In Your Light, I’m Glowing

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untitled-1430946-mMalachi 4:2 “”But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.”

I was about twelve years old. The neighbors had asked me to feed their pets while they were on vacation. Eager for an extra few dollars to call my own, I agreed and stubbornly refused the help of my sisters or parents. The neighbors’ house was only one door down from ours; we lived in the country without the felt threats of boogymen or busy streets. They had a young German shepherd, a gerbil and two fish—pretty easy.

One night, I put off making my evening visit to let the dog out and turn on the porch light until the sun had set. Undaunted, I pulled on boots under my nightgown and traipsed across the lawn. I finished the chores quickly, turned the key to the right and headed home. Goodness, it was dark.

We lived several miles outside a small, Oklahoma town. There were no street lights to cast guiding halos, only a stray firefly. For some reason, it hadn’t seemed this dark only 20 minutes earlier. Taking a deep breath, I struck out.

It wasn’t the dark itself that scared me. My nemesis was a 12-inch high, brick planter that ringed the solo tree in our backyard. My shins tingled. Just recently we’d studied the eye in science class. I knew the planter was real, but without the sunlight to bounce its revealing rays off the surface of those fierce bricks, it might as well have been imaginary to me—unless I struck it with my shin.

I held my hand up in front of my face. With pupils gaping, just enough moonlight filtered through to reflect the shape of my fingers. But that cursed planter loomed invisible, transparent in the night. Waiting.

I considered turning around to borrow the neighbors’ flashlight. No, if I simply hurried, pressed on quickly toward my goal, I’d soon find myself safe in the welcoming glow of our kitchen.

Crack! Pain sliced through my shin. In my haste, I hit the planter with force. Tears sprang to my eyes and a whimper escaped my lips.

It may seem a stretch, but my long years in recovery from anorexia remind me of that night. Mired in addiction to food restriction and compulsive exercise, I felt only half-human. Conversations were a loss on me, as I stood face-to-face with a friend and their words seemed to slip right through me—transparent. I couldn’t see my physical self with objectivity. No light filtered through my mind to illumine the damage I was doing to my body. So I pressed on.

Fear gripped me. Counselors, friends and family who stood but a short distance away, safe in the light of truth, saw me clearly. They urged me to seek the light. They struggled to explain the dangers ahead. But I only hurried faster. In my blindness, something told me that if I just worked out harder, ate less, stayed in control, sooner or later I would come out on the other side. Sooner or later, everyone would realize that I had been right all along—I was stronger, wiser, in control, enviable.

But I was scared too. I couldn’t see myself. I couldn’t rightly govern myself. I couldn’t change my behavior and doing things my way wasn’t working. In a downward spiral, I became more and more miserable. All I could see was this tiny section of my life—food, thinness, exercise. The rest of me disappeared—no light. I failed to see the full spectrum of my life; confined only to this addiction.

I was about 30 years old. After nearly fifteen years of blindness, light spilled through my atrophied retinas. Turning my face to the light of Jesus Christ, glory erupted on my vision. Now in health, the full spectrum of light reflects off of my body, soul and spirit. In Him, I see who I am and have been able to address the true physical needs of my body, feed the actual hunger of my heart and the experience the richness of real relationships.

You see, for so long I searched for the end point. I longed for relief from my eating disorder, but couldn’t see the direction, could not navigate the perils before me, could not understand the truth of my body’s needs. But when I began to seek not the destination, but the light of Jesus Christ, everything became clear.

All of the things I feared between me and the life of freedom and purpose I longed for, were suddenly easily seen. The truth about my own beauty became evident; the reason for my unique and precious life was no longer a distant hope but a biblical promise.

