A Place Called Home, For Now…

“Father, I’ve found a church I like here. They have a women’s group that meets at the perfect time on Wednesday nights. Other doors to get involved are opening right and left. I get so excited, God, and then I panic. What about when we move?”

As a nomadic, military spouse, I hate one question: “What church do you belong to?”

I can handle, “What church do you go to?”, but the concept of belonging…somehow that doesn’t seem possible for me anymore. 

In our nearly eleven year military career, my husband and I haven’t moved as much as some. I’ve lived in four states; my husband has lived in four states and three countries. At our first two duty stations, I dug in quickly. I grew up like a good, church girl, having a church membership with my family at the same building for years at a time. My parents taught Sunday school classes, I went on trips with the youth group, sang in the choir, attended and then helped to lead vacation Bible school. 

It felt like the right thing to do as a married adult, to carry on those traditions in a new church home. But that’s just it, it didn’t feel like home. As if uprooting my irises, un-hanging all our pictures and garage selling the least sentimental gifts from last Christmas isn’t enough; as if bidding farewell to my biological mother and father and sisters isn’t enough, now ever few years I am supposed to say farewell to brothers and sisters in Christ that I have sat with, served with, eaten with, laughed with, confided in and studied with. 

No, I’m not sure I want to belong anywhere. But then, not belonging feels terribly lonely. 

I lifted my pen from the journal page, flipped the notebook closed and stood. My petition and fears now lay at the foot of Abba’s throne. It was up to Him to show me what to do about this inviting church. 

Later that day, I listened to a sermon by Paul White as I cleaned the bathrooms. 

“We have a lot of transience here, and it’s tempting to wonder why our church numbers aren’t constantly growing. To many, that would signal that we’re doing something wrong. Why are people leaving?”

It was almost an aside to the message, but he believed the words were for someone. That someone was me. 

“But I believe Christians are sent out. People are supposed to leave. The point is not to build a big church, but to equip and encourage people in the love and grace of Christ and send them out to share that with others, even within other churches.”*

I love how God often hammers a point home by repeating it through many sources. The next sermon on my iPod was by Ed Young, so I let it continue to play in the background. 

Ed spoke on evangelism, the urgent need for believers to be all consumed with sharing the love and rescue of Jesus Christ. He quoted from Matt 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”.

In the original language, Jesus said to the disciples, “As you are going…”. This going out to the nations (and states) is an ongoing thing. I am not called to establish a home in one location, but to be a tent-dweller (2 Corinthians 5:1), uprooting my tent pegs every time the Spirit leads, just like Moses and the Israelites followed the cloud by day and fire by night. (Num. 9:21)

The Holy Spirit tapped my shoulder one more time, to reinforce His point. That evening, as I poured over this new church’s website, reading their mission statement and distinctives, my eyes snagged on this phrase:

“We don’t want you to ‘join the church’ so your name can be on a list or in a database somewhere. We want you to experience the awesome adventure of finding real life in Christ and helping others find it too. Our end goal is not for you to become a member; we want you to partner with us by choosing to Live Big, Love Big and Give Big.”

That was it. I can hammer in a tent peg here and get busy serving with a diligent, nomadic, enthusiastic, committed body of Christ. I may not be here long. Within a year or two, I’ll likely be pulling up stake, uprooting my irises and giving the remaining contents of the fridge to my neighbor. But for now, until it’s time to get going again, I belong.

Love Isn’t What You Thought it Was

Love is NOT an action. Love is NOT a verb.

Maybe I’m taking it too far. After all, it is the well-meaning marriage counselor staring across her office at the young couple engaged in an only slightly contained version of offensive PDA, who says it. She wants to warn them that the honeymoon phase won’t last forever.

Or, it’s the aged and experienced pastor, reminding his flock that love endures all things, it doesn’t give up as soon as the circumstances no longer feel good.

That’s what we mean, right? We’re trying to say that love doesn’t always evoke warm fuzzies. It isn’t always carrying a long-stemmed rose. Love doesn’t necessarily pal around with happiness. Love has guts. Love digs in, hangs on, fights through and comes out on the other side. 

So I agree, love is not a feeling. But I stand by the truth that love is not an action either.

