stock. 

Maybe it’s time for you guys to learn how to make it from scratch. We have cocoa powder and there is always milk and sugar. It’s not rocket science.

They get the supplies out and I measure a teaspoon of cocoa and a little sugar in each cup.  I stir in just enough milk and warm it up in the microwave (I have to yield somewhere) to break up the clumps. 

There is a little inspector standing next to me, watching my every move.  A thick brown sludge covers the bottom of her mug. It looks unappetizing and it’s not what she had in mind when she asked for hot cocoa.

She tries hard to hold back the disappointment but feels compelled to ask:

Is this ALL I am going to get? Her dream of perfect morning is quickly dissipating along with the cocoa clumps inside her cup.

You need to be patient.  It’s not ready yet. I am still working on it. I can't believe how short-sighted my children can sometimes be!

Then I hear the words again, this time as if spoken to me!

It's not ready yet…I am still working on it... You need to be patient...

Just like my junior assistant, I often find myself standing on my tippy toes, watching over God's shoulder as He mixes in the ingredients inside the cup of my life. I peer in and all I see is the thick brown sludge covering the bottom. 

Is this all, God?  Is this all I am going to get?

I fight back the waves of disappointment and the loss of a dream of a perfect fall morning, hot cocoa and all…

It's hard to live in the not-yet, when the cup is almost empty, and all I see is what looks like crud to me. 

You need to be patient, dear…He whispers… You need to be patient…. I am still working on it…  I am not done yet… 

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,

Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Psalm 37:7

Friday, October 04, 2013

Best/Worst Strong/Weak

This is so difficult for us to digest. Why is he talking in such a way?!!! How can something that looks so good, that everyone values so much, turn out to be so bad?

Is the very best thing about me truly the worst thing about me? 

Hmmmm.... it could very well be, if it interferes with my relationship with Christ. 

Paul, however, doesn't stop here. In fact, he takes it a step further. In a letter to the church in Corinth he highlights the other side of the same coin. It’s interesting that the recipients of his message are some incredibly gifted, impressive individuals who thought that they had it all figured out.  But, before they got too far ahead of themselves, Paul shares from his heart:

…so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Now, here's the truly good news… if your pride and mine can digest it. 

Thursday, October 03, 2013

The Divine Privilege of Dog-Doo Disposal

There is more to us than what fits a label.

Apostle Paul begun to understand this after his murderous mission to eliminate followers of Jesus got divinely intercepted on the road to Damascus.

He realized then that what he thought was the best thing about him turned out to be the worst thing.  And what he despised and wanted to eliminate and annihilate, well, it turns out, that One was the key to the lock, the missing piece, the password code to the Reality Paul so earnestly wanted to grasp 

In that moment, all his bragging rights fell off along with the scales of his blinded eyes, like old post-it notes.

 …all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. Philippians 3:7-8

Dog poop? Paul? Seriously?!!! Your heritage? Your credentials? Your impeccable record of Law-keeping? Your reputation? Your wealth? Your life of ease and comfort? It’s all a dirty diaper... a dog doo to you?

I am well familiar with dog-stuff. It's a part of life of a dog. It goes with the territory. But, I can tell you, it's a real problem when the dog rolls in it, when he actually goes back and eats it! - or when my children or I step into it and it sticks. 

I think you get the point. 

It's as if Paul is telling us, 

All that stuff you think it's so great - your degree, your reputation, your resume, your impressive job title - don't let it stick to you. Treat it like dog poop - off out of the way with it - so you can stick to Jesus. 

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Reduced to a Label

We think that the measurements and labels help us make sense of our world. Figure things out. Identify where you fit and where I fit on the scale of success and significance.

They feed my need to understand in general, broad strokes where you came from and where you are going based on a single footprint left on a sidewalk… without getting too involved, too personal, without risking disclosure.

So I assess you and you assess me based on… age.

Nationality. Gender. Education. Income. Address. Marital status. Children. Religion. Job. Personality profile. Facebook. Twitter. LinkedIn.

All these numbers and labels, even big and glamorous, impressive and praise-worthy, always seem to diminish. Because they shrink the amazing complexity of irreducible personhood – the messy, multifaceted story of a unique, unrepeatable, once-in-a-history-of-the-universe individual life down to what fits inside a 4x3. Zeroing in on two or three fragments of a complex mosaic and reducing it to the handful of broken (or shiny!) shapes we catch a glimpse of at the split-second intersection of our lives' paths.

Something intrinsically human gets forever lost in the process.  Left outside the margin of the label.

If treated callously or carelessly, labels we attach to others and others attach to us can transmit pain and crippling hurt years after they’ve been publicized.

A diagnosis becomes a definition.

Teasing becomes trajectory.

Somewhere along the way, we accept the condemning designation as our destiny.

Some sink deep into depression, others overcompensate by spawning frenetic activity – often religious activity - plastering more labels to cover up the inadequacies of what lies beneath.

All along, we don't realize that we have mistaken labels for our true identity.