When I was about three, I remember a visit with my Chinese grandparents in Michigan. Their master bathroom had beautiful white carpet and a special desk where my Paw Paw kept her jewelry, makeup, and perfume. One lazy afternoon, I let myself into her room and crawled up on the chair in front of her makeup desk. There, I noticed an interesting mirror sitting behind the makeup – it made my face bigger! I remember studying an enlarged view of my face. Were those freckles? I liberally applied my Paw Paw’s foundation to my skin, enjoying the sensation of the liquid sliding over my cheeks and legs, stopping every so often to admire, close-up, the effect.
I was feeling exceptionally beautiful when an, “AYE-YA! Becky!” broke the thick silence. Busted, I was thoroughly scolded in a blend of English and Chinese. I had gotten foundation all over my new Mickey Mouse t-shirt.
Mostly though, what I remember is that close-up mirror.
As I was asking the Lord what I might share this week, He reminded me that circumstances act as mirrors for our hearts. Marriage is a mirror. Parenting is a mirror. And, for me this year, homeschooling is a magnifying mirror, much like my Paw Paw’s makeup mirror.
Really, the more challenging the circumstance, the higher magnification of what’s in our hearts.
One recent weekend, after failing at getting through all “our” schoolwork and demonstrating to my kids, rather thoroughly, some terrible ways to be frustrated, I realized through tears that my heart and mind just weren’t doing well. I would have liked to blame my circumstances. This dramatic change from traditional schooling to homeschooling is intense. But, changing circumstances wasn’t going to change my heart. It was what was already inside me, agitated by my circumstances, that had resulted in this behavior.
Maybe you have been experiencing some variation of this? It could be homeschooling, it could be friction with a co-worker or frustration with the government. It could be any number of other circumstances. We have all been experiencing uncertainty and frustration since 2020. I dare say we’ve all responded in ways that weren’t *quite* presentable. As our circumstances reveal another startling layer of our hearts to ourselves – magnifying things to vulgar proportions – rather than sink into shame, let’s remind ourselves that it’s not surprising to Jesus.Jesus looks on us in our ugliness and beckons us to offer the ugly to Him. The resurrected Jesus longs for you to look with Him – upon those magnified places in your heart – so that He can pour His power deeper into your soul for His great glory.
So, today, this week, let’s allow the truth of what yet remains to be transformed to sit on the surface, before God, so that He can work His miracle in us. He appointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in us, as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:22). Pray with me?
Jesus, we admit that we aren’t quite as far along as we would like to be in life. Here we are, real-life adults – me, with my kids looking on — and we can be pretty bad examples. Thank you that we don’t have to beg you for your mercy. You came and surrendered your life on the cross while we were still opposed to You. These last months have revealed that there are still parts of our hearts that are in rebellion to You. As shocking as this is to us, it is not a surprise to you. Despite our need for deeper sanctification, you say in abundant grace, “I see it and I love you. You are mine. I will make you stand firm.” As the apostle Paul said: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He appointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in us, as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22). May your Spirit in us speak Amen for your great glory. Amen.
I took up running in college. Being cheap and broke, I wore my old, high-top, blue and yellow Nikes for months. By March, my shins were killing me. I finally realized that my high-tops were probably the problem, so reluctantly bought another pair of running shoes.
As I recall, they were about twenty bucks and my shins felt better in a week.
The program director of my kids’ school cast a vision for us this year that reflects reality well: our expectations are wrecked, uncertainty is strong but, we must respond with God’s loving flexibility.
I resonated so much with that vision, but I got to wondering: is it Biblical? So, I pulled up BlueletterBible.org and searched for “flexibility.” (Yes, I’m a Bible nerd). I got no hits. Since the word resonated, I let it steep. It was in there with a lot of monkey thoughts: “Are we crazy to be homeschooling this year?” and “did that dear friend of mine really just attack those people on Facebook?” and on and on.
God is so gracious. In the midst of my squirrelly mind, the Spirit kept bringing Ephesians 6 to the forefront. Verse 15 became pronounced when my new running shoes were delayed. I continued to lace up anyway. The days turned to weeks and my body begged for new shoes. My calves were unhappy, my knees were complaining and even my neck started whining.
See, what we wear on our feet matters. That’s what I’ve learned over the last 20 years of running. That’s what my body was telling me this summer while I waited for my new shoes.
In the same way that what we wear on our physical feet matters, what we wear on our spiritual feet matters. This is the drum the Spirit has been beating in 2020. “Stand firm…with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace…”Eph.6:10-18.
Jesus did not respond to the seemingly same situations identically. When the Roman Centurion approached him to heal the man’s servant, Jesus swiftly granted his request. (Luke 7:1-10). But, when the Canaanite woman begged him to heal her daughter, Jesus ignored her for so long that his disciples asked him to send her away — and then He verbally rebuffed her — and then, he finally granted her request with pleasure. (Matthew 15:21-18).
Enigmatic. Unpredictable. Utterly good. Jesus, in his intimacy with the Father and Spirit was ready for everything that faced Him. Perfectly responsive.