I mourn the lost years sometimes. “Real-me” needn’t have been shrouded and transparent for so long. The Bible, my companion from youth, tells over and over that Jesus is the light that makes our lives, my own life, real, visible and tangible. It cannot be seen, embraced or experienced fully without the light of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:14 “This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Psalm 36:9 “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”

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Growing Wonderfully

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acorn-nature-1432983-mGrowing up in rural Oklahoma, the ground was always slathered with acorns like thick butter on toasted, summer soil. Not so appetizing, most of them were infested with tiny, gray worms, but nonetheless, they provided hours of entertainment. My sisters and I collected them, drew faces on them, smashed them and, yes, even tasted one or two. However, we enjoyed the final, mature state of the acorns even more.

The monstrous oaks that ringed our acreage served many purposes. They were for climbing, hanging our homemade bird feeders, swinging in our hammock and resting under. They were home-base for tense games of freeze tag or hide-n-seek.

When I was young, it didn’t much amaze me, or really even occur to me that each mighty oak had once been a tiny acorn. It wasn’t until high school biology that I marveled at the seed’s transformation.

Easter just passed this year. In the weeks before it, I found myself pouring over 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter that encapsulates the entire Gospel message in 58 verses. Easter obviously calls to mind Christ’s body—his death and the resurrection of His physical body. But what tugged at my mind most, was Paul’s consideration of what we will look like after death. And like many other other Biblical analogies, he uses nature—specifically seeds—to do so.

1 Corinthians 15:35-44
“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Wondering about your body after death? Paul asks. Think of a seed.

My mind tripped back to those acorns. Mature oak trees bear little resemblance to their seed, the unassuming acorn. When an acorn falls into the ground, it is covered by dirt, baked by the sun and showered with hundreds of seasonal storms. Finally, when the Creator deems the right moment, a sapling cracks earth’s crust and reaches gangly arms toward the sunlight. The acorn takes on its final form, the body for which it was created, the shape for which it was always intended.

In the same way, Paul says, our earthly bodies will die. Most of us will experience much the same thing as an acorn—burial, the seasonal elements. And, like the mature oak tree, our Creator will give to us our final form—the full, glorious, splendid body that was always intended for us. This is the form, the spiritual body in which we will live forever in the presence of the One whose image we bear.

Can you see it? We will not lose ourselves or our essence any more than an oak tree forsakes its origin in the acorn. The tree is what an acorn was always intended to be; it really had no purpose (save entertaining children) than to one day become an oak! So too, you and I will become more fully ourselves, more complete, more useful and purpose-filled than we have ever been before.

The death of these earthly bodies is not so much a loss, as a metamorphosis. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by a limitless Creator who intends all good things for us. He cannot wait to see the full blossom of your wonderful maturity, the donning of your spiritual body. Then, we will never know fatigue, but sing incessant praises to The One who made us wonderfully.

This was first published on the Wonderfully Made Blog. I encourage you to visit their site and be encouraged!

Prove It, God

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dried-flower-721462-mI wouldn’t have even seen her, she was so frail, but for the blood curdling scream that rent the air.

My dog and I had just arrived at the pediatrics floor of the local hospital for therapy visits. Ashana, (I don’t know her real name for confidentiality purposes) was just leaving and stood at the elevator with her mother around the corner from me. The doors yawned, they stepped inside and she was gone. I found out later from the nurses that four-year-old Ashana is terrified of dogs, butt as our conversation progressed I learned a little bit more.

Ashana has cancer. They found it when she was two. For the last two years, she has spent ten days a month in the hospital receiving treatments.

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard her cry like that,” one of the nurses said. “It happens almost every time she leaves. She loves it here. But if you think about it, this hospital will probably be most of what she remembers of her early years. It’s like a second home to her.”

I pictured that tiny little girl and her mother. Talk about a trial, a refiner’s fire.

When someone is in the middle of those flames, the worst thing you can say is something like, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or, “God is working in you. You’ll come out of this much stronger on the other side.”

But that’s what we think isn’t it? We imagine that God crafts our personal struggles to test our faith. But maybe, it’s the other way around. Maybe, God allows struggles and pain in our lives to prove HIS faithfulness, not to test ours.

