Friday, December 20, 2019

Prayers of Consecration {From the Archives}

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God,
which is your spiritual worship.
Romans 12:1, ESV

Painted Lady butterfly

In the course of a recent Bible study with my mother, we discussed the idea of entrusting ourselves and all we hold dear to the Lord. Below are a few prayers which I have found helpful in my morning-by-morning reconsecration to the Lord. Sometimes I benefit from borrowed words to broaden the scope of my prayers and expose, through the work of the Holy Spirit, dark corners of my heart the Lord needs to cleanse. May the Lord bless them to your benefit as well.

My God, I offer You this day my thoughts, words, and actions;
My sufferings and my joys;
My desires and my disappointments;
My loved ones, my enemies, and myself,
For Your glory and all the good intentions of Your divine heart.
(Amy Carmichael and tinuviel)

“Lord, teach me to treat everything that comes to me this day with peace of soul and the firm conviction that Your love rules over all” (Elisabeth Elliot, A Path Through Suffering).

“Lord, I am willing [to be made willing]
To receive what You give,
To release what You take,
To lack what You withhold,
To do what You require,
To be who You desire.”

“Lord, take these things that the enemy would use to discourage and destroy, and turn them around to my good, to Your glory, and to the growth of Your people.” (Calhoun, SDH, “Discernment,” marked addition mine)

Abba, Father, as You wish. (tinuviel)

Your Most Basic Act of Worship

Lord, I’m Yours. Whatever the cost may be, may Your will be done in my life. I realize I’m not here on earth to do my own thing, or to seek my own fulfillment or my own glory. I’m not here to indulge my desires, to increase my possessions, to impress people, to be popular, to prove I’m somebody important, or to promote myself. I’m not here even to be relevant or successful by human standards. I’m here to please you.

I offer [entrust] myself to You, for You are worthy. All that I am or hope to be, I owe to You. I’m Yours by creation, and every day I receive from You life and breath and all things. And I’m Yours because You bought me, and the price You paid was the precious blood of Christ. You alone, the Triune God, are worthy to be my Lord and Master. I yield to You, my gracious and glorious heavenly Father; to the Lord Jesus who loved me and gave Himself for me; to the Holy Spirit and His gracious influence and empowering.

All that I am and all that I have [and all that I do, all that and whom I love, all that I hope,… ALL] I give to You.

I give You any rebellion in me, that resists doing Your will. I give You my pride and self-dependence, that tell me I can do Your will in my own power if I try hard enough. I give You my fears, that tell me I’ll never be able to do Your will in some areas of life. I consent to let You energize me… to create within me, moment by moment, both the desire and the power to do Your will.

I give You my body and each of its members…my entire inner being: my mind, my emotional life, my will…my loved ones…my marriage or my hopes for marriage…my abilities and gifts…my strengths and weaknesses…my health…my status (high or low)…my possessions…my past, my present, and my future…when and how I’ll go Home.

I’m here to love You, to obey You, to glorify You. O my Beloved, may I be a joy to You!
~31 Days of Praise, Ruth Myers [additions by tinuviel]

{Links to purchase the books cited are affiliate links. Purchases made through them will yield a small commission to the owner of this blog.}

Monday, December 16, 2019

Advent Joy {Elisabeth: A Poem}

"The Lord has done this for me. He has looked with favor in these days to take away my disgrace among the people" (Luke 1:25, HCSB).

An angel's good news beggars the priest's belief

A seed of joy, sown by an expired prayer,
Takes root in his aged bride's shriveled womb,
Flutters, kicks new life into dead hopes.
Fruit of the promise swells, burgeons,
Tautens the walls of empty longing
With outlandish hope.

God sends a son called Grace*--
A son for Elisabeth--
Grace for her disgrace,
Favor for her shame,
Joy for her sorrow,
But grace upon grace:

Her Grace-child jumps for joy,
Joy dancing in her barren places.
Mute joy-leaps hail the Author of joy,
And the mother of Grace meets the mother of her Lord.
Grace rejoices in the coming
Of the Grace-giver Himself,
As near and as far
As the embrace of two unexpectedly expectant mothers
(One too soon, one too late, both in good time)
Rejoicing together in good news
Of the promise coming,
So near they can feel it kick.

