Monday, April 28, 2014

Sprung Spring

FOR April 28, 2014

Outside my window... 
spring has sprung in earnest. Green grass and weeds reach for sunlight, pink primroses and my Nonni's roses burgeon with new blooms, a few larkspur add purple to all the pink, the blackberry bush overflows with promises of fruit in another month or so, and Amore's vegetables and herbs leaf out and sport a few blooms.

I am thinking...
about whether to have my hair cut short (pixie-cut short) again for surgery and summer.

I am thankful that...
God gives such beauty and variety in His creation, even just in birds and blooms alone;
God has granted enough ankle healing to walk 2/3 mile most days lately;
my nephews won their baseball game yesterday;
my mother's broken bones in each foot only require walking boots and won't cancel her upcoming travel plans;
today I can use both hands and enjoy the greater dexterity of my right;
today I can enjoy journaling, list-making, and writing notes by hand;
connections with two dear friends have been renewed in recent weeks;
Amore stayed home from something Saturday afternoon to spend extra time with me on a dinner date and visit to an unfamiliar coffee shop (which even had live music that night);
my church is so full of kind, compassionate, praying friends;
the worship music the last two weeks has brought uncharacteristic tears;
my bone density results showed stability and slight improvement, against all medical odds;
two other labs unexpectedly returned abnormal but under God's control;
it is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in anyone or anything else (Ps. 118:8);
He is so kind and gracious as to pull away the other props I lean on in wrong ways.
(2014 gratitude journal #1173-1186)

In the kitchen...
Madge the dishwasher is helping out with my chores and, happily, leftovers await consumption as our supper tonight.

I am wearing...
a navy polo dress and testing out my walking shoes instead of hiking boots.

I am creating...
do lists count??
 am going...
I am going...
nowhere today, and I'm happy about that.

I am wondering...
if trust will ever again be my default response over worry. God granted tremendous progress in that, once upon a time, but I think I have lost all the ground I've gained and more in recent years. The level of difficulty has increased, but so has my experience of God and His Word.

I am slowly reading...
Leviticus, Isaiah, Ephesians, and Psalms; the memoir An Unquiet Mind; A.W. Tozer's The Crucified Life; North and South (audio, just one chapter a week with CraftLit); and Church History in Plain Language (audio)

I am hoping...
family members have a wonderful, joyful trip to Walt Disney World next week.

I am looking forward to...
several weeks of few chores, no driving, and an excuse for no makeup when my right/dominant arm is in a sling after surgery. Oh, and probably no hiking boots if I can find an adequate lace-free substitute to accommodate my ankle brace and orthotics for those weeks.

I am learning...
to say and try to live the armor of God passage in Ephesians 6. And to write my name and attempt a signature with my left hand.

Around the house...
white laundry awaits folding and stowing, colored laundry sits in Rose the washing machine soaking until I run it later today, my list keeps growing faster than I can cross things off (and yet, here I sit), and Easter lilies bloom on the kitchen table while roses cheer my computer desk.

I am pondering...
the power and beauty of a college athlete's kindness to a dying little girl and her courage in suffering. Why is this such a moving tale? This story of strength helping weakness and receiving strength in return brought me to tears and reminded me that the way I endure (and fail to) affects more than just me. May the Lord comfort the Holsworth family, A.P., and Lacey's many other friends in their loss and draw them close to Himself.

A favorite quote for today...
"A thirsting and a longing for the cool water [of fellowship with Jesus Christ] drove these men and women [heroes of the Christian faith]. When they found Him, they sought Him again. What a tragedy it has been that in our time, we are taught to believe in Him and accept Him, and to seek Him no more" (A.W. Tozer).

One of my favorite things...
my automatic tea maker and the wonderful thoughtfulness of the husband who gave it to me.

A few plans for the rest of the week:
two appointments with doctors and one trip to the hospital for a pre-operative EKG,
going to Bible study with my mom (and chauffeuring her) Wednesday,
laundry, laundry, and laundry again ;) ,
endeavoring to keep the National Day of Prayer Thursday at home,
seeking to chip away at the surgery preparation list,
and possibly attending a choir concert at which Mezzo is the mezzo soprano soloist Sunday.
For me, this is a busy week.

A peek into my day...