Remember the story of Elijah running for his life in 1 Kings 19? The wicked Queen Jezebel was massacring the Lord’s prophets and was gunning for Elijah. The prophet ran and hid in the wilderness of Mount Sinai. He was so miserable and lonely that he told God he would rather die.  But God sent birds to feed Elijah; He even came personally and allowed Elijah to glimpse His glory.

Elijah’s experience in the wilderness did not prove his faithfulness. In fact, it proved his weakness—He felt hopeless and wanted to die. The experience didn’t make him stronger, Elijah was not suddenly a mightier man of God than he had been before. Instead, those moments in the wilderness proved that God was faithful; in the middle of that trial, God proved that He was strong enough, able enough to care for Elijah when all else seemed lost.

Romans 5:3-5, urges us to find joy even in the middle of our pain: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Did you notice that Paul doesn’t say, “suffering makes you stronger”? Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance means, “determination for a course of action, purpose”. (dictionary.com)

In our pain and suffering God proves His faithfulness; He proves His strength in the midst of our weakness. It is there, we see His faithfulness and understand that He is able to care for us no matter the situation.

Just Take it Already!

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It’s a well worn passage. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record it. The memory must have been emblazoned on their minds. I imagine it was one of the few times Jesus raised his voice to the disciples.

“But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.'” Luke 18:16

A couple weeks ago, the pastor at Cascade Hills Church, here in Columbus, GA, started on Mark’s version of this story. I almost rolled my eyes. Some things are just over done, right? I mean, not only does this verse parade through the halls of my Sunday school memories, but just recently I’ve studied this passage in my Good Morning Girls Bible study. I just read it in Matthew last week as part of my through-the-Bible-in-a-year program.

But, as I’m touring the halls of memory, I distinctly remember the insistence in my parents’ voices when they said, “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times!” That meant, You’re supposed to remember this. It’s important!

So, I shook myself a little, refocused on the pastor and dug past empty gum wrappers and loose bobby pins to find a pen. Then, my mind drifted again, filled with questions:

What did Jesus mean, “For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”? For some reason, I started thinking along the lines of gifts. Maybe that’s because another version phrases it, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” It’s also applicable because, after all, according to 2 Peter 1:3, the God of the Kingdom is a wonderful gift giver:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

Romans 3:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

What is a child’s role in the gifting process? Simply receive. So, if we are the recipients of God’s good gifts, how should we receive? All Christians long for the joy of Heaven, and we know that the only way there is through the gift of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12)

So, just think with me, as His children (Gal. 4:6), how should we receive His good gifts of grace, mercy, eternal life, all that we need for life and godliness, the Holy Spirit and so much more?

1. A child never turns down a gift. Can you imagine?

2. A child will never offer to pay you back. But, as adults we spend most of our lives trying to pay God back for His kindness to us. “After all He’s done for me, it’s the least I can do for Jesus.”

3. A child is fully willing to ask for a gift. Most of us, as adults, pepper our prayers with, “Only if you want to, God. I’ll understand if you don’t.”
Or, we feel guilty after a particularly needy prayer. But Jesus says, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:24

Just some food for thought. I’d love to hear your comments. How do you receive a gift – for that matter, a compliment?

If you’re really honest, do you see yourself as working to pay God back for His goodness toward you?

Supporting Scriptures: Matt. 20:28, John 14:16, Matt. 11:28, John 14:27

 

It’s Elementary, My Dear…

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“All of Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting and training in righteousness.” 2 Tim. 3:16

That’s why I get almost giddy when the Holy Spirit illuminates two or three passages, sometimes from opposite ends of the Bible and ties them together. It makes God’s Word seem so personal, as if I had a private tutor patiently explaining a text I’ve over-thought and can’t quite understand on my own.