*The name "John" is a variant of the Hebrew for "Yahweh is gracious."

Monday, November 18, 2019

Nightingale Songs

Our Father in heaven likes songs so much that He filled the earth with birds. Each one has its own special song to sing. When the sun peeks its head up each morn, they all sing together to make a chorus of beautiful music.

The cardinals sing a song of joy:
“Sunny day! Come and play. Cheer! Cheer! Cheer! Cheer!”

The wren sings a song of love:
“Ooh la la! My Cherie, won’t you come and be my bride?”

The blue jays sing a song of warning:
“Look out! A person! A dog! Beware! Beware!”

The chickadees can hardly sing for chortling:
“Tee hee! Tee hee! Giggledy ha, ha, ha, ha!”

The mockingbirds sing songs of echo:
“Cheer! Cheer! Be my bride! Beware! Beware! Teehee! Tee hee! Ha ha ha!”

They sing, and they sing,
Songs of cheer and love and warning.
But when the sun ducks its head below the western hills
And the winking moon awakes in the east,
The daybirds cease their melodies.
The cardinals sing their young a lullaby.
The wren stops his wooing and tucks himself into his empty flower pot.
The blue jays let the owls take their turn as sentry:
“Whoo! Whoo! Whooo goes there?”

The darkness wraps the land like a blanket,
And the nightingale takes up her song.

She sings a song of darkness.
She sings a song of loneliness.

She sings, “O God my Maker!
O Lord! O heavenly Father!”

She asks, “How long?
How long will the dark night last?
How long until the sunshine of Your face returns?
How long must I sing this lonely tune?
How long?
How long?”

She cries, “Why?
Why did the sparrow fall today?
Why did the bobcat slash?
Why did You let that hailstone strike?

All the tears her eyes can’t cry pour forth from her throat.
At last, Venus the morning star gleams in the east.

The nightingale asks, “Maker God,
Send back Your light.
Send out Your truth.
Show us Your goodness.
Shine with Your grace.”

The first bluing of the sky begins to lighten.
Morning draws near.

The nightingale breathes out the last of her melody,
“Good night.
Good morning.
Let me rest now in peace, for You are near.
The darkness will lift.
The sun does come again.”

The sun stretches sleepy arms above the eastern trees.
The cardinals wake and sing their song of cheer.
The wren returns to his wooing.
The blue jays take up their watch again.
The chickadees laugh.
The mockingbirds mimic.
The owls tuck heads under wings and fall asleep.
The nightingale, her song drained dry,
Rests in God her Maker till darkness falls again.

Sun shines.
God smiles over all the many songs He hears,
But He draws closer than close to the nightingale.
He shelters her under His wing, close to His heart.
He treasures her brokenhearted song
And comforts her sorrow
With Himself.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Autumn Hope

The trees are weeping
Great arid tears
Of scarlet, gold, and flame—
Mourning winter’s onset
And doubting spring will come again.

Autumns sings in a minor key,
bagpipes droning the slave trader's hymn.
Loss, surrender, relinquishment thrum
beneath the glory of the turning leaves,
the crisp cool air,
the gentler light.

Even as tree limbs release
their grip on summer's glory
and exhalations of wind carry it
down, down, down to the earth,
farmers gather in their harvests,
the golden glory-fruit of so many seeds of hope
buried in soil nourished
by the weeping of the trees.

"I assure you: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains by itself. But if it dies, it produces a large crop" (John 12:24, HCSB).

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

How Happy We Would Be!

    Once there was a little Johnny Jump-up with a gold and violet face.  All day long he hung his head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I were tall and elegant like the rose, how happy I would be!”
    On a trellis nearby grew a tall, slender climbing rose with petals like the flush of a baby’s cheek.  All day long she hung her head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I were strong and useful like the apple tree, how happy I would be.”
    Overhead arched the strong limbs of the apple tree, laden with sweet red fruit.  All day long he drooped his branches and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I had a cozy nest and a family to love like the robin, how happy I would be.”
    In its branches lived a little robin redbreast, hovering over her nest of speckled blue eggs.  All day long she hung her head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I were free to soar into the sky like the eagle, how happy I would be.”
    Aloft soared the eagle, alone and splendid.  All day long he hung his head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I could fly into heaven itself like the angels, how happy I would be.”
    In the heavens themselves, the angels went about serving God and His children among men.  One sad angel hung his head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I could reign like God, with all things serving me, how happy I would be!”

