June is bustin’ out all over

Every year, I swoon over June. How could you not? The brown and bare earth breaks out into shades of brilliant emerald. Dainty buds of promise suddenly erupt into blooms of deep purple, golden yellow, delicate pink, rich magenta. Skies are high and blue. The sun’s brilliance lights up the early morning and late evening and invites you to live the day full and strong. Books begin to close and and kids run free. Screen doors slam and sunscreen is slathered. Bikes and chalk and basketballs and sprinklers. The intermittent cool day that (if I’m honest) becomes the highlight of my week because I can garden and work without the full heat of summer.

June doesn’t hold back. Halfway through, and I already can barely recall the beginning. So many full days: house projects continue. A new niece to welcome. Finishing an intense sprint of store redesign and renovation. Church opening back up, a bit at a time. Visits from out of town sister. Zoom piano recital. New perennial bed turned and planted. Three meals every day, eight sets of clothes (at least) to launder every morning, the never-ending list of little homemaking tasks that wait for school’s end.

Children growing by inches, literally, before my eyes. Pressing into Jesus together, knowing we need Him so very much. Praying with young men who have become humble wisdom-seekers. Answering the four year old who wants to know, through tears, “how can I ever do nothing wrong?” and assuring her that’s exactly why Jesus came. Feeling my human limitations when trying to keep up with the two-year-old’s training, tired and stretched and knowing that there is grace for me to lay hold of. Heading into summer’s carefree days and knowing that freedom is the power to do what one ought, not simple slipping into lazy waste of days, and praying for wisdom to lead my brood into restful joy and growth.

Bustin’ out all over. In me, too? I pray yes. Pray that all of this showing up every morning, asking for help moment by moment, praying through national issues too big for me to even understand and dealing with little hearts too deep for me to plumb will result in growth in me, too.

hope in this broken place.

There’s a song on repeat here at our house — if it’s not playing through a speaker, it’s rumbling in my heart. Over and over, I hear,

“Do you feel the world is broken? [We do.]”

Broken and breaking. Dark and growing darker. It is.

“Is all creation groaning? [It is.]
Is a new creation coming? [It is.]
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? [It is.]
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? [It is.]”

Is it good that we remind ourselves of this?

Oh yes, so much yes. We aren’t to just hold hands and hunker down, but we’re to stir one another with a word of faith, a declaration of His Lordship, a bold confidence that of His Kingdom and increase there will be no end.

“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!'” Psalm 2

Tumults rising all around. Lightning and hurricane winds from above, surging waves threatening to swallow from below. The tragedies and evil and violence I can see with my eyes — eyes that can barely believe what’s before them, eyes that turn away, weeping, before the video has a chance to play. Dangerously deceptive whispers pulling us under, luring us with words that sound true but whose motives are nothing less than bondage and rebellion to the King. This is not a time to pull up anchor, to throw in your lot with whatever wind may blow. This is when Truth matters — Truth that exists outside of time, outside of experience, outside of culture and personal preference. Truth that is found in the Word who existed from the beginning. This is when Love matters — Love personified in Christ, the Love that God is, Love that warns of destruction and points to sin and bondage and then delivers no matter the cost. These are not words that can be redefined, for they find their source in a God who was and is and is to come. He is a roaring Lion of justice. He is jealous for His own. He is establishing His Kingdom — a reign of peace that will know no end. He alone has the words of life, and there is One Way of rescue. He does not change. We find our footing by turning to Him, not by looking within ourselves. Every nation, tribe, and tongue finds hope and deliverance in Him.

“Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? [It is.]
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? [It is.]”

May we be rooted in Him, His Word richly dwelling within our hearts, His Spirit flowing like living water through us to a weary, harassed, broken world. His glory is the light that will penetrate this darkness.

true obedience

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, and today encountered 1 Samuel 15. My Bible’s heading refers to this story as, “Saul’s Disobedience,” but I think if I had been the editor, I might have chosen, “The Saddest Story in the Bible.”

My pace slows, knowing what is coming as I read. My heart grows heavy, observing the heart of man turn from God. I cringe at every shallow excuse, every nuance of self-deception. I see the steep slope of rebellion leading to destruction right before Saul — and he charges headlong toward it. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Do you know this story? How King Saul has been charged to utterly destroy the Amalekites — to carry out not simply warfare but judgement upon this powerful people who had preyed upon the weak and vulnerable? The extent of utter destruction is spelled out in no uncertain terms. And yet, when Saul attacks the city, he doesn’t utterly destroy. He keeps the best.

