It’s Time to Fall Again

Fall.

My favorite season.

I close the windows of summer and bask in the new quietness of the inside.

bask in quietness

The spicy aroma of cinnamon, apples, and cloves overcomes the sweet fragrances of snapdragons, lilies, and roses. Nature walks lead to pockets full of pine cones, acorn hats, and seed pods. Tree limbs bow, yielding to wind’s power. Leaves dry, crinkle, and . . .

. . . fall.

They come down, and I receive their beauty like blessings.

James 1, 17

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And we do see the shifting shadows around us. The shortening of days, the brisk movement of clouds across the sky, blocking the sun, casting shapes across hilly landscapes.

Nature is hunkering down, preparing for dormancy. I am ushered to stillness by this thought. I am brought to that place where I can utter, “Speak, Lord.” The clutter drops from my life like the chestnuts from my neighbor’s tree, and I know if I reach to pick up the busyness again, I’ll be pricked.

Busyness

Fall.

Twelve years ago, he fell into my heart and sent down thick roots. And eleven years ago, October 15, our I do’s not only fell on the ears of friends and family, but rooted deep into God’s heart. A holy covenant formed. That man of mine, he still falls a bit deeper every year.

And when I fall–which I do so often–he catches.

I slip my feet into socks, the first time in months, and the threads hug my toes, a feeling that by January I won’t even notice, but now seems foreign. I light a candle. The soft glow from the string of white lights twining around my bookshelf brightens my heart. Tea on the stove, book in hand, afghan across my lap, and Strauss waltzes on the iPod. Thanksgiving floats through my soul, prominent as the pollen stirring up my sneezes.

And can I mention that great game? Football—the grinding of padded warriors working together, fighting, winning, falling. The delight of my loved ones, cheering, smiling, laughing, yelling at a television screen.

Yes, as an introvert, I love the intimacy of fall. The winding down, drawing in of nature. The time for gathering close what really matters—food for the soul—and storing it up for the barren seasons. Harvest time, a season of celebration for His provision. The garden finishes its offerings, and the dirty potato I pull up paints a silly smile on my face. I made this. I grew it. For this non-green-thumb, that sense of accomplishment is a grace gift.

food for the soul

Fall.

As a church musician, I pull out the Christmas music, begin to anticipate the bursting in of the baby Savior. The joy of the incarnation washes over me, like the pelting rain against the window. I let Christmas linger in the distance, the light at the end of the tunnel, and I keep my eye on it throughout the pumpkins, the football, the pilgrims, and the turkeys. Always, Christ coming . . . as flesh, as divine . . . into my life, wrapping around the sin and yanking it out by the roots.

Soup simmers on the stove next to the fresh applesauce, and so much simmers in my heart. Hopes for my children, quiet moments with my husband, prayers for the peace of the world, love for friends and family.

Fall.

What do you love about it?
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Places of Healing

When Hosea prophecies the tender healing of Israel, he doesn’t paint a Psalm 23 picture. No green pastures or quiet waters. On the contrary, the words of the Lord to his broken bride are this:

Hosea 2 14

He leads us to the desert. That means that the barren place I find myself in might not be by accident, nor even a result of my own sin or failure. I might have been lured here. Drawn by a Spirit whose quiet voice I’ve trusted and proved faithful, followed without question.

Wait. I thought the desert was a dry place. A place of forsakenness. The place where outcasts go to hide, saints go to test their spirituality. How can anything good come from a desert? Why would I go to a place of death?

Where God is, there is life.

Where the Lord chooses to lure us for healing is his choice. Read on in Hosea (the end of chapter 2) and you’ll find a beautiful picture of healing and wholeness. A picture that defies the image of an aired desert. The desert becomes a womb in which God forms his people. Sometimes life grows where we least expect it. He knits us and forms us in the most unusual environments.

But always–ALWAYS–life grows with God, and only with God. Jesus came to give abundant life. Not easy life. Not quiet-waters life. But full life. Life that can’t be subject to death. Life that doesn’t wilt when the heat comes.

Where God is, there is life.

Please, friends. Don’t fight the lure of the Spirit, wherever it may lead.

 

Beauty in the Morning

awake my soul

I live at the bottom of a mountain. Several days a week, I jump on the interstate and drive up that mountain to the town where my church–and much of my life–resides. In spring, wisteria drapes the hillsides. In fall, brilliant colors cloak the vista. Some nights, I chase the full moon down the mountain as it rises in the east and dominates the horizon landscape.

This morning, heading west, the sun shone from behind and slapped morning light against the hillside as I snaked up. I tried to engage my four-year-old in a moment of worship, “Isn’t this a beautiful morning the Lord has made?” I met his eyes in the rear-view mirror. He didn’t seem impressed.

