31 December 2011

For the Love of Books: 2011 Reads

Books I read in 2011...

Sink Reflections
Marla Cilley, 2002

Knowing God by Name: A Personal Encounter
Mary A. Kassian, 2008
   This simple study (I've used it as an opening devotional) is so great, I've just finished my second trip through the content. It's a great way to get to know the names of God, as well as more deeply process what that means for me as I try to know better the God whom I serve daily.
    If you're trying to purchase a copy, go through Lifeway (either a store or online), as it's only $11.95 for a new copy. People on the Amazon marketplace have some strange conception that a book still available is worth $90 on the second-hand market.

The Swan Thieves
Elizabeth Kostova, 2010
   Kostova's first novel, The Historian, was incredibly executed in its combination of history with its suspenseful plot. I'm working my way through her follow-up, which has been reviewed as very similar in style (and is, in my brief time with the book thus far).
   The way in which Kostova weaves several seemingly separate stories together is magnificent. Remembering the outcome of her first book, I find myself examining each piece of narrative for clues as to what is really happening as Dr. Marlow (psychiatrist) seeks to uncover the root of his patient's madness (the near-mute artist, Robert Oliver), as Kostova traverses the landscape of artists and styles that marked 19th century French culture.

When God Writes Your Love Story
Eric and Leslie Ludy, 2009 (Expanded Edition) 

The Princess and the Goblin
George MacDonald, 1872

The Fitting Room: Putting on the Character of Christ
Kelly Minter, 2011

No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols
Kelly Minter, 2008

Water into Wine: Hope for the Miraculous in the Struggle of the Mundane
Kelly Minter, 2004

Chronicles of Avonlea
L.M. Montgomery, 1912

Emily of New Moon
L.M. Montgomery, 1923  

Further Chronicles of Avonlea
L.M. Montgomery, 1920
The Story Girl
L.M. Montgomery, 1911

Spectacular Sins
John Piper, 2008
    Chris and I read this on car trips, one chapter at a time - because it generates some really great, purposive discussions. It's an interesting (and short, which is unusual for Piper) examination of how the great sins of people in the Bible were meant to display the greater glory of God. It may be short, but it's deep. Super-deep.

Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy, 1877
   Since Christopher has been listening to this in the car, I picked up a copy for myself to read (since I both cannot process by listening and I'm not with him most of the time that he's listening). Best $9 I've spent in a long time.
   The book is long (750+ pages in the Barnes&Noble Classics version), but it is easy to get swept up in the picture of Russia that Tolstoy created - and even easier to be entranced by the implications of cultural change and the march of progress. One of the best narratives (whether intentional or not) of the idea that "desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:15). Incredible. 

One Thousand Gifts
Ann Voskamp, 2010
   My beautiful sister-in-law, Elise, sent me this book. I assume that means she has read it and suspected it would speak to my soul! I'm not very far in, but it is already the cause of some stirrings in my heart - a heart that has been somewhat dormant, bitter, and felt forgotten for some time.
    I'm still adjusting to Voskamp's unique style (very similar to Madeleine L'Engle's Crosswicks journals, which are some of my favorite books - but still a very unique style that isn't found in much, so it takes readjustment). I'm also trying to get myself to look past the fact that the text is left aligned and not justified... but that's because I'm a huge dork.

30 October 2011

God is not a cashier at a fast food restaurant... (Though I have been waiting here for a while and I'm still waiting for my order)

The other night, Chris went to his high school's homecoming football game and I stayed home to recuperate a bit from some difficult things that I had taken in over the course of the day/week/month/year (it's been a little rough recently).

Thinking that taking some time to think included not making my own dinner, I ventured the mile up the street to a fast food restaurant, went inside, and placed my order at the counter.

Now, there were definitely other customers, but it's not like the place was swarmed. After placing my order, I filled up my drink cup at the beverage station and settled in to wait for my food.

About 5 minutes went by, which was fine (I'm willing to wait a bit if need be), and I noticed that one or two of the customers who had placed orders before mine were still waiting.

