31 August 2015

Of Deadly Australia


A few nights ago, after our own terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, we decided to read about Alexander as we tucked into bedtime, because we all know, it doesn't get worse than that for a white, middle class American child (I mean, waking up with gum in your hair? Tragic.). As I read the last line, my daughter surprised me with her response:

Me: "Mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia."
Micaiah: [confused, like someone just said the most ridiculous thing she's ever heard] "But how can there be days like that in Australia? There are no people in Australia, or they'd die!"

I giggled to myself. My indoctrination was working.



A number of years ago, while I was in the throes of lonely middle school years, my family tossed around the idea of a move to the land down under. My dad had been given a rare career opportunity that would take us all to Australia to live for two full years.

Already a traveller at heart, I was elated! Two years in Australia?! We'd get a koala for a pet and go snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef on weekends (hey, let a sixth-grader dream, ok?). And the only thing standing in the way was our answer - yes or no?

Uh, yes! Duh, yes. (said the sixth-grader in me)

But then there was my sister - who was not in the lonely middle school years, but in the thriving high school years - the ones with friends, with prom, with basketball games and graduation. She would be giving up the two final years of those moments for this adventure. And she was not having it. To be fair, I don't actually recall her declaring this in any sort of diva-like tantrum. It was more of an understanding my parents had of where she was in life and what she needed.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

All I heard were my dreams for our pet koala being flushed down the high school toilet. High school was lame, friends were over-rated and being stuck in land-locked Missouri was not worth any of it.

But, now, as I look back with fresh eyes, I am grateful. And I'm not going into some sappy, "if we'd gone my life would have been different" direction - but rather, "if we'd gone, I might not have survived." Because in the years since, I have discovered something:

Everything in Australia wants to kill you.

It's true. In fact, after much research (or sitting on the couch as facts swarm at us from internet and television), my husband and I have come to this very real conclusion. Because every time you find a list of the "top deadliest," "most poisonous," and "scariest" it's Australian native creatures and plant-life that top the list.

Like spiders who don't just attack because they're scared - but will HUNT YOU DOWN*. Plants that induce such pain that those who touch it opt for suicide rather than endure the torturous agony. Snakes (and not the innocent, cute kind - because I don't mind those) that slither right into homes.

I mean, seriously, death around every corner.

Thus, as a responsible parent, I have passed this information along to our children. We've watched YouTube videos of deadly plants, and I was sure to point out where the majority of those came from. My kids know it well: Australia = Death. And I had no idea how well I had passed along this message until that night, as we read about poor Alexander and his hated railroad train pajamas.

And, suddenly, through my daughter's brain-washed eyes, that innocent children's book took on a much darker turn. I mean, just how bad is it when your marble washes down the drain, that you would turn to Australia as your hope and dream. And thus, it has become clear to my children, poor Alexander has turned suicidal in the face of his dessert-less lunch and white shoes with white stripes. He clearly has nothing left for which to live.

Imagine there shock, therefore, when I re-assured them, "There are actually people who live in Australia . . ."

Maybe I need to re-consider my educational strategies . . .


*Please note: these facts about Australia are true. I did not look them up or bother with cross-references. Because I've heard them. On the internet, no less. So, absolutely true. Beyond a shadow of a doubt. . . . But don't quote me on that.

**I've also heard there are pretty things and neat people. But I'm sure that's just a conspiracy contrived from the Australia Board of Tourism, who realizes it might otherwise be difficult to lure people to a former penal colony. See - once upon a time, they understood and they sent people, DANGEROUS people, there to DIE. Pure fact.

21 August 2015

Of Our Redemption

I hate people.

Or, at least, that's what I told my husband, numerous times, as we traipsed across Europe, people everywhere (apparently August is the height of tourist season in Paris, which maybe extends to all of Europe? - which clearly makes it the ideal time for crowd-despising individuals like ourselves to make a visit). People shoving, people looking out for their own interests, even if it clearly interferes with what someone else is trying to do, people just being people.


As an introvert, there is definitely a large part of me that hates people, particularly en masse. But as a believer in Christ, there is a large part of me that loves people, or wants to love them.

Yet, there has been an overwhelming reminder lately, in our lives, in the lives of dear friends, in the lives of those in our church, and even now, reminders in the media, that people fail. They fail in big ways. In hurtful, devastating ways. People we would have regarded as examples or pillars of faith, as family, friends, or even someone in the distance to admire. They have failed. They have failed in ways we would never have imagined or believed if we'd been told (and in some ways we didn't want to believe, even after we were told).

