Taking Heart

Come And Look! (Worth More Than These)

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Oh! I heard surprised delight in his voice. Quick girls, come look! Jeff called, urgent yet tender. We left what we were doing, scrambled into the kitchen, and followed his gaze through the slatted blinds. I picked up our three-year old so he could see the feathered, fuzzy head of a baby sparrow perched on our windowsill.

It sat there unaware of our family huddled over the sink on the other side of the glass. It must’ve fallen out of its nest, Jeff thought aloud. But when I raised the blinds, it flitted, first to a nearby tree where an adult sparrow sat, then away and beyond our view. It was off to bear witness elsewhere.

~~~

Jesus once taught about sparrows. Not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father, Matthew records him saying. Not one of them is forgotten before God, wrote Luke.

It’s interesting because he could’ve phrased it as a universal blanket statement that would be just as true. “Every sparrow is remembered” or “all sparrows fall only within his knowledge.” Instead, he spoke in the negative. I think it was to make sure we know that with God’s care for those who run to him, there are no exceptions.

It’s as if Jesus knew there are those of us who would read, “God loves the world” and think, of course God’s love is for all people— just not me. Like he knew there would be moments we feel, of course God’s care never ceases in theory — it just kind of has right now. So Jesus says: No, not one sparrow is forgotten by your Heavenly Father. No, not one sparrow falls apart from him, and the good news is that you are of more value than many sparrows.

I don’t know if things have felt noisy to you lately, but they have for me. My thoughts fly disordered between how a grieving friend is doing to the theological problem of suffering to NY Times headlines to what prominent Christians are writing to whether or not my faith will endure.

I love theology and my mind constantly turns over truths, analyzing, weighing, and applying them. But I’m coming to recognize that sometimes we can only hold one or two thoughts in view at once. This is one of those times for me. So I’ve been asking God to cut through the noise and simply remind me of his love for me. And as I pray for the sick, grieving, serving, and isolated, I’ve been asking God to let loved ones know they are loved by him, because truly they are.

JI packer wrote in Knowing God,

“What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands [Isa. 49:16]. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.”

Even as we struggle and grapple to make sense of our competing thoughts, growing and needing to grow in our knowledge of him, what matters most is that he knows us. He knows us and loves us. His care shown in creation, his gift of breath and life, his burden-bearing on the cross. These all testify to God’s unwavering love for us and those we love.

Even the birds beckon, Come and look.

The older saint you love in the nursing home— not forgotten by him.

The prodigal living under your roof— not out of his reach.

Your grieving friend and exhausted health care co-worker— never out of his mind.

Your sick family member— there is not a moment when his care falters.

And you— worth far more than many sparrows.

Motherhood & Family

A Surprise

 

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I heard the door open downstairs and their excited shouts followed. Mom! We have a surprise for you! Mom! Come, look!

She handed them to me, my firstborn, with anticipation. Tiny wildflowers, purple and white, thoughtfully arranged. She and her sister had gathered them bike riding with their dad. Their mini-bouquet fit in the palm of my hand. I thanked them, hugged them, and put the gift aside.

Hours later, when everyone else was asleep, their flowers found me. As I cleared items thrown half-hazardly onto the cubby by the front door, I saw the small bunch of stems and petals so eagerly gifted to me a few hours before. They were slightly dried out, pressed under the weight of papers, clothes, and miscellaneous items. They were beautiful.

I can’t explain what happened except that I had looked at them before, but now I saw them. To be thought of during a trip out. To be unexpectedly considered by my daughters. To have them pause enough in their play to think of what would delight me. The flowers were beautiful and I felt it, the undeserved goodness of such a gift, of the childlike abandon with which my girls loved me, of the lavish kindness of my God.

“God is so, so kind. He didn’t have to say yes, but he did,” said a friend a few months ago about an answer to a long prayed request. His words, and the way he said them, with awe and humility and joy, are still fresh on my mind.

Consider the lilies of the field, Jesus said once. Consider— stop and truly see. He clothes them in his generous creativity. Not because he has to, but because he wants to. How much more does he care for us, even we of little faith?

Beauty speaks an intrusion, I heard a Christian counselor say a few days ago about anxiety.

Come.

Look.

Consider the lilies.

See what I have for you.

God, by your Spirit keep my eyes open.

You didn’t have to give me any of this, but you did. You didn’t have to give me these flowers. My girls. My life. Your Son. But you did.

You don’t have to care about me, but you do. And you are so, so kind.