Another 5 minutes went by, so I went and re-filled my drink cup (because I'd been drinking my fizzy beverage since I started waiting). Still no food.

By now, though, I'm starting to realize that customers who ordered after me have gotten their food and moved out of the ordering/receiving area. But I still wait, thinking that maybe there was just an issue with that particular food and maybe they ran out of chicken temporarily or whatever.

And then another 5 minutes went by (we're up to 15 minutes now) and I realized that all but the two or three most recent customers had all received their food orders. Then the kid next to me (maybe he was in college) asked me how long I'd been waiting.

When other customers begin to notice that you've been there a while, there's a good chance that something went awry, so I went to the counter and politely told the cashier that I'd been waiting 15 minutes for my order and had yet to see or receive it.

Upon hearing this, she promptly went and grabbed my food order from the kitchen and handed it to me in a paper bag, and I returned home and ate it.

And as I ate my now not-so-satisfying bag filled with lard, I realized that what I had experienced in the fast food restaurant was a pretty acute metaphor for my life as of late - starting with the fact that I felt forgotten.

It struck me because I had been trying to explain to both Christopher and one of my friends earlier in the week (and in the day) how I felt, and I came up with a word (abandoned) that I knew didn't quite convey my feelings accurately, but for which I didn't possess a better alternative.

It's a weird concept, especially when you throw in the words "feel" and "by God." Because, let's face it - God's plans are not up for grabs at a fast food counter. You don't just go up and place your order, wait the prescribed amount of time for your next life season to fry in a tub of oil, and then take it home with you. It doesn't work like that. God doesn't work like that.

Nonetheless, I'm trying to root out this mentality when it comes to my expectations of God and His interest in and interaction with my life.

I feel like I placed my order 15 minutes ago, and I've seen people get theirs ahead of me and understood that they got here first and waited their allotments of time, but now people who arrived after me are getting theirs, too - punk kids, the geriatric crowd getting their milkshakes (I actually happen to love that older people go to get milkshakes together - I totally want to be like that, but that's not at all my point here), and others who are pretty similar to myself.

But the thing is, I'm still waiting. Sipping my fizzy beverage from my drink cup.

And, you know, I've started to get a little impatient. I'm eager to get my hands on that nice hot slice of deep-fried life. It just never comes.

And then I go ask again.

Of course, this is where the analogy breaks down, because God is not the cashier at a fast food restaurant, where the customer is always right and helpings are served up almost instantaneously if only you let them know that something didn't happen quite as it should have.

God is always right. Huge difference.

The thing that I'm really trying to work into my head, though, is that in the waiting for this big portion of life, I too easily skip over the blessing of the fizzy beverage sitting in my hand. It's easy to complain when it's there for too long and your hand starts to be incredibly cold, and you forget that you've already received part of your order - even if it's not the piece that you think you need.

I too easily forget the many blessings that God has given to Christopher and me over the past year. It has not been easy, and the fight to keep my life out of the prison of depression has been incredibly difficult in ways it has never been, and the fight against my flesh more intense and more acknowledged. I've been wearied by our circumstances. I miss people who have passed into the glorious presence of our God and who have moved out-of-state. I'm even back at work hoping to pay off some things that accumulated in the wake of Christopher's accident and buying a house (and those pesky student loan repayments that start up in February or whenever).