He carries out 90% of what he was asked, and yet here is how God sees it: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.”

Saul obeyed as long as the obeying suited him and his goals. And God doesn’t see that as obeying at all.

And then Saul goes even further: he defends his actions as obedience with an ingenious twist. The prize livestock he spared? Oh, that was for a sacrifice to the Lord! Isn’t that clever?

And it makes me cringe.

It makes me pause and look in the mirror.

Is there Saul in me?

Saul — a man who once was shy, embarrassed by attention, small in his own eyes. Now grown conceited in his success and power. He knows now how this system works and he’s figured out how to benefit himself. He has the appearance of humility and obedience, while inside there is self-will and agenda.

I am not the king of anything, and I don’t plan on leading 200,000 foot soldiers into battle today or any day. But the things God has called me to — am I continuing in obedience, even as the years and “successes” pile up? As a wife, as a mom, as a woman, a disciple: have I found the areas of obedience that suit me and slowly begun to use them toward my own end? Has self-will and my own desire found a place to hide in partial obedience — such a safe place to hide, such a “holy” place to hide!

‚ÄúPartial obedience is complete disobedience. Saul and his men obeyed as far as suited them; that is to say, they did not obey God at all, but their own inclinations, both in sparing the good and destroying the worthless.”

The thing about walking in obedience is that it’s not simply following a pattern. I don’t get to see what all the other kings have done and repeat that. God asks for certain obediences from me that He, as my Father who knows the depths of my heart and has good in mind for me, knows will bring refining and strengthening to me. He could have, you know, sent fire and brimstone upon the Amalekites, but He used this moment to bring to the surface things lurking beneath a holy veneer in Saul’s life. (What if Saul had responded to Samuel in brokenness, like David did to Nathan?) God asks for obedience from me, and I can trust that not only is He looking for a servant to do a certain task, but that He’s chosen me for this obedience because it is best for me. He is always, always at work in me, performing that amazing transformation and sanctification He began. Will I stay soft and humble in the process? Or will the years bring shades of arrogance that lead to hardness where the fear of the Lord is concerned?

Today, God is looking for our obedience. He’s not interested in our “sacrifices” when they’re offered on an altar of pretense and show, while our pride and stubbornness lie untouched and very much alive. He sees right through that. We’ll do the godly mom thing, or honoring wife thing, or virtuous woman thing as long as its in line with our personality and philosophy, and call it obedience — but He knows. He sees the locked door of our heart, where we refuse to truly yield to Him in all things. And oh, what destruction that leads to!

But today can be a day of life. A day of giving our hearts and will fully to Him. Following Him in whatever He asks, knowing He is a good shepherd.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting. — Psalm 139

…and I in you.

Abide in Me, and I in you.

How many times have I read that the last few months, poring over John 15, mining for gold. And each time, it glimmers in a unique way, catching my eye, my breath. “Come, let us reason together,” I hear a whisper say. “Follow Me.”

Something tells me that those few words are like the door at the back of a wardrobe. Dare I step through? How could I not?

I read it again.

And I in you.

My mind scrambles to comprehend, even as the world goes spinning a bit off kilter. Him? Live in me?

“Lose your life in Mine,” the whisper says. “Lay down your nets. Count it all loss. Take up your cross.”

And then?

“Find life. My life. My powerful, pulsing, abundant life pouring into you. Abiding in you.”

Fruit, much fruit. Fruit that remains. Leaves, always green. Never withering, even in drought. A mystery?

Yes, a mystery. An invitation to step through the door, leaving my world behind, finding life that I never could imagine until I experience it. In me.

But leave it all behind? Lose my life?

Suddenly I see “my life,” this treasure I’m so apt to cling to desperately, as a branch laying on the ground. What, exactly, is a branch unless connected to its life-source? A stick. A stick! And I would count that as gain to me?

Be my own branch — my own dead stick — or lose my life in Him, only to have His life pulse through me, working miraculously, producing fruit, becoming a part of Him?

