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That’s the Way the Biscuit Crumbles?

That's the Way the Biscuit Crumbles?

On Valentine’s Day, we pause to reflect on our relationships with others. I arrived home this evening to discover that a display case shelf in my kitchen had collapsed on top of one of my most treasured possessions: a biscuit my then-boyfriend had baked and brought to me in April of 1973. You might well inquire why I kept a biscuit so lovingly offered. The fact is, I do not like biscuits very much, or any white flour product, for that matter. However, I was moved at the thoughtfulness of that gesture. Not many girls have boyfriends who would even attempt making biscuits from scratch. Because I appreciated his kindness, I graciously accepted the proffered biscuits (yes, he actually brought me two) and thanked him profusely. It would be inappropriate to eat biscuits in an engineering class, so I claimed I would eat them later. (I am grateful that he and God forgave my lie.) Overcome by the sentimentality of the gift, I stored the plastic bag with the two biscuits in my makeup drawer, and there they remained for two months, until the university semester ended and I moved home for the summer. When I packed my things, I discovered the biscuits — one had crumbled beyond recognition, and the other lay in the drawer intact, completely free of mold after two months in room-temperature storage! I was so impressed, that I saved the biscuit.

Three years later, when we were married, I confessed my distaste for biscuits to my boyfriend-turned-husband and showed him the biscuit he had made, perfectly preserved. That same biscuit has been proudly displayed in our home ever since. Unfortunately, it has been forced to weather drastic climate changes and a few unfortunate mishaps. For the past decade, it has barely resembled its original form, as it has become rock-hard with crumbled, irregular edges.

All our children are aware of the history of the biscuit. When our eldest was ten, he tried his best to convince me to send it in to the Guinness Book of World Records to be certified as the oldest preserved biscuit on earth. Concerned for the welfare of said biscuit, I patently refused. That was twenty-three years ago.

You can imagine my consternation when I arrived home from out of town to find my precious biscuit in pieces under the collapsed shelf! Did I throw it away? Of course not! I patiently pieced it together, re-arranged and re-assembled the shelving, and put that four-decades-old biscuit back on display.

Somehow, the Holy Spirit is speaking to me of His love for me. No matter what bumps, bruises, or afflictions I weather, God’s love for me is always intact and perfectly faithful. My 40-year-old biscuit is no less precious to me now than it was when I was 18 and received it from the then (and now!) love-of-my-life. In fact, that little biscuit has become a symbol of everything we have weathered together, both joys and sorrows, and is even more valuable to me in its semi-crumbly state. Similarly, in my own brokenness, I bear the marks of various experiences in life, both joys and sorrows. God values and treasures me none the less for those bumps and bruises and has faithfully patched me up and put me back together over all those years. He has taught me much about His staying power in the face of trials and His care in the face of my failures.

Today, on Valentine’s Day, I praise Him for His goodness to me and for the very dear husband He gave me, who has given me infinitely more than a biscuit over the past four decades…

Marketing Our Assets?

ImageMy heart has been heavy this evening.  Admittedly, I have never been a great fan of football.  However, ever since I found out (two years ago) that the Super Bowl is the single largest human trafficking event in our nation, my indifference has morphed into something approaching aversion.   I purposed to pray for God’s mercy to wash over this event and pierce people’s hearts with His love.   In that vein, I thought it might be a good idea to at least turn on the game for a few moments while I addressed that issue in prayer.  It turned out that I caught the last few minutes of the halftime show.   Although I was aware that such shows are purported to be “bigger and better” every year, my jaw dropped in horror at the raw marketing of sex portrayed as general-consumption entertainment by women who, at least I thought, should know better.

As women, do we still not understand how we sabotage ourselves and set ourselves up for all manner of voyeurism and exploitation when we cast every vestige of modesty to the wind?  What we perceive as power over men, our sexuality, actually serves to enslave them and us in unholy patterns and paralyzes us for what God has in store:  healthy, fulfilling romance with a life-long partner.

Lest I sound judgmental, please know that I have great compassion for those ensnared in the cycle of sex as a commodity.   With no education, no personal affirmation from parents, and no means of providing an income for one’s children, any woman could easily fall prey to traffickers.  God has set His heart on all of those who are held captive in any way — He loves each person with unrelenting fervor.   However, what disturbs me is that women in the entertainment industry who serve as role models for others would use their sensuality to fuel a stereotype that is the very currency of slavery.

May Jesus reveal Himself to us all, right here in America, the ostensible land of the free and home of the brave.   Sadly, we are neither free nor brave.  We are enslaved and cowardly, afraid to admit our brokenness and in despair of ever being healed.   Yet,… God has a plan, and it is good.  He has ordained a future and a hope for us (see Jeremiah 29:11).   He also promises that He will abundantly pardon, if we but turn to Him (Isaiah 55:7).

