The Ugly Snapshots

I tend to write what I’m learning. What I am being convicted of, or truths God is putting before me over and over until my slow processor at long last recognizes the patterns and repetitions as the pictures they were meant to be, or in the very least that they are pictures. Sometimes beautiful pictures, sometimes ugly ones — ugly in that they capture weakness or brokenness or messiness. Though stirring I suppose, in the way that they are snapshots of something real and unfiltered and I am grateful for the glimpse of something as it is, rather than how I’d like it to be.

I then attempt to study and organize and string together these various snapshots into clear and meaningful strands that convey something truthful and useful and practical. It helps me attach meaning to those raw segments of life and emotion. It motivates me to seek God for answers and look for his providential thread being woven in my life. It excites me to share those fragments all sensically strung together in the hopes that others might appreciate the masterpieces God is slowing weaving in my life and more easily identify the ones being woven in their own.

It’s a craft I enjoy and see the utility of, but the more I do it, the more I’m starting to realize the limitations of it. I’ll have seasons and bursts of productivity when I feel as if I can barely write quickly enough to capture and properly organize all the pictures God is putting before me, like one of those old-fashioned slide projectors being advanced way too fast to really savor and experience the fleeting images. And then nothing. Though nothing isn’t quite the right word, because so often I’m thinking and feeling more than ever, but I feel as if I’m staring at a messy pile of snapshots, that aren’t particularly lovely or related and I just can’t quite figure out how to string them together into something logical or useful. Not as a lack of transparency, or a desire to only show the pretty things, because I’ve never been one to shy away from sharing my hard things or my struggles — more so a desire to share them in the most useful way possible. Isn’t it what we do with those ugly things that makes them beautiful?

And that’s often my problem, for as deeply as I think and feel about so many things, I’m hopelessly practical — even utilitarian at times. As if I’m stuck at the extreme ends of all the personality profiles and can’t figure out how to consistently migrate to the middle of any of them, which is where you feel like everything is supposed to mesh and all the magic happens.

Like when you realize you haven’t posted on Instagram in ages, and you flip through your photos and all you seem to have are utilitarian screenshots and grocery lists and things you’re selling on craigslist, or else those blurry shutter clicks of weeping babies or shattered coffee mugs sitting in puddles of never-sipped coffee, merely meant to quickly communicate life as it’s happening to your husband at work. In ways that effortlessly convey the depths of your emotions at that very second without necessitating words you don’t feel like (or probably shouldn’t be) forming. And you realized you haven’t documented anything in weeks that isn’t either sterile or blubbering — no feelings or all of them.

But I’m starting to realize that maybe I’m missing out on the value of trying to see God in those individual and unrelated snapshots. Maybe those micro-moments in life are meant to be lessons in and of themselves, and while I don’t know for sure, I do know that the uncertainty and unknowingness of it all is doing things to me that I think I need, even though I can’t quite articulate exactly what they are yet.

Perhaps I should start writing more often without having outlined exactly where it’s going to go and how it’s going to end. Maybe I need to practice and learn how to look and listen for God and his truths in all the little moments when I haven’t yet figured out the point or the lesson, or if there even is one.

That one paragraph I’ve re-read five times, in the book I’ve been trying to read for weeks but keep getting interrupted.

Those intense discussions about politics that bring out so many thoughts and so few answers.

The moments when I hate these culturally tumultuous times for revealing so much ugliness in the body of Christ, and yet I catch glimpses of realness and truth and feel like something better is just maybe beginning to emerge, albeit slowly.

That great dinner date I finally get to have with my husband where we at last share some food and drinks and excitement that God must be doing big things, but we can’t figure out for the life of us what they are.

Those conversations that are equal parts hard and frustrating and deep and true. And I can’t tell if we’ve moved forward or backward.

That acknowledgment that I’m struggling in so many areas of parenting, and I’m ready to make big changes, but can’t quite make them stick.

That realization that we’ve been “moving” for six months now and still have no forwarding address and still can’t figure out what God has for us in a town I don’t really want to be in, but I know it’s just gotta be something.

Those moments when I profoundly miss the community and ministry and relationships I had to leave, yet I know I’m being purposefully altered by the deep lessons God is carving out in my soul in all the quietness.

Those days when I have to fall to my knees over and over again because my ugly sin keeps re-surfacing and my knees are sore and I’m tired, but I feel profoundly impacted by all that time I’ve spent before a holy God.

Those few words of scripture that will pierce my soul unexpectedly, though I couldn’t even tell you why.