And, so. This February, after the newness of 2021 resolutions is wearing off, it’s time for a reality check. How are we doing, having our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace? Spiritually, if our feet are improperly outfitted, we will stand in the wrong place, respond with wrong attitudes and generally cause emotional and spiritual difficulty. When’s the last time your child was dallying – and, having your feet fitted with the carelessness that comes from hurrying, you responded in an angry diatribe? When’s the last time your spouse did that annoying thing (again) – and, having your feet fitted with the inattention that comes from being inconvenienced, you responded with the silent treatment?
As the pandemic nears completion, what are your feet fitted with?
I admit, I have been tone deaf to circumstances. Tip-toeing when I should stride. Running when when I should stay still. My answers to these questions reveal that there’s work to be done. Maybe you too? Friend, let’s lean in to Him, asking Him to help us lace up.
Jesus, we welcome you this week. We confess that there have been times where our feet were fitted with rules and improvidence rather than the readiness that comes from your gospel of peace. We see that now, by how we have sometimes responded to people in impatience, sarcasm, rigidity and permissiveness. We welcome you, Spirit, to lace us up with the readiness – the flexibility and responsiveness – that flow from dependence on God, like Jesus demonstrated. We are ever grateful for your powerful grace that allows this to be. May it be so, Amen.
As we learn to acknowledge God’s presence in every activity, we see opportunities we would otherwise miss and assistance we would forget to thank God for. – Jan Johnson, When the Soul Listens
I am 3 or 4. Attending church with my grandparents in Michigan.
Our church in Salt Lake is large and concrete. The sanctuary doesn’t have any windows. The carpet is a plush burgandy. Not that I ever have to spend much time in the big sanctuary. On Sunday’s, I have a class I go to. We sing, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The teachers encourage us to stand when we sing a color that we are wearing. It’s fun.
At my grandparents church, there is a lot of standing and sitting. I know this, because there is no children’s church. I sit in the wooden pews next to my adults. Standing a beat after them. Sitting a beat after them.
I scribble on cards a while. I begin to ask a question, but the adults shush. I squirm.
Grandma asks if I can wiggle my toes. My black patent leather shoes reveal my white socks, but no toes. I wiggle them. I cannot see them. But, I can feel they are wiggling. Yes! I nod triumphant.
Grandma is not watching. I tug her sleeve and point to my feet. She smiles.
The sanctuary is bathed in gold light. A man in a robe stands up front. He talks and talks.
Suddenly, everyone stands and begins to talk at once. All saying the same words. My grandparents and parents, too. I scramble up. I repeat, just a beat after them.
“Hallowed be thy name.”
Hmm, what is a hallowed?
I stop repeating, wondering. I tug my grandma’s sleeve. She puts her fingers to her lips. More “thy” and “thee.”
“You have made known to me the path of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.” Psalm 16:11
Fast forward about 12 years. I am in my teens. Summer camp. Long, late services. The sun has gone down.
Music and commands from the stage: dance in the Spirit! If you have the gift of tongues, lift it up! Laugh now!
I feel alternately exhilarated and bored. Trying to hold my body “right” to “receive” a gift from the Spirit. Maybe I’m doing it “wrong” …because I’m not sure the Spirit has imparted a gift.
“Come forward for prayer!” is called from the stage.
I move up. My skin is hot. I can almost see myself. A strange sensation. There are many other teenagers here. We try not to touch each other. But, it’s basically impossible. My arm touches someone else’s, sticky, and awkward.
I am five or six people back from the stage. We played against that girl in volleyball this afternoon. I saw that boy holding hands with someone yesterday. I close my eyes. Someone is wearing a fruity perfume
Still, no feeling except awkward embarrassment. Uncertainty. Are we all trying to manufacture something?
A woman stands behind me. She begins praying. How did she know? She answers questions I whispered to myself through tears in my room months ago. Goosebumps on my arms. She continues to talk. Now the words to the song playing. The goosebumps retreat. It is no longer an answer to my months-ago prayer. But that first part?
No human could have just said that. It was too specific.
Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 6:10
Eighteen years, three children later. The middle one, he doesn’t seem like he listens. I try to talk and he spins a fidget spinner. It’s buzzing is so loud I can’t hear myself.
“Stop that!” I snatch it from the table where it reverberates. I try again, “I saw a sign in the Sunday School room at church. It was talking about prayer – it said something about: being grateful, asking and there were two other things. Do you guys remember?”
“No, mom.” He responds. He’s now fiddling with Legos. He flips the bright red Lego airplane and catches it. “That must have been another class.”
I grit my teeth. It is so hard to hold onto patience at the end of the day. I bite back a terse order about the Legos.
I can barely see his face under the too-big red baseball cap. “Pastor Scott told us about God’s most holy prayer, though. We’re workin’ on memorizin’ it.”
A nudge in my spirit. This is the third or fourth time he’s mentioned something about this talk. Earlier it was – “did you know, if you were to say everything in the perfect prayer, it would be a huge book – bigger than the whole Bible, prol’ly?”
He is clearly impressed.