Father, soften my heart and make me quick to hear Your voice and understand when I am fueling a system that is not established by You!  Forgive me and heal me!  Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do….

Boundless Mercy

urlAs the years roll by, I become more acutely aware of how much forgiveness God actually has poured out on me.   When I was a little girl and first learned to pray, I had a vague understanding of repentance.   When I was talking to God, I tried hard to think of what I might have done wrong so I could tell Him I was sorry (of course, bossing my two younger sisters around seemed only RIGHT, since I was older and knew what was better for them, so that never made the list of offenses in my mind!).  In fact, I was twelve before I remember having an overwhelming sense of failure and sinfulness.  By that time, I was mired in a deep sense of self-doubt and incipient self-hatred; I recall making a list one day of all my talents (which, from a child’s perspective, still seemed pretty extensive – ha!) and another list, side-by-side with the first enumeration, of my character flaws.   In my estimation, the few character flaws were SO pervasive and wicked that they FAR outweighed anything I could do well (which, by the way, was mostly limited to excelling in a long list of academic subjects).  Hopelessness and a profound sense of guilt entered my heart at this point, accompanied by a boatload of self-condemnation.

My sense of defilement continued to increase as I navigated the murky waters of college life.   I entered university at age sixteen and quickly grasped that the youth culture of those around me was immoral and misguided.   In spite of my academic success and best resolutions in the ethical standards department, I found myself affected by the “frog-in-the-pot” syndrome; when I paused at intervals to examine my heart, I realized I had compromised in some areas and was no better at heart than many of those around me.  How did I cope?   I continued to read my Bible and worked even more assiduously at performing well by worldly standards.   I enrolled in increasingly heavier course loads and even excelled in some graduate courses as a very young undergraduate student.   I finished a triple major in under four years and was catapulted, quite unprepared, into the working world, where I found I could no longer be a college student; I was forced to be a grown-up.   My self-loathing had not disappeared.   I loved God but had no clue how active He longed to be in my life.  I judged myself harshly; regardless of how many awards I had received or how high my grades had been in school, I found myself severely wanting in the righteousness department.  After over three years of pushing myself with campus activities, leadership in various organizations, and heavy course loads, all the while pretending to have a casual attitude about school to avoid being ridiculed by my peers, my health had also suffered.   A success on paper, I left university years behind; however, I also left school anorexic, bulimic, and hypothyroid.   Worse still, I despised myself and knew in my heart of hearts that no successful performance imaginable could erase the heaviness in my heart.

What was the root of my dilemma?   A blindness to the overwhelming power and magnitude of God’s mercy toward me.   Jesus said that the one who is forgiven much is the one who loves much (Luke 7:37).  What I had not understood was that all sin is sin, regardless of how minor it may appear.  The blackness of my heart was not my responsibility once I had given it to Jesus, who DOES forgive and wipe away that blackness of heart.   Somehow I had believed God’s Word but had been incapable of receiving it as truth for myself.   I had somehow become trapped in a paradoxical mindset that regarded myself as somehow better than others because I KNEW what was right, yet far worse than others because I was therefore more accountable to DO what was right and found myself utterly incapable of that perfection.   I thereby had exempted myself from receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy.   However, through all those years, Jesus never left me; He continued to tug at my heart, and as my desperation for deliverance from myself increased, He poured His love out on me and wrapped His arms around me, His broken child.  Ultimately, I found myself at His feet in complete despair.   He responded by speaking to me of His love.  What an incisive revelation it was to me that He really loves me more than I hated myself!   His mercy for me was unlimited; He loved me before He set me free of self-condemnation and the downward spiral of self-hatred.  He had loved me all those years as He watched me descend into the morass of hopelessness I had become.  Ultimately, He met me at the bottom of the pit I had dug for myself (with some assistance from the enemy!).

I am forever grateful to Jesus for pouring His mercy out on me.  I cannot thank Him enough for His acceptance, His goodness to me in spite of my faults, and His willingness and kindness to pick me up every time I stumble.   Now, years later, as I find myself involved in outreach to bring His love to those trapped in some form of slavery, I have great compassion — for I am no different.   I have a message of hope that no one can take away from me.   God’s love is UNFAILING, and His mercy and delivering power are, indeed, BOUNDLESS!  As Isaiah 55:7 states, God “will abundantly pardon.”  As the psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has HE removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not retain His anger forever, because HE DELIGHTS IN MERCY.  He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our iniquities [good news, huh?].   You will cast all our sins INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA (Micah 7: 18-19).