First Corinthians 13 is the “Love Chapter”, known by Christians and unbelievers alike as the quintessential description of the highest, most unattainable, unhuman-like love. It’s what we strive for and then console ourselves when we fail saying, “we’re only human”.

When I read that long definition of LOVE, I’m am struck more by what Love is not and what it does not do than what it is or does.

“…love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing…Love never ends.”

To me, this says that for those of us who are learning Love from the Savior who IS Love,  we will need to exercise more restraint from what comes naturally, than effort to perform a list of lovely actions.

The Bible doesn’t say Love is an activist. It doesn’t say Love sets out to change the world. In fact, some things in this list suggest that such actions are often attempted without love. Frequently, our intent to change the world looks like we’re fighting for our own way, behaving rudely or being resentful.

Love doesn’t constantly offer advice. (This includes counseling, nagging and reprimanding our husbands, kids or friends.)

People with Down Syndrome are known for their ability to love far beyond what we deem normal, even without the full capacity to do many things. We admire the limitless love of our pets, referring to their unconditional love, even as they cannot verbalize their emotions.

How well do we feel loved by a bed-ridden grandma who really can’t do anything for us anymore? Or do we experience love through the prayers of a church body we’ve never seen? Or do we admire the love and joy emanating from an impoverished African child, who has little ability to do much for anyone?

Love isn’t an action.
Love isn’t a feeling.
Love is a person, and those who know Him best ought to be those who radiate it most brightly. Just as those standing closest to a candle will be most illuminated. Love is a Being, not a doing. A Being who always IS with us and doesn’t run from our unloveliness.

It’s Elementary, My Dear…

“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.

No Needs in Hell

The trouble is, they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) just by imagining it. That’s why it never costs any trouble to move to another street or build another house. In other words, there’s no proper economic basis for any community life. If the needed real shops, chaps would have to stay near where the real shops were. If they needed real houses they’d have to stay near where builders were. It’s scarcity that enables a society to exist.

I kind of stuttered over that first sentence, even having read, The Great Divorce, twice before. I had never noticed C.S. Lewis’ emphasis on the word Needs. You see, I’ve thought a lot about this before:

I only recently discovered what I believe lay at the root of my eating disorder. Needlessness. Does that sound crazy? Is anyone really needless? Anyway, what do the privilege of pain and needlessness have to do with each other?

When I peel away of my excuses and peer into my motives I discover a determination to be self-sufficient, needless. Chasing this, I fail. I fail. I fall.

Is Lewis implying that this isn’t just my personal problem? Is an agenda of Needlessness the very wormy foundation that is cracking beneath families, governments, and marriages…in fact society in general? I think so.

I learned though anorexia, that I could not be needless of food, of familial love, of rest, and stay alive. Humans were never, ever created to be needless. In fact, even in the Garden of Eden before The Fall, God gave man relationship (a spouse) because man needs companionship. God gave man food to eat in the garden, because man needs nourishment. He gave man work, to tend the garden, because man longs to have purpose.

Without the limitless space to print Lewis’ entire book here, it’s impossible to give you appropriate context for this quote. (That’s a hint, hint to read the book!) The best I can do is explain to you that the speaker is referring to Hell or a life on earth without the presence of God: “The trouble is they have [in Hell] no Needs.”

So, I pray with the Psalmist, that God would teach me my fragility, make me keenly aware of all my needs and that He is sufficient to meet them, that I might gain a heart of wisdom, and fear the Lord.

Ps. 90:12, Ps. 111:10

Here Comes Crazy

He’s here. Well, almost here. I’ve been saying that for weeks now. It feels like the boogieman sneaking up from behind. Or maybe it’s a three-headed purple monster, the really scary kind. Let’s call him Change.

He’s here.

I’m not so stressed out about this move as some in the past. I’m going through the motions and most of them make sense. The to-do list is crumbling in an orderly fashion, like the elaborate domino mazes I used to build with Granddad. With a tiny catalyst, like the shift of the minute hand, my final days in VA, are collapsing on top of each other… in this case, perfectly.

Patrick is home today. He’s been working with me, pulling stuff together, consolidating, eliminating, planning. It hasn’t always been this way, but I’m so thrilled to notice the buoyancy in my heart – knowing that he’s going with me, that we do this together, that when I wake up after being tackled, and drag myself out from under the heaviness of Change, he’ll still be there.

