September 26, 2013

Pondering the Sabbath: from an Old Testament Junkie

For months now, I’ve been meditating on the subject of the Sabbath. I’ve mulled it over on the days I set aside to keep the Sabbath. I didn’t set hard rules for my practice, because I wasn’t sure what they were. I sensed the grace to wing it.

I’ve read some books (and chapters of books) on the Sabbath but I found myself poking around in my Bible, seeing what I might find in the holy words.

I am an Old Testament junkie. I suppose that is why one of my favorite books in the New Testament is the book of Hebrews. It was written to a people very connected to their ancient roots. Over the years, I have found myself searching its treasures over and over again. Its words are highlighted and underlined, memorized. 

Sometimes I read God’s Word and it seems familiar, reassuring. It bolsters my faith. Sometime it stirs me. But every once in a while, it opens me up truth in such a way that I am undone.

That’s what happened when I was reading Hebrews 4 for the umpteenth time. I had an epiphany. This is what came to me:

Sabbath is not simply a day. It is a way of life.

"So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." (Hebrews 4:9-10, ESV)

The writer of Hebrews was encouraging the early Christians in a time of great persecution, a time of soul searching-- even doubt. The writer reminded them Sabbath rest had come to them by way of faith in Jesus Christ. 

Were they going to turn back like their ancestors who didn't enter the Promised Land because of unbelief? Would they find rest in the promise fulfilled in Christ Jesus?

Salvation is the ultimate Sabbath.

Sabbath rest was the consummation of creation and Sabbath rest is the consummation of God’s plan for our redemption. 

We live the Sabbath when we live in light of our salvation, when realize the door to eternal life was opened to us through the cross.

Even in the face of physical death, we rest in peace.

In light of this truth, we can live with courage, hope, and confidence. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we enter his rest. We live the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is a day, but by God’s grace, it is so much more. It is a way of life on this side of the cross. 

Maybe this is old news to you? There is something about this revelation that is so freeing to me, so life-giving. It makes this Old Testament junkie want to jump up and high five somebody. 

Do you have your favorite places to land in God's Word? I would love to know where you find yourself digging into to the "greatest story ever told?"

September 24, 2013

Living with Intention: Butter or Margarine

and sometimes I have to do it all in COLOR

In the third grade, I joined the Brownies. They were the little Girl Scouts in training in their brown cotton uniforms, accessorized with bright orange neckties and a felt beanie hat. 

One afternoon after school, the brown clad girls gathered at the church to churn butter. We took turns raising and lowering the plunger on the churn. While we waited our turns, we worked on individual portions of butter by shaking baby food jars filled with heavy cream. I was very near the “this is not worth it” point in the process, when I discovered a little glob of butter congealing in my jar.

The troop leader gave us some bread and we fished out our little butter globs swimming in the leftover buttermilk so we could taste the product of our efforts.

I hated mine. It tasted sour and reminded me of the smell of the school cafeteria with its trashcans full of half-empty pint cartons of milk souring in the open air.

Parkay was my butter. It was a better color, yellow instead of white, and it was shiny and easy to spread. I liked it on white bread after being slipped under the broiler until the butter-less parts of the bread browned and the oleo melted and bubbled.

I unapologetically liked the fake stuff. Fake appealed to me more than the real. I preferred corn oil pretending to be butter. And that is where I stood concerning margarine and butter for a very long time.

I was a college-educated mother when I discovered butter again. A friend of mine set out butter on a dish way before her guests arrived. The butter was room temp and ready to go when her homemade rolls came out of the oven for dinner.

Those of us at the table were young and just beginning to talk about food, giving it some status in conversation around the table. We weighed the pros and cons of food choices apart from what our mother’s had set in front of us just years before.

It took quite a bit of mental discipline to not take a pat of the butter for each bite of the warm bread. It was that good. I mentioned how much I loved it, but clarified by saying, “I didn’t eat it often because of the saturated fat.” My friend took the liberty to expound on the horrors of margarine, hydrogenated oil, how margarine was “hands down the worst food choice” of the two.

I was over my head in the conversation, but I liked her argument. There was no Google then and I wasn’t up for research at the library. That day I decided that butter was the better choice.

If you were to peek into my refrigerator right now, you would wonder if my love affair with butter was true? Sitting on the shelf surrounded by kalamata olives and red pepper relish, sits a tub of “creamy buttery spread,” margarine.