But God has greatly blessed us and been faithful. We might still be waiting for our order, but He's given us drink cups to fill and be refreshed in while we wait:
  • Christopher's surgery and rehabilitation went well, with no permanent nerve damage, and he's already back to doing most of the things he loves best
  • We are happily settled into our home, which was impossible from the start, but for which God cleared every hurdle and answered every prayer for help with finances and remodeling after Christopher's injury, and in allowing it to be a place where we can welcome others
  • I finished my coursework for my grad program (though that thesis is still pending)
  • Our summer with Mpact was incredible, and included a great conference, encouraging meetings with the youth, and a study of Galatians that was challenging
  • Christopher's job and coaching have continued, despite budget cuts statewide to educators
  • We have gotten to spend quite a bit of time with both of our families
  • When life finally settled down in September and I realized I was bored for the first time in months, I set out to find a job - and had three offers within a week
My spiritual drink cup is overflowing with gloriously sweet and fizzy beverage. I'm just struggling to see it for what it is because it's really cold and kind of sticky on my fingers, and it's not exactly what I wanted most out of the order I placed. I know I'm still waiting for what I ordered, and it might feel like things got lost back there behind the counter, but I'm trying to trust that it isn't the case. The God I know and love doesn't forget people - sins, of course, because Scripture tells us that, but not people.

And so, when you see me sitting around still waiting for my order, could you encourage me to just enjoy the unlimited refills on my fizzy beverage?

Because it's one thing to feel forgotten by God and another entirely to believe it.

Reading: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Listening to:
Odd Soul, Mutemath; Vice Verses, Switchfoot

21 July 2011

A Night Owl's Growing Convictions on the Importance of Daylight

"I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." (John 12:46)

I woke up at 2:38 this morning with an incredible headache. And I'm not sure why, but a headache is one of the few things that actually will get me out of bed in the morning and keep me there. Perhaps that is why God allows me headaches in the night. Perhaps not.

Regardless, I took something and went back to bed, and slept for approximately three more hours. Considering that I only slept for a total of about five hours (and most of that was intermittent), it's quite an amazing thing that I'm not still in bed at the moment. I don't often function on five hours of sleep.

After letting the dogs out and putting the kettle on to boil water, I settled in with my Bible and the study I'm using as an opening devotional (since I completed it a few years ago and want to review some of the incredible truths that lie within - "Knowing God by Name" by Mary Kassian). I read my day's worth from the One Year (I'm in Leviticus and Mark, I think). Leviticus normally excites me, which I'm well aware of as being strange, but it just wasn't hitting me in the heart this morning as I emerged from my headache-induced fog.

As I sat there, I pondered over something that I prayed while Chris and I walked through our neighborhood the other night - that I hadn't thanked God for the season that He has just walked us through - and the following verse popped into my head (thank you, nearly 10 years of summer Bible camp):

"In everything, give thanks."

Which of course led me to the question, "Where the heck is that passage?" and "What around it might give me a better understanding of what that means?"

Amazingly, I still remember that reference pretty well (not a normal occurrence - the references are always the difficult part for me). I flipped open to 1 Thessalonians 5 and spent the next few hours steeped in the wonderment of trying to figure out verses 4-24, and what they mean to me.
But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
There are more than a few things that I took away from this passage as convictions for my own life, but I'll only highlight a few (to avoid an even longer post, but perhaps I'll share more at another time).

The first is simply this: I need to belong to the daylight.

I have long been a 'night owl' and have attempted to justify my life in that respect. It is easy for me to stay up all night as long as I make it past midnight, but I rarely do anything that is worth doing so late. Now don't get me wrong - I understand fully that the meaning implied here is more metaphorical than literal - but I think (at least in my case) there's an actual reason for the metaphor that can be applied to the way I think about life.

It hit me this morning that there is a stillness in the early morning, just as there is in the middle of the night - but it is more glorious. The stillness of the night is magnified because I can see clearly what lies around me, and I am less apt to dwell upon myself and more apt to see myself in the light of who God is and what He has made me to be.

Additionally, I came to the realization that people live in the daylight. If my aim in life is to cultivate relationship with those around me in the hope that we each might each be justified and sanctified by the blood spent on the cross on our behalf, I can't expect that to happen when most people aren't awake or available! It is difficult to "admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, [or] be patient with them all," if I am not part of the daylight when opportunities to do so are most likely to present themselves.

How easily I have catered to my flesh, attempting to rationalize my need to sleep for (up to) half of the day because I didn't get to bed until late after having done little (if nothing) of sufficient worth for which to remain awake!