And part of me just wants to declare it once again: I hate people.

But the truth of the matter is, when I hear about these people and the choices they have made that bring shame to themselves, their families and, most importantly, to the name of God, I don't hate the people. I hate Satan.

I hate the lies he has whispered in their ears. I hate the victory dance I imagine is happening even now as yet another warrior and champion for the cause of Christ has been tried and found guilty. He is delighting in the downfall of those who have brought others to the Lord, who have discipled and encouraged godly living. The downfalls that will, undoubtedly, cause some to question all they know about God when the person they learned it from has let them down. He is celebrating stolen innocence, broken homes, fallen tears, and shattered hearts.

He is having the time of His life.

And I burn with hatred.

Yet, in this moment, this moment when it feels like there are no good people left in the world, we have to remember:

We're right.

But that's because the one good person in this world died two thousand years ago. The rest of us have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We have been tried and found guilty. We are unworthy to carry His cause or His name. Even those of us in the church, who have embraced our redemption found in the old rugged cross, but who have found it difficult to put to death what is earthly in us (Colossians 3:5).

Some of us have our flaws publicly declared, our names dragged into the Colisseum of public mockery and scorn. The rest of us are secretly glad no one can see what is happening behind our closed doors.

And if we are not. If we have become so puffed up as to believe that we have nothing to hide, or nothing in our lives that could bring us shame, let us be aware that this is exactly where Satan wants us. Because when we have decided we are above it all and "would never do that," that's when he knows he has us. When we are not on our guard, constantly aware of what is broken in us, constantly clinging to Christ and begging he would cleanse our putrid hearts. Daily asking, because this process of sanctification, being renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:10), is just that - a process, a daily, sometimes tedious, sometimes heart-wrenching, process, which will not be completed until the day of Christ. When we are not in this place recognizing, but for the grace of God, there go I. When we are not whispering in the ear of God, when we have become weak in our own strength, leaving the smallest opening for the whispers of the enemy, that is when we fail to notice where our path is going - where those whispers are taking us.

And when I see that this is me. This person who has taken one more step, and then another and then another toward that one feeble calling I have heard before and been tempted to follow. In that moment of recognition, I find myself unworthy.

And I find Him worthy. The One who stepped down from His throne to walk the earth among these people. These throngs of crowding, mocking people. To subject Himself to humiliation and scorn on behalf of all of us who have brought shame to His name, so that He can bring us out of this pit and He can embrace in love those of us who would so easily be consumed by hate. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Because we all, like sheep have gone astray. We have turned - every one - to his own way. And the Lord has laid on Him (on Him, the only perfect one, undeserving of wrath) the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Yet, out of the anguish of His soul he shall see and be satisfied; for He has made many to be accounted as righteous (Isaiah 53:11).

Our boast is not in the strength of flesh and bone, but in the costly wounds of love. We all are weak, yet He is strong. And He welcomes all of us, failures that we are, into the righteousness that is only found in Him. Into the redemption provided for all of us. At the cross.

19 August 2015

Of Living Life

I have heard from numerous friends over the past few days that photos of our recent escapades in Europe left them feeling a twinge of jealousy. And I get that, because, as a wanderer at heart, I've felt it. And because social media does an amazing job of coloring everything pretty and hiding the ugly. And because photos don't come with a soundtrack.

Because if they did, what you'd hear, as we're finally getting within spitting distance of the Eiffel Tower - the one thing my daughter has dreamed of seeing for half of her short life span - would be the beautiful sounds of a near-seven-year-old expressing everything she is feeling in that moment:

"It's hot! I'm hungry. I'm tiiiiired."

And you might hear the uber-empathetic Mommy voice saying, "You are at the Eiffel Tower! So many people want to be here, and you can't stop whining!" And then, maybe, me saying, "I'm done with her." And walking away, as she cries, holding the hand of her Daddy, at the base of one of the most iconic structures of our day.
And sometimes the Eiffel Tower is just this, a giant tower with lots of people, who are just in the way - all. the. time.

So, maybe the Eiffel Tower wasn't our best day. But this is me keeping it real.

In reality, our recent trip to visit friends working in Germany and then taking a short train ride to visit family working in Paris, was, as my mom put it, "the trip of a lifetime." Full of so many things that were beautiful to see in person. But one thing that really struck me while we were there is this:

Life is life.

And it happens everywhere.

It's not any more magical because there is beauitful architecture out the window, monuments to see or trains to ride.