But I was more than impressed. I was awakened. The way the light split the scattered clouds and drew silk lines along their edges–it was glorious. Just five minutes before, my daughter had asked, “What’s God’s glory?” With only one minute to answer before she hopped from the car for school, I took an out, “It’s hard to explain. Let’s talk about it this afternoon.”

Then I drove up the mountain and came face to face with glory. Praise awakened. The silly things of life that can drive me crazy–even the larger yearnings that nag–settled on the bottom of my heart like sediment on a river floor. I drank in the crystal-clear water of God’s beauty. What were the frustrations of life compared to this heavy goodness pressing in on my heart?

That’s God’s glory. Heavy goodness that’s so real it makes everything else seem trivial. Even the serious things of life which God cares about and doesn’t want us to brush over and pretend don’t bother us. Still, nothing compares to his glory.

be exalted

As we crested the mountain and the cross of a conference center came into view, a voice from the backseat asked, “Is that heaven?”

“What?” Had I heard right?

“Is that cross heaven?”

I smiled. “No, that’s Ridgecrest.”

But maybe this glory within is the promise of heaven. The deposit of the Holy Spirit guaranteeing what is to come. A slice of eternity right now.

What to do when beauty grips you by the heart and won’t let go . . .

He stands on top of a mountain and feels the Spirit of God pulse through his body. Life. Breath. Grace. Good gifts that seem to well up within as he surveys the panorama of jagged peaks.

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This is Alaska. Wildness that reaches inside you and awakens possibility. Beauty that whispers steady hope to your weary soul.

This is God: Creator of that wildness and Whisperer of that beauty.

What do you do when beauty makes you ache?

You praise. You get on your knees and beg the Almighty for more revelation. And then you come off that mountain top and live out that beauty in the everyday. In the muck and mire of government shutdowns, countries at war, accidents that take lives, and violence that invades innocence. And in that living out, you cry for more beauty. You cry to see Him more.

Ann Voskamp calls this practicing Eucharisteo (the Greek words of giving thanks). Jesus broke bread and gave thanks. Then he died on the cross. But death wasn’t the final word. Christ rose, grinding death into the ground and extracting beauty.

This beauty–the power of God in the resurrection of the dead–sings to us in the quiet moments, when we settle our souls and listen with our hearts. This is the beauty I hear whispered when hiking through the woods, staring across the vastness of the ocean, or yesterday, when passing a beautiful large wooden gate. Yes, a gate with a large iron hinge. It beckoned me to enter into the moment and praise.

So whether it’s mountains and wildness . . . (and who wouldn’t be snagged by the beauty of this?)

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. . .  or cities, people, or gates . . . open your ears to the Whisperer and praise Him.

Your turn: What situations of beauty have you been in that cause your soul to weep with joy?

The Redemption of the Body

In the wake of natural disasters, we easily relate to Paul’s words of a groaning creation (Romans 8), and the decaying of our bodies proves that a final, eternal redemption is a necessary reality of the future. Since salvation affects not only our hearts and souls, but also our bodies, does it follow that our bodies enter into the regeneration process of sanctification?

In one sense, the body bears the brunt of the broken world, and all bodies eventually yield to death. While the spirit may grow stronger and stronger, the aging process spirals the body from one degree of weakness to another.

But in another sense, the body bears witness to a thriving spirit. A person’s mental commitment to health can pull a waning body from illness. A hopeful heart can fight off illness. God has created an intricate relationship between body, soul, and spirit.

Would it not follow that just as we guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, we should also guard our bodies in Christ Jesus? After all, bodies are important to the Lords–so much so that he’s promised us a new resurrection body after our old body has passed from this life.

We speak often of the devil’s schemes, his flaming arrows against hearts and minds. But what about the attacks against our bodies? I don’t mean the physical persecution to which many Christians face. I refer to the more subtle attack of our culture on the meaning of beauty. And our bodies bear the impact of the entrapment of our minds to false beauty-ology. Unnecessary diets or cosmetic surgeries. Rigid exercise programs that stretch beyond health to addiction. Inappropriate investments of time and money in attempt to chase a particular standard of beauty. Crazy obsession with celebrities who possess said standard of beauty. Worry–lots and lots of worry over our imperfect shapes, colors, sizes, etc.

The freedom that Christ brings to our hearts should extend to our bodies.

Every choice we make regarding our bodies should reflect the transformations taking place in our hearts. As my heart and mind becomes more like Christ, and the fruit of the Spirit intensifies within me, I should treat my body with more of that fruit. More love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Someday we’ll have to give an account, not just for our words, but also for the things we’ve done to and with our bodies. Christ is coming back someday, and I want to be completely ready: body, soul, and spirit.