There is no one else in the world that I really need. He is my partner, he is the piece (and peace) of me that I need and can’t supply. He is the man that God has given me to cling to in the midst of Change’s attack.

My solar powers are weak today. Even in the brilliance of a temperate, delicious May sunshine, I’m feeling weary. A little sad. A lot of hope. A little of wait. A lot of NOW. Today is peace in waiting. Change is on my heels.

One more note of gratitude. They don’t live near. I can’t see them everyday. But I am so blessed, sustained by the truth that my family loves me. Their lives are revolving under the same Creator’s sunshine, on the same planet, serving the same Savior. And He is so good. Thank you, Abba

The Imprint of Virtue

With finite perspective, we usually only see either vice or virtue. Depending on which we angle of a person we first observe, often we form a fast opinion and relegate that person at least generally, or for a time, to a category: Good or bad.

When my husband has spent half of the weekend watching movies and droll TV shows, I feel disgust and a swelling sense of pride for my own productivity. While he is reclining, I can hardly seen any virtue. When we speak, my tone becomes snippy and condescending because I cannot manage to see all of the good things I know and love about him, while still entertaining my irritation at his vice.

Does that make sense?

Recently, I heard a marital counselor interviewed for tips on how to avoid conflict. The suggestion that struck close to home was this: When conflict is brewing, or I’m angry at my husband, I immediately try to think of his Christ-likeness. (paraphrased)

Don’t get me wrong, there’s an abundance of, “happiness everywhere, see the good in everything, pink glasses, rosy walkways, tolerant wimpy-ness,” to go around. I’m not just talking about finding the good in someone, but searching out their Christ-likeness. I promise it’s there, they were created in His image.

Just a thought from Screwtape on this matter:

Are we to aim at cowardice-or at courage, with consequent pride?Well, I’m afraid it is no good trying to make him brave. Our research department has not yet discovered (though success is hourly expected) how to produce any virtue. This is a serious handicap. To be greatly and effectively wicked a man needs some virtue. What would Attila have been without his courage, or Shylock without self-denial as regards the flesh? But as we cannot supply these qualities ourselves, we can only use them as supplied by the Enemy-and this means leaving Him a kind of foothold in those men whom, otherwise, we have made most securely our own.

Hmmm… is finding that Christ-likess the key to broadening the foothold of God in their lives so that the love of Jesus can seep in?

For excellent expansion on this idea, read Kelley’s post here at She Loves Magazine

Not long after the incident at school I remember my son asking from the backseat, “Do those boys have God’s fingerprints on them, mom?” As we pulled into the driveway I assured him, “Yes, they are made in God’s image just like us.” “So, God loves them like he loves me and my sister?” I answered in the affirmative. “So I shouldn’t be mean back? I should forgive them and give them another chance?”

And there it was … acknowledging the image of God in others and letting that truth control how we seen them and respond to them. We don’t return evil for evil. We offer forgiveness and we believe everyone gets second chances (and then some) from a generous God. We try to see the humanity of those boys like our own, and how a loving God embraces us all.

Problem of Prayer

Have you picked up The Screwtape Letters yet? I hope I have piqued your interest onimages some level. Here’s a questions we’ve all asked…

Does prayer work?

Actually, that aside, do you want prayer to work?

C.S. Lewis makes an insightful case against many of us who engage in prayer for any reason.

Don’t forget to use the “head I win, tails you lose” argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and “therefore it would have happened anyway”, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.

It has frequently been noted that there are no atheists in fox holes. In other words, in the midst of dire or uncontrollable circumstances, almost anyone, for however brief a moment will resort to belief in God, and will, in sincerest tones, beseech the once blasphemed Creator to HELP!

We saw this happen at 9/11. It happens with every tsunami, hurricane and mass shooting. But then what?

It has also frequently been observed that the very ones who recently cried out to their Creator, just as quickly attribute His response to coincidence.

My husband and I are moving in a couple months. Not having children and not being high maintenance, and knowing that we’ll only live in our new domain for a year, we decided not to travel to GA to pick a house. Instead, after a few days of culling Military By Owner and realtor websites, we settled on one that seemed perfect. Actually, more honestly, we settled on one that I really felt God had “given” us.

When we called the owners, we were informed that there was another couple interested in the property and they were able to move in sooner, thus paying an extra month’s rent. If by chance, this first family fell through, we could rent the home.