This morning, I was reading in Matthew 18. There, Jesus admonished His disciples to be humble, even as little children. Jesus’ most intimate friends might reasonably have expected to receive special status in Heaven. Even in modern churches, we assign the apostles an extra measure of honor. I mean, they saw Jesus! He chose them individually!

(As a side-note, I ask you to look closely into the Biblical truth that all who believe on Jesus were individually chosen – even you and me! Start with Ephesians 1:4)

But I digress. Theologians have dissected this passage in Matthew, mining dozens of applicable lessons from Jesus’ instructions to be childlike: Children are humble, unassuming, reliant on their fathers (as we should be on God), trusting, joyful, still learning and willing to be taught…

Can I draw one more possible connection?

Just a bit ago, I was listening to a sermon taken from 1 Corinthians. The teacher pointed out that in 1 Corinthians 3:2, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are still like children. He cannot teach them the deep things of God for they are barely able to comprehend the simple elements of the Gospel.

So, the Apostle Paul is speaking on an elementary level, the truths He pens in this foundational book of the Bible are basic principles, things that even the newest of believers should understand and apply.

Fast forward, there’s a verse that rubs against the grain of all human nature. Even the most seasoned of Christ followers struggle with this teaching.

“The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” 1 Cor. 6:7

As the oldest daughter of four, I recall being told by my parents, “Can’t you just give in? Please, just let it go. Let her have her way. Be the mature one.”

So how does it happen, that when we’re grown, it becomes expected to fight for our rights? To simply surrender is considered weak, unpersuaded, evidence of a lack of conviction.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is not applauding his readers for being childish and weak in their faith, but his comments affirm that the instruction to relinquish our rights is an elementary principle of the Christian faith.

In this, as in Matthew 18, let us be childlike, simple in our reasoning.

Father, teach me not to connive and manipulate to get my own way. Teach me to love as Christ loved me, relinquishing His right to the very throne of God, in order to purchase my freedom from sin. (Phil. 2:6)
Even as I grow in spiritual maturity and move beyond the simple elements of the Gospel into a constant, thriving, fluid relationship and conversation with you through the Holy Spirit, help me to retain an unassuming heart.
Whether it be with my husband, longing for a better marriage, one such as I ‘deserve’, or whether it be covetousness of something I ‘deserve’, or whether it be a legal right of mine that has been trampled…teach me childlike reliance on your sufficiency for me. I have my Father, who is my Savior, who is my Constant Companion, let me have nothing else.

What Will I Do If I Ever Grow Up?

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Kylie trudges along on her back, scooting her bald spot across the carpet, rubbing away the downy baby fuzz. Her mom watches carefully, shielding the corner of the hearth with her body.

For six months, every day has been a new beginning. From the first breach of the womb, to the first explosive diaper, the first bath, the first trip to the nursery. What will she be when she grows up? Glimpses backwards at photos of Mom and Dad spur expectations for the future.

But I make no plans. I’m still wondering what I will be when I grow up. What will I do with the rest of my life?

My husband is in the Army. When I pledged myself to him, ten years ago, I could only see two years down our timeline. Those same two years have traced a loop five times. And I still wonder, what will I be when I grow up?

I have unpacked a new home in four states. Each time it felt like getting my own room for the very first time; childhood swept over me from behind.

Barely tall enough to ride a roller coaster, I wanted to be brave. Four plain walls to paint any color I wished. The first night in my new room, I woke up fumbling for the bathroom and walked straight into the closet. I lay awake for hours, keenly aware of new creaks and groans exhaled by the walls. I am still that way, grown up.

In state number three, unpacking felt like Christmas. Excitement buzzed between my husband and me as we pulled brown paper packages from crudely labeled boxes. With each subsequent move, there was even a “first Christmas” ornament.

Pulling out of my driveway and yielding at an unfamiliar intersection was learning to walk all over again. Round-abouts posed threats similar to trying to roller skate the day after my first baby step. I got lost and confused, cars buzzed by me at grownup speeds. Every landmark looked the same, like being surrounded by dozens of adult knees, all clad in denim.