Sharing with Peggy Hostetler's The Simple Woman's Daybook, Ann's A Holy Experience, and Laura's Playdates with God today

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

How Trustworthy He Is

For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
2 Timothy 1:12, NASB

     "He is able to guard every single thing you have entrusted to Him. Never will you choose to believe or trust, then be forsaken. He is keeping every record, every scroll, every trust. You may walk in faith and never see with your human eyes how trustworthy He really is until that day when you come face-to-face. But you can know the One in whom you believe and be convinced He is able. You have not been foolish to trust an invisible God. One day you'll see."
~Beth Moore, To Live Is Christ Bible study workbook, 217

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tolkien, Easter, and Eucatastrophe

Once upon a time, I read the essay "On Fairy Stories,"  by the late Professor J.R.R. Tolkien (better known today as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings).  Towards the end of the essay, he discusses "the Consolation of the Happy Ending" as "the true form of fairy-tale, and its highest function" (22).

The climax of a tragedy would be the catastrophe, the pivotal point in the story when everything falls apart for the hero.  For fairy-tale, Professor Tolkien coins a new word, "eucatastrope," for "the sudden joyous 'turn'" of events.  (The "eu-" means "good" and sounds like the word "you.")  This would describe the moment when Luke Skywalker destroys the Death Star, when the prince kisses Snow White to awaken her, when the Velveteen Rabbit discovers he has become real. In Tolkien's own work, eucatastrophe occurs when Aragorn and his army fight valiantly in the shadow of Mount Mordor though all hope for Middle Earth appears lost, and suddenly Sauron and his empire disintegrate when the Ring is destroyed.

Tolkien says that this quality is not an attempt to escape the world's sorrows.  On the other hand, he writes,
. . . it is a sudden and miraculous grace, never to be counted on to recur.  It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophy [tragic ending], of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium [good news, gospel], giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
It is the mark of a good fairy-story. . . that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the 'turn' comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art (22-23, emphasis and additions mine).
If I'm understanding the professor correctly, we love and value happily-ever-after endings because they point towards the Happy Ending, the triumph of Christ over sin, death, and all the other brokenness of the world.

The Bible itself is one grand, unified, beautiful, true story as well as a collection of smaller ones.  In this overarching Genesis-to-Revelation narrative (or metanarrative), Easter is the eucatastrophe and best understood in that context.  On Good Friday, all the disciples' hopes for God's kingdom seem dashed as Jesus Messiah is dead and entombed.  The rolled-away stone and resurrection turn that despair on its head on the third day.

Easter is the great Happy Ending from which all others proceed, the eucatastrophe not only of a fairy story but of all history.  The empty tomb looks dyscatastrophe in the eye and triumphs over it.  What's more, in many ways Easter is not an end but a beginning of a new era, a new story for all who believe in the risen Christ; as Professor Tolkien writes, "there is no true end to any fairy-tale" (22).  As Paul says it, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17, HCSB).

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  According to His great mercy,  He has given us a new birth into a living hope  through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3, HCSB).  May you walk in the reality of this joyous living hope today.

Christ is risen; the Lord is risen indeed.  Hallelujah!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Testimony Through Two Lenses

For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived,
enslaved by various passions and pleasures,
living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another.
But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love
for mankind appeared,
He saved us—
not by works of righteousness that we had done,
but according to His mercy,
through the washing of regeneration
and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly
through Jesus Christ our Savior,
so that having been justified by His grace,
we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:3-7, HCSB

The Prose Lens:

My silver anniversary with the Lord, which sparked the poem below, arrived two years ago. Hallmark says 27 years is the music anniversary. Fitting, since it was my first vocal solo, for the Good Friday tenebrae service, which my God and Father used to bring me to the end of myself and show me how crooked my straightest line was compared to the straight-edge of Christ. (There are many variations on the tenebrae service. In the church of my youth, a dozen or so Scripture readings from the Last Supper through the Crucifixion alternated with choral music. During the service, candles and lights were gradually extinguished until we left the church in silence, in near darkness.)

Until that point, I thought participating in every available church activity and believing facts about God from the Apostles' Creed meant I was a Christian. Surely doing the BSF home lessons my mom shared earned me extra credit. To my shame, I remember one lesson specifically, on the Beatitudes, which asked me to assess myself on the various characteristics, and in my eyes I was really doing quite well, thank you very much.

Being the type-A perfectionist oldest child that I am, when I found out the lyrics of my song came from the account of Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane, I spent the weeks before the service immersing myself in the Gospel passages describing it. When the day of the solo arrived, stage fright overtook me and I told my mom, who was working on something in the kitchen, that I couldn't sing this and we'd just have to call the music pastor and tell him to choose someone else. Exasperated with me, she said, "What's the name of the song again?"

"Um, 'Thy Will Be Done.'"

"Well, then, go to your room, get on your knees, and just tell God that."