    “O foolish, rebel creature!” said God.  “There is no God but Me.  Away with you into the outer darkness!”
    “As for you, silly eagle, “said the Lord, “If you flew into heaven, who would show the new strength I promise and the heights to which I call My people?”
    “As for you, little robin,” said the Lord, “If you soared like the eagle, who would show forth My tender care and provision for the smallest of My creatures?”
    “As for you, mighty tree,” said the Lord, “If you nested and nurtured like the robin, who would bring forth sweet fruit for the strength and joy of My people?”
    “As for you, precious rose,” said the Lord, “If you grew tall and thick like the apple tree, who would show the world both the beauty and the pain of life in this sinful world?”
    “As for you, tiny flower,” said the Lord, “If you were tall and elegant like the rose, who would make men smile and forget their worries in the beauty I lavish on the very ground they tread?”
    “O foolish creatures!  If you would only stop fretting over what you are not and enter into My joy in making you as you are, how happy you would be!”

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pottery {A Poem}

The Potter's hands prod the clay
With persistent patience.

Every empty hollow,
Every strip removed,
Though painful to the vessel,
Shapes it into suitability.
What is lost
Is only
What did not look like Him.

The Potter's perfect, sure pressure
Peels nothing away
That would prove essential
To His purpose and plan.

Last Wednesday, August 7, marked the 9th anniversary of this blog. Pottery is the traditional gift for 9 years. These have been the most painfully formative 9 years of my life so far, in ways I could never have imagined when I hit “publish” on that first post. Considering how all those surgeries, bereavements, appointments, painful family situations, and other opportunities to experience God’s strength in my weakness relate to the theme of pottery led me to scribble out the above. May it encourage you also to rest in our good Potter’s hands. Thank you for reading. Your presence here is a blessing and a grace.

Monday, July 22, 2019


The difference between the ordeal of Sisyphus—
Pushing, pushing, pushing the boulder uphill;
Then the rolling, rolling, rolling back down
Just as he neared the top—
And the sacrament of the ordinary—
Performing the endless everyday
In the grace,
Through the power,
For the glory of God—
Is a Savior,
A surrender,
A sacrifice of praise.

An altar stands irrevocably,
The narrow gate of transformation,
Between meaningless mundane misery
And duty infused and illuminated by
The beauty of the Almighty.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

July 4th Gratitude

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, "If you continue in my word,  you really are my disciples.  You will know the truth,  and the truth will set you free."

"We are descendants of Abraham," they answered him, "and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can you say, 'You will become free' ?"

Jesus responded, "Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.  A slave does not remain in the household forever,  but a son does remain forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.
John 8:31‭-‬36 CSB

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,  because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:1‭-‬2 CSB

Thank you, Lord, for freedom.
Thank you for the legal freedom to own, study, and discuss Your Word and worship with Your people. My own husband's ancestors came to this country because they were suffering persecution for their Protestant beliefs in their homeland. Our friends in parts of Asia are deprived of educational and professional opportunities because of their Christian faith, and many of the pastors we know there have paid for their ministry with time in prison, even though their churches meet in secret. This is not a gift I take lightly, and I thank You for the multitudes who have sacrificed to give and preserve this liberty.

Thank You for the means to own my own copies of Your Word, for multiple excellent translations in my native tongue, for the men who died to provide the early English translations to us, and for the education, cognitive capacity,  and eyesight to be able to read the Scriptures. Grant me grace to express that gratitude with continued abiding in Your truth.

Thank You for the theological freedom to study Your Word for myself and with my sisters in Christ. Thank You for freeing me from sin, death, and condemnation; for making me Your own daughter; for filling me with Your indwelling Spirit to open my eyes to Your truth. When You brought me to Yourself, my relationship with the Bible was the first change I noticed, though I didn't then know why. The new heart and Spirit You gave me were like getting my first pair of glasses, like having a blindfold removed. Thank You for spiritual sight and the Counselor Jesus sent to dwell with and in His disciples.