The truth is: I still like the taste of margarine and how it slips smoothly on the blade of my knife. I never remember to get the butter out so it can come to room temperature. When the butter is cold and hard, I go for what is good, easy, and acceptable.

Life can be like the choice between butter and margarine. It is so tempting to go the path of least resistance, to let what is easy become our first choice, to choose what may be good at the moment without considering future implications, to rationalize and resign ourselves to the cynical attitude---if margarine doesn’t kill us, then butter will.

We neglect making real choices, intentional ones and live a disjointed existence, with little direction, simply because we keep all our options out on the table.

We refuse to choose what is best over what is good. We feel powerless, emotionally driven, and out of control.

Maybe the best choice isn’t butter or margarine?

Last night I pooled olive oil on a salad plate, cracked pepper over it. We swiped pieces of torn bread into the liquid gold, cold-pressed, extra virgin.

Our choices matter.

Our goals matter.

The motivations behind our choices matter.

Every choice we make, in every moment we are given matters.

I’m not advocating for some legalistic way of living, but I am saying it is unwise to live mindlessly and think it doesn’t matter.

It’s true when it comes to eating and true when it comes to living out our lives in Christ. Every choice we make demands our attention. When we choose wrong----when we sin, we confess. If we are wise, we will learn from our bad choices and allow them to tutor us, allow our wrong choices to move us forward--even when, from a human perspective, it would seem that we are loosing ground.

There is a way that seems right to a man,

But its end is the way of death. (Prov. 14:12 NKJV)

We need the Holy Spirit’s help. We desperately need our choices to be His choices. We want to walk the path that leads to life in all its fullness.

God wants that for us, the full life. He wants it more for us than we want it for ourselves. 

Jesus chose to put on our skin, to wear our uniform, feel our pain, face our choices. God chose Jesus to live our life, die our death so that we can live with purpose, confidence, with strength and devotion--- in the power of his resurrection.

Butter or margarine? I don’t know. I’ve been reaching for the olive oil a lot lately.

What I do know is I want to live daily with a deep desire to choose Christ, His life, His purpose for me, His will above all else. I don’t always make the right choices. I let those poor choices become my tutors. I move forward day by day, one choice at a time, one grace at a time. 

Choices happen. Even choosing not to choose is a choice. That is why we need to be in God’s Word and we need time with Him in prayer. Whether we like it or not, our daily choices effect others more than we want to admit. We influence the world by our choices. This is sobering and true.

Now, could you pass the butter?

How do you resist the path to least resistance? When are most aware of how your choices impact the lives of others?

Photo: Robert S. Donavon, Flickr

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose

September 16, 2013

Sabbath on the Mountain

We came home from church and I saw him put on his shorts and his old tee with the sleeves cut off, redneck style. 

He warmed mushroom risotto in the microwave leftover from dinner late last week. I pulled out the haricot vert and roasted tomato salad from the plastic container, cold from the fridge. We sat at the bar eating from paper plates.

What was on his plate besides risotto? Those clothes didn’t match the menu. His uniform told me his agenda was set for the day. He was going to work. I was hoping for rest.

I have been practicing Sabbath-- leaning into the holiness of the day, embracing it as grace. Rest is many things. It doesn’t mean napping (though it could.) Sabbath is playing with the grandgirls and a litter of puppies, sitting around a pool with friends, or getting lost in a book. 

The day after God created the heavens and the earth, He blessed the seventh day and rested. He took joy in all that He made. The day was holy. Later, when his finger etched The Law on the stone for Moses, he passed on the blessing, giving us the command to keep the Sabbath, to rest and make it holy.

I haven’t made Sabbath practice a family affair, though I was beginning to see the need to let them in on the gig. It’s no secret that God’s commands are for our good. Keeping the Sabbath is too good to keep to yourself.

So I asked about his plate and he told me he was thinking about washing windows, taking down dirt dobber nests and spider webs, but said he was open to suggestions.

I suggested a ride to the mountain on a beautiful day.

We turned through the hairpin that begins the climb up the mountain that rises stately above the river valley. We parked in the Boy Scout lot near the sign that said “Bear Cave.” Weaving in and around giant boulders, we found some "steps" up to the top. I remembered as I picked my path that going up is easier than coming down. I climbed on. 

On top of the world, we looked out over a canyon filled with hardwoods, a canopy of greens that in just weeks will blaze orange and yellow when the sun slides closer to the horizon. We had been up on those rocks before. It had been a long time---when the kids were young.