I did, and the Lord opened my heart to understand the passages I'd been reading. He showed me my sin; He showed me my Savior. I trusted Him, trusted that Jesus Christ died for the forgiveness of my sins. His love swept me off my feet. By His grace, He led me that day from knowing some things about God to knowing God, or beginning to.

From that day, I began rising early to pray and read my Bible because I loved it, because I loved Him. The hymns came alive as my sung prayers. The communion liturgy expressed my unworthiness and gratitude for Christ's work on my behalf. The Lord made me hungry for Christian books and music and graciously led me to the good and protected me from the false.

I have no memory of anyone ever "sharing the gospel" with me, calling me to repent and trust Christ, or telling me of my need to be converted. My church didn't do that, but that's another story for another time. It took several years and a change of churches before I began to have language for what had happened on that Good Friday which changed everything for me. It will take the rest of my life and then forever to understand that salvation as fully as a girl like me can. I am so grateful. So, so grateful. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

If you know Him, too, perhaps this will take you back to the memorial stones of your own salvation? If you don't and want to, I pray the Lord would use this to show you His holiness, your sin, and the sufficiency of Christ's death; I pray you would trust Jesus as your own personal Savior and embark on the journey of knowing God today. {If you do, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail at crumbsfromhistable at gmail dot com?}

The Poetry Lens: Silver

(a work in progress)

It was on Good Friday it happened.

My parents had raised me in church:
Sunday service,
Sunday school,
choir and handbells,
learning a creed, a Psalm, a prayer,
a commandment or ten,
confirming vows with my classmates,
and I thought doing those things made me a Christian.
(I even read my Bible on my own at night for extra credit, to round out my resume.)

I was firstborn, perfectionist, eager to please parents and teachers,
a "good girl," except when I snuck change off my dad's dresser
or lied to avoid punishment or amaze and amuse my friends.
My "good" was good enough for the grown-ups,
so I thought it was good enough for God.

On that Good Friday twenty-five years back,
I didn't know I was lost, but
He found me,
there on my knees beside the bed,
fretting over possible embarrassment in singing alone for the first time.
He gave me new eyes,
better than first glasses,
and suddenly I saw what I had not seen:
that perfectionism wasn't perfection,
that only perfect was good enough for God,
that only Jesus was the good enough,
that the Good Enough sweated life's blood and died for sins not His own,
for my sins, all my own.

My resume was rubbish,
my Sunday best smeared and tattered,
and I was as dead as an armadillo on the interstate.
I saw this,
and it took my breath away,
and He breathed in His,
His pneuma-breath-Spirit,
and I lived again for the very first time.

Singing was my birth cry,
"Thy will be done."
The trumpets that Easter rejoiced for me,
and I went to Sunday service,
Sunday school,
choir and handbells.
I said the creed, prayed the prayers, sang the hymns,
and they lived with His presence.
How had I missed Him there all these years?
I even read the Bible in the mornings,
for joy,
for sustenance,
for He was there.

I couldn't get enough of Him,
yet found enough in Him,
my Lord Jesus Christ.

That Good Friday was my Good Friday too,
and my Easter, all in one,
when I was crucified with Christ,
when my tomb was emptied
and my life hidden with Christ in God.

By grace I have been saved.

Because some may ask, here is a more recent recording of the anthem that night, with a young tenor singing the solo {If you are reading this by e-mail or RSS feed, you may need to view it on the actual blog here:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Anointing {from the archives}

If right now the Lord seems to be asking everything of you, if you sense the call to leave all your precious things on the altar, to relinquish, to entrust into His hands not knowing whether you will receive your "Isaac" back for burial or in resurrection--

If that is where you find yourself today, dear crumble, let us remember this: we cannot outgive God. Whatever we relinquish today is a small sacrifice compared with what He has already given in His Son who lived love by dying for the sins of His enemies. Whatever dream we empty at His feet drains out only to make room for the fullness of Himself.

He is the LORD, who brought us up from the land of Egypt. Let us open our mouths wide, wider, as wide as we can, that He may fill (Psalm 81:10).

Broken, Rabboni?
The brightness of this alabaster dream
Shattered into fragments at Your feet?
What preciousness deserves so great a price?
This is My body, crushed to give for you.

Emptied, too?
Not one sweet drop remaining for myself?
Bereft of fragrance brightening my days?
What gain can justify such costly waste?
This is My blood, poured out for your forgiveness.

Broken, emptied.
Shattered into fragments at His feet.
Not one drop spared, the fragrance fills the house.
The poverty of all my all is dust
Beneath Your feet, O worthy, precious Lord.
Your sins have been forgiven; go in peace.
                                              {from Luke 7:36-50}

sharing with Bonnie's community on the theme of brokenness today:

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Shortest Way to All Happiness

"Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world?
It is not he who prays most or fasts most;
it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice;
who wills everything that God willeth,
who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness
and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.