Those hours that string into days and months, and I live them feeling as if nothing is happening and nothing is changing and yet I feel like a completely different person than who I was half a year ago. Maybe in good ways, but I don’t feel quite ready for that adjective yet — more so, deep ways.

And if our God is the Lord of our lives, he’s also the Lord of our minutes and our seconds.

He already sees every single snapshot of my life from beginning to end. From the time he called me into this world to the time he’ll carry me out. And even the times I am unable to picture how they’ll all fall out into lovely arranged collages, or identify the chapters or even guess tomorrow’s pages, I know they are not haphazardly placed. Each one has a story and an aim and significance, even if only for the fingers that placed them there and the one who was with me as it was taken. There is value right then and right there in the things not fully understood, regardless of what is made of them later.

And I find comfort in words written long ago, reminding me of our wise and loving God who is directing all these mixed up snapshots of my life, as he soothes my heart into patience, lifts it in hope, and floods it with courage for the times ahead, whatever they may be.

“The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain; but its groans shall not disturb the music of their life, nor its travail cloud the brightness of their little day. In contrast to this Pagan temper the Christian method is to look elements in the face, and see in them the promise of blessing. Christianity does not simply declare the inevitableness of sorrow, or merely lay down rules for lessening its bitterness. It discovers a wise and loving God directing all the mixed processes of life to a beneficient issue. And thus it soothes the heart into patience, lifts it into hope, and floods it with courage.” ~T. Hammond

 

 

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Why We Count Baskets: The Heart of Abundance & Need

Mark 8:10. The scene has just shifted from the miraculous and climactic feeding of thousands with a mere seven loaves and a few fishes — Jesus filling the overwhelming deficit between his children’s needs and his abundance. He takes what little they had and gave them far more than they could ever need. More than enough.

Some disciples and Jesus push off in a boat from the eastern side of the Galilean Sea, met on another shore by some Pharisees who want more. His healings and feedings and abundant meeting of needs weren’t what they were looking for. It wasn’t enough.

So they cross the lake once more, distancing themselves from the prideful doubters. Jesus sighs deeply, his soul mourning over the Pharisees’ hardened hearts, their hypocrisy, their deceitfulness, their antagonism. Like leaven in bread, their false doctrine corrupts and spreads and infects, puffing themselves and others’ up with sinful self-sufficiency, leaving no room for truth and humble dependence. No room to be healed or fed. They thought they were enough.

Jesus warns his people — watch out. Be careful of that leaven.

But it’s quiet now. Safe. It’s just them and their rabbi on a boat. A boat not rocked by violent waves in an angry sea like others have been. The sky was likely blue and clear, not dark and menacing like skies that would come later. It’s hard to let warnings sink as deeply into our soul as they must when we’re comfortable.

Their minds wander, as they often do when things are going well… Wait. Someone forgot to bring lunch — at least not an adequate one. It’s not enough. I heard ‘leaven,’ he must be talking about bread. The bread we forgot. Because it’s all about us, our abilities, our planning, our lists, our tasks, our bellies that need filling. If we do everything just right, we’ll have enough for today and tomorrow and next year. And if we don’t do enough, we won’t have enough. Sometimes thinking we aren’t enough is just as dangerous as thinking we are. In both cases — whether we fail or succeed, we are the provider of our needs.

As the leaven even then was at work in their hearts, they too had already forgotten. The provision and the filling and the unplanned, abundant portion they had received, barely even digested. As their provider sat right next to them.

“Do you still not see or understand?”

Jesus had been talking about Pharisees, but for some reason now he asks them about earlier in their journey and earlier in the day. Their last meal.

“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they say.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Seven,” they say.

He has them go over the details. Not because they don’t know them, but because they must dwell on them. They remember the numbers of baskets, but they have forgotten or can’t see what those numbers mean. What they reflect. He does not ask them how much they gave, he asks them how much they got back. He draws them from what they did to what he did. For them.

The loaves and the fish and the overflowing baskets are lovely blessings, but the ultimate blessing is not the full belly, but having one who cares whether or not they are hungry or full. The one who took what they handed him, broke it, multiplied it, and handed back an amount far greater than the need. He gave them a tiny but incredible taste of God.

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8).

The only lesson worthy of the miracle, was that God cares for his children. Because that’s what remains whether their bellies are full or they are starving on a prison floor. That’s what would carry them to the end.