I’m Just Normal

The Tetons--beautiful because the Creator made them. (photo by Robert Eaton)
The Tetons–beautiful because the Creator made them. (photo by Robert Eaton)
My daughter--beautiful because the Creator made her in His image.
My daughter–beautiful because the Creator made her in His image.

I recently overheard this conversation between my eight-year-old niece and six-year-old daughter.

Niece: “You’re skinny.”

Daughter: “No, I’m not!”

Niece (laughing): “Are you fat?”

Daughter (increasingly upset): “No! I’m just normal!”

I’ve intentionally kept the words “skinny” and “fat” out of my daughter’s vocabulary, knowing the brutal effect such words can have on self-esteem. But that time of innocence has passed. As a first-grader, she will more and more become aware of beauty judgments and body terms.

Because I was slender, I was teased when younger about having an eating disorder. My body structure, handed down to me from a dad and mom with the same body type, refused to gain weight even with all the food I stuffed into it. And being constantly hungry (which I still am), I did stuff. When my grandma was in primary school, she had to stay in from recess and drink whole milk because she was so skinny–very humiliating for her, evidently, since she can still talk about it at 96.

Comments about body type can be harmful, and we need to guard our daughters’ ears from quick labels like skinny or fat. Yet not talking about my daughter’s body is not an option. When she takes special care to dress nicely, brush her hair, and put in a lopsided, mismatching barrette, I will compliment her efforts and call her beautiful. I want her to know that caring about how she looks is okay. That taking time to work on her physical looks is not sinful. Christian culture has been through an era (and some are still there) where external things of beauty were not appreciated or encouraged. Jewelry, make-up–rejected because of worldliness.

I’m sensing again a renewal of the “matter is bad” attitude amongst Christian culture as we fight against the out-of-control standards of beauty around us. In the conservative frenzy against unhealthy cultural beauty standards, some have swung too far the other way, saying we shouldn’t talk about our daughters’ bodies, except to explain how they work, or that we should only compliment our daughters on internal qualities. We shouldn’t look at pictures of beautiful people for fear of creating an appetite for a certain body type or style that is beyond most of us.

As I’ve written, having a body is good. Matter, as part of creation, is good. And our spirits and minds are intricately connected to our bodies. To ignore the beauty of matter–like our daughters’ external qualities–is to ignore part of who we are. If I see a beautiful sunset, should I withhold words of praise in case someone else has a different opinion? I know that the sunset’s beauty doesn’t stop at “sky value” just as human beauty doesn’t stop at “face value”. But just because that beauty goes beyond the surface, doesn’t mean the surface can’t be beautiful.

Beauty is rooted in the Creator. The eternal reality is that beauty is objective: that which is good, created by God, pure–those things are inherently beautiful. And so, all people, made in His image, have irrevocable beauty and value.

But the earthly reality is that beauty is subjective. We are attracted to different forms of beauty, and that is okay. As a sunset reflects the Creator’s beauty, so does a person with external beauty. The fact is, that some people hold gifts of physical beauty, like other’s hold musical gifts, or academic gifts. And often, we all hold unique packages of gifts, given by God for the working out of His purposes and the edification of His church.

When I talk to my daughter about her body, I won’t stay hushed about her physical beauty. But neither will I let beauty become narrowly defined by how she does or doesn’t look. I won’t ignore that she’ll be more attracted to certain looks than others, or certain style of clothes over other styles. It’s okay to have opinions about what is beautiful and what is not. It’s okay to want to look beautiful. When those opinions lead to obsessions and an out-of-balanced focus on self, then we’ve got a problem.

Back to my daughter’s comment, “I’m just normal.” I sensed in that comment a lack of interest in talking about her body. To her six-year-old mind, the words skinny and fat imply something abnormal, and all she wants to do is play Hello Kitty, dolls, read, and write stories. And that’s okay. That’s where she is developmentally. As she grows, I will teach her that “normal” is that place of gracefully understanding God’s gifts to her. “Normal” is not a certain beauty standard. “Normal” is enjoying who God has made her and is redeeming her to be.

So today, my hope for you is that you would be “just normal”. Ignore the skinny/fat talk, and focus on the gifts God has given you. If you want to spend extra time sprucing up your hair or choosing your outfit, do it and don’t feel guilty about it. As you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, remind yourself of the Creator of beauty and ask Him to spruce up your character, even as your brush through the tangles in your hair.