The crows cawed deep below us and the buzzards circled high above. The rocks grew lichens, in variants of green, another was brilliant orange. Hidden in a shadow, the sign of the cross caught my eye, brilliant chartreuse. Small trees and bushes clung deep in the crevices. Even rocks sustain life. 

After sunning like a couple of lizards up on the big boulder, we made our way to the shade on a bluff. He thought I was too close to the edge and needed to be careful. I was---so he would feel better about me squirming around up there just inches away from eternity were I to slip. 

We sat and talked, and at times, we just listened to the bugs, and the birds and the airplanes overhead.
Somewhere on the side of the cliff, tucked up under a pine tree clinging for dear life, we remembered to be grateful.

Not that we aren’t, but we remembered what we needed to verbalize what our hearts know, to acknowledge before each other and before the One who created the very place that had become our sanctuary, how very thankful we are for the blessed life we have lived, the one that we are living.

When you are busy, you aren’t grateful. You are rushed and distracted and life happens without acknowledgement. The day ends, and you don’t know that in it were a thousand miracles because you didn’t notice.

And when you rush through life and forget the Sabbath, then holiness disappears with the dobbers nests and the spider webs.

“Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.”

Have you found a way to surrender to the grace of Sabbath rest? Are you, like me, more grateful when you slow down? 

(Just to keep it real, for too long I forgot to "remember the Sabbath... now  I often make Saturday my Sabbath day.)

Want to be reminded and inspired to keep the Sabbath? Join my friend Shelly Miller's Sabbath Society. So thankful the she was inspired to practice Sabbath keeping and is inspiring me to do the same.

Sharing this story with Laura Boggess' Playdates with God

September 10, 2013

Fat over Lean: Becoming His Masterpiece

Usually, I don’t get into the pool until late summer, near the end of July or August, after the water warms. The water has been cold all the way into September this year, so I haven't been in the water much.

I hold my breath, shiver, watch the hair on my arms stand at attention as my skin erupts in goose bumps. Somebody at the pool always makes the exaggerated statement that the water is perfect----to "come on in." What they are really saying is that it doesn’t feel perfect at first, but you’ll get used to it. 

I feel the same way about wading into my creative life as a writer. I write here every week and I struggle to find my voice. Some call it writers block, I call it fear. 

I suppose there is much of life that is put off because sliding down the steps and toward the deep end involves discomfort. If you want to go swimming you need to jump on in and get wet.

Painting by Sarah Robertson
read Sarah's blog and see more of her work here
That's what I did when I began my parenting journey years ago. I hadn’t the slightest thought about having a baby. When the symptoms and the test, and then the baby bump, made the surreal notion of life growing inside me real, I didn’t over prepare for her arrival. I became a parent cannonball style, right off the diving board without ever letting even my big toe touch the water.

Sometimes I wonder if that was the best approach? Maybe if I had exerted more control, planned my parenting journey, I would have had a better handle on what I was doing? 

I mothered fat over lean. I see the picture completed, their lives now in those children grown up despite me. They are living breathing art, beautiful and complicated, not at all what I thought they might look like when I started laying down layers as their mother.

Often during the growing years, I backed off from what was right in front of me to look at the big picture. When I needed to, scraped back layers before they dried. I made a muddy mess of things, but I didn’t give up on them---or on me.

When it comes to my writing life, I feel it needs my attention. It is the child of my mid-life that needs an engaged parent.

I have been more likely to leave my words sitting unattended in yellow pads, ragged and forgotten, failing to thrive. They never become the layered work of creativity that they could be if I jumped on in and acknowledged their worth, was willing to let them grow over time, fat over lean.

We bought a new walnut baby bed when our first was coming. I laid all three of them down in that bed. I knew they needed to sleep. So much life happened in those rooms while they slept behind closed doors after prayers and kisses good night.

There have been times when I have about given up on having any kind of writing life. I love to write but I hate getting in the water. I approach writing timidly when I need to jump right in and get wet.

So I decided to make a nursery to write in, a place where I can close the door and lay my pen down to rest. Although I really don’t think it is the whole answer to my struggle, if I ever birth this writing life, I need a place to let it grow. 

I moved the treadmill out of a small room that was morphing into a closet. I began decorating my writing nursery, choosing a painting to set the theme of the room, a blue barn with curtains on the door. Out in front of the barn are tables covered with tablecloths, set and ready for a feast. The impressionist painting took shape from the hand of an artist creating with a palette knife. 

