serving in strength

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

That verse has been on my counter for the last couple of weeks, catching my eye, realigning my heart.

Some days I may wonder what “special gift” I have received, but other times it’s quite clear: these are days of service. Laying my life down and spending my moments and days in cleaning clothes, preparing meals, organizing home, giving instruction.

There is always more to do than I’m up for. I get tired sooner than the mountain is moved. I lose heart before the task is accomplished. Many, many times, I simply forget that I’m serving, and elevate my feelings of “I just don’t want to” to a place of consideration. Selfishness is incredibly strength-sapping.

But when my eye catches this line, the one that goes, “serve by the strength which God supplies,” my heart is renewed. There is a source of strength that is endless! Endless.

That doesn’t mean I don’t head to bed early these days — I do! — or pause long to sit with the nursing baby — I do! But it does mean my attitude doesn’t cut off the flow of strength that comes from the Holy Spirit in me. I can smile. And when I don’t, and the excuses start to flood my complaining heart, I can know that my feelings are out of line and there is a better, abundant, strength-giving truth available to me. Repent and get back into the flow of strength.

And when all else fails, I can at least be thankful that my serving is generally done with two feet firmly on the ground. This guy handles the roof problems.

october 11

“Be hopeful, be holy, be fearful, be loving.”

I think that’s what it was, the way my brother summed up 1 Peter 1. And all of those things — they just spring from the reality of a new birth, a new identity, a new home. Because the life of Jesus changes us.

I just think that’s awesome.

Life is full of pressure, moment by moment, wave after wave. And we who know Christ, we have grace in those moments and waves. Salvation doesn’t rescue us from the experience of hardship, but it invites a miracle in the midst of it.

That amazes me.

These and other 1 Peter thoughts are regularly filling my heart, as our church goes through 40 days of study together. The Word of God is life and it is strength.

*****

October is spectacular. You don’t have to go anywhere, either; it’s an art gallery that comes right to your door, if you’ll just stop to notice.

Seriously. No filter, because who needs a filter in NNY in the fall?

*****

This past summer I read Proverbs 31 many times over. I’m always inspired by that passage, and always somehow amused, too. This amazing woman’s life was so… ordinary! But in turn, those verses elevate my ordinary (at best, drudgery if I’m grumbling) to spiritual. I need that sometimes. So on Friday afternoon, when I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than a house tidied by somebody else and a meal started by somebody else, I instead looked around and saw virtuous labor happening: clothing my household well, bringing food from afar (isn’t “Afar” so much more exotic than “Aldi”?).

I bet you’re in the middle of virtuous work, too. Don’t despise the laundry piles. Dig in and realize you’re a woman of great worth. It’s not drudgery. It’s the high call of God, and it’s serving the least of these.

*****

Babies.

They require time.

I know that’s not rocket science or earth shattering revelation. But I read it again in a book last night and it was like a smack to my forehead. DUH. You have a baby, Danica.

There’s this subconscious expectation, I think, that because I’ve been around this baby block a few times, and because I have so many others to care for as well, I’m going to be super efficient this time around. I’ll be multi-tasking like a ninja and barely missing a beat no matter how many eye teeth are popping through.

But it turns out, this is Cecily’s first time around the block, and she’s not really into efficiency. She’s sweet and happy and really not altogether that demanding, but she’s a baby, and babies just need time. Real time. As in, they will eat up moments and hours of a day, and you will never see those moments or hours again.

Do you know how good that is for me? It’s hard enough to slow down and notice, to remember the little details of our days and the special interactions with each of my children. If I was racing through the way I think I’d like to, I would miss the whole thing in a blur of productivity. What a shame! What a grievous thing that would be! But in God’s perfect plan, these delicious babies slow us way down, sometimes to a grinding halt for days on end, and we breathe deeply and see clearly and hear attentively and can actually do our job. We can tend the souls of our children.

This is still a hard one for me on many days, but also something I am so deeply grateful for. God’s ways are so much higher than ours, and perfect. Absolutely perfect.

August 28

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy;
love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own,
is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.”

Just simple thoughts the last two mornings. “If I have not love…”

It is so easy to lose sight of the goal once you get into the thick of things. So easy to spend every last bit of energy and personal resources on serving people, only to find the love that inspired you to start has disappeared, or gotten lost in the shuffle.

I made my list yesterday and saw there a host of activities and ideas that all must be tethered to love.

Today I wake early and will dress freshly bathed children in neatly ironed clothing, and will go through the hassle of actually leaving the house all together just to be at church. Those elements of “busy” quickly obliterate the view of “why”: love for the brethren, love for our Savior.

Love.

Most of the world over knows love is powerful, love is needful, love can set free.

But then there’s a limit. We can only go so far before hurt or unloveliness or just sheer exhaustion smothers the last flicker of compassion or affection.

And that, oh my soul, is where Jesus comes in. A fount of love that ceaselessly flows, reaching me, changing me, empowering me to keep on loving.

“The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

“The fruit of the Spirit is love.”

Need more love? Turn to Jesus.

*****

Called to love these:

take them by the hand

Hi!

Another whole month has slipped by. I thought of doing a photo dump, and then realized a month of photos gets a tad long.