 

Beginnings and Endings

We come into this world not of our choosing, but by the actions of our parents and through the sovereign design of God. Birthdays are important celebrations of the beginning of our lives. Our celebrations of beginnings signals that we value the start-ups in our lives, be it the beginning of school, the beginning of marriage, the beginning of a new life, perhaps free from alcohol, or lived in a new house, or in a new city. Beginnings provide us a way to categorize time.

Beginnings and endings are like water and oil. They are hard to mix, but they can be shaken up and blended together for a time, causing confusion about boundaries. Calling the first day of school a beginning in turn marks the end of summer vacation, or with a five-year-old, the end of life as it’s been known. Beginnings and endings are intertwined. Consider death, mostly thought of as an ending. It can actually be an opening into a great reality, a glorious beginning.

We ultimately stand beyond the bounds of time. All of us have a beginning within time. None of us has an end. We will die in this world, but we will live eternally, with or without Jesus.

I remember as a young girl asking my father, “How old is God?” “He doesn’t have an age; he’s always been” came the answer. Jesus Christ is called the Alpha and Omega (first and last). He is before time and all things hold together in him (Colossians 1:15). As finite creatures, time weighs upon us, a heavy and unavoidable load to carry. We are propelled along by its great unavoidable arms. We are pushed into beginnings or endings we did not ask for. My husband and I were pushed into parenthood earlier than we expected. I reluctantly took a job that turned into a beautiful stage in my life. My seminary career ended differently than I would have planned.

Beginnings and endings can be beyond our control, and sometimes, even beyond our ability to sort out and understand.

Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

We may have eternity in our hearts, but we still cannot fathom God’s ways.

A Few Thoughts on Beauty

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14

Just like you, I like beautiful things. Sunrises, flowers, songs, mountains, words of affection. Pretty clothes, shimmering lip gloss, shiny shoes. Truth. Justice. Common Sense.

There was a time when I chased beauty like a hound on a coon. Except, not a very good hound, since I never felt I caught it. Can you guess which season of life this was? Yep, adolescence. During my teens, my body wasn’t the only thing changing. My heart was stretching, trying to cram as much beauty inside as possible. The need to be beautiful, for a teenager, is akin to the need for being loved. So it’s no surprise that Psalm 139 was a popular scripture with me in high school. It affirmed who I was. It gave me warm fuzzies. It soothed my aching self-esteem.

And then I became a young woman. I fell in love, and consequently, fell into beauty (That which is loved is always beautiful, as goes the Norwegian Proverb). I sort of forgot about Psalm 139, or rather, lost need for its truth.  My husband spoke beauty over me. I settled into a peaceful place. Confident. Dreaming God-dreams, seeing the future sitting like a colossal, unmissable target in front of me, urging me to shoot the arrow and hit the bullseye.

Then all of a sudden, it’s two children later and I have wrinkles around my eyes. In place of my tight, flat tummy is something that looks like a topographical map of crater lake. Pursue God-dreams? I’m trying to get enough sleep to dream, period. Exercise? It’s called bending over to pick up some toys and pausing a moment for a stretch or weightlifting my thirty-pound son during that afternoon pre-dinner meltdown. The only thing I’m chasing are disobedient children who dart into the street.

And so I arrive at another season of needing Psalm 139. Perhaps I need it more now than I did in high school when the beauty of an unknown future was enough to cause a hope surge. When I’m worn out from picking grains of rice off the floor, it’s easy for those Garden lies to pounce. Am I really worth just the couple of loads of laundry I managed to do today? What really makes me a woman? Is it truly, as this world wants me to believe, a well-dressed shapely figure with a lot of allure and mystique? According to all the ads for cosmetics, weight-loss programs, or plastic surgeons, what I look like is the key to contentment.

Really?Have we simplified beauty to nothing more than an outer presentation? If my skin just cleared up for once in my thirty-one years, will I magically be happy? If my hair finally decides to lay flat and not frizz out, will I have arrived at true bliss? Perhaps if it were just a matter of finding the right products or doing the right beauty treatments, we’d all find contentment.

It’s time to renew my beauty creed based upon Psalm 139. Beauty is connected with divine purpose. Living a called life is beautiful. I’m who I am for a reason and I can trust the Creator. I won’t capitulate to the standards of beauty in this culture, which are often hinged on that idol of body image. Curves (or lack of) don’t define who I am, nor does pure skin, or hair that won’t frizz. It’s not that what we look like on the outside doesn’t matter, because health and presentation are important, but in the light of God’s Kingdom, does it matter if I’m a size 4? The truth of the Gospel is that the longer the Holy Spirit simmers in us, the more beautiful we become. And that beauty manifests in our actions, our words, and even our appearances.