On this Independence Day, thank You for all these freedoms. Thank You for all the hardships that keep me mindful that I will never be independent of You. In Jesus' name I thank You. Amen.

Monday, June 17, 2019


But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, 
Which shines brighter and brighter until full day. 
Proverbs 4:18

Make me shine with Your light, Lord!
I feel tarnished, dingy, covered in dust and cobwebs.
Polish me so Your light can shine more brightly
out of the cracks and empty places. 
When my soul gives way beneath the polishing,
comfort with the knowledge
that the hands applying the pressure are Yours.


Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy {A Book Review}

This decade, and especially the last 2 ½ years, have given me ample opportunity to grow well-acquainted with grief. Grieving, however, is not something I seem to be mastering with practice. Granted, I have some idea now what to expect: the initial physical as well as emotional incapacitation, the unexpected and inevitably inconvenient waves of fresh tears, the gradual lessening of the intensity of those first days, the sadness of firsts and anniversaries.

Deep down, I know that lament is the wise, healthy, uniquely Christian path through grief. I know the components and biblical basis for lament, the genre of at least one-third of the Psalms; I’ve even shared it with others at retreats and on my blog. Some of us neglect lament because of simple ignorance; others, like me, neglect it because it is hard work. After the initial all-consuming grief of the first month or two or six after a loss, it seems easier in the moment to stuff it into an emotional closet and slam the door. Maybe even padlock it. Sadly, it grows behind that door and will break through more powerfully and perhaps destructively at some later date if we persist in that pattern. (At least, that has been my observation. I am not a pastoral or mental health professional.)

Pastor Mark Vroegop’s excellent new book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, addresses both obstacles to lament: lack of knowledge and lack of motivation. He takes a pastoral and Bible-rooted approach to lament and extends its application beyond my previous reading and thoughts. This is the first published resource I would pull out for sharing the ideas of lament with a ministry professional or someone at a place in their grieving process where they might be ready to read again and take their own laments to the Lord. Moreover, it is the best book I have read so far in 2019, in its author’s success at the task he set for himself, the worthiness of that task, and the content’s suitability to my own place in life.

Pastor Vroegop’s book comprises 3 sections: a consideration of 4 lament Psalms for learning to lament, a thoughtful examination of the biblical book of Lamentations for learning from lament, and a personal and corporate applications section for learning with lament. The corporate application thoughts particularly expanded my thinking beyond previous study, but I think his ideas are good and helpful as a means of grieving together in the body of Christ, whether in small groups or as a congregation. He commends to the reader congregational lament as one helpful, healing response to tragedy, such as this week’s school shooting, and some of the weighty, painful social issues, such as racial conflict, that we face.

Here is one illustrative paragraph from the application section that may prove useful even separated from the greater context of the book:
I’m not naive enough to believe that lament is the single solution for racial tension. There is much work to be done in listening, understanding, addressing injustice, and fostering hope. But I do think lament is a starting point—a place where people from majority and minority backgrounds can meet. The beauty of this biblical language of sorrow is its ability to provide a bridge robust enough to handle outrage and empathy, frustration and faith, fear and hope. Lament can be our first step toward one another when racial tension could drive a wedge. It is a God-given means for vocalizing complicated and loaded pain. For centuries lament has been the minor-key voice of people in pain. It is the language of loss that should be prayed together. While lament can be applied to moments of individual loss, its redemptive power is multiplied as we pursue it together. Whether it is expressed in a funeral, modeled in a sermon, prayed or sung in a worship service, applied in a small group, or voiced in the middle of racial tension, lamenting together is an essential ministry of the body of Christ (2555).

To further support his intention of the reader using these thoughts and not stopping at comprehension, he closes each chapter with reflection questions suitable to individual or group use. I found these helpful, stretching, and thoughtful. The four appendices provide additional tools for the reader’s practice of lament: examples of complaints in the Bible, a sampling of Psalms of lament, a worksheet or template for processing one’s own laments, and examples of the but/yet emotional pivot common to the laments of Scripture. Though brief, these do add value to the book.