My heart cringes with sympathy for those poor families sent overseas. I struggle to simply learn my new city’s slang. Once, I ventured a comment about the civil war in a coffee shop in southern Georgia. I was nearly run out of town on a rail, unaware that it was really “the war of northern aggression.” I do my best to mimic the vernacular of the natives; I am often rewarded by chuckles and a lesson in diction.

Crossing the stage at my alma mater, I believed I was done with new school jitters. Now, bi-annually, I subject myself to that same drama as I search for a new church and gym. I try to walk confidently down crowded halls, pretending I know where I’m going. I don’t want to be singled out as the new girl and introduced to the women’s ministry leader or the locally famous personal trainer.

I stalk bulletin boards, scanning them for post-its about groups, clubs and classes where I can show up anonymously and make friends on my own terms. I wonder how I should dress for the worship service? Is this a casual khaki environment or your mother’s Sunday best?

Perhaps the greatest challenge of each new home, is finding a new hairdresser. That decision alone has the power to effect every first impression. A highlighting mistake or failed permanent out weighs the worst “baby’s first haircut.” Even a bowl cut or months of unexplained baldness pale in comparison to green hair. The effects of my worst experience lingered through the next move.

My life feels like a broken record. No steady career lengthens my resume. Few accolades for community service can be garnered in 24 months. By the time I’ve mastered these rudimentary skills it’s time to leave again.

Kylie is almost walking now. Things that were once experiments are now old habits. Soon she will say, “Momma,” and then graduate to big-girl words like, “dog,” and, “Mississippi.” That is the way life is supposed to be: you scale the step ladder, climb the tree, and one day the corporate ladder.

Me? I am still wondering what I will do when I grow up.

Can’t Handle The Wonder

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I went to the theatre

With the author of a successful play.

He insisted on explaining everything.

Told me what to watch,

The details of direction,

The errors of the property man,

The foibles of the star.

He anticipated all my surprises

And ruined the evening.

Never again! – And mark you,

The greatest Author of all

Made no such mistake.

[quoted by Zacharias on pages 46-47 of Recapture the Wonder]

As a pro-life, creationist who believes in a world-wide flood and Noah’s ark; as a woman who defends the inherency of the Bible, the virgin birth and Christ’s literal resurrection – I admit on more than one occasion I have wished that He would spoil the story. It would be so much easier to defend my faith and centuries of Christians could have been spared much persecution, if God would only show up and explain everything.

Wonder can be enhanced when reasoning knows where to draw the line, for the noblest reason is to know God Himself. This is a divine principle carved into the human longing for a story with enchantment. pg. 47

If Adam and Eve had been content to live in the wonder of Eden, blessed with every possible delight and communion with God Himself; denied only the knowledge of the taste of one forbidden fruit – if they had been content with wonder and peace, they would never have been cursed with dangerous knowledge and death.

I am a self-confessed control-freak. I wonder how many times my joy would have been multiplied if I hadn’t insisted on uncovering and altering my own future – the future that God has prepared intimately for me. I get flustered and bent out of shape when I’m interrupted or a day ends without accomplishment – never in wonder at the creative, personal twist God placed in my timeline.

It’s the same as the child who pokes through the wrappings under the Christmas tree. He will be hard pressed to express genuine wonder on Christmas day, as he already knows what’s hidden. Think of all the wonders we daily deprive ourself: we want to know the gender of our children before they’re born (now we want to influence the gender), we want to “add” and “subtract” hours from our days as we switch from daylight savings time and back. We practice plastic surgery – even on our children, so that we can design our own appearance.

I’m not declaring any of the above explicitly wrong, but it’s food for thought. When, why did we decide that we couldn’t handle wonder?

A copy of this book was freely provided by Moody Publishers for this review.