Taking Heart

Some Questions On Being

IMG_4511.jpgI prepped to teach on Titus last Sunday. I thought long the week before about the relationship between life and doctrine, and personally, about my calling as a woman and mom in the home a la Titus 2. I was reminded about the goodness of my work in loving my family.

It turns out Sunday morning had us waking up to sick kids and me texting that I’d have to forgo church responsibilities to stay home. Funny how God did that.

See, if you ever want evidence of my feeble faith, send me a sick baby. Give it a few nights and you’ll hear my sleep-deprived, “For what purpose God??” (Read: “Whyyyyyy?”) And it isn’t wholly my grumpiness speaking here. I actually feel justifiably upset about the seeming meaninglessness and inefficiency of these small trials.

I’ve been sitting in Ephesians 1 all week, savoring glorious truths a few words at a time. (Which, incidentally may be partly due to the fact that, in my sleepy haze, I can only hold a few words at a time.) After a night of little faith, as I wondered what practical good could come out of my sleep-deprivation, God answered through these words— that we should be holy and blameless before him.

He spoke to me of my being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world for this reason (Eph. 1:3-4). He reminded me of his commitment to work all things to my good and his purposes— to my conformity into the image of his Son. I had forgotten about that.

So I’ve been thinking about this being made more into Christlikeness. And I’ve been seeing that my why’s and search for productivity and purpose and usefulness in glorifying God often miss this vital ingredient, the aspect of what God is doing in me and the call to be like Christ.

In the (possibly false but sometimes helpful) “being” vs. “doing” dichotomy, I gravitate to the latter. I’ve always had the desire to be helpful. The fear of being useless and the desire to hear “well done” on something truly well-done and most of all from God, are deeply rooted in me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought of “being” as important, and I thought I had the relationship between who we are and what we do pretty well sorted out. We act out of who we are. (Which is true.) God cares about the heart behind what we do. (Which is also true.) Therefore, (this is where I start veering), I need to be who I’m supposed to be so I can do what I’m supposed to do to God’s glory without being disingenuous. I’ve never doubted the importance of being made more like Christ, but the fundamental orientation, the driving heart motive, usually leans “so I can do more, or right, or better.”

Years ago, as a teenager, I remember telling a mentor about my deep fear that God won’t use me. He gently push backed, with grace I didn’t understand at the time, maybe that isn’t the main thing. Evidently, I still need this pushback, and received it in part last week through a powerful article on mental health by Alan Noble. In it he writes,

Usefulness is the sole criterion for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil. But you have no use value to God. You can’t. There is nothing He needs. You can’t cease being useful to God because you were never useful to begin with. That’s simply not why He created you and why He continues to sustain your being in the world. It was gratuitous, prodigal. He made us just because He loves us and for His own good pleasure. Every other reason to live demands that you remain useful, and one day your use will run out. But not so with God. To God, your existence in His universe is an act of creation, and it remains good as creation even in its fallen state.

We were made for God’s pleasure, not his use. He made us because he loves us, because he is good, because it pleased him. Even more, according to Ephesians 1:12, he redeems us and makes us his “that we who were the first to hope in Christ might to the praise of his glory.” Here Paul doesn’t write that we might do things to the praise of his glory (though certainly we do). More fundamentally, we are made to be to the praise of his glory. And this isn’t a command, but a statement here. God has come through great lengths to make us his because his intent is to glorify himself through what he does for and in us.

As image-bearers, we give evidence to his “prodigal love”, his powerful sustenance, his wonderful creativity, and more. As those being recreated into Christ’s image, we give evidence to his wondrous grace, his redeeming love, his infinite patience, his holy nature, and more. Who we are brings glory to him because what he is doing in us is glorious.

Ephesians 1, along with thoughts about our lack of use value to God, is simmering in my heart. God’s truths are an elixir for my anxious doing and as the Spirit continues to stir, I am catching the waft of healing soul-questions. Questions arising from the suspicion that I have often headed in the wrong direction with my “why’s”. Questions that reorient and help my heart to rest, that comfort, that have me praising God for his other-worldly wisdom.

For others who seek God’s glory but have trouble working from a place of peace, other restless doers like me, perhaps some of these questions would serve you as well.

Dear beloved, chosen in Christ from before the foundations of the world, redeemed for the praise of his glorious grace.

…What if you glorify God not just by what you do, but by virtue of who you are?

…What if the most glorious display of his goodness is not in our works, but his workmanship— us (Eph. 2:10)?

…What if we believed that just as Adam and Eve were the glorious apex of creation, we believe our being remade into the image of Christ (us, the church) is the glorious apex of the new heavens and earth?

…What if, when the day of Christ comes, the most God-glorifying work done in the world is not done by man, but God himself? What if the most God-glorifying work done in our lives is that which is being done in us?

