Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For by These Trials...(#29 - 35)

I see empty spaces.

You know the little boy in The Sixth Sense who saw dead people?  Well, I see empty spaces.  That vacant corner over there where the garbage can is supposed to be.  I see that.  The blank wall beckoning for art, photography, sculpture, anything (!) to fill up the empty canvas.  I see that too.

I see empty spaces all to easily.  I can spend hours imagining just the right furniture arrangement for this room, dreaming up the perfect drapes for the dining room, or even visualizing a future day when my husband's closet is beautifully organized.  But lately I have struggled to to close my eyes to the empty places and open my mind to the fullness of God's Word. I just cant seem to sit down to concentrate on anything but the empty places.

So I opened the Valley of Vision instead.  This amazing little "collection of puritan prayers and devotions" astounds me.  In a prayer titled, "Contentment," Arthur Bennett describes trials (like my own) this way:

"It is Thy (God's) mercy to afflict and try me with wants,
for by these trials I see my sins,
and desire severance from them."

Mercy?  It is merciful to try me with wants? It is merciful to conflict my soul over time spent home-decorating vs. time spent studying the Bible?  What mercy systematically discloses my day dreaming as carefully disguised sin?  I've worked long and hard to hide my skeletons in a pretty white-washed tomb, and You're telling me it's MERCY to dig up the bones?

He continued.

"Let me willingly accept misery, sorrows, temptations,
if I can thereby feel sin as the greatest evil,
and be delivered from it with gratitude to Thee,
acknowledging this as the highest testimony of Thy love. "

Acknowledging this as the highest testimony of God's love.  Just this. That misery, sorrows, and temptations are all gifts disguised as trials.  If they can cause me to feel my sin as the greatest evil and drive me to beg for deliverance - this is a gift.  Sin is what turns His Providence into my pain.  Sin is what separates me from Christ.  Sin is what keeps me from desiring deliverance from sin.  If trials offer a way out of all these pits, then aren't trials really a gift from God?  Misery, sorrows, and temptations are the highest testimony of His love.  They offer restored relationship.

He persisted.

"Teach me to believe that if ever I would have any sin subdued
I must not only labor to overcome it,
but must invite Christ to abide in the place of it."

The landscape of my heart felt like an exhumed graveyard.  I've spend years identifying the sins of my heart, digging them up and leaving the pits behind.  But the Christian life is not supposed to be like an exhumed graveyard - riddled with deep traps and headstones proclaiming the sins that used to fill me.  Where was the firm foundation? Where were the strongholds of Truth?  Where were the fruits of the Spirit sustaining me on this journey?

And then I realized.  I never invited Christ to fill the holes.  I never invited Him to abide in the empty places where sin used to rest.  I just lived among this mine field of empty pits and tripped over headstones reminding me of sins that used to be.  Of sins that threaten to return to their old places in the ground.

Is this my trial?  Not my conflict over spending too much time considering the empty places in my house.  But rather, the conflict of not addressing the empty places of my heart.  Is figuring out how to let Christ abide in the place of sin my gift of mercy driving me to restored relationship?  Was it sin that convinced me to leave the empty places empty?

As if these questions were not enough to chew on for one morning, seven more (good and perfect?) trials arrived on my front doorstep.  For by these trials I see my sin...and by God's great mercy, desire severance from them.  Come, Christ.  Come.  Fill my empty places.  Restore me unto You.

1. Cut the palm of my hand (deep!) on that sly little razor edge along the aluminum foil box
2. Watched oldest son "help" youngest son pour out almost every drop of sticky White Grape Juice over the edge of cup, onto counter, and spread to chair seats, kitchen floor and under edge of Pottery-Barn rug.
3. Discovered a week's collection of cereal crumbs under the chairs, now mixed up with sticky White Grape Juice
4. Lost the battle to control my tongue (insert yelling, complaining, ridicule and demeaning chatter)
5. Watched youngest son smack back of his head on counter while sliding down chair to "help" Mommy
6. Shrank under the weight of conviction, repentance, embarrassment, frustration
7. Listened to oldest daughter "console" Mommy after all was said and done with, "That's all right, Mom.  You were worse the other day in the car."