I still don’t really understand the prayer. No matter what translation I try to recite it in, I freely mix “Thy” with “Your” and “trespasses” with “sin.” I can almost feel the scratchy lace collar I wore to church as a little girl – the bewildered confusion – or the racing hormones I carried as a teen – the presumptuous judgment.
I understand, though, that prayer is more than, “Dear God, You’re up there, fill-in-the-blank request, thanks for fill-in-the-blank, amen.”
I have heard people talk about their “prayer closet.” Or walking around literally anointing things with oil. Or seen those people praying in a big group at Depot Park, usually with political signs. None of it seems quite right.
My mind drifts back a podcast , video and sermon from this fall. Heaven – the kingdom of God – is not so much a “place” as a “reign.” It’s not so much “up there” as it is Jesus’ people spreading Jesus’ love, submitting to God’s perfect will right here right now.
The words to a song we sometimes sing in church begin, “come set your rule and reign, in our hearts again.” As Jesus told the Pharisees so long ago: “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” of “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21).
“It’s a really good prayer, buddy.” I say. The tension releases from my neck – air from a balloon.
“Let’s pray now so we can get you to bed.”
A few hours later, I realize that moment was an answered prayer. Jesus gave me the extra patience I needed in that moment. It’s a far cry from the mountain-moving, sea-parting, insta-healing I expected when I was 15…but it’s exactly what Noah and I needed at 7:48 p.m. Thursday night in 2020. It may have been quiet, but that patience He provided was just as supernatural.
The kingdom of God was right here, in my right now, talking to my son.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters … And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night … He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:1-2, 14, 16-18. After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision…”He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars–if indeed you can count them. Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Genesis 15:1-2, 4-5.
I am thirteen years old, crammed into a burgundy suburban with my three siblings and parents. We are somewhere in the middle of Nevada.
It’s the middle of the night. Vast desert surrounds us – flat and monotonous. Before the darkness fell, my eyes became heavy. All I saw was brown dotted with sagebrush. I was hypnotized by the hum of the wheels and the changeless landscape. So, I closed my eyes and fell into a doze.
Now, it is dark. The a.m. radio buzzes, intermittently picking up a loud male voice. My head rests uncomfortably on the glass of the door, pillow having slipped halfway into my lap.
The suburban rolls to a stop.
The radio clicks off.
The silence buzzes.
Dad turns off the headlights, steps outside.
I wake and open my door, too. Summer outside, but the air feels cold against my cheeks.
Close the door. The dome light clicks off.
No city lights.
My eye goes up. The sky is full of the most stars I have ever seen. So many. I look for the Big Dipper. I cannot identify this familiar constellation because of the number of new stars I see.
In the pit of my stomach, I feel a gnawing. As if I am falling into dark emptiness. A small girl consumed by the very big.
“Isn’t it great?” Dad speaks, startling me. “No people, no lights?”
I dart back to the car. I disagree.
A sibling begins to cry. I prefer this. Familiar cramped space. Loud sibling. Unpleasant, but known.
Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth. – Genesis 11:4
I am now in my late 30’s. Montana, the Big Sky state. We turn our clocks back one hour and then we are driving home from work in the dark. On cloudy days, the kids walk to school in the dark.
It is night. I am miles up the road from the new Ford dealership. They built it in the middle of … farmland? Gravel pit? Open space, anyway. The backdrop driving to and from home when I lived with my parents. Today, it is the Ford dealership.
I am miles up the road. Still, there is a man-made quality to the “dark” here. A blueish-white, cloud-like, not-dark taints the night.
I drive by the dealership now. It is bright, fake-day here at Ford.
I cannot see the stars.
My husband reads the newspaper. It is months after my daughter and I camped in Glacier National Park where we listened to a ranger’s talk.
My husband remarks, “Did you know that Montana is one of the few places in the country you can still see so many of the stars?”
His remark jogs my memory about the ranger’s lecture.
The article — and the ranger — they both call it “light pollution.”
We humans have hung too many lights. We have made ourselves so big that it is literally hard to see the stars.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3.
Now that I have twenty-odd years between myself and that vast, deep Nevada sky, I appreciate the strange effect it has on me. Don’t get me wrong, I am still disoriented by it. But that seems important, too.
Sometimes I feel very big. Important things ride on my shoulders. Arrogance, anxiety and shame accompanying them.
My bigness crushes me.
I have begun to build towers in my heart.
Here in America our literal obscuring of the stars is the material reality of the spiritual truth. Literal lights hung high and bright on tall edifices mimic our internal lights and towers…internet platforms, religion, politics. They cast a tall blueish-white, cloud-like, not-dark, fake-day over our hearts.
We have tried to climb up to God, in the process, making ourselves so big that we literally can’t even know how small we actually are.
Perhaps we can stumble in our folly. Wind back the light pollution. Ironically, if we try hard ourselves, that too becomes a tall tower with fake lights.
I remember Jesus’ story:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself to God, ‘I thank you that I’m not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home Justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
The way to big is small. The way to God is poor in spirit.