“This lesson they had not learned. No doubt the power of the miracle was some proof of his mission, but the love of it proved it better, for it made it worth proving: it was a throb of the Father’s heart. The ground of the Master’s upbraiding is not that they did not understand him, but that they did not trust God; that, after all they had seen, they yet troubled themselves about bread” (George MacDonald, ‘The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity’).

Jesus came not to give us bread, but to give us God. And he gave us himself so we could have God. We will never stop worrying about bread until we grasp this. When our minds are so full of worry, we can’t think with simplicity about anything else. We must stop and remember what we have seen, what we have been given, what we have eaten and tasted — not to add up and count and collect so we can throw up a lovely little #blessed — but to remember the hands it was given by and ponder why. We must learn to gaze up — in our abundance and in our want — to the God who loves us so fiercely and knows our needs long before the hunger pangs start. We must believe and trust that he will always be bigger than that measly little loaf and bigger still than more baskets of bread than we could ever eat.

“Distrust is atheism, and the barrier to all growth. Lord, we do not understand thee, because we do not trust thy Father… The things of thy world so crowd our hearts, that there is no room in them for the things of thy heart, which would raise ours above all fear, and make us merry children in our Father’s house! Surely many a whisper of the watching Spirit we let slip through brooding over a need not yet come to us! Tomorrow makes today’s whole head sick, its whole heart faint. When we should be still, sleeping or dreaming, we are fretting about an hour that lies a half sun’s-journey away!” (George MacDonald, ‘The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity’).

Help us to obey, to resist, to trust.

Help me to look back and count my baskets. Remember whose hands gave them. Recognize that he is enough. He was, he is, and he always will be. Know that I was provided for because I am deeply loved. Know that because I am deeply loved, I will be provided for. Not always in the ways I want but always in the ways I need. While I can’t follow the thread of providence forward to see the peaks and valleys where it will take me, I can trust and rest in the fact that I know where the thread I desperately cling to leads. My provider is on the boat with me, carrying me to my Father. And when my tired eyes are struggling to see what often feels so far away, I can always follow that providential thread back and clearly see from whom it came, for that is to whom I will go.

 

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A Revolution for the Weary

Revolution for the weary

I overheard one of my kids describing the New Year, as “that time when grown-ups make New Year’s revolutions.” It made me think. I’m not one for resolutions—the cold and dreary arrival of January rarely incites enough excitement for me to add things to my endless to-do list. The holidays are over, everything is starting up with a vengeance, the expectations of the new year are before me, and I am WEARY. And weary people have no business making resolutions. Those are the things I make every night of my life. Tomorrow, I’m going to [insert well-meaning and lofty goal]. So many things I could put there. I just can’t.

A revolution, however, is a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works and by the time I actually get around to buying a calendar with the accurate year on the front of it, the reality that things just aren’t working could not be more apparent. A hard look at what my weary soul is revolving around is the only fix for something a resolution band-aid could never mend.

There are a thousand reasons I really, truly should exercise more, eat better, sleep longer, spend less, de-clutter, and parent more effectively but these things must never be my life’s orbit. My soul matters infinitely more than my body or my diet, God determines my future (not my savings account or 401K), my messy house and dirty laundry are not eternal (praise the Lord), and contrary to what all the blogs imply, motherhood is not my highest calling. There are so many good and noble things I can do, but the truth is, I will do them immeasurably better and more effectively and they will not be wasted when my life revolves around a perfect, holy, unchanging foundation—the person of God, rather than the hundreds of great things that will ultimately lead to the opposite of rest and peace when they become my focus, rather than my fruit.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

We are drowning in choices. It’s hard to know which fight to pick, which cause to rally behind, or what to make our life’s work.  We can become so obsessed with finding our purpose and knowing God’s plan for our lives, that we forget HE is our purpose and knowing HIM is his plan. Not accomplishing our next (even godly) goal, but knowing the creator of the universe in a real and intimate way. God’s wisdom, direction, and his purposes are so intertwined with who he is. The deeper we know the person of God the more our hearts and passions (and resolutions!) will align with his. Oftentimes, this means letting go of the goals we already have.

I’m not sure why I fight this so much—embracing surrender. On paper it sounds beautiful and easier and simpler, but giving up goals is hard. “Surrender” is the last word that comes to mind when we think of revolutions. But God’s ways are not our ways. The world tells us to fight it and make it and do it and take it, while God says, “be still and know that I am God.” How’s that for a fight song? Instead of taking back our life we are called to give it up. We can say “in God we trust” all day long but if we can’t surrender our job, our children, our marriage, or our future then it’s not him we’re trusting in.