 

Running on Empty

Have you ever felt as if you were running on empty?  It seems the holidays fall upon us earlier every year, and my battle to keep from drowning grows proportionally more intense.  Although I have reasonably good organizational skills, I cannot possibly juggle all the items slung onto my plate.  Life seems to grow continually more complex and frenzied.   Once I asked God, “How can I ever hope to run with the horses, when I cannot even handle the foot soldiers?”  (“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5)  In response, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “The pace and demands of life will not change.  YOU need to change.”  Needless to say, I was less than thrilled with His response to my desperation!

Years later, I still find myself regularly “running on empty.”  I consistently re-evaluate my schedule and re-assess my priorities.  I actually say “no” to people at times (something I NEVER used to do!).  However, my life is chronically on overload.   Suddenly, I realized that, in a way, I am exactly where God wants me.  For Him to function more fully and freely in my life, it is imperative that I arrive at the end of my own energy and resources.   I need to become desperate for a Source of life beyond myself.  He longs for me to admit to Him that I need re-fueling and that my personal fuel tanks are completely depleted.

God wants me to be emptied of myself — my own strength, talents, abilities, resources, and confidence.  Instead, He wants me to be re-fueled with HIS strength, talents, abilities, resources, and confidence.  God longs to fill me to overflowing and top off my tank with HIMSELF.  “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary.  His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:28-31)   I thank God that He desires to fill me with His presence and empower me with His strength to do the things He has called me to do.  He delights to abundantly provide for every need.   His vitality and stamina are without limit.  His fuel tank NEVER runs dry.  

Thank You, Jesus, for allowing me to acknowledge the limits of my personal resources.  Thank You for enabling me to recognize my need for You!   Thank You for re-filling and re-fueling me for Your work!  Thank You that I am aware I am running on empty and ready for a fresh infilling of Your Presence!   Fill me up and top me off!  Let me overflow with You.   Teach me a new way to run the race set before me.

An Open and Shut Case

As another year has evaporated and a new one is beginning, I find myself once again trying to resist being mired in nostalgia.  Our youngest child just moved several states away, and the other four are also already established in their adult lives.  Having five children who are making their way in the world is indeed cause for rejoicing, but I instead am resisting a tidal wave of nostalgia that borders on sadness and could very well end in self-reproach, if I allow the undertow to drag me there.  However, Jesus has set before me an open door that no man can shut (Isaiah 22:22).  I can choose, if I like, to remain in a former season of my life, but my desire to dwell there does not change the fact that it is over.   The lights are out in that room of my life; I am no longer a mother of five young children, five young adults, or even one college student.   The end of that era has arrived.  I can shed tears over stories I didn’t read and games I didn’t play because I was busy washing dishes or folding clothes (the business of survival as a mother, which clouds legitimate priorities such as game-playing with one’s children), or I can believe what God says about me:  that I, too, am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and that He knows everything about me (Psalm 139:3), and that, what’s more, He still LOVES me (Jeremiah 31:3). 

God has opened another door, a door into a new season, and He has turned the lights on, HIS light, in that new place.  He urges me to enter through that door and “Come up here” (Rev. 4:1).  However, the choice is actually mine.  I can choose to stay in the old place, which is no longer filled with the daily routine of tending my children and feathering my personal nest; it is now filled with treasured memories, which will be tainted by acute pangs of regret over things I did or did not do, should I choose to dwell in a hollow room and refuse to walk through the door God has provided into this next season.  The Lord cautions us against remaining too long in the womb before allowing Him to birth us into the new place (Hosea 13:13).  From the baby’s perspective, every birth feels like a death until the light of the new place is fully experienced. 

Do I want to stay in the darkened room and begin to believe my own opinions of myself (I didn’t do this or that right; I didn’t love my children enough; I wasn’t a loving and tender wife and mother; I was too labor-oriented, etc.)?  — OR, would it not be better to take a step through the door into the light of this new season God has ordained and experience, together with my husband, grown children, grandchildren, and precious friends, the delights and challenges He has appointed for me?  I don’t want to miss anything for wallowing in the past (with or without regrets that may or may not be unfounded).  The fact is, if I allow myself to be mired in the pit of regret and sorrow (nostalgia gone bad), I am calling God a liar, for yielding to the undertow means I reject the Truth of His love and His Word, the truth of what HE says about me.   Now THAT is a serious place to be. 

Father, I choose to walk through the open door You have provided for me into this new year and this new season of life.   I choose to believe the truth of Your love and care for me.   I choose to believe that You empower me to bear fruit that remains, in spite of my inadequacies and failings.  I choose to believe that You are more than able to compensate for any and all mistakes I have made, for You love my family far more than I do.  I thank You, Father, that You sent Jesus as the Door to ALWAYS being in Your Presence.  I embrace You, the Truth, and invite You to carry me over the threshold into whatever You have chosen for me to do!