We had the privilege of watching life happen for the friends and family we visited, and, can I tell you a secret? It may be happening in Europe, but life looks pretty much the same. They go to the grocery store (with the added adventure of hoping they can understand what the cashier says or trying to keep the true value of a Euro in mind), they cook dinner, which is sometimes exotic and is sometimes frozen chicken nuggets. They struggle to keep their homes in order while displaying beautiful hospitality. They have bathrooms to clean and dishes to wash. Their kids still throw a fit here and there and also give sweet kisses to Mommy and Daddy before bedtime.


There are differences, to be sure, but in the end, they are living real lives while trying to be a Light.

And isn't that what we all should be doing?

We could walk the streets of Paris until our feet fall off (which they just might), speed along the autobahn on our way to Amsterdam, or shop at IKEA whenever we get the whim (ok, so people do that in the States, but, trust me, this is a big deal to some people), but none of these things bring any more meaning to our lives.

We have no more significance because of where our feet have fallen or what our eyes have seen. This isn't what our living is for. It's for the people we do this life with. Those in our home, those in our community and even those we run into along the journey. This is where the true magic lies.

Old buildings are beautiful, but old friendships are priceless.

And we don't find the glory of God in museums and ancient architecture, though we can certainly see displayed the beautiful gifts and talents which He has given, but where we truly feel Him is when we truly love. When we sink ourselves in His Word, His love and His embrace, and when we turn to show that love to those with whom we come into contact.


And that can happen anywhere in the world. Including right down the street, or right down the hall.

And if you're living in the land of first world problems, you have it easy. Because you get to focus on showing this love without a language barrier, culture shock or major family uhpeaval.

Wake up where you are. Look around, and be grateful that you are here, where others would love to be, truly. And focus on being a Light. Wherever you are.

26 July 2015

Of Painting the World

Last fall I began a project. We had been given (ok, I'd begged for) fence panels that had been destined for the fire with the hope of bringing them new life. I had a vision of using one of these for a wall-sized mural of the earth. The vision of where this mural would be located and for what purpose it was to be created continued to morph, but the vision remained. I would paint a map of the world and write across it some version of John 3:16, "For God so loved the world . . ."

So last fall, I laid my hands on one of those panels and hauled it across the yard in which our children ran rampant while Mommy was distracted and leaned it haphazardly in front of one of the windows to our den. It didn't matter that it would block some light because this project would be finished soon and quickly be moved to its proper place (which I had now decided would be the barren brick wall along the front porch). And I determinedly started painting.

But then the paint didn't apply as easily as I'd hoped on those rough boards. 

Sweat started dripping; it was hot in that afternoon sun.

And then the countries started seeming disproportionate and, altogether, kind of wrong.

I decided to take a break and come back to it another day.

Days later, I was out in the yard and saw my project, leaning in front of the window, from a distance and realized, "I can tell it's the earth!" - it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd thought. Maybe I would finish it.

Someday.

Someday soon.

But not today. It's too hot. I have other things to do during nap time (that precious time in which Mommy can do things Mommy needs/wants to do). 

I'm just not ready.

And so it went. For nearly a year.

It's too hot.

It's too cold.

I'd have to change into painting clothes.

I have other things to do.

I just don't want to.

I'm just not ready.

Until today. When I sat down, still in my church clothes, ready to sink into the Sunday paper and unwind while everyone else rested. I settled into the den and for the umpteenth time since I started that danged project I mourned the darkness of the den and thought to myself (as I do nearly every other day), "I need to finish that so we can get some light in this room again."

But today was different. Today I finally thought, "This is the day."

I didn't bother changing out of my "nice" clothes, but just marched myself to the craft cabinet, grabbed some paint and a paintbrush and stepped up to the fence. 



Long white skirt flowing, I slapped green paint in all the faded white borders painted months ago. Recklessly and without abandon, I painted broad strokes over the whole earth.

And in that moment, God spoke to me.

Go paint the world with His love, and don't be afraid of getting your church clothes dirty.

Sometimes it's uncomfortable. Sometimes we have to change. Sometimes we have to give up the plans we had for ourselves. And sometimes we have to GO. Even when we don't feel "ready."

Because the world is dark and it's waiting. He didn't send His Son to save us from the fire so we could rest in comfort, adjusting ourselves to the dark, rather than moving the world to allow in His light. 



It might get messy.

It might not be as easy as we thought it might be in the rough-ness of the world, the one that sometimes just seems so wrong. 

