Friday, May 20, 2011

The Tiny Spark and the Weak Tree

My energy is slowly coming back. With its return is the renewed realization of the passions that make me who I am. I do not do well with half-heartedness. I want to be a beacon of truth, of kindness, of compassion. A help to those who are sorrowful or searching. How I want to be a fire.

But it seems that most of the time I am closer to being a tiny little flame almost ready to go out.

Sometimes it feels like I have gone out. Wrong behaviors are the winds that threaten to extinguish the flame. When my past is laid bare, I don't know how anyone, especially God, could possibly consider me a light of truth. I am, at best, a flickering spark.

When I think about the kind of fruit I'd like to show from my life's work, I feel ashamed, because only the opposite sort of fruit, the kind that might taste good at first but later prove to be deadly, seems to show in my life. Selfishness, fear, worry, bitterness, disdain for others, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, insecurity, lack of self-control... these Poison Fruit bring despair, and ultimately, death of self, in a physical, spiritual, and mental way. 

Yet when I stop trying on my own to fix everyone and everything, then I begin to understand where true strength comes from. A tree that bears good fruit is planted in a safe place, near the water of wisdom, away from things that will corrupt its fruit. Fortunately I know a Gardener who watches over his plants very carefully, not letting them be destroyed in spite of their own shortcomings. He provides supports for my frail limbs. The fruit I am able to bear is only due to his gentle tending.

So for now I am the Weak Tree and the Tiny Spark. Yet I am NOT content to stay this way.... I am always seeking to grow more branches, to add more fuel to the fire. Maybe my little flame will help ignite others to become light as well. Perhaps someone will taste a fruit from my work which will benefit them. Thanks be to God that I am not alone in these endeavors!

When Seasons Change


Allergies. They are often the first sign that winter is melting into spring. But as much as possible, I try to ignore the pollen stuffing my head full of itchiness so that I can run outside to welcome the green. Tiny buds, little violet flowers poking up through the dry winter grass. And rain... lots of rain. Then the flip-flop of cold weather-hot weather-cold-weather-hot weather. The temperature changes more than a kid's mind in a candy shop.

Through the blooming of nature's green comes the renewal of my own inner self. More energy! More excitement! More hours of light! Time to dig out the tulip bulbs of projects left since the ending of the warm months of autumn last year. The outdoors calls. The sap of spring runs warm through my veins and the trees around me.

Time to plant herbs. Time to open the windows. Time to cook with fresh vegetables. Time to eat the gorgeous new berries available from the farmer's market.  Time to listen to the birds singing their hearts out. Time for Easter, with its beautiful reminder of the ultimate renewal of spirit and creation.


This post is part of Five Minute Friday.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Turning Mourning into Dancing

I fully admit to being impatient. I will agree with anyone who says that I am too quick to speak without thinking. Everyone has faults, and it seems that mine show themselves often enough that they must be fairly obvious to me and everyone else!

But when I was confronted with the possibility that I might be suffering from ungratefulness, my first thought was, "Surely not! I always remember to say thank you to people!"

Then I was called to look deeper than outward expressions of thanks. What was the state of my heart?

I was not content with my circumstances. I was frustrated with my sickness (Lyme disease, fortunately being treated) and lack of energy. I was complaining a lot.

When confusion dims my sight
Let your joy come in the morning
Drive the darkness from the night
Turn my mourning into dancing

Yet I have a wonderful husband who has been diligently running the household, doing dishes, laundry, cooking, taking care of me, etc. My ongoing healing process is aided by my doctor, antibiotics, healthy food, lots of sleep, a comfortable bed, clean environment, safe water to drink, supportive family and friends, and many other good things.

How could I have all those benefits and still be ungrateful for what I'd been given?

So for the past few days, I've been trying to cultivate gratefulness in my heart in place of dissatisfaction.

Encircle me, O Trinity
Let your joy come in the morning
Lord your joy my strength will be
Turn my mourning into dancing

Focusing on my blessings.

Meditating on the Psalms.

Deliberately choosing to smile instead of frown.

Being content with where I am and the body that I have.