Yes, yes, yes. “Come, let us reason together…” and I nudge that door open, take that first step through into a world I can’t believe I’m invited into.

life at home: seeing increase

As the world is rocked and shaken by lives lost and fingers pointed and political plays or not-plays, I turn my eyes to the life here at my feet, inside my door, and find myself simply blessed. For weeks now I have been living a very simple life with seven people, most of whom can’t reach the top shelf of dishes, and I couldn’t be happier. This home, this atmosphere, is proving to my soul the goodness and faithfulness of God. He calls us to loosen ground, to fertilize, to plant, to water, to weed, to tend, and we do so as faithfully as we can, stumbling many days, aware of how not expert we are as garden-tenders. But we do it with hearts that are looking to Him to bring the increase. We trust that when He says we will reap, it will happen. We don’t always know when, but we know He is not like man, that He should lie. We trust Him.

And this month, as our wings are seriously trimmed and our lives never extend further than a walk down the road, I am seeing fruit. I’m not just seeing it, I am being fed by it. My soul is nourished by the joy, camaraderie, responsibility, servanthood, kindness, laughter, and just plain old enjoyment all around me. These aren’t things that come naturally to us as humans. They are the result of training and discipleship — both in me and in my children. And thirteen years later, as not only I but also my older children set the tone, I am astounded to see genuine and nourishing fruit.

This isn’t to say life is perfect, and that we aren’t continuing every day to water, weed, prune, and stake. We are. We must choose Jesus moment by moment, and sometimes we need a lot of help to get there. But I am saying, Fellow Parents!! Stay the course! Invest by faith! Man your post and allow your weakness to not be an excuse but an invitation for the strength of God! Stay humble and learn! We’ve been commissioned to make disciples, and He will equip us and bring us success.

There are seasons of toil and work and nothing to show for it. But – but! There is that cold spring day when snow has barely cleared the ground, and suddenly you spy with your little eye the faintest trace of pink, pushing through the ground — signs of life! It’s coming! Maybe your garden isn’t producing fruit quite yet, but oh, those leaf buds are so exciting. Notice them. Give thanks for them! And put your gloves on and stay in the game. Sow the Word, invest your life.

And put your trust in Jesus. He will not forsake us.

a culture of celebration

One of the words that Ryan recently used to describe our home culture was celebration. He laughed a bit and looked pointedly at my mom, who can turn anything into a celebration. (I will never forget, when I was around 5 years old, one particular “bedroom blitz” when, at the end of our 15 minutes, we were rewarded with ice cream served in little dishes right at our play kitchen table. I felt very celebrated!)

A culture of celebration is different than just throwing parties because parties are fun. Celebrating requires an object of celebration, and it confers value upon that object — whether it be the value of a person on their birthday, the completion of 13 years of school, or 15 minutes of hard and productive work.

Celebration is part of our home culture, but not just because I love to make my life complicated. Ha! No, celebration is a culture we learn from observing the Heavenly Kingdom. Reading the Old Testament makes clear that God understands the connection between celebration and value. Studying the glimpses we have of heaven reveals that celebration will go on forever!

And so we celebrate as a way to, with time and energy and creativity, point out what’s important.

Celebrations can be ever so simple. They need not require much money. But all celebrations require a bit of sacrifice, because that time and energy and creativity has to come from somewhere, and chances are, you don’t have any of those things lying around in excess. There are some seasons when I have had more of those things to give than others. New babies, fledgling businesses, and sickness all come to mind. There have been times when the weight of life — incredible grief and heaviness of soul — have tempted me to skip the traditions of rejoicing. But those are the times when a culture of celebration bolsters. Celebrating isn’t just having a party; it’s reminding others as well as our own souls of what matters most. (Does grief matter most? Disappointment?) The celebration might be smaller when life is demanding, more creative when managed by a mother in bed with illness or a baby, but it can still exist. It might take unusual twists and turns when we’re, say, sheltering in place, but sometimes those become our most memorable celebrations! No matter the method, our souls need to remember what we’re valuing.

So this week we’ve been celebrating (because really, all the preparations for the celebration are part of it!) We’ve paused the usual school routines and made room for sending cards, making foods, prepping clothes, and special moments as a family. More than any other celebration, this week deserves every communication we can offer of its worth. Jesus, crucified, resurrected, and forever victorious. The Holy Spirit, poured out on us. The Father, inviting us into His presence with arms wide open. This is everything, and so we celebrate.