The painting speaks to me as an invitation to pull up to the table; a place is set for me.

There’s a place set for you too.

Our time on earth is the nursery until we sit at the table at The Feast. Everyday when we submit our lives to our Creator, He adds another layer to the painting of our lives.

You may not be a painter, or a parent, or a writer, but you have a calling that is uniquely yours. You were created to be you. The Master Creator is painting your life fat over lean. You may be feeling a little thin, like the picture of you doesn’t quite make sense. That’s okay because you’re a masterpiece still being created. God is not finished with you yet.

Remember, He sees the end from the beginning. You are in the process of sanctification. Beauty is your destiny.

I am not who I was at twenty, or thirty, or even forty. Even as I get older and my physical beauty fades, I know the Creator is still layering my life. It won't end until then... 

"And I am sure of this, 
that he who began a good work in {me} will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
Philippians 1:6 (ESV)

Do you have a dedicated place where you nurture your creative life or where spend time with God with few distractions? Where do you fill up so you can pour out?

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose

September 3, 2013

Brave Heart

She called me for prayer. Life had been frustrating, little things blowing up into big things while she waited for bigger things.

A year after her diagnosis of breast cancer, double mastectomy, chemotherapy, hair loss, reconstruction, came her next battle ---the battle with fear. New tests were days away, tests that would reveal victory. Or they could rally the battle cry to fight on. 

I listened. I couldn't talk to my friend about fighting cancer but I do know something about fear.

I took a deep breath before speaking into her life---this friend who knows God’s Word, who understands God’s sovereignty, and who has walked bravely into an unknown future.

“Embrace your humanity.”

When we have known God for a long time and understand His unfailing love, we want to please Him because we love Him so much. We want to be faithful because He is faithful. But when fear raises its ugly head, we are certain we are falling short. God remembers we are human but we forget. We are so hard on ourselves.

I am certainly harder on myself than God ever is.

He knows me. He knows my weaknesses and He knows my strengths. But as my friend said on the phone, in the midst of her weakness, fear had become a gift. It was a gift because her need to overcome fear had compelled her to the throne of God.

Our weakness sets us up for assurance and comfort, strength and courage. Not things we can will ourselves to have, but that which comes from the hand of our loving Father when we reach for what He so freely gives.

As she talked about her struggle, I felt her voice strengthen, her resolve. The spoken word has power. We listened as the “issues of her heart” flowed out her mouth.

We need to hear ourselves speak truth, God’s truth.

Words are powerful.

Her vulnerability led me to share my own struggle. We talked about callings.

It was good to hear my voice talk about my struggle with my calling, to speak it into the phone, into the room. It’s like putting the pen to paper. It congeals into something coherent. At least, the issues flow out of the heart, ready to be revealed.

I have built new relationships and have been blessed with old. People with whom I can talk to and be me, relationships that I hoped would speak into my life, say clearly to me, “Dea, this is what you need to do.”

I am not going to hear those words.

I'm not going to hear them from my old friends, not my new friends. I am not going to get the answers I want from my husband or a life coach.

So who’s going to tell me what I need to know?

The answers will come when I still, listen, and lean into the heart of God.

He is the only One who has the truth, who knows the end from the beginning, who laid out the path before there was yet one day.

God knows. And though He is unseen and often a mystery to me, I feel His Presence near, His Spirit within, and His concern for my place in His kingdom. I am His child and I must trust the heart of my Father.

So here’s where courage comes in. Though unprepared and not at all certain of what it will look like in real life, this is what I sense God calling me to: I will lead.

I will lead---not a following, not a tribe. I will become a lead follower to the One who alone is worthy of following.

I told my friend on the phone, “Whatever we do, it won’t be about us, it will be about Jesus.”

Life is so fragile. Fear is a snare that pulls us swiftly into its grasp. We battle with faith, hold fast to the promises of God. And if we are courageous, we will call our friends to battle with us.

When you live in a human body, you need a brave heart.

What are you facing right now? Do you need to hear yourself speak? Are you willing to admit your fears, dismantle them in confession, speak truth over your life by risking vulnerability with someone who cares about you?

(So thankful for the positive test results my friend received concerning her battle.)

Linking with:

Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory and Emily Weirenga at Imperfect Prose