The easy-to-remember structure he uses for biblical lament can be expressed in 4 words: turn, complain, ask, and trust. First, the lamenter turns to the Lord, which can be surprisingly difficult when enduring pain we know He could have stopped but didn’t. Then the lamenter complains or cries out, asking the honest how and why questions and refusing to respond to pain by “giving God the silent treatment.” Then the lamenter asks the Lord for help, comfort, relief, healing,…. In deep pain, especially prolonged and intense pain, it is unbelievably easy for devout believers to stop asking. Perhaps we have already prayed our hearts out and the Lord said no, so hoping again with fresh requests feels to risky. Perhaps belief in God’s willingness to hear and answer is wavering. Vroegop encourages us to use the discipline of lament to push past those fears and ask boldly, with big requests. Finally, most laments in Scripture end with a resolution to trust God in the pain, however He may answer. The author shares anecdotes of the use of lament in community, which allows the faith of a person near the pain to bolster the trembling faith of the person in the depths of the pain. I have experienced this but not connected it with the practice of lament.

The extended examination of Lamentations struck me as unusual (never having heard a sermon on it or read perhaps even a single complete book chapter on it) but useful. Jeremiah’s need and complaints were extreme indeed, so this section fleshes out just how specific and ugly our complaint prayers are free to be. Vroegop also highlights the gem of a statement of trust at the heart of the book (in Lamentations 3).

Pithy, memorable sentences starting with “Lament is…” or “Lament [does]…” are scattered throughout the book. These would be worth compiling into a handout if using this in a grief group. Perhaps that would even be another useful appendix in a future edition. Here are several:
  • Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness (Kindle location 336).
  • Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust (370).
  • Lament creates a path through the messy wilderness of pain (1166).
  • Lament is the language of loss as we grieve together (2566).
  • Lament helps us embrace two truths at the same time: hard is hard; hard is not bad (2602).
  • Lament is the bridge between dark clouds and deep mercy (2612).
All in all, I found this book extremely helpful, clearly communicated, and pastoral in tone and tenderness. I intend to buy copies for some of the pastoral staff at my church (most likely to have direct care of grieving people) and a couple to have on hand as the need arises with others. I highly recommend it. Those who do not have direct care for the grieving or an immediate need of guidance through their own grief would find it useful in loving the grieving people they know who need encouragement or permission to turn to the Lord with their honest complaints and biggest requests and help to trust Him in the middle of the pain.

The author himself can perhaps conclude this reflection best:
Lament is how we bring our sorrow to God. Without lament we won’t know how to process pain. Silence, bitterness, and even anger can dominate our spiritual lives instead. Without lament we won’t know how to help people walking through sorrow. Instead, we’ll offer trite solutions, unhelpful comments, or impatient responses. What’s more, without this sacred song of sorrow, we’ll miss the lessons historic laments are intended to teach us. Lament is how Christians grieve. It is how to help hurting people. Lament is how we learn important truths about God and our world. My personal and pastoral experience has convinced me that biblical lament is not only a gift but also a neglected dimension of the Christian life for many twenty-first-century Christians. A broken world and an increasingly hostile culture make contemporary Christianity unbalanced and limited in the hope we offer if we neglect this minor-key song. We need to recover the ancient practice of lament and the grace that comes through it. Christianity suffers when lament is missing (300).

Crossway provided my free copy of this eBook in exchange for an honest review. In this case, that was a delight to provide.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Lack {Five-Minute Friday}

Lack and I are no strangers. Most mornings I wake up knowing my lack of strength  and competency to meet the demands of the day. To get out of bed is to count on the manna showing up one more morning.

Yet in my emptiness the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ dwells. The cracks in my earthen vessel are the places His glorious light shines out to the watching world.

The Japanese make precious art from cracked clay pots like me by repairing them, not with Superglue, but with gold. Kintsugi, they call it. This strikes me as gospel imagery. The Lord Jesus Christ enters our brokenness and makes it a beautiful display of His grace. He transforms our lack into something infinitely more beautiful than mere competence. His glory is better displayed in our weakness than our strength. His provision for my lack comes like an arrow pointing back towards Himself.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth likes to say that anything that makes us desperate for God is a blessing. Today, Lord, I praise you for the blessing of lack.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Brainstorming {A Poem}

Moose Tracks, February 2019

A misnomer, perhaps,
For something less like storming a castle,
More like splashing in a puddle,
Finding pictures in the clouds,
Wandering through an unfamiliar garden,
As surprised as anyone
At what lies around the next bend.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Flourish {Book Review}

“Does it spark joy?”