But the man who looks intently in the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
Four hours at the Pacific Science Center and we aren’t done exploring. In the familiar motion, I pull my phone from my pocket. A text from the friends we’re meeting flashes.
“C’mon guys. I know,
it’s cool, but we gotta go.” I step
closer to the doors.
The kids overshoot the door, drawn by the magnetism of the bubble trough.
I sigh. My left arm is sticky with sweat from the added layers. I am holding two extra coats. I shift them to my right arm. My pulse quickens. The stress of trying to herd cats – er, my children – while people are waiting for us. I internally wonder how forceful my next words to the kids should be. We are on vacation, after all. Our friends understand.
Preoccupied, I walk past
a fun house mirror.
From the corner of my eye, I see my head distortedly large.
Now, I am distracted. I turn, take a step back to face the mirror head on. There I am, same jacket, pants. But everything is out of proportion. My torso is comically short. My legs elongated.
The coats I’m holding are experiencing the same treatment: small in my arm, but a sleeve that has escaped trails, exaggeratedly long below my elbow. I look down, confirming what I know: the coats are the same size as before. 4T, 8T. The mirror changed what I see.
The science is explained in a plaque beside the mirror. The mirror is wavy. It’s contours twist the light rays so they bounce back to my eyes at odd angles.
The haphazard light rays distort perspective. I see myself – but not as I am.
The next day, on our long ride home back to Montana, the
kids ask again why they can’t have a phone.
They want internet access so they can play a math video game.
Our explanation of temptation and self-control and comparison
and as-parents-right-now-we-are-just-setting-your-boundaries are met with eye
rolls, silliness and loud whining.
One of them fastens on a word: “What’s distort mean, mom?”
Clipping along through the mountains of Snoqualmie pass, I
can’t access my data plan. Knowing what a
word means and defining it are always difficult for me. Especially after sleeping in a hotel bed for
I take a stab at it: “It means that you see things, but not as they really are. Things get blown out of proportion.” Not sure they all know what “proportion” means, I remember the moments before we finally stepped out the door of the science museum, ‘”it’s like the fun-house mirror yesterday. It distorts the way you look. You see yourself, and some of it’s the same, but some of it’s not. Some of it’s wrong.”
“Oh, yeah. Phones
don’t do that, mom.”
Knowing logic won’t win this debate, I tell them: “I love
you too much to argue.”
And then I offer them some snacks.
“When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
2 Corinthians 10:12
The thing we use to view ourselves can either reflect us back to ourselves realistically – or it can distort.
Addressing the church in Corinth for the second time, Paul explained to them that his dissenters committed grave error when they commended themselves.
They measured and compared themselves against a faulty mirror.
But, it wasn’t just Paul’s opponents two-thousand years ago.
In unguarded moments of pride and weakness, can’t we all pull out the mirror of human comparison to gauge our identity and worth?
This mirror takes our achievements, intentions and actions, twists them in the air, and presents them back to us distorted.
Fun-house mirror style.
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
A few days later, I am washing dishes. Hot, soapy water. Hands pruning. I crank the podcast to hear over the running water.
The musician talks about one of Jesus’ repeated miracles: healing the blind. It physically happened, but it’s metaphor too. “When our perspective is off we don’t see people the way they are – we see them the way we are…that’s one of the first things the enemy jumps all over is our perspective.”
And that’s it. I have studied the Bible my entire adult life. Dissected. Memorized. Searched. Yet, all too easily, I can still default to other mirrors to examine myself or my achievements. I can stare intently into just one part of the perfect law that gives life and walk away, forgetting what I have seen, not doing what it has said.
My perspective is skewed.
And, that skewed perspective effects the way I see other people. My children. My husband. Friends. The internet.
I see them the way I see myself: distorted.
And, my distorted perspective keeps us from authentic relationship.
The One who knit me together in my mother’s womb, the One who spoke the stars into the night sky – He sees it all perfectly. He sees me all perfectly. He sees others all perfectly.
Seeing perfectly, He shrugged out of His power and glory and became vulnerable. He gave Himself to us as a small human baby, wholly dependent . He grew into a teacher that touched the dirty, broken and ugly.
We all know where His beautiful words and actions landed Him.
But, we also know that He didn’t stay there.
I find Timothy Keller’s summation of the gospel helpful here: “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
Jesus, heal my sight. God, lay bare the thoughts and attitudes of my heart. Spirit, be my vision.
As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked.
“Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”
Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. Matthew 20:29-34.
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I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. (Psalm 81:10)
I snap the brown hair tie around my pony tail the third time. I tie the neon pink tipped black laces and start the GPS on my phone
Saturday morning runs are a gift Kagan gives me. No stroller, no kids on bikes, no time limits. Just the pavement and my feet.
The back door creaks and the chilly air feels like a splash of water. Deep breath, through the nose. The air smells crisp. Late summer in Montana. Perfection.
Slow jog. My calves are tight and the right side of my neck and upper traps, stiff. I roll my shoulder and stretch my neck from side to side.
I have been feeling like life is on the precipice of a final exam.