Part of why I think I struggle to "hold fast to what is good [and] abstain from every form of evil," is that I cannot see through the darkness. This can be metaphorical for me, as I have periodically battled with depression, but I think it can still be literal, as well.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)
The society in which we live glorifies the darkness. When reading the verse quoted in the last paragraph, I found myself wanting to know where the loopholes were for "every form of evil." It is easy to think that my life must contain evil things because the culture in which we live is evil. But we deceive ourselves if we think we cannot abstain.

Darkness is striving into the daylight, and what was once hidden in shame is now socially acceptable to be seen and known. Let us not be deceived, for God will not be mocked - we will reap the destruction of sowing to our flesh (Galatians 6: 7-8).

The beauty of it all is this:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
In truth, the darkness cannot overcome it. What a marvelous thing! The glory of the risen Christ will always drown out the darkness. He is greater.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9) 

12 July 2011

Peaches & Recipes!

In honor of all the lifestyle and food blogs I've been gravitating toward lately, I digress from my usual program to bring you this:

I love Colorado peaches. Having spent many of my summers growing up on the Western slope as the crops came in, I'm all sorts of supportive for peaches and sweet corn.

So I purchased some peaches when I last went to the store, and we've been enjoying them. Sometimes right out of the fridge (cold and refreshing) and sometimes like this:

And sometimes like this:

We love peach crisp. Tasty stuff, especially fresh from the oven with a bit of (or a lot of) vanilla ice cream...

Seriously, though, we're enjoying our new kitchen and have been trying to eat at home more. A few examples include carnitas in the crock pot (left) and honey chicken (right). Both are modifications off of recipes - the carnitas comes from a slow cooker book recipe for shredded beef, but I use pork and whatever peppers/chilies I can find, and the honey chicken is a Rachael Ray recipe, but with a lime-for-lemon juice substitution and some bell peppers for added flavor (and we don't make the rice the way she does - just white for us, please).

If you're interested, you can find the Rachael Ray recipe here:

The Reynolds' Carnitas
(based on "Shredded Beef for Tacos" from Fix It and Forget It, p. 126)

4-5 lb pork roast, scored deeply on top (if smaller, just decrease veggies)
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1 cup water

Mix & match chilies based on desired heat level:
(Last time for us - mild chilies and four jalapenos, as we couldn't find serranos)
2 serrano chilies, chopped
1 can (small - 4 oz, I think) mild chilies
2 seeded green jalapenos
2 seeded red jalapenos

Grease slow cooker (I prefer an olive oil spray, as it's easy) and add meat (scored side up), onions, chilies, garlic, salt, and water. I prefer to put all of the veggies together before adding them in, but it shouldn't make a difference in the outcome. I just make sure that they fall into the scoring, so the flavor seeps in through the middle of the meat as well as the outside.

Cover. Cook on High 6-8 hours. You can also cook on High for 4 hrs and then turn it to Low for 4 hrs - totally up to you.

Shred meat with forks. Put into tortillas with sour cream, cheese, rice, beans, lettuce, salsa - whatever your heart desires really. Leftovers are great for quesadillas, tacos, and a variety of other tasty foods.

25 June 2011

I think it's safe to say...

...that Abby likes our new home. In fact, we all do.

23 June 2011

Four Years and It is Lovelier (Still)

Four years ago, I slept in my bed at my parents' house for the last time. The 24 hours that followed bound me to my best friend in ways that I cannot even begin to comprehend - even now.

There is an incredible mystery to being one flesh. The idea that a man and a woman can join and image forth Christ in a new way is something so much beyond us that we could easily take our whole lives together in attempting to figure out just how He made this to work.

In the days that preceded my becoming a wife, I took time to reflect on some of the many reasons why I loved Christopher and the excitement I felt at finally becoming his bride. I put together a book for Christopher that was likely more piecemeal than story, but it was an incredible time to prepare my heart.

I picked up the book tonight on my way out of our bedroom when I couldn't sleep (I always have trouble sleeping the night before special things, perhaps because I'm prone to over-thinking and reflection in the wee hours). It was incredible to leaf through just a few of the pages, thinking about where we've been, where God has us, and the many places He has yet to carry us.