(Lunch gets a tad long sometimes, too.)

There are lots of pictures over at flickr. Click through for a glimpse of the month:


*****

“Take them by the hand…”

In the busyness of a day with four children, all of whom need different kinds of training and teaching and attention, and all done all together all day long (which requires a house keeping plan I have yet to quite master), this little phrase grabs me.

I write the plan and herd them along with the best of intentions: to nurture their talents and expand their minds and plant the Word of God deep in their hearts — but the leadership model shown by Jesus was not a “come on, hurry up, slow pokes,” sort of model. No, we’re to come alongside and walk with these young disciples.

And yes, that’s a nice concept and philosophy, but often I find I need to literally obey this verse. Take them by the hand. Not just the wobbly toddler who needs help down the stairs. That nearly-independent 8yo boy, too. The quiet 6yo who doesn’t seem to really need much. Go out of my way to take them by the hand. Invite them to sit in arm’s crook during read-aloud. Give those shoulders a hug while issuing next instruction. Hold their hand in the parking lot, and squeeze it twice (our special “I love you” code.)

The confrontation of sin and shortcomings can seem continual. How much easier the walk through confession and repentance when led by the hand.

from my journal: Isaiah 40

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Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints not is weary. His understanding is in searchable.

He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary , they shall walk and not faint. —Isaiah 40

There is no shame in realizing I have no might. Realizing I am more weak than yesterday! God is in the business of glorifying His name as earthen vessels are emptied of their own selves and are filled with Him.

This looks like “He must increase, I must decrease.” It looks like a growing awareness of my incredible lack, and greater knowledge and experience of His surpassing power to those who believe.

chubby babies, labor pains, and joy: gal 4.19

My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you… Galatians 4.19

Some verses get lodged in your heart, always in the background, being mulled and processed and slowly shaping how you live and see life. This is one of those for me. Mike Tomford read it on a Sunday several years ago, and it’s been lodged ever since.

Today it comes to the forefront.

This makes sense, because May 28th is always a day that makes me think of labor, babies, and life. Twenty-four years ago, I was a 9 year old girl, scrambling downstairs at dawn with my siblings, excitedly tiptoeing into our dining room, peering through doorway past a cluster of my mother’s friends, hoping for a glimpse of the miracle taking place: a baby being born! She came, chubby and sweet, and Mrs. Colbert swaddled her and named her Butterball until a more suitable moniker could be chosen.

julia
She’s the cute brunette, still a little butterball-y!

And so May 28th, labor, and Galatians 4:19 all converge this morning in my heart.

*****

I’ve learned things about childbirth and labor in the last few years. I learned that it’s not easy, watching my strong and courageous mother, a woman I knew could take on the world, meet her match in labor. I learned that it can last for days as I waited for news of my first nephews’ arrival (and cried to Mrs. Kinnen, wanting so badly to take my sister’s place so she could just rest.) I learned that it can go much faster and more intensely than anticipated, when Jameson was born 4 hours and 15 minutes after my water broke, with barely 3 hours of contractions. I learned that it can include complications requiring life-saving measures, as my littlest brother was delivered by emergency c-section, and a niece followed suit several years later. I learned that it requires determination, that it exacts all reserves of courage, that it crashes like brutal waves and leaves you depleted only to find a new depth of strength. I learned that your last labor is not your next labor, and no two are exactly alike.

I learned that no one can promise you or tell you much about how it will go. The only true comfort is this: “There, that contraction is over. You’ll never ever have to do that one again.”

And the greatest joy is that there is a baby.

*****

I learned how to meet childbirth with Holy-Spirit inspired strength from my mother.

And I’m learning what it means to be “again in labor” as I watch my mother (and my father) persevere in seeing Christ formed in me and in my siblings.

All of those things about courage and perseverance and trusting for grace for this moment and not dwelling on how long that last labor was — all of those things, I see them doing still.

I’m learning that the ecstatic moment when you hear, “It’s a girl/boy!” is only the start of a life of laboring.

I’m learning that “I can’t do this anymore!” needs to be swiftly met with those scripture cards I wrote out for labor. He makes me able.

I’m learning to labor alongside. I’m learning that just as I am strengthened by my sisters and friends in a circle around my bed, wetting my sweaty forehead, rubbing my feet, whispering and cheering — so we strengthen one another as we each labor to see others come to maturity in Christ.

I’m learning that personal expectation and desires and any selfish grasping must be done away with. Just as I surrender my body to bring forth a baby, so we lay down our lives — our time, our energy, our money, our everything — to see people find Jesus and His purposes.

I’m learning what incredible joy it is to labor and pray and persevere alongside and then see someone dear be set free, fall in love with Jesus even more, set their hearts completely on Him.

Because this: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”

*****

“It’s a girl/boy!” isn’t the end.

Neither is their 18th birthday, or high school graduation.

It’s not over until Christ is formed in them. (Yes, that’s a life-long labor we’re talking about.)

This is parenting that all believers are called to — married, single, childless — all.

*****

When the contractions keep coming, and you wonder how much longer, and no one can tell you?

There’s this:

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” –Galatians 6.7-9