I have no idea how to prepare, but I am responsible to ace it. And Life is hiding behind a bush, with a black handlebar mustache, rubbing its hands together in gleeful anticipation. Eager to deliver a cosmic spanking at my certain failure.
Another breath. Two more steps, feet and calves warming up now.
As I move, I realize that this ominous story has me paralyzed, thoughts stuck. Freezing as I sense danger.
Arms pumping, with my next exhale I imagine oil lubricating my knotted neck. It’s as if these thoughts get snag in my chronically stiff neck.
Grace and peace be yours in abundance, Peter said to the church.
Another translation says, grace and peace be yours in fullest measure.
These thoughts and feelings are not peaceful. They aren’t gracious, either. They are strife and condemnation. I realize, subconsciously, that’s what I’ve been feeling in abundance and pretty full measure recently.
I try wiggling my jaw as I continue to warm up with a slow jog. My eyes tear with the effort in the brisk morning air. I blink several times. Warmth pools in my right eye and catches on my lower lashes.
When I quit BSF last year to do a Bible study with then 99-year-old Gramma Jean, I chose Ephesians.
I ordered the Kay Arthur Precepts study, I bought two sets of pens in green, light blue, pink and purple. I carefully explained to Gramma what you have to do.
I couldn’t tell if she actually forgot — or if she was just being passive-aggressive about participating in the study — but she never did her “homework.” Two or three weeks in a row, I explained the idea to her. All she has is time on her hands, after all. She never got that 3-ring binder out herself to “study.”
So, we read Ephesians 1 and 2 aloud once a week for 6 months.
Every week, Gramma Jean would stop in chapter 1 verse 6 or verse 7. If we got to chapter 2 we would pause over verse 7.
“To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Eph. 1:6). “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Eph. 1:7). “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:6-7).
She would say, “now, people rush over those words. Words like grace. I don’t remember what grace is, Becky. Nobody has ever explained it.”
Although certain that, in her 99 years she has heard many a sermon on “grace,” I would try to explain. And, not the years of dissecting, not the decades of reading the Bible like a lawyer — searching for how to define words, testing and arguing over reformed or Armenian theology — no, not these things, but one of the kids’ Veggie Tales CD came to my aid. In one song Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and Junior Asparagus sing the word “grace” repeatedly. Larry the Cucumber gets through the entire song thinking they’re singing about his Kindergarten teacher “Grace Smith.” Bob corrects him and Larry says, in his cucumber lisp: “oh, that grace. Unmerited favor of God.”
Every week, Larry’s voice in my head, I would explain to Gramma Jean: “Grace is unmerited favor. Getting what you don’t deserve.” She would nod, we’d read the verse again, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” She would ask: “what’s grace again? Oh, yes. Unmerited favor.” And, we would read again: “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”
Basically every time we pulled out that binder, her eyes would snag on the word “grace.”
Only because God’s built up a little bit of patience in me, would I manage to explain without rolling my eyes.
I jog slightly faster now. The wind lightly touches my face. I blink, and the tear trickles down my cheek. I can taste its saltyness.
She’s right, I realize. Even though I can rattle off the words, the concept of grace is trapped in my head. Maybe it’s been trying to work its way down into my heart and my bones but it’s stuck in my fibrous, ropy, knotted, neck.
I think I’ve lived all my life understanding grace and mercy to be the same thing. Grace is actually a little different, I think. It has an additional component.
Mercy is not getting what you deserve. It has to do with the fancy theological term “propitiation.” God’s anger appeased.
Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.
Overflowing, abundant, fullest measure of what you don’t deserve.
My arms and legs are alternating. I’ve quickened my steps as the blood moves through my body. I can feel it circulating. My neck and shoulder have loosened.
It seems too much. Foolish to think that grace is boundless, unending, lavish blessing.
Nobody is out this morning. The tree-lined street echos no human sounds. The silence gives way to the leaves that rustle in another breeze.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. His blood was offered as the sacrifice for sins, the atonement, the propitiation. His body was offered as the bread of life. No ready theological terms come readily to mind when I think of Jesus’ body.
Just a full tummy for a few hours.
I approach the stoplight. It changes to yellow and as I reach the corner it blinks red. Thank goodness. I am glad for the forced mini-break.
As I stop, the Spirit brings the verse fragment to me again, “In accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” I understand that Greek is this crazy language where it’s easy to come up with exactly the right words to use: you take a bit of this word, a bit of that one, smash them together, make sure they’re in the right “tense” and go. You’ve said exactly what you meant.
Well, English isn’t like that, but I love that the Spirit led Paul to tell us that God has riches of grace that are lavished on us not by mistake or naivete, but with all wisdom and understanding.
Lavished. It’s a generous word. God’s rich grace is heaped up on us.
I reach my arm over my head, grab my wrist and lean to the right. Exhale audibly.
A car’s coming. It’s far enough down the road that I could cross, despite the red light. I want to wait. Now I reach the other arm overhead.
Why this feeling that a misstep will be cackled at with glee?
I can’t do it perfectly. The story of my life has been, “tries hard, some talent, but not exceptional.” Really, I tell myself. Top 80% of most things. What if I am destined to be mediocre in all things?