Loving those around me even when I'm tired.

Not complaining.

Finding hope.

When anger to the wind is cast
Let your joy come in the morning
Weave your peace around me fast
Turn my mourning into dancing

I want to dance!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Can I Have Peace?

Today I've been pondering the meaning of the word "peace".

So many of my dear friends, and a few close family members, are experiencing extreme hardships right now, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Pain is being felt in many homes tonight. My heart aches for them, even as my own body aches from the infection I'm currently fighting. Trouble on the outside... sorrow on the inside.

There have been a few verses floating around in my head as I try to process everything.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" ~ Psalm 27:1

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." ~ Psalm 46:1-2

And especially this one...

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." ~ John 14:27

It seems that if we are able to have peace, then it means we are able to weather any storm of life without being knocked off our feet, because our strength is found in something so strong that nothing can shake it. Does this mean that our emotions are unworthy? No. Grief, anger, hurt are important expressions of our hearts; we are not machines. If we have peace, though, then we do not need to have despair. Should we become disinterested or fatalistic about our futures? Not one bit. We possess value in and of ourselves as individual, unique humans who can have a positive impact on the world and people around us, if we care to develop our potential gifts.

Peace comes from knowing that no matter what, we will be "okay". Even deeper than that, peace comes from knowing that no matter what happens in our outward lives, to our physical bodies or physical environment, our inner self will be safe. The flesh may be chained yet the heart still flies free. As another way of putting it, earthly possessions return to dust, but the soul has a haven impervious to destruction.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Through Hard Times

Families are broken. Friends walk away from the light to pursue darkness. Health fails. Lives change. The world aches. Yet through all things I wish for the strength and conviction to speak these words along with David:

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?"
Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself,
you despise them as phantoms.

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and arrogant;
I was like a beast toward you.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God...

~ Psalm 73, excerpts

Friday, May 13, 2011

Deliberately Creative

When I look at the world around me, I am inspired. There is so much beauty everywhere. The patterns and shapes and symmetry of the universe are astounding! Especially in the springtime, as nature renews its colors, the amazingness of being alive continuously surprises me. Yes, I just wrote "amazingness". As the world shows evidence of being created, so I feel encouraged to create, whether I sit at my desk or go outside.

Creating also feels like a kind of nurturing. When someone else acknowledges our creations, it brings attention to ourselves, even to our inner thoughts. The creator nurtures its creation... the creation brings nurture to its creator through its flourishing and through the recognition of others. 

Take some time to create today. Look around you. Only your eyes need to see what you make. Or you can bless others by sharing your creation. Be grateful for the opportunity to become an apprentice to the Master Creator.

This post is part of Five-Minute Fridays.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thoughts on Ayn Rand, rational theism, and Christianity

Lately I've been thinking a lot about what it means to use both reason and faith in my beliefs as a Christian. So with all the news about the new movie featuring Ayn Rand's theories, my curiosity was piqued. Several of my friends consider themselves objectivists or rational theists. After some research into both philosophies I must say that in my opinion they take the color out of life while turning the universe into a purely mathematical, unwelcoming place.  

Rational theism appears to accept many of Christianity's tenets, yet it goes about explaining them in such a way that turns the organic, creative, ever-changing human being into something barely more than a machine. Mankind is a thinking AND feeling form of life; how can it be right to completely dismiss the emotional/relational side of ourselves? Rational theism may be a way of thought that appeals to those who are extremely logical or scientifically minded; however, I don't find any place for a personal, spiritual relationship with an ever-living God in its theories. Belief in reason is given precedence over belief in God. Yes, God has given us a mind, which we are meant to use wisely, but the mind is not what ultimately saves us. 

When I visited the Ayn Rand Institute's website to explore the values of Objectivism, I found several things that contradicted basic Christian beliefs. Under Metaphysics was the sentence "objectivism rejects any belief in the supernatural". Another phrase under Epistemology states that "objectivism rejects mysticism (any acceptance of faith or feeling as a means of knowledge)"; also, under Ethics: "objectivism rejects any form of altruism- the claim that morality consists in living for others or for society". These statements contradict the Biblical teachings about the validity of a spiritual realm, the importance of faith, and the core message of Christianity. Man should not be worshiped; the creature is not greater than the Creator.