…What if we believed with God that this work was good? (Phil. 1:6)

…What if God desires to draw attention to his wisdom, power, grace, and kindness most chiefly in Christ’s work done for us? (Eph. 1:4-10, 2:7)

…What if the biggest question isn’t what you would do for God but who he himself is making you to be to the praise of his glory?

Taking Heart

Continually

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I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior, I come to Thee.
– I Need Thee Every Hour

The girls are in school and we are in a new season. While I’m not exactly swimming in free time, I’ve been afforded a bit of mental space and time (albeit with toddler and baby). But with this gift of margin, I have found myself anxious, even paralyzed at times. There’s so much I want to do but not enough time to do it all. How do I choose what gets done and what doesn’t? Where should start?

This anxiety isn’t new for me. A refrain in my tenure as a stay-at-home mom has been the struggle of feeling like I’m not accomplishing all I should. Some of my problem is practical— I need more realistic goals and expectations. Some of it is spiritual— the ongoing struggle against perfectionism and asceticism.

God is speaking to these things even now. I have been coming to “aha!” moments with gladness, then stopping and realizing I’ve had these “revelations” before and have either forgotten or not thought to apply them this time.

In Psalm 71:3, the singer cries out: Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

The continually is a comfort for forgetters like me.

In education, there are different types of curriculum. The “mastery” ones stay on one topic and move one once the learner has “mastered” it. “Spiral” ones spread out one topic over time, progressively bringing the learner to a different level each time a topic is repeated. I am hoping that the reiterations of truth God is speaking to me now are going deeper than before. That God is patiently weaving multi-spiral lessons into my life and I’m just seeing one strand of color resurface for now. Or maybe I’m just giving a chance to learn what I never mastered. Whatever the case, I am glad that God is not upset that I need him to repeat himself. Again.

Continually.

Do you need him to speak to you words of grace and truth today? Are you frustrated that you still need help? Still need comfort? Still need healing? Still need correction?  Do you imagine he is as frustrated as you are? Picture the most patient and kind teacher you know. Times that by 1000 and you’ll start to get a clearer picture of what God is like.

Beloved, take refuge in your infinitely gracious God today. Our fleeing to God for help is not a one and done thing. As our Father, he delights in our coming to him. As Lord, he receives glory as he gives the command to save. He does not tire of repeating himself and will not rebuke you as you come to him once more.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Those Two Solid Lines

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When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.
– My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less

With anxiety as my lifelong companion, I have felt at times that I am the worst person to be pregnant. Each pregnancy has been emotionally tumultuous, even the three that were smooth by all other measures. So recently, when I saw that second solid line fade into view, I dropped to my knees on the tiles of my bathroom floor, less so out of joyful gratitude than desperation.

Pregnancy tends to put to the forefront one of my greatest fears: death of someone I love. As a child, I was often afraid if my parents were out of the house for long. It wasn’t so much because I missed them, but because I imagined them never returning because of an airplane or car crash. As an adult, I’ve needed to consciously silence unfounded worst-case scenarios when Jeff’s taken longer than expected to come home. As a mom, I’ve gone to bed praying my perfectly healthy children would wake up the next day. My fear supposedly dates back to before my memory, when I would interrupt my mom’s naps to make sure she was alive.

A well-meaning phlebotomist who, drawing blood to test for hormone levels during my miscarriage a few years ago said, “You’re still young, you can have another.” But he misunderstood. The pain of miscarriage was never about my hopes for a child per se. It was about losing one I already loved. You don’t have to have known your baby for long, or even ever held him or her in your arms, to have loved fiercely and deeply.

The pain of childbirth– not just in labor, but in broken bodies and miscarried babies– reminds us this world continues to groan under the curse of sin. We are warned against public announcements of pregnancy during the first trimester because of the sheer statistics on miscarriage, a staggering 20% of all pregnancies. We fear rejoicing over the tiny lives forming in our wombs, because, what if we’re that one out of five? Pregnancy after miscarriage can be especially harrowing. During a time that ought to be joyful, we are woken up in the middle of the night by bloody nightmares and lie awake wondering if they will become reality. Our hearts drop at each sensation that resembles symptoms of pregnancy loss.

Christians are not spared from miscarriage, stillborn babies, and sick children. We know we have a Father who hears, but for reasons that are good and kind, allows things to happen to us that don’t feel good and kind. We know the answer to, “Your will be done” may sometimes mean our wills aren’t. So in the end, what difference does it make? What difference does it make to be a child of God in a fallen world, full of legitimately scary outcomes, as we await the renewal of all things?