Blood drumming a steady rhythm just under my jaw, the long sleeve shirt is no long necessary. I tie it around my waste.
Imperceptibly the road climbs. The little rest did me good. I welcome the small challenge. My breath is steady. Filling my lungs, infusing that blood with energy for my muscles.
What if, compared to the best humans, I am merely adequate? When I try my absolute, messy best, it’s “meh?” Am I courageous enough to show up and just be pretty ok?
Verse 1:7, 2:7 aren’t the only places the Spirit expounds on God’s richness. While Gramma paused at “grace,” the Spirit caused my eyes to pause at “riches.” There in 1:18: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Verse 19 finishes off the thought, “and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
It’s compared to others that my abilities — my powers, if you will — are solidly in the middle of the pack. Serviceable.
But God’s power? It’s incomparably great. In.Comp.Arably. Literally: No. Comparison.
And that incomparably great power? It’s for us who believe. Me who believes.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus said. Even though I can’t think of any fancy theological words for that, I can think of what bread does.
Metabolized, it gives energy. Power to move.
I smile. The gathered sweat at my temples trickles down my cheek. At the middle mark of my run, and I can feel the energy in my muscles.
Jesus breaks open the way for God’s great power in me. Flowing through me. Grace is more than just not getting what I deserve. It’s being heaped with blessing. It’s overflowing as I move.
Peter’s benediction — grace and peace being ours in abundance, overflowing, to the fullest measure — is followed in his second letter by the remarkable statement: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
I think I can swallow my pride to show up just hit the middle mark.
Something may be waiting behind a bush to pounce on my mediocre performance on the “life final,” but it’s not Life. It’s not God.
No, God’s grace is that of a mother, smiling with open arms to the chubby twelve month old who is getting ready to let go of the sofa and take those first few tentative steps.
Grace and peace be yours in abundance. To the fullest measure, friend.
If you find yourself stuck in your thoughts, friend, remind yourself: Jesus came to give us grace and peace in abundance. It’s ours for the taking now. If you need a reminder, I created a free download just for you, click here to get it.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)
They flow, curving through Northwest Montana.
The North Fork, Middle Fork, South Fork. Swan. Whitefish. I most appreciate these rivers in late July. August, if the smoke hasn’t settled in like a thick, wool blanket.
The hot sun bakes my shoulders.
Sweat trickles down my back. My eyes blink, squinting in the sudden brightness
as I step out from the dappled darkness of the trees to the rocky
“beach.” Thorns and bushes scratch my legs and my feet twist, walking
over flat, large stones. This place was riverbed not two months ago.
An old favorite chorus at church
growing up proclaimed, “I’ve got a river of life, flowing out of me. It
makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Opens prison doors sets the
captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up a
How freely does that river flow
through me now? Have I somehow dammed it, leaving only a trickle?
I tuck the thought away.
Deep, slow breath. It smells cooler here, immediately next to
the river. I smile, it always does. My
baseball hat feels like a winter stocking cap. Now sweat drips between my
brows, furrowed as I squint. It is sweltering.
Still, I hesitate at the edge of the water. The rushing, constant roar of the water muffles the little voices behind me.
A step. The initial shock of icy cold is unpleasant, 90 degree heat and all. I always have to pluck up my nerve.
Another thought surfaces: The kids were babies. Yesterday, wasn’t it? We were bleary-eyed. Arms locked in a clutching position. Our voices gentle, babbling noises and
delighted smiles. Shhh and da-da-da-da. Repeating words with delight – “leaf” “rock” “river!”
It carries us.
I have been trying to grasp and hold. Slow it.
Stop it. Sometimes I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s
Day. Waking every morning to the same
everything…mind-numbing, monotony. But then
it rushes by, dizzying. When did my
oldest spring up, nearly as tall as me? There are no toddlers or babies in the
I cannot control how it flows. We are out here in the middle, being carried
forward. We can’t go back upstream. We can only position ourselves to navigate what’s
I realize that my feet and shins are now comfortable. I am exactly the right temperature. Red, brown and grey rocks are clearly visible beneath the clear water. It’s low today. Shallow.
A yellow leaf floats past.
The red raft drops next to me. Half ashore, half bobbing in the
current. Sides streaked with grey
mud. The kids shriek as they splash into
the water, too. The littlest slips on a
rock, barely keeping his balance.
Jesus’ words to the woman at the
well now rise to the surface of my mind, “whoever drinks the water I give him
will never thirst. Indeed, the water I
give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
We climb aboard. One paddle per person. He shoves the raft out from shore, holding it momentarily from drifting downstream as he swings his legs over the side. We’re off! Slowly following the leaf downstream.
Ahead, the water spits and churns. “Everybody paddle!” Our paddling is uneven, adults on one side, kids on the other. The raft responds, turning to the left. For several moments we head toward the spitting, churning section sideways. From the back, Kagan dips his oar a few times and we right. Nose forward we now squarely face the “rapids”.
The boat jerks violently several times. The youngest begins to cry. He huddles in the bottom of the raft, chewing on his life vest.