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When Counting Comes Naturally Again (#22 - 28)

The opportunity to count my blessings (Ann VosKamp-style) never disappeared, just my desire to do so.  I asked for it really.  Literally.  I asked for a hiatus, a time off, a hushing of the still small voice so I could just whirl and twirl and attempt to settle from this windstorm called a move across the Pacific Ocean.  I didn't want any deep spiritual insights.    I didn't want to be given anything I couldn't rightly handle. I didn't have time to ponder, much less write.  So I asked God for a spiritual sabbatical.  He granted it.  For almost an entire year all was quiet...until yesterday.

I needed "me time."  My red hot iPod and pink ear buds seemed like the perfect escape.  I spun  my thumb around the little silver disk, highlighted my favorite tune, and pressed that cute sideways triangle... 

 "In this brawl between the empires
of our good Lord and the liar, will you stand?
Please stand with me."

Wait.  This isn't the song I chose...

"'Cause right now my faith can take it
 But when they come to take it
Will you pray?
Please pray with me."

"And we'll stand
And pray 'till the dark gives way
And we'll sing, sing, sing, sing, sing."

Just how does God do this?  In the spin of a dial, and a press of a triangle button, He takes my selfish pursuits to hide away from "real life" through iPods and ear buds and sings a love song to my soul?

This wasn't the song at the top of my list. This wasn't the song I chose with that silver disk, but it was His choice for me. Some how, some way, He orchestrated this song to shatter the long-held spiritual silence.

"And if doubt and fear conspire
To steal away your fire and leave you cold
I'll stand with you."

He knew.  Despite the long silence, He still knew I doubted myself.  He knew I feared the future.  He knew I felt alone.  And He wanted me to know that He knew.

"And we'll stand and pray
'Till the dark gives way
And we will sing, sing, sing, sing sing."

While I ran, He pursued.  I hid and He sought.  Through the beautiful lyrics of singer/songwriter Shawn Groves, He beckoned me to stand once more and pray...till this I'm-in-a-new-home-and-nothing-is-familiar dark gives way.  And He will sing with me.  Sing. Sing. Sing. Sing!

Counting comes naturally again. And the dark gives way to thanks for these seven, good and perfect words:

1. He
2. will
3. rejoice
4. over
5. you (over me!!)
6. with
7. singing! (Zephaniah 3:17)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Counting from #15 - #21

Sow a thought and you reap an act
Sow an act and you reap a habit
Sow a habit and you reap a character
Sow a character and you reap a destiny
- Charles Reade

A thought spilled out of my ever-wandering mind the other day:   Ideas are gifts.  The very thoughts of my head are gifts!  Especially if I act upon the thought.  And act again.  And again. And again.  A new thought produces a new act.  And a new act produces a new habit.  Over time, this little gift of an idea produces character.

So today I share seven good and perfect ideas (i.e. gifts) from Judi Rossi's book Enhancing Your Marriage.  The fifth chapter focuses on Covenant Love - love as an extension of the Cross.  Love as an extension of Christ's covenant love for us.  Love as an extension of Christ's love in us.  May these ideas root in the soil of our hearts, reap an act, grow a habit, shape a character, destine our marriages, for...

1. "As Christian marrieds, we have a high calling - forgive, reconcile, restore - the very message of the cross.
2. "If my life is based on proclaiming God's message to the world [and to my husband], I don't want to do anything that would challenge that message."
3. "Following God requires our commitment to build a marriage God's way.  H way takes time, wisdom, patience, courage, and perseverance, all of which God possesses.  And by His grace, so do we."
4. "What you believe about love right now - true or false - is presently doing three things.  1. affecting your marriage;  2.  shaping your behavior and responses to your mate; 3. helping determine your future happiness and emotional well-being.  What you believe is that important.  How much better to believe the truth!"
5. "God has chosen to love us, not with an irrational emotion but with deliberate kindness, genuine compassion, and righteous concern for our well-being.  Therefore, He doesn't love us because of who we are, but because of who His is."
6.  Moses permitted divorce because the hearts of men were hard toward their wives.  Thank you, God, that Jeff's heart towards me is tender and mercy-full.
7. In covenant love we don't love our husbands because of who they are but because of whose we are.  We are God's. And God's love is in us.  Love as an extension of Christ's love in us.  Love as an extenion of Christ's love for us.  Love as an extension of the cross.
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