This question seems to be everywhere lately, thanks to organizing maven Marie Kondo’s book and Netflix series. We could perhaps rephrase it, “Does it help me flourish?”

Flourish—The OED defines it this way:
(of a living organism) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly congenial environment

Lydia Brownback’s new book Flourish: How the Love of Christ Frees Us from Self-Focus seeks to help readers grow in Christ in a healthy or vigorous way. She does not look to the state of our junk drawers and closets for this, however. She asserts that the biggest obstacle to our flourishing is self.

We want to see how wrong teaching about God can give us wrong ideas about God and how these wrong ideas keep us from flourishing (12).
Any teaching that sets self-love as the highest good is false teaching, and we are susceptible to it because it appeals to that deep yearning for affirmation we feel at our very core. That’s why it hooks us. It just feels so right. And there is an inescapable link between self-love and self-focus. Self-love and self-focus are really just flipsides of the same coin. They always go together. That’s why self-love, the sort that the apostle was writing about, directs our energies, thoughts, plans, choices—and even our theology—inward, making ourselves the center of all things (13).

This challenging book considers six manifestations of self-focus, and I expect that readers will find that at least one of them resonates (more than one for readers like me). The chapters discuss the traps of self-consciousness, self-improvement, self-analysis, self-indulgence, self-condemnation, and self-victimization. Some of those labels are fairly self-explanatory (see what I did there?), whereas a couple may seem less obvious. A substantial discussion guide appended to the end of the text provides guidance through relevant Bible texts for each subject and invites the reader’s personal application of the ideas.

On self-consciousness, Brownback writes:

Whatever the issue—our appearance, our family, our home, our kids—we quench the joy of our faith and mar our witness of Christ if we live self-conscious lives. It seems counterintuitive, but happiness comes not from being thought well of but by thinking less of ourselves altogether(20). 
It is trust in the Lord that frees us from the snare of self-consciousness. If we shift our gaze away from ourselves and up to the Lord, we find that he is trustworthy and faithful to be all he has promised to be and to do all he has promised to do. 
Something amazing happens as our trust grows: our thoughts are a lot less self-oriented, and there’s new joy in living. We taste the freedom that comes from living under the gaze of One. He loves us, and we have nothing to prove because Christ proved everything for us (25).

She contrasts the bondage of self-improvement with the freedom of true Christian transformation:

The way out of the bondage of self-improvement is to recognize that in Christ, there is none of that old self left to improve. We can simply let go of all that. This is what it means to “die to self.” It’s not about fixing our bad habits; it’s letting go of everything about ourselves—the good, the beautiful, the bad, and the ugly—and cooperating with God’s Spirit as he begins the lifelong process of making us resemble Christ himself.
How about those bad habits we want to change? Frustration will be replaced with peace and joy when we begin to live out of our changed status. We went with Christ into his death, but then we were raised with him from the dead, which gives us a whole new reality from which to frame our goals (39).

Regarding self-analysis, she addresses the compulsion to “take our emotional temperature all the time” and the restlessness of constantly adjusting our circumstances to manipulate our feelings into something like happiness. She writes, “Self-analysis is good and right when we do it under the light of Scripture. It’s destructive and sinful when the aim of all that internal rooting around is merely personal happiness” (51). Again, “A life curved inward, analyzing and evaluating every mood change and desire, is a stunted, joyless life” (55).

The chapter on self-indulgence may be the most counter-cultural for American readers. She tries to trace the fine line between necessary and restorative self-care and pleasant but potentially selfish self-indulgence. She challenges readers to observe their attitudes when a particular treat is denied them, whether that be chocolate or a favorite beverage or “me time” or a vacation. She does not pull punches in tackling the idea that a vacation is a fundamental right or need. (She does not oppose embracing travel opportunities or making family memories through time away from home. The point is whether that truly falls into the need category.) Further, she asserts that love of comfort, expressed through whatever one’s pet indulgence is, can be an idol. Like all idols, in looking to it for life we find captivity or worse, but for the grace of God. She writes, “Our comforts become a prison of our own making…. We need to keep in mind that our particular indulgence isn’t the idol; comfort is. Indulging is merely the way we worship the comfort god” (68-69).