I am so incredibly blessed to have a husband who loves me and is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom, to call me out when I'm out of line and need correction, to stand by me day after day and yet not set me above the God who made him and saved him.

Before we were married, we attended a conference and heard one of our pastors talk about how he and his wife desired their lives to look like two people fighting back-to-back for the sake of the Gospel. Even though they may not have been 'looking' at one another, they were still fighting together.

Something about that idea caught fire in the both of us, and we have tried (and failed and tried again) to keep that idea at the center of our marriage. It has not truly ever been easy.

Our four years of marriage have been marked by a lot of ministry and the strained relationships that come with that commitment. We have had some intense family struggles that we have no desire to relive or revisit. We have learned that forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. God has pulled me through two seasons of depression. Chris has struggled with work, returning to school for his teacher's license and seeking his place in the classroom that God has only granted him in the past year.

But the root is that life is "lovelier still" when Christ is at the center, and marriage is no different. We have not had an easy lot, but we are anchored to something more than a desire for each other. As we said in our vows:
For better or worse, richer or poorer;
In sickness and in health;
In the pursuit of Christ and His glory;
Until death do us part.
Our aim is to pursue Christ and His glory until death parts us. Not because of anything that we bring to the table - by no means! It is only by the grace and the goodness of the God who saves us that we can make it through each day.

But because of His grace and goodness, we fight onward. Together.

It is Lovelier Still
©2005, Alyssa Kate Grinstead

How beautiful to wake in the morning
And see your beloved’s head next to yours
How beautiful to see sleep in the evening –
To find rest near the one you adore.

Yet lovelier still is to walk hand-in-hand,
Bound in Christ through this foreign land –
Knowing love and life in His sacrifice,
It is lovelier still.

How beautiful to provide for the one you love
And know that they will never have need
How beautiful to see past every fault and flaw –
To know there are more important things.

Yet lovelier still is to provide daily bread,
To feed until your souls are fed –
To find living water when your souls are dry,
It is lovelier still.

It is lovelier still with Christ at the center.
It is lovelier still when faithful and true.
It is lovelier still to step out side-by-side –
The world’s grace in the marriage of two.

Yet lovelier still is to not walk alone,
To look forward to your heavenly home –
To love each other as Christ loved His bride,
It is lovelier still.

30 May 2011

Growing Pains

Does anyone else still struggle to figure out what life is supposed to look like?

I personally have no clue. Factor in the fact that, somehow, in some way, Christ is meant to be at the center of it all, and I find myself floundering even when it comes down to deciding what to do with my life. Should I be an organizational communication consultant? A musician? A mother and homemaker? A professional gift wrapper (still holding out for this one to be remotely possible)? A writer? An artist? A seamstress? All of the above (laugh all you want, but I do try to make it all work in my head sometimes)?

By now, I do know that I can't have it all. On my best days, two of the above seem improbable, if not impossible. Perhaps I have too many interests or perhaps I think I do just so that I can avoid making a decision as to what to do with my time and energy and talents. Perhaps I'm just scared that what I have to offer the world isn't good enough. Really scared.

But there's the crux of the whole issue right there, isn't it? I'm not good enough.

I've spent a lifetime trying to skirt by on my own virtues and successes, in spite of the fact that it is God's supreme sovereignty and grace that has gifted me with everything that I have and am.

Currently, I'm finding my way through Water into Wine: Hope for the Miraculous in the Struggle of the Mundane by Kelly Minter. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors, for many reasons, but this particular book concerns the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana (from John 2).

One of the most indelible things she has hit thus far has been the perspective of the servants. Her point is that they likely served guests and their masters day after day, year after year, with little variation in the routine - until Jesus showed up and asked them to draw water, which they drew and, somehow in the transfer, it became the best of wines.