Minutes pass. We now face only a long stretch. We are moving swiftly, but there are no more bumps to face. I attempt comfort. The illusion of safety has been lost. He is impervious to my assurances.
I think of the disciples, long ago on the sea of Galilee. Grizzled fishermen terrified by a powerful storm. Jesus, sleeping in the boat.
Half an hour later, our youngest child’s continued crying is now under my skin. It feels like a splinter, uncomfortable and annoying. It’s self-indulgent. Sharp words rise to my tongue. As they begin for form, I feel a nudge in my spirit.
“You can be very like him,
The sharp words evaporate before I release them.
In life, I am swept in the current. I am tossed and jostled and dropped in the rapids. I have fastened my life preserver. I clutch my oar. But, just like this little one, like those disciples, at times I find myself huddling in the bottom of the boat. Eyes screwed shut against the sun and scenery, ignoring the Parent who rides with me.
At those times, terrified questions leak from me: “what’s next?” “Remember that trouble!?!”
Our raft floats to the edge of the river, now caught in an eddy, gently turning. The crying continues. So do my thoughts. We paddle, just one side, and the raft turns another circle.
I find my thought swirling, too. “I’ll always be like this” “Who do I think I
am?” “It’s already too late…” Vivid
embarrassment, guilt and shame from past failures color the thoughts and the
circles are no longer lazy, but frenetic.
All that remains now is those feelings.
A new thought pierces the barrage. The oar of Scripture gently slows the swirling:
“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6). My ineptitude will not defeat God’s good work.
“The Counselor, the Holy spirit, whom the Father [has] sent will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26). I will not forget. I will hear. I will see. I will proclaim.
The Spirit carries us along. Jesus knows what rapids lay ahead. Those rapids I did not anticipate yesterday? They were no surprise to Him. He positions me to navigate. He gives me the oar and guides my strokes.
We paddle on one side, then the
other. Our arms burn slightly with the
effort. It’s work. Forward
The boat noses back into the
current, and begins again downstream.
It’s slow now, barely moving. The littlest one’s tears have slowed, but he
is still huddled there in the bottom of the raft, clenching his life vest for
security. His big brother jumps off the
side of the boat with a shriek of delight.
Cool water splashes us. I laugh at his joy.
I remember Paul’s words, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
The youngest looks up. His sister offers him cherry, her own teeth stained with the juice. Conflicted for a moment, his desire for one of his favorite fruits wins out and he lets go of his vest to take it. Soon, he is reaching for more with both hands.
He might have fun yet. I think I will, too.
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They feast on the abundance of your house, you give them drink in your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life. In your life we see light. Psalm 36:8-9.
Each of my three kids get the same allowance every week. For some reason, this trip to Target, only two of the three kids chose to purchase gum for themselves. Twenty minutes later during our visit to Gramma Jean, the kid who brought newly purchased gum into the apartment offered a piece to one of the other two. The third child, asked for gum as well.
“What do you have to trade?”
“What!?! That’s no fair! Mooooooom….”
“It’s MY gum. I bought it with MY money. I only have EIGHT pieces left.”
There were so many things about this situation that were driving me crazy. We got through it, but I was tempted to wish the kids back to school. Tomorrow, please and thank you.
Rather than let me marinade in annoyance, though the Spirit nudged me. Granted, it was later that day. Maybe that’s how long it took Him to get through. Anyway, the nudge asked, “just how well do you share when you feel there is a limit to how much there is to go around?”
See, there are some challenges at work and changes to our schedule coming this fall. Challenges and change kick up my fear response. And when I am afraid, I tend to hunker down and hoard. Hoard my money, energy, time…Withdraw. Take no chances.
In short, after the Spirit nudged, I had to admit that my kids aren’t the only ones who don’t want to share when it may be costly. To look at another child who has trouble sharing, I just need to pull out my mirror.
Anybody else? Anybody else look at life as though there’s not enough to go around when they feel scared? Not enough time, not enough resources, not enough energy? Anyone else’s bodies seem to freeze up in the face of change and cry out — too little! We must conserve!
Things are running out!
Friend, I don’t share this to shame us. Heaven’s knows, the last thing we need is guilt and shame sprinkled over fear. Instead, let’s recognize this undercurrent in our self-protective tendencies. Let’s see our hoarding for what it is. Let’s tune our ears to truly hear God’s voice. Listen to His heart, friend.
His heart richly overflows with grace and mercy. He desires us to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19).
His heart yearns to heap provision on us when we turn to Him. He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:21).
In His kingdom, there is already more than enough, and when we step out in faith, the more multiplies. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed own, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:37-38).
May we allow the Spirit to helped us identify the subtle lies. Especially those lies that sounds so much like our own voices speaking that it’s hard to call them into the light. May we draw near to the Source of all good things. May our hearts receive, eyes see and ears hear the abundant, delightful life that is showered on us.
I created this graphic to cue us to fix our gaze on God’s abundant, generous nature when we find ourselves pulling back and hording. Click here to sign up to receive the graphic as a free download.
“Hey! I told you to pick up that scooter!” I found myself hollering at one of the kids.