 “The Lord will fight for you. You only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

Still can be the hardest. The word conjures up images of just sitting here oblivious to reality while our house degenerates into shambles, our children eat leftover Christmas candy for dinner, and our un-exercising selves just get more flabby and out-of-breath as we hide in our room reading the Bible all day. Or maybe that we give up on our dreams, stop applying ourselves to our work, or turn a deaf ear to the needs and battles around us because we need to “focus on God.” It just sounds lazy. But lest we think we are destined for a dreary existence of just quitting and eternal waiting, we must remind ourselves, that is not God. Why? Because that is not life, and God assures us that: “Whoever finds me finds life”! (Proverbs 8:35).

 “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” (Daniel 11:32b)

God sent his own son to the middle of our mess and Jesus did not merely sit home all day praying and neglecting the broken world around him—because he was in perfect fellowship with his Father. He knew God’s will because he knew God. And there were times he waited. He was a carpenter for thirty years before starting full-time ministry because sometimes God’s purpose for him was to live excellently with what was before him, sometimes it was to turn tables, and sometimes it was to rest and pray and literally give up his life. The more we know our God, the more his wisdom overflows, and the clearer it becomes whether we need to sit still and stand firmly in his presence or whether it’s time to act and fight his holy battles. We must cease striving for one hot second and seek him before searching for answers.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

As we set out to know God and bring him glory he opens our eyes to paths we weren’t aware of before. He wants us to have that unrivaled feeling of living out what we were called to do. These changes often happen in subtle almost imperceptible ways, but when we walk in his presence he directs our days and our thoughts and our work and our conversations and our errands in ways we never would have on our own.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

It can’t be an afterthought, checklist, or just another read-through-the-bible plan. If we truly want our life to revolve around God rather than all the things competing for our heart and our thoughts and our time, we must expect to do life differently. There is a cost. A revolution can’t be one of our many nightly resolutions to do better tomorrow—it’d be like the earth trying to revolve around the sun in addition to a dozen other things. It will fail. God wants our all not just our Sunday mornings. But this can be different than our feeble attempts that rarely make it to February, because this one doesn’t just depend on us. In our distractibility and weariness, he is strong. His power is perfected in sleepless nights, 60-hour-work-weeks, mom-brain, failing bodies, and A.D.H.D. prayers. We need to be willing and open and fervently commit this to the Lord, but it is him who will act. He will show up every day and do beautiful things and show us who he is. Will we stop and look and listen and learn? Will we let him change our days so he can change our life?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) It’s the only answer to our busy, un-restful, un-peaceful lives. So let this be our desperate prayer and our rallying battle cry whether we’re crawling or sprinting into this new year before us:

Dear Lord,

Help me open my weary eyes in the morning and immediately seek you rather than the world. Turn my eyes from worthless things and let no sin rule over me. Make my weaknesses clear and your strength blindingly clearer. Transform my thoughts and my lists and my habits. 

Help me parent my children the way you parent me, and don’t let me forget that being filled by you first allows me to fill them better. Make the minutiae of my life matter eternally.

Trouble me more about the state of my heart than my body—help me train and exercise my soul to pursue you. Don’t let me use relationships to fulfill me in ways only meant to be satisfied by you. Enable me to use every cent that comes or goes to advance your purposes rather than my pleasures or security. Convict me that your Kingdom is more important than my house.

Help me rest in your hope rather than wallow in my fear. Thwart my feeble yet habitual attempts to rely on my own abilities. Burden my heart with what distresses you rather than what stresses me.

Help me seek you more than answers. Help me pray more than worry, and worship more than grumble. Be my rest after sleepless nights and my peace in the chaos.  Help my mind wander to you when I’m weary. Show me your glory today.

Amen.

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Lord, Help My Daily Unbelief

Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com

I once sat in a hospital room and watched my incoherent eight-year-old boy battle a life-threatening intracranial blood clot. I was oddly calm. I clung to the goodness of God and did my best to trust that he held my son in his hands — at that point it was essentially my only option. There were no more decisions to make, no actions I could take, and nothing I could control.

It’s easy to look back at times of seemingly big faith, where I “let go” of things I never really had, and foolishly pat myself on the back a little and think, “Hey, I got this. I was faithful. It worked!” only to be blindsided as I fall apart during much smaller trials — the ones that require me to make decisions, solve problems, or actually do things based on my beliefs.