Logic on its own comes to a conclusion that self-interest is, at its foundation, the best choice for mankind. However, when faith is the only advisor, the issues of narrow-mindedness, or "blind faith", and a disregard for rational thought emerge. At its root any religious belief must be taken on faith, but I think that there is cause for a healthy balance of reason that should go along with it. As Christians we are encouraged to think clearly without merely accepting the words of any teacher. Trust in God needs to be matched with wisdom and the search for knowledge.

As a final note, here is a quote I read on Sunday (apologies for not knowing who the author is). It is a reminder that despite the pain of this reality, there is a deeper meaning to our existence:

"As [psychologist] William James pointed out, if we are indeed part and parcel of a meaningless universe, the kind in which Jesus could be murdered on a cross with no resurrection, then being depressed only makes good sense. Under these conditions the sensitive and sensible person will be depressed. I have discovered only one event in history that redeemed all this evil for me and gave me hope: the resurrection of Jesus. Allowing the resurrected One to be constantly present, I can deal with all the evil suffered by Jesus, by my friends and by me. I can face all the rape, pillage, war and hatred that I hear about daily, and still have hope. The resurrection reveals the ultimate nature of the universe, and the risen Christ continues to victory over the power of evil."   

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Celebrating an Anniversary

When arriving at something as important as a thirty year anniversary of a church, you'd think that a good theme to commemorate the event would be something uplifting, a positive phrase that would rejoice at the past time and look forward to a strong future.

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that the theme of my church's anniversary was going to be taken from Psalm 90.   Not exactly what I'd call uplifting! The Psalm starts out with a comforting reminder of God's might and care for His people, but it quickly heads into what might appear to be a depressing account of man's frailty. The brevity of our human lives is contrasted with the eternal timelessness of God; "the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty, yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away".

Yet this is a fitting thing to ponder even on the happy anniversary of our church's founding. Why? Because life is about time.

In the sermon on Sunday, our pastor outlined three things that Psalm 90 teaches. First, life is short compared to God's eternal glory. We come from dust and to dust we return. That fact alone is sobering enough. Nobody can argue with it. Secondly, our lives are marked by pain and sorrow. Think of the turmoil and poverty in other countries, or the natural disasters that have been devastating cities all over the world. There are troubles for all people, even those who have a relatively easy existence as middle class residents of the United States. Third, these troubles are due to a fallen world full of sin. Nature is imperfect. Our minds are corrupted. As a culture and an individual, we have defied God by following our own warped morals, meaning that we can never meet up to His holy, pure standard.

Does all this sadness mean that we should just live however we please and then die, because there is no hope? No! Foremost in this life we have the hope of being able to trust in the holiness of God. His character never changes. While He is the epitome of justice, He is also the heart of mercy. I don't understand fully how God can be both the righteous Judge and the Lover of my soul, but I am able to trust in God's divine plan.

The contemplation of death can clarify what is truly important for us. Knowing that God is in control is one step towards hope in life. Verse 12 of Psalm 90 gives us the next reason for living mindfully: "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom". If our time is limited, then we must use the minutes, hours, days, and years carefully. You've often heard people say "don't waste your time".  This is a wake-up call to prioritize your existence!

So what does it mean to gain a heart of wisdom? Why would the Bible say that this is the most important thing a person can do in their short lifetime? Proverbs 9:10 holds the basic answer: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". This is not the kind of fear that translates into terror, but the type of fear that inspires awe of the utter holiness of the living God. Awe is meant to lead us to wonder, which leads into searching out knowledge of God's character, that we might know Him better. We can be free in the wisdom of God to be who we are really meant to be, to serve our communities with our gifts, to change the cycle of selfishness, and to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

God is our true refuge in a world full of sorrow. The greatest mystery is that God somehow came down from His great height to provide us with a way off this merry-go-round of birth-pain-death. I am thankful for the time I have been given.

"Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days."

"Let the favor of our Lord God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!"