But I love what Minter has to say:
What is it all for? Another day of work, another day of showing up, another concert, another wedding, another stone jar of water, another order from yet another person: "Fill the jars with water... Take them to the master of the banquet." The servants had probably been doing this for years. Feast after feast, they served people who were wealthier and higher in status. It was the same rote activity with no shadow of turning.

"Would you care for another hors d'oeuvre?"
"May I recommend the salmon puffs?"
"May I take your plate?"
"Can I get you a refill?"

Day after day. Water in... water out. Routine. Predictable. Monotonous. Mundane. Regimented.
What in the world is it all for?

I don't think I'm stretching things by suggesting that this may have been the servants' dilemma, because it seems to me that this is everyone's dilemma: We all go 'round and 'round, attempting to make life work just so we can get up the next day to make it work again. Whether we act on Broadway or deliver newspapers for a living, life doesn't seem to make much sense or have much value without the conviction that God is divinely involved, able and eager to reach down at any moment and turn the everyday stuff of life into something divine, something that counts for eternity, something that is beyond ourselves.
Beyond myself. I so rarely think in those terms. It's either "I can do this" or "I can't." There doesn't seem to be a fuzzy gray area in between where I discover that "I can't, but God can." I'm not bringing Him my water jars "filled to the brim" and expecting Him to do something bewilderingly amazing with them - such as turning them into wine.

I find every excuse not to fill my water jars. At all. I complain about the water being the wrong temperature, requiring a filter, or splashing all over what I'm wearing - I don't simply obey in offering all that I am and all that God made me to be (which is the same thing, really) for Him to use.

Not every day will be extraordinary. The servants at Cana likely waited a really long time before that one incredible day that Jesus was there. But I need to expect that God both can and will provide in miraculous ways for my life here and there. I need to expect that He can and will divinely speak into my life about what it should look like, where I should work, how I should serve those that I love (and some that I struggle to), and when to simply rest.

So this is what being grown-up feels like, huh? Still working to fork over to God the things that are already rightfully His... and praying that I might occasionally, by His grace, be able to do so.

Excerpt from Water into Wine: Hope for the Miraculous in the Struggle of the Mundane by Kelly Minter. Minter also wrote No Other Gods: Confronting our Modern Day Idols, which I read earlier this year and which was an instrument God used to reveal idolatry that had/has made a home in my own heart; and The Fitting Room: Putting on the Character of Christ, which just came out in April and which I will be starting as soon as I finish Water into Wine.

Like I said, one of my newest favorite authors. See kellyminter.com for more.

30 April 2011

Take This (Simple)

In 2006, I wrote a song and recorded it in the span of about 24 hours - it was my first experience with such a fast-paced process. Over the years, I've gone back to it time and again, grateful for the heart with which it was composed and a little bashful over the production value.

Tonight, the themes of the song still resonate deeply with me. Perhaps it is just that God has led me back into a similar season or that I still have not grown out of my abiding desire to hold perfection and control within my own grasp.

I wish this were simple -
This falling down and getting up again.
It would be easier if I wasn't so frustrated by bruised shins.

I get so frustrated. Not many people see that side of me. It's not that I get frustrated with life all that often (although that hasn't necessarily been the case in the last few months - an anomaly, I assure you), I get frustrated with how I react to life. My depressive, defeatist side comes easily out of the woodwork when things are brewing around me. Things like bruised shins hurt, but they heal if given the time. Unfortunately, I don't like how allowing time for such things to heal creates delays in "the plan."

But every fall is dangerous,
I've made an idol of control and, in doing so, lost it all.

It amazes me how the bruises of life and our desire to keep ourselves from them at any cost results in a continued effort to fix things on our own. Each trip and injury I sustain is dangerous because my pride makes me think I can fix anything that comes my way. And when I can't, I'm miserable, frustrated, and I've lost the most important hope that I have - that of Christ reigning over me.

Supposedly, it's simple - 
This getting up and falling down again.
It would be easier if I weren't so daunted by the distance.