Now, not even a year later, I’m losing my temper with that now nine-year-old boy as he fights with his brother, or makes one of his little sisters cry. I’m weary from a hard move that’s not finished. Worried about a house that needs to sell so we can join my husband in a different state at a new job. Stressed about finances and the future. Losing my cool over a leaking washing machine and a kitchen being taken over by ants. Concerned that my offspring are planning a coup d’etat in response to my obvious weakness and lack of leadership.

I feel far from God. My quiet times, when they happen, seem rote and shallow. My prayers feel weak. I’m stripped of my usual security, and home, and church community, and ministry, and my support system. And what’s left isn’t pretty. My soul is at war.

Betraying Our Theology by Unbelief

Here I am, collapsing under the pressure of a move and ants and some immediate uncertainty. Why? Is the God I placed my trust in at the moment of my salvation any less good when I’m navigating my second hour in line at the DMV with weeping children? Even though I’d still vehemently defend God’s absolute sovereignty, my actions often reveal an unbelief that speaks louder than my words.

When my mind is consumed with my bank account, I’m believing that money provides my security rather than my Savior. When I yell at my children for leaving a mess I need to clean, I’m believing that my comfort comes from an orderly house rather than from the God of all comfort. When I become despondent over an uncertain future and lack of stability, I’m failing to believe that I am merely a pilgrim and this is not my home.

Every hour that goes by that I fail to pray and cry out to God is an hour that I’m telling him, “It’s okay, I got this.” And then I hypocritically wonder how I got here.

“Help Me If You Can”

This became evident to me as I wearily stumbled over Mark 9. A father desperately seeks healing for his son with an evil spirit. He’s tried everything in his own power, he’s tried the church, he’s even tried the disciples, until at last, when everything else has failed, it’s just him and Jesus. There’s nothing left but a feeble, “Help me if you can” (see Mark 9:22).

My prayers sound like that far too often. I exhaust all options before sheepishly coming to the one who has power over all, and then I pray as if I’m not totally sure he can even help. Or at least I don’t expect him to. But Jesus responds to him with such power and authority that the boy’s father immediately saw in this man something far more glorious and powerful than the darkness that tormented his poor son for years. And at that moment he believed.

But the mere presence of belief does not completely eradicate unbelief. He immediately and honestly beseeches Jesus to fill that gap. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Such a perfect and simple response. Raw faith combined with the confession that he needed Christ to attain the far more perfect faith he craved. And Jesus answered him with a wonderful miracle, because miracles are born of faith.

As I walk through my valley, I am struck by how easy it is to be blinded by unbelief. My problem goes far deeper than my present hardships. Understanding that unbelief is often the hidden root underneath a variety of different sins is an important part in being able to weed them out of our souls.

War Against the Glory-Thief

Belief and unbelief can exist side by side. In fact, in this fallen world where uncertainty and doubt find their home, there will always be a war raging between these opposing elements. This shouldn’t feel comfortable. If for the sake of ease, you try to pacify and accept the enemy of unbelief in your soul, you’ll only get more unrest by housing a ruthless enemy in your heart. Never become complacent with unbelief. The ease and comfort we seek in complacency is a weak and pale prize in comparison to purer belief.

“Unbelief robs God of his glory in every way,” said Charles Spurgeon. Just because there will always be a war between the two doesn’t mean we accept the presence of unbelief. Darkness thrives on unbelief, often leading us into sin. While doubting isn’t necessarily a sin in itself, the sin begins when our doubts lead to action. When we enthrone unbelief over belief and actively serve that falsehood, we are exchanging a truth for a lie.

We can’t pretend to know God’s ways, and the righteous will not escape hardship, but there are times when I truly believe my trials are lengthened or even repeated due to deeply-rooted habits of unbelief. I’m robbing God of the glory that comes from believing the truth of his sovereignty, even down to the frustrating little details of my day.

Pray in Faith

Prayer is medicine for unbelief. When belief and unbelief collide, let us turn to the one our belief comes from, the source and object of our faith. Personal contact with Jesus our Savior is how we drive away unbelief. Seek his face. Pray desperately and expectantly — the belief we do have is the only means of vanquishing the enemies of our peace. Let your weak faith cling to our mighty God. Repent and pray for deliverance from unbelief even before praying for deliverance from your circumstances.

Lord, forgive me for not believing that your truth permeates every single layer of my life. Fan my tiny smoldering little spark of faith into a burning and consuming fire that will bring you glory and drive out darkness. But don’t ever let me think it is strong enough or that I have any hope of stoking it and keeping it alive apart from you. I believe; help my unbelief!

 

 

 

 

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