But it's His. And it's loved. And we need to tell them.

Because that is what we have been called to do.

Until it is finished.


16 July 2015

Of Being Thankful


As previously mentioned, I'm memorizing my way through Colossians 3, and it has been a life-changer. I'm suddenly recalling the many, many, many (did I say many?) lessons I've heard through my life about the importance of hiding God's Word in my heart. And I definitely agreed with them. But then, isn't there a verse about walking away from what we hear and forgetting to actually put those lessons to action? (Answer: Yes, there is; it's in James 1, in case you weren't sure.) 

31 years into this journey and I'm finally realizing that maybe some of those older, wiser voices in my life actually knew what they were talking about.

So, yes, Colossians 3:1-14 led me to the point of putting away earthly things and putting on a compassionate heart, bound in love, which pulls it all together in perfect harmony. And then, yesterday, I moved on to the next verse on the schedule to commit to memory. And it just keeps getting better (as God's Word is known to do).

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful." (v. 15, ESV).

Peace.

Even more so than embracing this all-encompassing love that transforms a heart bent toward anger to a heart designed for kindness, humility, and patience, this next step up the chain - the one to rule them all - peace. It brings an even deeper sigh of sweet relief from this storm that has been raging inside for longer than I care to admit.

Because who can be patient? Who can be meek? Humble, kind and compassionate? From a heart filled with turmoil? How can I bring calm to my life and that of my children, putting to rest this wrathful, earthly self, without peace reigning over all my actions.

When peace is in control, the quiet voice of love can be heard. And all the rest is a natural overflow of a heart ruled by the peace that comes only from Christ.

Thank you, Jesus.

And then, what brings a pure smile to my face. After moving past peace, and breathing that sigh of sweet relief, three simple words. "And be thankful." That's it. Almost as if it's just an afterthought. We are to dress ourselves with compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, wrapping it all in love, ruled over by peace. And, oh yeah, just be grateful.

As I nod on over to Ann Voskamp, yet another voice of wisdom whose truth is finally ringing in my heart even more deeply than ever before, I recognize that maybe it's this counting of One Thousand Gifts that turns our eyes, our hearts, from the one thousand papercuts, so that we dwell on what our hearts were meant to see in this painful world. Because even more than the tiny things that cut us shallow are the gifts given to love us deep.

And be thankful.

This is where are hearts were meant to rest. In a peace that makes us recognize all around us, even in the maddening storm, is sheer gift.

This gift of being alive and being loved and being chosen. As His holy and beloved. 

And what lost trinket or crying child or squabbling siblings or clutter-ridden home can ever drown out this Truth. That when all is falling apart, He stands still. And His peace reigns in our hearts.

And we are thankful.

He is not finished with me, yet.

14 July 2015

Of My Legacy

At the beginning of the year a sweet friend asked if I would join her in memorizing Scripture*. Always being an item on my wish list, but lacking the accountability to follow through, I accepted. As we thought upon what it was we'd like to memorize, God led me to Colossians 3. And I almost feel as though I should apologize to her, because He has been speaking to me so much through this dedicated time of committing His Word to my heart that I'm beginning to wonder if this passage was meant specifically for me and my poor friend is just along for the ride (though, given His promise that His Word does not return to Him void, I'm almost positive He's reaching her through these words, as well).

The two of us took off at a sprint in our endeavor before we realized we have crazy lives and maybe we needed to turn things down a notch. Slow and steady and all. So, it was around April that I reached verse 8: "But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk from your mouth." And back then, they were just words to memorize. I was on a mission, I had an item to check off my list: memorize Colossians 3. Because, you know, it's good to have Scripture to call upon when needed. But, it's not like I need it now.

Oh, dear, sweet Angela.

Now, anyone who has read my words for any length of time might recognize, maybe, that I've had a problem putting away these things labeled above. Anger? Pretty sure I lashed out at my kids just this morning. Wrath? See item A. Slander? Was that me judging others as I gossiped with my husband just the other day? Do you see what I'm saying?

This is my struggle, defined perfectly clearly right here in this Scripture. And, to be fair, I come by it honestly. My ability to lash out verbally, in great force, and with astounding volume, is my grandest inheritance. I gained it from my father and his father before him (and his father before him, so I've heard). It feels an impossibility to overcome such an ingrained family trait, though I have fought over and over to weed it out.