How I prayed! “Lord, I really believe you said this is our house. It meets all our needs and it’s in our price range. Father, please allow us to rent this house!

Until the last minute, we waited. No word. I was pretty sure we’d lost our chance and I assumed that I had misheard God. Then, late on the last night, I got an email, “We’re sending the lease for your review. It looks like you’ll be our renters.”

Whew, that was close! And I almost did it. I almost thanked the owner and blessed my lucky starts.

But Father, thank you for knowing exactly what we need and providing it. And thank you even more, that you do speak to me, that you are wiling to speak to my heart even when my faith is weak. Lord, I believe. Take away my unbelief.

Body Image and the Traditional Family

Have you ever thought about how body image is directly related to the demise of the family in modern society?

The traditional family is not simply under attack, but at this point has been so viscously and repeatedly assaulted that she is no longer recognizable as the institution she was created by God to be. It is also indisputable, even by the most liberal among us, that women’s physical bodies are so manipulated and objectified that frequently they don’t operate as God intended either.

Considering the family, I give you the divorce rate in America, the number of children in single parent homes, domestic abuse, latchkey kids, grandparents raising their children’s children, the disappearance of discipline and the overthrow of family interaction by tiny, handheld computers.

Considering the female body, I give you airbrushed magazine covers, (interesting article here) innocent daughters on diets, (talk about that here) every conceivable product offering a plastic-enhanced, fat-free version, menus touting “guilt-free” so that women have social permission to eat, women who can never have children after putting their bodies through premature menopause due to eating disorders in their formative years (ask yours truly).

Well known, observed facts, all of the above. But what do they have in common?

…great masters [demon tempters] produce in every age a general misdirection of what may be called sexual ‘taste.’ This they do by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type. The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely.

Have you ever thought of that?
That our obsession with perfect bodies (at least what the momentary, finicky appetite of sexual desire deems salable) has distracted eligible men and women from proper interests in the other sex based on faith, commitment, intellect and prayer? That an attitude of entitlement lends to severed marriages as one partner selfishly believes they deserve to be happy at the expense of their vows?

We now teach men to like women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from those of boys. Since this is a kind f beauty even more transitory than most, we thus aggravate the female’s chronic horror of growing old (with many excellent results) and render her less willing and less able to bear children.

As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something that does not exist – making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast.

What astonishes me, is that C.S. Lewis published The Screwtape Letters in 1942. Screwtape was right, what followed was easily forecast. Seventy-one years later, we are fulfilling his prophecy.

What came first, the chicken or the egg? What came first, the decline of the family as the foundation of society or the objectification of the female body? Regardless, if we intentionally address one, will we necessarily affect other?

First comes love, then comes marriage?

Last weekend Patrick and I participated in a marriage retreat called Strong Bonds. True confession, as this blog is entirely about, it was emotionally difficult for me. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m mulit-lingual in the languages of love and that my hubby hasn’t even learned to sound out words. [That’s my pride talking, a subject I’m am constantly re-submitting to the Lord.]

We are learning, or I should say, I am learning, how to communicate. Wouldn’t you think that the girl who can’t shut-up would have this communication thing figured out?

As you all know from reading here, Patrick and I have been through some major mud, over towering hurdles and through the lowest of valleys. And actually, our sustenance has been, the trick to all of this is, learning to believe in God’s LOVE for us, both corporately and individually. Because when God’s love become progressively more real, we cannot help but see His reflection in each other and personally glow with His radiance.

Wrapping up this month of LOVE, I’ve still hardly scratched the surface of C.S. Lewis’ wisdom in The Screwtape Letters. So, we will carry on in March, looking for modern application of this book and alternately peering into the depths of the One Word: Naked.

After this past weekend, it really comes as no surprise that God brought us to Lewis’ chapter on love, sex and marriage. Consider this nugget:

The humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly-colored and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result.

Do you see that? Kinda makes you think for a second, doesn’t it? In a generation that wants legal marriage for all and at the same time argues for no-fault divorce, it’s pretty obvious that humans believe love is the foundation for marriage. But what if that’s not as God intended?

Perhaps, and it seems evident in the Garden of Eden, marriage, oneness – is the foundation, the fertile ground for love.

Thoughts?