The self-condemnation chapter also resonated with (i.e., convicted), this oldest-child perfectionist. Counterintuitively, perhaps, Brownbeck writes, “Scripture is where we learn that failing to reach personal goals isn’t necessarily sinful, but having a perfectionist spirit that demands it is” (76). Stop a moment and reread that. I’ll wait.

She shines the light of the gospel of Christ on the tendency to obsess over faults and failures, real and imagined:

Whether our struggle concerns real sin or the personal failures we define as sin, self-condemnation inhibits us from finding comfort in the gospel. Instead we berate ourselves and become critical and judgmental, not only toward ourselves but toward others too. Such misery is caused not primarily by anything we are doing or failing to do but by our inward curve.
Past sins can dominate our thoughts as we rehearse over and over what we did or said and the hurt we caused. Allowing such thoughts to dominate inhibits us from comprehending how thoroughly the gospel deals with sin and guilt. If we’d only look away from that—away from ourselves altogether—and direct our gaze to Christ in his Word, we’d see that Christ’s sacrifice trumps our sin in every respect. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for any sin of his. He took on himself our sin—yours and mine—and bore the guilt of it so we don’t have to. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Quite frankly, if God has forgiven us, who are we to condemn ourselves? Christ died for all the sin—past, present, and future—of those who are united to him by faith(75-76).

That chapter also spends some paragraphs on discernment of whether a choice on a debatable matter is sin, looking less at the action than at the motive, and on the popular notion of self-forgiveness.

The final chapter considers ways in which self-victimization can curve a life inward and subtly deny the gospel. Gently, Brownbeck cautions against finding one’s core identity as a victim of past abuse to the neglect of the present/future riches of identity in Christ; using “victim” in place of “sin;” and believing that wounded (traumatized) people can’t live effectively now until dealing exhaustively with their past.

She does not deny the real trauma and profound wounds that too many have experienced in this broken world. She does, however, lift the reader’s eyes toward Jesus as the ultimate victim and our example in how to respond to being victimized ourselves:

Grasping the magnitude of sin—both ours and others’—is vital to getting unstuck from past trauma and flourishing as disciples. One way to strengthen our understanding of sin is to realize that Jesus himself was a victim of sin, and we are the ones who victimized him. All sin deserves death, and Christ experienced this in full on the cross, but the horrendous death he suffered was for our sin, not his own.
If we miss this, we’re likely to become bitter, angry, depressed, discouraged, or downright hopeless. We can flourish instead when we understand that Jesus “did” victimhood for us. When he was scorned, mocked, and rejected by loved ones, he didn’t grow bitter. When he faced the anguish of the cross, he didn’t sink down in despair. When he grew weary from the endless demands on his time and energy, he didn’t insist on personal space. When he saw people he loved suffer from the sins of others he loved, he didn’t lash out. Instead he prayed. He sought his heavenly Father. He forgave. He healed. He loved. And he grieved (97).
Letting go of a victim identity isn’t to deny what’s happened to us. Victimization is very real, and the scars remain. But they can be just that—scars. Scar tissue is present, but it’s no longer a wound that needs constant attention. We learn to live with it, and often we find that it becomes a testimony to God’s faithfulness. The same can be true of our sin scars. And no matter what we’ve suffered, the best is still to come (98).

In summary, Lydia Brownback’s latest book provides a helpful, biblical mirror to show us where we have the spinach of self-focus in our spiritual teeth. As with Ms. Kondo’s work, this is not a book for those who want to walk away unchanged and unchallenged, but it would make a good guide for those who want to get their eyes off themselves and turn them more fully toward Christ. The discussion guide/homework makes it well-suited to use in a small group setting, especially for a group that has been together long enough to share areas of struggle with honesty and trust.