What makes me a woman is God and his providence. He decided to give me two x chromosomes, and that makes me a woman – fearfully and wonderfully made.Who am I? I’m a woman of worth, known by the Father, hemmed in by his Spirit, chosen before the creation of the world to do good works for the Kingdom of God. All other things take second place.

Lessons from the Beach

Something happens when God snatches away familiarity through the passage of time. Rebirth. Revision. Renewal. And out of this newness comes remembrance. Standing on the beach after years of being inland, I remember my childhood. I see inprints of God in the sights and sounds that are now uncommon to me.

I cannot help but pick up shells at the beach. How many of those blue mussel shells have I picked up over the years? And yet I am compelled towards one more. That blue against the gray down below my feet, and up above the gray clouds hiding a hopeful bit of blue. As I bend down to pick up the shell I marvel at all this beauty. So many grains of sand, shells that have been ground up and beat up by waves and crabs and tennis shoes until they are no longer shells of blue, white, purple, pink, red. All is gray now, grains snuggled against grains. The small added together to make the large.

How much beauty goes unnoticed? Camoflauged anenomes. Clam squirts. A hungry heron. The crabs hiding under the rocks. Each barnacle. Each shell. I cannot see them all. Their beauty outnumbers me.

So I start to think of all other parts of creation that secretly serve their creator. The moments missed by the human eye. Salmon swimming upstream. A frog’s wild jump. The butterfly’s emergence. Beavers building. Water evaporating. The fern unfurling. A doe birthing a fawn in quiet green pastures.

He leads me in quiet green pastures. Green for abundance.

There is an Eye that sees them all. Creator Beauty, smiling upon his six-day portfolio which could aptly be entitled, Spoken-Into-Being.

Unseen beauty is not limited to nature. Who knows a man’s spirit besides the Lord? It is the Spirit that knows the hearts of all, and I cannot help but wonder at the beauty that waits to be revealed. The beauty I refuse to let the Spirit surface in me. How the heart and mind lies down in quiet, green Spirit-filled pastures and births beauty – new ideas, impossible dreams, amorphous desires that grow into skeletal realities.

Eyes-Open Living

A few weeks ago I was driving up the mountain at dusk. The winter trees outlined against the darkening horizon atop the ridges looked like bristles on a brush. The color resting on the mountains looked like God had laid a blanket down on the hills and said, “Goodnight.” The spot of bright red sunset reminded me of an incident a few months earlier. My husband spilled red Koolaid on the carpet. Or rather, the dog did. My husband was merely the intelligent accomplice who left the glass of Koolaid sitting by the couch on the living room floor. I think he has 10% greater bicep strength after his regiment of cleaning activities.

I’ve decided this 2011 to live with my eyes open. No more bumping around my days, letting things go unnoticed. For instance, have you ever noticed how many bird nests you can see in the winter time? I started to count them as I was driving down the highway. I don’t think I got more than a mile before I stopped because it was too dizzying trying to count all those high-twig-dwelling places. I felt that, by trying, I had seen secret things. I had noticed what other motorists had not.

Eyes-open living requires intentionality. It’s being on edge always, not in the “unpeaceful” sense, but in the “readiness” sense. It’s being ready to recognize the small things and the things that are less obtrusive than internet, television, or so much of the other noise that demands our attention. It’s making choices to forgo some of those dominant things in our lives to give time and energy to something that may be initially unattractive, like reading or taking a walk. Sometimes it’s the hard choice. After a while it becomes the easy choice.

Eyes-open living is a discipline, like fasting or prayer. It takes time and steadfastness. It becomes part of how we function, woven into our daily happenings. It’s a change of perspective. The other day I laid down on my kitchen floor. Not a pre-meditated decision, but a spontaneous action borne out of play time with my son. Looking out that window from that perspective was a fresh experience. I started to experiment by sitting in chairs or places around my house where I normally didn’t sit. It expanded my appreciation for my house. It added newness to the stale moments of my day.

My eyes-open living tends toward nature observation, like noticing sparrows picking at food on a concrete sidewalk downtown, or bees drinking from flowers. A few weeks ago while playing the piano at church, I looked down to see three ants carrying crumbs across the platform. This amused me greatly. Here I was involved in worshiping the Lord Almighty while three tiny creatures who were not capable of cognitively recognizing of this Almighty Lord collected their food without a care. It was like Matthew 6:26  in action, except instead of birds it was ants that the heavenly Father was feeding.

I invite you to join me in this eyes-open pursuit. I’d enjoy hearing from you the little things that pique your interest as you keep your eyes open to your surroundings. May the Lord bless our efforts to enjoy his creation and his people in new ways.