I pondered this genetic code of anger just last evening, while I sat at my sewing table, mindlessly stitching, Spotify playing in the background, when I heard words that pierced me to my soul: 

"You didn't ask for this
Nobody ever would
Caught in the middle of this dysfunction
It's your sad reality
It's your messed up family tree
And all you're left with, all these questions

Are you gonna be like your father was and his father was?
Do you have to carry what they've handed down?

No, this is not your legacy
This is not your destiny
Yesterday does not define you
No, this is not your legacy
This is not your meant to be
I can break the chains that bind you"

And right there, he answered the very question of my soul: Can I change this legacy? 

The answer: I am a child of the King. That is my legacy. This anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk from my mouth - this is not a part of me. For I have died and my life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is my life, appears, I, also, will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:3-4). This is the family tree into which I was grafted the day I accepted Christ.

And the most beautiful part of this passage is that it doesn't just tell us what not to be - what to weed out, leaving merely an empty patch of fallowed ground - it then comes in and tells us what we should be. "Put on, then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience" (Colossians 3:12). Oh, that I could parent like that. That I could be a friend like that, a wife, a daughter.

That I could be one who is known for compassion, kindness, patience. This is my heart's greatest desire.

And then we move to verse 14: "And above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." 

Love.

The beautiful ribbon that ties all these characteristics into one beautiful package. Were I to only begin each day, each moment, each opening of my mouth, with the decision to love. 

I'm breathing deeply in pure, sweet relief as I type these words. 

He has chosen me. And I am choosing love.

He is not finished with me yet.



*On a side note, I highly recommend ScriptureTyper.com, and its accompanying app, for Scripture Memory. It has really accelerated things for me in the past few weeks as I've started using the app each morning.

13 July 2015

Of Paper Cuts

Remember my post about keeping a positive attitude no matter the circumstances, or how poorly I perform? Yeah, me, too. Unfortunately, it's easier to remember the words than it is to put them into action.

Thus, when my daughter announced she lost a precious toy, AFTER we'd already found it once, because it had already been lost once, and AFTER I'd paraded she and her younger siblings all through the church on that search and then through the parking lot and then squeezed everyone into their carseats (because our behemoth vehicle was tightly parked next to two fellow family-lugging behemoths) and was clicking the last buckle so we could FINALLY get home to daddy, that new wail of, "I lost him again!" might have made me lose it, too.

And I may have been yelling at my six-year-old daughter about making smarter choices, like putting said toy in a pocket or holding it tightly, right in the middle of the church parking lot.

I might have been that mom.

Maybe.

But God is so good. Because even when I'm that mom, I know he's whispering in my ear, "Calm down. I'm still here and I'm still good." And even when I'm kicking myself for failing, once again, to display for my children grace under pressure, I know he's telling me we'll have another chance. This isn't the end. He's not done with me, yet.

Each time this explosive eruption of boiling words comes from within me, I get even more hard on myself remember how so many others have it so much harder when their challenges rise from more than a lost toy, a crying child, or just the repetition of, "Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy . . ." There are those battling big things, scary things, things that give one the perfectly good right to lash out at the world around them.

And I wonder how I think I could possibly handle the real storms of life, even with God by my side, when I can't even handle the drizzle.

And this where we die by a thousand paper cuts. Because when the big hurts come, the ones that cause gaping wounds that bleed openly, we tend to those. We see them, we know their cause and we address them. We bind them tightly, we turn to the Healer and we are renewed.

That's not exactly how paper cuts are handled, though, are they? A thin sliver of nothing slices us in just the right way so as to inflict pain, leaving little outward evidence. You can't even see it unless you know where to look. And it's so miniscule it would be laughable to bring it to the attention of a medical professional. Maybe we bandage it, but mostly not. We brush aside, work through the pain and move on. And in our daily lives, we do this again. And again. And again. Until we're covered in wounds that seem so inconsequential, but when added together can make it unbearable.

But God is so good.

He is ready to heal no matter the circumstances. Big and small. We don't need to wait until we lay dying, whether outwardly or in the pain of our souls, to cry out to him. No pain is too small.

And if we can't trust him with the small hurts, when will we decide something is big enough to give over to him? When we're in over our heads? Or curled into a defeated ball of tears? Or, even when our limbs are cut off and we're bleeding helpless, will we still be crying, proudly, defiantly, "It's just a flesh wound!"?



It may be hard in this season of small things, because the world, our lives, our families, don't always allow us to take a break and mend, but we need to recognize our need for the Healer, turn to Him and allow Him to do His work in us. Because He will be faithful to complete it. Even when the papers keep flying.