N.B.: My copy of this book is a complimentary PDF provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest and timely(ish) review. Page numbers are from that edition. Also, the product link is an Amazon affiliate link. Purchases made through that will drop a few virtual coins in my tip jar.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Remember {A Poem}

(Response to Psalms 77 & 78)

Remember,  O my soul,  lest you forget: 
Remember God's promises. 
Remember His works.
In the relentless, protracted unanswered prayers, 
Strengthen weak knees
With the memory of answers in your past. 
When pain strikes your soul with amnesia, 
Remember the victories of others.
Read, and remember:
The forty years of manna,
The water from a rock--
Elijah's widow's flour and oil,
Daniel's bed amid the lions, 
His friends' fourth man in the furnace, 
Peter's angelic locksmith,
Lazarus' vacant tomb.
Remember Corrie's vitamin bottle, 
Darlene's ninety-nine bananas,
The thousand unlikely eucatastrophes
You've heard and read and lived. 
Remember, O my soul, lest you forget; 
Lest you forget, remember. 

The active, conscious remembrance of God's past faithfulness
Fuels your perseverance in present faith.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Progress {A Poem}

Progress is a non-linear process, 
Less a beginner's algebra graph
And more an EKG
Or a polygraph.
When i grow frustrated by this, 
Let me remember:
Why expect anything less or other
From the God who knew
The best route from Egypt to Canaan
Was no straight line?
His object is not efficiency
But transformation, 
So i put one foot in front of the other, 
Eyes on my Savior, 
Letting him catch me when the waves catch my eye,

Trusting progress to the nail-pierced hands.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Word {A Poem}

The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.
Isaiah 50:4 ESV

From the ESV Illuminated Bible: Art Journaling Edition

Your Word: morning light, 
Searching shadows of my heart, 
Scouring source of words.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Recovering REST

The Ebony Dog (2006-2018)

My husband can tell you how much i love words: naming things, nicknaming people, digging into etymology, decoding idioms,... I love it all. When we were in SE Asia, my eyes were drawn to words on signs and in windows even though i couldn’t read them. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve prayerfully sought a theme word for the year since at least 2011.

Often those words have turned out to be the central challenge of the year, like 2014, the year of “refuge,” when i had shoulder surgery followed by 6 solid months of physical therapy and then the unexpected death of my grandmother. I needed the reminder of God my unfailing refuge. 

Or 2018, the year of “love,” when i knew the utter heartbreak of losing my shadow dog abruptly to cancer and later celebrated the joy of a milestone birthday and anniversary for my parents. From one extreme to the other and in everything in between, God’s love was real and true and trustworthy, when i could feel it and when i couldn’t. For most of the year i had to take that by faith in His promises.

For 2019, the word is “rest.” Like 2017 and 2018, this year is already continuing the momentum of a full schedule of medical appointments, family, and puppy training. I don’t always have much control over how much physical rest or whitespace a week holds, although i am very ready to leave things undone in order to grab a nap while Moose Tracks is sleeping. That kind of rest, as welcome as it is, was not my objective in this word’s selection.

At one time in my life, thanks to writers like Hudson Taylor, George Mueller, and Andrew Murray, I had learned to grow in spiritual rest even when all around was busy and active. I had begun to learn to roll my burdens onto the Lord’s shoulders sooner rather than later. That carried me through completing a degree while working full-time, through commuting to seminary while tutoring on nights and weekends and delving into prison ministry, through raising support as missionaries, and through relocating to the other side of the globe.

Somewhere along the line, i started dragging my burdens and those of loved ones myself, asking the Lord for help rather than asking Him to carry the weight Himself. That exponentially amplifies the weariness of a full schedule, and I hear Him calling me back to the old way, the way of trust and rest in His sovereign goodness. He is orchestrating all things for my good and His glory and doing a thousand other things into the bargain. My fretting does nothing to expedite or improve the process.

As Hudson Taylor wrote, “Bear not a single care thyself, one is too much for thee; the work is Mine and Mine alone; thy work—to rest in Me.” In Isaiah’s words,
“For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
‘In returning & rest you shall be saved;
In quietness & trust shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15).

Jesus, I come. Grant me grace to rest in You and trust You with the many heavy burdens on my heart. Amen.

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