Have you noticed that almost everything we desire seems to be so far off? When I originally penned the lyrics for this song, Chris and I were dating and eagerly waiting to be engaged - at which point we would still be waiting, then just eagerly waiting to be married. 

Waiting! I feel like so much of my life is filled with just longing and waiting to be somewhere else, someone else, and doing something else. 

I find it difficult to trust God for the things that I've always considered "far off." Music is a great example. There have been seasons where God has opened my heart and my time to pour into creating music that I'm still proud of and desire to share with others, but those times have been few and far between. Granted, He has had many things for me in the "rests," the musical pauses between measures, but I've always been daunted by the scale of what I've desired to do with music. It's terrifying in so many ways to me, especially now that I am married and looking to a future in the workforce and eventually (hopefully) having a family - how does music begin to fit into that framework?

But every rise is dangerous - 
I've made a mess of success, taking glory that is not mine.

And, yet, I wonder - am I still not in a position where I can fully give God back the glory that I so easily stole from Him in high school and in college and, heck, recently in thinking that I could do all of this myself? I so easily steal His glory and fail to realize that I have none whatsoever on my own.

How foolish our rises in pride are! How dangerous! I do not understand what I do - Lord God, have mercy on my soul!

I get into the perfect place for Satan to make me utterly useless - that place where I fear doing anything for fear of rising or falling too far from where God desires me to be. That place where I fail to surrender anything at all at the feet of the only One who can fashion all I bring into things of use for the kingdom. So much more often than it is, my prayer needs to (honestly and earnestly) be:

Take this away from me - 
Take this fear of failing, this urge to hold all that's holding me;
Take this need for normalcy, these attempts to grab and keep.
Take this like of being liked, this view that I am holding everything;
Take this mind that believes perfection is right within its reach.

Take this from me.

Are you ever at peace within yourself? I think there have been times that I was, but they (as so many other things) are few and far between. I never know the meaning of "enough" - even if the sufficiency comes from Christ - and that is a problem. I am:

Never satisfied -
Always not quite right;
Never pleased with stumbles;
Afraid of every fumble.

But You're right here and You never steer me wrong.
It is to You that I belong.

I cannot even begin to understand the root concept that I belong to Christ and only Christ. It certainly is not reflected in my daily life as I waddle around in the mire I've created trying to serve too many masters. I too easily forget I can cling to the wonderful and mysterious beauty of the Word made flesh and made an atonement for my every sin. 

That is the Hope of Easter. It is what my soul desperately needs every moment.

[["Take This (Simple)," ©2006 Alyssa Kate Grinstead; All rights reserved.]]

28 April 2011

Burdens & Chaos

If you have been keeping up with our renovation blog (http://mercuryreno.blogspot.com), you will know that our lives have been slightly chaotic for a long time. As the school year comes to end, we find ourselves in an accumulated pile of burdens and chaos that seems to have snowballed over the last few months.

Perhaps the biggest thing is simply that this spring was not anything like Chris or I ever thought it would be. I planned to work toward finishing my thesis. Chris planned to take a long-term sub position and continue to hope for a full time job next year.

We had no intentions of buying/renovating a house.

We had no thoughts of Chris hurting himself in the midst of that process.

We had no concept of what it would look like to have Chris try to work both his own job and the long-term sub job while recovering (twice) from knee things (the initial injury and then surgery eight weeks later).

We had no idea that it would be so hard for me to finish a semester where I haven't made any progress on my thesis whatsoever, can barely keep up with the one seminar I'm taking and the one lab section I'm responsible for.

And yet, as much as I tend toward disappointment and frustration in all of our stalled and delayed and unfulfilled plans for the last few months, I find that I am still attempting to carry this burden all by myself. Didn't Jesus say:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. [[Matthew 10:29-31]]
I fail to see worth in myself unless I am fulfilling my self-ordained plans. It is simple to feel the failure when I have not really accomplished what I set out to do with the last few months. It has been a struggle even to see small projects (like the blanket below) get finished when their original purpose is no longer existent or has no use at the current time.