“I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it;”  Revelation 3:8aimagesCAI2R0S0

Wholly Holy or Hollow?

plw[1]The Christmas sales and marketing machine seems to crank into action earlier every year. Unlike the first Christmas, its onset is not obscure or hidden in a cave. Instead, we have substituted glitzy packaging, neon lights, frenzied shopping, and blaring music for the Real Deal, who came at no cost to us but at a great price to Himself. Oddly, in spite of the annual clamor, the glitz and hoopla from Christmases past have evaporated from my memory. What remains is nostalgia for the sweeter, quieter moments I treasured from year to year: a steaming mug of hot chocolate in a darkened room by the glowing lights of our family tree; candlelight service at church with everyone singing “Silent Night” after the organ fell silent; the anticipation of snow; ample tastes of my mother’s spritz cookie dough; special times of opening the gifts together as a family.

Oddly enough, although my father worked for a premier manufacturer of high-quality ornaments and our tree was laden with beautiful decorations (and plenty of not-so-beautiful homemade ones we children had fashioned), one of my favorite decorations was a centerpiece my mother put on the dining room table every year. It featured deer in a snowy forest, and, to me, it was magical. As an adult, I was shocked to see the deer centerpiece recently in a closet at my parents’ home: the base was made of plaster of Paris, the deer were plastic, real twigs had been inserted into the plaster base to resemble trees, and the entire creation had been sprayed with white paint and silver glitter. It was far from the magical snow scene I had remembered from my childhood. Two lessons from these memories have distilled over the years in my heart. First, the things that captivate us are often not what we think they are; what appears valuable, or even magical, may ultimately disappoint us. Secondly, the things that are dearest in our memories are not those things that are have the greatest financial worth.

This year again, as I contemplate the holiness and gravity of what happened that first Christmas — the entry of Jesus the Messiah, Immanuel (God-With-Us) in such a simple package, an animal’s feeding trough –, the hollow cacophony of commercial holiday clamor contrasts sharply with the ultimate miracle: God in human flesh, born to die for all of us, while we were completely unaware of His entrance. I pray that I will “prepare Him room” and will be increasingly aware of the Presence of the Bread of Life in the manger of my heart. May our holy-days not be hollow; may the One who fills all in all (see Ephesians 1:23) deliver us from the emptiness of marketing mania and refresh us with Himself!

Home for the Holy Days

ImageThree of our now-grown children were home for the Thanksgiving holiday.   This morning, they have all returned to their respective homes to resume their separate lives.   That is, of course, how it should be.   That is what we raised them to do.   However, as each one departed, a piece of my heart walked out the door, and I was overcome by a wave of longing that only that particular child can fill.  Over the weekend, the house had been filled with their presence.   We did not plan any special entertainment.  We did what we do every Thanksgiving:  invite a variety of guests for Thursday’s holiday dinner and spend the rest of the weekend decorating the house for Christmas.   However, the atmosphere of our home was enriched immeasurably by the unique contribution each family member makes to the lovely palette of our household.  It happens every time.   The only thing that prevented the weekend from being completely perfect was the absence of the three older children (not to mention the grandchildren!).

As I contemplated this feeling of simultaneous fullness and emptiness  that always accompanies the comings and goings of our children, I remembered the years we lived in Norway when they were small.  We would fly home to the Midwest to descend on our families for an annual visit of a few weeks (it probably seemed like a few months to my mother, who did all the laundry and cooking for us during those visits!).  There were always tears on both sides as we all waved good-bye to one another when we boarded the plane back to Norway.  At that time, although I always felt extremely sad at the moment of departure,  I only understood those moments from the perspective of a grown daughter with a life and family of her own.  After all, I had my own life in another country.

As a parent of grown children who have ventured out to map their own lives, I am delighted that they have their own passions and dreams.   I would not want it to be otherwise.   However, nothing replaces their presence in our home.  Each one’s unique personality touches me at a profound level that is simply inexplicable.   Each one brings me joy — not for what that child does or does not do, but just for who that child IS.   Each one’s presence adds a dimension to our family that no one else could contribute.

THAT is, no doubt, how our Daddy God feels about each one of us.   He doesn’t care what I do for Him.  He has positioned me in this world to lead a life He Himself calls me to lead.  However, He longs for, delights in, and revels in the gift of my presence.   He can’t ever get enough of me!   His heart aches when I neglect to acknowledge Him or forget to discuss something with Him.  He bursts with pride when I walk out the door and move in confidence in areas He raised me to conquer.   His love is unchanging, and I am ALWAYS welcome on His knee.

Somehow, I think I just got a glimpse of holiness over the Thanksgiving holy day.   God gave me a little insight into His very own heart as a Father.   How grateful I am that He gave me the gift of motherhood on this earth; He has helped me understand His love for us.

“What’s the point?,” you might ask.  Just as I missed the children who couldn’t come home, our Father longs for those who have yet to come home to Him.   Whom could we invite to His table next?  Ask Him!  (See Luke 15.)