Seeing Forward

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photo source: yettis doings

There is something about driving through flat land that makes me deep-chest-sad. I’m not used to being able to see for miles; I’ve lived in mountainous parts of Tennessee for nine years now.

I can’t quite explain the sadness, the overwhelming need to spill tears onto dashboard. Memories of childhood, perhaps: the yellow-corn fields so common in northern Indiana. Leaving fields of gold for the wooded acreage of Virginia when I was 8, headaches speaking my pain for me as I wondered what a new third-grade class would bring.

Beauty lies in the ability to see for miles, as much as there is in purple mountains majesty or snow-peaked mountains or a flowing waterfall.

Why the sadness in this delicate beauty? in the beauty of a baby’s brow, wisps of hair scattered on it? in the beauty of an old picture, sepia and frills?

Seeing forward, seeing for miles in advance, is not our right. Baby’s brow: we know she grows. Old picture: we know the end. Miles of flatland: the road will end, hit ocean or mountain, canyon, museum, something to obstruct view.

Great Love doesn’t let us see infinitely because it would overwhelm. Looking forward swells the heart so large it cannot keep inside the body.

But I Love It.

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David Gets In Trouble

 

This is a spread from the book David Gets in Trouble by David Shannon. Having a David ourselves, we are always tickled by poor David’s antics in these books. As Mr. V read it for Libbie last night, he and I both had to stop and laugh at this page.

Because this is basically our David’s excuse for everything.

“David, why did you hit Daddy?” “Because I love it.”

“David, stop hitting Joshua on the head with that!” “But he loves it!” “No one likes being hit by toys, David.” “Yes, they do!”

It’s hard to reason with a 3-year-old.

Our pastor spoke this week from 1 Samuel and briefly touched on Saul’s disastrous response to God’s direction to completely destroy the Amalekites. Sure, he destroyed them … most of them. Except not the good animals. Except not the king.

Samuel confronted Saul. Saul had the audacity to greet Samuel by saying, “I have carried out the LORD’s command!” And Samuel says, “Then what is all of this bleating of sheep … I hear?” Saul tries to defend his actions desperately. Lost under Samuel’s chastising, Saul spits out, “But I did obey the LORD!”

To me, he might as well have said, “But I love it! God likes it, I promise!”

It’s silly, isn’t it? A grown man, a king, standing heads and shoulders taller than all of his countrymen, making a declaration so absurd it can only be described as childish.

I’m thinking of what I say to God when I do something I know isn’t exactly in His path for me. I know He desires to meet with me every morning (and that was only reinforced AKA SMACKED ME IN THE FACE in my Bible study this past week). And yet I generally only manage to get up when my alarm buzzes once, maybe twice a week. Being honest, that are usually times that Joshua gets up early and I am fully awake after he eats.

It’s easy to defend it to myself. I am not getting enough sleep as it is; I have three little ones who frequently get up during the night. I need those extra minutes. God doesn’t mind. He tells me to lie down and sleep, right? (Proverbs 3:24)

David telling me Joshua loves being hit on the head does NOT make him love it. (“David, if Joshua is screaming I think it means he doesn’t like it.”) All the defense in the world does not make a wrong thing right. It doesn’t make a sin not a sin.

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“But I love it” doesn’t cut it. Maybe it’s why I really detest the phrase “guilty pleasure.” Because if it you can profess that it’s something you shouldn’t be watching/doing/listening to/seeing … shouldn’t that be a sign to avoid said behavior/whatnot?

I don’t want to be a 3-year-old to God forever. Growing up in faith isn’t comfortable. My stomach hurts just thinking about waking up early each and every morning, truly refusing to give up some old habits. But growth is good. Painful. But good.

Known by Name

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source: TDOT

There are signs on the highway in Tennessee, digital ones showing the number of deaths from vehicular accidents in the current year and the past year. Around Thanksgiving weekend, the number was about 10 lower than in 2012. I guess we’re supposed to celebrate that fact? I’m never quite sure what the signs are proving or provoking.

It’s strange, seeing those signs everywhere, when you know the names of two of the number. A friend of a friend in Nashville was killed by a drunk driver early in 2013. And a few months ago, the daughter of a woman at our church had an accident and passed away. Her husband was on the phone with her and heard the whole thing.

It’s the peril of every statistic, every large number, I suppose. The numbers are meant to intimidate you, frighten you, make you think. But within those numbers are names. Souls. People.