I've struggled with idols in my heart and misconceptions about God and who He is and how He views me like I have never before in the twelve years I've walked with Christ. There have been so many times where I have looked at my life these past few months and wondered if there was any blessing in it.

Don't get me wrong - I know that there is blessing in it and blessing written all over every inch, even if I still don't see all of it. But there are things that I have held so tightly to that they have accumulated upon my back and weighed me down. My relationship with God has been strained as I have struggled to understand what "blessing" and "common grace" and "love" all mean.

And yet, there is one thing that is always the last thing to come to mind - when I need it most of all:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. [[Matthew 11:28-30]]
 I need rest for my soul. Pray that I find it in the only place it can be found.

25 March 2011

Latest Project: The Mercury Renovation

So... Chris and I just closed on our first home. The thing is, it needs a lot of everything - cleaning, painting, new this, new that... all sorts of things!

While we're fixing the place up, I've started a blog to keep track of our progress. Check out daily updates at http://mercuryreno.blogspot.com!

03 March 2011

How He loves us...

Life since November has been a whirlwind of emotions and personal detours that has left me in a state of spiritual disarray. For a while, I found myself at the foot of the cross daily, glorying in the simple fact that my Father loved me.

Not only does He love me, but He loved me enough to send His most valued thing - His Son - to die on my behalf. That is no ordinary love.

“How He Loves” has become one of my favorite songs, and as I prayed tonight, struggling to grasp hold of some flotation device as I sank into my own misery, the words flowed into my mind and their meaning fought to take root in my heart.

He is jealous for me /

I am finding more and more that I have mistaken common grace for the immense and incredible love of the Father. It is certain that He bestows gifts of grace to all mankind - men and women see with eyes, eat tasty foods, experience success, and hold newborns regardless of faith in God. Christopher was quick to remind me the other night that God grants common grace to reveal aspects of Himself to the world and to draw men unto Him.

But He is jealous for me. That is no ordinary love. The love of the Father is a love that protects, never fades, and that fights for me when the covenant that I cannot keep on my own is threatened. My Savior will fight for my heart when other things threaten to take it from Him.

And, perhaps if I am fully honest with myself, He has had good reason to fight for my heart recently. There are too many distractions, no matter how hard I try to ward them off - only one taking root in my heart is too many.

Loves like a hurricane //
I am a tree / Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy //

‘Hurricane’ is an appropriate word. Life seems to be throwing all sorts of things at us from every angle and we can’t seem to make our way to the eye, where peace reigns in the middle of the storm. And we are certainly bending beneath every bit of its weight.

And, yet, I can almost see the love of God in each wind, if I let myself. God’s love abounds in Christopher’s skiing mishap, as He continues to show Himself faithful with the slow restoration of movement to Christopher’s foot and the fact that it could have been much, much worse. God’s love resides in our housing situation, waiting to close on a house that seemed impossible from the beginning and has been one victorious and humbling hurdle after the next. God’s love is evident in the girls’ retreat last weekend and the prayers that were answered for unity and love among them. God’s love brings mercy in the form of my little brother - who was fully available and gave up a few of his days to come help me get home things straightened out on a short deadline. God’s love is with others, as His protection and desire for His glory to be made great are revealed in circumstances beyond anyone’s control.

And God’s love is perfect, seeking to refine me to make me more like His Son.

When all of a sudden, I am unaware / Of these afflictions eclipsed by Glory /

Oh, how I wish I could understand what He is doing! I am so vastly unaware of the workings behind the scenes, of how these afflictions are to be eclipsed by glory because of the victory of the cross!

And I realize just how beautiful You are
and how great Your affections are for me //

It is too easy to look at the presence of common grace and pitch a fit over not being granted one or two pieces of it. Why do I care so much when I have something so much greater - when the God of the Universe loves me with no ordinary love?

I so desperately need to understand, but not what I think I must - I do not need to understand which pieces of common grace God has for my life, but the very important truth that He loves us. How He loves us so.

[["How He Loves," lyrics by John Mark McMillan]]