". . .If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way
to all happiness and all perfection,
he must tell you to make it a rule for yourself
For it is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you,
if you thank and praise God for it,
you turn it into a blessing.
Could you therefore work miracles,
you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit,
for it heals with a word speaking,
and turns all that it touches into happiness.

". . .though it be the noblest sacrifice that the greatest Saint can offer unto God,
yet is it not tied to any time, or place, or great occasion
but is always in your power and may be the exercise of every day.
For the common events of every day are sufficient to discover and exercise this temper
and may plainly show you how far you are governed in all your actions by this thankful spirit."

~William Law (1686-1761), A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life [formatting mine]

Thank You, Father,
for Your Word,
for Your goodness,
for fellowship with saints of former days through their words,
for wise men and women who point me toward You,

for completion of To Live Is Christ Bible study,
for celebrations of Amore's and my dad's birthdays,
for an extra blessing in visiting the Perot Museum with my parents, Terza, and her boys,
for boys turning Aunt T's wheelchair-for-the-day into a highlight and adventure,
for giving that young lady quick reflexes (think Neo in The Matrixto get out of our way when Lightning pushed a little too fast,
for Rocky, age 4, sitting in my lap because he was too little for a turn at pushing,
for laughter together,
for opportunity to tell the twins how I helped their mommy when they were just tiny babes,
for celebrating a Bible study friend's international adoption with a shower,
for plans to celebrate Amore's parents' sixtieth wedding anniversary this weekend,
for a visit from Olivia next door, whose birthday is today,

for not fainting during an uncomfortable lab test,
for clear results showing the cause of my shoulder pain,
for another surgery on the horizon,
for husband, family, and friends ready to help again with the things I won't be able to do,
for the hope of a whole, imperishable resurrection body,

for disappointing job news for one sister,
for good job news for the other,
for Amore's hard work and skill at his job,
for his innate leadership gifts that come to the fore wherever he goes,

for the greening of my little world despite drought conditions,
for a few goldfinches stopping at our feeder on their way north,
for a pair of actual geese honking a few meters above us before stopping off at our pond,
for the first bluebonnet sighting,
for nearly an inch of rain yesterday,
for sunrise and sunset attesting to God's faithfulness.
(2014 gifts journal #962-991)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Gift of Thorns {Remix}

 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10, ESV).

Twice here Paul states the purpose of his thorn: “to keep me from becoming conceited” (v.7, ESV). Granted, the affliction also came from Satan to harass and torment, but even that harassment proved a gift to pierce his pride.

More than a decade of living with chronic illnesses, including the last four years of ever-multiplying areas of chronic pain,  has acquainted me with weakness and feeling harassed. Few days pass now without the slow hiss of punctured pride. I hear it every time it pains me to say, “I can’t do this. Will you please help me?” My private tantrums over unattainable desires, petty or substantial, reveal my addictions to control and comfort. My discombobulation at God’s refusals exposes the areas of life where I still want my kingdom, not His.

Perhaps some people grow accustomed to this weakness, truly "content" as Paul was. I have not yet arrived at that place. As soon as I think I have, some new pain or health problem ambushes me (but not God), increasing the level of difficulty beyond my strength so that I plead with the Lord again for the removal of the thorn that carves out more and more space in me for the power of Christ to dwell.

At this writing I look ahead to surgical repair on torn cartilage in my shoulder and my flesh quails from the thought of several weeks with my dominant arm in a sling, several weeks of the constant litany of asking for help, of utter dependence on others to assist with basic needs. It's so much more comfortable to give help rather than always to need it. More comfortable for my pride, at least.

Every life experiences thorns, none of which are easy or pleasant. Paul’s threefold prayer for the removal of Satan’s tormenting angel indicates his realistic assessment of the pain. This passage challenges our perspective on suffering because Paul does not stop at pleading for relief but opens himself to receive the blessings in the thorn:
  •      Purging the pride that sets us in opposition to God (v.7; James 4:6).
  •      Staging the perfect display of God’s sufficient grace (v.9).
  •      Opening the way through weakness for Christ’s power to reside in him (v.9).
Paul so esteems these blessings that he boasts for Christ’s sake about the tough stuff of life rather than in his heavenly vision.

Lord, thank You for the gift of thorns. We don’t like them and will be pleased for You to remove them as soon as they have accomplished Your work in us. Until then, they are a gift from You, our loving Father. By faith, we thank You and ask that Your grace and power would shine all the more because of them. Amen.