Against convention, Jeff and I shared with our church about those double solid lines as soon as we saw them. I understand not everyone chooses to do this. But these brothers and sisters have walked with us through one miscarriage and I couldn’t imagine walking through 12 more weeks of uncertainty and anxiety on my own. I needed to let them know not in spite of, but because of the possibility of miscarriage. 

These dear ones have been sharing in our family’s joy in ways that, because of fear, I have not yet been able to feel. They have reminded me to rejoice at the news of the tiny one being fashioned within me, and they are praying for us both. Whether they will celebrate with us when God answers their prayers for a healthy baby or mourn with us through the grief of loss, I am unspeakably grateful for the gift of God’s people. 

The present trial of the unknown, of being in the waiting, has at times made me feel like I am going crazy. It isn’t so much the irrationality of my thoughts, but the sheer volume of them and the breakneck speed with which they overtake me. It has been a blessing to be able to share this struggle with others who are praying with us. This privilege is only surpassed by the divine invitation to pour out my own heart to he who hears and helps.

Ours is a God who does not sleep nor slumber (Psalm 121). Who receives our cries at one, two-thirty, and four o’ clock in the morning. Ours is a God who harkens to pitiful, groaning prayers from bathroom, closet, and living room floors. He is merciful. He is with us. He has carried us from our mother’s wombs and will carry us even as he fashions precious babies in ours (Psalm 139).

This may seem morbid, and maybe it is, but I have often leaned my ear on the chest of a loved one only to pull back in sadness. Something about the physicality of a thumping heart reminds me of the inherent weakness of human life. Each ba-bum speaks to me of our frailty– our utter dependence on one aging, fleshy pump in the earthy, mechanical processes of our circulatory systems.  

In a broken world, our hearts threaten to fail. They threaten to stop beating so that our spirits are given up. They threaten to break into a thousand pieces under the weight of grief. Regarding our weak flesh and breakable hearts, the psalmist cries out,

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever
 (Psalm 73).

My flesh and my heart may fail. This is not what I want to hear. I want assurance of a healthy baby and smooth pregnancy. I want to know the baby’s heart will beat and that my heart will not break. But the truth is my baby’s heart may continue to beat for years and years to come, and it may not. My heart may be filled with joy or it may be overcome with sorrow. The truth is, it feels as if my heart may already be failing under the weight of the unknown. But in the uncertainty, God is. God is the strength of our hearts. He sustains each beat. He will lead us, whether through the shadow of the valley of death or by green pastures with quiet waters. He carries us even in our anxiety as we await being led to valley or pasture, which one, we don’t know.  

A story attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson takes place on a ship out at sea. During a terrible storm, the passengers are understandably terrified. One of them, against orders, sneaks out onto the deck. There he sees the pilot, calmly and steadily steering the ship. The pilot turns to the trembling man and smiles, at which point the man returns to the other passengers. To them he announces, “I have seen the face of the pilot and he smiled at me. All is well.”

All does not always feel well. I am still being tossed about, it seems. Still the knowledge that God is not dictated by statistics, superstition, or formulas in dealing with my life has been a steadying anchor as I’ve been tossed about by fear. As the fog of fearful outcomes obscure my thoughts, he speaks clearly, “Lean not on your own thoughts. Trust in me.” (Proverbs 3:5). I have been reminded it is not only the tiniest member of our family whose every day is granted by God, but mine as well. And while this truth has not quelled the storm, it serves as a ballast when I fear my sails are about to go under and feel I will be swallowed up by the deep. All does not feel well, but in the deepest sense, it is.

I know I am not the only one in the waiting. These past weeks have felt like months, and the stretch ahead of me, endless. I write for me, but also for you, dear ones, who face uncertain futures with trepidation. To remind us we are led by a kind and wise Captain. He is steadfast at the helm. Though we venture into the unknown, he turns his face to us. We may still be afraid– I am. Very, very, very much so– but we, the people of God, trust not in the strength of our own hearts to carry us through.

This week, we received the gift of seeing a tiny heartbeat on an ultrasound screen. We are still very early in the first trimester, so early in fact that the doctor had trouble finding signs of anything going on in my womb. Yet there it was, the answer to one prayer, uttered hundreds of times, for a heartbeat. 

We are still not “in the clear” (though, when are we ever, really?) and still, convention would dictate not sharing this news of burgeoning life within me. Yet, I am in wonder of this tiny heart. It has only just started to pump, and whether for days or decades more only God knows. Whatever the case, each beat will be sustained by our good God until this precious one sees Jesus face-to-face.

Whatever the case, he must be the strength of my heart as well.