“I know, but that doesn’t seem fair! You said this morning that you wanted us to be responsible for picking up the things we got out and I didn’t leave that scooter out today! And, yesterday, I had to wipe the table down when it wasn’t my job!”
My blood boils as I let this child know that: (1) this response is disrespectful and disobedient; (2) child is correct that everyone should pick up, but (3) child should pay more attention to child’s own actions than child’s sibling’s actions (as my pastor would say, “drive your own car!”); and (4) everyone is driving me stark, raving mad.
It occurs to me that I am raising a bunch of lawyers. In a typical day, I go to great lengths to define my expectations for critical happenings and then spend the next 5 to 10 minutes clarifying what I’ve just said as the kids shoot questions at me. I define words (“well, mom. You said a “while,” but how long do you mean, exactly?”) and otherwise attempt to close all loopholes (“so, no candy this morning. But, what about gum? What if Bob’s mom offers us cookies? That’s not technically candy…and it would be rude to say no…”).
As I once again fight the urge to pull my hair out in frustration, I think of the apostle Paul — the lawyer. “I would not have known what sin was except through the law…apart from law, sin is dead.” (Romans 7:7).
Parenting these days seems to be a microcosm of this particular truth. The more I set specific rules, the more technical my kids have become about meeting those requirements. It’s as if something inside them comes to life that needs to defy the rules — or, at least get as close to the line as possible, without technically breaking the rules. This time. The kids are motivated to merely meet the standard rather than embrace the spirit behind the rules.
Aren’t we all like this?
The law, it turns out, was not enacted to save us; but to show us our natures. We are unable to perfectly meet the holy standard. We fail — both intentionally and by omission in countless, creative ways.
Focusing on the transgressions only; however, does not rescue us from the cycle. I for sure issued my child consequences that day. But it doesn’t get to the root of the issue.
The root of the issue is this sin that causes the child to focus on self.
Try as I might to persuade myself that this is primarily a childhood problem — as I hear my own words and phrases and logic repeated back to me through my kids — I realize it is not. I, too, have sin that causes me to focus overly much on myself. In that space, overly focused on “me,” I experience the law – and my own internal list of “do’s” and “don’ts” – raise to life a rebellion in which I perform mental gymnastics. Test loopholes. Ask God to define words. Then feel either smugness when I am victorious or shame, when I fail.
I’m beginning to learn, friend, that to begin digging at that root we do not need more rules. No, we must change focus to Jesus.
The first and most important commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Delight ourselves fully in Him. To love Him in this way, we gaze upon Him and obedience follows naturally because we want to please Him. We act not to earn approval or mercy, but to be near Jesus. The specific do’s and don’ts lose their importance. What matters instead is the spirit behind the law.
Jesus taught: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love-” (John 15:10-11). If we remain in Jesus’ love, obedience flows from that source.
So, let us be powered by love, not legalism, friend. Our question not, “what is permitted here?” But, “what does the Spirit tell me would please Him here?”
As you begin your week, wherever it finds you: suiting up to deal with arguing kids, pouring energy into a job that sucks the life out of you, sleepless from waking with baby and a marathon of cleaning up messes and praying for nap time — let us pray together, for one another. Lord, out of your glorious riches, we ask that we, your children would be, rooted and established in love so that we may have power together to grasp how high and wide and long and deep is the love of Christ. To know this love that surpasses all understanding–that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-18). Amen.
If you could use a reminder to pray to be rooted and established in love, click here to sign up for the free graphic I created.
Feeling the pressure mounting and experiencing every of minor thing gone wrong as particularly annoying.
Dishwasher? Still broken. Printer? Offline. Kids? Bickering.
Anybody else facing challenges these next few days?
The mix of challenges is as different as we are. Personally, I found myself rushing home hungry to a house of tired kids, thinking of the work I didn’t *quite* get to finish, vaguely anxious about the logistics of traveling by plane Wednesday (should I try to carry on all my luggage? will all those 3 ring binders fit? do I have travel-size shampoo?).
I caught myself yelling, “STOP YELLING!” at the kids the other night. Shockingly, it did not stop the yelling and about the second time, I yelled my directive, I realized that my modeling on the issue was leaving something to be desired.
We all desperately need a reset at times, don’t we?
When we find ourselves yelling or avoiding or ignoring or whatever our particular “tell” is, let’s take a deep breath. Right when we realize it.
Then, let’s remind ourselves: when our time, energy, patience and smarts just aren’t enough, it is there Jesus shines through all the more. Friend, we still have to show up, we still might have to bite our tongue, or talk when we would rather pretend we weren’t actually present…Yes, yes. But the first step of faith, friend, is stopping in our tracks right then to listen to Him speak over us, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (1 Cor. 12:8).
The power of the “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. [Who] is before all things and in [Whom] all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15, 17) gives us His power in our weakness so His glory is shown.
That’s the next step of faith: showing up, with this belief in hand, giving it our best, and surrendering to Him the results.
Easier said than done, I know. So let’s breath Him in deep and encourage each other — His power is perfected in our weaknesses and He is more than enough.