We all know names that fit into numbers. I know Killed in Duty in Iraq, Succumbed to Ovarian Cancer, Died in a Car Wreck at 18, Life Cut Short By Meningitis, Born Too Early. There are hundreds of thousands of names under each category, but all the names are people who meant something to someone.

We can easily believe that God sees us grouped into categories, too. Here are the Not-So-Great Ones. The Ones Whom I Want to Punish. The Ones Whom I Really Like. The Extra-Super-Jesus-Lover Ones.

Humans love to categorize, to simplify. I noticed while playing a drawing-and-guessing game on Thanksgiving that words that started out complex – dog tired, forklift, fortune teller – because the simplest of ideas – house, truck, water. (Yes, fortune teller became water. Thanks to Uncle Phil’s phenomenal artistic ability.)

The Bible doesn’t categorize like we want it to, though. Instead it says that we all fall short of the glory of God. We all, like sheep, have gone astray. And that no matter who you are, God can banish your sins as far as the east is from the west. There is no sin that is worse than another. They are all blackness before God, and they all need redeemed.

When God sought Hagar out as she fled from her mistress, Sarah, Hagar was astonished. She wasn’t from Abraham’s line; she was a slave girl from Egypt whom Sarah hated. Hagar called Him “The God Who Sees Me.”

He knows each name in each category. He doesn’t see divisions. He sees you.

Advent Heart

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Advent wreath
source: rosalynlouise

It’s bothered me lately that my church has dropped the Advent wreath tradition. As I wrestled Joshua yesterday at my parents’ church (PLEASE HAVE CHILDCARE, CHURCHES!!!), I still warmed as some older women lit the pink and purple candles.

I remember each week in Advent from my childhood church: the ceremony of the lighting, Scripture, prayer, and singing of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” I’m either a staunch traditionalist or nostalgic to a fault. I miss the wreath.

(I’ve occasionally had people suggest on the blog that I become Catholic. And given that I really, really love church rituals maybe they’re right.)

But it got me thinking yesterday about observing Advent. And how, if we want to worship the Christ child at the manger, it does take preparation. It takes some Advent of the heart, lighting parts of your spirit to ready yourself for remembering (prophecy), joy, peace, love.

I’m a great remember-er. But am I cultivating any of the others this Christmas? I feel wound up like tightly tangled Christmas lights, parts of me popping off and twisting until I just want to retreat from my family and myself.

My children off their schedule drive me completely ballistic. The baby just woke up from yet another miniature nap while the older two are breaking rules left and right without regard for consequence. I kind of just want to throw up, not lean my heart to worship.

There are two days left for this season. But isn’t each month, day, hour an Advent? A preparing for His coming? We wait. We wait every day. Some hours we’re desperately grasping for His presence. Some we sit in joy, peace, love. Content. Full.

I may have been lost a little this December. But praise be that we get a new Advent-start each day. New mercies. Another chance to light those candles.

White as Snow

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” ‘Snow in Jerusalem is a celebration for Jerusalemites and the many visitors who come to see the most beautiful city in the world painted white,’ said Mayor Nir Barkat. ‘We hope the snow does not disappoint – especially the children of Jerusalem who are waiting and excited.’ ” – Jerusalem Post, December 10, 2013

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source: tlr3automaton

In Jerusalem, as in Chattanooga, it doesn’t snow much. While I’ve not studied meteorology of Israel, Internet searches show that Jerusalem gets a couple centimeters of snow every couple of years. There is excitement right now as they anticipate a small snowfall this week – which would make three winters in a row they’ve had the magic white fluff covering landmarks of three religions.

I’m guessing New Englanders or inhabitants of Minnesota don’t feel quite the same about snow as we who live in more temperate climates do. For us, snow shovels are rarely needed. If we get any measurable snowfall it is enjoyed for a few hours only before it melts away into oblivion and vanishes down drains and gives the ground a drink.

I’m picturing the children of Jerusalem in Jesus’s time, seeing their first snowfall, perhaps the only one of their whole childhood, staring in amazement as white covers dirt. Seeing how brightly the winter sun shines as it reflects off snow-covered hills. And remembering the words impressed into their minds from the holy Scriptures:

White as snow.

Woman Praying in the Snow
source: GPO

Isaiah 1 tells us, “Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. ‘Come, let us discuss this,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool.’ ”

When you’re white like snow, you reflect glory. The cleansing of the soul is like the rarely seen snowfall: bringing joy, almost magic. The reflected light shines bright in your eyes, almost blinding in its whiteness.

It’s Christmas and my sister got engaged and I have three tiny kids and there are so many things taking up my mind-space that I feel I haven’t attended my soul-space in a while.

I needed confession. I needed some soul snow. I need it every day and every hour, but especially right now in the midst of hurry confusion anger schedules lights bells shopping. I need quiet flurries and occasionally a blizzard.

“Come, let us discuss this,” God says. He wants us to come to Him for a chat. To have a discussion, not a time-out in the other room. No spankings, no rods; a gentle soul cleansing as we admit what’s wrong and black and ugly.

From now on, I’m considering confession God’s magical snow.

 

Creating Fertile Ground

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Every time I’ve written this in my head it’s been one of “those” posts. The history of wanting to go to Allume and finally getting to go. Praises of the conference, speakers, multitude of inspirational women there. Love for my fellow sweet bloggers.

Like Jennie Allen really wanted to preach something cute and easy on Friday night, I really want to write something sweet and charming and loving to everyone I met.

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{My oldest blog friend, OhAmanda, with my baby boy. So much sweetness.}

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But really? I want to tell you what shook me to the core, what gave me vision, the water Jesus brought me when I have been so very thirsty.

One of the most significant encounters I had at Allume was with Kimba, who used to blog at A Soft Place to Land. She was not there as a blogger, though, but as a vendor, representing her new endeavor Everyday Icing. Everyday Icing sells jewelry and accessories on Facebook, and 10% of all profits go to Compassion International.

Kimba told me how affected she was at the Relevant Conference a few years ago when Shaun Groves spoke about Compassion. She wanted to do more for them, and through Everyday Icing is able to donate more money than she’d ever thought possible.

At one point we talked about the vision I thought I’d been given for my site, and how scary it is for me to give up “Vanderbilt Wife” after so. many. years. And she told me that it was so scary for her, too. But that if God had to burn the ground of all her striving to make it fertile for what she was doing now, it was well worth it.

Oh how that image has stuck with me for the past few days. (Kimba, if you’re reading this, you’re one of my favorites.)

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In Holley Gerth’s session on Friday morning, she talked about your brand. That sounds so business-y for me, but she urged us to think of how we want our readers to feel when they come to our site. Are you meeting at a coffee shop? In a church pew? Outside, under the stars?

I knew my answer, exactly.

Readers, I want to invite you into my living room. Onto my couch. The rest of the room is probably littered with toys, purses, diaper bags, craft supplies, an empty coffee mug or two, the throw pillows my children INSIST go on the floor, and cracker crumbs. But I can clean the couch off, and I can probably manage to get those pillows back on there.

I want you to sit with me and look me in the eye. I’m going to tell you about how I’m a mess. Not just literally, although that’s true, but inside. Some days I feel like I want to hide in bed rather than face mothering again. Some days I’d just like my body for myself instead of being nursed on and climbed on and pulled and pinched. Some days I want to give in to Satan’s lies that tell me these kids would be better off without me, my husband is going to run off on me because I’m such a disaster, and God must be ashamed of me.

I will probably cry, just so you know. But I’ll also feed you, because that’s what I do. I love to cook and I love to feed. I will make your Great-Aunt Hoopti’s recipe for Fish Egg Stew with Homemade Ketchup and Steak Tartare if it will make you happy and feel loved.

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My other main takeaway from Allume was just how much God is working. Does it seem silly to say that? I just NEEDED that affirmation. Hearing stories of vast amounts of money raised $20 at a time through blogs, helping spread justice and mercy in this hurting world. Simple things, like a woman asking God for direction as she drove around with bread in her van, and finding herself pulling into the driveway of a hurting person – and learning what they had in common. Seeing God speak to artists as they painted (and the beautiful stories like Amy’s about why she needed that exact painting!).

I didn’t know it, but I was desperate for confirmation that God was still active in the details today. And I got it. Everywhere I turned there was a story of His personal work in the details.

I think we will be able to spend all of eternity swapping stories of His goodness in our individual lives.

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I could write for another 1,000 words, but I’ll spare you. Just know it’s possible I might be changing things up a little bit. I hope you’ll join me on my couch for a chat. I’d love to hear your story of God’s lavish love, grace, and mercy in your life.